“Our grandmother, Mama’s mother, who we called Bama, lived with us. She was born November 13, 1868, in Holmes County. Her father, Harmon Chavis, died with she was thirteen months old, and she really knew very little about him except that he had come from Louisiana. (We believe he may have been French or at least Cajun.) Bama’s family had been poor, and Mama always said she had had a hard life. Bama was 25 years younger than her husband [Anderson West]. She seemed old to me all my life, but was only 72 when she died in 1942. She was very different from Mama and not a particularly affectionate person. I don’t remember her playing with us or reading to us or telling us stories. Very seldom did she keep us while Mama went anywhere because she usually expected to go too.
“When storms came up she and Mama were afraid of the storage tanks which were located close to the Buckeye house. I don’t know what they thought could happen, but they were afraid of storms anyway, and I guess the tanks just gave them something else to worry about. Both of them were worriers anyway.”
Bama, with the inflection on the first syllable. All my life, I heard stories of Bama and Bigma ( Sara’s great-grandmother) and their life in Holmes County. The West line seemed to be our tenuous connection to some sort of antebellum aristocracy, and these were not West women. They grew up on hardscrabble farms carved out of the unforgiving dirt of Holmes County and likely had only a sketchy education. Neither was going to turn any heads physically. And that 25-year-age-difference between Bama and Sara’s grandfather, Anderson West……Can you imagine what she must have been thinking? I remember Granny describing him as “bitter” and broken down. Did he return from the Civil War like that? Or did years of fighting the soil to scratch out some sort of existence just wear him out? And why would a young woman find him a suitable mate? Just how slim were the pickings in 1880s Durant? But apparently they found some spark of affection and made a home and raised three children, one of whom blended their genetic details with the Evans mix to give us five perfectly lovely offspring (Well, OK, to be honest, Son was no Cary Grant, but those girls are knockouts. All of them. See below.)
Added to my list of family regrets is the sad fact that I never took Son up on his offer to go out to Holmes County and see the house site where Granny grew up. Maybe we should have all gone out, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, just one day, and stood where Granny and Big played on the porch with their dolls and T.C. shot marbles in the dirt. Bama wasn’t always old, as Sara thought she was…..and perhaps a few hours spent in her world, looking around at the trees and the fields and the hills that were hers and Anderson’s, just for a little while, would have opened some windows into the soul of the stern, unsmiling woman who comes down to us as “Bama.”
Last Friday, Jimmy and I bought land in Holmes County, just west of West. I know the odds of this wedge of hill country having once belonged to “our” Wests are slim, as the original Anderson West seemed to have scooped up great swaths of acreage closer to Durant and Castalian Springs in 1841. But my best intentions, while we’re down there, are to find those spots where Bama and Bigma and Granny and Big became the people that Sara knew and loved. There’s a verse from Ezekiel which was featured in one of our Easter liturgies: “You shall return to the land which I gave your fathers.” And your mothers.