52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Billie Thomas Alford

Billie Thomas Alford (1940- High School Graduation)

Billie Thomas Alford was my paternal grandfather.  He was born October 11, 1922 in Hot Springs, Arkansas and died September 28, 2008 in Mishawaka, Indiana.  His parents were Arlie Arthur Alford and Naomi Rosa Reynolds.  He had an older sister, Annie Mae who was born November 20, 1920.  Unfortunately, their parents passed away from tuberculosis in 1928.  Billie and Annie went on to live with their mother’s sister, Mary Reynolds who was married to Ben Lakin.  They did not have any children of their own so they took in the two children.  They lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas where Ben and Mary worked at the Park Hotel. Later Ben owned his own restaurant.  In high school Billie went by the name “Willie” and was a member of the Field and Stream Club and the Graphic Arts Club.  Shortly after graduation he went on to marry Bettie Wright and they had a little boy named Kenneth.  The marriage was short-lived and they soon divorced.  Billie took on a job as a pipe fitter and traveled away from home and eventually relocated to Indiana.

Margaret and Bill with my dad

In 1947 he met Margaret Ann Clifford at a dance at the Palace in South Bend, Indiana.  Her parents did not approve of Bill because he was not Catholic.  He ended up converting in order for them to get married.  They married on her 23rd birthday (September 1, 1948).  On August 3, 1949 they had their one and only child, a son, Michael.  My dad shared some information about what his childhood was like and it is clear that Grandma and Grandpa had a couple rough patches.  Apparently Bill moved out twice during their marriage.  During this time, Marge would support them by working as a bookkeeper and secretary.  She worked for Edwards Iron Works for several years and was savvy enough to live on her income and still save some.  She was the responsible one that took care of paying for house repairs and even saved up for a cottage on West Saddlebag Lake near Marcellus, Michigan.  Eventually Grandpa got a job at the local post office as a distribution clerk.  He sorted the mail for the delivery guys.

I didn’t know most of that information about Grandpa till a couple years after he had passed away.  I had always thought that he was maligned by Grandma and that she was too critical of him.  Now I know that he probably wasn’t that easy of a guy to live with.  He was a gambler and probably spent all his extra money on horse racing.  Not easy when you have a child.  Then for him to leave Grandma and Dad for a time must have made her feel pretty low.

Grandpa had always seemed like such a nice guy.  My memories of him are of his funny and sweet letters that he would write to me once I had moved to Ohio.  On our trip across the U.S. he was the one who would ride all the amusement park rides with me.  He was in his 60’s by that time and I can’t imagine all those roller coasters were much fun for him.  He would “wrestle” with me and my brother when we would come over to visit.  I can remember many times that we would use his full size bed as a wrestling arena.  He was always so good-natured about it.

Me, My brother, Grandpa, and Dad (1998)

He would take me down by the river to walk and throw stones.  We fished on occasion too.  Grandpa didn’t come across as the smartest guy, but he made up for it with his sense of humor and the things he did. When we took our trip across the U.S. we would hang out in the swimming pool for hours at a time.  Grandpa would let me hang on him and he’d drag me around the pool.  In Arkansas we visited a local amusement park and when we got off the water ride our shoes were filled with water and I remember us laughing at the squishy noises we made.  When Dad moved to Florida, Grandpa drove me and my brother down to see him.  I’ll never forget how we stopped at every McDonald’s along the way so that Grandpa could get his cheap senior coffee (10 cents!).  I was so sick of their food by the end of the trip that I didn’t want to go there for a long time afterwards.

Grandpa was a sports fan and I think he was more than a little happy to have a grandson who enjoyed sports as well.  Despite the fact that I grew up around Notre Dame football, I was never a big fan of sports.  It wasn’t until I went to college at Ohio State that I even learned much about the game.  When Ohio State played Notre Dame there wasn’t much to think about in who I would root for… Ohio State!  It was fun to tease Grandpa about the outcome of games and he would always ask if I’d been to a game. We didn’t have a lot to talk about really.  He was a sweet man who cared for others.  He eventually became pretty senile and would repeat himself a lot.  I did my best to come and visit him when I went to Indiana, but it was hard to get away sometimes.  During the last couple years of their lives my Dad became invaluable to them.  He lived in the house with them and helped manage their care and financial situation.  It was a lot to take on in addition to his own job as a computer programmer.  In the end, Dad had to deal with their deaths and the estates which was probably quite sad and frustrating.  I wished that I could have been of more help to him, but with living in another state it was nearly impossible.  When I lost all of my remaining grandparents in 2008 it was a rude awakening to the fact that I really didn’t know them all that well.  Once I had lost them it made me realize that I needed to reach out to the family that I still had.  My relationship with my Dad is much stronger now than it ever was before.  I have my grandparents to thank for that.





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