Mamaw and Papaw: Johnnie and Vola Null

I’ve written about many things on this blog, my family and others, but one part I’ve neglected has been my mother’s side of the family. I hope to remedy that today.

I’ve said before that I never knew any of my grandparents, but I did know one set of my great-grandparents on my mother’s side. We called them Mamaw and Papaw Null.

Their real names were Johnnie Null and Vola Earnest. When I knew them, they looked like this:

4fa28dd1-6f63-4005-8884-42d615b7b979-1My great-grandparents married young because as Mamaw put it, “I felt sorry for him.” Papaw’s parents had died when he was young and it was just him and his brother and sister. Mamaw came from a big, crazy family and I guess she thought everyone should have that. They went on to have seven children, six of whom lived to be adults.

Johnny Null family
The Johnnie Null family in the mid-1940s. From left to right: my grandmother Irene, Mamaw, Peggy, Papaw, Mary Lee. In front are Ruth and Johnnie Hugh.

The only one missing from this picture is my uncle Paul. He was the mid-life baby. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and Mamaw telling the story. It seemed by this point Mamaw and Papaw were in separate bedrooms. Mamaw said she got to missing Papaw and she went to see him one night (cue all the “ewwwws” from the kids). Nine months later…surprise! Uncle Paul was born.

Really. That’s about the way the story went. On the car ride home, I asked my mom where babies came from because Mamaw’s story just wasn’t doing it for me. I look back now and think that my mom probably wanted to kill her grandmother for telling that story.

Vola Earnest was an interesting woman to say the least. She struck me, even as a child, as a little cold. She loved me and I loved her, but cold is the only way I know how to describe her. Remember when I said she grew up in a crazy family? I meant it, but that’s a whole other blog post. Her father was married three or four times and there were a ton of kids. I don’t really know what it was like growing up for her but something intuitively feels off, if that makes sense. There was something I could feel even as a child.

I remember a time Mamaw was cooking Sunday dinner for all of us family and I was her special helper. I was maybe four. I helped her make biscuits (more like played in the flour). I did that a lot but what sets this Sunday apart was what Mamaw did next.

She wanted to make chicken so she went out in the back yard and got one. I was looking out the window at the time (bad, bad idea). Mamaw grabbed a chicken, one I had named Wilbur, and wrung its neck. I ran screaming through the house, calling Papaw and ended up in his lap. You know those outlines of a person in the wall that you see in cartoons? That was almost me. That’s how serious the situation was.

Well, it was to me. I told you she was interesting.

Mamaw died when I was six and Papaw when I was ten. I was grateful to have known them.

 

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