Some memories fade with time.
Others define who we are.
This is a photograph of my grandparents’ old home, located about a quarter-mile from the house where I grew up. I took the picture in 1970, several years after Bernie and Daisy Retherford, in a land trade among family members, had moved to a “modernized” house, with electricity and running water, two miles away. After raising nine children and weathering the Great Depression on this Holmes County homestead, their farming days were over. Thank God, and Roosevelt, for the “old folks” supplemental check that made their remaining years easier on tired bones. My grandfather, born in 1886, lived to age 89, and my grandmother lived an even century, from 1888-1989. (More on their lives another day.)
The house was constructed on sill timbers set high off the ground on large foundation blocks, exterior walls of 14-inch heart pine boards, and cedar shingles that were replaced with asphalt roofing in the mid-1950's. The wide front porch, supported with hewn poles and safety rails, and filled with rocking chairs and homemade straight chairs with deerhide seats, offered ample seating for frequent family gatherings. A breezeway ran from east to west through the center of the house to the kitchen in the southwest corner. Adjoining the kitchen was the back porch with a water well, the watershelf and a communal gourd dipper hanging above the wooden water bucket. Golden and red cannas bordered the porch and flourished under frequent applications of waste water from the well.
A large dinner bell, used to call family members from the fields at dinner time (11 a. m.), hung on the south wall beside the kitchen door. Only steps away were the log smoke house and pantry for canned goods, and a vegetable garden with crops for all seasons. The cane shelter, barn, feedlots and outhouse, stocked with corncobs and Sears & Roebuck catalogs, were located north and northwest of the house. Several pecan trees, fruit trees, oaks, pines and a magnolia completed the surrounding landscape.
The house was not wired for electricity. Grandpa and Grandma never lived in a home with such luxuries until they moved away from here. For seventy years of life, they managed to live well with kerosene lamps, wax candles and a flashlight, fireplaces, a wood stove, smoke house, two-seater outhouse, wash pot and scrub board, homemade lye soap, well water, ice box, cured meat, and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. News arrived via a battery-operated radio with a connection to the wire antenna that ran across the yard to the smokehouse. The “rolling store” days preceded my memory, but I am old enough to recall the ice truck from Bonifay and fish and oyster peddlers from West Bay making regular runs through the neighborhood.
Memories of visiting my grandparents, sometimes on a daily basis, include aromas of the smokehouse, wood floors scrubbed with lye soap and a cornshuck scrub broom, smoke from the woodstove, the pot of Luzianne coffee with chicory that Grandma kept on the stove most of the day, and the variety of flowers that filled the yard. Fragrance from a giant cape jasmine met visitors at the front gate. Pink and white running roses grew on the back fence. No grass was allowed to grow in the fenced portion of the yard, and the pathways through the flowerbeds were packed like concrete and swept with gallberry "brush" brooms. Grandma loved petunias best. Massive beds of cross-pollinated color combinations filled the front yard. Petunia seeds, washed by rains down the sandy lane for some distance, produced a profusion of fencerow flowers that tangled with the briarberry and bullis vines.
As a small boy in the 1950’s, I loved eating my grandmother’s raisin cakes and egg custards, which she baked to perfection in the wood stove, but my favorite delicacy was the jelly cake filled with several thin layers of mayhaw jelly. Grandma preferred too-sweet cool-aid to iced tea.
No one else ever lived in the old house after my grandparents moved away, and my dad converted one of the rooms to a corncrib for several years. By 1970, a new crop to the area, soybeans, filled the surrounding fields and even the yard, as the picture shows.
I miss the “good old days,” my grandparents and their ties to the nineteenth century. I would not trade my memories for anything.