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 college at 17 (1959) 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 "1o workers" before they became bankrupt and lost the farm. I emphasize they because Grandmother Girtha clearly wore the pants in the family. Proof of this theory came when my sister, Carol Milam Ogden, obtained Claude and Girtha Milam's full US District Court bankruptcy file, some 157 .pdf pages. Not only Claude but also Girtha had signed their 1922 the $3000 mortgage and their many bank loans and promissary notes to family members and friends. For more details please see my history here .

After their bankruptsy in 1926, 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 in the tin mill. 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 Milam married Clara Stancil and shortly Clara moved into his family's home with Girtha.

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, WV. 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 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 Girtha. 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 dominance 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 Milam Jr, was born a year later on 2 NOV 1941; the following month the Japanese attacked Pearl Habor on 7 DEC. My father, Freer, was drafted into the US Army in the Spring of 1943 and was stationed at an airbase in Colorado Springs, CO. During the war Freer couldn't afford to send his mother, Girtha, any money.

After Freer was discharged from the Army in 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 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; 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 December 1946 my family moved to a house they had built on one acre of land in the village of Wintersville, just west of Steubenville. They now had three children with the addition of brother Bob in June 1943, and sister Carol Sue in February, 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 - as the matriarch of a proud family. 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 and controling position. Grandfather Milam endured all this with his customary silence; no one remembers Claude ever speaking up about anything. After the bankruptcy, 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, my father. 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 re-living Grandmother's subtle and not so subtle comments to her. She would ask my Dad: "Do you know what she said to me". Dad was typically at the other end of their living room speakling with his father, Claude, about sports and politics - and hadn't heard.

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 telephone again and that our family would no longer visit them even for holidays. 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 (see photo below). My Mom refused to go to Girtha's house but 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 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. I think the few pictures of her which came down to us capture her personality.

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 our Grandmother Girtha Jane Fisher Milam.

Girtha Jane Fisher MIlam
Girtha Fisher Milam

Girtha Jane (R) and Siblings.

Girtha Janes Fisher and Siblings
Girtha Milam and Siblings

Girtha Jane Fisher with her sister, Georgia, and Cousins. Girtha is at lower right.

Girtha Jane Fisher (bottom right) and Cousins
Girtha Fisher and Sisters

Girtha Jane Fisher Milam on the left with her daughter, Martha in the middle, and 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 pregnant in this photo so it must have been taken in the Spring of 1945 when her first child, John Thomas Singleton III, was born.

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

Freer's wife, Christine, next to Girtha who is holding baby Carol. Billy & Bob (R). 1946

Carol, Billy and Bob are Freer and Christine's children.
Christine, Girtha, Carol, Bob and Billy

Circa 1954, their eldest son, Freer, in his 1950s 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 beloved dog, Tippy, which Granddad Claude thought was part Chow. Not infrequently Claude appeared depressed. Many thought it was the aftermath of their bankruptsy in 1926.

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. No smiles on these faces.

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 the 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. I believe this photo captures her depressed state.

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

Claude, Freer, Dix, Girtha, Martha and Helen in Freer's backyard for cookout. 1961

Freer and Parents 1961

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. August 1961.

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

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