My great-grandfather, James Thomas Aldridge, was born 127 years ago today. Ordinarily, I’d do a “remembering so-and-so” kind of post, but something stays my hand. I don’t literally remember him, of course, but that’s not surprising. The problem is neither my father nor my grandmother, if she were living, could really say they much remember him either.
Nora and them stayed up there where the old house burnt down. And her mama, Aint Vicey — we called her Aint Vicey, but she was my grandmama. Her son was my daddy. And I stayed at Nora’s, they taken me up there, and Johnny always bring me watermelons. He’d say, “You just like your daddy.” And those kinds of things. So I ain’t made nothing outn it. I said, whatever. I would just say something like, well, “I’m some kin to the Aldridges.”
Johnny, he called me and I was working to the hospital. And he called me and told me, at least he called the hospital and wanted to speak to me: “Well, if you want to see your daddy – you said you ain’t never seen him before – come down here. He’s down here now. So, don’t let him know I told you.” So, I went down – I said, well, I’m gon go down there and see Silas Cox ‘bout selling the lots where Grandma Mag’s house was on. So, I got off. So, I got Mr. Fisher to take me down there. I said, “Mm, I wanna see that man.” So Nora had been all good to me and always said, ‘bout, “Tom was your daddy,” and she’d come and visit me, and I’d go down there, go down there and stay with her. When Jesse was a baby, I went down there and stayed. And when I was a child, when I went up to New York, that’s when Frances took me ‘cause I was her son’s, her brother’s child. I said, then in later years, nobody wanted to own me. But whatever.
So my grandmother met her father only once, after his brother Johnnie Aldridge called and she invented a ruse for stopping by his sister’s Nora Aldridge Henderson‘s house. The visit did not go terribly well, and Nora, to whom she’d been closest, never spoke to her again. My grandmother had spent time with her grandmother Vicey Artis Aldridge and aunts in Dudley and had started school in New York City while living with Tom’s sister Frances Aldridge Cooper Newsome, but over time — after Tom married and as his professional star rose — the Aldridges mostly drifted away. Or clanged shut the door.
Science has settled the question of my grandmother’s kinship to the Aldridges, though she did not live long enough for the validation. Happy birthday, Tom Aldridge.
Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.