To this point, I haven’t mentioned too much about my mother’s parents. I’ve already stated that they were much younger than my father’s. My maternal grandfather was born in 1902. I’m not sure when my maternal grandmother was born. If memory serves me well, she wasn’t that much younger than grandpa. I use the term grandpa here for a lot of reasons. One is that this man, Andrew Jeffrey, was a beacon of strength and wisdom in my life. I’ll talk more about that later. My maternal grandmother, Emma, was called Sweet by everyone. I never understood why though. I assume that was a term of endearment given to her by grandpa. She was a strong, tough disciplinarian, which made it difficult for any of us grandchildren to reconcile what sounded like a term of endearment, Sweet, with her iron will. Through all her tough exterior, the love for her family was evident in all that she did.
To get to grandpa and Sweet’s place, you had to go up to Highway 64, turn left in the direction of town, Wynne, drive a few miles before turning left and continuing down a rough gravel road a mile or so. At this point, you would arrive at the eighty-acre farm, on the left, they owned. There was also another route where you would go in the opposite direction taken to drive to Highway 64 from our house. This route was shorter; however, the gravel road soon turned into dirt after leaving our house. The entire route was very undeveloped, even in comparison to a county gravel road. This was the route you would take if you wanted to go by foot.
As I try to recall details about grandpa and Sweet before I turned six, I’m only able to paint foggy pictures. What does come to mind are pictures of grandpa working his eighty acres with two mules and farming equipment being pulled by them. They lived in a three-room house (living room, bedroom, and kitchen). You might say the house was a part of a compound. It sat amongst a barn, a smoke house, a chicken coop, a hog pin behind the barn and an outhouse far behind it all. The eighty acres, the roughly constructed building, all were an example of self-sufficiency in early 1950s Arkansas. It all seemed so large back then. I remember when I left home to go to college, the place didn’t seem so large. Grandpa had no formal education, but he had a basic understanding of math and carpentry, which sufficiently equipped him to build his house and surrounding buildings.
My mother’s family was small in comparison to the thirteen children my father’s parents had. There were six kids. That seemed small back then to what country folks normally had. I used to hear it said that country people had large families because they needed ample hands to work the land. I’m not sure how true that was.
As I look back now, I do realize that most of my time, during the first six years of my life, was spent in a cocoon of comfort provided by my family. These weren’t the best of times for Black folks, but as a child the poverty and all the unequal treatment reserved for us was not a part of my life, yet.
For some reason, I do remember Weeping Willow trees. There was a big one in grandpa and Sweet’s front yard. This was the place to be during those hot days of summer, when the heat and humidity were brutal. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the moisture from the trees gracing my skin.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.
I like reading about your early memories. My maternal grandparents were farmers, too. One of my maternal great-grandmothers was called Dolly. Her real name was Rachel, but everyone called her Dolly. I never knew why.
I’m glad you were protected from the racial ugliness when you were that young.
Beneat the drooping branches, twigs and leaves is truly an enchanted place. We had such a tree in our garden when my daughter was small, drooping right down almost the ground. It was her refuge (with the cats) and nobody else dared intrude.
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As I go through this exercise of recalling, as best I can, events in my life, I’m finding refuge during this difficult time in our history. I also find it somewhat strange that I can find refuge in memories of events that are long gone. We all have a tendancy to romanticize events of the past. I’m trying my best not to do that; however, the weeping willow trees in my grandparents’ yard were too good of an experience not to.
Oh my, this was just beautifully written and engaging. Left me wanting more, more, more. I’ve always heard the same about large families, how all those kids were necessary as help on the land. (And also, not all of them usually survived.) But there’s also the fact that birth control was mostly non existent and relied mostly on strict self-discipline.
Thanks for reading and providing the feedback. Both are truly encouraging.
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