My great-grandfather, Elmer Theodore “Ted” Thurman, passed away on October 22, 2003 at the age of 93. He had been in poor health for some time, suffering from diabetes and Alzheimer’s. I have more memories of him than I do my Cunningham great-grandparents, but not quite so many memories as I have of Granny Thurman, who lived the longest during my lifetime (and in any case, was a personality to be reckoned with!).
Elmer Theodore Thurman was born on June 5, 1910 in Roby, Fisher County, Texas, to John Edward Thurman and Mary Shelby McDaniel Thurman. His father was born in Illinois in 1871. According to my great-grandmother, he was born in Chicago, but other family researchers believe it may have been Evansville. His mother, who was known by her middle name Shelby, was born in 1873 in Sulpher Springs, Hopkins County, Texas. It is said that John Edward Thurman was an only child, and his antecedents are unclear, but it is believed his father’s name was John Edward Thurmond. His mother is believed to have died in childbirth. At the age of 16, John Thurman took a train to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), debarking at Overbrook, north of Marietta. He worked for a doctor there for some time, then made his way to Sulpher Springs, Texas, where he met and married Mary Shelby McDaniel.
Mary Shelby McDaniel was the youngest child and only daughter of Shelby McDaniel (born 1833 in South Carolina) and Mary Bates (born September 24, 1842 in Arkansas). Her father was murdered before her birth. Her brothers were named David McDaniel (born 1860), John McDaniel (born 1867), and Greenberry McDaniel (born 1870).
John Edward Thurman and Mary Shelby McDaniel Thurman were the parents of fourteen children:
- Albert James Thurman, born May 1, 1894, died July 15, 1959
- Mary Alice Thurman, born December 16, 1895 (married Bill Pittman)
- Dewey Thurman, born May 20, 1898. Dewey drowned between the ages of 4 and 6.
- May Belle H. Thurman (called Mable), born June 4, 1900, died 1995 (married Elbert Foster)
- Levina Thurman, born July 2, 1902 (married Gaddy Young)
- Addie Pearl Thurman, born October 2, 1904 (married Chesney Colston)
- Quinton Edward Thurman, born April 1, 1906
- Annie B. Thurman, born May 8, 1908, died January 1, 1990 (married Preston Harris)
- Elmer Theodore Thurman, born June 5, 1910, died October 22, 2003
- Rawleigh W. Thurman, born 1914
- Melvin Green Thurman, born September 5, 1915, died March 3, 1994
- Woodrow Arthur Thurman, born December 5, 1917
- Arthula Christine Thurman (called Artie), born June 21, 1920, died 2006
- Edyth O. Thurman, born February 8, 1921, died 1921
All of the Thurman children listed above have passed away, but I do not have death dates for each of them yet. Artie was the last surviving sibling and passed away earlier this year.
Grandpa married Lucille Inez Willis on September 29, 1929 in Madill, Love County, Oklahoma. They had the following children: Doris LaNell Thurman Cunningham, Willis Floyd Thurman, Billy Loid Thurman, twins Winnie Sue Thurman Bolding and Minnie Lou “Penny” Thurman Paul, and Lynn Doyle Thurman. This is a picture of the Thurman family, taken between 1946 and 1948:
From left to right, bottom row: Lynn Doyle, Doris, Ted, Lucille, Willis; top row: Winnie, Penny, and Billy.
When I was little, Granny and Grandpa Thurman lived in Amarillo, Texas, and I remember going to visit them. When I was a teenager, they lived in Indio, California (I lived in Anaheim), and we sometimes traveled out to the desert to visit with them and Aunt Penny Paul. Toward the end of his life, he lived in Carlsbad, Texas and died in nearby San Angelo, Texas.
I remember being a bit afraid of Grandpa when I was very small. He had some form of hand tremor. I am not sure if this condition was ever diagnosed, but it appears to be genetic, as both my grandmother and Aunt Penny also have it. It is not Parkinson’s Disease, but it is possible that it is a form of Parkinsonism. He had red hair, and even in his advanced age when I knew him, it was still easy to discern his whitening hair had been red. He also had blue eyes. My grandmother, mother, sister and I (as well as my daughters) all have very large blue or green eyes, and my mother believes this round-eyed trait may come from Grandpa Thurman.
Grandpa loved to reminisce with my grandfather Udell Cunningham, his son-in-law, about people and places in the past. As his Alzheimer’s progressed, he was unable to remember more recent events, but it seemed to me that he recalled events from 50 years ago with perfect clarity.
Grandpa loved politics and was a staunch Democrat. He loved to discuss politics with my grandfather, too. My mother has told me that she has never in her life heard Grandpa say a bad word about anyone. I believe this admirable trait may be common in the Thurman family, as my cousin, Chris Stofel, says the same thing about his grandfather, Melvin Green Thurman. Certainly, I always saw my great-grandfather as very kindly and mild. It’s difficult to imagine that he ever raised his voice or became angry.
Grandpa was immensely proud of my daughter, Sarah. She was his first great-great-grandchild. She was born in 1993, and he first saw her in 1994 when the family gathered for a celebration of Granny and Grandpa’s 65th wedding anniversary. I will always remember him talking with his brother, Woodrow one day during that visit. He pointed at Sarah playing on the carpet nearby and said to Woodrow, “You see that little girl right there?” Woodrow nodded. “That little girl is my GREAT-GREAT-granddaughter.” Woodrow responded, “Well, Ted, you’re getting old.” Grandpa added, “Not too many of them get to see their great-great-granddaughter.” Before he died, he had many more great-great-grandchildren, but his Alzheimer’s had set in and he did not really remember them the way he remembered Sarah, whom he met before the disease began to take its toll. In fact, he remembered who Sarah was long after he forgot who I was, which I think is a testament to how proud he was to have a great-great-grandchild.
Granny and Grandpa Thurman were married for 74 years before he died in 2003. The last time I saw him was at a family gathering in celebration of their 70th anniversary. His health was declining. I have only had intuition that I might not see a person again three times in my life, and each time (so far), this intuition has been correct. The last time I saw my great-grandfather, I had this strong feeling that I wouldn’t see him again. It was such a strong feeling that even though we were all trying to pack into the car and leave for home, I went back into the house and hugged him a second time. I think he was confused, and he no longer remembered who I was, but I have always been glad I did that. He passed away about four years later, but I did not have a chance to visit him again beforehand.
I think my great-grandfather had a very hard life. He worked hard all of his life until he became too ill. Despite this, I never sensed from him any resentment. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever known that I’ve never heard anyone say a negative thing about. He was a very kind, very good man.