What were your grandparents like?


I am happy to say that I met all four of my grandparents, but I don’t remember anything until the early 1950’s.

My earliest memory is running with a bunch of kids and climbing up the gate at the level crossing on Marholm Road in Peterborough in 1950. It is all very indistinct so perhaps it is some sort of mental creation. Perhaps brought about by having visited that location when I was older. Still, I remember it, so perhaps it is in some way real.

Level crossing in Walton, Peterborough, England

My grandparents were Uriah Blake Thorpe, Lenore Hetty Tallman, Grace Caroline Thorogood and James Archibald Bellamy.

It is hard to talk about what your grandparents were like. First, you have your actual memories, second, you have the stories that you have heard, and last, you have the things you have learned from research. This is an important thing to those who are genealogists. Oftentimes, memories and stories are not accurate reflections of the truth. That is not to say all historical records are 100% accurate, but they can usually be relied on.

Uriah Blake Thorpe

UB Thorpe was born 14 July 1878 in Conrad Grove, Iowa, now called just Conrad. He was the youngest child of William Monroe Thorp (no “e”) and Sarah Annett Lemmon. He was named for his grandfather, Uriah Blake Lemmon. His mother died when he was just 8 years old and he went to live with his older sister, Nettie who was married and 23 years old at the time. His older sister, Gertrude who was only 9 went to live with another sister, Hattie, who was also married by then and was 26. His brother Clyde was old enough that he set out life on his own. Clyde wrote an autobiography and is the source of many interesting facts. I have a copy of that autobiography which was dedicated to my grandpa and is “coppy” number 7. Clyde produced about 20 copies of this work. Each one was hand typed and since that took a while to do, they all had new information about what had happened to him after he finished the last one. I came in contact with some who had later copies and was able to get photocopies of the pages that covered the end of his life.

Uriah Blake Thorpe, Paddy Thorpe, and Robert Thorpe “Shelling peas”

In the picture above Grandpa looks on as my mother shucks peas, while I was doing time in the playpen. The colander she is using is somewhat of a family heirloom. I have it still. All sorts of children used to wear it as an army helmet. My dad did. So it is at least 100 years old. On the playpen there are little wooden balls running up the center bar. I have a memory of trying to climb up them like a ladder.

Sometime in the 1950’s I think, my grandpa had a stroke and could no longer speak. I don’t remember his voice at all. But when we would visit him, he would sit on a bench at his nursing home with my sister Judy and me with his arms around our shoulders. I could tell how much he loved us and was so frustrated that the words he wanted to say to us just wouldn’t come out. How terrible for him.

Grandpa died 21 May 1959. I was only 10 years old, but my mom and dad thought I was old enough to go to his funeral. I think only my dad and I went, not Mom. It was the only time I saw my dad truly cry. It’s funny, his crying was exactly like when he was fake crying, like if he was telling a joke.

Lenore Hetty Tallman

My grandma was born 1 February 1879, in Cherokee, Iowa. She was the youngest child of Miller Mathias Tallman and Elizabeth Plomey Ault. My great grandfather might have been named Mathias Miller Tallman since that was the name of his grandfather. In the 1870 Census he was listed as Matt. All the rest of his life he either went by Miller M. Tallman or M. M. Tallman. My grandparents were married in 1903 in Sioux City, Iowa, where Grandpa was working for his brother Clyde at the time. They must have moved to Armour, South Dakota not long after that because my Uncles Ralph and Jack were born there. Later, they moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa, where my Aunt Louise and Dad were born and then to Webster City, which is where my sister Carol Lynne and I were born (1949 and 1948). My grandma died in 1953 while she was living in Grand Mound, Iowa. She and my grandpa are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery there.

625Lenore Hetty Tallman Thorpe and Robert Thorpe

James Archibald Bellamy

James, who everyone called Arch, was born 6 December 1888 in Peterborough, England. He was the third child of Henry James Bellamy and Emma Kelly. He spent most of his life in Peterborough with the exception of when he served in the army during World War I. He served as a carpenter in King George V’s First Own Sappers and Miners. I suppose he was involved in constructing trenches. He was first sent to India and then to Mesopotamia. After the war he moved to Chelmsford for a while where he met and married his first wife, Annie Gertrude Thorogood. She died in 1921 and he married her sister Grace in 1923. By this time they were living in Peterborough again where they both stayed till they died.

Grandad was a proper gent. He was a furniture salesman, then operations manager for Alexander Thompsons. He always dressed in a suit and tie and his shoes had a high polish. He was fairly successful, but he was just Grandad to us. When he and Grandma visited the USA in 1965 he sat in the back yard with a TV tray eating a hamburger with a knife and fork. He bought me a bike to travel around on when I visited in 1966.

He had diabetes and later in his life he lost his sight to “white blindness”. I saw Grandma and him for the last time in 1971. I wanted to get more family information from my grandparents and set my kids to asking them questions about their lives during the 32 years it took me to get back to England again. By that time both of them were too old, so my attempts were unsuccessful.

James Archibald Bellamy – Robert and Judy Thorpe, and Grace Caroline Thorogood Bellamy

Grace Caroline Thorogood

Grace was born 24 September 1894 in Chelmsford, England. She was the second child of three born to Frederick Thorogood and Emily Munson. I first met them when they lived on Lincoln Road in 1950. We all went to England in 1960 while they were still living at the same house. Part of the family stayed with them, while others were farmed out to my Aunts Joan and Barbara. I spent part of my time at each of their houses.

When we arrived at the airport the whole family was there to meet us. My grandma came up to me and said, “Hello, Butch, I’m you grandma”. I knew that of course. Then she said, “You can call me Grandmother, or Grandma, or even Gran, but you are never to call me Granny. Ok.

When I visited there in 1966 I rode the bike over to their flat on Swale Avenue. I don’t know where Grandad was but Grandma was at the sink shucking peas. She was quite a smoker. So much so that the wave of white hair above her forehead had turned yellow from the nicotine. England had strange regulations about what could be added or not added to cigarettes so just about every smoker had some sort of smoke discoloration like my grandma’s hair. My uncle John’s two fingers that he held his cigarettes with were bright yellow/orange. They also taxed their cigarettes by the length. So if you smoked filtered cigarettes you got gypped twice. First, the filter took away tars and nicotine that could be corrupting your lungs and second, the length of the cigarette which was longer because of the filter, contributed to the amount of tax you paid. Most of the people in England that I knew to be smokers smoked unfiltered cigarettes to avoid this extra tax. Back to the pea shucking. Grandma was standing there with a cigarette in her mouth and her hands all involved with the peas. Since her hands were wet, she didn’t want to touch the ever shortening butt and she smoked it till it was about 1/4” long. She was a real pro and got every last drop of tar out of each one.

In 1971 I took my pipe to England but because of import limitations I couldn’t take enough tobacco to last the whole vacation. I ran out a week or so in. My grandad took me around to his tobacconist and bought me a tin of his brand, St Julien’s shag cut. Most English pipe tobacco is dreadful due to the previously mentioned limitations for additives. Since my Uncle Jeff took snuff, I asked him about that. He gave me a couple of recommendations and I started buying different kinds whenever I found something new. By the time we went back to the USA I had 27 different varieties. I even got Karen’s elderly aunt Martha to try it one time.

James A Bellamy eating a hamburger with a knife and fork


My grandparents on my father’s side were:

George B(onaparte) Spicer 9/3/1864 – 5/15/1938
Hattie May Risden Spicer 3/29/1877 – 3/11/1967

My grandparents on my mother’s side were:

Oliver Warren Prior 3/15/1880 – 5/29/1949
May Aleen Palmer Prior 5/1/1886 – 5/21/1979

I don’t have many memories of my grandpas. Both of my grandfathers had passed away before I was born. Most of what I know of them is from facts or stories told to me by others.

Grandpa George:
My mother told me he was a stern, hard man and said that she didn’t like him much. My dad rarely said anything about him which is strange since my dad was a storyteller. I know that he had a knickname, just as everyone else in my dad’s family. His knickname was Snack, but I don’t know why. An unconfirmed source said his middle name was Bonaparte. I know that when his family came to Iowa they originally bought land and settled in what is now the Amana area. The story goes that when the German settlers from the Amana Colonies arrived, they systematically forced others out of the area to gain more land. My dad grew up on a farm near Palo, IA, with his parents and siblings. Pictures I have seen show a very poor family. I try to think about the times in which he lived and it boggles my mind. He was born in the last year of the civil war and died the year before WWII started in Europe. It is a time in America that is hard for me to relate to.

Myron, George Jr (Jack), Hattie May, Edna, Charles (Jerry), George Sr, Chester and Lester Spicer – c1920

Grandpa Ollie:
My mother was pregnant for me when my grandpa passed away. She told me that it was a very hard time for her and that she grieved for him at his death. That tells me that she loved her father. I know that Grandpa had vivid read hair. He passed that trait along to a couple of his sons, some of his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. He was called Red by his friends. He worked for Iowa Steel and Iron Works for many years. I have an iron elephant that Grandpa made and I consider it a family heirloom. He is said to have cast a life size figure of a German Shepherd dog that was owned by a prominent Howard Hall family in Cedar Rapids who built the Brucemore mansion. It can’t have been easy for Grandpa to provide for such a large family, 12 children in all. They lived in a small house on Memorial Drive that is still standing today

Back: Viola, Maxine, Martha, Ruby, Voila, Ron, Virgle, Everett. Front: Ollie Jr, May, Noma, Ollie Sr, Clint.

I did have the chance to know my grandmothers but did not have the kind of loving relationship with either of them that I wished I’d had.

Grandma Hattie:
I have no memory of Grandma Hattie as anything other than a very old woman. She was already 72 when I was born and had lived a very hard life. I believe she was very poor her whole life. She and my grandfather lost 3 babies before they had a chance to grow up. Another son, Jerry (Charles Russell Spicer), was buried alive in a construction accident and was killed as a very young man. I’m sure she had many griefs. My Grandma told me that when she and her family moved to Iowa when she was a girl they traveled here in a covered wagon. She said she was worried about encountering “wild Indians” but they had no trouble from those they met. I used to go to visit her in her little house in Hiawatha with my dad. It seemed like it was way out in the country at the time. She had planted hollyhocks up against the back of her house and I was allowed to pick the flowers and make them into dolls in frilly dresses. I remember being very shy with her (as I was with all adults) and didn’t interact much with her. I wonder now if that pained her. She was always a very sweet and gentle lady and my dad looked just like her.

Hattie Risden Spicer and her vase

Grandma May:
My memories of Grandma Prior are difficult. By the time I knew her she was suffering from memory loss and dementia. When my mom and my aunts and uncles referred to her illness they called it “hardening of the arteries.” Which I assume meant lack of blood to the brain. Probably we would call it Alzheimer’s these days but I’m not positive it was the same thing. My grandma also had a hard life. She bore twelve children and all of them lived to adulthood. My mom’s brothers and sisters were very close and loving and always had a good time when they were together. That seems like evidence that they came from a happy and loving home. My grandma always referred to my grandpa as “my Ollie” which makes me think they had a loving marriage too. When I was little my mom and her siblings determined that she could not live on her own any more and decided to host her in their homes for a week at a time on a rotating schedule. That tended to confuse the poor woman even more so she hardly knew if she was coming or going. She carried her few belongings in a big suitcase and her purse which she was always very protective of. Many times she would ask one of us kids to find her purse and bring it to her. She would always warn us not to steal anything out of it in a very stern voice. At the time, I was very hurt that she would think any of us would steal, but now I understand that she had so few things and was very confused about where she was from week to week.

May and Ollie – 4 generations: Ruby, Karen, May, Wendy

I did have some pleasant memories of her. When my mom was cooking, Grandma would often sit at the table watching and would reminisce about cooking pies, homemade noodles, putting up canned goods, and making big dinners for her big family. I liked to hear those stories. Also, when I was a teenager, I would wash her hair, set it with curlers, and style her hair in a pretty way. She loved the feeling of having her hair washed and combed. She always beamed when we told her how pretty she looked with her styled hair. I regret that I did not understand her illness when I was younger but it was probably because I really never knew her when she wasn’t ill. To my shame I just think of her as stern and crabby.

Being a grandmother is one of the greatest joys of my life. In some ways, I felt that I had missed out on something special by not having a close relationship with my grandmas. When I found out my first grandchild was coming, I knew that I wanted to be a part of my grand kids’ lives and wanted to create lots of loving memories with them. I hope that they will remember me with smiles, pleasure, and love.

This post is part of the StoryWorth project that I am participating in.
At the ButchieBoy main page click the “StoryWorth” category to see the rest of the entries.

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