My BigMama would hate that I'm a genealogist.

For Emilie, Katie, and Emma Grace...

This is the beginning of a series of stories I'm writing, because my older granddaughters gave me a journal years ago, and I've neglected writing in it. Recently I asked the oldest Emily if I should just write about the good. She said they want it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly. This blog will become that neglected journal.

My BigMama would hate that I'm a genealogist, digging up all the family dirt. She was my mama's mama. My daddy began calling her BigMama when I was born. I was the oldest grandchild, and all the other grandchildren called her the same name. She was the only grandmother I ever knew and I thought she was a spitfire and a fighter - and not in a complimentary way. My mama used to forbid me from visiting her at her house, four houses away from us on Wingfoot Trail in ATCO. My mama seemed to be perpetually mad with BigMama. I always thought it was a mother-daughter thing, but I've probably discovered yet another reason there was tension between them.

BigMama was Della Estelle Perry Holmes Russell, born 10 September 1909, Joppa, Alabama, and was the second of four children born in four years to Lewis Oscar Napolean Perry and Viola E. Hall. Her mama Viola E. Hall died in April 1913, at twenty seven, four months after the birth of their youngest son. BigMama was four. Her daddy remarried the wicked stepmother (according to BigMama) Ada Harden in Oct 1913 and their union added seven more children to the family.


BigMama led a colorful life. Her personality was overwhelming. I can still hear her belly laugh. She constantly smoked little stinky cigars while she sat on the front porch swing and at the kitchen table drinking her black coffee in one of those jadeite green coffee mugs. She cussed like a sailor. She gave me paregoric and whiskey with honey for colds. Her biscuits were divine and melted in your mouth.

I was a bit afraid of her, and I thought she was a strange person - more so as I got older. In my mind her biggest blunder has always been that she married Paul Russell after she divorced my grandfather. Paul had been the husband of my daddy's sister, my Aunt Katie Ruth. There's nothing like creating more dirty laundry, so in her infinite wisdom, she married Paul on 11 August 1953, the year before I was born. Her taste in men could have been better.

BigMama & me at Wingfoot Trail house

Occasionally, I revisit my tree people, because new records are always being released, and I don't want to miss a one. Not too long ago, I discovered a criminal record for Paul for assault and battery in 1951. I suspected this criminal charge was related to the time Paul punched my mama in the face, broke her nose, and knocked out her front teeth. I'm not sure how I know this story - probably overheard snippets as a child - and I've always wondered if it was true. It's amazing the things children remember. An old friend was good enough to trek to the Bartow County, Georgia, courthouse to find the court case file and email it to me.

It is true, at least the assault is.The case file doesn't contain details.

On Monday 21 November 1950, Paul

"unlawfully did make assault and harm the said Gladys Mashburn [my mama]...contrary to the laws of said State, the good order, peace and dignity thereof."

Witnesses who testified against Paul were my mama, my daddy, my Aunt Katie who was married to Paul at the time, Raymond Bell, and Howard Moore. So now I understand some of my mama's perpetual anger with BigMama. I can't say I blame her. The incident probably happened at the Goodyear Mill in ATCO where my family worked. I have three photos of Paul - the two below and one other of the dirt-poor family lined up on the front porch of a shack for the photo. He was holding a pistol like a gangster. Now, I'll have to find it and inspect it better.

Aunt Katie Ruth Mashburn and Paul Russell with son Jim.

I asked BigMama what happened to Paul. She said he'd moved back to Texas where he'd come from.

My family has all passed, and I do feel a bond with them, but dang, some were mean rough drunks. Rambunctious. Some of the more genteel county citizens would have labeled these antics trashy and my family trash. I understand now why my mama tried to keep me away from them. Maybe they're in a far better place now and their existence is more calm.

Yep, BigMama would hate that I know all this and that I'm snitching - publicly.

BigMama and Mama

Thank you, Guy Parmenter for taking time to find the file for me!