Today marks 12 years since my father, Alfred Montgomery Kitchens passed away from heart failure. I’m pleased that before he died he became a Christian and I will one day see him again. In the interest of family history and genealogy I’m going to summarize dad’s life as best I can. A lot of this comes from personal knowledge as well as a letter written to him by his godmother Gladys Benford Kitchens.
It was shortly after his death that I made my first stab at tracing my family history, though it didn’t really catch until December of 2005 when I had moved 1,000 miles away from here.
Dad was born February 8, 1937 in Macon, Georgia. He was the son of James Eugene Kitchens and Marjorie Jane Smith. “Margie” was only 15 when dad was born. She got pregnant out of wedlock and James “Red” did the “right thing” marrying her so that dad was not what they called illegitimate. However the marriage was annulled soon after.
James’ parents were Lee Davis Kitchens and Emma Katherine “Kate” Mercer and he was one of three boys and two sisters born to the couple. From some accounts “Kate” was the sweetest woman you could know. From others she was very strict and controlling. I’m sure the truth lies somewhere between the two (as always). James had three marriages that we know of and from each marriage he had a single child. This was the first marriage and the first child and he was never allowed to really know my father and thus my father never really knew him. Likewise we never knew the Kitchens family beyond my dad for the longest time.
Exit James and my grandmother was forced to live at home and try to take care of the baby. This was hard then as now for a teenage mother. Add in that her own mother had passed and the stepmother Sallie Ryder was a very very hard woman and Margie was forced to put my dad into the Methodist Children’s Home of Macon, GA.
Apparently though while many couples were interested in adopting dad, my grandmother would never let him be. Thus he grew up in the home, occasionally getting out for short trials with his mom, only to yo-yo back into the system.
In 1941, Margie met and married Harvey Wheeler Stacey of Brattleboro, Vermont. He was in Macon during his military service. Harvey was the man I grew up with knowing as my grandfather and of course we never questioned why she was “Gram Stacey” to us (instead of Kitchens) until we were much older. We loved him and he loved us and we saw him as our grandfather. However, from the time I can remember, they lived up in Vermont and would come down to visit from time to time and we made the trek up there once when I was in fourth grade for Thanksgiving. They later moved to Doniphan, Missouri to escape the bitter cold, but I never made it out there to see them — though they came to visit us several times.
As dad got older he was able to get out of his home and visit, even in Vermont, but he stayed in the Macon, Georgia area after a short stint in the Army.
In Macon he met my mom Frances Dee Anderson of Franklin, NC. Mom’s family had moved to Clarkston, GA as her dad was a carpenter and Atlanta had lots of opportunity for building during the 50s. Mom was just about out of high school when they moved and then moved to Macon, GA for work. There they met and in early 1960 got married. My brother William was born in Macon in November of that year and Robert was born in May of 1962.
The family moved back to the Atlanta area and I was born in Clarkston in 1966 followed by my brother Jeff in 1969.
As with all marriages, things can be rocky, but in all dad survived his rocky beginnings and he and mom provided us with a stable (albeit nomadic) home life. I would not trade our circumstances for anyone else’s as the past is what makes us what we are. Unfortunately, except for some brief encounters, dad was never able to truly know his own father who died in 1969.
I am happy that dad was there for my baptism at 17, my wedding to Cristi, the birth of my two children and through all the other highlights and lowlights in my life up until his death on February 21, 2000. He loved baseball and football and got to see (on TV) his Falcons in the Super Bowl in 1999 and the Braves win the World Series in 1995. He was always good for a laugh, calling out of the blue when he read something funny in the paper. After the birth of our first child, he had saved several clippings of the Baby Blues comic strip for us and gave them to us as a gift. He loved Andy Capp and Snuffy Smith, snickers, Pepsi Cola, and sweet iced tea. And his family.
He was a good man. Like all of us full of mistakes, but unlike most of us, full of love as well.