Girtha Jane Fisher Milam (27 APR 1889 - November 12, 1972)


My personal views of Grandmother Girtha Milam are based upon my being the eldest grandchild and also living the closest to her from age 4 until I entered medical school in 1962 when we lived no more than eight miles distant and saw her weekly for many years. As our Uncle Dix said Girtha was a very insecure person. She often spoke of her respected father, the Methodist minister Perry Fisher, and her stepmother, Cora Statts, whose family founded the Statts Hospital in Charleston, WV. And she spoke fondly of the happy days on their farm which had "14 workers" before they became bankrupt and lost the farm. I emphasize they because Grandmother Girtha clearly wore the pants in the family!

After their bankruptsy in 1927, the Great Depression hit in 1929. By then they were living at 522 Highland Avenue in Steubenville, Ohio, some 170 miles north of their old farm in Sissonville, WV. Claude was working in the power plant of Weirton Steel Co. and their eldest son, Freer, my father (age 16) was working there too - pushing a broom. To give you an idea of Granmdmother's controlling nature, both men handed Girtha their paychecks. Grandmother Girtha largely determined how those funds were spent. By 1938, their second son, Lakin, was working and also gave his paycheck to his mother. On 7 SEP 1940 Uncle Lakin married Clara Stancil and a few months later Clara moved into his family's home on Highland Avenue. Girtha had long wanted a son to become a physician, like Dr Statts and Dr William Glass Jr. She decided that Dix would be the doctor even though Dix preferred engineering. In September of 1941 he began studying pre-med courses at Morris Harvey College in Charleston. Like everything this would be paid from Girtha's Milam family money pot. { Decades later in 1995 Uncle Dix would say while we were playing bridge: "I know my mother hated me." Perhaps he thought this because in the end Dix did not become a physician. }

Girtha's pleasant world began to unravel when my father fell in love with Chistine Miller, married her on 8 NOV 1940 and then moved into a tiny apartment on Euclid Avenue in Steubenville. At the strong urging of my mother and against the demands of Grandmother Girtha, Freer stopped giving his paycheck to her. Christine understood that they would be starting a family and would need a home of their own. Although Freer continued to help out with Dix's tuition and other things, it was a crippling blow to Girtha's ambitions which she never got over. And it was the cause of the friction between Girtha and my mother and father which continued throughout my childhood.

I, William Freer Jr, was born a year later on 2 NOV 1941 and the following month the Japanese attacked Pearl Habor on 7 DEC 1941. My father, Freer, was drafted into the US Army in October 1942 and was stationed in Colorado by the Spring of 1943. During the war Freer couldn't afford to send his mother, Girtha, any money.

After Freer was discharged from the Army in late 1945, we returned to the tiny apartment in Steubenville. Fortunately my father was able to obtain a good job in the tin mill at Weirton Steel. Our return brought the return of Grandmother Girtha's demands that my father help his family. By then she and Grandfather Claude were living in a smaller house in Weirton, WV, which was also Uncle Dix's home when he returned from the Army in late 1945. Uncle Lakin and Clara were living in Akron, Ohio, by then.

At first there were demands to help Uncle Dix with his college tuition again; and then, from time to time, to help Uncle Lakin who chronically had problems which shall go unnamed. To complicate matters Lakin and Clara were raising three daughters. In 1947 my family moved to a house they had built on one acre of land in the village of Wintersville, just west of Steubenville. By then we were three children with the addition of brother, Bob in 1943, and sister, Carol Sue in 1946.

We would visit Claude and Girtha Milam at least weekly usually by driving the 8 miles to Weirton after church on Sundays and on holidays of course. Gradually as a child I began to understand Grandmother Milam's stories of her Fisher and Statts families and the good old days on the farm. She would repeat them, "go on about them" to buoy herself, to prove her self-worth and to emphasize her proper place in society. For my mother, Christine, Lakin's wife Clara and Dix's wife Helen who grew up on small family farms without hired hands, it was all a bit too much to repeatedly endure. They understood that Girtha was justifying her dominant position as the family's Matriarch. Grandfather Milam endured all this with his customary silence. Claude was a beaten man; he couldn't challenge Girtha's position; and he well and truly knew it.

Grandmother Girtha Milam resented that Christine had married Girtha's eldest son, Freer. First, she felt that Freer should have married someone from a "better family" like her Fisher family. Second, Girtha disliked that Christine was strong enough to convince Freer to stand up for his own growing family and resist Girtha demands for money. Girtha displayed her resentment both passively through sly public comments and slights; and actively by telephoning Christine and giving Christine "a piece of her mind" - telling Christine exactly what she thought of her. Often our 8 mile drives home from our weekly visits were filled with my mother, Christine, re-living Grandmother's subtle and not so subtle comments to her.

Girtha's demands for money to help Uncle Lakin continued throughout my childhood. Sometimes there were even demands that my father, Freer, co-sign a loan for Uncle Lakin to get him out of financial trouble. By now similar demands were made of my Uncle Dix and Aunt Helen since he had graduated from college. Matters came to a head when I was about twelve years old and Grandmother Girtha was particularly insulting to my mother and father over the matter of a loan. My very patient and slow to anger father finally had had enough. He told Girtha not to telephonoe again and that our family would no longer visit them even for holiday dinners. This lasted for more than one year. We only began to see my Milam Grandparents again because Grandfather Claude's brother, Great Uncle Vernon and Aunt Bessie came to visit them (see photo below). My parents agreed to host all of them for a cook-out at our home to avoid embarrasing Grandfather Milam by our absence. This was in 1955 or 1956, I believe.

By then I had entered high school and, more often than not, found excuses not to visit my Milam Grandparents. I had grown to dislike my Grandmother Milam, the cause of so much distress during my childhood. Around 1958 Grandmother Girtha was hospitalized for a week apparently for "a heart attack". Although some questioned that idea and felt it was her nerves and a play for sympathy - especially after her bed was moved downstairs into the dining room and she stayed there for months in a rather depresseed state. I don't believe that Girtha ever cooked another grand holiday dinner for the entire family after that. The big family get togethers which we grandchildren had enjoyed so much ended. I don't recall many details after that because of high school, beginning to drive and heading to college in SEP 1959. I was probably at their 50th wedding aniversary in AUG 1961. Shortly later Grandfather Claude died in OCT 1961 at the age of 75 and Girtha moved to Texas to live with Aunt Martha.

To be honest, I feel Grandmother Girtha took the fun out of our childhhood because of all the friction and strife she caused.

NOTE: In 2015, and again in 2018, the grandchildren of Claude and Girtha Milam exchanged many emails sharing their memories of them and the family get togethers in their home. You may read their exchange of familiy memories by clicking here (link) .

 

This is the earliest picture we have of my Grandmother Girtha Jane Fisher Milam.


Girtha Jane Fisher MIlam
Girtha Fisher Milam

Girtha Jane and Siblings.


Girtha Janes Fisher and Siblings
Girtha Milam and Siblings

Girtha Jane Fisher and Cousins. Girtha is at lower right.


Girtha Jane Fisher and Counsins
Girtha Fisher and Sisters

Girtha Jane Fisher Milam on the left with her daughter, Martha in the middle, then Girtha's sister, Georgia. Everyone said that Aunt Georgia was so nice and had a good sense of humor. Aunt Martha is more than a little pregnancy in this photo so it must have been taken in the Spring of 1945 when her first child, John Thomas Jr, was born.


Girtha,daughter Martha and sister Georgia
Girtha, daughter Marthat and sister Georgia

Circa 1953, their eldest son, Freer, in his 1950 Chevrolet, Claude standing next to him then Girtha. The picture was taken in front of Claude's house on Center Street, Weirton. This is the best photo we have of their dog, Tippy, which Granddad Claude thought was part Chow. Not infrequently Claude appeared depressed. Many thought it was the aftermath of their bankruptsy in 1927.


My father, Freer, Grandpa Claude and Grandma Girtha
Son Freer, Claude and Girtha

Taken about 1955, when Claude's brother, Uncle Vernon came north to visit from their home near Sissonville, WV. From the left: Claude, his sister Aunt Minnie, brother Vernon then his wife, Aunt Bessie, and Grandma Girtha Jane Fisher Milam.


Grandpa Claude on left and Grandma Girtha on right.
Claude and his brother Vernon

This picture of Grandmother Girtha Jane Fisher Milam was probably taken in the late 1950s after she had a "heart attack". She was no longed supposed to climb stairs so her bed was moved downstairs into the dining room which was behind the curtain and glass paned door on the right of this photo.


Grandma Girtha Milam in Late 1950s
Githa Milam in Late 1950s

Claude and Girtha's 50th Wedding Anniversary in August 1961. Seated in front are Girtha and Claude looking very pleased as Uncle Lakin spoke to them. Standing from the left are Uncle Lakin's wife, Aunt Clara, Uncle Dix's wife, Aunt Helen, Freer's wife, Christine, and Aunt Martha's husband "Butch Singleton". Everyone liked Uncle Lakin and you can see that Christine is tickled as well.This photo was taken only two months before Granddad Claude Milam died of leukemia.


Grandpa Claude and Grandma Girtha's 50th Wedding Anniversary.
50th Wedding Anniversary

To Top