Let's begin with what I know about my mother's family, and the things she told me that may or may not add to the factual narrative of her people.
She was born in 1917, the second and last child of Benjamin McClellan Snell and Inez Victoria Chesson Snell. Ben was 13 years older than Inez. Their first child was a son, Alger Ben. In those days, having only two children would have been viewed, clinically, as a fertility issue. Both Inez and Ben had come from large local farm families, so large that two of Inez's sisters, Eva and Cora Chesson, had married two of Ben Snell's brothers.
Ben and Inez and their children lived on a farm near Roper, North Carolina, and although the Great Depression hit them hard and shaped the way my mother would forever view money and security, they had the sustainability advantages that a farm afforded.
Inez was the grandparent with initiative. When times were tough, she did whatever it took to generate revenue. She made things to sell at the local farmer's market, including birdhouses and sausages. She doted on and spoiled her only daughter, picking tobacco for hire to buy my mother a class ring, sewing evening gowns for her so she could enjoy the illusion of being a young Southern belle.
Ben was less responsible. A drinker, who never wanted to be a farmer. According to my mother, before marriage Ben had joined the merchant marine, following a young man's wanderlust that he relinquished to settle down. But he remained unsettled and unmotivated, and spent much of the Depression sitting on the porch telling stories to children and drinking while his wife worked hard to hold things together. He was a reluctant farmer, who made moonshine "somewhere back in the Swamp."
I never knew them. Inez died of stomach cancer before I was born, shortly after she turned 50. Ben died when I was five, and the only memories I have of him were from that last year of his life, when we brought him north to live with us, a brief fiasco that left my mother thwarted and bitter. From the day he arrived until Alger Ben came to get him, my fragile, Parkinsonian grandfather repeated the refrain, "Where's my boy? I want my boy!"
His boy came for him and that was the last time I saw Ben Snell.