Going home Carl Wayne Aug 06, 2007
My first day of first grade I was 5 years old going to be 6 in December, in Mrs Sams' class in Union City TN 1952. Since Momma was a former schoolmarm, all five of us could read before we started school.
Momma put me on the bus with my older sister and gave me strict instructions what bus to look for at noon to get back home. My sister had to stay all day. Of course I got on the wrong bus, but those were simpler times and the bus driver took me home when he finished his regular route.
I remember indelibly the teacher asking us our middle names. I told her I didn't have one, since I thought my Southern double name was one word. The teacher asked me to go home that night and ask my Momma if I had a middle name. Of course Momma and the whole family, except me, got a big laugh out of it for years to come.
I often think of coming home to Momma and the other kids after living alternately with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle in the country near Milledgeville TN.
After Daddy died in a car wreck, all but the youngest of us five children were divided up at the funeral and sent to live with relatives. Momma had no money, insurance, income, job, or place to live, and was in southern Louisiana far from her people. I don't know how she paid for the funeral.
Though she had two years of college, "exposed to a college education" she would say, she had never written a check, and Workman's Comp refused to pay up on a technicality that was settled for a small sum in court years later.
After she got on social security and settled in a shotgun house in the old Binghampton area of Memphis, she sent for us kids one at a time.
It was always thought I would stay with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Cora, since they had no kids of their own, but after gardening, taking care of farm animals, chopping cotton, picking cotton and doing the work they would have wanted their own 12 year old son to do, I decided to go home to Momma and try the city life. But I will always cherish my time with them.
They gave me the $12 I had saved from chopping cotton after buying some new clothes. I paid fifty cents for the mailman to take me to Henderson TN and bought a bus ticket to Memphis. They told me to tell the bus driver to let me off at the corner of Summer Ave and Bingham St just over the Summer Avenue viaduct, or vidock we called it.
He did, and I managed to follow their instructions to Aunt Alene's house. She took me to Momma. Momma didn't need the extra mouth to feed. That walk in a strange city going to an unknown house into an unknown situation was the longest walk I ever took.
I soon has an afternoon paper route, delivered prescriptions for Doc Bailey's drug store on Broad St, mowed yards, and unloaded trucks at the Scott St Farmers market. I soon graduated to a morning paper route and cleaning up a yarn shop and a barber shop on Broad St mornings before school. My senior year of high school I worked forty-eight hours a week as a bellboy at the Admiral Benbow Motel on Union.
I suppose we were poor, but too young or naive to know it. We had plenty to eat and our clothes were always clean. Iíve worn many an iron on patch on my jeans. If we complained about anything, Momma would say: "What are you complaining about? You have food on the table, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head." I know now she was right.
Momma wasn't the nurturing type, but I wouldn't trade for the world the independence she instilled in us. The Good Lord has blessed me far beyond what I could have ever dreamed of or asked for, including Mimi, my bride of over forty years from whom I learned how good it is to be nurtured. If I lost all my earthly possessions now, I would just be back where I started. Mimi and I would praise the Lord and start all over.
I will always remember and appreciate Ethel Huey, the mother of one of my friends. She didn't have much, but she bought me clothes when she bought for her son, David.
Momma's mother Mammaw lost her first three children all in one week, all under five years old, to something that most likely could be easily treated today. Her mother-in-law who lived with them told her: "Mary, I'll never get close to any of your children again." And she didn't. Mammaw must have steeled herself the same way.
She raised six more children to be adults, and lost one in WWII. They farmed, drank from a well, used an outhouse, ate from their garden, washed clothes and children in tubs on the back porch, made their own soap, milked cows, made butter and pickles and sauerkraut, chopped their own kindling and firewood, and cooked in a wood stove. That sounds quaint today, but it was hard work, which may account for her and Poppa living into their 80's.
Momma used to budget one dollar per day for meat. She cut a chicken into parts people wouldn't recognize today such as the back and the wishbone, and fried the liver, gizzard, and heart. She often didn't eat meat, saying she wasn't hungry.
For our candy she fried the strip of rind off each strip of bacon and kept them on the stove. I remember her making jelly out of crabapples she sent us out to gather along Jackson Ave near Springdale. She boiled the fruit, put it in a cheese cloth bag, hung it over a pan from a broomstick stretched across the back of two chairs, and wrung the juice out by hand. She said you can make jelly out of most anything if you use enough sugar.
She made sure we were at church services every time the door opened. For several years we walked the few miles to church. Sometimes in bad weather Brother Gillespie or Sister Reagor would come get us. There were too many of us to fit in the car with other people's family.
The church made sure we were not in need. Nowadays I appreciate their bringing us a Christmas basket. But at that time, it was hard for a teenage boy to be "cool" when his Sunday school classmates delivered it. I enjoy telling my granddarlings that story.
When we children were in school, Momma made a little money keeping other people's children while they worked. When we graduated, she took some courses and became a substitute teacher. She had taught in a one room schoolhouse in Montezuma TN when she got out of college.
She walked many long miles in hot and cold all over that part of Memphis to teach. She only rode the bus to schools she couldn't walk to. After the rules changed, she was demoted to a teacher's aide. She spent many years at Springdale School until she was past 70 years old, and had been robbed twice in broad daylight while walking home from school. She said: "I stared down the barrel of a gun more than once."
She would never give her age, just said: "I'm the same age as my gums and a little bit older than my teeth."
I remember her buying socks and underwear for poor children out of her own pocket. She had a kind heart. Some saw her years later and hugged her.
She was an accomplished sewer. She made some of our clothes. She showed us how to cut out patterns, sew them together, and hem and baste. One of us still has some of the embroidery she did. And like Mammaw, she could tat, the most amazing needlework feat I have ever seen. I cherish the poinsettia design tablecloth she spent ten months crocheting for Mimi and me, and the beautiful quilts she made for each of us and her grandchildren.
She suffered with arthritis in her later years. I always thought she was exaggerating, but have become to know she wasnít. She would say she was suffering death with every breath she drew. Mine is not that bad, but I sometimes have pangs almost that bad.
She did well, "raising us alone". Three of us completed college, none of us has been in jail, and all of us have Christian homes, love family, and try to help others when we can.
She died the way she lived, independent until the end. She lived alone in an apartment, still cooking and washing and cleaning until she succumbed to congestive heart failure just a few days shy of 88 years young. Still independent, she died her way, refusing all treatment except an oxygen mask. Though too weak to talk, she would perk up and put on her glasses whenever her soap opera came on that last week. And while lying quietly we could see her hands still knitting, still working.
Momma had a mockingbird she shared her leftover cornbread with on her back patio. When we cleaned out her apartment, a mockingbird fussed at us from a bush next to where we parked. When we got home across town and began to unload, there was a mockingbird in a tree beside our driveway fussing at us. We had not noticed her before. Mimi still shares our leftover cornbread with her.
Ainít God good!
Carl Wayne, Master Gardener