August 3, 2014 12:17:24 AM
This column is a continuation of memories about my grandfathers which is prompted by a request from a niece that I write something about our family for her daughter's 16th birthday, especially since they live away from any other members of our family. Its only purpose for the general public would be a hope that it might prompt others to remember their grandparents with as much affection as I, thankfully, am able to do.
Recently I have had welcome help recalling my maternal grandfather for this column, because my only sister, Margaret, was here for a visit. We had a long lunch visit with one of our only four cousins during that time, Laurence Mellen, so I had the benefit of their recollections as well. Laurence was named for our grandfather, although his mother changed the spelling.
Lawrence and Viola Yeates lived in West Point in a house that was comfortable, but not pretentious. Its lot cut through an entire block from one street to the other with the house situated just about halfway, which meant that it had a long front yard. The sidewalk was bisected by a round rose garden with a gazing ball in the center. It was located where part of Dugan's Nursing Home now stands, because Mr. Dugan, a bachelor who left his property for the nursing home, lived next door. As the nursing home expanded, it eventually took in my grandparents' lot as well. (It is ironic that these two houses next door to each other were owned by the only two bank presidents in the little town of West Point, which had only two banks.)
The house was wooden with a wraparound porch. A swing hung in the elbow of the porch. Although it was sturdy enough for adults, it was precariously balanced for children, and many times I tilted it too far and fell backward out of it. I was never hurt, however.
That house was probably the first in which I became aware of decor. It had twin parlors at the front, both with bay windows. In the east window of the one you first entered, my grandmother had placed glass shelves on which she had placed a few plants and many multicolored glass vases and bottles. I thought the morning light shining through all that colored glass one the prettiest things I had ever seen. In fact, I still have a fondness for colored glass.
On her recent visit, Margaret and I were going through some old snapshots and clippings. We found the newspaper article about our parents' marriage in one of the parlors of that house. In the typical flowery language of the "society" articles of that day, one of those rooms (I am not quite sure which) was referred to as "the dancing room." It struck us as a strange term, but we did remember that both our mother and her only sibling, her sister Vee, had loved to dance. They often spoke of rolling up the rug at their house and having a crowd of young folks in to dance when they lived there.
Granddaddy was president of the Bank of West Point. During the Depression he had made many loans that were risky to people who turned out to be honorable and finally able to repay them. These loans helped them save their family farms, and people frequently told Margaret and me how our grandfather had saved them from going under during those awful times. In fact, when Granddaddy died (I was in college then), the streets from the funeral home to the Methodist Church, where his service was held, were lined with people standing in respect, the men with their hats over their hearts, some with tears streaming down their faces. Margaret was able to verify my memory of that, since it seemed nowadays to be somewhat unlikely. Among the clippings Margaret and I found while she was here was his obituary. It stated that the businesses of West Point were closed during his funeral to allow people to attend it. I had never known that.
During their long marriage, Mema and Granddaddy Yeates never bought a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but they never failed to have one. Someone gave them a turkey every holiday! On the other hand, Mema said she never knew how many people she would have for the midday dinner. (We had dinner and supper then, instead of lunch and dinner.) Someone in the family was always bringing a guest home for dinner. Frequently Mother or Vee would bring some classmate home who did not have a lunch pail.
A way with stories
I always thought Granddaddy Yeates was the best storyteller in the world. I thought he had the most remarkable imagination anyone could have. Later, when in high school or college literature classes, I recognized the myths and classic stories he had told us. Sometimes he changed the names. He called the Minotaur the "Whangdoodle," but the stories were just as riveting. One of his favorites was Longfellow's "Hiawatha," and he enjoyed quoting "Thanatopsis."
Granddaddy Yeates had, I think with some other businessmen, a very rustic camp house on the Tombigbee River near Barton's Ferry. It was hardly more than one big room with double beds in each corner and, I think, sheets or quilts strung up as curtains for privacy. Water came from an artesian well. It was somewhat primitive, but so much fun. One special weekend, after we moved to Columbus, I got to take a crowd of fifth-grade girls there for a few days. I still recall the fun we had.
Many things come together to influence children, and an extended family is a blessing beyond measure. One is lucky when there are many people who contribute to childhood.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.
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