A Docent’s Great-Grandparents

If the docents of San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum put their stories together, our history would tell the true tale, not a textbook re-creation.

It is stunning to realize these fine people were born before the Civil War began, and I can clearly remember them and their voices, voices beginning 150 years ago, especially Great Nana, who lived until 1960. She never quite grasped the concept of television, carrying on a lively conversation with whomever was on, as she sat and hand-sewed a quilt, always wishing Edward R. Murrow, "And good night and good luck to ye," right back.

Mr. and Mrs. Annesley.

She was five years old when Lee and Grant met at Appomattox, forty-three when the first airplane flew, sixty-seven when Lucky Lindy landed, eighty-five for Hiroshima, and, at ninety-six, could listen to Elvis sing "Love Me Tender."

Great Pop-pop was a maker of cigars, had a tobacco workshop down-cellar, and was rarely seen without a cigar or a "chaw" in his mouth. Once, in 1928, my eight-year-old mother, having stubbed her bare toe, ran crying down to him for some kind grand-fatherly comfort. Assessing the situation from several feet away, he let fly a remarkably accurate expectoration of tobacco juice, which landed squarely on the toe in question: SPLAT! My mother’s cries and sniffles turned to shrieks of horror and outrage as she scrambled up the outside stairs toward the hose spigot, with Great Pop-pop assuring her, "It’ll cure what ails ye."

He and his wife ALWAYS called each other Mr. and Mrs. Annesley, never by their first names; that would have been shocking! He was never seen in anything but a white shirt, tie, and dark suit, and she always wore a nice dress of near ankle length. At each chicken dinner, he would ask for, "a wing and a thigh and a wee piece o’ the boozum."

Neither ever learned to drive, as they were more than sixty years old when "machines" became widely available. If they were to be taken anywhere, they would always ask, "Will we be takin’ the machine, then?"

They lived together until his death, except for one night in about 1953. Great Pop-pop showed up at Nana’s house with his old suitcase (called a "grip"), and declared, "I’ve left your mother for good and all. I can't stand her bitchin' another minute!"

Before he absconded, as he was walking out the door of his house, Great Nana spoke to him sharply: "Mr. Annesley! You come back here this minute! Your grip's dusty." She dusted his "grip" and sent him on his way. Of course, he went back the next day.

He once told my father, "Never get old, Russell; it's a damn nuisance." However, we all do our best. As Jonathan Swift put it, "Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old."

Russ Livingston is a retired K-8 principal and a docent at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. He welcomes stories of early San Joaquin County residents, especially from the Museum's docents.

1 comment to A Docent’s Great-Grandparents

  • […] Some months ago, I wrote a post about my great-grandparents Harry and Tillie Kubrin, the forebears of our line on the Kubrin side. That post started out as a primer on family history craft, but something drew me inexorably to the subject of Harry and Tillie, and I quickly veered off-message. Great-grandparents must be inherently colorful. Just ask Russ Livingston, who recently wrote this post about his great-grandparents. […]

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