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Today is December 11, 2017

Mississippi Seen

To Grandmother’s house we would go

To Grandmother’s house we would go

The ancient spinning wheel often served as our steering mechanism for boats of all types. Grandmother's wheel now belongs to my sister in North Carolina. This one is in one of the cabins at Tallahatchie Flats on Money Road at Greenwood. Photo: Walt Grayson

It’s a cold winter morning many years ago. I walk out into the front yard of Grandmother’s house “in the hills” at Fulton.

It must have been around Christmas. Could have been a chilly Thanksgiving. Had to have been one or the other because the holidays were about the only time we made that trip across the state to Grandmother’s in winter. So let’s just say it was Christmas.

Anyway, I wander out into the front yard by myself early one morning. Out to the edge of the gravel road that hangs on the hillside up from Highway 25 down below to the top where, many decades before, Granddaddy built the house where we are gathering. Mama and her brothers and sisters had all lived in that house. Now that they were grown and had families of their own, they came back here for holidays and reunions and the occasional funeral.

The breeze slips past my zipped jacket and I shiver. It makes a quiet roar like you hear in your eardrums when you yawn. And it just whispers through the bare crepe myrtles where I am standing.

It’s so quiet I can hear the gurgling of the creek at the foot of the hill. Acrid smoke from the living room coal heater drifts straight to my nose.

The house across the road that Uncle Doc built when he married Aunt Ruby burned coal too. So did the Wilson’s just down the road. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson seemed ancient to me. He wore a hat and suspenders and had a booming voice. She always had on a long dress with long sleeves and a bonnet. Tiny lady. Probably in their 60s! All of us cousins would be sure to go to the Wilson’s. She had teacakes when we came! Maybe always had them. I never knew for sure. But she had plenty for us.

While I “chill” in the front yard that morning, I am alone. The other cousins aren’t here yet. They would trickle in through the day and into the night from Memphis and Atlanta and other scattered places, drawn back to that tiny dot of a town in Itawamba County that was home to them, and what we cousins have come to consider our ancestral home.  

The house was a wondrous playground with all sorts of places for hide-and-seek. Granddaddy was a prodigious collector of locally found arrowheads, as well as other oddities—like a real hand grenade (no powder) and a captured Nazi flag and a toy wind-up duck that laid eggs as it hopped across the floor, and a thousand other things.

All his treasures were kept on the shelves of an upright revolving wooden case with windowed doors on all four sides that were unlocked for occasional perusings. And Grandmother’s spinning wheel upstairs made a fine boat’s wheel for pirate ships or destroyers or submarines.

Remembering those days is a special holiday gift. And when I smell coal burning or even wood smoke, I’m carried right back to that cold morning by myself in Grandma’s front yard watching down the gravel road, eager to see who would drive up next.

My holiday wish for all of us is that somehow we will try to see to it that our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids will have some pleasant memories of coming to our house that will stay with them long after we are gone, and make them glad we were ever here. We are making memories for them anyway. Why not make them good ones?

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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