Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 18, 2018


Share your family history with the next generation


            My wife has always wanted to go to Ireland. It appears she will not get there unless her chariot swings by there on the way to heaven. Her desire to make that journey springs from the fact that her mother’s people were immigrants from Ireland.

            I love to listen to the stories Dean’s mother Sarah told her about growing up on a farm near Alexander City, Alabama. Sarah’s parents, Emma and Alfred Danford, had nine children. Ella was the oldest daughter, Otis the oldest son. Four were sons, the other three being Walt, Bill and Howard. Ella’s sisters were Annie, Vida, Bert and, of course, Sarah. Only Bill and Annie were younger than Sarah.

            As Ella grew up, she became responsible for the work in the house because Emma was sickly and weak. So the sewing, cooking and canning chores were under Ella’s direction and she assigned various duties to her sisters. Otis (they called him “Ode”) and his brothers helped their father with the work on the farm. Sarah said, “Papa almost worked Ode and Walt to death on that farm; he had them working those mules from sunup till sundown.”

            On Sundays the buggy had to be cleaned and polished until it looked sharp. Emma rode to church in the buggy, with Ella driving. It was more comfortable than the wagon which, pulled by two mules, provided transportation for the rest of the family. They attended a Baptist church in the country though Papa Alfred always maintained he was a Presbyterian.

            As the years went by, everybody loved Ella. She stayed home, never married and thus had no children. So she managed the household and helped looked after everybody else’s children as they came along. The family was grief-stricken when Ella died of the flu during the terrible flu epidemic that killed thousands of people in 1918.

            Emma, the matriarch, lived to a ripe old age. She died in 1933 when Dean was one-year-old. Though Dean never got to know her grandmother Emma, she got to know grandfather Alfred quite well. When she was a little girl, sometime after Emma’s passing, Daddy Pa, as they called granddaddy, came to live with Sarah and her two daughters, Dean and her older sister Doris, who was called Dot.

            Sarah said, “One day I saw an old man coming toward our house dragging a mattress. As he got closer I realized it was my daddy.” This happened soon after the flood of 1938 which destroyed the old man’s home. Daddy Pa lived with Sarah and her girls for five years before dying with cancer.

            Dean remembers being at the foot of Daddy Pa’s bed when, shortly before he died, he said tearfully to Sarah, “If I had my life to live over, I would be a better dad.” Sarah replied, “Don’t talk like that Daddy; you have been a good daddy.” Dean remembers that conversation as though it were yesterday.

            Bill was the only member of the family I got to know well. He lived in Tallassee and made his living as a skilled carpenter. Dean and I enjoyed many visits with Uncle Bill. He had only one good arm. When he was five years old, an infection rendered one arm almost useless. He did not allow that handicap to cripple him or to keep him from living a useful life. Bill was a strong Christian who did not mind telling you how much he loved the Lord. And he never threw anything away. In his yard and all over his home there were delightful examples of his skill at making use of things most people throw away. Example: cute bird houses constructed from empty coffee cans.

            A few times Dean and I visited her Aunt Bert. She was something else, did not trust banks and kept her money hidden in a cigar box in her home. Once when we went to see her, she was busy painting her house, up on a ladder. She said the painters she talked to wanted too much money so she decided she would paint the house herself. She was 80 years old at the time.

            Sarah, who was born in March of 1900, told Dean that when she was a little girl, her family did not own an icebox, much less a refrigerator. Near the house there was a nice stream from which they secured their drinking water. The water was very cold so they kept milk and other perishable food in the stream to keep it cool.

            Dean’s mother Sarah died 19 years ago at age 99. She had been a widow for 60 years. Her husband, James David Brown, had died at age 46. His lungs had been severely damaged by the mustard gas used by the Germans in the first World War. He died in a hospital room at the Veterans Hospital in Montgomery. Unable to visit him because she was only seven years old,

Dean stood on the lawn below his second floor window and waved a small American flag at her Daddy. He smiled and waved back and died the next day.

            Why share all this with you? Here is why: At 86, Dean is the only member of her mother’s family still alive. All of them are gone. But I believe the next generation of Dean’s family, our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, need to know some of the interesting stories of Dean’s family history. So I have written this for them, but in the hope that you, dear reader, will be inspired to record stories of your own family history and share them with your descendants. They deserve to know the stories you can tell them. + + +