07 July, 2011

{this memory} 7

This image from Tuesday's post shows three generations of Browns in 1937. The young man on the left is my father, Harold Clifford Brown (1909-1975). On the right is my grandfather, Delbert Clifton Brown (1890-1935). My great grandfather, Jeremiah Brown (1863-1930), is the gentleman in the middle. My father is the only one of the three that I knew.

My father is the easy one to write about, and I already have. See Father's Day. This photo was taken near Evansville, Indiana, where my grandfather lived not long after my father's high school graduation in Naylor, Missouri. It was also when my father enlisted in the navy although he would have to wait about six months before reporting because he was not yet eighteen.

I don't know much about my great grandfather. I have an old photograph of him out in the northwest where he seems to have been logging, but "Jerry" sure doesn't look like a logger. I do know that as an elder and charter member he helped found the Primitive Baptist Church in Crossville, Illinois, in 1901. I also know they were sometimes referred to as "foot washers," but that seems to have a pejorative sound to it even though it is a common practice in Christianity. He had three children by his first wife (including Delbert). Ten years after she died he remarried and had another four children.

My grandfather abandoned my father, then an infant, and moved to southern Arizona where he married a Mexican woman with whom he had four more children. In 1929 he married a third time after returning to Illinois. I have no records of divorces, but perhaps there were. He did serve in the army in the six years between leaving my father and remarrying. It is also rumored that during Prohibition in the 1920s he served time in Arizona for bootlegging - as Cath guessed upon seeing the photo. Perhaps that was what encouraged him to return to Illinois.

Forgetting to divorce the previous wife may have been something of a family tradition. The first Jeremiah Brown (1771-1838) was probably a bigamist. After moving from Tennessee to Missouri, he remarried sometime prior to 1830. With a wife still living, he shouldn't have - unless as a former North Carolina hillbilly he did one of those "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you" imprecations that somehow made it official.

My father never spoke of his father. He grew up poor and with a step-father who liked his own three children better. A few years ago I visited the Brown cemetery in southern Illinois, and I saw the markers for my ancestors across several generations including my great great great grandfather who was born in 1797. I felt a sense of place. Connection. Roots. It also included, however, the tombstone of my grandfather. I did not and still do not know how to feel about him.

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