Reflections: Family Means More Than Sharing A Name

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Bonnie Brown, a retired University of Mississippi employee. 

If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.


Bonnie’s mother and father in 1945

I was probably 10 or 11 years old before I realized that, unlike my peers, I had four sets of grandparents.  Up until then, it just didn’t strike me as “different.”  

I became aware of my multiple blessings as I became more knowledgeable about my father’s early childhood. He was born to parents who later divorced when he was about 13 years old. Shortly afterward, he went to work on a farm owned by the Ralston family. I really don’t know why he went to live and work on the Ralston farm, but think it may have had something to do with the fact that there were nine children in the family and my father was one of the older children. The Ralston’s had three children roughly the age of my dad.  The Ralston’s became his second set of parents and treated him as such. The Ralston children were his siblings by any definition.

They became my Uncle Billy, Aunt Dot, and Aunt Betty June, and their children were my cousin. And even though my dad was so readily accepted into this family, the circumstances leading up to that must have been very sad for my father, but he never spoke of it. Through the years, he had a very loving relationship with both of his biological parents and their spouses.  

After Dad had returned from serving in the army during World War II, he brought with him a wife whom he had married in Baltimore, Maryland. My mother came from Kentucky and was working as a welder in the shipyards there as were many other young women.  Together they built a life and a family of 3 (me and two younger brothers) who became a part of this very extended family of 4 sets of parents since, by that time, my father’s divorced parents had each remarried. It must have been a pretty big deal back then since divorce was frowned upon.  I recall my mother often saying that being divorced pretty much seemed like a major crime and carried such a stigma.  

We didn’t get to see my Kentucky grandparents as often given that there was a distance of around 185 plus miles all of which was 2-lane and very curvy roads. I remember my Grandmother Patterson could give the biggest hugs and who always gave me lots of attention.  I saw my Ralston grandparents practically every weekend. My mother had a routine where each day of the week was laid out: Monday was wash day when everything not nailed down got laundered. Tuesday was ironing day, and my mother had lots to iron since she thought that sheets and pillow cases got starched and ironed along with everything else. I even had a small, red iron that actually heated up and I was given flat pieces to iron.  

I can’t remember the routine for Wednesday and Thursday but may have had to do with working in our large vegetable garden.  Friday was house cleaning day along with grocery shopping, and Saturday was dedicated to baking.   She made homemade bread, pies, cakes, etc.  She always tied her hair up, so no stray hair wound up in her baked goods.  Sunday was church and a trip to the Ralston’s who lived about 30 miles away, or they came to see us and enjoyed Sunday lunch.  We often spent the night with them and they with us.  

I saw my paternal grandparents less often, but nevertheless, I spent quality time with them.  My Grandmother Rudd was more serious than my Grandmother Ralston and seemed less affectionate now that I look back upon that time.  When I spent the night with Grandma Rudd, she would make breakfast on her old-fashioned cook stove (even though she had a modern range and oven), and prepare the toast in the oven which caused it to be more like cardboard–so different from the toast my mother would  make me in our “modern” toaster, which was electric but it was necessary for you to manually let the side down to turn each piece of bread.

At the time the toast that Grandma Rudd made was so different, I wasn’t sure I liked it at all.  But nowadays, I love toast prepared in the oven, rendering it as cardboard and delicious when slathered with butter. Grandma Rudd’s husband, Ashton, was such a nice gentleman. He played the fiddle and almost always took it out to play for us when we visited. His easy-going manner was a contrast to my Grandmother, so they were a good match. I remember when he took me to a tobacco auction once. It was fascinating! How did the auctioneer talk so fast and how did the business transactions take place when it all seemed like it moved along so quickly?  

My paternal Grandfather Pollard was a blacksmith, had a grist mill, and grew tobacco, so visits to him were interesting for us as children and lots of work for my father who would take time off from his job at the railroad to go help him bring in the tobacco.  Grandpa didn’t have electricity so he had lots of kerosene lanterns and you had to place perishables in a natural spring well to keep them cool.  I called the lanterns “happy birthday lights” because in my child’s mind it seemed as if it were someone’s birthday with lighted “candles” every visit. I don’t remember much about my Grandpa’s “new” wife except that she was very loving and looked forward to our visits.  She had no other grandchildren and was a member of the Hatfield family from the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud.  She passed away when I was quite young, and my Grandpa never remarried.  

Through the years, I have reminisced about my childhood and my Grandparents and family that were not related by blood.  I am the product of a perfectly “normal” family if you go by the definition that a family is a group of individuals with a continuing emotional relationship, and not the traditional definition of having a genetic relationship and sharing a common ancestry.  

In my present-day life, our “family” includes several who are not related by blood but otherwise complete our family unit with love and bonds stronger than being a mere social unit. These relationships will endure for my lifetime. I am so blessed and grateful.

So should you ever doubt that your “normal” family isn’t normal by traditional definition, take heart, as hopefully you too will recognize and appreciate your blessings.


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