Friday, August 16, 2019

Robert Lee Green (my Great-Grandfather)


Approx 1937 with his wife, Cairo IL
Robert Green was my Great Grandfather, and I was an annoying and hyperactive young child. This was not a great combination. Further, I think Granddaddy, which is what we called him, was not a ball of fire in any case. He benefited from a strong and domineering wife and a daughter that helped take care of him – my Grandmother Zela.

It looked a little like this, genealogically speaking.

Robert Green -> Zela Mitchell (née Green) -> Gerald Mitchell -> Me!

I tend to see him through the lens of his later years, but I have learned enough through talks with my Grandmother and the Ancestry web site.

But coming at it from the other side is where I found him interesting.

The Greens were farmers in Kentucky for 4 generations before he was born. His Great Grandfather, William Charles Monroe Gabrial Green, was born in Virginia and headed out to the brand-new state of Kentucky to become a farmer very early in the 1810s. I can’t find too much out about their farming life except that it was in the rolling hills about 10 miles south of Cincinnati. His son moved to south, right on the border with Tennessee. 


If you notice the dates and the location, you might question if they fought in the civil war. A lot of them did. Many of the uncles and cousins fought on the side of the confederacy, even though Kentucky itself stayed in the Union as a slave state. My relatives lived right on the Tennessee border. You can probably guess their allegiance since Graddaddy’s full name is Robert Lee Green (for non-Americans, Robert E Lee was the famous Confederate General that almost won the Civil War for the South). He was born in 1882.

Sometime between 1900 and 1910 Granddaddy’s father moved to far western Kentucky where Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky meet. Not long after that he met his wife and in 1911, my grand-mother was born. Two other children were born and they all attended school in La Centre (near Paducah KY).

In 1929, “The Crash” came and farming income dropped. My grandmother, the only child out of High School, was sent to work in the big city of Cairo Illinois. The family arrived about a year later, doing a lot of subsistence farming and living on Zela’s income and her father’s pick up jobs.

The family stayed in Cairo (Illinois, not Egypt) throughout the Depression. FYI, it is pronounced  KAY-row in Illinois. My Grandmother married and left Illinois about 1937, and so I lose track of him for a while.

My Grandmother Zela perched on air of the chair. Her father and mother in the center standing. I believe the sitting couple is my Grandfather's brother John Mitchell and his wife Ann. I don't know the lady standing in the back.


After WWII, he and his wife moved out to California to be close to their children. Both daughters were married and living in Greater Los Angeles. His son lasted through the war, and everyone expected he and his wife to stay there as well. Uncle Bo and Aunt Afton eventually moved to Hawaii, but the Granaddady and his wife stayed in Los Angeles.

Most of the picture are from this period.

I arrive on the scene in 1959 and remember almost nothing of my his wife, she passed when I was 5. And the one memory I have of her is not pleasant, but one stand-out memory from 55 years ago doesn’t really make sense to extrapolate from.

After his wife’s death, Granddaddy Green came to live with my Grandmother, Zela, and her husband. I remember this because between 1966 and 1970 I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house (long story).

The Greens - Back Row Zela, Mary and Robert L Green, Front Row, Uncle Bo and Aunt Dot (Dorthy)

His last 4 years, when I was interacting with him, were no picnic for either he or I. He spent his days in his chair, listening endlessly to baseball games on the radio. And he took great delight in hating the home teams of Los Angeles. His favorite teams were, in order: St. Louis, then anyone playing against the Cubs, then anyone playing against a California team and then anyone playing against Los Angeles teams. He was a bitter old man.

He was often, ostensibly, “watching” Martha and I. I was between 7 and 11 and Martha was eight years older. She was my aunt and his grand-daughter and was Down Syndrome. I never remember his getting out of his chair, except to use the bathroom. And, 2 or 3 times a day he would croak (he would bellow if he could, but the tobacco prevented that) out that one of us had to empty the spit-can. The spit-can was an old Folger’s or MJB coffee with a nice sheen of chewing tobacco spit.

Sometime between 1965 and 1970
Standing in the back row - Zela, Dot, Elmo then Dot's husband Robert Blanks. Crouching: Jerry Blanks, My Grandfather HAM, Old Robert Lee Green, Martha - Zela's daughter and Stevie Blanks. Next to Granddaddy - the spit can!

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen two children argue over who has to empty the spit can. By the time we decided, and ventured into the front room to get it - he would be holding it out with one hand far in front of him. I remember this vividly. You would walk to get it, as you got closer, he would waggle it and say “hurry up”. Then you would, gingerly!, carry it to the bathroom, dump it in the toilet and run it back to him.

That pretty much summed up my interaction with Robert Lee Green. May he rest in peace.

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