My paternal grandparents: Ava Lee Collins and Frank Stafford

Without a doubt, two of the most influential people on my life and childhood had to be my paternal grandparents, Ava Lee and Frank Stafford.  Almost every weekend, I would travel with my father and sister to Baltimore to visit with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I spent almost all my holidays there growing up, and when the Christmas and Thanksgiving roll around every year, I can't help but to think of them, the amazing meals, and the comfort and love I felt at their house.

Frank and Ava Lee early on in their relationship. I love this photo.

From what I know, my grandfather moved to Jonesborough, TN, with his father after the death of his mother, Hannah.  My grandmother, born in Johnson City, TN, in 1916, came from German and French immigrants (from what I've learned so far) who had lived in the US for about two hundred years, traveling through Virginia and settling in Tennessee.  She had two brothers, two sisters, and four brothers who died as babies.  Very active in church, her mother, Mary, played the organ, and her father, Henry, played the fiddle.  I believe my grandparents met at church, and when my grandfather came to pick her up for her first date, she hid behind the front door as her nerves took over.  They married at ages 19 and 22 in 1935 and first lived in Johnson City until moving to Norfolk, VA, in 1941.

I had no idea my grandparents lived in Norfolk until I came across the 1941 Norfolk City Directory.  An amazing resource, businesses created city directories to list all the people (and potential customers) in a city.  Directories generally contain maps, residents and addresses, advertising and other information about a city.  Businesses also used them to track down people who hadn't paid their bills and to extend credit.  The directories offer so much historical information about ancestors, cities, and the lives they lived.  And most of all, since the directories were published every year, you can discover more about the lives your ancestors lived between the 10-year census gap.

My grandparents, Frank and Ava, in the 1941 Norfolk City Directory.  The symbol (c) stands for "colored."

I learned from the directory that my grandfather worked at a rayon factory called Aberfoyle.  During the heart of World War II, Aberfoyle made parachute fabric for the army.  They lived at 1321 West 39th Street in Norfolk.  Now, another great thing about city directories is you can find out who their neighbors were and where exactly the street ran in the city.  At the end of the directory, I found the street entry for my grandparents.

My grandparents' residence in 1941 where they lived with three other families.  The bell indicates which households have a telephone.

According to this, my grandparents lived at the same address with three other families.  I looked all of these families up, and a couple of these families had kids.  So in 1941, my grandmother had two small children (my aunt and father) and gave birth to my uncle in June.  I cannot imagine the stress of their lives.  I have no idea how in the world my grandmother did it.

After 1941, my grandparents left for Baltimore where my grandfather worked on the shipyards as a welder.  Years later, my grandfather opened his own welding shop, and from what my father told me, created a business working on the radiators of foreign cars, something no one at that time was doing.  My grandmother worked at the social security administration for a number of years.

When they moved to Baltimore, they lived here (I believe on the left hand side.)  And here's a picture of their kids (my father, aunt, and uncle) sitting on the steps.

One thing (among many) about them has stayed with me:  my grandparents worked so, so hard.  Harder than anyone I've ever known.  They were incredible providers.  The severity of the Depression stayed with them throughout their lives, and they knew how to handle their money.  I honestly believe they never bought a thing on credit.  Their house was small; their cars were good but used.  They didn't live extravagantly.  And they never fell short on love.  My grandmother always had a place for you at her table with a meal ready.  A humble person, she had so much wealth in her heart.  When my mother first visited Baltimore with my father when they started dating, my grandmother pushed 20 dollars into his hand and whispered, "Take Nancy and buy her a pocketbook."  I loved the smell of her Emeraude, and I loved the smell of my grandfather's Beech-nut tobacco.  I loved how my grandfather took his coffee with evaporated milk, and I even miss how my grandmother would open the windows in the summertime while the window unit air conditioner went full blast.  Idiosyncrasies are the best part of people.  I miss them tremendously.

They went on to have eight grandchildren and spoiled all of us rotten.  Frank died in 1984 after suffering for several years with emphysema.  Ava Lee passed in 1993 from congestive heart failure.  I wish they would have seen me get married, I wish they would have seen my children.  But much of the person I am today is because of them.  Their example will hopefully travel through generations.