My love affair with my grandmother, Mildred, was really pretty brief. We reconnected the summer of 1983 when I took the train to see her in Arizona before I started college and I visited her three or four other times before she died six years later in July of 1989. Whenever I visited with Mildred, I found that I tended to resent my grandpa Roger’s presence because any moments he filled with his own stories meant that Mildred wasn’t doing the talking.
But even then I admired how well he cared for her. I just wished he could have done so silently. Mildred was fairly crippled from Rheumatoid Arthritis and botched knee replacement surgery so Roger took charge of everything. He prepared her food, served her meals, poured her coffee, treated the stains on her clothes, took the dirty clothes to the Laundromat and returned later with a basket of clean, neatly folded laundry. He emptied her ashtray, brought her the phone when it rang, washed all of the dishes, did all of the housework, and helped her walk down the long carpeted hallway to their bedroom when she grew tired and wanted to rest.
And then Mildred died and I had the opportunity to get to know grandpa outside her shadow. We had nearly twice as many years together than I had with her and I grew to love him, even though his stories were never as interesting as hers. Many of Mildred’s childhood stories focused on school and her siblings. In contrast, Roger grew up as a single child with a single mom, after his father and baby sister died. He didn’t have the kind of crazy stories of madcap adventures that capture your attention.
When Roger died in 2000, I inherited Mildred’s cedar chest and everything it held, aside from a couple of things related to Roger’s affiliation with the Masons, which he said couldn’t be given to a woman. My uncle David received the weird little burial apron but I don’t know whether he included the apron with Roger’s remains when they delivered him to the crematorium or if he brought the apron with him to West Virginia when he buried grandpa’s ashes in the Kerns Family Cemetery. Perhaps he just kept the apron or maybe he threw it away. If David were still alive today, I suppose I could ask him.
Grandpa’s father, George Henry Lafayette Kerns, was also a Mason. He belonged to the Camden Lodge in a small town in West Virginia called Camden-on-Gauley. (According to Wikipedia, “The population was 169 at the 2010 census” and “the racial makeup of the town was 100.0% White.”)
On July 14, 1916, two months before his death, George paid his $3 annual dues to the Lodge.
The next day, George paid $6 in annual charges to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
And on August 15, 1916, George paid $5 in dues to another outfit in Camden called the Order for the S.A.P.W. Interestingly, this receipt is signed by the same hand: D. A. James. Were these two orders affiliated?
I can’t help but wonder just how many “orders” and “lodges” one small town could support. Did the charter for one order differ greatly from that for any of the others? And I wonder whether all of the men in town covered their bases by belonging to all of the orders as my great grandfather evidently did.
Unlike the coal miners on my grandmother’s side, my great grandfather worked in lumber. If you look closely, you might see the Masonic pin on his vest.
In December of 1912, my then 30-year old great-grandfather married my great-grandmother, Della Ann Rogers, who was six years older than him.
I think this might’ve been their wedding portrait.
My grandfather was born eleven months later in October of 1913. Only a single photo exists of George holding baby Roger. In this photo, George is only 31 years old.
Roger clearly treasured the photo because at some point he wrote on the back: Please do not looze this.
In August of 1915, Della gave birth to a baby girl, Pauline. The next spring or summer, when Della was nearly 40 years old, she settled her children on the porch so a photographer could capture their likenesses to be printed on a metal plate that she could display in her home.
And then in August of 1916, baby Pauline died from Typhoid Fever followed less than a month later by her father, George, leaving Della and Roger to make their way on their own.
No wonder grandpa had no tales of madcap adventures.
Offering (to my brothers): a collection of pocketknives that belonged to Roger and, perhaps, to his father before him