Its been 130 years since my grandmother was born. Katherine Steptoe Houchins, called Kate, was born in the Southwestern area of Virginia, in Patrick County, a beautiful, mountainous area of Virginia. She died in 1943, in the city of Richmond,Virginia. She may not have wanted for much in her early years, because her mother was Evalina Langhorne, daughter of James Steptoe Langhorne, a wealthy plantation owner and his wife Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro. However, Kate’s mother Evalina was only 15 when she married, had seven children, then died in childbirth, along with the twins she was having in October, 1900. One of her other children had died at age 2, while the other six children ranged in age from 3 to 17, with my Grandmother Kate being the oldest! They had lived with their Grandpa Steptoe as he was called, but his house burned to the ground sometime shortly before her mother’s death. Her grandfather Steptoe was blind,and died in 1905, so he was unable to help a great deal with these children. Their own father, age 46 at the time of his wife’s death, left the state with another 15-year-old with whom he had two more children. So the six surviving children were farmed out to boarding schools, military schools, and other family members. On the 1910 census, I can find five of them, in school or in a relative’s home. However, as adults, I knew all five of my great aunts and uncles and they seemed very close for having been torn apart for ten to fifteen years.
Kate went to live with Langhorne cousins in Richmond, Virginia, and attended nursing school. Then she married Thomas Philip Kearse, (Kerse) and had seven children herself, one of whom was my mother, Margaret Steptoe Kearse Youngblood. Kate had a hard adult life I believe. After losing her mother at age 17, her beloved grandfather shortly thereafter, and losing the home in which she’d lived, her sense of security must have been battered. Then her only son of seven children drowned! Her husband had a yacht, with which he captained tour groups and parties up and down the James River and across the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The children all learned to swim and spent many happy occasions on the boat always with friends and family. However, one day in October, 1922, 7 yr. old Thomas Philip Kearse Jr. , called Bucky, was out in a dingy with a 16-year-old boy. A big ship came by and the huge wake caused the boys to capsize! The sixteen year old tried in vain to save his little friend, the big ship even turned around and tried to help, to no avail. It was a few days before they found his body! Young when her mother dies, house burns down, father leaves the family, child dies, what else ? It’s hard to believe, but this wonderful woman, a nurse by profession and by all reports a superb one, met tragedy at the hands of a patient. She was caring for a comatose private duty patient. She had bathed him and went to empty the water, as my mother told the story. When she returned to the room, he yelled out for her to get away and called her by the name of some of our military adversaries in WWI. He was delirious, but afraid. Unfortunately, there was either a rifle hanging on the wall that was still loaded, or a gun in a table drawer beside the bed. I have heard both versions of the story, no one knew any weapon there was loaded. In his delirious state he shot my grandmother in the head! Within a couple of hours, he was dead of his own illness, just that last semiconscious rousing turned her whole world upside down and that of her children and husband also! She was shot on January 28, 1930, but not killed. The bullet apparently split in half, half traveling down her neck,and half lodging in her brain, inoperable. She lived,but was unable to talk and walk well for the rest of her life–and she had six children! By then her husband worked for the police department as did his father and grandfather! But they always had the boat! Their stories of adventure were endless!
In honor of Mother’s Day 2013, I want to write more about these six women/girls in my familly.I would love to hear about your Mom or grandmom, especially unique things about them. Enjoy your Mother’s Day!
- Embracing our Grandmothers (amillionreflections.wordpress.com)