Mary Childs raised eight children on her own and insisted on playing a role in raising her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of those great-grandchildren, Arbrielle Douse, was spending the night at Childs' house on Pinecrest Avenue when a fire started late on the night of Dec. 20. Both Childs, 82, and Douse, 3, died in the blaze.
“I don't think we are ever going to get over it; I really don't,” said Jennifer Childs of her grandchild and mother's deaths. “But it will probably get easier eventually. They're going to be missed. Both of them are going to be missed.”
Jennifer Childs and other members of her family gathered on Sunday at the home of her sister, Linda Childs, on Brucewood Street to mourn and receive friends.
A joint funeral for Mary Childs and Douse is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at River of Life Church on Columbia Highway North.
“My momma was a strong woman,” said Carolyn Childs of Mary Childs. “If she liked you, she liked you, and if she didn't like you, you would know that she didn't. It was hard for her to come out and say, 'I love you,' but we knew that she loved us. She loved her grandkids, and she loved her great-grandkids. She loved them to death.”
Mary Childs worked in a kitchen of a nursing home and did some housecleaning to earn money, but most of the single mother's time was devoted to taking care of her children. She assigned them chores and made sure that they did them in an effort to teach responsibility. She also made sure that they had plenty of good food to eat. Their favorites were sour cream pound cake, potato salad and fried chicken.
“She was a great cook,” Jennifer Childs said. “She just had that touch. We could go home and put the same stuff on our fried chicken, but ours would never taste like hers. I don't know what it was. Maybe she did something extra to it and didn't tell us.”
Even though Mary Childs would have celebrated her 83rd birthday the day after Christmas, she was healthy and didn't have to take any medication, according to her family. She raked her yard regularly to keep it neat. She also enjoyed baby-sitting her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she was very firm in letting everyone know that she was going to be an important part of their lives.
“She didn't want her grandkids and great-grandkids to be in day care,” Jennifer Childs said. “She didn't think it was good for them. She said they couldn't talk and really tell you what was happening. She said if she took care of them herself, she knew that she was going to be good to them.”
Douse was known to her family as Princess Brie, Amberlie and Gabby.
“Her favorite name was Amberlie,” Jennifer Childs said.
Douse stayed with her great-grandmother when her mother, Angel Childs, attended classes at Aiken Technical College and at other times as well. Every Wednesday, Douse, Mary Childs and Linda Childs would go to the Roses store on Richland Avenue to shop.
“Even though she (Douse) didn't have a dime,” Linda Childs said, “she would always end up with a bag full of stuff like bubblegum and candy that me or my momma had bought her.”
Linda described her great-niece as a girly girl who was smart and precocious. Douse loved to answer the telephone, and she could carry on conversations with her elders better than most children her age.
“The other night, I came home from work,” Linda recalled, “and she told me, 'Aunt Linda, come in here, and let's sit down and talk.' We sat down and she said, 'Aunt Linda, how was your day?' And then she said, 'Aunt Linda, tell me exactly what you did at work.'”
Not long before Douse died, she received a bag of inexpensive jewelry from Jennifer Childs. She put the rings in it on each of her fingers and couldn't wait to tell her mother about her sparkly gifts.
Linda Childs bought Douse a lilac dress with the Disney mermaid Ariel appliqued on it and matching lilac slippers with dark purple bows and big rhinestones for Christmas. Douse will be buried in that outfit, Linda said.
Looking at the dress and slippers, which were in a box that Linda had pulled out from under her Christmas tree, Jennifer Childs said: “That was Princess Brie all the way.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter.