Amy Johnson Crow from Generations Cafe is again hosting the blog writing prompt this year called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2021. I'm going to try to participate more fully this year. I like that she gives us "permission" to interpret the prompt however we wish and share it however we wish. It doesn't have to be a blog post; it could be a family video, a letter to a child or grandchild, an e-mail, etc.
The Theme for Week 2 (Jan 11-17) is Family Legend.
John Russell Tapley (1917-1967), a/k/a Russ, a/k/a Uncle Russ (to me) was my father's brother. He was the second oldest child (of 6) of Nealie Drake Tapley and the sixth child (of 10) of Lusion Keman Tapley.
From the stories I have been told through the years from my dad, my other uncles, my mom, my cousin, Ronnie, etc., it is obvious that Russ was a force to be reckoned with from the time he was a child. He was mischievous, and I am sure that Grandma Nealie wanted to pull her hair out at times at his antics.
By the time he was a teenager, he was big and strong, and definitely had his own mind. I think he was the only one brave enough to run from his mother. Whether he didn't want to do what Nealie told him at that moment or he simply had done something that he needed to be punished for, he would take off running across the fields. Nealie would tell his brother, Dorsey, to go bring him back. Now Dorsey could catch up with Russ, no problem. However, he couldn't talk Russ into coming back. This put Dorsey in an impossible position because if he laid a hand on his brother, Russ would beat him. But if he came back to his mother without Russ, Nealie would beat him. I think he just kept running with Russ, begging him to come back. LOL.
So Russ wouldn't get his punishment... that particular day. Grandma Nealie would warn the kids that they would get it - when they least expected it. Sure enough, it might be two weeks later, she would set the alarm to get up in the middle of the night. She would get a switch and go into Russ's room, which he shared the room and the bed with Dorsey, and she would just start bringing that switch down on Russ while he was asleep. Remember I mentioned how strong he was? Well, he managed to grab the mattress on both sides and flip it over to protect himself from the blows. Unfortunately, Dorsey would get dumped out and all the lashes fell on him. LOL.
To be a big boy like he was, Russ was also nimble. Nealie would get after him and he would run across the room and jump behind the piano. It sat across the corner of the room. He would grab both sides and hold it so no one could pull the piano out. LOL.
I have always wondered how long before Grandma Nealie just gave up. Probably shaking her head.
Around 1941, Uncle Russ, along with Nealie, my father, and their sister, Irene, moved to Jacksonville, Florida. I do not know the reason, but I can theorize that it was for better job opportunities. They were sharecroppers in Johnson County, Georgia. Two of Grandma Nealie's brothers lived in Jacksonville and perhaps encouraged the move. They may have even offered to teach Uncle Russ construction. He became a carpenter and was a really good one.
Then in 1942, when Russ was 25 years old, he was drafted into the Army and sent to fight in World War II. I was able to get his DD 214 and this is how they described Russ when he was discharged in 1944: He had blue eyes, red hair, and a ruddy complexion. He was 5 foot, 11 1/4 inches in height. His character was Excellent. He completed 1 year, 11 months, and 18 days of service. He was in the infantry and took part in the Italian Campaign in June 1944. He earned a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star. He was only in Europe for three months. He was given an honorable discharge.
What the paperwork doesn't say is the hell Russ went through and the horrors he saw over there. He was discharged because he suffered from PTSD (shell shocked they called it then). For all his strength, Russ was tenderhearted and a peacemaker. I am sure he could not reconcile this with the terrible things that he saw happen during combat. I've been told that he never spoke of his time in the war.
While Russ was away, his mother, Irene, and my dad, Gilbert, moved back to Kite, Georgia. Again, I am sure it was a money issue since they depended on Uncle Russ for support, and he wasn't there. While back in Kite, my dad got into some trouble and ended up in juvenile for 14 months. When he got out, he went to Macon and stayed with his oldest brother, James "Fella."
When Russ was discharged in October of 1944, he came through Macon and picked up my dad on his way back to Jacksonville. They went to work in construction and Nealie joined them at some point.
In 1946, Russ married the love of his life, Elizabeth Taylor. Thankfully, she was of the same mind as him about family because there was almost always someone visiting or staying with them. Their door was wide open. They were never able to have children of their own so they spoiled the nieces and nephews. If anyone was made to be a father, it would have been Russ, but instead he served as the father-figure for many of the children in the family. Several of them stayed with him at one time or another. Ronnie lived with him as a teenager. My cousin, Jackie, that just passed away last weekend, stayed with them for awhile. All of the children spent time over there at one time or another.
Russ was a fun uncle. He was happy-go-lucky. Always telling jokes and seeing the funny in any situation. He had a parakeet named Budgie that he could train to say anything. Unfortunately a lot of what Budgie learned was cuss words, and if the kids tried to touch him, he would cuss them out! Russ loved kids, animals, and a good steak! He also loved his recliner (or chair as it was probably called back then).
Russ was the peacemaker in the family. If there was conflict between any of the siblings, he was the one that got it smoothed over. He was a kind man and just naturally drew people to him. I've been told it is hard to describe that quality he had, but everyone just felt it. Oh, he had the Tapley temper, but it would blow over. My cousin, Ronnie, did not grow up in a good situation, and he says he doesn't know what would have happened to him if Russ had not taken him in. He said that living with Uncle Russ and Aunt Elizabeth was the only place that felt like a normal family situation for him. Everyone loved Uncle Russ. He was the glue that held our particular Tapley family together. That became obvious after he passed away.
What about me? Was Uncle Russ good to me, too? Unfortunately, I was never given the chance to find out. I was born on June 16, 1967. (I'm a good 20 years younger than all of my first cousins.) We were living in Augusta at the time, so Daddy called Russ to tell him about me. Uncle Russ was ready to get in the car right then and drive 5-6 hours to see me. However, Uncle Russ had experienced health problems for a few years, and all of the Tapleys have heart trouble, so Daddy told him it was too hot for him to drive up in his car, which did not have a/c. He told him to wait and get Dorsey (who also lived in the Jacksonville area) to drive him up in his air conditioned car. Sadly, that day didn't come.
Uncle Russ turned 50 on July 5, 1967. Five days later, on the 10th, he suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. The news sent shock waves throughout the family. Grandma Nealie was never the same. She basically gave up after his death. She died only 3 years later - on July 4th. All of the siblings were hurting. All of the nieces and nephews were, too. Ronnie still wells up with tears whenever he tries to talk about it. I am sure that Powell's Chapel church was overflowing the day of his funeral. I was even there that day, at only about 4-5 weeks old. My mom says it was so hot in the church, and I just wouldn't stop crying. So my cousin, Joann, took me outside and calmed me until the funeral was over.
After Uncle Russ passed, things were never the same again. Aunt Elizabeth remarried and none of the males of the family liked it. Siblings had falling outs and didn't speak to each other for years. No one got together anymore. So it is no understatement to say he was the glue that held this family together. Without him, they were lost. He left a void that no one else could fill. When Dorsey and my dad neared the end of their lives, they talked a lot about being ready to see Russ again. I grew up hearing stories about him, and always have said that if there was one person who I would like to meet, it would be him. He was a constant presence in our lives, but he was no longer the safety net.
Russ was definitely the Tapley's family legend.