Memories of the Hennesy and Simmons grandparents and relations
and of their situation in Louisiana
by Jean Hennesy Kearns, 1991
I don’t remember when Grandpa Hennesy died, but I can remember being held in his lap as he sat in a large chair in his living room in Bogalusa, Louisiana. His name was James Leon Hennesy. I remember him being a gentle, loving man. We visited him only once a year when Daddy had his two week vacation. I always thought that we were going to Uncle Jewel’s house, but found out only this year that the home was Grandpa Hennesy’s. When Uncle Jewel’s first wife died, he and his children made their home with Grandpa. Then, when Grandpa died, the house became Uncle Jewel’s. Through the years I have dreamed many times of going there to look for my Grandpa Hennesy and being unable to find him. Perhaps this is because I was never able to finalize his death since I was so young when he died.
He had a hard life. He and my father’s mother, Lucy Virginia Myles were married in 1898. They had five children, three girls and two sons. My father, Esmond Edward Hennesy, was the third child and the second son. My grandmother died shortly after the birth of their fifth child, a little girl, Zeda, who died as an infant. I find it interesting that the three girls all had names beginning with “Z”, Zula, Zoe and Zeda. Zoe, the youngest surviving daughter, was raised by Lucy’s mother and father, Edward and Rene Myles. Before they would agree to take her, they made my grandfather promise that the would never try to take her back, that she would be their child, even though they never legally adopted her. Zula died when she was twenty-five years old, shortly after two major surgeries. She and my mother were the dearest of friends and her husband was my mother’s uncle, my Grandmother Simmons’ youngest brother. Uncle Wilbur and his two children lived with my mother and father for some time after Zula’s death.
Grandpa Hennesy tried farming during his early adult years, but determined that “there was a better way to make a living” and began operating a mill on the Tangipahoa River, which my father says was unique in that it was not only a saw mill but also a corn mill. Daddy tells of Grandpa building a house down by the mill so he could look after the children during the day. At night they would return to their home. He continued with the mill until he bought a country store on the Bogalusa-Franklinton highway, which he operated for several years. Grandpa married Lucinda Pounds after my father and Uncle Jewel were grown and they had one daughter, Lucille, before the death of Lucinda. His last marriage, in his later years, was to Della Nobles.
Both Uncle Jewel and Daddy felt a great responsibility in caring for Lucille after the deaths of her mother and father. She lived with Jewel and with us for several years during her teen-age years and early adulthood. She was a beautiful young woman, and our whole family loved having her with us, even though she thought we were bad children. I’m sure she felt that way because she was raised without siblings and it was difficult for her to be with four active children. As a young child, I never considered what pain she must have suffered in losing her mother and later her father. I wonder why. This was not my normal reaction to those who lost their parents. I still remember how sad I was when Bobby Sheffield’s mother died and when Joy Lee Voss’s father was killed in a plant accident. Maybe it was because she was older or maybe because she was away from us when they died. I don’t remember her expressing her grief during the times she stayed with us and I know now that she must have been dealing with those issues.
I’ve always been fascinated with the connections between the families of my mother and father. The country store Grandpa Hennesy bought was a short distance down the highway from the farm owned by Lucious and Annie Simmons, my mother’s father and mother. In fact, Grandpa Simmons’ land bordered the store property. Last month, as I talked with my father, he told me about his father and my mother’s father working together. It seems that Grandpa Simmons owned a sawmill at one time, also, and Grandpa Hennesy’s store was the “company store” where the mill employees got all of their supplies. Once a month Grandpa Simmons would reimburse Grandpa Hennesy for purchases made by his employees. Daddy said the first $100 bill he ever saw was on my Grandmother Simmons gave his daddy to pay off their monthly balance.
Another connection of the two families which confused me greatly as a child and made me wonder if Mom and Dad were related to each other was the marriage of Daddy’s sister, Zula, to mom’s Uncle Wilbur Knight, my grandmother’s youngest brother, and the relationship of their two children, Mildred and Leon to my parents. Mom and Dad were both uncle and aunt and first cousins to them by blood and marriage. And, after their mother died, Mom was almost an adopted mother to them for some time. Somehow, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction to know that Mom and Zula had such a deep love for each other as young women and it makes me proud of my parents for opening their home to family members when help was needed.
I respected (almost feared) Grandpa Simmons, but I never really felt a love for him like I did Grandpa Hennesy. He was a very good man, very religious and very stern, who enjoyed sitting on the front porch with his chihuahua in his lap arguing political or religious issues with some of his cronies. I never saw him express or demonstrate affection toward his family. He was uneducated but very intelligent, was a hard worker, and Daddy says he was a persuasive orator in labor meetings at the paper mill in Bogalusa where they both worked at one time. He was generous, giving land to whomever of his children wanted to build near him…
Grandpa built a church on some of his property across the highway from their home because there was not a church nearby, and he would preach there when they were without a preacher. The church still stands and my Uncle Jim and his family are active members there. There is a Simmons cemetery on some of his land where his mother, father, uncles, aunts, both Grandma nad Grandpa and their four sons and wives and two grandsons are buried.
I remember Granda Simmons as being sad, seldom laughing, very self-giving. I loved her. I felt sorry for her. Her life seemed so hard, but my mother says she never complained about anything and never said a bad word about anyone. I often wondered if she was grieving over the death of George, her son, who died in his early twenties from a tick bite. I know she worried about her two sons who literally drank their lives away. And, there was always an undercurrent of tension between Grandma and her father. Grandpa Knight, her father, was a very successful, well-to-do farmer,, and my mother feels that he almost disowned Grandma when she married Grandpa Simmons, a poor man…
I looked forward to going to Louisiana every summer so I could spend time there with Grandma, after whom I was named, and my mother’s youngest brother and sister, Jim and “Cooter”. There seemed to always be children my age there, too. They must hve been great neices and nephews who lived nearby and came to visit when we were there. I really don’t remember who they were. I do remember playing in the pastures, drinking water from the spring down in the woods, drawing water from the well on Grandma’s back porch, and going to the creek every afternoon for the coldest swim in the world. We would walk to the store at least twice a day to buy some candy or a drink. At that time I had no idea that the store had once belonged to Grandpa Hennesy.
I loved the days at Grandma’s, which began with hot buttered biscuits covered with huckleberry preserves and thick, rich cream which she made especially for me, she said. But I dreaded the night to come. The house was large, with four bedrooms, but there were never enough beds for the children, so we slept on pallets on the living room floor. That was fun, until all the lights were out and everyone went to sleep. Then the strange sounds (snoring, wheezing, and outdoor farm noises) would begin and I would lie there in the dark knowing that I would never live to see another huckleberry biscuit.
I always wondered why Daddy never stayed with us at Grandma and Grandpa Simmons’ house. He would visit for a short while and then say he had to go on to Franklinton to visit his family. I remember that Mom would get irritated with him about this sometimes. As I gathered information for this paper, Daddy, now 88 years old, told me that he never felt Grandpa Simmons liked him or wanted him around. In fact, Grandpa had wanted Mom to marry Uncle Jewel, Daddy’s brother, rather than Daddy, and he never really accepted Daddy as part of the family. I find it ironic that it was Daddy who bought Grandpa’s farm to help them live comfortably in their old age with the guarantee that it was their home as long as they lived. I wonder if Grandpa ever realized what a wonderful man Daddy was…