When I was little, I often visited my grandparents. I would stand back as Grandpa chopped wood so fast and precise that within a few minutes, many pieces lay on the ground ready for me to help gather. I gazed at Grandma while she started a fire in her wood cookstove. Carefully placing the dry pine pieces and lighting the match. One of my favorite treats that Grandma would prepare for us were her famous sweet potatoes with marshmallows and cinnamon. I can still taste them, they were that good. My grandparents lived in the same house since the day they were married and when it was time for school vacation during one summer, I asked Grandma where they were going on their vacation. She smiled and said, “Right here, it’s vacation all the time, year round.” Sometimes, they would embark on small trips to Davidson County or Stokes County, NC to visit with family or friends. But, for the most part, my grandparents never traveled far from home.
I learned a great deal from them both until my Grandpa died when I was ten. I remember standing outside at the back corner of the house as I watched the ambulance take Grandpa to the hospital. My younger cousins surrounded me asking if Grandpa was going to be alright and I remember thinking that Grandpa wasn’t coming back home again. It was a few days later when he died and the glimpses of him fading into unconsciousness at his home were the last images I had of him alive. It was my first experience with death and it was heartbreaking to see the tears from such strong people who surrounded me. I had never attended a funeral or a funeral home. I wasn’t aware of the ordinary customs of gathering people from miles away, scheduling the service, placing the obituary in the local paper, receiving all of the food and hardly anyone eating. The arrangements were all foreign to me but I remember all of the details of those days as if it were yesterday. I felt an empty space, a sadness overwhelmed me that I had never known before. Everyone was hurting but I knew Grandma was hurting much more and I felt sorry for her. After the funeral, little more could be done to ease our pain. Mom would remind us that Grandpa was in heaven and everything is how it should be. We would busy ourselves with daily tasks and routines. But, each time Mom talked about Grandpa, I could see her eyes fill with tears for many years afterwards.
Grandma never learned how to drive a vehicle, but she was a very independent lady. She was in excellent health and assured everyone that she was fine living alone. After Grandpa’s death, I stayed with her often, especially during the summers and on weekends. It was during this time that I began to really learn about her and Grandpa. I was the type of kid that always asked the questions. Why this? Why that? Grandma loved the company and enjoyed the questions too or I like to think so! Nevertheless, we both tried to fill the empty space by asking questions and sharing stories of long ago. We walked often along the worn path to the empty feed barn. Down to the creek and up over the hill where once hot peppers grew by the thousands. We strolled through the old tobacco fields laying idle with no purpose now but for gazing upon and remembering. We would pass the tobacco barn and the old International truck of Grandpa’s. Still sitting in the same place, just where he left it. We worked in the flower garden, planting marigolds and refreshed them by drawing water from the well. At night Grandma would start a fire in the fireplace and we would talk way up into the night hours. Grandma was right. It was “vacation all year round“.
Flower Garden filled with Marigolds
One of my favorite questions was how exactly did Grandpa and Grandma meet. In truth, I never received a direct to the point answer for this, but from tidbits through the years, I was able to piece the puzzle together somewhat. I learned that Grandpa attended a local revival with a friend and Grandma was also there with a friend. I always pictured Grandpa trying to get the courage to ask for a date, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, Miss Independent asked Mr. Shy to walk her home after the revival, and he did. Grandpa was with one of his school friends, Raymond and I suspect Grandma was with one of her friends but no proof of who it was. I often wondered what Grandpa was thinking as he was walking back to the old A model car. I guess riding in the car with him after leaving a revival was a big no-no, or may-be she lived right down the street. At any rate, that’s where this love story begins.
Revivals during the 1930’s were huge events. Large canvas tents were opened and seats were neatly arranged. Crowds would gather early in order to get the good seats. Revivals could last for days during this time period. The Great Depression brought hard times for many families and revivals were popular in encouraging people to strive forward. They were also a great place to meet others and socialize. I know the one in question held at least one more sermon as Grandpa attended and Grandma as well. This time, he walked her home and asked to see her again. Grandma agreed. It was late summer of 1933 and Grandma was temporarily staying in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, NC. She was working before the harvesting of crops at her home in Stokes County. Grandpa and Grandma strolled the sidewalks and streets through downtown Winston-Salem. I can picture them at a soda shop, visiting Belk’s Department Store and having a nice dinner at a local restaurant. These were the first dates until it was soon time for Grandma to return home. They promised each other to write as Grandpa returned to his home in Kernersville and Grandma traveled along the winding road to Stokes County, a distance of approx. 35 miles. I’m sure it felt much further to them at the time.
I felt it was important to share with you all a brief history of these two lovebirds before I got into the actual letters between them. So, I’m going to end Part One here and I’ll begin sharing the written words in Part Two. Our grandparents were special people as they were the second generation from us. Their eyes gazed upon a different world, an unfamiliar life compared to our own. I was fortunate enough to converse with all of my grandparents while I was growing up. This in itself is one of the most precious treasures that I have. I thank my grandparents for sharing the details of their lives with me. They certainly didn’t have to, but in doing so, they continue to live among us all.