Abbie Allen Brown

Abbie Allen Brown

Here are my mother’s memories of her great Aunt Abbie, who lived with my grandparents until I was twenty. Aunt Abbie became very frail and was no longer mobile. My aging grandparents were unable to care for her and she was sent to a nursing home where she died several months later. 

Abigail Allen Brown
By Doris Graham Cleage

Aunt Abbie married a Mississippi Riverboat gambler, swarthy and handsome and no good, who stayed home on two visits long enough to give her two sons and then sent her trunks of fine clothes to wear or to sell to take care of herself and the boys. Whenever she talked about him she sounded like she hated him.  She resented the lack of money.  Said once the oldest boy Earl (named for his father) screamed for days with toothache and she could not take him to the dentist, who didn’t want any fancy clothes or jewelry.  She resented raising the children alone.  I got the feeling she hated them and they hated her and she resented him being off having a good time while she stayed home with the problems.

She talked about him in a completely different way than she talked about her Jewish policeman, who bought her a house on Ripley St.  Spent much time there, for whom she loved to cook and keep house.  She came to live with Mother to take care of Daddy(!) so Mother could come to Springfield and help me when Kris was born.  In later years when they lived on Fairfield, Mother and Daddy used to argue about this and they would call me in to referee. He’d say he took Aunt Abbie in out of the goodness of his heart like all the rest of her family. And she was not supposed to stay on (!) them forever but was to go to live with Aunt Margaret.  Mother would say Aunt Abbie came to take care of him because (here she would make a mouth at me) he could not take care of himself and work even though he could cook better than she and do everything else in the house too.  (I think we are always angered at the way men can say this is the limit.  I can’t or I won’t do this or that and we seem to have lives where you do what is to be done since you have no one who will hear you if you say you can’t or won’t.  Hold my hand Charlie Brown!)  And that he knew very well she was going to live with them and visit Margaret occasionally. Mother was right.  He said Aunt Abbie came to have cataracts operated on and to be taken care of.  He was wrong.  Her eye operations came years later.  He said to me once that he had always taken care of Mother’s people and she would have nothing to do with his.  I know how Grandmother depended on him to fix things around their house. And he was most agreeable and I always thought he loved it.  They made over him when he came with his box of tools.  I was always there as helper, but he got very tired and mistreated about having both Alice and Aunt Abbie to take care of. He didn’t like either one.  But I never could get him to send them to a nursing or residence home to live. He always said “What would people say if I did that?”  When people talk like that I give up because they are obviously making the choice they prefer.

Back to Aunt Abbie.  She loved to cook and do everything else about the house.  Mother would not let her do anything except clean her own room and do her own washing and ironing…..and Mother hated everything about housekeeping except cooking; but she said her husband expected her to take care of him and his house and (she didn’t say this,) she’d be damned it she’d let anyone else do it as long; as she could.  I couldn’t talk to her about it.. Aunt Abbie tried to get her sons to let her come to NY and live with them. They wouldn’t even answer her letters. Sad.

Note: I remember her son Alphonso visiting several times.  Aunt Abbie was fixing him tongue because he really like it.  KCW

Aunt Abbie, Nanny, Poppy, Cousin Alphonso, Henry, Kristin (me), Doris

18 thoughts on “Abbie Allen Brown

  1. She seems so proud and determined in the photo. A pity she had such a difficult life. Lovely as that hat is, I'd have preferred money and a present husband, too.

  2. Yes, a riverboat gambler sounds romantic but he obviously just another wastrel. No money for the dentist must have been awful; the pain doesn’t bear thinking about.

  3. Love Aunt Abbie's picture. She deserved better. My mother with five children was in Aunt Abbie's position. Memories stirred from reading this post.

  4. Sending trunks of fine clothes sounds crazy. I wonder whether he won them gambling.

  5. I wonder if she knew he was a riverboat gambler when she married him? I'm going to write up more about Aunt Abbie in a future post.

  6. The mixture of that very personal word-portrait and the images provide a magnificent insight into a life and a time and a society. Totally fascinating stuff.

  7. I must say she did look extremely elegant but that's no use if you can't afford to go to the dentist.

  8. Such a stately woman with a hard life. That is a wonderful yet tragic story and I enjoyed reading your mother's words. How strange that he sent her clothing, I've not heard of that before,…I suppose that's loot he made gambling! Do you think he played Strip poker with women?

  9. I am always impressed at the elegance of these women and men in these old photos. Nothing casual at all. A great post. You are really into your genealogy. I am in a stuck place looking for my husband's grandmother Eliza, I found everything but a death date. The family split up about 1890 and we knew where her husband went and where he died, but can find nothing on her. I would think I could find her death even if she remarried again since I have her date and place of birth and other family members. Any ideas what direction I could go in?

  10. Peggy, I am in the same position with my great grandmother on my father's side. I even have my aunts memories of being a 5 year old when her grandmother had a stroke in their kitchen and died soon after. I've sent for her death record from Detroit and Wayne county. nothing. I've contacted the cemetery where the whole family is buried, nothing. I contacted the funeral home they used and they don't keep records past 7 years (this happened around 1930). I am at a loss of what to do next. I've found everybody else.

  11. There is nothing boring or mundane about your relatives, that's for sure. Aunt Abbie is inspirational for her strength and perseverance. At the same time, the relationship with her sons is tragic. I can't help but admire her.

  12. Very interesting post. Aunt Abbie had an eventful life, although not an easy one.

  13. Now that is a fine story to have as a supporting act for a photographic portrait that exudes style. Such a fine story that it sort of takes over, I think. On finishing reading it, I am left with an impression of someone very different from the woman in the photograph.

  14. hey?? what about that policeman?? what happened there??

    enquiring minds want to know!!…

  15. we will never know because that's all I ever heard. I wonder too. I never heard aunt Abbie say anything about her life. She just gave us rosaries. I don't know how she came to be Catholic. I don't know what happened to the Jewish Policeman Lover. Lost in the mists of time. On the other hand, I did finish my Alaska/pineapple/postman post and I am going to post it NOW.

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