Memories of Mississippi: Growing Up in the South

Memories of Mississippi: Growing Up in the South

by Wanda F. Jackson

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Overview

Memories of Mississippi, gives vivid recollections from the author's life cast in snapshots of her childhood while coming of age in the South. The book is filled with folklore, historical facts, and stories that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452015040
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/03/2010
Pages: 116
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.28(d)

First Chapter

Memories of Mississippi

Growing Up in the South
By Wanda F. Jackson

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2010 Wanda F. Jackson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-1504-0


Chapter One

My Roots

I grew up in a small community in Chickasaw County called Buena Vista. My daddy told me many years ago that the area was once a part of the Gulf of Mexico. As a child, I took his word as being historically correct because some of the land was white and rocky, and we often found tiny sea shells buried underneath the soil. Also, the name was Spanish, but we pronounced it Bhuena Vistuh.

We lived on a big farm that had lots of Hereford and Holstein cows. Some of the cows were used for milk, which we enjoyed with biscuits and milk and bread. Our back yard was filled with black speckled, red, and white hens that were prolific in the egg department. It was the girls' chores to gather the eggs and churn milk. The boys did the plowing and milking the cows.

Our land flourished with fruit trees-apple, pear, peach, and fig. There was always something to eat during the spring. Whatever did not grow in our back yard could be found along the road. We ate black berries, wild plums, and hybrid cherries. During winter, we ate all that we had stored, such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and hickory nuts.

There were very few times when my parents had to go to the store and when they did go, they bought sugar and flour. Everything else we had. There were times, of course, when we wanted to have a honey bun or some Jacks cookies. Then we would beg Daddy to bring us back something from the store.

Dann's Grocery

A small store about three miles to the right of our house called Dann's Grocery is one of the places that we frequented when we wanted basic supplies. It had all the accommodations of a country store-hog-head cheese, fly swatters, and a deep cooler filled with bottled drinks in all flavors, including chocolate.

It was the owner of the store who upset me. His name, of course, was Mr. Dann. He had cold blue eyes and thick light brown hair that was always well groomed like a toupee. Whenever Daddy entered the store, he would say, "Hey, Paul, whatcha need today?" before he had a chance to browse around. He had a son who was even more irritating. He reminded me of an old man, wise beyond his years. He held conversations with Daddy on grown-up issues such as farming and the weather. His eyes were icy blue just like his dad's. He smiled a lot, exposing his big coffee-stained teeth. He mimicked his daddy by calling my daddy Paul. No mister. No honor. And Daddy would say, "Yassuh" to him.

General Store

To the left of our house was another store that was in the small community called Tolbert. It had a post office, a cotton gin, and an Indian faith healer named Sister Sue who claimed she could cure anything from rocky relationships to cancer-for a small fee.

Sometimes my brother, my sister, and I would sneak off to the store to buy cinnamon rolls, Hiho crackers, and orange or peach Nehi drinks. Mr. Poindexter, the owner, was usually tending to some of the farm chores while his wife Miss Mathilda ran the store. Her hair was always well groomed and rolled up on her head like a curly beehive. The scowl on her face made me think that she did not want us kids in her store. She validated those thoughts when I held out my hand to get my change only to have nickels, dimes, and pennies roll off the counter and scatter all over the floor.

They had a son who wasn't quite right. People said he had seizures from time to time, and therefore, could not hold a job. Instead, he did odd jobs around the store and helped out around the farm. Their daughter was a beauty queen who competed in local beauty pageants. She married a wealthy man and moved to Oklahoma somewhere. Some said she seldom came home. Maybe that's why Miss Mathilda was so cranky.

The Cotton Field

Daddy was buying his own property by the time I was growing up in the early sixties. Many times we had to miss school two or three days each week to pick cotton. Some of the hired help refused to let their children help us because Daddy was sending us to school while theirs worked for us. We had about five fields of cotton, and the rows seemed like a mile long. My older brothers and sisters had the sacks from the co-op, but the younger children had a "croger" (burlap) sack. Then I graduated to a seven and a half feet sack, which Daddy expected to be full by the first weighing at noon.

The Cotton Gin

The local cotton gin was owned by Miss Mathilda's father, Mr. John Willie Dexter, one of the biggest plantation owners in that area. Whenever he showed up at our house, I always went inside and peered at him from behind the cracked door. His cheeks were always red. He wore khaki pants that sagged behind. When he talked to Daddy, he chewed a fat cigar that made him cough and spit a lot. Whatever he and my daddy talked about was never disclosed to us children.

Some years later, someone informed Daddy that Mr. Dexter had some of his field hands to help themselves to some of our cotton while it was at the gin. From then on, my brothers had to stay close to our trailer and set watch until the cotton had been processed. Some years after Mr. Dexter's death, we found out that Mr. Dexter was visiting our house so much because he was obsessed with the desire to have our land. "You might as well sell it to me," he said. "You'll never pay for it." Even on his death bed, old man Dexter kept sending for Daddy, but Daddy never went to see him.

Red Clay Dirt

There were some special places along the road where we lived; one of them was Red Hill. Many times my friend Bobbie Jean and I would find a spot and scoop out soft, red clay dirt and indulge 'til our heart's content. If I did get sick, my illness was never attributed to the pounds of dirt I had eaten. This, however, was not the case with Irma Jean Brice. Irma Jean was a tall, red-headed, robust girl who could out box the average boy her size. One day during recess, she and a girl named Willie Mae put on a pair of boxing gloves that had been circulating among the boys. We kids crowded around cheering, and at times wincing when Irma Jean gave Willie Mae an upper cuff and then pounded her on top of the head. My money was on Irma Jean, who would take up for me if anyone tried to bother me. The two were slugging it out until somebody yelled, "Here comes Mr. Freeman!" Then we all scattered like a herd of deer.

A while after that, when Irma Jean got off the school bus, Bobbie Jean whispered something to me about Irma Jean being pregnant. I looked at her in astonishment for starting such an ugly rumor about my friend. I knew Irma Jean always talked about liking this boy or that teacher, but she said that about every cute boy. From then on, every time Irma got on the bus, my eyes focused directly on her stomach. "You see that?" whispered Bobbie Jean. "You see, she's wearing those big ol' tops. I told you." The rumor must have been true was what I concluded. I found myself not knowing what to say to her. She had committed the unpardonable sin. Our days as playmates were over. She was a woman!

As we rode home on the bus, I sat as close to the window as I could. Later on I began to sit on another seat, and so did Bobbie Jean.

I told Mama, and she told me not to play with her anymore because she was too womanish. I guess Bobbie Jean's mother had told her the same thing. So for weeks, I sat on the seat where there were already two people or a very fat person. I felt sorry for my friend. Her stomach was getting bigger and bigger, and every day she seemed more distant and sad. It broke my heart to see her that way, but I had to do what Mama told me or get the worst whipping of my life!

Well, one day I defied my mother, and I did not care if my sister told.

One morning Irma told Bobbie Jean and me that her entire family had stopped speaking to her. Her parents stripped her of all her clothes and whipped her. She crossed her heart and hoped to die that she had never been with a boy. She said she thought God had found favor with her like he did the Virgin Mary. At that point, it did not matter to me which account was true. I wanted my best friend back and was not about to turn my back on her now.

For a few days, Irma did not come to school, and the rumors circulated around campus between the students and the teachers. Some time later, Irma's sister told Irma's homeroom teacher that Irma was in the hospital and that she would have an operation -for a tumor. I was scared that she would die. When she finally did come back to school, her stomach was flat, and she wore a big smile. Bobbie Jean and I had so many questions to ask her during that ride home from school. She told us that the doctors had removed an eight pound dirt tumor from her stomach. "It must've been from eating all that dirt," she said. From that day forward, I never ate another morsel of dirt-red clay or otherwise.

Out Houses and Slop Jars

Our family house was a haven to me. It was green and white and had a fireplace. The blackened chimney that stood so erect had caught fire so many times that the shingles were black also. We had a front room where the oldest girls slept. Mama and Daddy slept in the back room, and the boys slept in a room that Daddy added on himself. The living room was off limits to us children. We could stick our heads inside and look at all the porcelain figurines and whatnots that graced the dresser. We could sit at the entrance door and and watch the black and white television set. My older sisters could sit in the living room when they had company on Sundays.

Under each bed was a slop jar (urinal) that was to be used at night. In the morning, the younger ones took turns emptying them and washing them out. Next, they would be placed upside down on a fence post to dry. During the day, we had to go to the outhouse, and if it was occupied, we had to go to the woods. We would often take the Commercial Appeal which had dual purposes in those days.

The Right to Vote

I was too young to understand what was taking place in the political arena, but I do remember when Aunt Bea, Mama's sister, and a few other blacks came to our house with pieces of paper bearing signatures. I remember Daddy telling them to be careful.

When Daddy turned eighty seven, I decided that I had better gather as much information from him as I could. These are his recollections on voting and segregation:

At this time in history, we blacks couldn't vote. If we tried to go to the polls, we would've been shot down. Blacks was not used to voting. Our parents didn't vote, so that was all we knew.

* * *

No matter how much money you had or how hungry a person was back then, no white business would serve you. There was a big ol' sign that said BLACKS UNWANTED!

* * *

An Incident with Mr. Ledbetter

One day we was all out in the barn when it come a rain, you know, and the white folks was living on the place too. And one day the boss man and another white man came up. The other man said, "Paul, did you know that yo' boss man, Mr. Ledbetter, hung a black man once?" I said, "No, I didn't know that." Mr. Ledbetter smiled and said, "Yeah, I did, but I didn't kill ' im. I took 'im down."

I said, "Well, I tell you one thang, and 'om givin' you the advantage over me by tellin' you this: If you hang me, you better let me stay up there." Mr. Ledbetter said, "I wuz jus' playin' wit you." And I said, "Well, don't play wid me like that." After then, we got along jus' fine.

The Big Fight

My oldest sister moved the doily from the coffee table, placed it on the middle of the dinner table, and set the brown GE radio on top. The big fight was on! We all sat around that radio as if we could actually see the fight between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Some shouted, "Hit 'em! Hit 'em!" After the fight I remember hearing the song, "Charlie Brown, he's a clown. Why's everybody always pickin' on me?"

Hog Cracklings

The brisk wind began to blow speckled orange and brown leaves across the road. The persimmon tree, loaded with juicy fruit, signaled fall and hog killing time. Mama had us children to gather sticks of wood and crisscross them. Underneath the stack, she put kindling, then started a fire. A huge black pot, bubbling with grease, was filled with thick pieces of fat meat that floated to the top as they cooked. Mama used a broom handle to stir the bubbling lava. We were sure to keep our distance to avoid serious burns. When they were all done, she tied a torn white sheet or flour sack over a pan and scooped the floating cracklings out of the pot.

We ate crackling bread and cracklings by themselves.

Nothing ever went to waste back then. Mama used the grease for lard. She pressed our hair with it and told us to grease our legs with it in the winter, especially if there was no petroleum jelly or Royal Crown. If our faces were ashy, Mama would get some lard, rub her hands together, and apply lard to every visible area of the face, except the eyes.

Cousins from Up North

I wondered why our cousins that we only knew from pictures would come to visit the South. Most were always scared of everything or pretended that they could not understand the way we talked. They always looked as though they never set a foot outside. They must have never gone outside in the hot sun to work like we did, and they always talked so proper. I tried to talk like they did but soon gave it up after my brother and sister made fun of me. "Look!" the girl said to her brother, "They don't have on any shoes!" I tried to hide one foot behind the other. I was ashamed of my big feet, which had dust all over them. They mocked the way we talked, and that was the last straw.

David, Gayle, and I lured them into the backyard. We proceeded to chase each other around the house, and they followed suit. Suddenly, Pawly Letter, our fighting rooster that loved a good chase too, came running from under the house and nearly scared them to death. And no matter how loudly they cried and yelled, we would not come to their rescue.

Bobbie Gentry and Moon Pies

One day at school our principal told all the kids to go to the gym. I sat there talking to my friends, wondering what was going on. Then Mr. Freeman walked out center floor and announced that Bobbie Gentry, a Chickasaw native, had donated a moon pie, a six-ounce Coca-Cola, and a fountain pen to all the students in the county. While we sat there, we listened to her record that began, "It was the third of June another sleepy, dusty, delta day...." Later on, I saw her on the Ed Sullivan Show. From then on, I thought about that nice famous lady who cared enough about us to give us something without wanting anything in return.

Cotton-Picking Memories

I guess I have been a daydreamer all my life. On those sultry days in the cotton field, I found myself wondering if that was how life was going to be for me, for my sisters and brothers, and for the entire Negro race. I found myself looking across, what seemed to me, miles of white blankets draping the land. I would watch Daddy's black truck drive around the road that circled the field, and past the trees until it was out of sight. Then I would take my cotton sack strap off my shoulder and lie back, gazing at the clear blue sky. At times I would watch a martin attack a crow. There had to be something better for me. Whatever it was and no matter where it was, I wanted it. Suddenly, I was shaken back to reality when I heard Daddy's truck returning.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Memories of Mississippi by Wanda F. Jackson Copyright © 2010 by Wanda F. Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................xv
Foreword by Betty Wilson-McSwain, Ed.S....................xvii
My Roots....................1
Dann's Grocery....................2
General Store....................3
The Cotton Field....................4
The Cotton Gin....................5
Red Clay Dirt....................6
Out Houses and Slop Jars....................8
The Right to Vote....................9
An Incident with Mr. Ledbetter....................10
The Big Fight....................11
Hog Cracklings....................12
Cousins from Up North....................13
Bobbie Gentry and Moon Pies....................14
Cotton-Picking Memories....................15
No Trespassing!....................16
The County Fair....................17
The Drowning....................18
Shared cropping....................19
Wringing Chicken Necks....................21
Sunday Dinners....................22
Preachers and Sunday Dinner....................23
Sunday Church Service....................24
Church Pianist....................26
Church Ushers....................27
Frank and Polio....................28
Death of President Kennedy....................29
Fishing in the Creek....................31
The Oral Tradition....................32
Screech Owls and Crowing Roosters....................33
Reverend Stubbs, Sportsman of the Year....................34
Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr....................35
The Rolling Store....................36
Curse of the Chicken Coop....................37
The Great Equalizer....................38
Churn That Milk, Girl!....................39
Field Baseball....................40
A Special Aunt....................41
Singer Sewing Machine....................42
Take That Bulletin Board Down!....................43
The TB Scare....................44
Mystery of the White Owl....................45
Fighting Black Bull and Persimmons....................46
The Oil Well Catches Fire....................47
The Day I Caught Religion....................48
Getting Baptized....................49
Trip to Chicago....................50
The Ties That Bind....................52
Daddy's Narration of "Peter and Nancy"....................53
"His Eyes Are on the Sparrow"....................55
Great-grandmother, Former Slave....................56
Grandparents from Tennessee....................57
Rich Uncle from Tennessee....................59
Treasures from the City Dump....................60
Tube Rose the Cure....................61
Those Winter Nights....................62
Old School Teachers....................63
Moment of Silence....................64
The Big Spelling Bee....................65
Little Miss Spirit of Christmas....................66
Writing for Mama....................68
Keeping the Tradition....................69
My Special Gift....................71
School yard Games....................73
Circus Comes to CCH....................76
On Integration....................77
Move to the Right Side of the Bus....................79
Ruby Lee and Elvis Presley....................80
Remembering Mrs. Pepper....................81
What a Friend We Had in Jimmy....................82
Time Brings About Change....................83
And There She Is ....................84
Talent Search....................85
Memories of War....................86
Say It Loud!....................89
What Heritage Meant to Me....................90
No More Farming....................92
Reflections....................94
About the Author....................97

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