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Wiregrass Memories XVI

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Myrtle Loree Griffin Boyd
Family in 1956 in Front of the Griffin Place
Family on Frontsteps of Griffin Place

"Grandmother Griffin Solves the Problem"

Setting: the Griffin Place, Manor, Ware County, GA

Time: Spring 1947

Characters: Minnie Jane Henderson Griffin; Myrtle Loree Griffin Boyd; Marguerite Nannie Griffin Booth; Nancy Ann Bennett; Terry Wayne Boyd

We have moved from Jacksonville, Florida back to Manor, Georgia and are living with my Grandmother and Granddaddy Griffin on their farm. I am eight years old. It is Saturday afternoon and Aunt Marguerite is coming to take Mother to Waycross for a shopping trip in her pick-up truck.

I want to go too, but Mother has already told me that I have to stay home and help Grandmother look after my two year old brother, Arthur, and my one year old brother, Dennis.

The pick-up truck arrives and Mother has on her hat and gloves and is ready to go. I decide that if I cry she will give in and let me ride in the back of the truck. I am wrong. I watch from the large front porch as the pick-up goes down the white sand road and disappears around a curve. Granny Nan, who also lives here, is sitting in her rocker in front of her room watching me.

I am hurt. I am sobbing. I am being watched. I am angry. I spring into action. I run down the front steps, down the path with flowers growing in a grassless, white sand yard to the gate which has a trellis over it covered with a trumpet vine.

Out the gate to the wide expanse of yard between the gate and fence and the road and woods filled with pines, palmattoes, and gallberry bushes, I go.

Planted on each side of the gate in that expanse are two young catalpa trees which Uncle Willie Ammons has given to Granddaddy. A certain kind of black worms are attracted to the catalpa leaves, and Grandaddy is going to use them for fishing bait.

I am now wailing in despair. I run to the tree on my right and grab hold of the slender sapling with both hands. I begin to shake the tree back and forth in my fury. I am ventillating with an awful screaming as I rock that young tree. I am out of control!

Before I know what is happening I am grabbed and given several quick slaps on my boney butt. I had not seen her nor heard her, but here she is in her long sleeved, high necked, below the knees, print dress. Grandmother has swatted my behind.

"Now you cut that out and you calm yourself down; that is no way to behave. I am ashamed of you!"

I am speechless. I am stunned. I am embarrassed. I am killed. I am quiet.

My Grandmother, whom I love so overwhelmingly with out measure, and who has never hit me before in all my life has smacked my hiny.

I quietly go back through the gate, up the walk, and there Granny Nan is rocking and smiling at me. Instead of going up on the porch and having to bear her stare, I walk quickly and quietly to the right. Past the sleeping hibiscus, the chinaberry tree, the petunia and blanket flower beds, beyond the fig tree, grapevine, smoke house, I go.

Opening the gate to the side garden, I find a place behind the smoke house and sit down. In front of me is a huge pecan tree, a pear tree in bloom, a spring garden between me and the pinewoods. To my right is the inverted V shaped sweet potato shed.

My eyes, though puffy from my tantrum, are wide open. In fact, I feel I am only a huge pair of eyes. They are looking at everything, seeing everything. But most of all, they are looking at me, seeing me.

A little later I go back through the gate and across the white sand yard to the bleached pine back steps. I go through the screen door into the back porch with its pantry, water shelf, hand pump, and pie safe. I go into the kitchen where Grandmother and my brothers are.

"Do you want a coke (meaning some water in a coke bottle mixed with cane syrup) and some tea cakes, or some clabber with syrup?" she asks me.

I forget which I choose but I take whatever it is I decide upon to my place at the kitchen table and sit on the bench next to where Grandaddy always sits.

Outwardly I have forgotten the discipline I deserved, but little am I to know then that that lesson would stay with me all down these many years.

(I have the ceramic yellow lemon which says in black letters "Ward's Lemon Crush" on its side, in my kitchen. It always sat on the counter in Grandmother's kitchen and was filled with her homemade tea cakes. She gave it to me when I married and I treasure it as you can imagine. It is about a foot high, a foot long, and it is about 9 to 10 inches wide. I have no idea where she got it and I believe it must have been some sort of store advertisement. I saw one similar to this some years ago in a picture for an antique store. It was a "Ward's Orange Crush" container. 28 February 1999)

This memory story is dedicated to Lisa Michelle Boyd Pearson, my beautiful daughter who celebrates her birthday on 2 March.

"Morning Memories on the Griffin Farm"

I would hear Granddaddy Griffin get up and dress before the dawn. (He would put on his work shirt and his denim overalls, then his sox and brogans.) I would quickly throw on my clothes and shoes and come downstairs to where he was getting warm water out of a compartment on the old wood cooking stove in the kitchen. He would say quietly to me, "Good morning, Wayne" as he put the water in the milk bucket, take the lantern, (later it would be a flash light) and we would go out to the back yard where Jeff the dog and the cat were waiting.

We were quiet with each other as we walked past the out door toilet and banana trees with the chicken yard behind them, to the big double wide gate which opened on the lane. We moved past the woodpile and the huge round vat which was used during hog killing.

We approached the barn lot where various farm buildings were grouped together. One large barn housed the horse stall for Tony, and the shed for the wagon, the hay loft, and the cow sheds. Another double wide gate had to be opened, and we would go between the chicken coop which was attached to the corn crib and walk to the cow shed where Molly the milk cow was waiting for us.

I would hold the lantern and Granddadddy would wash Molly's teats. Then he would milk her and as he did he would talk to me. He would put some milk in a container in the barn lot for the cat. He would tell me to check on Tony's water which was in a trough made out of a hollowed out tree. If the water was low I would pump the old water pump and fill the trough.

We could now see the lights on in the kitchen, and as we made our way there we could smell the eggs, biscuits, ham, bacon, or sausage which Grandmother was cooking. We would come into the back porch and wash our faces and hands and comb our hair before we entered the kitchen again, bringing with us the pail of fresh, warm milk. Granny Nan would still be asleep in all her bed clothes in her room next door to the kitchen. But soon she would be sitting there in her place with her very sweet coffee pouring it into the saucer before sipping it. Grandmother sat at the "head of the table" and Granddaddy sat on the bench to her left with me beside him.

Those mornings were not disturbed by the sound of a radio, for they were not allowed in a Primitive Baptist home. Instead the early mornings were a time to quietly talk about what was to be done that day on the farm, and what the weather possibly would be, and whether things might be needed from Cousin Dan Henderson's general store in Manor.

I was a little boy those many years ago when those milking mornings were a part of my young life. And in an instant I can remember the smells and the sounds and the tastes and the peace of that world now gone. How wonderful to be able to visit again in memory that place, that time, those dear people.

1 March 1999

The lane went from the front of the property where it connected to the dirt road beside the house down to the double gate at the end where the pine woods began. There were wire fences on each side which enclosed the fields. In some of the wooden fence posts were holes where blue birds nested.

Beyond the gate, on the left, was Uncle Jim and Aunt Liza Beverly Henderson's little house with its view of the fields and the woods. The wagon trail began there and continued through the woods to Mt. Olive on the Swamp road. If you took a turn in a cypress grove and went left you would come to Uncle Leland and Aunt Marguerite Griffin Booth's home. I knew all those woods "like the back of my hand". They were filled with pines, "sennie" berry trees, cedars, various kinds of oaks, cypress, gallberry bushes, palmettoes, venus fly traps, and a host of other wild growth. It was from these woods in late evening I could hear the call of the whip-poor-will singing, "Chuck Will's Widow" as I lay in my bed upstairs.
2 March 1999

Mother, the Movies, and Me

We are living in West Palm Beach, Florida and Mother is taking me to see "Bambi". She dresses me in a white shirt, white shorts, white sox, and white shoes. She slicks down my blond double cowlicks on the back of the crown of my head and tells me not to touch that spot.

She puts on her gloves, hat, and high heeled shoes. Off we go to this Walt Disney animated film for children.

I love Bambi's friends which are animals and birds, the colors, and the music. But the music changes as the winter is ending and Bambi and his mother are eating the first spring grasses, and it scares me. She is looking up in fright with her big doe eyes. "Bambi, quick, the thicket!" And they begin to run. "Faster, faster Bambi, faster!" There are gun shots. "Don't look back. Keep running, running!" Then there is that very loud BANG. Before I know what has happened I am aware that Bambi's mother has been killed. I lean on my Mother and am terrified. I begin to sob as she shushes me and tells me to be quiet and watch, that it will be all right.

I watch as Bambi is with his father and is older. I keep looking for his mother. She is gone. I know she died. The lump in my throat feels as though it will choke me, but I am behaving.

We leave the theatre and I clutch her hand ever so tightly. We return home and go upstairs to our apartment. She tells me to go play as she undresses and goes to the kitchen to begin our supper.

I go to the black locker trunk on which I often play. I pick up this and that toy. They don't satisfy me. Then I lie down on it and begin to recall the movie. I re-live Bambi's mother, Feline's death, and I try to shush myself. I can't. I begin to kick and flail my arms. Then I hear a voice coming out of me. It fills the air and I am lost to that image of "Faster! Faster! Bambi! Faster!" and the look in her eyes and in his.

Mother runs in to comfort me and I am clinging to her and I am nearly hysterical. I become aware of death and it can take my mother. I don't want her to die. I hear that scary music. I see her gone. I see just me and my father without her!

She breaks my clutching grip and takes me to the bathroom where she washes my fevered face with cold water. She quietly tries to assure me that it was "just a picture show" and I will be o k. She is going to live to see me grow up and she will always be with me.

I begin to have nightmares and scream out so many nights growing up due to this movie written for children. When it was released on video tape Roger Ebert had this to say about "Bambi": "A Perennial Classic...Remembered Long After Other Movies Have Been Forgotten." And I agree completely with Roger Ebert but not for the reasons he meant.

Time passes and Mother takes me to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". The minute that hideous, disembodied mask appears in the magic mirror with that eerie voice, and I immediately grab for Mother, she should have gotten up and "marched" out of that theatre. BUT, after all this is a film made for children by Mr. Walt Disney. It has a happy ending. But leading to this happy ending is the death of Snow White's mother, a witch for a step mother appears, her father dies, she is about to be killed by the faithful huntsman who has been told to return with her heart in a small casket. He tells her to run, run into the woods and never return home, and he returns with a pig's heart instead of hers.

She gets lost in an awesomely frightening forrest and falls down a gaping hole which looks like a monster mouth only to land in a body of water where the logs become alligator/crocodile-like beasts.

Happily she encounters the animals and the birds who become her friends and she asks them if they know a safe place for her to live.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, the queen turns herself into an awfully frightening looking, ancient crone who conjures up a poisonous brew to add to an apple. It causes the "sleeping death" to anyone who bites into it.

She finally trusts the seven little men and is happy for one night in their little cottage only to have that fleeting happiness melt as she bites the apple and falls into the death like trance. (The old crone calls herself "Old Granny" in her guise as a benevolent, old woman with a heart problem. "Granny" of all things!)

The dwarfs chase the witch up a black mountain during a lightning and thunder storm and she tries to pry a huge boulder loose to destroy them as two vultures watch her antics. A bolt of lightning strikes the rocky ledge she is standing on, and she is sent hurling down into the abyss only to be crushed by the boulder. The two vultures fly down to consume her remains in the dark.

Back at the cottage the scene has Snow White "laid out" in death with candles dripping tears of wax, the seven little men kneeling around her also dripping tears, and funereal organ music playing. This is one of the most frightening scenes for me in this movie.

Snow White is so beautiful in death that the dwarfs cannot bury her in the earth; she is put inside the gold and glass coffin with "Snow White" written on its side and placed outside their cottage on the edge of the wood. The image of her in her coffin forever attaches itself to my brain. (Great stuff to stuff into a young child's head here.)

Thank you very much Mr. Walt Disney. At least you aren't responsible for "The Wizard of Oz". Therein lies another tale.

4 March 1999

Another Movie Memory

This memory is Mother's not mine. She and Daddy have got themselves all dressed up and me too. We are going to see a picture show. I am somewhere nearing three. There is Daddy and then Mother and then me sitting in the theatre. After awhile I go to the row of seats behind them and am quietly playing and they let me be. They are ingrossed in the movie and after some time Mother looks around to see what I am up to. There I sit "naked as a jaybird". I have removed all my clothes and my sox and shoes; my clothes are neatly folded in the seat next to me with my shoes and sox on top of them, and I am watching the movie.

I was fine. I was happy. I was naked. Mother was mortified and my Father almost wet his pants laughing. I wonder just what picture show that was. Hmmmmm?

The Tent Show Has Come to Manor

Time eventually eliminates many things--places, people, and objects. In this memory some of the places involved are gone, and many of the people also. But let me recreate a setting for you of a time and place and people still in my head.

The place is Manor, Georgia which is located south west, about fifteen miles from Waycross in Ware County. It is warm weather and the tent show has arrived. There it is being put up on Miss Georgia Lee's property just off the highway on the Swamp Road. It is directly behind Mr. Fred Ammons' garage and repair shop. To the south of it are two houses and a general store owned by Cousin Dan Henderson. Grandmother Boyd lives alone in the little house behind the store and the picture show people have her permission to run their electric line to her house.

West, behind the tent is an outhouse and behind this is a small pond with various trees and vegetation growing. Boardering this pond is Mr. Lance Strickland's general store and next to him is Uncle Alvin and Aunt Aline James Boyd's general store. Across the road to the east is a house where Mr. Orbie Pittman and Mrs. Ora Mae White Pittman and family live and next to them is Miss Pearl Daniel and her mother. This Lee property seems to be in the very heart of this little village.

The tent is up with saw dust on the dirt and grass "floor" and the benches are in place making an aisle down the middle. Outside is where you buy your ticket and refreshments. There are movie poster stands which have the "Now Playing" sign and the "Coming Attractions" sign.

Dark is coming and the string of lights is bright on the out side of the show tent. People have come by foot, bicycle, car and truck from all around the country side. We go in and pass where the black people have to sit in the back on the left hand side. We take our refreshments inside with us. The lights go out and several things happen. Boys quickly crawl under the tent on the south side on their bellys and in the dark find a place to sit. Some one always calls out "Mama" or "I want my Mama" into the darkened tent. And then there is that person or persons who thinks it is cute to "step on a frog" there the minute the lights go out and before the picture show begins. We always know that sound is coming and even though it is anticipated we still giggle and wonder who the person or persons happened to be.

On any given night there will be a cartoon, maybe a news reel, always a serial, coming attractions, and then the picture itself. It may be a western with such stars as Lash LaRue, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Ken Mannard, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Red Ryder and Little Beaver,John Wayne, Johnny Mac Brown, Gabby Hayes, Fuzzy, and the comedies with Judy Canova, Ma and Pa Kettle, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and then Tarzan of the Apes and Boy, and Flash Gordon.

I like best the scary pictures: Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, and the Bud Abbot and Lou Costello movies where they meet all the monsters and it is both funny and scary.

It is at one of these picture show evenings I have sent a post card to my cousin, Joan Elizabeth Henderson, asking her to come to the picture show. She arrives with her brother David Lee Henderson who is older. When the lights dim I am hoping "that sound" won't happen because Joan is sitting next to me and I don't want her to hear that. After all we are in the second grade and I think she needs protection from such as that seeing she probably doesn't know what that noise is anyway. Did it happen when the lights went out? Yep! And I pretended not to hear it. But my face was red in the dark and I really missed being able to laugh with the others.

On one of these nights I meet my cousin, Charles Mills, and we go to see a horror movie. I have come from Grandmother and Granddaddy Griffin's down the dirt road across the ACL railroad tracks to where Charles lives with his mother, brothers and sisters, and grandmother. (His grandmother is Aunt Rocky Boyd Ferrell, my Grandfather Boyd's sister.) We walk to the showground and buy our tickets and go inside. The horror show begins and the crowd is quiet. It is scary and you can hear the least whisper. Suddenly someone grabs someone from behind saying, "Gotcha!" and a scream is heard. We all laugh and look around to see where it came from. It breaks the scare which is on everyone. But soon we are all very quiet again. The movie ends and I realize as we approach Charles' house that I have to walk the rest of the way in the dark alone to my house. I convince Charles to spend the night with me. I wait on his front porch until he can get permission and then he comes out to join me. We are both frightened as we wind our way toward my room at Grandmother and Granddaddy Griffin's. Another picture show evening has ended.

Remember this is a period when television was not known in our area. The nearest picture shows were in Waycross: "The Ritz" (I can remember the brickwall on the northside of this theatre having the stencilled names of Ware County men who served in WWII.); "The Lyric" which was across the street from "The Ware Hotel"; and "The Carver" which was the theatre for blacks.

At the end of these tent show evenings everyone would come outside and slowly leave for our homes. The blacks would walk down the Swamp Road to their homes which were grouped together and located just outside of Manor. Their church was in that tiny community as well.

And later when I met with my black and white friends we would talk about these picture shows we had seen long after the tent shows had left town. Whether it was on the porch of cousin Dan's store as we had Coca Colas or R C Colas with salted peanuts poured into the bottle, or at the swimming hole just below the black community where we had to beat the water to drive the moccasins away so that we could swim, or in the woods playing together. We could play together and talk about the movies, but we couldn't sit together and share the movies in those tents, even though we were young friends in a small village in those days of our tent show youth.

I think it would be fun to receive mail from others who attended these tent shows sharing their memories so that I may post them here. 5 March 1999