Roses are woman’s only link to dead father

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 20, 2003

In 1928, in Bibb County, a 50-year-old man died from influenza, leaving behind three daughters, a son and a wife so stricken with pneumonia it would be days before she even realized he was dead.

The only thing his youngest daughter &045;&045; then just 10 months old &045;&045; knew about her father were the stories told by family members and a rose bush, planted immediately after his death.

The nearly wild plant has stood the test of time, surviving with little or no care since then.

Today Frances Snodgrass is 75. But she was just 10 months old when her father, Benjamin Chism, died. She has no memory of him, but she tends the rose bush still. She said the bush was special to her; primarily because of its longevity and the love her mother, Annie Chism, had for it.

Said Frances, &uot;It’s survived some drought summers. I guess my strongest connection with it is because my mother loved it so.&uot;

Her brother, Howard Chism, who was just 15 when their father died, became a father to the family. They moved from their Bibb County home to Stanton.

Frances later married Billy Snodgrass and moved to Selma with him. She said, &uot;I never did live there (in Bibb).&uot;

Benjamin was a farmer who sometimes engaged in odd public works jobs. One such job might have led to his death. He caught a flu virus, deadly at the time. Assuming he’d recovered fully, he went to work one day and &uot;relapsed.&uot;

The roses were planted by his grave by one of his family members. Frances never knew who put them there. &uot;I don’t know anything about my daddy except what I’ve been told,&uot; she said.

Because her mother was so enamored with the rose bush, once a year the family would go to the Bibb County cemetery and tend the site and the bush.

Howard Chism worked to help support the family. Now 92, he still lives in Stanton. Said Frances, &uot;I didn’t know the difference between him being my brother and him being my father.&uot;

No one even knows what kind of rose it is. According to Frances, they didn’t have varieties like Joyfulness, Timeless or Honor in the 1920s. It’s just a red rose bush with 2 1/2-inch diameter blooms which stands about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall.

She’s tried transplanting it into her own rose garden in the front yard. But it seems to like where it is. She said, &uot;It just won’t take root.&uot;