"The harp [wind] through it playing has language for me" ...from "The Ash Grove"
Aunt Molly Brown Hounsley (1866-1951) and Uncle Tom Hounsley (1868-1946)
may not have been blood relatives, but they played a very important role in my family's history and in my own childhood.
They took in my mother when she was but 15-years old and gave her a home, taught her their values, and treated her as
their own child, just as they had done years before for their own nephew, Paul Brown (1898-1943) , and later Paul's son, Howard
Aunt Molly was born on December 31, 1866 in nearby Bird Township, one of
three daughters of William and Mathilda Elizabeth (Wiggins) Brown. Her sisters were Aunt Sarah, who married
Will Denby and together they had a son, Cecil Denby; and Aunt Mat (Martha), who married Tom Laycock and together they had
one son, Thomas Laycock, Jr. Aunt Mollie's brothers were Uncles Charley, Fount, Paschal, and William Brown (1871-1911).
Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom lived out most of their lives together on a 120-acre farm outside of Carlinville, near Lake Carlinville
and the Hickory Point Church in Macoupin County, and close to Nilwood, IL which is where their mail came out of.
In 1893 Molly L. Brown married Thomas P. Hounsley---one of two Hounsley
boys---and shortly thereafter, they, along with one of Aunt Molly's brothers, William Brown, and his wife Minnie Brown (1876-1900)
took off for North Dakota where free land was to be had, provided they could spend five winters on it. They lasted
but one winter, during which time William's wife, Minnie, died just shortly after giving birth to her's and William's
second child, Donald Brown---the younger brother of Paul Brown. And so Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom, along with William
and his two children, returned to Carlinville. But William couldn't deal with the loss of his wife, let alone raise
two young boys---and consequently, some years later on September 25, 1911 William, at the age of 40, would take his own
life. Because Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom did not have any children of their own (and apparently never could), upon their
return to Carlinville they took in and raised their nephew, Paul Brown, as their own child, while Aunt Molly's and William's
sister, Aunt Mat, and her husband, Uncle Tom Laycock, took in Donald Brown and raised Donald along with their own son,
Thomas Laycock, Jr.
Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom thought the world of Paul, both as a boy and later
as man. Paul, the boy, helped with all the farm work, but Paul, the man, was not to become a farmer, for his interests
lay elsewhere. Paul was friend to all, tried a number of different jobs in and around Carlinville, married a very nice
lady by the name of Elizabeth Adams, and together, Paul and Elizabeth had two children---first Howard Brown (19??-19??),
followed shortly thereafter by Robert (Bob) Brown (19??-1980). But Elizabeth and Paul's marriage quickly fell apart,
as Paul seemed to drift from one job to another and his drinking problem worsened. Elizabeth divorced Paul and left
Carlinville to find work in Springfield, IL. But as she could not care for both children, Aunt Molly and Uncle
Tom took in Howard and raised him as their own, just like they had previously done with Howard's father, Paul. Elizabeth kept her younger child, Bob Brown, with her and raised Bob as a single parent.
Then much later, one summer in the early 1940's I was to meet
Elizabeth only once as she came to stay with Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom for a few days' visit to the farm at a time when I just
happened to be there too. At that time Elizabeth's and Paul's youngest son, Bob Brown, had already gone off
to WWII, while Howard continued to remain in Carlinville working in sales for the local farm implement dealer. It was
during that wartime period that Howard met and married a very nice woman by the name of Emma __________, who brought into
their marriage a little girl she had from a previous marriage. Emma's child went by a nickname that I cannot now remember,
but she was about my age and so I always had someone to relate to whenever I visited Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom.
Meanwhile, after WWII, in 1945 Bob Brown returned to Carlinville,
and both he and his brother, Howard, bought out the local farm implement dealer that Howard had been working for. Bob's
and Howard's joint business venture prospered and in time grew into one of the largest and most successful businesses in Carlinville.
Their business soon outgrew the relatively tiny space just off the town square on the street leading to the Alton
Railroad station, and so they moved their dealership to a more expansive location just outside of Carlinville on State
Route 4. Bob got married and he and his wife, June Denton Brown, had six children---3 sons and 3 daughters.
Howard and Emma had but one child of their own, a boy by the name of Billy, who quickly became a favorite of Aunt
Mollie's and Uncle Tom's. But Billy was not to have the kind of childhood experiences that both his father,
Howard, and his grandfather, Paul, had as boys on Aunt Molly's and Uncle Tom's farm---for I would be the last of a line
of young boys to live with Uncle Tom and Aunt Molly, if only for just summer-time visits. Uncle Tom died in August,
1946 when I was 12 years old. But just the month before Uncle Tom's death, I had spent the month of July,
1946 with Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom, just as I had done every summer dating back to say, 1941.
I shall never forget them, and to this day, the reason my wife, Nancy,
and I live on a horse farm here in Montgomery County, VA near Christiansburg and Blacksburg, VA in our retirement years, is
because of the many memorable summers I had as a young boy spending time
with my Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom on their farm outside of Carlinville, IL. "...The ash grove,
the ash grove again is my home."
....H. Bruce Downey, November, 2003
"Life is about 'losing count' on anything that really matters to you..."
All photos shown in the slide show below come from Aunt Molly's family photo album---a 100+
year old, red, cloth-bound album with its brass clasp still in place that was graciously given to me in
1999 by Paschal Brown's granddaughter, Melba Brown Austwick, who, along with her husband, Lendell, still live on their own
farm outside of Carlinville, IL, near Charity Church where many of the Brown family are buried.
I personally can never thank Melba enough for having given up Aunt Mollie's photo
album to someone like myself who is obviously outside the Brown family. Of course Aunt Molly's album means a great
deal to me, but ultimately, this heirloom belongs to the Brown family. Accordingly, after my passing, it will be returned
to whomever in the Brown family might then cherish it as much as I now do.
And as for Charity Church, I too remember Charity Church for the warm, mid-week summer evening
revivals we would attend and for the Sunday evenings every so often when Aunt Molly, Uncle Tom, and I, with sickles
in hand, would tend to the then tall grass covering the Brown family plots just steps away from the Church, with particular
attention being given to their nephews' (Paul and Donald Browns') gravesites. Note: Curiously enough, Paul
and Donald died within a year of one another---first Donald in 1942 and then Paul in 1943. And it
was because of the then lack of routine maintenance of the Charity Church cemetery that Aunt Molly insisted that she
and Uncle Tom be buried in town at the Carlinville Town Cemetery. And so they are---right at the main entrance of the
Carlinville Town Cemetery and right next to their pastor, The Reverend Crouch, who apparently made the same decision---perhaps
for the same reason. As it turned out, the cemetery at Charity Church today has expanded in size and is emaculately
maintained, which Aunt Molly would have personally applauded.
Aunt Molly was a deeply religious person, a devout Christian who read her Family Bible every
night of her life. I once asked her how many times she had read the Bible completely through from beginning to end.
Aunt Molly responded by telling me that she had "lost count many years ago."
....H. Bruce Downey, November, 2003
|Concrod Grapes---Notice the vines
Concord grapes---you don't just eat them, you know ! Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom had many Concord grape vines growing on a grape arbor Uncle Tom had built many
years before I came along. It would be summertime when I visited them and the grapes would already be very large, in
big bunches like those pictured here, but they were still very sour with their thick skins covering their greenish,
rather slimy fruit underneath. But it wasn't the grapes themselves that interested me, for it was the stout grape
vines themselves which I was interested in. I got the idea that if you cut off a hunk, a kid could smoke Concord grape vines. And so that's what I did.
After supper Uncle Tom would go outside and sit down on the back steps and chew tobacco and I would sit right beside
him and light up a grape vine. And then Uncle Tom would tell me stories about the days when he would
hitch up a team of horses well before dawn and go on over to his father's and mother's old homeplace (which he always
referred to as "the other place") to tend to the crops growing there. Uncle Tom still farmed
his parents' land even in my time, but by then he contracted all that work out as he had enough to do managing his own
farm as he and Aunt Molly were both well into their seventies by the time I came along. I think I had to ream out
some of the pithy stuff inside the grape vine to get the smoke to come through the vine. Anyway, I had fun
smoking those Concord grape vines and listening to Uncle Tom's stories on the back steps. And Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom
didn't object to me doing it because they told me that they had done the very same thing when they were growing up as kids.
And at summer's end when I got back home I don't think I ever told my mother about smoking those grape vines. I wonder
if kids today smoke Concord grape vines...out on the back steps...or anywhere ?
H. Bruce Downey, December, 2003
Don't hear anything ? Try playing this media player
while viewing slides...< DIV>
A group called 'America' and their
song, "I need you"
Nana Mouskouri singing "The Ash
Grove"...as few can.
All controls on these media players work
Photo order in the slide show immediately below....
- Aunt Molly's mother, Mathilda Elizabeth (Wiggins) Brown
- Aunt Molly at age 11 (a tin-type)
- Uncle Tom at age 7 or 8 (also a tin-type)
- Aunt Mollie and Uncle Tom's wedding picture (1893) #1
- Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom's wedding Picture (1893) # 2
- William Brown's (Aunt Molly's brother's) boys---Donald (at left) and his brother, Paul (at
- The three Brown girls---Aunt Molly Hounsley (at left), Aunt Sarah Denby (center), and
Aunt Mat Laycock (right)
- The four Brown boys---Uncles Charley, Fount, Paschal, and William. William was the father
of Paul and Donald Brown---Paul being raised by Aunt Molly and Donald being raised by Aunt Mat because their own mother died
giving childbirth in North Dakota
- On the front porch at Aunt Molly and Uncle Tom's farmhouse---Back row from left to right: Elizabeth
Adams Brown [Paul Brown's wife and mother of Howard and Robert (Bob) Brown], Aunt Molly, Uncle Tom Laycock, and Uncle Tom
Hounsley. Front row from left to right: Mathilda Elizabeth (Wiggins) Brown [Aunt Molly's and Aunt Mat Brown Laycock's
mother], Aunt Mat Laycock, and Donald Brown. Missing from this family photo is Donald's older brother, Paul, who
must have been busy taking this photo.
- Uncle Tom with one of his prized sheep (a 'Hello Dearie' tin-type).
- Back row from left to right: Lewis Brown (son of Paschal Brown and father of Melba Brown Austwick
and of her brother, Paschal Brown III), Paul Brown, Maria Brown (wife of ????? Brown), Cecil Denby (son of Aunt Sara Brown
Denby and Will Denby), and one other unidentified Brown family member. Kneeling from left to right: Melba
Brown (Austwick) at 16 or so, and two other unidentified Brown family members. This picture was taken around 19??
on ________'s farm
- Uncle Tom (right) with nephew, Paul Brown, at left
- Uncle Tom (looking just as I remember him) with Howard Brown---one of Paul and Elizabeth
Brown's two sons, the other being Robert (Bob) Brown. This picture was probably taken in the mid to late 1930's
- Aunt Molly outside the screened-in porch of their farmhouse in the early 1940's looking
just as I remember her
- Aunt Molly in the yard at Uncle Tom and Aunt Mat's farm in the late 1940's with Charles
Brown, a son of Uncle Charley Brown---one of Aunt Molly's and Aunt Mat's brothers
- In the front yard of Aunt Molly's and Uncle Tom's farmhouse circa 1944---That's me, Bruce Downey
("Blanche's boy") with Aunt Molly, their dog (Brunee), and Uncle Tom holding Snooks.
Brunee would later die on the very same day as did Uncle Tom in August, 1946
- In Aunt Molly's and Uncle Tom's barnyard circa 1945---That's me, Bruce, with Tony,
the pony (less than 14-hands high)
- Some 50-years later in the run-in shed at Bruce and Nancy's horse farm in Christiansburg,VA---That's
me, Bruce, with "Secret" and her foal, "April" in the Spring of 1997
There are two songs featured here. The first is the Beatles' song, "I need you"
sung here by a group called "America". I
chose this tune for the song's lyrics and their applicability to my times with with my Aunt
Molly and Uncle Tom. These lyrics are worth repeating here. They are
We used to laugh, we used to cry
We used to bow our heads then, wonder why
And now you're
gone, I guess I'll carry on
And make the best of what you've left to me
Left to me, left to me
I need you like
the flower needs the rain
You know I need you, guess I'll start it all again
You know I need you like the winter needs
You know I need you, I need you
And every day, I'd laugh the hours away
Just knowing you were thinking
And then it came that I was put to blame
For every story told about me
About me, about me
I need you
like the flower needs the rain
You know I need you, guess Ill start it all again
You know I need you, I need you
need you like the winter needs the spring
You know I need you, guess I'll start it all again
You know I need you, I
And the second song is "The Ash Grove" ---
a very old Welsh tune having many lyricists down through the years, each providing their own poetic words, but always sung
to the same tune. The version sung here by Nana Mouskouri features lyrics by
John Oxenford, which you can find at the very top right of this webpage.