Where I Came From

This page is dedicated to photos and commentary about my relatives and ancestors.

Four Generations of Women in My Family

Seated is Amanda Ann Hailey, my great-great grandmother. Standing on the left is her daughter, Hester Ann Savannah-Smith (my great-grandmother) and standing on the right is Ruby Ann King, my grandmother. The little girl in the foreground is my mother, Velma Lou King. Photo taken about 1923.

My Great Grandfather and His Mule

My great grandfather on my father's side, William "Bill" Berry. This photo was taken in about 1916 by my great aunt Hondo. She was about 10 years old then. It is the only known photo of Grandpa Bill, who disliked cameras.

Hondo had just gotten a new Brownie camera, and ran out and stopped her dad one afternoon just as he was returning from a day of plowing with Toby, the mule. The Berrys were very poor people who lived mostly without money. The sight of his daughter greeting him with this strange device must have taken old Bill by surprise.

My Great Grandmother

This is "Dump" Berry. She was a strong woman, very social and outspoken, who apparently ran things in the Berry house, her husband Bill being content to spend his days plowing and keeping his own counsel. This photo was taken at a studio in town in 1940 or 1941. She died in 1942, four years before I was born.

Charles Floyd King, my maternal grandfather.

Always "Grandpa King" to me, this man was my favorite grandparent. As pictured here his dress and demeanor suggest one of his favorite roles in life, the deacon in the small country Baptist church. At other times he was many other things: doting grandfather, indefatigable (and often somewhat tiresome) raconteur, righteous sherrif, dutiful plant worker, toiling farmer and seasoned woodsman. I'm not sure when this photo was taken, but he looks about the way I remember him from the 1950s.

John & Letha, my paternal grandparents.

John Henry Green and Letha Bean Berry, the parents of my father, Cletus Burson Green, shown with one of Grandpa's bird dogs in the yard at their farm near Sheffield Alabama, early 1950s.

These two were rural to the bone. They were both out of their element in town, even a small town. When we went to a town with them, it was an intrepid excursion into alien territory. The special clothes Grandma Letha put on, the awkward and ill-fitting fresh overalls Grandpa John wore (I don't believe I ever saw him in anything but bib overalls), were like space suits, protective garments of some kind to guard against invisible city vermin. They were always uncomfortable in towns, and, though as a child I liked those trips, I always felt relieved for them when we got back to the farm.

An illustration of the power towns had over them is the fact that Grandma did not chew snuff when she went to one, though she did most of the rest of the time. This obvious concession to the change in environment was remarkable to see. Letha was a coarse, blunt woman who rarely concerned herself with niceties of any kind. It was rare and very surprising to see her make this kind of concession to her surroundings. Her daughter Amazona, my aunt, became something of a Nashville socialite, probably as a reaction to her rural childhood.

My father, ever the son of his parents, remained a rural person until he died, though he eschewed the harsh world of manual cotton farming at an early age in favor of a career in the Air Force.

Jack and Velma

My parents, Velma Lou King and Cletus Burson Green, shown in their 1940s heyday, the war years. They were very happy then. That was a time when I did not know them, I only say they were happy because that is what mom claims. They do look happy here, don't they? Perhaps you need to know them to realize just how happy they do look. From what I know of the circumstances they had recently left behind in Leighton Alabama, they had good reason to be.

It was downhill from here on. Their life together was not the great American success story, nor were they an especially compatible or contented couple. They were frequently locked in cruel, carking conflict.

Yet they stayed together, never dreaming of infidelity or separation. These were never options for them.

Johnny and Janice

My sister and me, Jack and Velma's only children, with the exception of my older brother, Cletus Junior, who died when he was about 2 weeks old. We were the glue of their marriage. Neither of us has ever had, or wanted to have, children of our own. For years I wondered if I might finally do it, but now I'm sure I never will. Janice won't either. We are an evolutionary dead end, doing time out here at the end of history.

That sounds worse than it is. Life is good.