Monday, February 21, 2011

The Early Days (Chapter 2)

My grandpa was a very loving soul to me. However, he was quite the headstrong man in his early years. Grandpa’s mother died when he was four years old. By the time he was twelve, he was on his own. So, he was a survivor. Grandpa did not know how to read or write. All he could do was sign his name.             

There was a razor strap always hanging in grandma’s and grandpa’s living room. My parents always told me to be good or grandpa would use that razor strap on my behind. The last time grandpa used that strap on my momma was when she was seventeen years old. He caught her kissing her fiancé, Charlie Cannon (her first husband) goodnight at the door. I guess he unmercifully beat her. As I understand it, mom cried all night long.
Grandma was always kind to me. However, I remember one time when we went to visit. My Uncle Arlen (grandma’s youngest) and his children came to the house. I remember how happy she became, how her face lit up, how she caught Arlen’s kids up in her arms and gave them huge hugs and kisses. I could sense that she cared a lot more for them than she did for me. But, to her defense, they lived in the same city and she saw a lot more of them than she ever did me.
Black Oak Cemetery
In this area of the south, honoring the dead and decorating their graves was a very important part of the culture. Every year, we would go to Sparta for “Decoration Day.” This was held in May, but not on Memorial Day. Mom, her sisters and grandma would make paper flowers and we would take them to the cemetery where my aunts and other family members were buried. We would pack a picnic lunch and stay a good portion of the afternoon at the cemetery.
The Rice Sisters
The cemetery was at Black Oak Church of God. That was the church in which mom and her siblings were raised. It was a simple, clapboard building. It had simple pews and an old upright piano. Whenever we would go to the cemetery, my family would invade the empty church building. Someone would bring a guitar. My Aunt Ilene would play that old, out of tune, piano. And they would sing songs like “Echoes from the Burning Bush,” “The Unclouded Day,” “Let Us Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” and the list goes on.
Pam and Mike
When we would go back to my grandparents’ home, the singing would continue. Dad, mom, Aunt Ilene and Uncle Willard would sing for hours. My cousins and I would play around that old coal stove. I was pretty much the youngest. So, my older cousin, Pam, took pride in being able to beat the snot out of me whenever she got the chance. Of course, I NEVER did anything to warrant it. LOL

The Rice Family: Willard Rice, Ilene Rice, Lorene Rice Gibson & Junior Gibson
We would visit my Grandma and Grandpa Rice about every three months. We would visit my Grandma and Grandpa Gibson about once or twice per year. Grandma and Grandpa Gibson lived on top of White Oak Mountain, just outside of Jellico. At one time, grandpa had owned over one hundred acres. By the time I came along, they had sold the farm off except for three acres.
Grandparents Gibson
Getting to my grandparent’s house on White Oak was quite a trek up the mountain. While taking those steep curves, you could almost see the front end of the car meeting the back end of the car. All the while, we passed huge, loaded coal trucks leaving the mines.
Gibson Homestead

Grandma and Grandpa Gibson had what seemed to be a very large house to me back then. Grandpa had built it when dad was around six years old. Upon completion, they moved out of the coal mining camp into their new home. Originally, it was a three-room house. But, grandpa kept adding on to it. By the time I was born, it had a huge kitchen. A basement had been dug. It had central coal heat. It had four bedrooms with a total of five double beds. When the entire family visited, we used every one of those beds. Plus, we used the roll-away beds, the sofa and the sofa sleeper. 
Behind the house set a small block building. That was grandpa’s office. In addition to being an electrician, he owned the mining company. He had a huge building we called the shop. The shop held all of the coal mining cars and equipment. Behind all of these out buildings was grandma’s garden. Behind the garden was the chicken coop. To me, this was a really big chicken coop. It probably measured at least 20 feet by 40 feet. By the time I came along, the chickens were long gone. But, my cousins and I would go back and play in the abandoned building. All the time, we were scared to death that a rattle snake or copperhead may join us.
Cousin and General Store
The house set on a hill across from an old-fashioned general store. You know, just like the one you would see while watching “The Waltons.” Some of my fondest memories were when Grandma Gibson would take me by the hand. We would walk down the hill from the house. She would look both ways to make sure a speeding car or a coal truck wasn’t passing by. Then, we would cross the highway and go to the general store. I remember the store’s owner being so kind to grandma. He would say, “Hello, Ms. Gibson. Who do you have there? Is that Junior’s boy? What can we get for you?” Grandma knew that I loved banana flavored popsicles. So, that is what we would get and go home. She always kept the deepfreeze stocked with banana popsicles.

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