Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!: Paternal Great-Grandmother Frances Ollie Jordan

Me, my baby sister Alesha, my dad and Ollie

Frances Ollie Jordan was my great-grandmother. I met her once when I was about two years old at her home in Steele, Missouri the June of 1981. I and a gaggle of her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren made a road trip across the river from Jackson, Tennessee to Missouri. We showed up at her house unannounced and found her home, dressed to the nines as she was every day. One granddaughter remembers that when she saw us piling out of the station wagon, she clapped her hands together and squealed, "Oh, this is the best day of my life!" (I can imagine having the opposite reaction to 10+ people showing up at my house unexpectedly!) The photo above remembers that event. In it, Ollie is the red-headed, peach blouse-and-long-necklace-wearing spitfire, who already at that time was 91. She would live to be 102.

Ollie was born June 15th, 1890 in Henderson County, Tennessee to Needham Carroll Jordan (1841-1924) and Mary Ann Adams (1857-1940), and was one of ten children. Not much is known about her early life. Her father Needham was a farmer who could not read or write, according to census records. They lived simply in post-Civil War Tennessee near a clan of other Jordans. At one point, their house caught fire while everyone was out in the fields. It burned to the ground, and they lost everything.

Henderson County, Tennessee
Ollie and John Lee Sellers, (my great-grandfather) were married on July 14th, 1905 in Henderson County, Tennessee, apparently much to the dislike of the Sellers family.

Marriage license of Ollie and John Lee
When John Lee Sellers (1879-1908) was dragged to his death by a mule in 1908, she was left with one small son, Larvous Leone, or L.L. as he liked to be called, (my grandfather), and was about 4 months pregnant with Lessie Mae. It is not known what Ollie did immediately after John Lee's death, but according to the 1910 census, Ollie and the kids lived with Ollie's brother Albert Jordan, who wasn't married and didn't have any children at the time. Her daughter, Lessie Mae, would die at 2 years old.

As Larvous remembered it, via his daughter: "Sister and I were playing in the yard where there were some grapes that weren't yet ripe. Lessie ate a 'bait' of those grapes and a few days later we buried her."  She developed colitis, or flux, and died from dehydration. The grapes probably had nothing to do with it, though Larvous might have lived with some sense of guilt--he would have only been about 4 years old when this happened.

Lessie Mae's death certificate

Headstone for Lessie Mae. Note: the dates are wrong. She was born 1908 and died 1910.

Pemiscott County, Missouri
Ollie remarried Atlas Williams on Dec. 24, 1911. She left her son Larvous with her brothers in Henderson County and moved with Atlas to Juno, Tennessee, where their daughter Ruby Dee would be born in 1912. The three of them would eventually settle in Steele, Missouri.


Ollie and Atlas marriage license
According to Ollie and Atlas's grandson:

When Ollie and Atlas Williams moved to Steele, Missouri is unknown, but it was for less than honorable conditions.  He thought that Atlas was run out of the state of Tennessee for moonshining and who knows what else.  After moving to Steele, he set up a reputable welding and machine shop and rented houses that he built. His name is on the cornerstone of the First Baptist Church  where he was a deacon, and where his daughter-in-law Earline was church secretary. It seems that if his reputation was marred early in life, he worked hard to turn it around.

In 1923, Ollie and Atlas had a son, J.C.Williams. (The initials did not stand for anything, that was his legal name.)

Ollie and her two sons: Larvous on her left, J.C. on her right.

 Her reasoning for leaving Larvous behind isn't known. Since the Sellers clan didn't approve of Ollie, it makes sense that she'd leave him with her brothers instead of her former in-laws. Because of the strong disapproval the Sellers had for the Jordans, Larvous never really knew his paternal family. According to a great-granddaughter, Larvous said his upbringing with his Jordan uncles was hard and not all that happy. Ollie missed Larvous a great deal, and that he would visit and even lived with them in Missouri from time to time. It's a mystery as to why he didn't live with them all the time. Ollie, however, did more than her share of child-rearing, raising her children Ruby Dee and J. C., and even taking in Ruby Dee's daughter for a time.

From one of Ollie's granddaughters: Grandma Ollie was a red-haired, blue-eyed, snazzy dresser. She always wore her lipstick, powder and "ear bobs". She was finicky about her house...was way ahead of her time in decorating. She had the only maroon-colored bath fixtures I've ever seen...tub, sink, commode. She was a good cook and her house always smelled of bath powder and was immaculately clean. A great-granddaughter says she remembers Ollie's rouged cheeks, and as a child thought she must have been rich.

Ollie at her home in Steele, Missouri

According to Ollie's sister Ida's granddaughter, Ollie and Ida, liked to catch catfish. A great-granddaughter fondly remembers Ollie's fried chicken, purple hull peas, cornbread, and coconut cake. Others remember her chicken and dressing. One great-grandchild loved it so much that at five years old she offered Ollie her brand new doll because in exchange for a plate of it.

Ollie, left, and sister Ida
Of Atlas, Ollie's granddaughter says, "I loved Grandpa Atlas. I never knew him to be anything but kind. He was the only Grandfather I knew. He always held me in his lap in his big recliner. I adored him. His hands shook from what they called "palsy". I loved to watch him eat peas. He would, with shaking hand, scoop peas along a table knife and get them into his mouth without dropping a pea...shaking hand and all. I thought that was the coolest thing and I would try to do it, too... He had a metal shop and obviously made a decent living because Ollie sure knew how to spend it. Whatever Ollie wanted, Atlas made sure she got it," even though they were not what anyone would call rich.

Another one of Ollie's granddaughters remembers Atlas as being quite generous with his money, freely giving them change for "the show" and even nickels for popcorn. This would be particularly nice since technically they weren't blood relation to him. 

Atlas died on 23 Oct., 1967 of a massive heart attack at the Blytheville, Arkansas hospital. He was 75.

Ollie was able to stay independent at home until she was in her late 90's. Her granddaughters say that even when she lived in the nursing home, she maintained her good looks, and was never seen without her red lipstick and ear bobs. She had  many suitors at the home who attended her. She only let her red hair turn white the last few years of her life. Many family sources say that Ollie would never own up to her actual age. Her son, Larvous, often teased that she would one day be younger than him, as she was notorious for fudging her birth date. She outlived Larvous by twenty years. Her other children, J.C. and Ruby Dee, would live until 2004.She had fifteen grandchildren, and at least forty great and great-great-grandchildren.

Ollie at age 100, seated, with her sister Ida, who was 90. Taken December, 1990

1 comment:

  1. Whoa! I know another little girl that bears a striking resemblance to the one in the first picture in this post. Holy mackeral!