Fran James endured more than most people can imagine. Her life story reads like a tragedy with her love of family and faith in God the only bright spots.
That life story was written by her daughter, Mary F. Tucker of Alapaha, who titled it “Life, Love and Death.”
Tucker was in Moultrie last week for a book-signing at Christian Books, Etc.
“She had a rough life from the day she was born ’til the day she died,” Tucker told The Observer in an interview afterwards.
Born half-Cherokee in a time when such pairings were unacceptable, Fran started out fighting prejudice. When she was 10, her mother died, and her stepfather put her and her brother out.
“He told them he couldn’t keep them any longer,” Tucker said.
Fran worked for families, helping however she could in exchange for a place she and her 7-year-old brother could stay.
About the time she was 13, a distant cousin, whom she called Aunt Deely, heard of her plight and took her to her house in Copper Hill, Tenn., but Fran continued to work for whatever money she could get.
“Anywhere anybody needed help with babies or sick people, she went,” Tucker said.
Later, the cousin’s nephew joined them, allegedly to look for work. A ne’er-do-well, a drunkard and a thief, the youth raped Fran when she was 15.
“Six or eight weeks later, my mother got real sick, and Aunt Deely knew what it was right away,” Tucker said.
Fran refused to give up her baby, who she named Windham.
She took a job in a hosiery mill in Lenore City, Tenn., where she attracted the attention of the factory owner’s son, Paul Lawrence. He and Windham took to each other, too. Paul and Fran were married just before Christmas. Windham was about 2, and Tucker said the family was very happy. It didn’t last long.
“That summer, they hadn’t even been married a year, that plant had an explosion,” Tucker said. “Killed her husband, her father-in-law and a bunch of other people.”
With the hosiery mill in shambles, Fran had to find another job. At the new job, she attracted another suitor, Emmitt James, but Fran was anything but ready for another try at love. Emmitt was persistent, though, even though Fran left the city for another job without even telling him she was going. Eventually, he won her hand in marriage.
Fran soon saw she hadn’t gotten a prize.
“They married on Saturday,” Tucker said. “The next Friday he came home drunk.”
With faith in God and love for her children, Fran endured the marriage. Emmitt was abusive and was often absent.
“He would come home just long enough to get her pregnant then leave again,” Tucker said.
In all, Fran gave birth to 13 children. One, a little girl named Margie, died of pneumonia when she was 2. The family was snowed in and couldn’t get out to bury her.
“My oldest brother, Windham, told me about her sitting there and rocking that baby about three days,” Tucker said.
Margie was buried on her third birthday.
Tucker — 11th of the 13 children — was expected to die too. She had rheumatic fever when she was 7. She told of frequent trips from their home in Alapaha to Tifton, her daddy cursing her mother the whole way for spending the grocery money on doctor’s visits — even though the doctor charged only a couple of dollars because he knew how poor they were.
“Daddy was mean, mean, mean,” she said, “but thank God, before he died he changed.”
But the tragedy most vivid to Tucker was the death of her brother, Moultrie police officer Roy James, who was shot to death while on duty Aug. 13, 1960. The family was on vacation in Tennessee and was out of contact. Somehow, a sheriff’s department officer thought to contact one of the other sisters, who drove to find them at a relative’s house in Copper Hill, Tenn., arriving in the middle of the night with the bad news.
“God pulled her through all this,” Tucker said. “Her faith in God pulled her through everything. …
“She didn’t get to go to church very much, and she didn’t get to take us to church,” Tucker said, “but she taught us from that Bible.”
Fran died in 1979, just shy of Tucker’s 35th birthday.
Tucker said she’s pleased with her book, and it wasn’t hard to write.
“God gave it to me to write, and I wrote it as best I could,” she said. “I did it for Mama, and for other women who went through the same thing.”