NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My daughter, Dr. Samantha Nix, gave me a Christmas gift in 2020 that was a subscription to “STORY WORTH” a blog site for private journaling. In giving me this gift she asked me to answer one question per week for about 90 to 100 weeks. I have the right to change the questions, but am choosing not to. Some of the question really make me think about life and some, I feel, are good enough stories to be included here. This is just one of those stories with more likely to come.
Here’s this story
My daughter, Dr. Samantha Nix, sent me an email today and asked “What were your grandparents like?”
Here’s my rather lengthy answer to her as best as I can remember. Now that I am the age of being a grandparent myself, I find it’s sometimes hard to remember the details.
I, unlike many, was fortunate enough to have met and spent some time with grandparents from both sides of my family. On my fathers’ side I had “Grandmother” and “Granddaddy,” and on my mothers’ side I had “Maw” and “Paw.”
I don’t know why they were called Grandmother and Granddaddy or even Maw and Paw. I do know that most of my grandparent’s kids on dad’s side of the family called them Mother and Daddy while on mom’s side of the family it was Mama and Daddy.
Since I knew my Granddaddy least of all I will start my story there.
He was born William Samuel Nix on February 22, 1910. He was married to one woman his entire life and fathered four children that I know of – Herman Nix, Eugene Nix (my Dad), Doris Nix and Robert “Buddy” Nix. Grandaddy was a long-haul truck driver that drove trucks mainly from Birmingham, AL to Chicago, IL. This was back in the days before the Interstate Highways with mostly 2 lane US Highways for travel. It was also before limits were put on how many miles — or hours — a trucker could drive before taking a break.
Because of his long hours, I’ve heard he always drove straight through, so he could be home with family on the weekends, and some of the rough roads he had to travel this job took a toll on his life. I do not recall any interaction I’d ever had with this man. My first memory of him was over the Christmas holiday in 1959 when I was only 8 years old. He was in a hospital room suffering from a heart attack, I believe.
Grandaddy died on January 27, 1960; and we were so broke that the only one from our family in Chicago that could afford the trip to Birmingham to go to the funeral (and rightly so) was my dad, Gene Nix. I wish my Grandaddy would have lived longer so that I could get to know him. He was only 50 when he died.
She was born Lassie May Patterson on February 22, 1910. She died on September 13, 2002 at the age of 92. Just 8 more years and she could have joined the “Century Club.” After my Grandfather died, I know that she worked as a store clerk for a company known as Pizitz. This was a family-owned chain of department stores founded in 1899 in Birmingham, Alabama by Louis Pizitz as the Louis Pizitz Dry Goods Company. It was a big regional company many years ago.
In 1986, the chain was sold to McRae’s, though the Pizitz family retained ownership of many of the actual buildings. The flagship store was shuttered in 1988 while the other locations were converted to McRae’s. McRae’s was later sold to Belk, Inc. in 2005. But that is getting a little bit off the story of my grandparents. As an investor I tend to look at the history of companies from time to time. I find it rare, like people, many companies do not last 100 years. I do know my Grandmother was very proud to work for this family store and I don’t know of her missing very many days of work. She did give it her all, and probably worked there until it closed its doors, she would have been a young 78 at that time and I have no idea when she actually retired. She had a great work-ethic!
I don’t remember this but was told it by my mother and sister. When my dad thought he “was called” to the ministry, mom and dad went east to minister a church and left my sister with Grandmother to raise for a short time. It was a very short time because dad learned quickly that he was not necessarily “Called by God” to the ministry and came back to Birmingham. Starvation makes many give up their dreams.
Shortly, thereafter, I was born, followed by the birth of my brother, and in four short years after my birth Dad moved us all from Birmingham to Chicago in search of employment – which he found.
We would travel every summer (and sometimes at Christmas) from Chicago to Birmingham to see the relatives and for years my Grandmother would have a huge “Family Reunion” so we could see all our cousins, aunts and Uncles on Dad’s side of the family. We grew up thinking that (a) our family was so close and (b) our Grandmother was so rich. I grew to LOVE my Grandmother because of her focus on the family.
When I was 15, I got into a bunch of trouble with some friends I hung out with in the Chicago area and ended up spending a weekend in reform school. My parents thought they would put an end to my misadventures by sending me to live with my Grandmother in Alabama. I was sent there about 2 weeks before school started in the fall. I was to go to Jones Valley High School (where my Dad had gone) when school started back up.
I remember the morning I went to school. Grandmother wanted to take me to enroll. I informed her, “Grandmother, at my age, if you take me to school, I will be the laughing stock of the school. How about dropping me off on the way to work and I will enroll (after all it’s not like I’d not been to high school; I was entering my sophomore year), I will catch the bus back home and see you when you get in from work.” She agreed.
She dropped me off at school and I waited until her car rolled out of sight and headed back to her house without ever going inside of the school. I hitchhiked. When I got back to Grandmother’s house, I called the school and spoke to the principal. I asked him if I was allowed to enroll in school without having a legal guardian and he gave me an emphatic “NO” as an answer. When my Grandmother got in from work at Pizits she asked how my first day at school was and I told her that I could not go because I needed a “legal guardian” which meant she must first “Adopt me” legally.
Hey, I told her half the truth … Legal Guardian did not mean Legal Adoption … but she did not need to know that. Later that night we called Mom and Dad and told them that Grandmother must adopt me or I could not get into school. I never told them all we needed to do was have guardianship papers drawn up. Since school had not started yet in Chicago, they suggested I come back home. They did not want to give me up for adoption. Within a couple of days, I was back in Chicago (actually Argo, Illinois) getting ready for high school. I do think Mom and Dad knew my “Legal Guardianship Scam,” but they never mentioned it again, nor did I.
Years later, after I got out of the Army, I did not like my Grandmother very much. Oh, deep down I still loved her – and even though she is no longer with us – still do. But right after I got out of the army and she found out I was bringing a Vietnamese girl home to marry … she had a few choice opinions to give me. First of all, my future wife had given me a 24k Gold Buddha Necklace when I left her in Vietnam to get the paperwork done, and Grandmother hated for me to wear this. Being very religious she always warned me that I should not “worship graven images.” I tried to explain to her that I was not worshipping anything … I was wearing a piece of expensive jewelry was all. She wouldn’t have it. Secondly, she told me that I should not marry across races that it would only lead to problems and not work out. I should find myself a nice “American Girl” to wed.
When I complained to my Dad, he said, “Be patient. It’s just the way she was raised.” I don’t know if he ever said anything to her or not but after a few years she learned to really love my wife, and we got along just fine until the day of her death.
As I said, Grandmother was a very religious woman. I can’t remember a time that she was not in church Sunday Morning and Night and Wednesday night. If you lived with her (regardless of age) you were going to church with her. One of the reasons, I guess, that I did not really want to live with her at age 15 – though I had the same problem at home … unless I had to work (which I normally did).
I’ve talked about my Dad’s parents … now let’s focus on my Mom’s.
He was truly one of a kind. He was born Arthur Millage McCain on March 24, 1892. Shortly after birth he was legally adopted by the Mitchell family hence the name Arthur Millage Mitchell on his death certificate. He died on March 17, 1971 at the ripe young age of almost 79. I was in Vietnam at the time of his death and was not allowed to come home to his funeral since the U. S. Army did not consider him a close relative like a parent or sibling.
Paw, was a worker from the time I remember him. In fact, I would not be surprised if he was not at work just before becoming ill and going to the hospital for the fateful diagnosis of the disease that ultimately ended his life. He had come down with what many referred to at the time as Hardening of the Arteries which is nothing more than fat and cholesterol build up in the arteries stopping the blood flow. Today they call it Atherosclerosis and treat it with stents or by-pass surgery … but in 1971 neither of those approaches were available, or if they were … only to the most wealthy.
Paw began working early in life. Mom tells me that he was a full-time worker in the coal mines by the time he was 9 years of age. This means he did not have much formal schooling. Unlike the grandparents on my Dad’s side (which me and my siblings always thought of as being rich), Paw and his family were “dirt poor.”
From the coal mines he became a boot-legger (a maker and distributor of “Moonshine” whiskey during the days of prohibition). The reason he did not make any money (so I hear) is that he would drink up much of his product. Something must have changed though because by the time me and my siblings came along, he was actually a preacher … preaching the gospel in any little country church that would let him come and talk. He also worked as a carpenter and roofer for a company out of Birmingham for much of my childhood and teen-age life.
I was a teenager before my Paw could even afford a Television to watch or a telephone to use (and it was a party-line phone) … and when he got a TV all he seemed to care about watching was westerns. Traveling to Alabama to see the relatives ever summer usually ended up with me seeing my grandmother and cousins on Dad’s side rather than my grandparents on my mom’s side … simply because life in the Nix Side (with all the fictitious money I thought they had) seemed to be easier. We never had chores to do … but on mom’s side … Paw always found us some chores to do.
Once he did get the TV … things did start to change a little.
Some of my fondest memories with my Paw though was fishing and just being outdoors. He loved to fish and he loved to take his grandkids with him. I can’t remember one time, though, that we ever caught anything. Another fond memory was sitting on the front porch and listening to him tell stories about his life all while he whittled something out of wood. I once watched him carve something like the picture you see below starting with nothing but a block of 2X4 lumber. He was amazing!
I truly miss him and the stories he used to tell.
She was the perfect wife and partner for Paw. Born Angie Maudie Holms on May 3, 1986. She was a housewife all her life. Maw died at the age of almost 90 on March 17, 1986. If you look at these dates you will notice that Maw died on the same month and day as Paw … just 15 years later.
During her life Maw gave birth to 6 children – 3 lived full lives and 3 died early deaths. Uncle Alvin was the oldest of the 6 and probably died in his 50s of a heart condition. Then, Pauline was born after Alvin but only lived 1 month. Next, was Uncle Junior who happened to be one of my brother’s favorite Uncles because he made my brother a shoe shine box and taught him how to be in business for himself. Junior served in both the Marines and the Air Force and was booted out of both due to his drinking. He died in his 60s but thankfully he had been sober for several years. He was given a Marines Funeral. Next my mom was born. Then 2 more … Warren who lived 3 years and William Edward (my brothers name) who lived only 1 day.
Maw was unique. She did not have much to say to anyone … and when she did, she was quite gruff about it. As kids we all thought she was mad all the time and was probably part of the reason we could not stand to visit them for very long. It was nothing more than her personality … it’s just the way she was wired. Once we grew up, we all learned to love her for the way she was wired. She would never “sugar coat” anything.
I do know the few times we went south for Christmas and Grandmother would invite Mom’s family to join in the Nix Family Celebrations it would be Maw who would always take her up on the offer. My Uncle Junior did also, one time … but Maw every time she was invited would say yes.
As long as I can remember, I know that Maw had very long hair that she would tie up in a bun on the back of her head. When she would take the bun down to go to sleep, she reminded me of a long-haired witch with gray hair going all the way to her ankles. I think later, when she was in a nursing home, they cut her hair shorter for better management … but all her life she felt it was a sin for a woman to “bob her hair.” It was also a sin for a man to smoke them nasty cigarettes … but that did not stop her from “dipping snuff” till the day they would no longer let her have it in the nursing home.
Maw was as country as country can get. I said earlier they were “dirt poor” and the proof of that is that us kids would catch her many times sweeping her front yard when they lived on a small farm (they rented) because they were too poor to grow grass – and if they did grow grass — could not afford a lawn mower to cut it, but I guess brooms were cheap. In addition, my Mawdy (as we sometimes called her) had no problem going and taking a leak wherever the urge struck her. She’d simply spread her legs (she never wore pants – or underpants I guess) and let the water flow. For years the only bathroom Maw and Paw had was an “outhouse” and I guess she could not make it. By the time they could afford rent on a place with indoor plumbing, a phone and a TV … I guess her going whenever and wherever she was, was a force of habit.
As us kids got older, we would love to go and visit Maw. I remember one of our last visits. Me, Le, Eddie and Debbie along with our kids (Linda and Kim) packed up one day and took off to see Maw. It was about a 700-mile drive and we did not get there till the wee hours of the morning (around 4:00 AM). We knew she would be up. She liked to get up all her life before the sun did and wake every member of the house by her constant whistling as she puttered around the house doing this or that. However, we also knew that we needed to call her before we arrived on her door step. Maw was no stranger to emptying her .38 caliber special through the door if she thought her life was in danger – especially after our Paw died. She was a tough old bird that woman was! One morning, as I recall, there was blood found on her front porch. No one ever found the victim, though we think he or she was only nicked by the bullet since there was not that much blood.
One of my last visits alone with my Maw was when I was in the Military. I took a trip from Ft. Hood to Alabama and dropped in to see grandmas on both sides of the family (both grandads had been deceased for years). I already told you what my Grandmother said about my plans to bring my Vietnamese Sweetheart to America to Marry her … “Find a nice American Girl to spend your life with.”
When I asked Maw what she thought and told her what my Grandmother had said, here was our conversation as well as I can remember it.
Maw: “Do you really love her?”
Me: “Yes I do.”
Maw: “Then dang it Marry her and don’t let anyone tell you what they think you should do, not me, not your Mama and Daddy and certainly not that Nix bunch. Just make sure when you marry her that you live up to your end of the bargain forever because it seems to me that she is giving up her family, her customs and her way of life because she loves you that much.”
I could go on and on about my grandparents. They all had their good points and their bad points. I have the deepest love and admiration for them. I believe a lot of what I have become has come from being related to them. Both of my Grandads were hard-workers who believed in supporting their families and staying true to their wives. I’ve done the same throughout my life. Both my grandmas believed in saying what was on their minds and not holding back even when the truth may hurt the person they were talking too, or even when they were wrong. I’m the same way. I find it hard to “color the truth” or keep my opinions to myself.
I did not tell them enough while they were alive how much I loved and appreciated them … but I think they all knew it.