Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The other side of the family: my grandfather

James's father, James Wilburn Melton, called J.W., was born in 1871, in the latter years of post-Civil War Reconstruction. At twenty-one, he married Rose Thornton, settled in Moultire, Georgia, and in 1893 their first son, Wilburn Pruitt Melton, was born. My father was born in 1904. Before James was a year old, J.W. moved his growing family (which would eventually number seven children) to Citra, Florida, to take advantage of an opportunity in the lumber business. Sometimes J.W.'s sawmill prospered, and sometimes it didn't—and as a result there was just enough hardship to insure that quality in my father that
made for success.

At some point in the early 1930s, J.W. and Rose chose to separate. They never divorced.

J.W. actually had a sentimental side. He was a smoker, but could only afford the cheaper kind of cigarettes you roll yourself. When young James got a job as a delivery boy, he spent his first earnings to buy his father two packs of ready-made cigarettes. When J.W. died of lung cancer in 1942, those two precious packs were found crumbling from age in his dresser drawer. He’d never smoked them because that would have destroyed the loving gift from his son.

In 1938 my father sent J.W. on a "grand tour" of Europe. Unfortunately, I know nothing about the motivation for this trip, nor about the ports of call. In fact, I know very little about J.W., because my father rarely talked about him, and he died three years before I was born.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The other side of the family...

I want to give some blog space to my other grandmother, especially because my mother's mother lived with the Meltons in Weston, Connecticut from 1939 until we moved to Greenwich in 1954.

The McClure's were Yankees, and my father used to joke that he was twenty-one before he knew "damnyankee" wasn't one word. He may have been joking, but he was in some way acknowledging the Melton's rural Southern roots.  The McClures were well-educated, urbane Midwesterners. My grandmother was a writer who had published five novels. Grandfather was trained as a medical doctor, but he decided the budding auto industry was more to his liking.  Later he switched  to a third career in finance—unfortunately just before the Great Depression.

When she was widowed in 1939, my grandmother McClure moved into a wing of the Melton house they'd built especially for her.  My father truly loved "Nellie," as he called her, and the extended family lived in happy symbiosis until the Meltons downsized in the mid-1950s. Nana McClure then bought a house with her sister, Gladys Sibley, in Westport, where they lived happily for ten years.


Although my mother was a good cook, she was a better supervisor of the series of live-in cooks the Meltons employed, and never failed to inspire them to the culinary heights of which they were capable.  But she never really mastered all of the Southern specialties my father loved. She once asked her mother-in-law how to make those gorgeously flaky beaten biscuits.  Miss Rose's technique was to take handful of this, a pinch of that, knead it until it felt right, and bake it until it was done.  Try as she might my mother could never master it.  In fact, one might say that all things Southern proved difficult for her.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Here's the image of Nana Rose and her chariot, mentioned in my previous post.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

James Melton and Rose Thornton Melton c. 1940s

I remember my father's mother, "Nana Rose," but only in her later years, as an invalid, lying in a high hospital bed in the home my father had purchased for her and his youngest sister, Mary, in Jacksonville, Florida. My father had been his mother's sole support for thirty years. He adored her, and sent her an orchid for her pillow every Sunday during her invalid years, and periodically hired an ambulance to drive her—hospital bed and all—around Jacksonville.  

Before she became severely bed-ridden, there's a photo of her in a wheelchair in front of a big old 1930s Packard limousine  with a ramp to the passenger compartment.  It was obviously found or fashioned for her use by my father.  But who drove her in this conveyance, I wonder? Married at seventeen, with seven children born over the space of twenty-four years, separation from her husband (although they never divorced), and numerous illnesses no doubt aged her prematurely. In late 1956, after five years of being completely bedridden following a stroke, the last three years with round-the-clock nurses, Nana Rose died at the age of seventy-eight of congestive heart failure.  Remarkably, my father sang at her funeral. In spite of his sadness, he must have been relieved that this drain on his resources ceased at a time when he was beset by financial woes.