This week I would like to write about my maternal grandmother (nana), Sadie Louise Mills. I’m kind of excited to do this post, because other than my parents, she is the ancestor I know best. I never met her husband who died before I was born. I met my dad’s mom a couple times, and only talked with his father on the phone maybe one time (he didn’t grow up very close to his parents and was mostly raised by his grandfather-who I will have a future post about, and one of his uncles).
My grandmother was quite the Southern Belle! She had a cute little saying for everything and was known to call her children “Damnyankee Kids” when they miss-behaved (her two daughters were both born and raised in Illinois). I remember her talking about her Sunday Best clothes by calling them “Sunday go to meeting” clothes. Dress-up clothes that girls played in were called “play pretties.”
She was pretty vain. As a young woman, my grandmother actually asked to have most of her teeth removed, and replaced with false teeth, so that she could get rid of the sizable gap between her front teeth. She also lied about her age on the 1940 census making herself 4 years younger. And in fact, my grandfather did not even know her true age until she had to give it for their marriage license! She had always been a little embarrassed by the fact that she was about 3 years older than her husband, so on the census she made them both 27. One aspect of my grandmother that I found to be very amusing was the sheer number of little photo booth photos of herself she had stashed away. There are dozens of them! She’s wearing different outfits and tilting her head in all different ways. They’re so funny, and such a great peek into her life! I remember she had the girliest little giggle, even as a grandma, but she could also be very stern and strict.
Sadie Louise Mills was born in Uneedas, Louisiana on November 16, 1909.
Sadie was one of 6 children born to Sydney Mills (1879-1941) and Hallie Covington (1883-1916). Sadie was only about 7 years old when her mother died at the young age of almost 33. (I’ll write more about her parents in future posts)
Sadie’s father Sydney remarried a woman named Frances (whom Sadie called miss Frances and really loved) and they had 5 more daughters together. Sadie was close to all of her siblings and I remember her telling me how she used to help watch after the little ones. She talked about how hard it was to get the little kids to take their naps sometimes, and she discovered a great trick to take the little ones out side where it was sunny. When the little ones squinted their eyes against the sun, inevitably they would fall asleep and my grandmother’s job was done, so she could enjoy her free time while they napped!
My grandmother loved to write poetry, always cute little rhyming poems about everyday topics. One of my favorite mementos from her life is an old school newspaper from her time at New Augusta High School, also in Mississippi. This student paper was published in November in 1928. The poem goes like this:
by Sadie Mills
Thanksgiving, the day our forefathers set aside
As a day of giving thanks to the one most high,
For all the blessings he saw fit to give
In order that we might prosper and live.
Thanksgiving, the day when small tots feast and play
It is a time to be remembered as a joyful day.
They go to grandmothers in the usual way,
For it is there on Thanksgiving that they love to stay.
Thanksgiving, a day that comes only once a year,
Is every time greeted with a great big cheer,
For we enjoy the feasts and holiday
That will come when we are old and gray.
Her father was a turpentine man so her family moved around quite a bit. As a result Sadie didn’t graduate high school until she was 20, in 1929 from Piave High School in Mississippi. I am fortunate enough to actually still have her high school diploma!
My grandmother worked at a speakeasy as a young woman. I love to picture her as a 20 something, being wild and free. So different than the older woman I always knew who had been diluted by time. But if I think back on my memories of her, I feel like I can see this fun spark peeking through. Based on the address of a letter she wrote home from Chicago, on one of her visits there to visit another sister-Helen, my mom believes that the speakeasy Sadie worked at was called the Egyptian Grill in Mobile Alabama.
Here’s the text of her letter:
Dear Hallie [Sadie’s Sister] and Mrs. Mac [woman they were staying with?],
Push over ’cause here I come – Leave tonite at 8:45 on bus. Get there early Tuesday morning about 6:30 I believe. Think you two will be in bed by then? If not, be glad to see your sleepy faces at the bus station.
I’m like the wild geese. Just have to fly south this weather is so cold here. Be glad to see me? eh?
Love to all,
She took nursing classes as a young woman as well, but never graduated.
In the mid 1930’s my grandmother traveled to Chicago to visit her sister. The two made plans to go out one night to a local club called the Aragon Ballroom. Sadie’s sister instructed her not to accept any rides home from men who had driven by themselves to the club. I think she maybe worried that her country sister from the South might get into trouble in the fast paced and busy North. As the evening wore on, several young men approached Sadie and offered to give her a lift home, following the advice of her sister, Sadie asked each one how they got there. In turn, each man informed Sadie that they had driven their cars and so she declined their offer. At some point a handsome young man named Joe Murphy asked Sadie if he could take her home, when asked how he got there, Joe told Sadie that he took the street car. Sadie liked Joe very much too, and decided she could accept his offer to accompany her home. On August 11, 1939 they were married.
It’s amazing to think that had my grandfather Joe actually owned a car and driven it to the club, that there is a HUGE possibility that my mom, my aunt, myself, and my two daughters would not exist. This is just one of the many amazing stories that only go to prove how miraculous each of our lives are.
Sadie and Joe were only married for 33 years until Joe’s untimely death in 1972 from a heart attack, he was only 60. My grandmother never remarried. I will write more about Joe in another post, but I will mention here that my mom was born in 1943 and then Joe joined the army sometime that fall. I have lovely letters and v-mail sent home to Sadie from Joe while he was away, which I will also share on his post. When he returned from service in January of 1946, my aunt was born 9 months later. A real baby boomer!
My grandmother was pregnant before she gave birth to my mom. She was pregnant with a boy named Thomas but he was a still born. He would have been born about a year and a half before my mom’s birthdate. Just like with the streetcar story, it is interesting to think that had Thomas lived, my mom may not have been born. They may not have been ready to have a child so quickly after Thomas, as my mom and her sister are a little over three years apart. My mom heard stories about how when Sadie was pregnant with Thomas her father died. He died on December 27, 1941 and she made the trip from Chicago back down south for his funeral. Thomas was delivered not long after that trip and family members wondered if it was the stress and sadness of the trip which contributed to his death.
In 1994, when I was in middle school, my mom’s only sibling, her younger sister died of liver cancer. Her illness progressed during the span of just a year, and while it is never easy to come to terms with this kind of news, looking back, I know how little time my mom and grandmother had to process this information and make their good byes. My grandmother was never the same, which is totally understandable. She started to have a lot of memory problems, whereas before her memory had always been crystal clear and sharp. We think that her coping mechanism was to try to forget and that she really did begin to.
Sadie continued to write poetry throughout her life and had a large display at her local library sometime during the 1960’s-1970’s. She went to Hawaii in her 70’s with other seniors and was very active in her church and the women’s club. She loved estate sales and her neighbors who helped take care of her until my mom was able to talk my grandmother to coming to an assisted living home in our state. She lived at a very nice assisted living home close to my mom’s house while I was in college. I used to visit her every day to help feed her cat, and I often had lunch with her and her circle of lady friends. I brought my childhood American Girl dolls and we made a circle of chairs to do “doll therapy” where I would dress whichever doll I brought in different outfits and then pass them around for Sadie and her friends to ooh and ahh over. They would often share stories of their favorite dolls growing up and talk about the outfits they sewed back in the day for their dolls.
Sadie died February 27, 2004. I wasn’t able to be there with my grandmother when she died, which I still feel bad about. I think my mom and I both had been expecting to be there with her at the end. Unfortunately while she was dying the staff at the home thought she was just having circulation issues and took her in an ambulance to the ER. My mom and I both rushed to the nursing home hoping to be there with her when she got back, but she died at the hospital. It makes me sad to picture this woman who was so full of life and vitality and quite a bit of spunk, alone in the confusion and noise of a hospital at the end of her life, instead of surrounded by those who love her.
Finally, since I think this post is certainly long enough! LOL I want to share some of the pages I’ve made for my grandmother. There are more, but I thought this was more than enough 🙂