Revelations of my Ancestors

(Top Photo) Grandad in his 20’s (Bottom Photo) Hopping freight train w/ mom (in back)
Granddad working in the mill
Me & Granddad

Many of us, especially in the African American community have family members, usually elders who have taken secrets with them to the grave. I personally never understood why. Did they believe they were protecting us or was it due to shame and stigma? In my day, as children we were told to stay in a child’s place and mind our business. That meant to not ask questions concerning grown folks or there was a good chance of getting a back hand across the mouth. Listening and catching pieces of conversations among relatives peaked my curiosity to the point of as I grew older, it became my mission to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

One of those secrets included stillborn deaths of baby girls carried during first preagnancies of women in my family dating back four generations. Our photo album holds photos of those baby girls in their tiny little coffins. One belonging to my mothers oldest sister who desperately always wanted a girl but eventually had two boys and all grandsons. When I finally learned the truth as an adult, my mom was fortunate that I’m here eventhough other evidence has left me to question if she is in fact the one who gave birth to me. While growing up before learning the details, I always felt God was puninishing me; asking why did I survive, only to be abused when the other babies didn’t. I also learned why my mom and aunt argued constantly since I was little , as they still do today at ages 68 and 73. My mother had always used the term “kidnapped” as did I before gaining the courage to finally confront my aunt when she admitted she did “steal” me from my mother when I was 3. I’d always known deep down that something transpired because I remember a length of time when I was always with my aunt and never saw my mother. That along with the constant arguments over the phone where I clearly recal my mother accusing someone on the other end of the line of “kidnapping her baby”. Later I found out my aunt disappeared with me for close to three years, spoiling me rotten.

Of all the secrets I’ve discovered amongst my family, the one I wanted answers to the most, was how my grandfather got his nickname “Eighty-six”. We spent plenty of time together over the years until he succumbed to lung cancer in 2004 from constant exposure to asbestos. He and my mother were very close and even she had no clue as to why certain folks (mainly back in Arkansas) called him Eighty-six. Over time I asked several family members and assumed they were lying when they said they didn’t know. Whenever I’d ask my grandfather, (usually during our fishing trips or him teaching me how to make his tea cakes) he’d quickly change the conversation to a lesson. “Stay in school and learn ya self sumthin'”, “save ya money and don’t trus no bank”. He was always firm and more serious when he’d tell me to stand up for myself and not let people treat me any ol way, but try to avoid violence if I could. He was a good honest man, but cheap. After returning from the Navy all he did was work in the steel mill and attend church. The remainder of his time was mostly spent in isolation.

I always wondered how/why he ended up settling in Richmond, Ca. when the majority of our family was spread throughout Arkansas. Momma would tell me stories from her memories with him about the two of them hopping freight trains across the country. His mother; Effie who my mom was named after lived to be 100 and I was curious why my grandfather wouldn’t take the trip back down south to visit her. I know he loved his mother, everyone did. Growing up we’d visit every year for the family reunion. Eventually the town began hosting a parade in her honor during Juneteenth for being the longest living resident of Wilmar, even naming a street after her. My children rode horseback in those parades. He did finally make the trip back just before she passed. My brother and I made the drive with him that year, but we were in and out of town before anyone even knew we were there.

One year after my grandfather had passed, I went back to Wilmar to visit my mother. During my stay I was curious about the juke joint I heard about deep in the woods or as town folk’s called it “the hole in da wall”, like in the movie “The Color Purple”. It was a small double-wide trailer with a few tables full of older folks playing cards. The kitchen area was turned into a bar and there was down home blues blarring throughout the woods. While standing there observing country life, I noticed three older gentleman motioning for me to come over to their table. My first thought was they were some old perverts, until they asked, “hey, you Eighty-six’s granddaughter huh?” Confused yet intrigued by the look in their eyes, I smiled and asked how they knew my grandfather. The town was so small that I wasn’t surprised they knew who I was because everyone gossips when someone new comes to town. Besides there’s also a very strong resemblance between my grandfather and I. The men asked me to have a seat and proceeded with telling me the story about the day my grandfather killed a white man. They began with “whew, it was a cold day in Wilmar”. Each man, who were actually good friends of my grandfather, took turns sharing specific details of what they witnessed. In a nutshell, after the white man spit on my grandfather while spewing racist slurs attempting to cut him with a switch blade, but was not successful due the the struggle between the two, ultimately resulted in my grandfather wrestling the knife away then using it to slit the mans throat (hence the line from my poem 5thGeneration Girl ). I was in awe and anxious to get back for confirmation from my grandfather’s siblings. While none of them offered any details, they also didn’t deny it. All I was told is that our family has never spoke of that day. The three men from the juke joint had already painted a vivd image of what took place. They’d gone on to explain how when the few town white folks that there were, charged up the gravel road to our land, there was a bridge where my Big Momma, great aunts and uncles all lined up across it with their shot guns ready to shoot anyone who wasn’t colored. That land was left to my ancestors generations ago by their slave owners. No whites were allowed. I learned that decades later, the only time white’s were permitted on the land was for hunting and/or purchasing our trees for lumber mills.

To “eighty-six” someone was a phraise I’d heard in an old movie. I knew it meant to to get rid of or do away with someone or something which had in part been the motivation for my curiosity regarding my grandfather. Suddenly, everything began to make sense. Him being so quiet and secluded. Hopping freight trains with my mom ending up in California, but mostly why he didn’t visit Big momma and his siblings who all lived very long lives. The lessons he tried to teach me which the lightbulb did eventually click. Most of all though, I realized that history really does repeat it’s self. My grandfather and I were more alike than I ever could’ve imagined. I know first hand what he must’ve experienced being on the run, watching over his back constantly and not knowing who he could trust. Basically being the “black sheep of the family and having to live with such tragic memories that seemingly haunted him throughout his life. I am thankful for the ability to pass on these revelations of truth regarding my ancestors in hopes of them being lessons for future generations.

Published by 5thgenerationgirl

Tammy Wynette is a mother of three and a “G-MA” (grandma). Born in Warren, Arkansas, she currently resides in Sacramento, CA and is pursuing an AA degree in English at American River College, with plans to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (Sac State). She is an active leader and role model in her community, she works with teens sharing and teaching poetry, as well as providing insight for young parents to prosper. She has certificate from NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) and is a trailblazer & Griot, keeper of stories/traditions passed down from her ancestors. As an Author and motivational speaker it’d be an honor to present at your events to inspire, encourage & let our VOICES be heard! She has short stories and poems published in Our Black Mothers Brave, Bold and Beautiful!

79 thoughts on “Revelations of my Ancestors

  1. This was more than amazing to read. I love the fact that while your sharing your family history with the world your also time stamping it for your families blueprint as well. The story about the Juke Joint and your uncles on the bridge really took me back in time at least it’s what I felt like. While it’s not my family some how it still seems as though it’s a part of our cultural history well done looking forward to your future blogs keep etching.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a powerful story to have uncovered and learned during that visit and encountering your grandfather’s three friends. Almost feels cinematic in scope. And what a secret to have lived with. Thanks for sharing this powerful story!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I used to feel the same way, everything was like out of a movie, but when my great grandmother passed as I spent a year going through her things much was uncovered. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I’ve learned about my family. Stay tuned, lol & thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow, that is a lot for you to process about your grandfather. I’m glad you finally got the details from reliable sources. After my Mom died, my cousin (not to be trusted and always jealous of me) decided to “share” all the dirt about my deceased Father. It was interesting that she didn’t touch on the dirt in her own family. My Aunt (not her Mother) chose to share her skewed opinions of my Mom daily, so I had to avoid those conversations after that. So I have no idea whether any of the gossip was true or not, although it did confirm to me my Mom’s lifelong contention that my Dad’s relatives didn’t like her and treated her poorly.

    It is so great you have those photos and such a large family to share with now. Hope you are able to have more peace now with the information you received. I’m glad your Grandfather wasn’t killed for his killing of the man in self defense. So often, it is people of color who are punished for crimes white people get away with all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have some of that in my family as well, but only w/ my stepfather’s side. Not an issue since both my evil stepsister’s have passed. I only write about what I KNOW from my mom’s side of the family & by witnessing to some degree & experiences. All the pieces were there, it just took me years to put them together. Blessings to you & thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow. This is an amazing story. I like the way you weave past and present together. Also, kind of a cool nickname, even if it did stem from a painful event.
    Looking forward to reading your other posts!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you. The motivation stems mostly from being confused all my life about my families behaviors. Something inside me always knew there was a story, but no one cared to find out. Thanks for commenting, hope you enjoy the rest. It’s not all dark, lol.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I was intrigued from the first sentence! 🙂 Family stories that have been hidden are always such a revelation and help us understand ourselves in a new way. I’m happy you were able to learn more about your family.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a history. So powerful. It is so go to know and understand your history. And although your grandfather did what he had to do to survive, it is obvious that he wasn’t proud of it. It ultimately changed his life and your’s. And that Aunt. I can’t Imagine someone kidnapping their sister’s baby. Your poor mother. My heart goes out to her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, but of course there’s much more to the story as far as my aunt taking me. I know it was for my best interest due to my mom’s abuse. Which is why even though they argue, they’ve always been close & my aunt was there for me when my mom couldn’t be. Thanks my dear for commenting.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Whoa Tammy, talk about a walk through history. Thank goodness you were able to share some memories with your father albeit painful. That’s a lot to digest. 🙏🏼 I know when I finished going through my maternal family tree, I didn’t have any other facts beyond my mother, because she was the one who began her genealogy tree but never got around to making any progress on it.

    Although I had some information, there was so much within both sides of my family tree that is an outright mystery. A few men in the family disappeared in the early 1900s and late 1800s. We can only suspect why we have no documented evidence of when or how they died. There’s no death certificate. So thank goodness you still have many relatives around who can answer your queries, whether they want to address it or not. 😊

    Girl, your story reads like a made for TV movie. The secrets, abuses and other mentally distressing things you endured growing up was a lot for a child digest, let alone understand. Thank God these series of events did not kill you, not to say it didn’t affect you, but I can tell it has definitely made you stronger! I applaud you girlfriend! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It took a long time getting to the point where I can share. I felt as if I was betraying my ancestors and I have moments when after I post, I cry for them. I strongly feel sharing for future generations will help break the cycle.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree with you Tammy. I found in so many cases that we didn’t know because no one bothered to talk about it for a myriad of reasons. I think it was because many of our ancestors were conditioned on what to say, when to say it and what they dare not mention. 😥 But when you share your story, it simply connects to many similar stories so many other people can connect to. I applaud your bravery and candidness! 🤗🙏🏼💖

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Awww, you’re way too kind girlfriend. The pleasure is all mine and I appreciate you too my dear! 👸🏽😍👩🏽 Wait…is that a heart emoji I see behind your comment??? Look at you!!! 😀💖😊

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Ooh also, someone used the word “cinematic” earlier. I don’t believe any harm was meant, but my history is surely not a movie & I pray it doesn’t come across that way. If so, it means I’m doing something wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No no no, you’re not doing anything wrong my dear. 🤗 It’s just that the stories you tell have not been shared as we can feel free to do now, except through documentaries or movies where any inkling of such an experience has been told. Like I mentioned, you have no idea how similar your story is to that of so many of us who have never verbalized it publically. I think your message is healing and therapeutic in a way. 🙏🏼 Once again sweetie, I truly applaud your bravery. 👏🏼You’re speaking out, and as uncomfortable as some may think it is, secrets can be alarmingly stifling or like a shackle on your ankle. 🦶🏽

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’ve got me crying again. I just got off the phone with my daughter regarding my post & you Cancer’s are indeed a lot alike, lol. She say’s I get emotional because I’m so passionate about our history & sharing it with the world is going to take time for me to get use to. Thank you so much.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Girlfriend, your stories are definitely emotionally charged. 😊 Virgos are just as sensitive as Cancerians. 😉 You have a warm and compassionate heart Tammy, and that’s why your stories resonate so profoundly with your audience. Thank you for sharing that with us! 😀💖😁

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Agree, every family has “family secrets” and “family lore”. I laugh when I hear anyone say I’m 100% _______. Our DNA history along with our family stories make for fascinating times. The further I dig, the hungrier I get in search for as much of the truth that I can find. All those people did not make me the person I am today ….. I am the person I am today because what I have done, or not ….. LOVE your blog!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Girl. I was thinking exactly what you wrote at the end. You and your grandfather were definitely similar! Luckily, our generation is a little more open about life, so our children can make more informed decisions.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing this part of your story ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  10. So much is buried when it comes to family history, perhaps more so in the black community (I think often to protect themselves or their children from life’s harsh realities). Thank you for sharing your history.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Such a rich history. This is one of those posts that needs to be read again and again. Then unpacked… There’s so much to think about here. And so much is provoked in terms of race and history. It’s mind-blowing that this is a true story/post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s one reason I decided to share, wondering if others can relate or have similar experiences. Yes certain post take a lot out of me emotionally, which is usually when I take a break the following week by simply posting a poem. Family history is so important ❤️.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Family history truly is important. Sad that it so often gets lost because our elders prefer secrecy to passing on the history. It’s clear to see how some of your posts can be emotionally draining. But I’m grateful you still share them.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Tool making was an integral part of our becoming human!
    …………………………..
    Sharper stone edges, strangely a representative of sharper hominin brains, might have been a driving factor in the evolution of our genus!
    …………………………..
    Tool sharpening and meat eating were typical part of the hominin adaptation! Evolutionarily speaking, we’re a butcher genus!
    …………………………..
    Sharp-edged tools helped our genus eat meat and marrow – foods higher in protein, fat and calories in the savage savanna!
    …………………………..
    Chimpanzees (tribe Hominini sharing with humans) crack nuts with stones and hunt small animals with tree branches!
    Though tool making didn’t emerge only with our genus, only humans could use tools to make other tools like stone knives!https://naturesalltheres.blogspot.com/2021/10/ancestors.html

    Like

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