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Evelyn Chrystobel Powell (1913-1992)

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Evelyn Chrystobel Powell
EvelynChrystobelPowell19131992-2
Sex: Female
Birth: May 23, 1913
Home of Charles Bertrand Powell,
Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama
Death: April 1, 1992
Mountain Brook, Alabama, Jefferson County, Alabama
Burial: Charles Bertrand Powell plot,
Block 19,
Elmwood Cemetery,
Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama
Father: Charles Bertrand Powell, Jr.
Mother: Evelyn Frazier
Spouse/Partner: Charles Clifford Anderson
Marriage: April 30, 1936
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church,
Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama

         Evelyn Chrystobel Powell was my grandmother. She was the eldest child of C. B. Powell, Jr., and Evelyn Frazier and was born in the home of her grandparents on 14th Avenue South in Birmingham. She was originally named Evelyn Christabel Powell, but her aunts changed her name to Chrystobel a few years later. She was baptized Catholic, but spent most of her life as an Episcopalian. In her early years, she was generally happy and carefree, spending her time in her grandmother's garden. But her parents divorced and she never really recovered, struggling to find and maintain happiness for the rest of her life. She summed it up herself in a poem (even replacing "we" with "they" in the final version):

"Three little girls in a garden,
Like petals they drifted apart.
One rich, one lovely, the other
To live with a broken heart."
The poem would appear to refer to her sister Bushie ("One rich"), probably her half-sister Virginia ("one lovely") and Chrystobel herself ("the other").

         After her parents' divorce (1917/19), she and her sister lived with their aunts and grandparents on 14th Avenue South. Her mother remarried and rarely visited and her father was also distant. In 1921, her favorite aunt, Claire Powell, contracted encephalitis lethargica, commonly known as "sleeping sickness", and died soon afterwards. Two years later, her grandfather, the family patriarch and breadwinner, died following surgery for a serious medical problem. Most pictures of her made during this time period show her with a sad facial expression. A sensitive child, she took all these tragedies to heart to make herself unhappy.

         Chrystobel graduated Phillips High School in 1930 and attended college at Birmingham-Southern. She studied art and music, but the Depression and her father's mismanagement of the family legal practice forced her to drop out during her junior year. The family swiftly went from being well-to-do to barely making ends meet. Her uncle, once a lawyer, worked at a meat packing plant and brought home many of their meals. Her mother's 2nd husband provided them with shoes. Meeting my grandfather may have seemed like an escape.

         Chrystobel, supposedly on the mend from being spurned by a man she had set her heart on, agreed to a double date with her friend Louise. Louise took her boyfriend Red Adams and Chrystobel was paired with Charles Anderson, a member of the management of Avondale Mills. They would marry in 1936, in a ceremony "marked by simplicity" (one can attribute this to their poor economic standing if one reads between the lines). The couple honeymooned in New Orleans and later settled in the Fleetwood Apartments. In 1940, they bought a house in the English Village neighborhood. Chrystobel's fortunes were not destined to continue, though.

         Somewhere during this time period, Charles quit Avondale Mills, being unable to handle the pressure. He would work at a munitions plant during World War II, then an industrial laundry and finally for the Bayliss Machine Shop until 1977. He never made a lot of money, which was particularly galling for Chrystobel as her younger sister's husband, Arthur Bagby, became very successful. Chrystobel became stuck in the middle class, while her sister returned to the upper class status of their youth. Chrystobel became increasingly bitter and mean spirited.

         In 1943, she had her daughter Eleanor. Then after having a miscarriage, she had my father a few years later. In between, she travelled to New York to see to her estranged mother, who was dying of ovarian cancer. The 50's brought a fabulous wedding for her half-sister Virginia Forward at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Los Angeles. But a few years later, Virginia was found dead, leaving a young daughter. Her aunt Gladys died in 1957 and her estranged father (with whom she communicated by mail) died in 1959. But the next decade would all but break Chrystobel.

         As the 60's got under way, Eleanor headed off to Alabama for college. But within a couple of years, she dropped out to marry a man Chrystobel did not approve of (mostly because he was Catholic, same as the mother who had abandoned her as a child). Things settled down as Eleanor had a daughter and my father went off to college. Then the twin tragedies of 1967 hit. Her uncle Ivor, who had once provided much of their food from his meat packing job, was mugged outside his home. He died three weeks later in April. He had been like her father since her parents abandoned her and her sister. The next month, shortly after her birthday, Eleanor got run over when her car started rolling down her driveway. She died an hour later. Chrystobel, who had always had a tempestuous relationship with her daughter, was crushed and actually had to be committed until she came to grips with the tragedy. She recorded her feelings in the following letter to a friend who just lost a child some years later:

"Dear Mary,
I must write you and tell you I love you - Not love (as of affection) but love, as of understanding. The road ahead for you will be long, narrow and teadious [sic], for a while, but later it will become a wide highway and your journey, day by day will be easier. I have found this to be true. I think maybe I can say this to you - After my bad day, that last day with my girl, I wrote this little poem. Please let me share it with you.</p>
She was beautiful and gay
One of God's fairest
She stayed a while and was gone
Not really for she left a child
Who is beautiful and gay
One of God's fairest."</p>

         Despite what she said about life becoming "easier", she never fully recovered from Eleanor's death. She was okay for a while, but by the time I came to know her, she was sinking into a deep depression, which could not have been helped by the slow onset of dementia. She always commented on how much my sister and cousin looked like Eleanor and she would not take care of herself. She made my grandfather sleep in another room. She began drinking wine and hid the bottles all over the house . She ate very little and dropped to under 100 pounds. She hardly left her house and sat on her sofa for hours, eventually ruining the cushions. This would culminate in her own tragic death.

         As we vacationed in south Florida on Spring Break, a depressed Chrystobel may have begun drinking again. While moving around in her bedroom, it is surmised, she slipped and hit her head on the bedside table, knocking herself unconscious. Her neck caught across the phone cord and, being unconscious, she asphyxiated. An hour or two later, when Dad's assistant, Andy Holland, came to check on them, he found her and called 911. They could not revive her. We found out later that night and immediately drove 14 hours home for the funeral.

         Chrystobel was a sad, depressed person, but still showed nothing but kindness to her grandchildren. A great lover of art, she took us to the Birmingham Museum of Art and even tried to teach my sister how to paint. We still have many of Chrystobel's paintings and two can be found at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Birmingham, one of which was dedicated to Eleanor. Hardly an overnight visit passed without me waking to her playing her old piano (Dad said she could play it by ear). I always enjoyed it, even though it was out of tune. It was kind of sad, like her.

ChildrenEdit

Name Birth Death
Children of Charles Clifford Anderson and Evelyn Chrystobel Powell


Eleanor Beth Anderson May 25, 1943
South Highlands Hospital, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama
May 31, 1967
South Highlands Hospital, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama


[Private] [Private]
[Private]
[Private]
[Private]

GalleryEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Anderson, Charles Clifford, and Evelyn Chrystobel Powell. Copy of marriage certificate.
  • Anderson, Charles Clifford, and Evelyn Chrystobel Powell. Copy of St. Andrew's church marriage record.
  • Anderson, Charles Clifford, Jr. Personal memories.
  • Anderson, Charles Wittichen. Personal memories.
  • Anderson, Charles Wittichen. Visits to Elmwood Cemetery.
  • Anderson, Chrystobel Powell, compiler. "The Bride's Own Book". 1936.
  • Anderson, Chrystobel Powell. Death certificate.
  • Anderson, Chrystobel Powell. Personal poetry.
  • Anderson, Julia Carolyn. Personal memories.
  • Birmingham News, early May 1936. "Marriage of Chrystobel Powell and Charles C. Anderson". [need better date]
  • Powell, Evelyn Christabel. Birth certificate.

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