It was ‘bout six o’clock, time for supper, but no one was eating. It was a late fall day in 1931 in the depths of the depression, and Doctor Hoover had already left, heading back to his home in Lincolnton with two Rhode Island Red laying hens secured in a basket and three dollars in cash.
The doctor had told Rose that she could keep the cash “’cause I know times are hard and money is scarce.” Rose had just shook her head and put the crumpled dollar bill, one fifty cent piece, three quarters, seven dimes and one nickel back in his hand.
“Well, I reckon they are hard for you too,” Rose said looking Dr. Hoover straight in the eye and giving him a tired wry smile. The doctor looked at her and noticed that her teeth were going bad; he figured that heredity had more to with that than anything else, but he wasn’t sure. For that matter, he did not think that any anyone knew for sure. But he did know that the countryside between Lincolnton and Gastonia was laden with people in their fifties who did not have a tooth in their head.
“Mostly a lot of gummin’ and an occasional pair of dentures,” he mused, knowing full well that false teeth were not in the budget of most of them. As Dr Hoover went out the door Rose turned back to the bed where J. D. was lying, and looked around the living room where all of their kids were gathered. When J. D. had got real sick Russ and Ted had moved the bed out of the bedroom so that he could be near the fire; he stayed so cold. Dr Hoover had spent a good two hours in that room, mainly hand holding and rubbing J. D.’s brow. The doctor liked him, and the whole family—good hard-working stock; he had showed up when he got word of how short of breath J. D. was, and how puffy his arms and legs had become. Dr. Hoover knew the time was close by the description their daughter Bertie Brite had given him at his office, so he had set out to drive the ten miles, knowing that Rose and J. D. would appreciate it.
“He takes spells to where he can hardly get his breath at all,” Bertie Brite had told him, “and if you push your finger against his arms or legs it will leave a hole for five minutes.”
“Fluid retention, heart dropsy” the doctor had thought to himself. Then he had gathered his bag and he and Bertie Brite, who had gotten a ride with a neighbor, had headed to J. D. and Rose’s old house.
Rose looked at J. D. lying there in the bed and noticed that he had closed his eyes and his breathing was not labored anymore; in fact, it had stopped. She turned around in her chair and faced her kids and said “children, your daddy is dead.” She got no reaction.
Then Russ said, “well mom, it has been going on for so long and dad had been so sick that I guess that maybe we had already gotten used to the idea.”
At that point Essie Maye, the oldest child, looked at her brother and said “Russ, you will NEVER get used to it.”
Then Rose looked at her kids and said “younguns, it is okay to go ahead and cry.” She noticed some of them wipin’ their eyes and snifflin’ a bit but then it occurred to her that she had not shed a tear yet.
Rose awoke from her nap to see her youngest, Russ, standing in front of her grinning at her. “Mom,” he said, Sarah and I are going to the P. T. A. meeting at Costner School and will be back by nine o’clock, so if you can pay attention to the kids and get them in by 8:00 and tell them to wash up a little it would be a great help, okay?”
Rose had jerked awake, but it took her only a few seconds to realize that she had been dreaming. “Sure Russ,” she said, “I’ll take care of everything.” With that Russ and Sarah hopped in the green and white ’59 Ford Galaxy and headed out to the schoolhouse. Rose sat in the quiet and thought a while, ’bout how she always seemed to wake up at the same time when she was having that dream; she was satisfied that she would have awakened at the same time even if Russ had not lightly touched her knee. She rocked a little in her high-backed rocking chair and adjusted the bottom and back cushions.
“Well, that all happened a long time ago,” she thought to herself, considering it was 1960 and she now made her home with Russ, Sarah, and their kids. They had brought six into the world, but the oldest three were out on their own. Russ and Sarah joked that they had two families; the oldest three had black hair and were dark complected like their dad, while the younger trio were red haired and light skinned like Sarah. Rose, or Granny, as her grandchildren and even Sarah called her, sat and rocked and ruminated for a while; she had about twenty minutes before she needed to call the kids in, and she spent that time thinking of how she came to be where she was. After J. D. had died and things had settled down a bit she got the idea of what she should do so she called a meeting of all the younguns and their mates and laid out her idea—for all of the older children to sign a legal quit claim deed, relinquishing any claim to the family property, with the understanding that the baby, Russ, would take care of her from now on. That last part would not be written down, but all of her kids got along and when she presented her idea they readily agreed to it. In fact, one of her daughters, Ora Belle, mentioned that she had been thinking about the very same thing. With all in agreement they had the papers drawn up, signed, and recorded with the county. Everyone felt good with the arrangement, and Granny and Sarah got along very well. Russ and Sarah had gotten married shortly after J. D.’s death and Sarah had moved into the old house with Russ and Granny. Rose kind of felt like a surrogate mother to Sarah; Etta Mauney, Sarah’s mother, had died a few years back with a heart problem.
Rose struggled to her feet as the clock on the mantel struck eight and stood at the living room door and squinted out into the darkening yard. “Now all ya’ll younguns come on in now, and if we got time I’ll tell ya’ll a story ‘bout the old days,” she called out. She knew any mention of a story would bring ‘em runnin in, so she was not surprised when Richie, Gail and Little Rose came bursting through the door.
The child Rose had been named after her grandmother and had come to be known as “Little Rose.” Granny was proud of all her grandchildren but she was especially taken with her namesake. She had told Ora Belle about how Little Rose was such a hard worker and studied so much. Ora Belle drove the five miles from Dallas to see her momma every Thursday.
“I’ll bet that girl winds up with a college scholarship; probably make a teacher,” Rose had exclaimed to her daughter. Ora Belle had nodded in agreement; she too had noticed Little Rose’s worth ethic and intelligence but her favorite was the baby, Richie. He was a chubby little freckle-faced redhead and could say some of the oddest things; for example, Richie had noticed that Ora Belle always wore the same Gardenia perfume and that she came every Thursday. These observations led him to announce to his mother that Thursday had a definite smell, its very own, and no other day smelled like it.
Granny was well versed in Richie’s antics, and his enormous appetite, so she was not one bit surprised when he begged her for a butter and sugar biscuit when they got inside. Rose got up, went to the kitchen, and got one of this morning’s biscuits and slathered it with butter and then sprinkled sugar over it. She went back to her chair, Gail and Little Rose and their biscuit eatinn’ little brother coming to sit on the bare pine floor in front of their granny.
“Alright younguns, I am gonna warn you that this will not be a long story ‘cause The McCoys come on at 8:30, and you know how I love them,” she cautioned. All three eagerly nodded in acceptance of the story telling terms so Granny began.
“Way back yonder, right after the Civil War, they was tough times here in the south; the Yankees put who they wanted to in the government and a lot of them were the colored folk. These colored had never been in charge of nothin’ so you can imagine what a mess there was. “Bout this time a group of people, sort of like vigilantes, came into being, and they called themselves the Ku Klux Klan. Some people claimed they did some awful mean things but I ain’t sure about that; I do know that they tried to help out what they could. They would ride out under the cloak of darkness and they would wear these white robes and pointed hats so people would not recognize them ‘cause they would have been put in jail if the colored and the Yankees got wind of who they were.”
The kids were held in rapt attention, Richie licking his fingers and lips, having finished off his treat.
“Well, this one night, Jake, one of your grandpa J.D.’s brothers, was out riding with the group, for he belonged to the Klan. They called Klan member Ku Kluxers, and he had joined up with them right when they got organized after the war, the war that Jake and J.D.’s daddy Eli died in. The last letter they got from Eli was when he was in Petersburg, Virginia. The next thing they heard about him was when they were notified that he had been killed in some fighting along the Weldon Railroad line up there somewhere.”
Granny stopped for a minute, holding up her Luzianne coffee can close to her mouth and letting a thick stream of rich brown snuff spit flow into the toilet paper lining the bottom of the can. As she spit she looked at the kids through her thick wire rimmed glasses. They were not moving a muscle.
“In that last letter they got from Eli he mentioned that he had seen Earl Pasour’s boy, some of them Pasours that lived up around the mountain. He said the boy was doin’ good; he also mentioned that he had heard some preachin’ the night before in the camp, and that it was ‘as good a sermon as he had heard in a long time.’”
“When you talked about him bein’ killed it sent a chill down my spine,” said Little Rose, and Gail and Richie quickly nodded in agreement.
“Well, it was a turble thing, younguns; you know J. D. was a little baby, so he never had even a tiny memory of his daddy,” Rose said.
Richie looked real sad when she said this and tried to think what it would be like to not have a memory of his daddy, but he found it difficult and gave up after a few contemplative seconds.
“What happened on that Ku Klux Klan ride that night you were telling about Granny?” asked Gail, the other two nodding in support.
“We don’t know fershure; all we do know is that Jake’s horse showed back up at the house. All the Kluxers were very secretive ‘bout their activities; it was a wonder that the family even knew that Jake was involved in it ‘cause mostly people did not ask or tell nothing. They did finally learn through an unsigned letter that the Kluxers had been out givin’ a whippin’ to Lem Hargrove ‘cause he wouldn’t work and feed his family. Somehow during the whippin’ Jake’s mask and hat got pulled off and a bunch of people recognized him, for some of the neighbors had been watching what was going on. Jake’s name was spoken out loud by a lot of them people, and he rode off real quick. The last thing he said to any of the Kluxers was that he was gonna head to Texas, so we might have kin out there somewhere,” Granny said.
“Well, Granny, if Jake was going to run away why didn’t he take his horse?” asked Gail.
“The family figgered that he sent the horse home ‘cause he knew the family could use it, and just set out on foot,” Granny said, satisfying the curious Gail.
“Granny, what would have have happened to him if he had stayed around; whatever could anybody have done to him, because he really was doing a good thing?” asked the studious Little Rose.
Granny paused a bit to raise her spit can and unload a little then looked at Little Rose and answered.
“The Yankees and the Negroes would have heard about it right away and they would have hauled Jake off to prison for a long time maybe even have hung him,’” Granny explained, all three sets of eyes getting big at the mention of hanging.
At that second the clock on the mantel struck once, signaling the half hour—a very important one for it was time for The Real McCoys, Granny’s favorite show.
This sent the kids running to the bathroom on the back porch to get washcloths, and a cleaning frenzy, though short-lived, ensued.
Granny settled in for the show, watching Grampa McCoy doing his limp around, grinning after Luke, Kate, Hassie and Little Luke were introduced by the announcer. Granny sat and rocked and loaded up her red oak “toothbrush” with “Sweet Peach” snuff once again.
“Hope it’s about the McCoys’ neighbor Gorge McMichael and his sister Flora,” she thought, musing that possibly there was a romance in the cards for Amos McCoy and Flora. But as the show got started she realized she probly would not see the McMichaels tonight ‘cause it looked like there was some sort of problem with Pepino, the Mexican farm helper. Near as she could tell it had something to do with a puny corn crop that summer.
The scrubbed kids came running and gathered around Granny, watching the concern on the face of Pepino, or as Amos said, “Pepiney,” as he perused the corn stalks. The children were deathly quiet, knowing that speaking during Granny’s Show” was absolutely forbidden, the edict having been delivered by father Russ.
“Don’t ya’ll ever talk while that show is on, because Granny holds that to be the best show on television,” he had told them, and they listened, because they knew if they disobeyed there would a “talkin’ to”, and if that didn’t set in he had a big brown hand that could pop them on their butt.
The four of them watched the console TV as Luke, Amos and “Pepiney” tried to figger out the corn problem. Granny’s eyes started to get a little tired and her eyelids heavy; she had scratched in her flowers all morning, paying special attention to her Red Hot Pokers and her Four O’clocks, which she called Pretty by nights.
As the kids watched the show they rejoiced when it was determined that some inferior fertilizer had been bought and that poor Pepino was not to blame.
Granny had been gone for ten minutes. She was back in that living room in the old house, and J. D. had taken that last breath once again. But this time, just before he did, his eyes opened and he said, “Come with me Rose,” and she grasped his weathered hand, smiling at her husband.
Rose started awake at the touch to her knee, and saw Russ and Sarah gazing at her, the kids standing behind them.
“Mom, you musta fallen asleep watchin’ your favorite show,” Ruiss said, laughing.
Granny brought her toothbrush upright; it had almost fallen out of her mouth while she snoozed.
“Well I’ll swanney,” she said grinning at them. “I rekon I did. I hope lil’ Pepiney didn’t get in no trouble with Amos ‘bout that sorry corn crop.”
Granny listened patiently as Gail filled her in on how the episode turned out and how all were happy and friendly at the end and how the store realized it was bad fertilizer and gave Amos a credit and a bunch of hog feed for his trouble.
“Alright you kids, off to bed,” ordered Sarah, and they took off, the girls to the front room which faced east and little Richie to the middle bedroom, where Rose slept; Richie had a little single bed over in the corner and he and Granny were fine berdroom companions. Once in a while she would give him a little piece of hard candy before he got in bed, if he promised not to tell his momma. She kept the candy in the top shelf of her wardrobe for there was no closet in the bedroom.
Beside the hard candy tin there was a pint bottle of Apple Jack Brandy, which would be pulled down if anybody had a real bad sore throat or the croup; a little of the elixir would be poured into a cup with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. That combination would be stirred to a paste-like consistency and then offered to the afflicted one; the kids loved and ALMOST looked forward to sore throats.
The next morning after breakfast and after Russ had gone to work and the kids had piled onto bus number 34 to go to school Granny put on her bonnet, one of the several she had made out of the print material of feed sacks and got her walking stick and went down to the left side of the front yard to “scratch in her flowers.”
She brought some strips of cloth ‘cause she remembered that her chrysanthemums, or “Octobers” as she called them, were getting leggy and needed to be tied up. She looped the cloth around the flowers and tied them off to a stake she had gotten Russ to drive in the ground, then she examined the Red Hot Pokers—her pride and joy. They were tall and mighty healthy this year, a testimony to plenty of rain and a liberal dosing of manure from the chicken house. She loved how the cones looked in the early morning sunlight, the graduation from yellow to orange to red.
All of a sudden Rose felt a little faint, enough to cause her to seek refuge on the ground. She sat there for a while and kind of caught her breath, which confused her a bit, ‘cause she had not exerted herself that much. The she realized she was going to fall onto her back.
As she lay on the grass she was back in the living room at the old house with her children around her, and her husband J D. breathing shallow, looking up at her. And again he opened closed eyes and looked at Rose and again he said “come with me Rose,” and she agreed, but this time there was no gentle touch on the knee from Russ—this time they were truly together.
2305 Hathaway Rd.
Raleigh, N. C. 27608