My Paternal Grandfather

We visited my paternal grandfather, Atelismar (AC) (left in photo) at Central Hospital, something we often did when home. Central Hospital was a mental hospital in Pineville, Louisiana.  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” which caused him to be admitted to the mental hospital.  He spent from around 1935 to around 1970 in that 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 and grandchildren.

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 Papa AC’s brother Adam would pick him up and bring him home for a day. His family did visit him often and Adam was the person who looked after Papa AC’s interests.

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.

It was not long after Papa AC brought Esther home that he was committed to the mental hospital. I understand his family, perhaps his mother, tried to take care of him before he was committed to Central Hospital. 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. Apparently, Papa AC’s family took charge of him, in particular his youngest brother Adam. Adam and his family went often to visit Papa AC at Central Hospital.

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 last name of Martin instead of AC’s last name. In the 1940 census, dad is shown with Martin’s last name.

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

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.