Memories of my Paternal JEFFREYS Family

By David Elmo Jeffreys, Jr.
My grandparents, Rufus and Florence Jeffreys. Grandfather Rufus died when I was 18 months old, so I do not remember him at all. Grandmother Florence however died just before my tenth birthday, so I remember her quite well. Of course, long before I was born the family lived first on their farm northeast of Creedmoor, and then a large white two-story house with a gingerbread bordered wrap-around porch on the northern edge of Creedmoor. This house was approximately where North Main Street intersects with US 15. There was a large lawn of oak trees and the eastern edge of the property was bordered by the railroad tracks. My father showed me this house when I was a little boy, and he said the trains could be pretty noisy at night. Unfortunately that house no longer exists. Around 1922, Rufus and Florence moved to 614 Milton Avenue (now 614 Buchanan Blvd.) in Durham, another two-story home which still exists today, though I believe it was white rather than beige back then.

I remember visiting this house as a little boy and was intrigued by the push-button light switches. Rufus owned a little neighborhood grocery down the street from the house. After Rufus died, Florence lived there a few more years before she sold it. Then she went to stay at her children’s homes for various periods of time. Right after my parents were married in August, 1935, they lived with Rufus and Florence for a couple of months while the apartment they had rented was finished being still under construction. Both my mother, Sara, and her mother-in-law, Florence, were very strong-willed women and did not get along. After the Milton Avenue home was sold, various articles of furniture came to our house. Included were a very large spinning wheel, a small spinning wheel, a tiny footstool, a beautiful loom-woven wool bedspread, and two very low thatched-seat straight back chairs. I still have these chairs and bedspread to this day. After surgery for breast cancer, Florence lived with us for a few months. Because her arm became very swollen with the removal of the lymph glands, my father arranged a sling from a low limb of our sweet-gum tree in the front yard, so that she could keep the arm elevated. It was summer and Florence took delight in the flowers in our yard telling me all their names. At high noon, she had me notice that the sun was directly overhead and that I had no shadow. Where the sun was located in the sky was important to her because she was an artist. At the time she would occasionally do some sketches on a sketch pad. Also, she painted a number of oil paintings, but the only one that I have seen is the one which I own that Aunt Hazel gave me after Florence’s death.

I remember Florence’s funeral well, especially on the long drive from Durham to Creedmoor in limousines that had electric windows, and finally her interment in Creedmoor Cemetery.

Rufus and Florence Jeffreys Children
Louise Jeffreys was the oldest child. She had married Leon Lyon and they moved to Buffalo. Though Louise rarely came south to visit, she did remain in close touch with her and her husband’s Granville County roots. Many of the other siblings went to Buffalo to visit them. In fact, my parents went to Buffalo, NY on their honeymoon, and of course visited Niagara Falls. See picture below in my parent’s narrative. I only remember Aunt Louise and Uncle Leon visiting down south one time, and I believe that it was at Uncle Frank and Aunt Myrtle’s House on Englewood in Durham. I must have been very young, because the only thing that I remember was Uncle Leon giving us bus transfer tickets!

Frank Jeffreys. I remember visiting Uncle Frank and Aunt Myrtle only a couple of times when they lived on Englewood Avenue in Durham, but apparently one of those times was at Brenda’s birthday party. Brenda is on the back row left with the huge mouth closed grin and I am on the right in the striped shirt. After the fourth grade, the Frank Jeffreys family moved to Raleigh. Unfortunately, soon after, Aunt Myrtle died of cancer. Frank then starting courting Bernice Gaddy Smith and I vividly remember him bringing her to a Sunday evening dinner at our house; he seemed to be seeking approval from my mother, his sister-in-law and this was after my father had died. Bernice charmed us all and she and Frank were soon married. Before they were married, I remember Frank bringing Brenda over to Durham giving my mother money to take Brenda shopping for new Easter clothes. Soon after the marriage, I went to Raleigh for a sleep-over one weekend. Bernice took us to a Saturday matinee movie “The House of Wax”, a horror film in 3D starring Vincent Price. Well, it scared me to death. Bernice was up all night Saturday night comforting me and trying to help me get to sleep. Uncle Frank was always around, but he was an extremely quiet person and mostly kept to himself. I only wish that I had gone with him at least one time to visit his farm, where he, my father, and the other siblings were raised -- the Jeffreys homeplace that I never saw.

Alvin Jeffreys. I only remember seeing Uncle Alvin one time and it was pretty tragic. The story that my mother told me was that Grandmother Florence did not approve of the young lady that Alvin had fallen in love with and somehow destroyed their relationship. Afterward, Alvin had lost his will to be a productive citizen and became homeless. Somehow, my father did keep in touch with him, and one day we went down Broad Street to a laundry/dry cleaner. Alvin was working at the laundry and was living in the basement with the equipment. My father was taking him some clothes to wear.

My father – David Elmo Jeffreys, Sr. First, about my father’s name. For some reason, Louise, Frank and Alvin could not say “David” with it sounding something like “Dabid,” so Grandma Florence said that from that time on, he would be known as “Elmo.” And thus, to the entire Jeffreys family, my father was known as Elmo, which always sounded strange to me when I was around any of them. The reason is that at home and all the rest of the time he was called “Jeff.” My mother and all of her Moore family called him Jeff. His business colleagues also called him Jeff. So to me, my father was always Jeff. Since I am a “junior,” it is probably good that he was never called David; otherwise, I would have been called Junior. And so I have always been called David, although some friends have nicknamed me “Dave” from time to time. I actually prefer “David” over “Dave” but I’ll answer to either. I’ve never been called Elmo or Jeff, for which I am happy. Well, so much for names.

As mentioned above when my parents first married, they went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls and here is a postcard made from a picture of them there.

My father was a real family man and participated in my playtime, whether teaching me to ride a bicycle or assembling a wagon for me. Our family was closer to my maternal relatives and after church spent almost every Sunday afternoon at the Moore family farm. My father always timed our return to Durham on Sunday evening, so that we could listen to “Amos and Andy” on the car radio. My parents loved to play cards with friends, so on most Friday or Saturday nights either their friends were at our house or we were at their house with my parents around the card table playing Bridge or Canasta. I learned early on to play both games, as well as Solitaire and Checkers. My father loved having a garden in summer probably as a result of growing up on a farm. He either had one across the street up at the corner of Broad and Sunset or over on the Hobby’s land which is now Northgate Shopping Center. We always had tons of fresh vegetables, though I hated shelling butter beans. Mother canned most of what we did not eat on the table, and there was always plenty from the huge one-acre garden at the Moore farm too. Dad could be quite a disciplinarian too usually using his belt, such as the time I lost the car keys in the summer garden at the Moore farm. Mother on the other hand used freshly cut switches from the yard. They were strong on discipline, but the worse whipping was one that I got in the basement taking a shower with Bobby. We had been playing in the water and pretty much soaked the entire basement in water when my father walked in. A belt on a wet naked body is not easily forgotten. However, my father was never abusive, even when he had been drinking. Unfortunately, alcoholism led to this premature death when I was only eleven years old.

Bobby, who is biologically my first cousin, was adopted by parents a couple of years before Dad died. The adoption brought Bobby back into the Jeffreys family and he then had the opportunity of getting to know his Jeffreys relatives. This was especially true of his getting to know Brenda, his biological sister, who had been adopted much earlier by Uncle Frank and Aunt Myrtle. It is too bad that Bobby had such a short time with my Dad without really getting to know him. But my mother did a superb job of raising us boys alone through our teen years.

My father was an excellent businessman. He and Mother paid off the home mortgage very quickly. Then he bought the 100 foot property that was vacant next door on the north side of our house. Since our house sat on a 50 foot property, he divided the two parcels into 75 feet each. That gave extra space so that he could build a nice side porch onto our house. [The picture to the right shows my father and myself after the porch had been added to the house, but before the duplex was built. “A chip off the old block!”] There is where we spent many summer hours noted above preparing the garden vegetables that had been picked that day. Later on, after my father died, Mother enclosed the porch and made it into a bedroom for me. On the other 75 foot plot of land, Dad built a rental duplex as a business venture. It was then residential and Mother kept it rented mainly to Duke interns and residents and their families. She was able to pay off the mortgage on it from my father’s life insurance proceeds. Since my father was an insurance salesman and superintendent for the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee for over 30 years (his only employer), he made sure that we were well insured. My old childhood neighborhood has changed and it is mostly business rather than residential. The duplex income now is from businesses. It now happens to be tax season, which reminds me of the Sunday afternoons my father spent with my Aunt Alma as they filled out their annual income tax returns. My father was a math whiz.

His desk in the L&C office, 414-418 Hill Building (101 Corcoran Street, Durham) impressed me with his adding machine, etc. To this day, I have some of promotional materials that he would hand out with his name on it such as a ruler, and a wall thermometer that looks like a ship’s wheel. Every five years, the company gave him a new L&C signet ring showing the number of years service. There was a ruby for each five years until he received his 25 year ring with a diamond in it. That diamond is now included in another ring that also has a diamond that my mother had given me when I lived in Florida. My father also gave my mother a beautiful engagement ring with over a carat diamond in the center encircled by smaller diamond facets around it in either white gold or platinum. It was accompanied by a wedding ring with small diamonds in it. Tragically, the engagement ring was stolen off my mother’s finger in her final illness, but they could not get her wedding ring off. Both rings had been willed to her granddaughter, Laura; but unfortunately, Laura only got the wedding ring.

Marion Jeffreys. Uncle Marion and Aunt Rena lived in Oregon, so I only met the family one time when I was a child. They came to North Carolina to visit with their son, Lee. Lee was older than me, a bully, and beat me up. That is all that I remember about them.

Grey Jeffreys. Of all my father’s brothers and sisters, I was closer to Aunt Ruth and Uncle Grey than the others even though they lived far away in Merrick, NY. Before Bobby came to our house, our family drove to Long Island to visit them. We went to the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Coney Island. Richard and Chrissie made fun of my southern drawl, especially the way I said “water” and “Studebaker.” And of course, I thought the way they talked was just as funny. Richard took me down to a little boat on the estuary, and just the two of us went for a boat ride. While there, I enjoyed the wonderful food that Ruth and her mother, who lived with them, prepared. I will never forget to drink my milsch, dunke brot, and eat the wonderful goulash! After Bobby was adopted and my father died, Bobby and I went to visit them alone on the train. We got on the “Silver Meteor” in Raleigh and were met in Pennsylvania Station in New York City by the family. Bobby and I had been so excited riding the train, that we had not slept all night, as we got on the train in the evening and arrived in New York the next morning. Ruth and Grey had our sightseeing day all planned out for us. We took a boat ride around the island of Manhattan. I was so tired and sleepy, that I slept throughout most of the trip to the gentle rocking of the boat. I do remember seeing the Statue of Liberty and the UN building from the boat, but that is all. We had a great time visiting them.

Both Ruth and Mother were registered nurses, so there was a lot of shop talk when they were around each other. Mother was a real career nurse, but she so envied all the time Ruth was able to take off work for extended vacations, especially as they began taking them to Florida. Ruth and Grey owned a couple of different beautiful Airstreams. They pulled them to rallies all over the country, but in their later years, almost every winter came to Homestead, Florida to stay a few months. My wife, sons, and I were living in Coral Gables, Florida at the time. We spent many hours on Sunday afternoons either visiting them in Homestead or them visiting us in Coral Gables. That is when I really got to know them. Grey had a little side business of hanging garage doors. In Coral Gables, we had a very small detached stucco garage at the back of our house which had been built in 1926 by George Merrick. The garage door had been covered with plywood, and we used the garage for our laundry center, bicycles, and storage. Grey was just insisting that he hang a garage door for us and that we should use the garage for our car protection. We had a 1966 Dodge Dart at the time, and I told Grey that I was sure that the car would not even fit in that little garage. So Grey and I got into an argument and out came the tape measure. You see that garage had been built when there were Model T and Model A Fords! It turns out that with the Dart’s front bumper against the back wall, the garage door would have lowered onto the trunk deck about a foot in from the taillights and rear bumper. That was the end of the garage door discussion.

Ruth and Grey were so wonderful. Ruth had that Airstream and its limited storage space designed perfectly and was able to prepare a full meal at a moment’s notice in it, just as if she were at home. Grey gave my parents a beautiful “Plymouth” mantel clock as a wedding present. It was always on the living room mantel and my father constantly fussed over it, keeping it running perfectly. I still have that clock at my farm.

Leslie Jeffreys. Uncle Leslie worked on the mail train between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, GA. In the time before airmail became common, a lot of mail was transported by train and there were special mail cars on the train that sorted mail and delivered it to cities and towns along the tracks. Therefore, he was out of town a lot of time working. When not working, he lived with Aunt Hazel, Uncle Pitt, and Jane on Knox Street and had a room upstairs. I do not remember seeing him too many times, because he was kind of quiet and reclusive. However, one time I remember going into the basement workshop where he worked on model airplanes. He fueled up one engine, spun the propeller with his fingers until the engine started making a loud racket!

Hazel Jeffreys Pittman. Aunt Hazel and Uncle Pitt lived in a beautiful brick home on Knox Street in Durham, and we visited them often when I was a child. I remember the formal dining room at a holiday dinner with everything so beautiful, and I was afraid that I would get something on the white table cloth. Their living room had two special features – a beautiful bay window and a built-in cabinet beside the fireplace. In the bottom of the cabinet was a door behind which were toys for me to play with. Since I was five and a half years older than Jane, I resented her when she was born, because she lived there and now owned “my” toys. There was also a beautiful sunroom on the front of the house. Mother and Hazel were lifelong friends, as well as being sisters-in-law. Both were members of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church and the Minnie P. Gates Bible class and active in the church. For the last few years of my mother’s life in Durham, she and Hazel would phone each other daily to check up on each other since they both lived alone, with the proviso that if either didn’t answer the phone, the other would call for help. Hazel had inherited the rare gene in the family for red hair, which she passed along to Jane. Both Mother and Hazel were born in 1910, but Hazel outlived Mother by seven years dying at the age of 93. Mother also told the funny story of dating Uncle Pitt first, but then passing him on to Aunt Hazel.

Christine Jeffreys. Unfortunately, none of us remember Christine because of a tragic family accident when Christine was six and half years old. As my father related the story, Christine was on the front porch on a beautiful summer day rocking very hard when the rocker flipped over backwards, and she struck her head on the porch floor. Most likely, she died of a sub-dural hematoma.

Lyle Jeffreys was the youngest member of the family. His first marriage was to Nell Hicks and to them were born Brenda and Bobby. The marriage soon broke up and Lyle departed for Buffalo, NY because his sister Louise was there. Brenda was later adopted by Uncle Frank and Aunt Myrtle, and Bobby was adopted by my parents, which was a blessing for both of them as they remained in the Jeffreys family. Lyle married Ernestine after moving to Buffalo. They would occasionally come south to visit since Brenda and Bobby were still in North Carolina. They were also generous at Christmas time sending presents for Bobby and myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In reading about Uncle Leslie I remember him telling me about working on the trains how he would sort the mail and when he had some time off he would come to NY to visit my parents.

I can remember my Mom standing at the kitchen sink that looked out the back of the house, and at that time there were not many houses and one could see to the next street and some woods in back of that. Well Mom would say Ohhhhhhhh, here comes Leslie out of the woods with his little silver suitcase. He would walk about a mile from the train station to our house. When he came in the back door Mom would say I saw you coming out of the woods and he would laugh. Dad would ask how long are you staying this time, and he would say I don't know a few days maybe. Well after a few days he would just get up and leave until the next time. Mom would see him walking out of the woods.

He was very friendly and liked to talk to people. A cousin who had come from Germany with her Mother (my grandmother's sister) was always afraid that her Mother and Leslie would get married since they would talk and her mother Theresa would tell Leslie what life was like in Germany. That cousin lives upstate now and we often laugh about that time.

The last time I saw Leslie was in April 1969 when he came for a visit.

I do not remember your father too well, but remember your Mother very well and can remember my Mom and her talking medical shop.
Christine Jeffreys Thronsen