Stephen Lemon Kearney, my Grandfather, was born October 18, 1888, the youngest son of J. James and Celia Jane Howell Kearney. I was fortunate to have been born in his home in 1929 and was his first Grandson. This narrative relates how he influenced me and my first impressions of him and his life style.
As I reflect back on my early training and instructions on how to live and direct my life, it seems that every word of good advise came directly or indirectly from my Grand -father, whom everyone in the family referred to as "Papa or Parper".
He was the supreme authority and the source of the needs for his family. He worked hard and expected the same from those around him, was honest, fair, compassionate and devoted to his wife and all his family. Not only did he impress me with his life style, he, like God, owned everything that I was associated with. He lived in the big white house and owned the land around it. Even the Church he and Mama Lola attended seemed to be on his land. At first I thought the Church building belonged to him as he was always the first to get there on Church Sunday, to build the fire, or prepare the building for service, the last to leave. He served as a Deacon for many years. At the time he owned all the farms that his children lived on.
Nothing seemed to be ventured into without first giving consideration to what Papa would do or think about it. I thought that he knew everything that was going on, however, as I grew older and living among all those aunts and uncles , I learned that they were not perfect and that Papa could be deceived. As we both grew older nothing lessened my respect for him. To this day he is the most Godly man I have known.
His civic and civil activities included serving in the U.S. Army in 1917 during the First World War, spending most of the time at a Post near Greenville, S.C. During World War II he was ask to use his influence in selling War Bonds and served on the committee to gather commodity goods for the Freedom Train.
Papa's education was limited to grade school but he was good in math. He could measure land, lumber and cubics. Along with his brothers and sister they learned to read music and enjoyed singing Church songs, without instruments. He was blessed with a great bass voice.
Stephen was married to Lola Mae Ham, b. Aug. 25, 1892, daughter of Haywood and Emma Wade Ham. I have been told that Lola was a child bride, about 13 or 14 years old, when she and Stephen began their lives together. The first few years of their life they lived on a part of the Ham farm, known as Hamtown. The children came regularly, Robert in 1907, Albert 1909, a miscarriage, Fred in 1913, Emma Mae in 1915, another miscarriage and Doris in 1919, Lyman in 1922 and Marie in 1928. The last child was a still-birth on July 19, 1931. Papa was a disciplinarian with common sense and well respected by his family and others.
By 1915 the family had moved in the tenant house on the Kearney Farm on land that Stephen later inherited. Their daughter, Emma Mae, was born in that house. By 1918 the family moved into the main house built by J.J. and his sons. J. James and his son James (Jim) had moved to an adjoining farm that in later years became known as their Home Place. In 1925 Stephen and Lola purchased about 90 acreas of land that surrounded the Mewborn Primitive Baptist Church and it is in this home they spent the rest of their lives together. Lola was in her mid fourties when I first remember her and she always wore her hair in a "Bob" , occasionally taking it down, washing it and I can remember that it was probably two feet long, or longer. She stood about 5'5" tall, her waist line was not small but she was not an obese lady. She liked to be informed about what was going on and controlled as much of it as she could. Lola had a terrible stroke about 1951 and was bed-ridden until her death February, 26, 1960. As she lay in her hospital bed in the large bedroom she would give instructions to family and maids as to what needed cleaning, cutting and sweeping. without seeing any of it. She knew, some how, when the peaches and grapes needed picking and when the pecan trees needed shaking; that was my job.
You can really tell the character of a person by what their in-laws think of them. All of her seven daughters and son-in-laws respected her, and most admired her.
Lola and Stephen shared a strong belief in the Primitive Baptist Doctrin and Stephens strongest supporter of his Deaconship at the Church was Lola. Every second Saturday and Sunday was a special weekend at the Kearney House. Lola, the daughters and daughters in laws and maid would prepare food and living arrangements for any visitors at the Church that need housing for the weekend. Often there would be some preaching and singing on Saturday night.
The one thing that make my Grandparents, Stephen and Lola Kearney, so dear to me is, they loved and supported their family, no matter what.
You will note that I have mentioned "maid" two or three times above. The family never did refer to her as a maid but there was a live-in unrelated person that was like a part of the family. Her name was Rosa Lee Williams. Her mother was Mamie Williams and her Stepfather was George Williams. She had three half-sisters, Thelma, Louise and Estell. Her Grandmother was called "Aunt Jack Ann." This was a black family. Aunt Jack Ann was a widow woman, had absolutely no income other that what she could work out by the day plus using some of the skills her family had picked up during "slavery" times. She would pick "broom straw" seasonally and make brooms and sell them for pennies. Their efforts was for sheer survival without steeling. Rosa Lee was a mild mannered and good natured person and had been hired to help Lola around the house from time to time and finally was hired full time and given a room in the house to live. She lived there for several years during the late 30's and early 40's until she married.
The happy times in this household are too numerous to mention. There were times of deep sorrow. About 1935 or 36, their daughter Doris developed an infection in her lower jaw bone, after having a wisdom tooth pulled, and after many operations all her lower jaw bone was removed. During WWII their son, Lyman spent about 2-3 years in the South Pacific War Zone causing anxiety when listing to the news. In 1951 Lola had a stroke and was bed ridden for 10 years prior to her death.
I hope someday to write about the Black families that I grew up with. They were our closest neighbors, the people we had contact with every single day and the people we played and worked with more closely than any other.
NOTE; Please refer to his obituary of Stephen written by J.E & J.M. Mewborn, Elders of the Mewborn Primitive Baptist Church and printed in the "LandMark".