My Times with Four Generations of Our Ford Family in Maryland: 1947-1968
Following a restless sleep in which Childhood stories and memories kept creeping into my mind, I felt compelled to write them down for sharing with others before these memories get lost forever in the chaos of everyday life. Much of the following are reflections about the Ford family and my feelings, thoughts, and relationships with them.
John Carpenter Ford was my maternal great grandfather. He was born in 1864 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina and passed in the fall of 1961 at his residence in the National Soldier’s Home, in Washington, DC where he had lived for 37 years. Grandpop was 97 or older when he passed. Some family members say he was 100.
Robert Gideon “Roy” Ford John Carpenter Ford’s son, was my maternal grandfather. He, too, was born in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, and passed in our living room at our home in Capitol Heights, MD, in the fall of 1955 from a cardio infarction. He was only 57 years old.
Loretta Alice Lathrop Ford, my maternal grandmother (“mamma”), and wife of Robert Gideon”Roy” Ford was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania in 1895 and passed in the winter of 1968. I was 21 when she passed.
John Austin Ford was son to Roy and Loretta Ford and brother to my mother Norma Florence Ford Boling. He was my uncle Johnny.
From my birth on January 5, 1947 and for several years to follow my grandparents, Uncle Johnny, his family, and my parents lived in 3 single family houses whose properties were right beside each other in Capitol Heights, MD. To give you perspective into the closeness of our family’s ties, I can tell you that before my birth and during the 1930’s (the great depression period) they all had lived together, or, in adjacent row houses on Morton Street, N.E., Washington, DC. And when I say all, I should point out that these households included three to four generations over the years. So to repeat, our family was always close-knit and life revolved around needs, successes, and woes, as a family. I attribute my early bonding years and upbringing as the reason I was so attracted to Earl Hammer’s 1970’s TV Show, the Walton’s (about a close-knit 3 generational family that lived and struggled together during the great depression on Walton’s Mountain in Virginia).
I don’t remember much about my great grandmother Mary Susan Morris Ford, who was born on August 3, 1874–also in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Great Grandmother was John C. Ford’s wife. I’m told I was about one year old when I started stealing my blind great grandmother’s knitting from her and thought it was a game. I’m told though that she didn’t think much of my game playing. Great grandmother passed in her sleep at home on March 4, 1948. I also was told that my grandmother had one night gone to sleep with vision and the next morning woke without any. She suffered from glaucoma.
Grand pop (John C. Ford) or pap-paw as John Austin’s daughter called him lived to be 98. I’m told that he was not easy to live with and that’s why he removed himself to Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC to live. I remember him always walking with a cane that had possibly a snake’s head carved into the grip. He, too, suffered from glaucoma. He was the next to last survivor of the various Indian Wars that spanned 1865-1890.
In the early to mid-1950’s, I spent many a weekend with my grandparents and Uncle John’s family that included 6 children at the time. On Saturday mornings, we would pick up grand pop from Soldier’s Home and all of us helped with chores, played games, and ate my grandmother’s wonderful cooking at their house in Glen Dale, MD. Grand pop did present himself to the children as a crotchety old guy. And, we kids tiptoed around during his visits. But in the car from Soldier’s Home to Glen Dale, Johnny, Roy, Mamma, Grand pop, and me would sing old songs from the south like She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain, Red River Valley, Camptown Racetrack, and others.
On Sunday afternoons, my parents Norma and Frank Boling would join us for dinner and then take me home for the next school week in the evening. But, Sunday dinners were the absolute best. Mamma would always fry up chickens (home grown), I’d pull fresh vegetables from the garden for salad or Cole slaw (made with sugar and vinegar—not mayonnaise). We’d make baked beans with bacon and molasses, peel potatoes for mashed potatoes (we had dug them up and stored them in a dark, cool, cellar under the house), and bake up homemade biscuits–everything was fresh and from scratch. What a cook mamma was and every Sunday was a feast as I said. Most of my memories are from the 1950’s, our days and nights together as a large family in Glendale, Maryland. I treasure these memories as some of my happiest times as a child.
Although Roy passed when I was only eight in October 1955, my memories of our times together remain vivid. Roy, my grandfather, was kind and gentle with me. I want to say he was a man of few words. My mom, Norma, has always told me that his motto was: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” And, I remember the night of his death, at home in my bed, just a room away from where he passed, that I was barely awakened from the feel of a hand of someone covering me up and touching me tenderly as though to say goodbye. To this day, I believe it was Roy.
I was Roy’s first grandchild and a girl to boot so I guess he and I bonded immediately. I am told he nicknamed me “pud’n head” as an infant because I was six weeks premature, tiny, and had no hair, eyelashes, or fingernails. (Not a pretty sight, I’m guessing!)
I had severe asthma up until I married and exercise or exertion triggered my asthma attacks, but I remember Roy helping me learn how to ride my big and heavy two-wheeled bicycle in the gravel driveway in Glen Dale. I also remember waking up on a cot next to him and mamma on weekend mornings (sometimes they would let me sleep between them if I had a bad dream or an attack of asthma). Mamma would cook salt mackerel fish, scrapple, pancakes, bacon, and the whole house would smell great. If you have never had salt mackerel fish, let me just say a little bit goes a long way. I can taste the salt brine even as I’m writing this now. They had a gas stove and percolated coffee on a gas stove top. I still can see Roy fixing his steaming hot coffee and pouring it from his cup into his saucer to slurp and sip the steaming coffee. And, I can still hear Roy’s smoker’s cough when he first awoke in the mornings. Before we would leave for home on Sunday evenings Roy would be in his yellow vinyl covered chair (upholstered by mamma multiple times over) watching Gunsmoke with a bottle of Gunther beer in one hand and his unfiltered Chesterfield cigarette in the other. And it never failed, just as the best part of Gunsmoke was about to be shown, a long train would come by just outside the yard and the picture and sound would go fuzzy until the hundred or so cars had passed. And, we would have to piece together the story.
Roy, Johnny and my parents were not church goers. But mamma was very spiritual. She taught me how to say my prayers, you know, the “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and how to talk with the Lord, how to always thank him for our blessings before we asked him for his help or blessings for every member of the family, friends, and neighbors—and even the health of our pets. I will always remember, too, the day I watched my Uncle Johnny wring a chicken’s neck and the chicken ran around headless for a few minutes after. And, too, I remember the big pots of boiling water and the smell of chicken feathers boiling in them. We would sit around these pots and pluck those feathers. Wet chicken feathers are another smell I won’t ever forget. And while I’m talking about smells,
Another smell I will always remember is that of spring and summer rain on the screened in front porch. We would gather on the porch to pop snap beans, shuck corn, to count the trains as they went by, or to hand sew, crochet or knit various garments. Mamma would recycle animal feed bags to make aprons and sometimes dresses for me. I remember when mamma was her happiest she would always be whistling, singing, and sometimes, playing a harmonica. She always tried to get me to dance for her.
Uncle Johnny’s personality was larger than life. He was always on the go; usually had a sidekick, and sometimes I was fortunate enough to ride with him. He and Roy were very close. They either lived together or next door to each other, they were both union-based steamfitters/pipefitters by trade. Today I guess they would be called heating and air conditioning installers/maintenance men. On their off-hours they raised pigs, cows, chickens, and farmed. Roy liked his beer. Johnny drank coca-cola in the old-fashioned green glass bottles. Unlike Roy, Johnny didn’t drink or smoke. And, I never heard either of them curse. Women also liked Johnny a lot. Johnny passed from a heart attack at home in October 1963. He was only 37 and had a new wife and 5 month old little girl. Johnny had said several times over when he wasn’t feeling good: “that if I die tomorrow I will have lived a full life.”
Before Johnny died though, Johnny could no longer perform the tough work required in steam fitting. So, he got a VA loan and put himself through business school, became an accountant, and then went on to be a taxi driver because he just needed to always be on the go. Unfortunately, two sailors attacked him and nearly killed him for the few dollars he had on him from fares collected. Even at 12, I could type and I typed up Johnny’s business school projects. Johnny taught me how to play double-deck pinochle cards—a game that still today my husband, Bob, and I play with my parents. In fact, during the last three weeks of Uncle Johnny’s life, nearly every day Johnny would telephone my parents to ask them to come play cards. In my mind, I have always thought that Johnny knew something was very wrong with him but he was not saying. We know the doctors had warned Johnny (who had had his first heart attack at age 30) to pace himself and to “stop burning the candle at both ends”. When Johnny passed he left a son, John Jr., 15, from his second marriage to Mary Williams. John Jr. was raised by the Williams family in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also left a 10 year old daughter, Susan, from his third marriage. Johnny married a family his third time around because his wife, Ellen, was already a mother to 5 before giving birth to their daughter Susan. And, Johnny and his fourth wife, Patricia, had a baby girl in 1962 just five months before Johnny passed. In that very short time, however, this new baby was the love of Johnny’s life. And when I think about my playfulness and quick wit, I think some of my Uncle’s rubbed off on me. I miss Johnny a lot. In fact, my middle son’s likable personality, his love of people, and high energy mannerisms, remind me of my Uncle Johnny. Shortly after Johnny’s death, my mom learned that she was pregnant with my second brother. And so, my parents named him after my Uncle John.
As more memories surface, I will probably add them here because reflections of the past can help shape our futures. And, most of us want to know from where we came and the kind of families and relationships that preceded us.