Mom (Diana Elaine [Hobbs] ) descended from migrants leaving England as much as a century before my paternal grandfather, if not more. The name Hobbs is said to have originated as far back as the 1100s. Her mother, surname Fisher, likewise descended from Old English lineage and very likely also arrived in America well before the Revolution. As I said earlier about my father’s family tree, I couldn’t be more proud that my people bled for this nation, helped to build it and continue to fight to maintain and defend it.
I’m pretty sure there have been genealogy searches amongst distant relatives about the origins of those who first landed in America. Staying focused, starting with my mother’s parents and their relatives about whom I heard much – directly – throughout my childhood and adulthood, the history of this side of my family is better known to me and is where I will focus on telling my mother’s story.

My grandfather John, who everybody outside my immediate family called Lyndon, was born in Illinois in June 1901 and died roughly seven months after I was born; I obviously don’t remember him, although I heard so much about him my entire life that I certainly know a great deal about his. I have seen pictures of him holding me alongside my grandmother with big, happy smiles over the birth of their fourth grandson. My mother’s sister, Aunt Lynn—five years my mother’s senior—had two sons. After them, my mother had two more. My grandfather’s inner circle, my grandmother Mildred, and the two daughters Diana and Ethelyn Hobbs(Lyn for short) just called him Daddy.

He was a slight man, not much taller than 5 ft 8 in, or maybe 5’9; he had very thin hair and a high hairline, which I clearly inherited from him. My brother, on the other hand, got my father’s thick wavy hair… He stands about 5 ft 9, like my maternal grandfather… And I got my father’s height of roughly six feet. Unfortunately, my brother also inherited the Poff cancer Gene, while I inherited the Hobbs/Fisher atherosclerosis Gene. As I have said, genetics can be a fickle bitch; to see my brother and me standing side by side, you would think we were twins because we look so much alike and our voices sound the same, but we couldn’t be any more different from each other on the inside.

I don’t know much about Grandad’s earliest years other than that they lived a simple life of simple means, farmed extensively, were pretty masterful at canning, and shared the fruits of their labors – each trading their goods with other local farms and members of their Church community. They were deeply religious people and lived in accordance with the Biblical teachings of loving your neighbor, providing aid and comfort to those in greater need, and laboring to be productive and contributing members of their community.

I have an old black and white framed photograph of him, probably taken in the late ’10s/ early’20s, standing in the foreground (wearing an old school shopkeeper’s apron), posing for the camera with a big smile, and the other grocery store employees standing behind him. The store was clean, the shelves were stacked high and filled with goods, and the woodwork was stunning: darkly stained and polyurethaned (or whatever they used back in those days) and apparently handcrafted and well-made.

Given the apparent time frame of that photograph, I can only assume he was still living in )or near) Rockford, Illinois, and had not yet moved East to the nation’s capital. I know he was in the Rockford area because, as I write this, I am staring at the pump organ, made in 1860 in Rockford, Illinois, near where he lived at that time. It is in perfect condition for its age and still works, but for needing the bellows replaced, and I can’t give the damn thing away… But it’s one of the coolest things I have held on to that was passed down through the generations.

I can still remember sitting in my Aunt Carrie’s parlor after church and Sunday School while she played songs on that thing. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the deep, throaty sound that came out of it as all the relatives sang along while her feet furiously pumped the pedals, and the sound floated throughout the entire house. When Aunt Carrie died, they brought it to the house where I grew up, and when my mother sold that house, it was moved to New Hampshire. When no one else wanted it, I took it with me to Texas before bringing it with me back to New Hampshire many years later; I promise you that if a Pump Organ could talk, this one, at 160 years old, would never run out of stories to tell.

My grandmother, who we always called “Grammal” (I have no idea why), was born on New Year’s Day 1901 in a tiny little place called Porterstown. She grew up on a pig farm about 5 miles away in a town called Keedysville, well known for its proximity to the Antietam battlefield in Sharpsburg, roughly 7 miles away from her house. She had an older sister, Vera Ruth, who was born in 1897, and her baby brother, Richard, was born four years after my grandmother.

Their parents, James and Harriet (everyone called her Miss Hattie), were, in every way, exactly like my grandfather’s parents: God-fearing Christians, hard-working farmers, and driven by the very same Christian principles. They went to church faithfully every Sunday, and Miss Hattie taught Sunday School. After church, all the parishioners would head downstairs for a buffet consisting of dishes made and dropped off in the kitchen before the Church services had begun.

My grandmother explained to me when I was a child that this was a long-standing Appalachian tradition that went on for Generations before the Civil War. This tradition was passed down to her as a child, becoming, many years after the war, the Sunday supper Tradition at our house, where everyone would go after their respective church services in their own houses of worship elsewhere.

For the life of me, I do not remember if anyone ever told me how my grandparents met, fell in love, and got married. I don’t know when my grandfather left Illinois for Washington, DC, and I don’t know when my grandmother left behind the life of pig farming and moved to the big city. What I do know is that my grandfather was too young for WWI and would be too old to fight in WWII, and since Aunt Lynn was born two years before the crash of the stock market in ’29 (they were both 26 when she was born), I can only guess that they both headed to DC after the end of WWI and as the era of the Roaring Twenties was kicking off.

Once he got to DC, my Grandfather signed on with the Postal Service, first as a letter carrier and, at the end of his career, as a supervisor. My grandmother worked for the National Archives her entire working life, and her sister, my Aunt Ruth, spent her entire career working for the B&O Railroad. Each of them had pretty cool stories about their experiences in the nation’s capital; Admiral Nimitz was on my grandfather’s mail route, my grandmother’s name is in the acknowledgments of the book Jefferson Davis Papers because she would spend hours in the records vault flipping through letters and notes from the years prior to the Civil War, and Aunt Ruth met pretty much everyone who was anyone that lived in DC because of her time punching tickets as trains rolled out of Washington Union Station.

On a side note, as a teetotaling member of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) and card-carrying member of the early women’s rights movement back in the ’20s, she was also a poster-toting protester demanding both Prohibition and equal rights of all women. I spent a lot of time with her during my elementary school years, and I can assure you she took no shit from nobody; she told me once that she had once gone to the movies alone (she took me many times when I went for visits) and some guy sat down next to her and put his hand on her knee. She moved his hand off her leg, and he put it back on her leg a little higher up. Aunt Ruth, being Aunt Ruth, stabbed the poor bastard in the hand with her 6-inch hat pin. She told me she wore hats precisely so she had a place on her person where she could conceal a weapon to defend herself if necessary.

Aunt Ruth bought a house on Adams Street, where she lived until her death in ’76. Although I’m not sure of the timing, I do know that Miss Hattie moved in with her (Ruth being the oldest child) sometime after my great-grandfather James (born in 1872) died in 1919. His cause of death is a mystery to me, but I can only assume his death was a factor in Aunt Ruth taking her in and taking care of her until Miss Hattie’s death four years before I was born.

Somewhere around the same time, Aunt Ruth bought her house, and my Grandparents bought their own house a 5 minutes walk away, on W Street, and lived there for many years; my mother and Aunt Lynn grew up in that house, and it wasn’t until they were grown, married, and parents themselves, that my Grandparents bought a house in the Maryland suburbs just a couple of miles away from the DC line where they lived until their deaths. My grandfather died in late ’58 (acute pancreatitis), and my grandmother in early ’81 (heart attack), a little more than 20 years after ‘Daddy died.

The oldest surviving child in my grandfather’s family took in his mother, Salena, when his father, Elmer, passed away. But after my grandfather died, Aunt Lynn (the oldest child) was not in a position to take in my grandmother and, with a large and growing family, could not, obviously, move in with her. This window of time… late 58/ early ’59… Marked the beginning of an incredibly dark and troubled time in the lives of my mother, my brother, my grandmother, and myself, but it set into motion the early beginnings of a new way of life and a new type of family structure that I’m sure the adults did not see coming while discovering each of us would become better people because of it.

I mentioned earlier that by the time I was actually born, my parents had already separated. We were living in an apartment two or three miles away from my Grandparents’ house, and even though they helped us out as much as they could in the early period after my father left, it is easy to imagine that being a single mom of two, one of which was a newborn, had to have been incredibly difficult. Pretty much everything I know about this stretch of time in my life came from my grandmother many years later, but the little pieces I can remember, plus what my grandmother told me, explain much of how I grew into the man I became and how I came by my cynicism and general arms-length approach to contending with the world around me.

I was born in March, and my Grandfather died the following October. Sometime after his death, my mother began a relationship with a man I would love to name publicly but will not, out of respect for his survivors who had nothing to do with his actions, but he was a cruel and mean alcoholic who repeatedly beat my brother and I as well as laying his hands on my mother on a regular basis, always because he was in the throes of an alcohol-induced rage. I remember playing outside in the rain in my underwear one time… I couldn’t have been more than four, but I remember this because what happened resulted in my having to go to the emergency room for stitches… And when we all got back from the hospital, I was beaten for hurting myself in the first place. My brother was beaten for not stopping me from getting hurt, and my mother was beaten because she didn’t have adequate control over her children. I still have the scar more than six decades later to prove it.

We would not find out until he died and my Grandmother saw his obituary in the newspaper, that he had a wife with several children and was living a double life while, in his spare time, he was ruining three innocent lives. With every fiber of my being, I hope he continues for eternity burning in hell, although my grandmother would have been the first to say this is not the Christian way.

As I understand it, that relationship went on for a couple of years until, after countless attempts by my grandmother to convince my mother to just move in with her instead of living like that, sometime before I was five, and after another one of his countless beatings, my mother scooped me up out of bed in the middle of the night after he had passed out drunk, took my brother by the hand, and walked – carrying me in the other arm – the several miles necessary to get to my Grandmother’s house.

Always busy trying to find their own way as they grow, children rarely notice, let alone appreciate, the strength and courage a parent has to summon to not only provide for their children but also keep them safe and protect them from the dangers all around them in the outside world. As both a parent and a grandparent, I have seen this since my first child was born, but it takes becoming a parent to recognize what we never saw when we were children. Having to drag myself back through some of the memories I repressed as I have aged and grown, it has only been in the decade since she passed that I have come to fully appreciate the strength and courage my own mother had all of the adult years of her life, and I am humbled by the strength, courage, and sacrifice she summoned to get my brother and me to where we are today as grown men, parents, and grandparents.

For the record, it took every bit of a week to put together the previous several paragraphs; the patchwork of my memories and the holes filled in for me by my Grandmother (because my mother refused to ever speak of it) was difficult for me to force myself to relive in order to share my mother’s story with the world. My lifelong disdain for holidays, especially Christmas, is rooted in these early, formative years of my own life, but I’ll not muddy the waters of my mother’s story here. As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I got to say about that.”

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