Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Charles Lafayette and Della Winnie (Grindstaff) McNeill

I've spent several previous posts talking about my great-grandparents, Charles and Della McNeill. They can be found here:
Just the facts, ma'am,
My Serious Research Begins - Part 1,
My Serious Research Begins - Part 2,
The Mystery of an SSA Form, and
Lee and the 1930 census.

Those articles include a lot of dates and facts, but not about the type of people they were. I never had the opportunity to meet my great-grandparents, or to hear stories about them from my grandfather, so I have spent a lot of time trying to find those who did know them. Here are some snippets of those stories as well as some pertinent facts.

Charles Lafayette McNeill was born 18 Feb 1886, the youngest child and only son of Robert McNeill and Margaret Ledford. He spent his childhood in the Snow Creek area (likely Bandana) of Mitchell Co, North Carolina, where he married Della Winnie Grindstaff on 20 Feb 1911. Della was born 15 Mar 1893 to Rev. Isaac Grindstaff and Mary Woody. Charles and Della made their home in Bandana, Snow Creek Township, until sometime late in the 1920s. One of Lee's cousins wrote in a letter to me that they were doing well in the area and Charles owned the first automobile in the community and ran the Bandana post office from their home. They were considered good upstanding citizens.


This photo was given to me by a cousin. This is Charlie holding Anna, Lee is standing, and Della is seated. He thought the back had a date of 1911. However, I suspect it's closer to 1914 as Anna was born in October 1913 and she appears to be a year or a little younger in this photo. We assume this is their home in Bandana.

Charlie and Della had three children between 1912 and 1915: Lee, Anna and Belle. By 1920, another baby was born named Ben Arvel. This young little baby only lived about four months before he passed away. I can't imagine the pain of losing a child but was so common at the time. Ben is buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Church in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina, which is in sight of the McNeill home place. A fifth child, a son, was born about three years later.

A grandchild of Charles and Della recently told me that times were hard for the McNeills and eeking out a living in the mountains with four children proved to be difficult. By 1930 they were living in Asheville. My grandpa Lee was 18 and working as a stock room clerk, soon to join the Navy. Charles worked in a rayon mill. I believe his occupation is listed as Payroll Clerk. Certainly a lot different than farming in Mitchell Co. Also at that time, Charles' father was living with the family and would for another couple of years until his death in 1932. Another reason for a move to Asheville might have been that Della had a sister, Mrs. Etta Thomas, living there.

What happens over the next few years is unclear, but obviously the Depression is in full swing and times grew progressively harder. By 1940 Charles was in Fletcher, North Carolina. Within a few years, all his children would have left home to start their own families and he and Della moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina by the early 1950s. There they either owned or managed some housing that was used by the military personnel from a nearby base. By the 1960s, they had moved to the Kannapolis area outside Charlotte to be closer to their daughter Belle. I think she likely helped care for them in their older years.

A resident of Bandana shared this story with me. Charlie was known to have a good collie dog and one day he took the preacher home for dinner. To demonstrate the dog's abilities, he said, "Out Shep". Apparently much like my own dog, Shep had a mind of his own and didn't move. Charlie repeated the command and stomped his foot. Then Shep ran under the bed to which Charlie purportedly replied, "Or under the damn bed, whichever you please."

This same lady also shared that in their later years, Charlie and Della would go camping on Grandfather Mountain in the summer at times for nearly as long as a month. Obviously this love of camping and the great outdoors was not passed along to this great-grandchild. Marie at Blue Ridge blog has some beautiful photos of the area though hers are primarily farther to the northeast than Mitchell Co. Nonetheless, they are spectacular. I can see why camping in these mountains would have been appealing.

Though he was known as a stern man and very established in his ways (he insisted on McNeil with one L only though ironically I've seen a form he completed with two L's on it), numerous people have told me about his musical talent and his ability to make his own violins. I think that must be a very special gift (again one that did not pass on to this great-grandchild). A cousin recently shared this photo of Charlie and Della proudly displaying two violins. The date the photo was taken is not known.

So as stern as Charlie was known to be, Della was known to be "sweet and kind". I have never heard an ill word spoken about her and everyone repeatedly has stressed what a wonderful person she was. Her sweet dispostion may have tempered Charlie's stern one. No matter the circumstances, they were married for 49 years until his death in 1970 in Kannapolis. Della passed away in 1979. A kind soul sent me photos of Charles and Della's gravestones from the Carolina Memorial Park in Concord, Cabarrus Co, North Carolina.
What I wouldn't give to go back in time and have the opportunity to visit with them, even for an hour. So many questions, and never the opportunity.

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