The prompt for 52 ancestors this week is Storm.
I had the good fortune to know both my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother, Lorene, passed away when I was 15 and my paternal grandmother, Bettye, passed away when I was 25. They came from very different places and had different lives, but both lost babies. These events were a storm that quieted over the years, but renewed it’s strength, to some degree, later in their lives.
Lorene was born in January of 1919 to Solomon and Anna Belle DeArmond in Hebron, Alabama. She was the 4th of eight children. They were farmers and were teased by their “city” cousins when they came to visit town. She would finish her education with 8th grade. She married my grandfather, Ray, in April 1940 in Alabama. Their first son, Ray Jr., was born and died in December of the same year, in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was known as Baby Junior by the family. Lorene almost died during childbirth, too. I’m can only imagine the depth of sorrow that was felt by my grandparents. They buried Baby Junior in Knoxville. Due to my grandfather’s work, they moved around the country and rarely, if ever, saw the grave in the following years. They would go on to have 5 more children.
When I was about 13 or 14, grandma came to live with us. Ray passed away when I was 9 and Lorene rotated living with each of her children. Lorene was finishing a stay with us and our summer vacation was a road trip from the Washington, DC area, where we lived, to Houston, Texas where my uncle lived. The trip included stops in Knoxville, Tennessee and Jasper, Alabama, the later being where grandma’s sister and in-laws lived. I don’t remember much about visiting Knoxville, but I vividly remember visiting Baby Junior’s grave. This visit came more than 50 years after his death. It may have been the first time Lorene had ever been back. I remember her standing by the headstone, her hair white, leaning on her cane. The sky was grey and in my memory, we seemed to be at the top of a small hill. She was sad and maybe a little heartbroken. When we went to get into the car, my mom asked if she wanted to stay a little longer. Grandma replied, “What’s the point? He isn’t here” and she started to cry.
Bettye was born Bertha DuPre in October of 1919 to William and Eleanor DuPre in Abbeville, South Carolina. She was the 5th of 6 children. Her father was a yard master for a railroad company. She would go on to graduate high school and receive additional training so she could work. She married my grandfather, Henry, in June of 1941. My father was born the following year. With World War II raging, Bettye and Henry spent much of the first part of their marriage apart. Grandpa was in the Army Air Corps. Most of his assignments during the war were along the eastern seaboard of the United States defending the coastline from U-boats until early 1945 when his unit was transferred to Guam. Henry returned to South Carolina in August 1945.
By February, Bettye was pregnant again with twins (it’s unclear how far along she was). Henry reported for duty at Ft. Bragg on February 10th. On February 14th, there was a car accident and grandma’s twin boys were born early. One was stillborn and the other lived about 8 hours. Their death certificates list cause of death as “Prematurity.” With Henry away, Bettye’s father took care of everything. Bettye never saw the babies and they were never named. The headstone for the twins reads “Infant Sons of Henry and Bettye” and in our family tree they are listed as Twin I and Twin II. Henry’s journal from the time says, “There were four days when I had to come home. Bet had twins. Both died prior to my arrival. What a sad day.”
Bettye and Henry would have 3 more children and have a happy life. Before her death, when my grandmother was living in an assisted living home some 60 years after the death of the babies, she would talk to her caregivers about her twin baby boys, upset as if had happened recently.
I can only imagine the waves of grief and whirlwinds of emotion that Lorene and Bettye felt in the days immediately after the deaths of their boys. Time may have calmed and healed their sorrow and I’m sure there were moments throughout their lives that the grief and emotions returned, but they were able to weather those moments.