Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas 1938: My Grandfather Comes "Home" to the Farm

My grandmother's family farm in Clinton, TN (The York Family)

I've been thinking about my extended family, those who are no longer with us, more than usual this holiday season since I've been in touch with a second cousin and his family (also horse people).

In particular, I'm thinking about a Christmas in 1938.

As I've gone through old family photos, I found these which are of interest to me since they (mostly) depict life on the farm--my great-grandfather Riley York's place in Clinton, TN--during the holidays. (As you may notice, nothing is blooming--looks familiar.)

My grandfather, Thomas William Davis (Tom or Tommy to others), pictured on the ship and on the mule, (below) came home with his shipmate, my great-uncle Earl, for Christmas. He must have been thrilled at the invitation, as he had no other place in the world to spend it.

He met my grandmother and fell in love there in Tennessee during the holidays. (What a handsome devil he must have been atop that mule!! Who could resist a man on a mule, ladies??)

It's funny how two lives meet from across the country--my grandfather, pulled from his own farm when he was orphaned at a young age after his mother (pictured below with her father and brother) died in childbirth. His father alternated them in and out of the church orphanage as he needed them for farm work--eventually dying and leaving them to the mercy (or lack of mercy) of their half brothers and sisters.

Before her death in childbirth, my great-grandmother, Goldie, had come from England to marry the old widower (my great-grandfather) from Arizona. (Just how or why this was arranged, I'll never know, and it's a great mystery.)

What a shock it must have been to have gone from the life she lived with her father in England to the ramshack farm she moved into. (Not pictured--as yet, I don't have pictures, but I'm hoping to get some soon).

My family has a letter of hers asking her husband (my great-grandfather Davis) to pick up chicken feed while he was in town. As a contrast to that lowly state, we have some of the books she brought with her--ornately bound. And, my cousin has found her beautiful wedding dress with a sixteen inch waist. (Oh, to reconstruct her sad story).

My great-grandmother, Goldie, when she was in England with her father (A ship's Captain)and brother. Better times, I'm sure.

After her death and then his father's, my grandfather and his siblings migrated from family to family--my grandfather having many a sad tale of the treatment he received.

There was one in particular about a cruel joke played on him at Christmas when his brother-in-law dishonestly promised him a red bike. My grandfather watched out the window all day for the store to deliver it. When the store's truck finally came up the road, it kept going to the neighbor's house. The much older brother-in-law laughed when my grandfather cried in disappointment.

What a horrible and elaborate hoax to play on a child--and why? We can only guess it was because they were half-siblings--children from another mother, and there was a great deal of resentment toward them.

So, when he found this big farm family it didn't take him long to recognize a good thing and he quickly married into it and, I believe, finally found his home with my grandmother, Thelma.

Though my grandma and grandpa moved to San Diego (since he was in the Navy), I identify strongly with the roots of the farm. The simple innocence of posing for pictures with cows and atop mules! (The boy with the cows is my Great Uncle Earl who brought my grandpa home for Christmas.)

I have wonderful memories of my grandparents. Growing up in the Air Force, we moved often, but they would always try to visit us and, if they could, take all four of us (now there are six of us) kids back to San Diego with them for part of our summer vacations. They'd save up all year to splurge on special clothes, trips and toys for us.

It's amazing what a good "home"--a place where you are loved unconditionally--can do for a person.

Happy Holidays from our home to yours.

More Family Farm Photos From Christmas 1938:


  1. I LOVE the old, family photos! I have some of my mother at the family farm in Lawrence, Kansas! I'm going to have to scan them and post them on my "memories" blog...

  2. Cheryl, Thank you! I scanned a lot of my dad's old photos last year because they are turning color and soon won't be available. Also, it allowed me to make discs for everyone in my family last year as Christmas gifts. Once they're on a disc, the whole family and generations can have access to them--and if you label them as you scan them, they'll know who everyone is.

  3. Those pics are really neat. I wish I knew more about my family history. My mom is gone and my dad doesn't talk much about it. I never really got to know my grandparents and they are all gone now too. Wish I had paid more attention when I was younger! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Tina--you've got to get your dad to write down everything he can for you while he still remembers! Unfortunately, some of us wait too long and then all those stories are LOST!

  5. What great photographs you have. The stories, the styles, the lives! It's all there. And you know who's who. How many times do we pick up old photographs and there's no notation, no facts to piece together with it. I like how your Grandfather recognized a good thing in your Grandmother's big farm family and married right into it. What a comfort it must have been to him.

  6. Linda,
    We are on the same wavelength this holiday season! I am getting ready to e-mail and snail mail my yearly Christmas letter and it begins with a two paragraph dissertation about family history and how important it is and how it is never too late to begin. Once they go out, I will also publish it in my blog.

    While I read your blog I kept saying: "yes! yes! yes!" and just had to leave a comment!

    Joy at www.joyandphil.blogspot
    (Lea's cousin)

  7. Joanne--the names with the photos is so very important. A photograph without a name is so sad--their history is lost. I sat my dad down one night a couple of years ago and asked him to name everyone as I wrote it on the backs of the photos. I'm all about stories and I hope my family will start recording every one they can remember--good, bad, ugly and funny.

    Joy--nice to meet you! I'll look forward to going to your blog and seeing your family photos and history. Stories with pictures are more meaningful. I sat my kids down last night and asked them to read this blog entry. They really seemed to enjoy it--though they're stories they've heard before.

    It will be a GREAT gift to your family!!!

  8. Your dad and I loved this post. This is the land I was raised on and around. Years later, my family bought three homes to the far right of the farm photo. The York family home was still there when I was a child and remained for many years. Great memories! -Mom

  9. That's amazing--I remember nana, meme and popo's homes very well--I don't remember seeing the York farm except in pictures. I wonder when they tore it down? I don't think any of the kids were interested in farm-life by the time they grew up--most of them migrated to cities. But then, farm-life was tough.

  10. Linda, I was born in May of 1938. The pictures look old. Maybe I am too. Where in TN is that? My sister lives in Normandy Which is central. I love to visit there. I love your pictures. My sister has most of our family pictures. Was glad to see my cousin Joy responded to your blog. She is dear and we have not been aquainted long. One of those family things when someone kind of disappears.

  11. Lea--It's Clinton, TN. My grandmother grew up on that farm and my mom grew up, years later, across the street from that very farm. Those pictures look older than they are because the acid from the book they were in discolored and faded them. That's the great thing about digital--ageless--like you are!

  12. Linda- Just one more thing. I visited that farm house many times when I was a little girl. I would walk with my grandmother to the backyard where we would sit and talk with your greatgrandmother York. There were big trees for shade and an old well pump that fasinated me. Those are such tender memories. Little did I know I would eventually marry your dad and become a member of the York family!

  13. That is a sweet memory--and it's a special thing for you and dad to share.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.