Bama and the Big Bang

"Bama" and Sara on Strong Avenue

“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.)

Tricia, Mamie, Sara, Jessie and Tiny

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.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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11 Responses to Bama and the Big Bang

  1. Jenny Adams says:

    is there any way we can find out where the house was? I will come down and go with you. Swear i will. See if you can’t locate some records and find it

    If i have a girl (once i get over the initial horror of having to raise something other than my immature self) … i’m going to name her Bama 😉

  2. MCM says:

    Please don’t name my great-niece Bama. No one will know how to pronounce it and will think she’s a baby elephant with a football fixation. You may name her after me. I’ll let you know when I’ve narrowed the homesite search down somewhat.

  3. Angela M. Cable says:

    Fascinating story. The reason I ran across it…I think your Harmon Chavis was a brother to my 2nd gr-grandmother, Serepton S. “Annie” Chavis Andrews. I’ve found what I think is Annie as a child on the 1850 Washington Parish, LA census, she’s listed incorrectly as Huffman, right above her is a brother listed as Harmon Huffman. Does the Huffman name make any connection with you? Specifically the people in the household are: Mary Huffman b. 1810 MS, Joseph Chavis b. 1784 SC (I think this is Annie and Harmon’s grandfather), Caroline Huffman b. 1834 MS, Warren Huffman b. 1836 LA, Martha Huffman b. 1840 LA, Harmon Huffman b. 1841 LA, Ann Huffman b. 1846 LA. Martha may be a sibling as well, Warren shows up later using the name Huffman in Pike county MS, he married Narcissa I Fortenberry. In 1860 Annie Chavis is in Greensburg, St Helena Parish with a Shilling family, from my research the Shillings were next door neighbors to the Chavis claim. I find them as Shilling, Shillings and Shellings. No other Chavises with her in the Shilling household, Warren Huffman is living in the next home. If this Harmon is the same person, his father would have been Joseph Chavis (Jr?) and his mother Mary Andrews.

    • sec040121 says:

      Angela,
      If this is indeed “our” Harmon Chavis, you have provided more background than anyone in this family has ever had on him. He is a cipher in the Evans/West/Sproles lineage, always referred to as a “Frenchman” or possibly “Cajun.” As he died when my great-grandmother was a toddler, she had no memory of him and apparently her mother passed very little along for family lore. I’ll ask my aunt, the keeper of all our genealogy, to read through your post and see if she can add anything. Thanks for getting in touch and I hope you enjoy the blog.

    • sec040121 says:

      Angela,
      Please see my reply to Jim Huffman; I just got the Harmon Chavis picture and will get it scanned in over the next day or so. Thanks for your patience.

      • Angela M. Cable says:

        Awesome! So excited to see what he looked like. Thanks so much for helping to fill in this gap in the tree 🙂

  4. Mary Carol, My name is Laura Rainey Sproles, wife of Charles Edward Sproles (of Louisiana). I have reason to believe Charles is in the lineage of Bigma (Margaret Sproles). I have been researching his family because those with the information have already passed. His dad was born in 1908 making this a very old immediate family. Here is what I have so far as the connection: Margaret Sproles would be his Great Grand Aunt. We will start with Margaret up through the current years.
    Zachariah Sproles 1805 (father to Margaret 1845), had a son named John William or Willie Sproles 1841, who had a son named Oather Martin Sproles 1881, who had a son named J Z Sproles 1908 and he had Charles Edward Sproles 1956 (along with 8 other children).
    Well there it is and I am fascinated by your blog and can’t stop reading about these ancestors. Thanks so much for making them public. We live in North Texas. Look forward to hearing from you.

    • sec040121 says:

      Laura, it looks like Bigma (Margaret Sproles) provided us with a world of cousins! Thanks so much for sharing this family history and some names to add to our own genealogy. We are headed to Holmes County today, not far from where Margaret and her family lived; if you’re ever coming to Mississippi, please let me know and we’ll do a tour!

  5. ljsproles says:

    Hi, I have reason to believe my husband is a great nephew of Margaret Sproles. I have been searching for his family connections and this is what I have so far:
    Relationship to Charles Sproles:
    Zachariah Sproles 1805-1875
    Margaret Sproles 1845-1929
    John William Sproles 1841-1902 Mississippi (9 children)
    Oather Martin Sproles 1881-1933 Louisiana (11 children)
    JZ Sproles 1908-1969 Louisiana (9 children)
    Charles Sproles 1956 Louisiana (1 child)

    I am fascinated by your blog that I found when searching for the Sproles family. We live in Texas, Charles left Louisiana in 1976 after returning from the US Navy. His mother and some of his siblings are currently living in Louisiana & Mississippi areas.

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