Jeremiah might have discovered what love was in his last years, but before he learned the trick, he made life a living hell for Grandma and all of the other members of her childhood family. Granddaddy grew up in a big family like Grandma, but it couldn’t have been a more different experience. Grandma and Granddaddy both had a slew of brothers and sisters and cousins…but Granddaddy actually got to play with his. Granddaddy’s family was full of mischief and laughter, Grandmas’ family couldn’t have been more opposite. When Granddaddy’s family would all get together there would be tables full of food and everybody would play games and have races. The kids would be squealing and the grown ups would be laughing. Even the dogs would be running around jumping and yapping and having a big time. People said that you could hear a Shelton get together long before you got close enough to see it.
“They, Laws, you youngins sure do know how to make a racket. You could near about wake the dead.” Granddaddy would imitate his Momma, my Great Grandma May. “She would fain disapproval as she was laughin and enjoyin every minute of her family gathered around her. She was a wonderful woman. I wish you’ll had of known her. She was patient and kind and always found the good or the humor in almost any situation. And boy, could that woman cook! A lot like your Grandma.” Granddaddy winked at Grandma. He was always careful to praise Grandma on her cooking. He was no dummy. He knew where his bread was buttered.
Grandma’s Daddy didn’t like loud crowds, and he sure didn’t like any shenanigans. Children were to be seen and not heard. If people came over to eat, as tradition dictated, adults ate first and children ate last… and hopefully there was enough left. Jeremiah’s children were to eat in silence. Then with permission, they were to excuse themselves promptly and not make any sounds that might disturb the company. Friends from school or neighborhood children…not even cousins, were never invited to come over to play or to visit. Parties and merry -making of any variety were strictly forbidden. The only gatherings that took place in the Fox home were business transactions, church elder meetings and planning sessions for the Republican Party of Greene County of which Jeremiah Fox was the head fund-raiser. Jeremiah had his friends, his social gatherings, and a powerful voice that demanded attention…but Grandma and her siblings were absolutely never ever to speak unless spoken to. Jeremiah kept a leather strap out in the barn as a reminder that his rules were to be obeyed without question or comment, or even expression.
“One time a gnat flew up my brother Charles’ nose when my Father was criticizing the way that Charles had hung up a saddle. Charles reacted to the troublesome invader by twitching the side of his face. Father thought that Charles was making a disrespectful sneer…as if anyone would dare! Charles was about fifteen, and a good boy. He never caused any problems and he worked hard… but he had twitched at the wrong time. My father made Charles pull down his pants, stand against the barn with his hands up over his head. Then Jeremiah called for us all to come outside and watch.
“’This is what happens to disrespectful children! Spare the rod and spoil the child. I will not have spoiled children.’ And he took the leather strap and whipped Charles’ back side until he drew blood. Charles left home that very week…for good.” My sweet Grandma was still terribly bitter about the loss of her eldest brother when the rest of the siblings needed his strength and guidance and support most. Without Charles, life with Jeremiah Fox was even more unbearable. Charles had been everybody’s favorite, and he had been run off by what they all believed their own father to be, the devil incarnate.
One by one Grandma’s brothers left their father Jeremiah’s house. Some were old enough to go and be able to make a living…others went and didn’t even know how to stay alive. The boys all loved their sweet Momma Elizabeth, but as young lions learn, if they want to survive they have to go and find their own pride. A few of Grandma’s brothers had learned a valuable lesson, even if they hadn’t been valued in their Father’s home. Unfortunately, some turned to drink and women and any other type of easy good-time that they could find. All of the things that they been denied in moderation they indulged in. And because of it, some of the boys never even became men. One died of alcohol early…he walked across the street from a bar in the dark hours of the morning and was struck and killed by a milk wagon. One died of a good time gone bad…the girl he decided that he wanted in his mindless drunken stupor had already been taken. The jealous husband removed any chance of his wife being tempted to go off with the good-looking boy when he plunged a broken bottle into his throat. One died driving too far and too fast. One got kicked in the head by a horse and lived in a state of confusion on the streets benches and the beaches of Charleston…no body even knew what had happened to him until he died and someone found a worn out old photograph of his momma with name, Elizabeth Earnest Fox, the date it was taken, 1883, and the place, Greeneville, Tennessee.
But a couple of the boys had learned lessons from their sad childhoods that would prove to serve them well. They had been worked nearly half to death as children on the farm, so they knew that they didn’t want to be laborers…but they had taken to heart the ethic of hard work. They knew that working toward something and seeing it completed and completed well was a good feeling. Their quiet attention to detail that had grown from only being allowed to be observers instead of participants in discussions and conversations was seen as wisdom and thoughtfulness. Their inexperience with women was regarded as respectfulness, and their avoidance of any self-destructive forms of entertainment like drinking and gambling suggested utmost self-control. Their kind eyes and quick smiles that they had inherited from their sweet momma was the finishing touch. Everyone who met these boys liked them and knew that they were destined for a promising future.