My grandfather, Pharris Matthew Stribling, could have been the inspiration behind the song, Papa was a Rolling Stone. I’m not certain of his exact birthdate, but I believe he was born sometime around February or March of 1901, in Lincolnton, Lincoln County, Georgia, the second child and oldest son of Charles and Emily (Flanigan) Stribling. He had three younger brothers, Wendell, Tom, and Charles, and two younger sisters, Marie, and Emilee, in addition to his older sister, Sue.
When he was fifteen or sixteen, he ran away from home, lied about his age, and attempted to enlist for service in World War I. On his application, he lists his age as eighteen years and three months, which would put his month of birth in March, providing he wasn’t misrepresenting this as well. He made it as a far as Fort McPhearson in Atlanta, before being discharged for filing a fraudulent application. At twenty-one, he left home again and headed to Florida, where he married Edith Irene Baguley Peacock, a widow who was nearly ten years his senior. Edith worked for the DeLand Daily News in Daytona Beach, Florida, and, according to my great aunt Emilee, played and taught piano and knew linotype, a skill she taught my grandfather, which became his lifelong profession.
Not one to settle down, my grandfather headed to West Virginia, where he met my grandmother, Freda Juergens in Sutton around 1928. He may have been working for the Braxton Country Democrat. At the time, he was still married to his first wife, and had to travel back to Florida to divorce her so he could marry my grandmother. There was some urgency in his timing — my grandparents married 9 March 1929 and my mother was born 16 September of that year.
As might be expected, the marriage wasn’t very solid. The 1930 census lists my mother with my grandmother at the home of her parents in Sutton, West Virginia, while my grandfather is listed as a border in Martinsburg, a considerable distance away. My grandmother told me Pharris would take my mother to work with him, and use his lower desk drawer as a makeshift bassinet for her. She also told me that as the marriage was breaking up, he tried to run off with my mother, but didn’t get very far. One of my aunts told me that his sister Sue tried to get him to bring my mother down to Georgia so his father could see her before he died in 1931, but Pharris refused. His sister never forgave him.
In the divorce petition filed by my grandmother around 1933, she cited abandonment as the cause and was awarded full custody of my mother. I’m not sure where my grandfather had gone, but one of my cousins has told me his uncle Pharris visited his family in South Carolina rather frequently around that time, and would sometimes be with a woman named Ann, who may or may not have been his wife. A city directory from 1936 has him listed in Anderson, South Carolina, which matches the time and place my cousin recalled. No spouse is listed with him.
In 1940, the census finds him living in a hotel or rooming house in Mobile, Alabama. It also lists his education as high school, fourth year. Mobile was apparently just a stopover for him since the next record on him is a World War II enlistment record from Dallas, Texas dated 27 August 1942. His rank is given as private, enlisted man, with one year of college and his skill is reported as compositor or typesetter. He records his marital status as separated without dependents. According to the form, he was just under six feet tall and weighed two hundred and fifteen pounds.
While living in Texas, he worked at the Dallas Morning News, which is probably what he was doing in 1942. He does not appear to have been deployed overseas. After the war, presumably in Dallas, he met and married Marjorie Hartsfield, who he remained married to for the remainder of his life. Marjorie is said to have worked in some capacity at one of the internment camps in Texas, though I have been unable to track down details on when and where she worked or what she did there. In civilian life, she’d been a teacher. Like Edith Peacock, Marjorie was older than her husband.
Pharris and Marjorie moved to Atlanta around 1948, where he was reunited with my mother, who moved there after she graduated high school in 1947. My mother stated they shared a duplex in West End and records show the address as 577 Holderness Street, S.W. My grandfather was working at the Atlanta Journal. Their reunion was short-lived, unfortunately, as my grandfather suffered a fatal heart attack during a family cookout at their home on 8 July 1950. He was forty-nine years old.
There was a rumor in my family that my grandfather had a son by his first wife. My grandmother told me of a conversation reported to her between my grandfather and a bus driver where my grandfather claimed he was going to visit his son. I was never able to learn much from my great-aunts or uncles, but I did track down the estate records of his first wife who died in 1982, and she makes no mention of any living sons or daughters and has no children listed with her on the 1930 or 1940 census.
As one might imagine, my grandfather had a rather colorful reputation among his family, though they do seem to have remained in touch with one another. My cousin recalled he liked to bet on horse races and was friends with a well-known sports writer of the time. Other than this, I rarely heard stories of him within the family and had not yet started researching my family’s past and did not think to ask about him while his brothers and sisters were still living. Consequently, the information I have on him is very spotty and mostly compiled from the few records he left behind. He died twelve years and nine months before I was born.