I haven’t spoken much about my Father’s family. Mainly, because I didn’t know them nearly as well as my Mother’s family. Most of them lived in Richmond and were Rushes, not Michaels.
My Father was the product of what was generally regarded, within the family, as a misalliance. His parents were married for a few years in the late 1920’s and divorced by the early 1930’s. This was apparently quite the scandal as this simply was not done by good Families of the era. So we had no contact with his Father, my Grandfather, until shortly before my Father died. Full story to come…
My Father’s Mother, Susan Catherine Rush Michaels, aka Susie, inadvertently caused two of the major Rush Family scandals. One was the Divorce. The second was going crazy and being locked up in the State Mental Hospital some 20 years later.
The main thing I remember about my Father’s family is they were nothing like my Mother’s family.
Daddy’s family was genteel, Virginia stock. They were descended from Dr Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence and founded the Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania. All of this was in the late 1700’s, after they had already been in America for about a hundred years. They were intermarried, at some points, with some of the other major Virginia Families and therefore claimed, like half of the residents of Virginia, FFV Status.
For the non-congnescenti, that means First Families of Virginia. This is supposedly a “big deal” in Virginia. Lot’s of things are “big deals” in Virginia that no one understands outside the borders…
The Rushes were very Patrician. All the men seemed to be named Richard or Charles. Not a Chuck or Richie or Dick among them, except for the patriarch, Uncle Charlie, who must have had a special dispensation. And they all seemed to magically know which Richard or Charles you were addressing. No confusion was ever evident.
They all also seemed to be six feet or more tall, have wavy black hair, blue eyes and incredible bone structure. I got none of these genes.
The women all seemed to be named Helen, Irene, Elizabeth or Mary Frances. They were also thin, patrician and elegant. They spoke rarely and quietly. They usually sat with their ankles elegantly crossed and their hands in their lap while the Gentlemen talked. I think they all probably slept in their pearls.
They were all well-bred Episcopalians. The rebels were Presbyterian.
Not a Bertha, Lou, Goldie or Wiseman among this bunch.
They were very White People. To me, as a young child, they were not nearly as much fun or as interesting as my Mother’s crazy family in the Mill Village.
The Rushes also had a way of ignoring unpleasantness. They simply did not recognize anything unseemly or indecorous. None of them seemed to work and they lived in big, old, decaying houses in Richmond in the Fan.
As you can imagine, they just loved my Mother. I am being facetious. My parents’ spent their wedding night at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond so my Father could introduce his Bride to The Family the next day. They did not attend the wedding.
They were not prepared for Scarlett O’Hara. My Mother was too pert, too pretty, too sociable, too clinging, a little too flashy, too familiar and too insecure all at the same time. They quietly condescended to her since she was my Father’s Bride and most of them already felt sorry for my Father due to his upbringing and the scandal of Susie’s Divorce only a couple of years after his birth. Twenty years are yesterday in Virginia terms.
But my Mother learned to get her revenge. One of my Father’s cousins, I think it was one of the Richards, was apparently enthralled by her on this wedding trip and she spent time riding up and down Monument Avenue in Richmond with him in his convertible and bonding. Apparently he was the only warm and welcoming member of the family.
Shortly thereafter, Richard ran off to New York to try to become a Chorus Boy and eventually ended up spending the rest of his life in the City teaching deaf children or something similarly noble. Still, the Richmond Rushes “shut the door” and never spoke of him again.
However, every time we went to Richmond, Lou always purred, and “And how is Richard? Any news from New York? I always thought he was so nice and had the best manners.” They would change the subject. Point to Lou.
The first thing my Mother did after returning home to Danville after the Wedding Trip was to have my Father’s Mother, Susie, committed.
Like all good Southern stories, there are multiple versions of the tale. The one I prefer is that my Grandmother, Susan Catherine Rush Michaels, called up my parents one evening and told them she had just ground up a Coca Cola bottle in her Waring blender and drank it in a drink to try to kill herself because she was tired and depressed.
My Mother had no sympathy for quitters. And she wanted her furniture. So, off Susie went to the State Hospital at Staunton.
Unfortunately, for my Mother, my Grandmother’s sisters, who lived with her, sold all the furniture during the Commitment Trip for cash because they were afraid my Mother would put them on the street penniless. My Mother never got over this betrayal.
The Rushes seemed to figure it was some sort of genetic flaw that caused these repeated misalliances to occur in my Father’s branch of the family.
My Father had been raised in Danville by his Grandmother, with his Mother and two Maiden Aunts also en residence. The kindest thing I ever heard any of the relatives say about his Grandmother, who everyone, including her children I think, called Mrs. Rush, was that she was a “difficult woman.”
Translated from FFV language to modern language, that means she was a raging bitch.
As I’ve pieced it together over the years, from near death-bed confessions and overheard whispered conversations at funerals, my Father’s Grandmother basically got rid of my Father’s Father. She cut him out of the family, returned his cards and presents sent to my Father over the years and made him disappear. For almost 5o years.
Mrs. Rush ran the house and no one crossed her. My Father was her pet and had his Mother and the two Aunts waiting on him constantly. It’s no wonder he turned out to be a bit of a spoiled child with a bad temper, when he didn’t get his way, and remained one the rest of his life.
I don’t know much more about Mrs. Rush. Most of the family was always afraid to speak of her. She must have been one scary broad. I have one picture of her and, based on that, even I would have hesitated to cross her.
Also in the household were my Great Aunts Mary and Lily. Lily had a husband at some point, but had also gotten rid of him at a relatively early age. I never knew that story…
Aunt Mary, always known as “Little Mary” was the youngest and the Family Pet. She was a Lady to her fingertips. Always quiet, gracious and respectful. She would sit quietly in her pearls and tasteful dresses crocheting or embroidering something. She spent time in a Tuberculous Sanitarium in Asheville when she was young and was therefore considered too damaged and fragile for marriage. Even though she lived to be in her 80’s, they all seemed to think she might die at any minute.
I always felt so sorry for her. I think her life must have been hell. She was the “poor relation” all her life. She never had anything of her own. In all the times I met her, I never really felt there was anyone “there”. She was too focused on being what people wanted her to be so she could get by. She never worked a day in her life and wouldn’t have known where to start. She was grudgingly supported by other family members her entire life. She was passed from relative to relative, but someone always took care of her. I hate to think of the price she paid.
I’ll never forget the last time I saw her. She was staying with one of the relatives in Martinsville and completely out of her mind. She was thrashing around in the bed and throwing off the bed-clothes, throwing her arms and legs in the air and yelling “Jesus, I’m coming!!!”
My Father’s Uncle Joe, who could be called Joe and not Joseph, because he lived in Danville and not Richmond, took in Little Mary and Lily once Mrs Rush died and Susie went to the State Hospital. He built them a little house…
Uncle Joe and his wife, known as “Big Mary” had a house and land outside Danville in the Country. My Grandmother Susie owned a chunk of land adjacent to theirs. Various family members, on my Fathers side, seemed to always own lots of land….and it got complicated in a hurry as to who owned what with whom. I’ll never forget visiting one of the Charles’ or Richard’s at their farm in Henrico County. They had golf carts to ride around the place…
Uncle Joe and “Big Mary” would not take the indigent relatives into their actual house. Instead, they built 3 or 4 little houses around the “Big House” for various poor relations to stay in. In the “Big House”, they built a bomb shelter, like good 1950’s Americans, only big enough for the two of them.
I sometimes think they wished for nuclear war to be free of the poor relations. But they weren’t Republicans…
The thing I remember clearly is that once Susie was moved from the State Mental Hospital at Staunton, to the one in Petersburg, just outside of Richmond, still none of the Rush’s went to see her. She had become invisible to them.
I understand. She was not pleasant to visit. It was a very unpleasant experience. I’ll talk more about this in the future….
The Stage is set….
More to come…