Looking back on my life as I grew up during the latter part of the 1950s and early 1960s, I now realize that my world was exceedingly small. I want to take a closer look at the small country community to which I belonged. I’ve mentioned living on my grandpa and Sweet’s farm. I also mentioned that the farm was located down a gravel road off Highway 64. I want to talk a little about the community that lived down this rough and dusty route to nowhere.
Although we were somewhat isolated, there was a sense of community. There were six Black families who lived in the area. Among them were Sweet’s brother Jessie and sister-in-law Hattie. Jessie and Hattie lived on land that was part of the land farmed by grandpa and Sweet. It had been parceled into three separate areas. All the land had been inherited from Sweet’s parents. Sweet was the oldest of the siblings. I remember the Britts, and two other families that made up this small community of folks who did the normal things small communities do: borrow a cup of sugar when necessary, share vegetables grown in their gardens, visit without announcing you were coming…
At some point after my father died, my mother either bought or was given a house that sat at the corner of Highway 64 and the gravel road. I remember her having someone move the house down the gravel road to a spot in front of grandpa and Sweet’s house. She also had electricity connected to the house. This was made easier sense the house was on land just next to the gravel road. The gravel road had electrical service lines that ran its length. At some point, we got a television and a radio. I remember this house had a living room, a kitchen, and an upstairs room which was accessed by a small set of stairs that led up from the kitchen. Grandpa used his carpentry skills to add two bedrooms to one side of the house. This proved to be convenient for all of us. Larry, William, and I shared a room and our sister, Terri, born later shared a room with my mother.
We were still poor; however, I remember folks down this gravel road helped each other. Uncle Jessie had a pickup truck, and several of us would fill the back on Saturday evenings when he would make his weekly trip into town (Wynne). As a kid I remember these trips to town as being exciting. I would be given a few coins to spend on candy. We would hangout around the Western Auto Store, which was a kind of general-purpose hardware store and Steinberg’s, the Jewish-owned dry goods and grocery store.
Life was simple, as I remember it back then, but I do remember some complications that went with being Black. When we went to town, we had to observe the white and Black signs that separated certain services. And even where there were no signs, we had to be aware of certain protocols. For example, I remember Black folks going to the back of a certain restaurant in town to order food. I don’t remember the name of the place. I now wonder why we even ordered food from there, especially since a short walk across the railroad tracks to what was then called colored town would have given us access to Ms. Evalena’s. Ms. Evalena’s was a greasy spoon that made the best juicy hamburgers you could ever want. And you could walk straight through the front door. For some reason, I can still remember the taste of her hamburgers some sixty years later. Hot, spicy, juicy…yummy!
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.