Sherry Hopkins Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2008

Papaw survived hardscrabble times of Depression

My Mamma grew up in the Delta in the 1920s, a time of great poverty in our country. She told me many stories of her father, my grandfather James Wesley Anderson. I called him Papaw.

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By the time I came to know him he was a thin, old grizzly looking man with no teeth, a wooden leg and a cane. I remember most his big smile that just covered his whole face. He was gentle and sweet. He loved powdered sugar covered doughnuts and would send me to the store regularly for them. He always gave me a quarter for my trouble, a lot of money to a little girl in the 1950s.

My Mamma’s memories of him were wonderful. She was the oldest child and she went everywhere with him. He was a peddler and traveled the back roads of Tunica County selling and trading his wares for money or more wares.

Once a month or so they would take the mule-drawn wagon to the river and climb in his boat for a trip to the Memphis docks. There my Papaw would buy and trade for the items he would take to his customers. In the appropriate season, my Mamma would have picked berries or gathered up apples to take to sell for pocket money. She always bought candy for herself and the younger children at home. She loved the wagon and boat rides with just her Daddy. He told her wild stories about the river that she said mostly came from “imagination.”

She loved the stories true or not.

They would buy a big hundred pound hunk of ice to take back home as well. The ice was covered heavily by old burlap bags to keep the melting to a minimum As they slowly traveled back to the Delta she would chip away at any uncovered corners to satisfy her thirst. Ice was a special treat in those hot dusty days.

My grandmother, who we all called Mamma as well, was a big, strong woman of Irish descent with fiery red hair and a temper to match. She was a strict disciplinarian and required a great deal from all her children. My Papaw was no match for her and never quite lived up to her expectations.

He was a wanderer, a gypsy at heart and she wanted more than his less-than-ambitious heart could muster. My Mamma was never quite sure what it was that my grandmother was looking for but she was sure it was not my Papaw.

His wooden leg was a cylindrical contraption with a leather strap that attached to a belt around his waist. This strap would hold the wooden leg onto the stump that ended just above the knee. He had lost his leg in a logging accident when he was young.

From Tunica they eventually moved to the Mason, Tennessee area where my grandmother had relatives living. My Mamma went to school there until she was a teenager. She told me many times that those were the happiest and most tranquil times in all their lives. They managed to buy or more probably rent an old store, and they eked out a living until my Mamma was thirteen or so.

A few years back my husband and I took Mamma back to the old schoolhouse and cemetery where many long lost relatives lie. She even found the road where their old house had been. My Mamma’s grandmother’s (my great grandmother) name was Sally McDougall who came here from Ireland in the 1800s. She is buried in that graveyard. I thought that her name was the most melodic and romantic I had ever heard.

Mamma picked cotton along side her Mamma in those sun parched Delta days. She said the cotton was way over her head back then before they trained it to grow short for machinery’s sake. She never talked about the times being hard, all anyone knew back then was hard. Work from dawn till dusk and start again the next day. She didn’t know that they were dirt poor because everybody lived like they did. But her Daddy made her childhood special with the attention he showed her. She always smiled when talking about him and even shed a tear or two at the memories. I do the same when I think of her.

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