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Mother with Dennis and me
Mother on Front Steps with 3 Boys at Joe Griffin Place
A Memoir from Childhood About a Trip to Mt. Olive
It is a summer Sunday in 1945. I am six years old, and I am going with my Grandparents, Minnie Jane Henderson Griffin and Joseph Daniel Griffin, and my Great Grandmother, Nancy Ann Bennett Henderson, to church. My Grandfather hitches Tony, his horse, to the wagon and places a small chair in it for my Granny Nan. I help Grandmother with the lunch, which is placed in a basket, and the thermos and other utensils into the wagon. Also a bottle of homemade wine that my Grandparents have made which will be used for the communion. Plus each member has his own song book. Granddaddy helps Granny Nan into the wagon, and she sits behind the wagon seat where my Grandparents are perched.
Jeff, their mutt of a dog who is the color of gallberry honey and my best friend, trots along in the hot Georgia early morning sunshine. We go down the lane away from the farm. There are fenced-in fields on either side of the lane. I hop down and open the large gate which leads into the woods. Jeff doesn't follow us but stays on the property. The wagon goes through and I close the gate and jump onto the wagon as it moves through woods filled with pine trees, cypress trees, gallberry bushes, and palmettos.The ruts on the road are sand, which is as white as sugar, and a grassy area runs down the center. Various birds call as we go on our three to four mile trip through the woods. I am seated in the back of the wagon with my bare feet dangling. A bobwhite calls in the quiet morning air. Granddaddy really doesn't have to guide Tony for he knows the way.
We emerge from the woods and cross a dirt road called the Swamp Road. The little church sits beside it emerging out of giant, old pine trees. Beside the church is a sandy white grave yard with twelve old palm trees representing the twelve apostles. Many of my ancestors are buried here. The church, Mount Olive Primitive Baptist, in Manor, Georgia, is not painted, but weathered the color of moleskin. There are no glass windows, just heavy wooden shutters which are flung open.
Tony is tied up in the shade of an oak tree and here and there are automobiles. Grandmother brings her basket inside as Granddaddy helps Little Granny from the wagon bed. The church can be entered from three doors. One is on the Swamp Road and leads directly through an area of unpainted wooden benches which is for the visitors. One door is on the cemetery side and it leads to the same type benches where the female members sit. The remaining door is on the opposite side and this opens on the identical area where the male members sit. In front of each of these benches is a diamond shaped hole cut into the floor so that the men can spit their tobacco juice during the meeting. Each of these areas looks in the direction of the pulpit which is elevated and closed in with a bench for the preacher.
In front of this structure is a small deacons bench which probably would only seat two grown men. And in front of this bench is a small, unpainted, and bleached white, homemade communion table made of pine. Next to this, a few feet away is a little homemade chair made especially for Granny Nan. She is a tiny woman, only about four feet and nine inches tall and weighs about eighty-eight pounds. Her ankle length dress and petticoats touch the pine floor boards.
My Grandmother has a loud, clear, lovely voice as she leads the singing. I sit next to Granddaddy who attempts to sing, but he can't "carry a note". There is no musical instrument except the human voice permitted. Neither is there electricity nor any kind of decoration. I notice all the men's hats are hanging from a special made board next to the men's door, and directly overhead. Looking up I see that there is no ceiling. I am looking directly at the inside of the roof. I can see several dirt dauber nests up there and actually hear them drone at times during the meeting's silences. I don't sit during the long service but wander outside. I have been warned to "watch out" for snakes. I go to the men's "out door toilet" and notice that there are several toilet seats so more than one man can "go to the bath room". And there are the Sears and Roebuck catalogs.
I go to the grave yard and read my Granny Nan's husband's grave stone. Not too many feet away from Granddaddy Jim's grave is his mother's, Martha Ann Miller, but instead of just having Henderson on the head stone, it has her last husband's name, Thornton, as well. I have been told who all these people are and how most of them are kin to me. The graves that fascinate me the most are the ones near the woods which have very old wooden head markers and no identity. Some have very old sea shells on them. But it is the little unmarked graves which cause me to stop and stare.
I hear the preacher stop preaching and begin praying. Then the church members all come outside. Many go to the pump which has a shed built over it. (Granddaddy primes the pump with water he has brought in a can.) They have their own cups for catching the cold, clear water.(Grandmother's is made of metal and folds up which makes me think that she is special.) The men have all put back on their hats and the women are fanning themselves with cardboard fans that are stapled to little unpainted wooden handles. Not just because it is hot, but to keep away the flies as well. The food is eaten and the thermosses are emptied. The adults return to the church for the afternoon meeting. I play around the wagon and read from a book I have brought along.
The meeting ends with a hymn and we say our goodbyes. Climbing into the wagon we head back to their thirteen acre farm, "The Joe Griffin Place". I am asleep as Tony takes us home, switching his tail to keep away the horse flies. Old Granny nods off and Grandmother fans and sings hymns which she knows my Grandfather best loves. It will be many years into the future when these three relatives will have their final resting places next to Granddaddy Jim in that quiet and peaceful and little cemetery. That thought never enters my young brain as I head back through the woods towards my security and my future.
Email from my cousin Walter Kenneth Sylvester dated 26 May 1998.
Subject: More Family Stuff
"Mother's sister Aunt Josie was here today and I had a chance to rekindle some of the family fire stuff...She and Mother remembered the activities prior to Yearly Meeting when old Mt. Olive Church would be scrubbed head to toe with lye and sand. This scrubbing included the benches and floor (especially the little holes in the floor in the old men's section that was frequented by those whose aim was not anything to brag about). The reaction of lye on the lignin in the wood caused it to become more soluble thus releasing the cellulose (fiber). Then the scrubbing action of the sand could break the chemical bonds and release one end of the fibers. This action resulted in a floor or bench that walking or sitting (or lying) on wood treated in this manner was most pleasant to the touch....My Mother told that at about age 10 she could harness the mule/horse to the wagon alone and at one particular Yearly Meeting she alone took the wagon to the small branch back toward Manor on the Swamp Road where she loaded the wagon with white sugar sand and hauled and spread it in the cemetery. Unbeknowst (nice word---very descriptive) to her were a grass seed, in the sand, that I have seen growing in these low, moist areas. These seed sprouted in the cemetery (that was originally clear of any vegetation) and were still growing there for many years." (Kenneth's Mother is Mabel Aldridge Sylvester; his Aunt Josie is Josie Juanita Aldridge Kicklighter. They are the daughters of Nora Bessie Henderson Aldridge and James Walter Aldridge. Nora is a daughter of Nancy and James Henderson.)
Jessie WILSON was born in 1790 in SC and maried Mary Snowden who was born in FLA in 1800. They had six children: William C., born 1824 and died in 1892; he was a 1st Lt. in CSA; Jesse, Jr. was born about 1831 and died in 1898; he married Mary KNIGHT. Lewis was born about 1831-1832 and died in 1903; he married Nancy Dane KNIGHT,and Sallie CONWAY; James Madison was born in 1838 and died in 1905; he married Margery Ann HARRIS; Sarah was born in 1840 and died between 1890 and 1900; Eleanor was born ? and died ?. She married James WEEKS in 1848. (We are still trying to find out when Sarah Wilson Bennett left John Bennett and went back to Clay County. FLA. We don't know when she died nor exactly where she is buried. According to Grandmother Griffin, her Grandmother Sarah received her farm from her parents as part of her dowry. She was totally opposed to leaving her home and her family and having to take her children into the Swamp. But into the Swamp they went with all their possessions loaded onto an ox cart. I have tried to think what it must have been like for her and her children in that lonely wilderness in that log cabin. I do hope that she is buried there in that little cemetery which is now on Camp Blanding property. It would be satisfying to think she is buried among family and loved ones.
Always Look Under Your Bed at Night
This is a story passed down by Granny Nan. Her father, John Bennett, always told his family to look under their beds at night before going to bed. (He must have had a reason and I wish we knew what it was. But it is lost to us and that is one reason I wanted to share Little Granny's memory.) One night she and two of her sisters went into their room and went immediately to the bed they shared. Granny's two older sisters were soon asleep and she lay there thinking about various things. She turned over as she felt she was about to fall asleep and looking at the floor beside the bed in the moon light coming in through the window, which had its shutters pushed open, she saw a brogan sticking out from under the bed. She realized that someone was under it but also she couldn't just scream out before awakening her sisters. It took sometime before she could get them awake and to understand the situation. She said they all decided at once to jump out of the bed and scream and run toward where their mother and father were sleeping. They
did and their father came running with his shot gun as a man crawled out from under their bed, jumped through the open window, and ran across the field. They never found out who the man was but they made sure they followed their father's advice from then on. (I don't know if this took place on their farm in Clay County Fla or in the cabin on Harper's Hammock. Since she mentioned fields I think it must have been the farm. Whether this took place before John went to the War or after, I don't know. But the story has always scared me since I was a little boy. Perhaps Old Granny loved to tell scary stories to little listening great grandsons on those dark nights there at the Joe Griffin Farm?)
One Night Long Ago On A Southern Farm
Setting: Minnie and Joe Griffin's farm; cold weather, night. Characters: Minnie Jane Henderson Griffin, Joseph Daniel Griffin, Nancy Ann Bennett Henderson, Nora Bessie Henderson Aldridge, Annie Eliza Henderson Hickox, and a young boy named Terry Wayne Boyd.
Plot: It is cold out and I don't remember if it is fall, winter, or early spring. All of us are gathered in the living room and a large fire is going in the fireplace. The old oak clock on the mantel shelf is ticking and the adults are seated in front of the fire quietly talking. (The mantel clock came from Sears and Roebuck and cost eight dollars. Grandmother had no wrinkles when she first bought that clock.) I am seated on one of two sofas in the room with a book and my Teddy. I am behind the adults and when I look up from reading I see their backs. The front door is to my left and it opens onto a porch which is the width of the house. Just beyond this door is the dining room. It has a large square arch which has no door. In warm weather it is left open, but in cold weather it has drapes which are closed. (What a perfect place to "put on plays" for us children.) Behind the dining room is Granny Nan's room; it always smells like powder. Straight ahead and to the right of the fireplace is my Grandparents' bedroom. To the left of the fireplace is a door, identical to the front door, which leads to a screened-in porch with the water shelf, pie safe, and pantry. Next to the door is the stair which goes to the second storey. Since my Grandparents are Primitive Baptists there is no radio in the house. So, the adults are entertaining themselves with talk. Suddenly there is a loud explosion and I look up to see them all standing up. The women have unpinned their long hair and I am watching as each of them is shaking their head from side to side. Even Little Granny is on her feet with her long white hair loose. The room is filled with moving hair it seems from my young perspective. And now they are running their fingers through their hair like combs. Then I notice them brushing off their dresses from their chests down to their knees, then the long sleeves on their dresses. It is a strange sight to my young eyes. It is almost a dance, a ritual, some familial secret ceremony for a cold night in the country. My imagination has all sorts of things happening. The truth is, some careless soul put a used-up flashlight battery in the fireplace. After it heated it exploded sending hot sparks and debris all over the adults. (We never find out who did that.) The women search the floor and the furniture to make sure there is nothing left to cause a fire. Grandmother takes her broom and sweeps ashes and dead embers into the fireplace. Everyone sits back down in their chair and I hear them laugh nervously together. The women put their hair up as they resume their talking. Granddaddy excuses himself and goes outside and Jeff the dog, who is never allowed inside the house, joins him. And later that night when I go up to my bed with my Teddy, the soft voices of my kinfolks and the ticking of the clock comes upstairs to where I am safely under my quilt. (This is in progress...)
Cousin Kenneth Sylvester and Some Remembrances
I remember that at home MamaEph (my grandmother) would use a can to scrape up pure white sugar sand from the drip area of the roof and throw it on the porch. She would then wet the floor and pour Red Devil Lye on it and then proceed to scrub the porch with the old corn shuck scrubber. Some times she would use new shucks to replace those that became worn down too much. Since your (mine) grandfather (Uncle Joe) was usually the person called on to repair or produce necessary household items, I am sure that this old scrub brush was built by him. I also remember his replacing the chair bottoms with cow hide in MamaEph's old straight back chairs. I remember staring at the varying patterns that made up the distinctive colors of creatures that once roamed the woods there.
I also remember my father tanning the hide of a deer in the back yard at the Green House (Dan Henderson's old place) that was later bought for $2000.00 from MamaEph when she moved to Brunswick, GA with my family to watch us kids while my parents worked in the shipyards during WW2...I can't remember where it (the deer hide) came from but I do recall his soaking it for some time in a galvanized tub. At some time he draped it over a slanted pole and did an awful lot of scraping. He then stretched it over a frame and put it in the small shed over a small smoke made from some sort of rotted wood (hardwood) and other stuff.This burning material was in a hole that he dug in the floor. He tended this carefully for some time before if was sufficiently cured to knead supple.I can't remember just how he did this but when it was finished it was as soft as suede leather and really felt good. As a teenager I recall some of this skin remaining in the drawer of MamaEph's sewing machine. I had a pair of cool looking brogans that I could not keep shoestrings in. She told me to take the scissors and cut lengths of the deer hide sufficient to lace the boots. This I did and I suppose that when the boots were discarded at an ancient age, those strings were discarded with them.
I remember some deer skins that were used as throw rugs by folk's beds. Made it nice to place feet on on cold winter nights as opposed to sandy wooden floors as all were (especially so when getting back in bed with sand on one's feet). Sooner of later it became necessary for one to take the sheet off and shake the sand off it before continuing on with the night's rest.
Kenneth's memories in his emails to me caused me to recall the deer skin rug which was always beside my Grandmother Boyd's bed. (Sarah Ella White Boyd) I remember her telling me to "dust off" my feet on the rug before I climbed into her big feather bed. I don't know where it came from or where it eventually went, but many young feet were wiped on it before climbing into bed with Grandmother. Finally, the day came when other family members felt I had grown too old to sleep with Grandmother. She never told any of us we were too old, it was "the others". I would like to think that she missed us in her bed as much as we missed being there.
I inherited Grandmother Griffin's song book, The Sacred Harp, copyright 1911, by B.F. White and E.J. King. "Price per copy, board binding prepaid $1.25 not prepaid $1.00. Moroco binding with name in gilt, single copy, prepaid $2.50." On the inside cover she wrote, "Wayne I am sending this Book to you. When you sing think of me. I would have been glad to see you and all the rest before I lose my eye sight. granny Granny Griffin" "For Wayne Boyd after I am gone" August 1978
One of the songs Grandmother sang to her children and to her grand children was "The Orphan Girl" by P.B. Mosely. It is deliciously sentimental and speaks of a certain period.
The Orphan Girl
No home, no home, said a little girl At the door of a rich man's hall; As she trembling stood on the marble steps, And leaned on the polished wall.
Her clothes were thin and her feet were bare, And the snow had covered her head; O give me a home, she feebly cried, A home and a piece of bread.
My father, alas, I never knew, And the tears did fall so bright; My mother sleeps in a new made grave, While the orphan begs tonight.
The night was dark and the snow still fell, And the rich man closed his door; His proud lips curled as he scornfully said, No home no bread for the poor.
The rich man sleeps on his velvet couch, And dreams of his silver and gold While the orphan lies on a bed of snow And cries I'm cold, so cold.
I must freeze, she said as she sank on the steps, And strove to cover her feet, With her old tattered clothes all covered with snow, Yes, covered with snow and sleet.
Another hour, and a midnight storm Rolled on like a funeral knell, And the earth seemed wrapped in a winding sheet, And the drops of snow still fell.
The morning dawned and the little girl Still lay at the rich man's door: But her soul had fled to a home above, Where there's room and bread for the poor.
I could hear her singing this to me as I was typing it. Not literally of course, but inside my head and most definitely inside my heart.
Little Robin Redbreast
I had spent the morning with my Granddaddy Griffin as he was weeding the chicken yard which was beyond the backyard of the house. It was fenced-in and below it was the barnyard with the corn crib, the chicken house, a large barn which contained the cow sheds, Tony's horse stall, the hay loft, and the wagon shed, and behind that Granddaddy's own private out house.
I walked past the umbrella bushes where the chickens were stretched out in the shade, to the back yard gate. Mother was on the screened-in back porch and I announced to her that Granddaddy had taught me a poem. "Well, say it for me", she said. "O. K." and I said this poem standing there by the water shelf which was about my height. "Little Robin Redbreast sat upon a pole. Wibble wobble went his tail, and poop went his hole." She tried to keep from laughing and said, "Yes, that's one of your Granddaddy's poems all right, but you mustn't be saying that to everybody." "Why?" "Just cause, that's why." Then she walked into the kitchen where Grandmother was working and I heard her tell Grandmother about the poem. They were laughing together and Mother asked, "Why does Daddy have to teach that poem to all the grand children?" Grandmother said, "Your Daddy taught that same poem to all of you when you were younguns, too." I went back to where Granddaddy was hoeing and he asked me, "How did your mammy like your poem?" I said that she laughed. And then he laughed as well. I laughed along with him, but I didn't know what was so funny.
Three years ago I was working a duty assignment in the high school library. A book of poems from the 18th and 19th century had just arrived. It was a collection of poems from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany, etc.. I thumbed through it and guess what I found? Yes! Correct! The "Little Robin Redbreast" poem exactly as Granddaddy had taught me all those long years ago. It originally appeared in "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, Vol. II" 1744. But the original was published as handbills, generally on coarse single sheets of paper as early as 1600. What I wonder is where Granddaddy learned that poem. From his Mother or Father or Grandparents? With a smile on my face, I xeroxed a copy and sent it immediately to my Mother.
More to come and tons more to learn.
Click here to see Wiregrass III, GRIFFINS.
Revised 19 Sept 1999