When I was about 11 years old - give or take a year - I interviewed my great-grandmother about her husband, my great-grandfather. We called her "Mimi," and though I never met him, everyone called him "Pop." That interview was the first time I took action to learn my family history.
Twenty years later, I'm still trying to gather the pieces of the story of Mimi and Pop. Faded with time, jumbled with other memories, and discolored by different perspectives, their story has been passed down through their children - my grandmother "Memaw," and her brother, my great-uncle Sam - and my mom.
So let's discover Mimi and Pop - the beautiful couple from Petersburg, Virginia - and how their love has endured the test of time.
Mimi was born Gertlie Edgerton on 8 Jun 1914 in Petersburg, Virginia. Sometimes, she was called Gertie or Gertie Lee, but she insisted that her name was actually Gertlie. Her father, Riley Ralph Edgerton, had moved to Virginia with his parents from Lake County, Indiana when he was between 10 and 15 years old. Her mother, Lillian Dee Emory, was a native of Prince George County, Virginia. Mimi had two older brothers, an older half-brother, and a little sister. The Edgertons lived in Petersburg and Riley worked as a refrigeration engineer. He was something of an inventor, always taking things apart and making new and interesting things.
After the 8th grade, Mimi had to leave school to support the family. Her father Riley was sick and out of work, so she took a job at a local dime store. By the time she met Pop, she was making more than he was! My great-uncle Sam says he thinks she was making about $10 a week.
Now, my Mimi was a pretty lady. I mean, look at her! Gorgeous! As a young woman, people tried to persuade her to enter the Miss America pageant, but New Jersey was just too far from Petersburg. But soon enough, a dapper young man managed to steal her attention.
Samuel Franklin Brooks
Pop was born Samuel Franklin Brooks on 11 Feb 1913 in Halifax County, Virginia. His parents James Gordon Brooks and Lena Belle Adams were natives of the county too, but when he was very small, the family moved to Petersburg. It was sometime after his sister Arline was born in late 1916, that the family decided to pack up and take the dusty route north to the big city. Pop insisted that though he was not much more than three years old, he could remember the trip. It took them three days to travel from Halifax to Petersburg by horse-drawn wagon, and they kept getting stuck in the sandy roads.
The Brooks family always kept a connection to South Boston - in Halifax County - but Pop's immediate family stayed in Petersburg.
Street gangs and pool halls
Pop had a group of guys he'd hang around in Petersburg. They'd spend time in the pool hall and probably get into a bit of mischief. We're not sure how exactly Mimi met Pop but we're guessing it had something to do with the pool hall or this group of guys that hung around the streets of Petersburg. Pop was a character, and she was a beautiful girl, so I can't imagine it took long for their eyes to catch. And the rest was history!
A life together
They married on 24 Feb 1934 in Petersburg and began a life together. Pop worked as a sign painter and Mimi gave birth to my grandmother at the home of Pop's parents. After a few years, they moved to Richmond, had a son, and the United States entered World War II. Pop served all over Europe, and at one time was feared to be a prisoner of war. He was wounded and taken in by a group of nuns - possibly in Germany - and set on his way without a helmet so he couldn't so easily get back into combat. He never reported his injury though, so he went without a Purple Heart.
It's hard not to be drawn into the love these two had for one another. I don't know what they were like later in life as a couple, but you can see they were smitten with each other as youth.
Old photographs tell a story words never can. Personality, spunk, humor, and spirit get captured in that one moment for all to see and remember. I see my aunt Judy in both Mimi and Pop - eerily so really. She looked just like them. Beautiful like both of them. I wonder how much of Mimi and Pop has trickled down to me, too!
Later in life, after raising their two children, Mimi and Pop also helped to raise my mom after her parents' divorce. Pop painted not only for his profession, but also as his passion. He painted beautiful scenes from photographs - and I'm blessed to have a painting of his in my living room. My mom remembers him with a collection of religious texts from different faiths, all of which he could proudly say he'd read. Pop passed away in 1981.
I was only 12 years old when Mimi passed away. In her last few years, I was able to spend some time with her at her home where my mom had lived, and later in the retirement home. I remember the bowl of strawberry candies, the egg-shaped glass containers with colored sand and nature scenes, the paintings by Pop, and all the fancy furniture.
My aunt Judy took care of Mimi in her later years. She loved the beach and they'd goof off on the board walk, Judy pushing Mimi and the two of them carrying on like young girls. We'd go to Piccadilly together in Richmond - that smorgasbord of southern cafeteria-style dining. She always had her hair and nails done, and she always kept her spunk. For Y2K (when 1999 turned to 2000), my cousin Marty and I spent the night at her apartment. That was her last New Year's Eve.
The more I see photos of Mimi and Pop, the more I realize how much I favor that side of my family. My Memaw looks just like Mimi - her mom...and my mom looks JUST like Memaw. And I look just like my mom. So it was a special treat to join the Mayflower Society through Mimi's Edgerton family in 2017.
When I asked my Memaw and great-uncle Sam how their parents met, neither were quite sure. It reminded me how easy it is to take our family stories for granted. We never ask our parents how they met, because we never really imagine them apart. And by the time we think to ask family members about their lives, or think about these family mysteries, they've passed on along with our opportunity to ask.
Mimi and Pop shared a love that started in Petersburg, endured war, and found new roots in Richmond. They had two children, four grandchildren, and Mimi lived long enough to know her great-grandchildren. So however it was that Pop swept Mimi off her feet, or whatever Mimi did to stop Pop in his tracks, I sure am grateful for their love!
Whose love story inspires you? Do you know how your parents or grandparents met?
This post was inspired by the week 7 prompt "Love" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!