Sean (John) Padraig Radcliff Chapter 1
Sean(John) Padraig Radcliff 1867/1955
My maternal grandfather did not know the exact day or year of his birth. At some point he decided on April as his birthday. By the time he was eight or nine years old his mother and father and baby brother were dead. He said his mother came to America from Ireland when she was twelve years old. His mother named him Sean Padraig , for his father, but he was called John all his life. Her name was Elsa Melvina Prince. She came over with a brother Liam Prince, and an older half brother, William Horten. Grandpa said his mother had very long red hair that fell down past her hips when it was lose, and green eyes. He said mom looked a lot like her but she did not have the red hair. Mom told me most of what I know about great grandma, grandpa didn’t talk to us kids much about her. Sean Radcliff did not know what year his mother came to America or at what port of entry. But that is not surprising since she was dead by the time he was eight years old. His mother did not use her first name, Elsa, she went by Melvina. He did not know what year she married Sean Radcliff or how old she was. Grandpa Sean (John) said his father was Scotch Irish but he did not know if he was born in America or Ireland. He was their first child and he thought he was born in Tupalo Mississippi, but it might have been Mississippi county, Arkansas. He did not remember anything about his dad except what his mom had told him, because he was only three or four years old when his dad was murdered. Sean Radcliff sr. had been digging a well when someone came up behind him and hit him in the head with an axe. Melvina was pregnant with her second child, a boy who was born after his fathers death.
After the baby was born she went to work on a river boat as a cook. When the baby was about three years old he died of the flu or somthing. I think the baby's name was William, but I am not sure of that. Not long after baby William died, his mother died also and John was sent to live with an aunt and uncle.... then another aunt and uncle. The aunt had been married to his uncle but his uncle had passed away, and she had married again. His aunt tried to take care of him but her new husband had kids of his own. He may not have liked the idea of having someone else’s kid to feed. In this family dinner was very formal. Everyone had to be washed up, have clean shirts and shoes with hair combed nice and be at the table on time. They would send John to the barn to feed the animals and do evening chores near dinner time. Very often he would get back to the kitchen when they were washing dishes and cleaning up. They would tell him,“You know the rules, if you can’t be on time for dinner you can do with out.“He said he learned to pinch the ears of corn, the softer ears of fresh corn he kept for his self. I am sure he had other tricks... like saving a biscuit from breakfast. Even so he grew up quit well, over six feet tall, a tall man in his day.
John did not manage to stay with this family more than a year or two. One day he got in a fight with one of the girls who was a couple of years older than him. She was teasing and picking on him and he lost his temper. He picked up a brick and threw it at her, hard. It hit her in the head and she fell down. He was terrified, he thought sure he had killed her. He started running and never went back. After that at the age of nine he apprenticed himself out to whoever would hire him for room and board. He worked for a butcher, a blacksmith and a photographer at different times, for food, a place to sleep and to learn the trade. Sometimes there were other small jobs, cleaning stables and running errands, anything to earn his keep. He usted to joke about being “A jack of all trades and good for none.”
Some years later when he was a grown man he met the girl he thought he had killed. She was also grown up and in good health. She told him she had no hard feelings about what had happened. She knew she had behaved badly and held no grudge. They talked over old times and memories and had a good laugh about what had happened. John Radcliff was very relieved and happy to learn that he had not killed anyone.
When I was a kid I thought papaw could do everything. He was a tall man with sky blue eyes. When he was young his hair was a reddish blond. But when I knew him he was gray and bald , had a thick mustache and smoked a pipe. He had a blacksmith shop behing his house. There were hag stones* strung on cords by the blacksmith shop door and other doors. There were goat skin rugs on the living room and front porch floors. I mean real goat skins from goats that he raised for milk, cheese and meat. At that time he was the pastor and Sunday school teacher at a Salvation Army church. He had joined the church in 1896.
When Papaw met grandma Ellie he was a widower with four children. His wife had died of milk fever. His oldest daughter, Helen, had run away. Some say she went to Michigan, but no one knew for sure. They never heard from her again. His son Benjamin was arond twelve years old and Rosalee eight. The baby, Ollie May was a toddler, less than two years old. He married Eleanor Edwards Overfield. Eleanor was a widow, she had been married a few times and had five children, but only the first child had lived. Her daughter, Martha Ann was eight years old like Rosalee when grandma and papaw got married.
*hag stones, stones with wholes all the way through them.