Some time in the late 1980s, I learned the name of my great-grandmother Bessie Henderson’s father — Joseph Buckner Martin — and learned that, after the death of Bessie’s mother Loudie, Buck Martin had several children with a woman whose last name was Barfield. I marinated on that for a few years, then a bit of sleuthing revealed that Sarah Barfield was the woman, and her children were Walter, Amy, Lillie and Daisy Barfield. I found Walter Barfield Jr. in the phone book, cold-called him, and found him to be a gracious and welcoming cousin. His father had passed away not too many years before, but Aunt Lillie was still living, and he was happy to introduce us the next time I came home to North Carolina.
I met my great-great-aunt in the spring of 1993 at the nursing home in which she lived in Mount Olive. She was a tiny woman with a wizened, apple-cheeked face, her ivory-white hair pulled back in a small bun.
I took notes:
- She said she never saw her half-sister Bessie Henderson, but remembers when she died [in 1910]. Her sister Amy went to the funeral and came home and cried and cried.
- Jack Henderson, her half-brother, used to visit them in the country. Once when he came, he wanted to meet their father. She took him there, and Buck received his oldest son in a friendly manner. He was good to his children.
- Her sister Amy was in her 30s when she died; Daisy was 18. They are buried in the Barfield cemetery, between Mount Olive and Dudley, not far from the railroad.
- Her youngest granddaughter has a photo of Daisy.
- She has a daughter Gladys and a son Walter Lee Holmes.
- She bought the house that Buck left her mother from one of Ira Martin’s children, to whom it had reverted after her mother Sarah’s death.
- Her house burned up with most of her photographs.
- She knew Buck’s brother Alfred Martin. He committed suicide.
- Once on her way to Washington to see her husband, she spent the night in Wilson with Sarah Henderson Jacobs, who told her, “Don’t ever marry an old man.” Walter Lee was 2 years old at the time. [This would have been about 1922.]
- She remembered that my grandmother had children by a “barber man.”
The second time I visited Aunt Lillie was at Christmas, and I took my grandmother with me. When we walked in, Aunt Lillie stared wordlessly, then reached out to touch her face.
Lillie Barfield Holmes passed away peacefully on 1 June 2003, just shy of her 100th birthday.
Photographs taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1993.