A short shopping trip to the Calhoun Factory Outlet Mall provided another opportunity for me to learn more about her upbringing and my past.
The area seemed somewhat familiar. I felt sure I had spent more than a few days on a creek bank somewhere along that road during my growing-up years fishing with my mother’s mother, Granny Rice. An unusual silence filled the car. The pregnant pause in the conversation gave birth to twin memories conceived decades apart. “Is that Pinson Road?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s Pinson Station Road,” she said. A wistful smile crept across her face as she remembered days spent fishing there with Granny, too. Granny Rice was a fisher-woman in every sense of the word. It didn’t matter if she caught any fish or not. As long as the fish were biting, she could spend all day long on the creek bank and often did — as long as someone would provide transportation. Granny lived to be 93, didn’t have a driver’s license, and as far as I know never drove a car.
“Your granny and I were fishing at Pinson Creek one day,” Mama recalled.
“I HAD THE WORST headache I’d ever had in my life,” she said, the furrows on her brow reminiscent of the pain she had experienced that day. “The fish were biting, and I didn’t want to tell your granny how bad I felt. So I just stretched out on the creek bank,” she said.
“Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. There was a house at the top of the hill across from the creek. I didn’t know who lived there, but it really didn’t matter. I went up to the door and knocked. When the lady came to the door, I asked her if she had anything for a headache. Now you wouldn’t do anything like that today. But I was in so much pain. I remember the lady gave me soda water.”
“Did it help?” I asked, wondering if soda water could be a sure cure for some of the headaches that often plague me.
“It must have,” Mama said. “I went back down to the creek, and your granny kept fishing.”
“Where did you live before you moved to Shannon?” I asked.
“We lived in Woodstock,” she said. I could tell from the focused look on her face there was more to the story. Sure enough, soon, she began to elaborate.
“WE REALLY LIVED somewhere between Woodstock and Canton,” she said, pausing to get her bearings and pulling from memories of almost 70 years past. “It was Mill Creek. We lived on the old Roberson place.” I remembered from my Granny Rice’s stories that she could never pinpoint a street name or number where she and her own family of origin had lived. As sharecroppers, her recollections were that as a girl and even as a young married woman, she and her families had always lived on property that belonged to someone else.
“We lived by the railroad tracks on Pinson Station Road,” Mama said. A subsequent trip to that old home site at a later date wowed me with just how close they had lived to the tracks. Though the house has long been gone, Mama pinpointed precisely where it sat. It seemed as if they could have literally reached out the windows of the old clapboard house to touch the passing rail cars.
“I didn’t come with your granny when they first moved to Shannon,” she said. “I was living with your Aunt Jeno in Marietta.” Jeno, Mama’s sister and the third of Granny Rice’s 14 children, was married to R.L., who was in the army at the time. My Aunt Tootsie (aka Emma Catherine, number 13) later filled in the gaps about the move. “Your granny, me, Billie Lou (the youngest of the 14 and the baby of the bunch) and Ruth (number 12), moved there wearing just the clothes on our backs. We carried the rest of our belongings in a ‘poke.’ “That’s Southern for a paper sack,” Tootsie said. “Your mama (number 11) and your Uncle Clint (number 10 and the youngest of the sons) came to live with us later,” she said.
“WHY DID GRANNY move to Shannon in the first place?” I asked Mama, curious as to the reason for my granny’s decision to move to this corner of the state.
“Your Uncle Ralph (the oldest of Granny’s children) was pastoring the church in Shannon,” she said. “When he found out your granny needed a place to stay, he got her a house. The house might have belonged to one of the members,” she said. “But I really don’t know for sure.”
“How old were you when you came to Shannon to live with them?” I asked, trying to establish a timeline for when my mom met my dad, whose family also lived in Shannon.
“I was about…” she paused trying to establish her own timeline. “I guess I was about 14 or 15,” she said.
I knew enough about the marriage of my grandparents to know that they spent some time living apart. And I knew that the move to Shannon was one of those times.
“How in the world did you guys make it?” I asked. My Granny Rice had no formal education and no employable skills, and was in essence a single parent, raising five children alone during those difficult days following the Great Depression.
“I honestly don’t know how we made it,” she said. “But I know that your granny did washing and ironing for Orin Dodd and his family.” According to Mama, the Dodds owned a store in Shannon. “She may have even done some cleaning for them,” Mama added.
“YOUR UNCLE JAMES (number 7) was in the CC camp,” she said. “He sent money home and that helped.” I didn’t know what the CC camp was and Mama couldn’t tell me anything more about it.
An internet search later revealed that she was referring to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). A part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the CCC was a public works relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States. The program was for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 17—23 who could not find employment during the Great Depression. The program provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources of federal, state and local governments. The CCC was one of the most popular and effective of the New Deal programs. In nine years, 2.5 million young men participated in the program, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 a month — $25 of which had to be sent home to their families.
“One day your granny and I had to go to the store to get some groceries,” Mama recalled. “We didn’t have any money to buy them with, at least that I knew of,” she said.
“It was about seven miles from where we lived to the store,” she said. With no car, it was shorter to walk along the railroad track from their house on Pinson Station Road to the grocery store which was located near the old Klopman/Brighton Cotton Mill. According to Mama, the building is still standing and now houses the McGowan Pharmacy.
“WE WERE WALKING along the railroad track,’ she said. “I looked down at my feet and saw something green.” At this point in the story, a smile that could best be described as otherworldly spread across my mother’s face. “I reached down to pick it up and realized it was money. More money than I had ever seen in my life. It was $80!” she said, incredulous, as if, after all of these years, she was still unable to grasp the likelihood of finding money — let alone that much money — along the railroad tracks. “Eighty dollars back then was a lot of money,” she said.
“We looked everywhere to see if there was anybody who might have dropped the money, but we didn’t see anyone. We went a little further on down the track, and I spotted something else. I bent down to pick it up and realized it was rationing stamps. Sugar was being rationed at that time because of the war,” she said. “And if you didn’t have those stamps, you couldn’t buy sugar or a lot of other things even if you had money.” This time, her smile was accompanied with a look of child-like wonder. Not only had Mama found money to buy sugar and other goods for the family that day, but she had also found the necessary stamps to buy them with.
“WE THOUGHT for sure somebody must have dropped their billfold with the stamps and the money in it. But we looked all up and down the tracks, in the grass, everywhere, trying our best to see if we could find a wallet or pocketbook or a coupon book with a name in it. But we didn’t find anything. Just the money and the stamps.”
“Your granny said, ‘Well, Mary, I guess we’ll just keep them and use them. If we hear of anybody who has lost them, we’ll pay them back later.’”
My mother laughed at the memory of the probability of that ever happening. “I don’t know how in the world your granny ever thought we’d be able to pay them back, because we had no money.”
“Did you ever find out who lost them?” I asked.
“Nope, we never did. And there was nothing to let us know who they might have belonged to.” According to Mama, they went on to the grocery store, bought some sugar and some other things they needed. “We even had money left over,” she said. “We even had enough money to pay for a cab to take us back home.” It was the very first time my mother and my grandmother had ever ridden in a taxi.
MY GRANNY RICE wasn’t only a fisher-woman. She was a woman of faith — just like my mother. I am sure they rehearsed the events of that day often, especially during the lean times. There is no doubt in my mind they were convinced that if God could put a coin in a fish’s mouth to pay the taxes for his disciples (Matthew 27:17), he would certainly have had no problem putting food on their table — even if he had to drop $80 and rationing stamps along the railroad tracks to do it.
My mama’s favorite phrase when sharing stories like this one and others about her life is, “I won’t ever forget it as long as I live.” And she probably won’t. But just in case my memory is not as good as hers, I think I’ll keep writing them down.
Brenda Stansell of Rome is a licensed counselor, a retired educator and a freelance writer. Readers may contact her at email@example.com.