Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Paternal Grandmother: Helen Larue (Brown) Thomas Pendleton

My paternal grandmother, Helen Larue (Brown) Thomas Pendleton, made the best caramel cake!  I believe it was my father’s favorite.  I loved it!  I would eat the icing and leave the cake.  I remember her mayhaw jelly, considered a delicacy in the South.  I remember picking up pecans in her backyard on Slater Street when I was a kid, and I used to sneak into her bedroom to try a little of her Jergens lotion.  It smelled like candy to me.  To this day, that scent of Jergens reminds me of her.  Her house always seemed so quiet and serene, unlike my own that was filled with noise and chaos created by my siblings and me.  

Helen Brown

The information about my grandmother comes from my father’s unpublished memoir Growing Up South Georgian (n.d.).  My grandmother was born in Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida, on October 26, 1896.  My father would sometimes get my birth date mixed up with hers (mine is October 21).  Her parents were Henry Washington Brown and Hattie J. Finney.  She had two sisters, Lucy and Lavada, and two brothers, Elliott and Hoyt.  Hoyt was her twin brother.  My father writes that she never liked her middle name, and her mother had told her that her father Henry had tried to name all of his children after his friends!  For entertainment when she was young, my grandmother went to musical shows and movies at the Pallafox Theater, listened to phonograph records, and spent time at the nearby beach. (Oh, to live so near a warm beach! Heaven!)

Sisters Lavada (on left) and Helen (on right) Brown

She married Wiley Lawton Thomas on June 5, 1914, in Pensacola.  She met Wiley when he was either working as a shoe salesman in her brother-in-law’s (F. E. Brawner) store in Pensacola or was traveling through town.  Wiley was from Valdosta and was the son of William Lang and Susan Frances (Elder) Thomas.  Their first daughter, Helen Clyde Thomas, was born on September 26, 1915, and their second daughter, Frances Hoyt Thomas, was born on March 3, 1917.  My father notes that Wiley had wanted to give Frances a different name,

When Frances was joining the Waves in World War II, she was having trouble obtaining a birth certificate in Tallahassee.  When it did arrive, it was for “Josie Thomas.”  Mama said Wylie had wanted to name Frances for his brother Joe, but she didn’t know he had actually submitted the name.

After Frances was born, they moved to Perry, Florida.  Not long after this, Wiley died during the flu epidemic in 1918, so my grandmother and her children moved back to Pensacola to be near her family.  Her mother-in-law, "Grandma Thomas," asked her and the children to move to Valdosta to live with her.  My grandmother got a job in the Staten-Converse Store in Valdosta working for Tom Converse, and Grandma Thomas looked after Clyde and Frances during the day.  She had a few dates with my maternal great uncle Leland Roberts, and even ran into my maternal grandparents, Leona Roberts and Will Redles (before they married), while they were all out on dates.  (Valdosta was a very small town back then.)

As I wrote in my post about my grandfather Albert S. Pendleton, Sr., my father said it was “inevitable” that my grandparents would meet.  Tom Converse was a friend of my grandfather’s and my grandmother's, and Wiley’s sister Clyde had married one of my grandfather’s brothers, William Frederick Pendleton.  Two of Wiley’s nieces, Lila and Virginia, where also cheering them on.  My grandparents were married on November 18, 1923, at the Thomas home on Central Avenue in Valdosta.  My father was born on March 15, 1925, and on April 13, 1927, William (Billy) Frederick Pendleton II was born.  My father seemed to really be attached to his mother.  He writes,

I remember always wanting to be with Mama.  She’d have to run to the car or hide behind a door in the effort to “get away.”  Just a coat and hat in her hands meant she was going away.  Later, she took me with her and I’d stay in the car and blow the horn—which I’d been instructed not to do.  When we had to stay at home, we’d wait for her in Daddy’s room because we could see from there all the way to Brookwood Place and catch a glimpse of her car coming by.  She always got a big greeting, and many’s the time we’d rush out too soon and almost get hit by the car.

My grandparents had friends over on Saturday nights and again on late Sunday afternoons for parties and get-togethers, but during World War II, they did this less and less as none of their friends “had anyone in the war.”  They had three children serving in the military during the war; my father was in the Army and Billy and Frances were in the Navy (Clyde had married by this time). 

Billy, Frances, and Albert

After my father was wounded, my grandparents kept mainly to themselves and only visited with Clyde and her husband Charlie (Charles) Joyner and “haunted the postman” until everyone came home from the war.

Helen Larue Brown Thomas Pendleton

Sometime after my grandfather died in 1965, my father and his siblings had my grandparents’ house turned into a duplex.  My grandmother lived in the apartment in the front, and she rented out the back.  One day, she fell and broke her hip, and she was never the same.  She was put in a nursing home.  I remember going to visit her with my dad.  Sometimes she would know who we were and sometimes she wouldn’t.  She would sometimes talk about people who were long dead as if she had just seen and talked to them.  I used to wonder what tidbits she might reveal about the family!  My grandmother died on November 28, 1972, in Valdosta; she’s buried next to my grandfather in Sunset Hill Cemetery.


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