My Grandfather, Who I Knew but Didn’t Know

My paternal grandfather’s, AC (his actual name was Atelismar and has been spelled in many different ways), family often visited him during his institutionalization at Central Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana.

Papa AC was a few days shy of thirty-one and Esther was eighteen years old when they married in 1930. From my understanding they lived in the Bellevue area by Opelousas.  Within a month she was pregnant. When she was about six months pregnant, she went to bring something to Papa AC in the field and he told her to go back to the house, get a box and to pack her things. He took her home to her parents. He either told her he didn’t want her anymore or just that he was taking her back to her parents. Perhaps he knew something was happening to him and wanted to protect her and the baby. Papa AC never realized he had a son; he only remembered his family from growing up.

Papa AC had gone to work at the Gulf Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas in the 1920s. He cleaned chemical tanks and told his sister Virginia it was so hot in the tank that men had to pour water on them. This was before OSHA. While in Texas, Papa AC also was hit in the head with a butt of a gun. It was said Papa AC had excruciating headaches and would often threaten to kill his doctor if the doctor couldn’t fix his headaches. It was also said that he would get upset and threaten his neighbors if their cattle went onto his land.

Working in the tanks and/or being hit in the head probably caused him to “lose his mind”. He spent from around 1935 to around 1970 in Central Hospital until the doctors determined he wasn’t a threat to himself or anyone else. Papa AC then spent the remainder of his life in nursing homes. He died in June of 1982. At his funeral service, I felt such sadness not just because of his death, but in realizing here was a man who lived yet didn’t live and didn’t even realize he had a son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

From what I was told Papa’s family tried to take care of him which proved difficult for them. His doctors wanted to try brain surgery, however his mother, Marie Lucia would not allow it. Legally it would seem it would be his wife’s (Esther) decision on what to do as they were never divorced. At least back in those times, you couldn’t divorce a “crazy person” as they could not speak for themselves.

Dad did not know about or meet his father AC until he was at least school age. Dad’s Uncle Adam started picking up dad to take him to meet Papa AC and to know their family. Being that Momo Esther couldn’t divorce AC, she took up with Martin and had three children with him – Verna, Lawrence and Joe. Momo Esther started using the Martin’s last name although they were not married. Until Dad met his father AC, he had gone by the Martin’s last name instead of AC’s last name. In the 1940 census, dad is shown with Martin’s last name.

It was fun driving up and visiting with Papa AC. He loved playing checkers so Mom would also bring a checker set for us to play with him. He was always polite by saying “yes, mam”, “no, mam”, “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. One time when mom tried to tell him we are his grandchildren, his response was “you are a fool woman, I don’t have any grandchildren”. I didn’t take is personally as I knew he was sick. There were times either dad or Uncle Adam would pick him up and bring him home for a day.

Uncle Adam took care of Papa AC’s affairs due to dad was still a child. Once dad was grown, he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War and Uncle Adam continued taking care of Papa AC’s affairs since dad was not around much during his twenty years of being the Army.

While Aunt Virginia was in a nursing home, I would often pick her up for her to go to church with me. She told me papa remembered them and things before his illness however he was unaware of things after his illness. His mental illness affected him for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the family and regret not having the foresight to ask Aunt Virginia and Uncle Adam more about the family when they were alive.

About ten years ago after working on my family tree, I became fascinated with knowing more about Papa and his family. I knew his brother Adam and later became close with his sister Virginia. I’ve met most of Papa’s other siblings, however was young or didn’t see them often to have really known them. Thru genealogy research, I’ve learned about his family – his parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I’ve learned a little more about papa’s life before illness.

I did learn thru genealogy research that Papa was the oldest of his five full siblings. He also had three older half brothers – Amos, Amar and Joseph. Amar, twin of Amos died at a few weeks old. Papa had more (full) siblings who were twins – his brother Noah and twin Henoch. Henoch died at four years of age. And his brother Adam was twin to Eve, the youngest of the siblings. Papa, Aunt Virginia and Uncle Joseph were single births.

Having a grandfather with mental illness may have in some way help me prepare for having a daughter with severe developmental disabilities. My daughter, Alison was born when I was thirty years old, had seizures in utero, started having seizures within twenty-four hours of her birth. One of the types of seizures Alison had were infantile spasms, something that from what I understand doesn’t cause damage but are a result of damage. Alison is now an “adult” but cannot take care of any of her personal care needs and always requires someone to be with her. She can communicate with informal gestures, loves listening to music and doing her type of dancing, loves to eat and is essentially happy.

To Papa in heaven, hope you are still winning at checkers! Hugs and love to you!

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