To follow up with my post about Family History Work as a Sabbath activity, here’s the result of a recent Family History Interview. The subject is my Great-Great Grandmother.
SUBJECT: Leona Gray
RELATIONSHIP TO SUBJECT: Great-Granddaughter
Leona “Mammy” Gray, born 17 February 1881, lived until 1 November 1970. Her father’s oldest child, she came from a large family and had a sibling only six months older than Leona’s oldest grandson. She lived through the Victorian era, two World Wars, the advent of revolutionizing inventions from the television to radio to television to rocket ships, the change in undergarment from corset to bra to the burning of the bra, and hemlines that went from ankle to micro mini.
Growing up in a world with no indoor plumbing and outhouses, Leona refused to ever leave her bedroom in a nightdress if she needed to “use the pot”. Until the day she died, she slept with a porcelain bowl to utilize under her bed that she referred to as a “slop bowl” even though she lived until 1970.
Born in a world where women were little more than property, Leona witnessed a great dal of the women’s suffrage movement, and proved quite strong willed a woman. The only person to ever stand up to her and win was her equally stubborn daughter-in-law, my own Great-Grandmother, Nannie “Big Grandma Griffin” nee Myers. When Nannie gave birth to Jack, Leona’s oldest grandchild and my grandfather, she informed Nannie that Jack would refer to Nannie by name and that Leona would be “Mama”. Nannie did not take kindly to that and gave Leona an ultimatum: be referred to as some form of ‘grandmother’ or move out. Leona was displeased, and it turned into a bit of a feud between the two women, with Leona’s son caught in the middle of his mother and his wife’s continual bickering.
The two embodied the term “frenemy” long before it became common place for as much as they battled one another, they also paired up and prepared to take the world by storm. Leona enjoyed appliqué and after she did that work, Nannie joined her in piecing a top, quilting, and completing multiple beautiful quilts.
(You likely remember these from my “Thankful for Quilts” post. Leona appliquéd the butterflies. Nannie quilted it. The other quilt was made for me specifically by Nannie.)
The feuding of these women did not impact the closeness between Leona and her grandson. Jack grew up to serve as an officer in the Navy. With his first paycheck, he went to the PX with his fellow servicemen and purchased an Eisner broach for his grandmother which she wore until she died. It’s in every photograph, proudly worn front and center. When she passed, it was returned to Jack who gave it to his wife. It’s now in their oldest child’s possession with the plan to continue to pass down.
When she passed away from complications of a broken hip, Jack was stationed in Greece and couldn’t leave to go home to the funeral. So enraged, he threatened to go AWOL, and got into quite a row with his wife, Opal, another strong willed woman. Opal, convinced Jack that Leona knew his devotion to her because he always proved it in life. In the end, he stayed in Greece and missed the funeral. On a side note, Opal also frequently stated that Leona was more upset and giving the Devil and Saint Peter “what for” because she was taken before her arch-nemesis sister-in-law. The two had feuded from the moment they met, but the story is she attended Leona’s funeral and cried through the entire thing and got sick the next day. She died within two weeks.