Columbus Turner Shaw
Meet my great grandfather Columbus Turner Shaw, and his fiddle. This is a scan right out of my grandmother’s “The Shaw Family” album. She had two others: “The Wilkerson Family” and “Our Family”. Almost every time I visited her for years and years, she and I would get out those three small albums, and we would pour over the pictures as she told me about the relatives I’d never known and we’d talk about the much younger images of those I did know.
Every family has scandalous and sad stories that are told quietly and privately as well as the funny ones, and touching ones, and proud ones. As long as my grandfather lived, Mama Shaw was kinda forgetful about Lum’s daddy and his people.
“What was Louisa’s father’s name?” I asked.
“David,” she replied.
"His last name was Shaw?!"
“Were she and her husband cousins?”
(pause) "I don’t know?”
After Daddy Shaw was no longer there to overhear, she was willing to spill the beans. Or maybe at sixteen, she thought I was old enough to know.
Lum Shaw has been gone for 60 years and the “shame” is 130 years old or so. Now it’s just a human interest story, so I’ll spill the beans, too. Y'all are old enough to know.
Lum was part of his father’s “other” family. He was what we euphemistically might call a “woods colt.” Louisa, the sharecropper’s young daughter had borne several children for a well-to-do landowner.
John Treadwell kept his second family well-housed. Over the years he gave Louisa at least three houses. During our drives around Conyers and Lithonia Mama Shaw pointed all three out to me, but I could show you only one of them now. Before the depression Louisa’s little family owned a fair amount of land right where I-20 crosses from Rockdale to DeKalb County. His “legitimate” family never recognized the connection. The descendants of the illegal union have spread around the world. At least two have worked in the White House advising presidents. And I can't be too upset about them since I owe my very existence to their misbehavior.
My grandmother said that Lum was embarrassed when he had to fill out some paperwork (was it draft papers?) because he had to admit that he was "illegitimate."
Columbus Turner Shaw kept his father’s picture on the mantle, even after his marriage, but his stubborn beloved, Minnie Ziporah Wood Shaw, would turn it to the wall whenever he left the house.
John Treadwell (I may have inherited his hairline.)
They were a musical bunch. As you see, Lum played the violin. His daughter Lillie Maud (Named, I suppose after Minnie’s twin sister Maudie) was an expert pianist and the youngest boys, Alton and Alvin played guitar. The eldest of his sons, my grandfather Grady, played trombone.
Minnie and Columbus Shaw with their elder three children,
(l-r) Lewis, Curtis and Grady (my grandfather)
Besides his musical skills Lum was also an expert cabinet-maker and is said to have built furniture for lots of the upper crust folks in Atlanta including at least one governor.
He had a stroke and was an invalid for several years before his death in his seventies. His was the first funeral I ever attended and I remember it vaguely. Minnie lived to 97, but dealt with dementia for a decade or so. She was a small and beautiful old lady, always tidy and with gleaming white well-coifed hair. I sat with her on our back porch in Rome trying to coax some family stories from her. My brother David running in and out of the house kept interrupting us. Each time he did, time and again, Granny Shaw would grin wide and ask with complete innocence and delight, “And who is THIS!”
Louisa Shaw's grave, Shaw Family cemetery, between Lithonia and Conyers, GA:
Born Aug. 31, 1842
Died Feb 26, 1932
She was a kind and affectionate wife, a fond mother, and a friend to all.
I've written about this before here: