Stories from Nana bring back simpler times
Recently transplanted to Tennessee, I joined The Tullahoma News last month.
Unpacking boxes that were sealed 18 months ago has been something of an early Christmas. Objects acquire sentimental value from the stories they tell us.
It has been my pleasure to rediscover an audio recording of my maternal grandmother. Made shortly before her death in 1999, in it she remembers the adventures of growing up on a farm in Autauga County, Alabama.
“Mother didn’t know where we were from dawn to dark,” Lillian said on the recording. “I guess the Lord looks after crazy folks and little children.”
My Nana’s memories are at turns idyllic, risky, mischievous and ever entertaining. She opens with one any modern parent would recognize: the agony of dressing teenagers. It is a story of Sunday’s best versus casual.
The finery lost, but only after sister Marjorie painted her face, neck and hands reddish brown with iodine. Her protest won the day, and the girls exchanged their dresses for blue jeans and Keds they wore to the all-important basketball game.
Lillian’s sister Marjorie shows her soft side again when she releases a flock of quail her siblings had captured in an elaborate trap.
In tears she tells the others, “You just weren’t going to kill those pretty birds and eat them. I turned ’em loose.”
I had never thought of my grandmother as a daredevil or competitive, but she gleefully recalls racing her brother Harvey across a newly built bridge, both of them balanced on the railings above the racing creek waters.
Blackberry picking was a favorite job for the young farmers. One day in the berry patch, they discovered a hole, which they covered in rocks, believing it to be entry to a snake den.
Their father and his men brought hoes, guns and a smoldering torch to smoke out and kill seven rattle snakes.
One Sunday she and her sisters skipped church to harvest chestnuts, in their dresses. That must have been a sight.
“We went ’round the fence, down the hill and waded the creek,” Lillian said.
As their leader she climbed the tree to a height of 50 feet to saw one of limbs, while the younger ones below cracked open the burrs for the delicacies within.
“Oh, we had a bunch of fun,” she said.
Their mother’s anger abated when she saw how much they brought home. Punishment was nothing more than washing their now filthy clothing.
Even when the children did make it to the little white wooden Methodist church, they did not stay long inside. She liked Sunday school, but complained of lengthy preaching.
Nana remembers crawling to freedom through an open window. When she looked back inside to gauge a reaction, her father just smiled, reached into his pocket, and tossed her a Halls from his supply.
Nana reminds us of a life without television or internet. Enrichment of a different sort was their lot as farmers in a time and place we today might call poor.
“We always had three or four cows to milk because there were so many of us,” she said.
They grew fields of corn and cotton for money, and behind the well, a kitchen garden of peas, okra and onions flourished.
Her mother’s cooking was favored by the Circuit Rider, who was ever welcome at the farm. For Christmas they celebrated with the fruits of their labor, pies baked from black berries and those chestnuts from another season.
As a child of that place, it is quite fitting that today she rests nearby in White City Cemetery, on land given jointly by her Methodist church and the local Baptist congregation. At her burial a mocking bird alighted in a low branch to sing a tribute.
Everyone present was certain her spirit had entered that bird to bid them farewell.
Cameron Adams may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.