Friday, August 5, 2011

Our White House on Washington Street
52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Week 31: Grandparents’ House. Describe your grandparents’ house. Was it big or small? How long did they live there? If you do not know this information, feel free to describe the house of another family member you remember from your childhood.
My memories of my maternal grandmother begin and end in this house.

This modest house was our house of comfort. I loved going to visit when I was a child in the 1960s, then, it was Aunt Bee's house. The childless Aunt Bee didn't have a room full of toys, in fact, no toys. There were no swing sets, no bicycles, but we felt free. Free to roam and run on three huge acres with pecan and fruit trees, and a vegetable garden. It was one of the few places where I saw a smile on my mother's face, where she was relaxed.

The house came into the family after my great grandfather Monroe Markham's death in 1932. Monroe and his wife Mary raised their family of 15 children on the land where Monroe had been enslaved in Caseyville, MS. Monroe rented land from the son of the last slave holder and his childhood playmate Prentiss Buie. Monroe b. 1852 was gifted to Prentiss b. 1850 when they were young children. When Prentiss died in 1926, Monroe, wife and three unmarried daughters were asked to leave, they went to live with their eldest son.

After Monroe's death, the women decided that their future was in owning their own home. The land was purchased in 1933. Prentiss' daughter Hallie Buie came to visit Grandma Mary and this is how she described the house in a letter she wrote to her sister in 1936.
"Mrs. Thompson took me to see Aunt Mary. She lives with her three daughters who bought three acres of land just outside the city limits, Brookhaven, and have put up a nice house, everything is so neat and clean about the place and so many flowers were blooming in the yard and their ferns on the front porch, in nice pots, are so pretty, the house faces the east. Willie Markham, Uncle Monroe’s son, lives in the next house."
The original house was a living room, dinning room, kitchen and two bedrooms. The outhouse was in the back yard, which I have a vague memory. Later they would add a small pantry, small sitting room and an inside toilet with running water.

The women in the house were Grandma Mary, Aunt Bee(Beatrice), Aunt Louella, and Aunt Inez. Grandma Mary went to glory in 1937, Aunt Inez in 1938, their wakes were held in the house. Aunt Louella left and married Elijah Howard, and Aunt Bee and her brand new husband Silas Johnson would have the house to themselves.

By the early 1960s, Luella and Bee's husbands were deceased. Aunt Bee was taking care of her two sisters, my grandmother Alice and Aunt Luella, both stricken with senility or Alzheimer's Disease.

Grandma, Aunt Luella and Aunt Bee's faces would light up with joy when we, my mother and her three to five children, went for visits. There was a small gate to the left side of the house and when the taxi driver would toot the horn, they would all come to unlatch the gate. We would run into their arms for hugs. They smelled clean, sunshine clean with a hint of lemon. They wore long dresses with aprons, thick cotton stockings on their legs and black or brown shoes with the laces neatly tied. They would ha and ho over us, made us feel so special.

Aunt Bee was the cook, she was a great cook. She would set the table with pretty rose pattern dinnerware. Bowls filled of southern main stays was put on the table; grits, ham, fried chicken, field peas or butter beans with okra, buttered rice, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, homemade canned fruits and jellies, homemade biscuits, corn bread and chocolate cake from scratch.

My mother was frugal with the food. I think her philosophy was to leave more food on the table than was presented. Aunt Bee would be in the kitchen and would hear one of us ask our mother for some more of something and mama would tell us we had enough. Aunt Bee would tell mama to let us children eat. Mama word was law and when she said no, no was no.

One of my last memories of my grandmother is her sitting on this back porch in a cane backed chair. She didn't talk with us but would smile and play hide and seek games with her hands, hiding a leaf, plum, whatever we put in her hands. We would run up and down those steps and jump off the porch. From a child's perspective, the steps were steep and the jump from the porch was daring.

When it was time for us to go home, back to Jackson, Aunt Bee would load my mother with the fruit of the land. She would have pecans, peanuts, vegetables from the garden, canned fruit and jellies. We would nibble from these gifts, remembering the visits for a long time.

I remember once when we were in the taxi cab headed to the bus station, looking back toward the house, I saw my grandmother and grandaunts walking back to the steps. Their heads were slighted bowed and the shoulders stooped. I knew then they were missing us as we were already missing them. I also knew they would be okay to settle back into their routine.

Aunt Louella died in May 1966, Grandma in August 1966, and Aunt Bee in May 1989, all of Alzheimer's Disease.

The house remains in the family.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I so enjoyed reading this.

  2. What a loving tribute to your grandma and grand aunts and the home that was so special for you. I'm so glad it's still in your family.

    I found your blog because of your Church Record Sunday post on Geneabloggers.

  3. Thank you Akellmurr77 and dee-burris