Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Alice Lee Eley: A Mystery Woman

Alice Lee mother of Esters Eley
Alice Lee Eley was a mystery woman to me. Who is Alice Lee Eley and why did I think she was a mystery woman?  Alice Lee Eley was my paternal grandmother, my father’s mother. Alice “Granny” as we all called her was a quiet, short, serious person. She was the youngest of the William Alfred “Willie” and Emma Lee children.  Here is the history of the Lee family, and the story of how I became part of this very outstanding name in history.

William Alfred Lee and Emma Meadows married in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, which is located on the southeast border of Alabama close to the territory of Georgia. William and Emma were the parents of nine children with five of them living.  Alice Lee was born to William Alfred Lee and Emma Meadows on 09 November 1887 in Tecumseh, Cherokee County, Alabama. She was the youngest child of William and Emma. William was a farmer and a blacksmith, and Emma was  “a stay at home mom,” or that is what the younger generation in the year 2012 calls it. The Lee family migrated from Cherokee County to Newsite, Tallapoosa County, Alabama sometime before 1880. Wm. A. Lee, Emma, and two children, James W. and Dollie O. Lee are on the 1880 census there in Newsite, Alabama. William was a blacksmith at the time of the census taking. Then, in 1900, the Lee family, William Alfred, Emma A. Lee, Robert, and Alice were living in Channahatchee, Elmore County, Alabama. Alice Lee was twelve years old at the time of the census enumeration date 12 June 1900. Apparently four of the children had died before the 1900 census was enumerated. The family moved several times over the years due to difficult times, and looking for better farmlands. The family left Alabama sometime after 1900 but before 1910, migrated to Police Jury Ward 1, Jackson Louisiana, and settled in Eros, Jackson Parish, Louisiana.

The family had a long journey from Elmore County, Alabama, which is south of Tallapoosa County, to Jackson Parish, Louisiana. On today’s map that would be about 364 miles traveling by vehicle on super highways; however, they were not traveling in vehicles and on super highways. They were traveling by wagons pulled by horses. Poor economic conditions during 1880s and early 1900s most likely were the reason for the Lees’ migration. Living there in Eros, Louisiana were William A. Lee, Emma, and Alice Lee,  age 24 years old, and living in the same household were Robert, Leaky, Emma, Willie, and Mary Lee.  Robert was William and Emma’s youngest son. Living down the road from William’s family was his oldest son James W. Lee, Uncle Jim as the family called him and his wife Nancy or Aunt Nannie, and their eight children. Neighbors living next door to William and Emma were the John H. Edwards family. William and Emma’s oldest daughter married John H. Edwards before they migrated to Louisiana. The Edwards had four children living with them who were listed on the census for that year.

Three years after the Lee family settled in Jackson Parish Louisiana Alice Lee and Jackson Lawrence Eley were married. At the time Alice married, she was living in Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana.  J. L. Eley and Alice Lee were married 26 June 1913 in Floyd, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana. R. E. Lee, or Uncle Bob as I always called him, was Alice’s brother, and guarnteed the security for the marriage license. The Security was where J. L. Eley would owe the Governor one hundred dollars if the marriage did not take place.  I suppose you could say that was an incentive for Jack to marry Alice since one hundred dollars was a large sum of money for that family during that era. However, taking out a security was a law during those times. Alice’s, father and mother were there at the time of the marriage. J. L. or Jack Eley’s parents, Joe and Eliza were deceased.

Jackson “Jack” and Alice had six children, one son and three daughters. My father, Esters was Jack's step-son, was the oldest of the six children. Then there was Irma a step-daughter, Dolly, Ellen, Robert Lawrence, and Gladys.  Jack or Granddaddy Eley died 30 October 1944 in Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana and had lived in that community one year. He lived in a rural area, Pioneer, seven miles northwest of Oak Grove, Louisiana, in Ward 4. He was 62 years old when he died suddenly of angina pectoris or a heart attack. The family was going through an emotional time after the death of Granddaddy. Granny was left alone so the family decided she would live with Aunt Gladys, her youngest daughter, and Uncle Tinker Copes and their three children. This decision was an easy one since Aunt Irma lived in Texas, Aunt Dollie lived in Mississippi, Uncle Lawrence lived in Arkansas, and Esters, my father, had eight children and there was not room for another person in his three-bedroom house.

My father, Earstus (Esters), was the oldest of the six children. Therefore, I was one of several of Granny’s grand children. When I was growing up in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana Granny would come visit us on occasion, about once a year as I recall. She was a short woman, medium built in size, and old for as long as I could remember.  My family lived in Concord Community in West Carroll Parish and she lived in Pioneer, Louisiana with my Aunt Gladys and Uncle Tinker Copes. Granny Eley had a habit that kept us “kids” entertained. She was a snuff dipper and she knew how to spit that snuff. She had mastered that snuff spitting down to an art. She kept her snuff jar tucked away under the mattress for safekeeping, or she thought.

Granny Eley always had to have her large syrup bucket sitting beside her rocking chair for her spit bucket. She could sit in her rocking chair and hit that syrup bucket dead center as she spit her snuff. She always had a good aim and never missed that bucket. We “kids,” (that is what we were called, you would think that we did not have names) would sneak around and watch her. We would peak around the door facing to watch as she rocked in her rocking chair and enjoyed her snuff. We were very good at sneaking around too. She never caught us sneaking and watching.  Keep in mind that we lived in the country and this was entertainment for us, and we enjoyed the entertainment immensely. I was willing to try this new found "treat" so I decided it was time that I sample the snuff. 

One day I got her snuff jar from under the mattress and was going to enjoy me a dip of her snuff as she enjoys it. I got a pinch out of the jar, placed it in my lip like I had seen Granny do many times, and went outside ( I did not want to get caught), to enjoy my first time at snuff dipping. Well, I shall never forget that day for as long as I live. It was nothing like what it was supposed to be from watching Granny enjoy it. I became dizzy headed, almost passed out, was sick to my stomach, and felt like I would die. Nevertheless, I could not tell Mother or Daddy what I had done because of the consequences. Daddy was not a snuff dipper and neither was mother. Mother was the ultimate in cleanness. Therefore, I suffered, and made my sisters promise not to tell on me. However, Mother and Daddy did find out and had a good laugh over my experience and I did not suffer the consequences because I had learned my lesson. As a result, my snuff dipping days were short lived. Granny had mastered that snuff dipping and snuff spitting down to an art and I decided that from that day on Granny was the master of that art and she had rightfully earned it. On each side of Granny's mouth was a permanent stain from her many years of dipping snuff and it running down the side of her mouth. I can only imagine that she started that addiction when she was a young chap. Probably Emma her mamma was a snuff dipper.

Another thing that is etched in my mind is that she would count the biscuits that we ate for breakfast. That was during the era when mothers cooked breakfast for family, family members ate breakfast together, there was order and manners at the meal table, and mealtime was a hallowed time for family, and Fathers's sat at the head of the table. Now Granny would pick one of the eight children to sit beside at the table. Now, the one she sat beside was excited, until she started nagging about the number of biscuits eaten. Mother and Daddy did not care how many biscuits we ate as long as we ate a "good meal."  Mother always cooked an abundance of food to feed the family of ten, and if I remember correctly Granny never offered Mother help in cooking the meals or doing chores around the house. She was there visiting for leisure time, which was her yearly obligation even at Aunt Gladys’ home. 

Granny Eley made her permanent home with Aunt Gladys Copes, her youngest daughter after Granddaddy Eley died. When we made a visit to see Granny my family would get in our old truck, with all eight kids piled in the back, and go visit Granny, Aunt Gladys, Uncle Tinker, and their children. You can only imagine how much fun we “kids” had with a name like “Tinker.” These visits were few due to the hardship on our family. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Tinker never could come visit our family even though it was five in their family.  Now these trips to visit them were quite an adventure! Our hopes were that we would make it there and back without a flat tire, the truck breaking down, or the battery dying. This was during the time period before paved highways or super highways and convenient stores along the way. This was wide-open territory with nothing along the way for miles.  

We traveled from Concord Community to Pioneer on these gravel roads until 1957 when daddy moved his family from West Carroll Parish, Louisiana to Clay Community in Jackson Parish, Louisiana near  where daddy was born to Alice Lee when she was twenty one years old. 

There are memories of family, reunions, trips, good times, and trying times in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana as I grew up there in the quiet country setting among cousins. I long for those times and miss Granny. There were so many untold stories that when she passed those stories all passed with her. 

Alice Lee Eley died 29 January 1960 of kidney cancer. She was 73 years old. She died in Pioneer, Louisiana. Alice was living with her daughter Gladys, son-in-law, Tinker Copes, and their three children at the time of her death.

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