As I write more about events in my early life, I find myself remembering more detail, not always enough to tell a complete story, but more. After my father died, things took on a new flavor. There started to be a stronger bond between my mother and me that defined a lot of how my life unfolded until she passed from Alzheimer’s in 2018. I think this had to do with that oldest-child thing. I also recall a closer relationship developing with grandpa and Sweet during that time, more grandpa. I think I should honor them by giving their real names grandpa (Andrew Jeffrey) and Sweet (Emma Wilform-Jeffrey). I included Sweet’s maiden name (Wilform), because I might share a story or two about her side of the family as I go along. Remember, I’m writing this stuff as I remember it. I’ve intentionally decided to not outline anything before sitting down to the keyboard, or query anyone, who might have a better recollection than I.
I can’t help but romanticize a lot of my life before I turned twelve. After all, I was a poor little Black boy, living in the country, surrounded by little in terms of creature comforts, but despite the absence of material wealth, I remember being happy. Without any order, I remember:
- Roaming through the woods with grandpa, picking wild blackberries
- Eating watermelons on cool late summer mornings in grandpa’s watermelon patch
- Helping grandpa feed and water the mules after a hard day’s work in the fields
- Watching Sweet churn milk and making butter
- Following grandpa into the woods whenever he went hunting with his 22-caliber rifle
- Just being a country kid roaming freely without a care from sun-up to sun-down
There’s a song by the Canton Spirituals titled Mississippi Poor Boy that summarily characterizes my life during this time. The following is the introduction to that song:
I come from a poor family.
We didn’t have much
But the Lord’s been good to me
We were raised in a shack, ya’ll
Sometimes the clothes were thin
That we put on our backs…
I look back now at grandpa and Sweet, and I’m amazed at how they had a talent for survival that many would hold in awe today. Neither had much need for store-bought food, except for flour and sugar. Grandpa would trap wild animals for meat, collect a variety of berries and vegetation from their natural settings, slaughter domestically grown animals in the fall, and salt the meat for storage in the smokehouse. And, of course, don’t forget this man grew a variety of foods on his little farm. I can recall many times seeing nothing in Sweet’s kitchen in the morning, and mysteriously witnessing a bounty on the table for supper. She would, almost lovingly meander into the back yard and attract chickens to gather around her with corn. Once enjoying the non-GMO kernels, she would quickly snatch one up, wring the unwillingly sacrifice’s neck and cart it off to be dressed for supper. She’d also go out back to the shed where she kept an inventory of canned vegetables, select several jars to be cooked as side orders with the chicken. She had this skill for baking things from scratch that would put Julia Child to shame. As she labored, without complaint, over her hot, wood-burning stove, Sweet would sing old-negro spirituals, giving praises to God as naturally as she breathed His air.
Grandpa and Sweet. They just don’t make folks like that anymore.