Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | September 6, 2014

On Being Grandmother Bobby

Great Grandmother Robert Malvina Holland League, 1862-1948

Great Grandmother Robert Malvina Holland League, 1862-1948

Of course, no one can be Grandmother Bobby.  My great-grandmother was a force majeure.  She was named “Robert” to honor her uncle who was killed at the Battle of Seven Pines.  Her earliest memory – age 3 – was being lowered into the well with the family silver wrapped in a cloth.  She had to put the silver – their only valuable possession left – on a ledge deep in the well.  She was terrified of the spiders.  And of falling out of the bucket to drown.  Bobby’s Mother made her do it.  The Yankee soldiers were stealing everything.

Later that year, her father walked home after the surrender (2 SC, Kershaw’s Brigade, McLaw’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps).  She and her siblings ran home telling the Mother a “negro man” was coming up the road.  They didn’t recognize their father – who had been living outside for over 3 years.  He walked from Greensboro, NC to Greenville, SC.   Her Mother burned his uniform and washed the lice off him with lye soap before she let him in the farmhouse.

This background sets the stage for her life.  Her childhood was forged in the furnace of fires of war.  Her whole life was the long recovery from all paper wealth taken to zero and an economy shattered by war and vengeful Reconstruction.  Everyone was poor – materially – and everyone worked very, very hard.

Then, in 1930 her daughter’s husband died from a heart attack at age 37.  Bad heart valve.  My grandmother, Irene, had 4 kids ranging from 16 to 6.  The insurance money equaled a year’s income.  Irene and her 4 children moved to the farm to live with Grandmother Bobby.  She was 68.  My Mother, Edith, was 12.

Today, Irene would have been treated for depression and a nervous background. Back then, Grandmother Bobby stepped up and took charge.  The farm didn’t have electricity.  Bobby was widowed years before – and running everything on her own.  A Black family lived and worked on the property.  They weren’t former slaves, as it was so many places, because the Hollands believed slavery was a sin against God – when all 4 boys went to war to defend their home state.

Through the Great Depression they had little money, but plenty of food.  The farm was self-sufficient.  The big house was filled as Bobby’s several dozens of grandchildren visited often.  She was the matriarch of the League-Holland Clan of Simpsonville, SC.  She was tall and statuesque.  My Mother respected and adored her.  She wanted be like Bobby.

Bobby insisted they read a chapter from the Bible before every supper at the great table.  Her daddy had taught piano, as well as farming, – so she played and sang.  There were books.  There were stories – turmoil in England, fear of pirates, persecution in France, and from the frontier in Virginia followed by frontier South Carolina.  And, of course, The War.  The teenagers created home made plays and musicals – and took many pictures.  During the Second World War, Army soldiers were welcomed and fed.  The young Yankees were welcomed and lectured.

Obviously, I’m not Bobby.  I’m a 63 year old widower.  But, when my daughter and her 3 kids moved into my house – the one I call “Sanctuary” – I thought about being Bobby.

It’s a lot easier to clean up after kids than walk behind a mule and plow.  I’ve got air conditioning.  Yet, I’m on duty as Grandpa – Papa – from 6 am to 7:30 and from about 4 until 9 pm.  Then, there’s the rest of the clean up to finish.

I know that everything I do and fail to do will be watched by little eyes.  They’re likely to be here a couple of years.

So, I dare not presume to be Bobby, but I claim the connection to my better kin.  She never quit.  She never whined, complained, sniveled or lived less exuberant a life than she possibly could.  Proud before man, humble before God.  A Southern lady who worked hard.  Loyalty and love for family, family, family.

I want to be like Bobby.  I want be worthy of Bobby.

And, I’d really, really like to live like Caleb and be “fit for war” at age 85.  Means I need to get in better shape soon. Although, when I helped my daughter move, she commented that I was “old man strong”.

My Mother doesn't look like she will die in 15 months.  She died at the age - 68 - Bobby took her family in.

My Mother doesn’t look like she will die in 15 months. She died at the age – 68 – Bobby took her family in.

My duties don’t compare to Bobby’s.

Visiting Jamestown isn't like plowing a field with a mule.

Visiting Jamestown isn’t like plowing a field with a mule.



  1. Amen! What a wonderful tribute to your great-grandmother. I want to be like Bobby, too. 🙂

  2. Thanks. If you want to be, you probably are trying – and are.

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