Pandemic lockdown #3: Della speaks

Yesterday I told my version of my maternal grandmother’s experience during the 1918 flu pandemic.

She had little formal education, but she was curious about everything and devoured the news every day. She was also a magnificent storyteller. I loved her so much and I used to spend a lot of time with her.

She took in ironing for pin money. She set up the ironing board in the kitchen, and while she stood there, smoothing and steaming her way through a huge pile of shirts, sheets, tablecloths, and handkerchiefs, I sat at the little oilcloth-covered table, drinking instant coffee, and writing down what she told me.

One day she talked a lot about her early life before and just after her mother died. When she finished talking, I realized she had spoken a poem.

Here is Della, in her own words.

 

 

Kneeled-down Places

I

My daddy always

bought us new shoes in the fall

when he’d sold the cotton.

 

We had a big field,

a hundred and some acres,

cotton and wheat and corn

and I don’t know what all.

The garden:

sweet potatoes and

Irish potatoes and

all summer vegetables.

And plenty of pumpkins.

We’d pick huckleberries,

the big gooseberries

we used to call them.

 

II

 

Huckleberries grow in the woods

and on the mountain.

All the children used to take buckets

and go up on the knob.

The boys took the axe along,

cut the stumps

and pine.

My mother,

I would say,

had sixty half-a-gallon jars

of huckleberries

when she died.

 

III

 

Mama made pies

most every morning

for us to take to school,

either blackberry

or pumpkin

or sweet potato.

She’d put them in a great old basket with a handle,

with some biscuits and ham

or sausage in the winter,

when it was cold.

 

Towards the spring

she never would send sausage.

 

IV

 

But I didn’t finish about my shoes.

They would buy us new clothes,

Sunday clothes.

And we’d take what we’d been wearing on Sunday

for every day.

Then they’d buy us new shoes,

they were new Elkins,

brass-toed.

The high-tops, you see,

was laced up twiced

or maybe three times

what these shoes were.

The first time I ever had a high-top

was after Mama died

and I moved to Shelby.

They was more expensive

and looked Sunday

and was real soft.

These Elkins was pretty rough shoes.

 

V

 

Every little feller

went to the fields,

the children as they come on.

The oldest ones would look after the others.

I believe the twins

was the first

that I looked after.

I’d sit on one side of their cradle

and hold their eyes shut

to get them to sleep!

They were going to take a nap after dinner

and I wanted them to

because I usually had to wash dishes

or keep the fire going—

well, in the summertime I didn’t have no fire,

but I’d sweep

or churn

or something like that for Mama,

because she went to the fields.

And I’d look at the Sears Roebuck catalog!

They mailed that out.

We didn’t have no other books around the house,

nothing but schoolbooks

was the only thing I ever knew of.

And the Bible.

 

My Mama read the Bible every night

to all of us.

When we went to Grandpa Boyles’

we had Bible and a half-hour prayer.

Now Grandpa Boyles shouted

every time we’d go to revival meeting.

In the sermon somewhere—

it’d be up a pretty good ways—

all at once he’d jump up

and give a keen holler

and go up and down the aisles

clapping his hands.

Little Dave Boyles!

Everybody cried.

He wore a place on the porch

where his knees was—

he kneeled every time.

We all had to kneel, too.

At home, we didn’t kneel down places,

we had bowed heads.

 

VI

 

Our Daddy had got a big poplar tree

down at our spring

to make the cradle,

carved out the sides and the end

and made the bottom so it would rock.

And I’d sit on that thing and sing!

probably no telling what song then.

 

Later, our neighbors bought it

at the sale of our place.

They didn’t have no children of their own,

but she said,

I can always put my washing in there.

 

They bought it simply because

they knew my Mama,

they saw my Daddy make it.

 

 

 

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