‘I will change the world. I will be great.’
I sit here looking across the plains of eastern Kansas, the place were I was born. I remember my dreams and fantasies of childhood, dreams that I would become a great man, a man who would make his family proud. To me, many of those dreams have now crumbled and caved to the restraints of the reality that greatness is not easily obtained.
I have often wondered what they would think of me. I never really knew any of my grandparents except by the stories – and indeed in some cases, legends – about them. Yesterday, as I visited them for the first time in many years, I spent some time thinking about each of them in turn…
Lilburn Glenn Miller – My father’s father
He was the one I remember the most. I was older at the time of his death, and I was a pallbearer at his funeral. Unfortunately, what I remember of him was not the man he really was. As I remember him, he just sat in his chair, day after day, looking out his window as years passed. He always mistook me for my brother, and I’m not sure he even knew who I was.
But from the stories and a few clips of old 8mm family films, I caught a glimpse of the man he was. He was a classic example of the early 20th century American farmer. Rising and falling with the sun, he was a man of few words and a great deal of work. In many ways, not unlike the soil he worked for a living, he was hardened by the sun and rarely showed any form of emotion. But even though he was hardened, he raised 6 children to be successful workers. He used horses and hand tools to grow and harvest countless bushels of grain and produce during his years in a lifestyle now lost to luxury and technology.
Nancy Ethel Ayres-Miller – My father’s mother
She was the first of my grandparents to die, succumbing to a series of massive heart attacks just after I was born. I have no memories of her at all, but from the stories I’ve been told, she was quite a woman.
A hardworking farmer’s wife, she bore and raised 6 children and never really even stopped her work to recover. She was constantly doing something, running on overdrive from dawn til dusk. I’m sure now that’s why she suffered fatal heart attacks at such a young age.
She hated her first name, choosing to be called ‘Ethel,’ by which is the name everyone knew her. Unfortunately, her gravestone shows her name in reverse because my grandfather had it engraved that way as his way of respecting the name she used. It was an understandable gesture, but it has and will continue to cause a great deal of grief in the genealogy.
She was a God-fearing woman who planted the seeds that would eventually grow in the heart of her independent, worldly son, my father. She had her vices, and she wasn’t a great spiritual scholar. But what she knew of God, she kept close to her heart.
Even though I do not remember her, I’ve been told that she loved me a great deal. She would carry me around and tell everyone that I was ‘her little man.’ I don’t really know why she bonded with me like she did. Perhaps it was because my brother and I are the only two male descendants to carry on the family name. Perhaps it was because she became very close to my mother, becoming a true second mother to a 16 year old girl thrown unprepared into a woman’s life. Who knows. But she was very proud of me, and I often wonder what she would have thought of me now as what I’ve become.
Rufus Elmore Evans – My mother’s father
He died when I was very young, and I have only vague memories of him. Even my memories are not reflective of him because he had suffered a stroke and was not himself. He didn’t know who I was, and he didn’t even recognize my mother. The only person he recognized at all was my grandmother, his beloved wife.
I’ve learned that I inherited my flare for romance, passion, and the Arts from him. He was an artist in just about everything he did. He taught himself to both read and write music, and he became so proficient with his violin that he used it, along with meager earnings from the railroad, to feed and clothe his wife and seven children through the Great Depression. He had a number of offers to become a professional violinist, which he turned down because he refused to travel and leave his family behind. I enjoy looking through his music notebook. Much of it is unreadable because, as a self-taught musician, he created his own form of notation that made perfect sense to him, but is unknown to everyone else.
And did I mention that he loved his wife? Their romance became quite a legacy. When they met, he was 34 years old, and she was 18. They quickly fell in love, and a year later, they were married. Even against the custom of the day, he was unashamed in his affection for her, and even in old age, they would often cuddle and hold each other openly. Though he certainly had a devious, mischievous Celtic nature, he was quite a noble gentleman, and he came by it naturally…
He was first-generation Welsh, born to one of two brothers who immigrated from Wales in the mid-19th century. Evans was a noble house in the Welsh highlands during a time when the English decided that they needed to ‘save the barbarians’ from themselves by stealing – er, I mean commandeering by royal decree – the lands that had belonged to the highlanders for countless generations, then taxing them into indentureship. The Evans house foresaw what was coming, and two brothers were charged with the task of bringing the clan to America where they could live freely. One brother, James (my great grandfather), came here first to scout for a place to settle. The second brother, John, stayed behind to oversee the sale of the estates and castle and to then bring the liquidated wealth to America. He never made it. When my great grandfather went to meet his brother at the seaport, he found that John had been murdered at sea, and the entire Evans fortune had been stolen. My great grandfather became a very harsh, bitter man after that because for the first time, he had to work as a laborer to survive. Of course, if he hadn’t, I would not exist because my grandfather would never have met or married my grandmother, who was of common class. People often doubt this story, but the noble crest and coat of arms still held by the Evans clan speaks for itself.
Marcelene Louise McVay-Evans – My mother’s mother
I remember my grandmother from my early childhood. She was a simple woman, kind, sweet, and humble to a fault. But I remember that she always seemed a bit sad. She was most known for two things. One was her enormously large boobs (haha) which were amplified by the fact that she was only 4 ft 10 in tall. But as huge as her chest was, it was small compared to her heart. My mother tells stories from her childhood of when my grandmother would have compassion on the railroad hoboes that would frequent their small railway town. Even though others in the town would shun and avoid the railroad vagrants, they always knew they could get a warm meal and a glass of milk at my grandmother’s back porch. She would always make sure that her children were safe from the hoboes, and she would never open her door for them fully (most railroad hoboes were gentle, but some were violent, and a few were even outlaws). But she would always hand a plate of food and some milk through the crack in the door, which they gratefully accepted and sat down to eat at her back porch.
And yes, she loved my grandfather as much or more than he loved her. She bore him eight children, seven of which survived. When he was old, she nursed him faithfully until the end. And that’s why she always seemed sad to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when grandfather died, a large part of her died with him. She died at a much younger age, even though there really wasn’t anything seriously wrong with her. She died from loneliness for grandfather. One of the most beautiful pictures of their love was just before she died, lying in the hospital bed, suffering from what the doctors said was delirium. She told my mother that she couldn’t die because there wouldn’t be anyone to take care of ‘him,’ pointing to an empty chair beside her bed. My mother asked if she saw my grandfather in the chair, drawing a confused, ‘Yes,’ from my grandmother. ‘Jesus is going to take care of daddy, momma.’ After a reluctant, ‘Ok,’ she found her peace, and the next day, she was dead. I like to think that grandfather really was in that chair and that he took her and escorted her into the afterlife just as courteously as he had escorted her so many times on the dance floor.
They are all part of my legacy. My heritage. My blood. One day, I will take my place among them and meet them for the first time. I can only hope that they will be proud of me.