My childhood memories of Grandpa and Grandma Conrad go back many years! I can never remember any of my early childhood years when they were not a part of my family, as well as in the lives of all their other children and grandchildren.
Those memories began in and around Vicksburg, Mississippi where Grandpa and Grandma Conrad lived on Sherman Avenue. Their house was in the country and set beside a little country gravel road in an area where the Civil War was fought. The area later became part of the Vicksburg National Military Part.
Grandpa worked for the Anderson Tully sawmill in the small community of Waltersville, Mississippi. The old mill was about three miles west of where he and Grandma spent many years raising most of their nine children. They had lived other places, but this is the only one I can remember. Their house sat on about eight acres of hillside land with one little flat area below the house and between two big hills. This small flat piece of ground below the house was called bottomland, and it had rich, black, fertile soil that would grow just about any kind of vegetable the family needed to eat. Nearly all of their food was grown on this small plot of ground. I guess you could have called this little garden spot “God’s Little Acre" and it would have described it well. Without that little plot of ground, and much help from God, nothing I’m writing about would have ever happened.
Old Highway 61 ran north and south a short distance from their house and close to the Anderson Tully sawmill where Grandpa and many other men in the community made their living. These men worked hard from Monday through Friday, and they also had to work one half day on Saturdays while trying to support their families. The days were long, and the pay was very little, but without those old sawmill jobs many families would have gone without.
Each morning there was a whistle that blew when the work shift began at 7 a.m. and a second one at 12 noon for lunch time to begin and a third one that blew at 12:30 when it was time to go back to work. The sounds from that old whistle were loud and clear, and you could hear it for miles in all directions. As the day came to a close, again, the evening whistle would blow at 3:30 p.m. when the mill crews got off work. If for some reason your watch ever stopped, you could always reset it by the loud shrill sound of that old sawmill whistle. It always blew on time, and when I was a kid, I always knew the time of day when I heard it blow.
Sawmill worker’s payday was always at noon on Saturdays, and Grandpa and all the other men would pick up their pay at the paymaster’s office a short distance south of the mill on old Highway 61. Many times on Saturdays, I would ride my bike or walk to where Grandpa worked and always tried to get there a few minutes before the final whistle. I always enjoyed riding with him when he went to pick up his pay. If I were on my bike, we would load it in the back of his old panel truck and then jump up front and head for the paymaster’s office.
Grandpa was always paid in cash and his money was given to him in a brown envelope each week. After receiving it, he would take out the money, count it and then head for Harlen’s grocery store. The little market was across the railroad tracks from Anderson Tully sawmill and the owners were family friends. Grandpa and Grandma would buy some of their groceries there each week.
Each Saturday when Grandpa visited Harlen’s grocery store, it was a sure thing that he would pick up a case of mixed soda pop and a few other things that Grandma had on her list. Soon as Grandpa finished his shopping it was on to the icehouse, only a couple of minutes away! After arriving, he would back his old panel truck up to the loading ramp and we both got out. Grandpa told the iceman he needed a block of ice, and it was loaded in the back of the truck. The blocks of ice came in different sizes, but during the summer, he bought a 50-pound block and in the winter a 25-pound block. When the weather was hot, Grandpa sometimes made more trips to the icehouse each week.
During our trips on hot summer days, I always enjoyed sneaking in the icehouse and finding a small piece of ice to eat and would also spend a few extra minutes inside cooling off. Grandpa would pay the iceman, and soon we were on our way home. Grandpa's old van was fast and during that trip home he would drive it as fast as he could go without sliding in the loose grave and going in the ditch. I would set up in the front seat next to him and look out the window as he speeded up and down those hills and around the curves of that dusty old gravel road. Grandpa could drive anything, and he loved to drive fast and I enjoyed riding with him. Those were always fun rides with Grandpa on Saturday afternoon and I always looked forward to it, and they never got old.
During the week he could leave work as soon as the noon whistle blew and drive home for dinner and still be back to work by the time the whistle blew at 12:30. You sure didn't want to get in his way or follow too closely behind when he was short on time. The dust would be flying 50 feet in the air, and that old van would leave behind a trail of dust that would put a jet airplane to shame.
One day during the week, Mom, along with all of us kids had walked over the hill to visit Grandma. We got there early that morning and had been visiting with Grandma. I had been playing around the house, but then I walked down to the curve just before noon to my favorite plum thicket. It was right next to the road, and I picked a few plums and was sitting under the trees eating them when I heard the dinner whistle blow. I knew it wouldn’t be but a few minutes until Grandpa would be getting home for dinner. I got up and walked over to the curve and waited for him to come by. Soon, I heard the old van coming at a distance and then saw the dust as he was rounding the curve. When he got close enough to see me, he began to slow down, and I attempted to jump on the running board as he went by. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. After grabbing on the door and making an attempt to place my feet on the running board, my foot slipped and I fell off. Grandpa slammed on the brakes and slid in the loose gravel, but was soon able to stop. I had skinned my knees and elbow a little as I was dragged and rolled in the gravel. Grandpa got out and picked me up and checked to make sure I was okay. When he saw I only had a few scrapes and bruises, he tore my butt up and told me to never pull a stunt like that again. That taught me a lesson that I never forgot, and this was the first and only spanking I ever got from my Grandpa. He got his point across, and I never got an idea to try that little trick again. Like the old saying goes, God takes care of kids and old drunks, and that day he protected me from what could have been a serious injury or much worse.
In the 1940‘s and 1950’s, there wasn't any air conditioning in those old cars and trucks, and during the summer months when Grandpa made his trip home each day for dinner, his clothes would be soaking wet with sweat when he got out of the truck. He always wore an old hat, and it was always wet with sweat when he took it off and hung it up.
After walking into the house, he would always give Grandma a kiss as soon as he entered the front door and then sat down at the table and say the blessing before eating. He always had to eat fast, and soon as he finished his dinner, he was up and on his way back to work. Before he left the house, again, he gave Grandma a kiss goodbye and put on that old wet hat and headed out the door. When climbed back behind that steering wheel, the race was on again as he made his way back to work on that old dusty gravel road. His timing had to be about 4 or 5 minutes one way, and he had it down pat. He made that trip so many times over the years; I sometimes thought he could drive it blindfolded.
My brother Kenny and I use to dig worms and sell them to the local fish bait houses. This kept us in a little spending money, and we always had our special places to dig, but there was one extra special place that was better than all the others, and big money came to us every time we dug there. Grandpa had told Kenny and me about this place. It was below the room at work where he filed saws. Grandpa worked upstairs, but down below him was an area where lots of sawdust had been dumped, and, after being mixed with the water and the rich black dirt below, this made a ideal conditions for worms to grow. This was our extra speial place to dig, and the worms were there by the thousands.
We never made a habit of going there too often, but Grandpa didn't mind if we came by now and then to visit him on the job. Sometimes while we were there, he would let us know if it was a good time to go below his room and dig a few worms. It only took a few minutes to fill our cans with hundreds of big red worms, and then we would head off to the bait houses in Waltersville and sold them for 50 cents a hundred. You can see how some of our visits with Grandpa put some extra spending money in our pockets, and Grandpa had made it all happen.
Many times when we visited him, we would stand at a distance and watch as he set up the saws on a big machine. It was fascinating as we stood by and watched the saws as they were automatically being sharpened. Some of his saws had to be sharpened by hand, but there seemed to be nothing Grandpa couldn’t do. I always thought he was the smartest Grandpa in the world. He even made knives and garden tool from old saw blades that had been broken and discarded. I have a butcher knife that he made that was given to me by my mama many years ago. It's about 10 inches long and has a red plastic handle.
Grandpa was good at doing just about anything. Another project I remember was when he made his daughter Agnes, “Aggie”, a wagon. I always thought it was a special toy for someone to receive from her daddy, and I know Aggie was always proud of it.
Grandpa used to make heart-shaped money banks out of wood and plastic. He had some of them in his house and gave them to other family members. Mama had one for many years; I don't know what ever happened to it.
The old piano stool, used for many years, was built by Grandpa. It was big and heavy, but could be adjusted to any height you wanted by spinning it up or down. My youngest brother, Marshall, was running through the house once and fell and struck his head on that old stool. After screaming and squalling for a few minutes, Mama and Grandma got the blood stopped and his head bandaged, and after a few days, he was back running and ripping around just like he was before. That's been close to 60 years ago and he still carries a battle scar on his nose.
This was another job of doctoring that was done well by Grandma and Mama, and I don't ever remember any of us kids ever going to the doctor except for me, and that was to have two broken arms set. Looking back on how my arms looked after the cast were removed, I think Mama and Grandma could have done a better job.
With very little money back in those years, folks had to make the best of whatever they had, and if the man of the house was handy at making or repairing things, it sure helped to keep things going. Some items that were needed around the house would have never been available unless they were made by hand.
Grandpa used to make a puzzle ball for us kids and carved it in several pieces by using his old homemade pocketknife. The ball was made in 5 pieces and locked in place with 2 wooden pegs. It wasn’t a ball that you could hit with a bat, but it was the novelty of putting the pieces together and then taking it apart that made it fun. Once we found out how it was made, we used our pocketknives and made our own.
Grandpa used to carve an airplane propeller out of wood and drill a tiny hole in the center and then attach it to a wooden stick about 10 or 12 inches long. The stick had about 10 notches carved out close together and about one half inch deep. After the propeller was attached to the stick, you would take another 6-inch length of dowel and rub it over the notches and this would cause the propeller to spin. The faster you rubbed the stick across the notches the faster the propeller would spin. He also taught us how to make a little toy out of an old thread spool and also how to make string and button spinners.
The first drinking straw I ever used in a glass of ice tea was made from a piece of cane that grew down below Grandpa's house. He also taught us kids how to make popguns out of the same cane, and we could shoot Chinaberries out of it.
He showed us how to make whistles out of hollow squash leaf stems. Their length determined the sound they made. He showed us how to make a whistle out of our hands by cupping them together and blowing through our thumbs or going through the same motions with a blade of Johnson grass.
We also learned how to take a short piece of cane, that had both ends open and cut a piece of wood and shape it to fit the open end of the cane and after trimming one side of the wooden peg flat, we would push it in one end. We would then take our pocketknife and cut a slot out of the cane about 2 inches from the end where you would be blowing. When everything was all finished you had yourself a high-pitched whistle that would drive all the adults crazy.
I learned how to set a steel trap and also how to make a rabbit snare by shoving a long skinny forked limb from a tree up a hollow tree or in the ground. We would push the forked stick into the hole until we felt it touch a rabbit or squirrel living in the hole or chased there by a dog. By twisting the stick clockwise and getting it hung up in the hide of whatever varmint was in there, if we did the job right, we could retrieve our evening supper.
We also learned to make our own slingshots by cutting the stock from a forked limb and using the rubber from an old tire tube. We made the stone flap holder out of the tongue from an old discarded shoe. We liked using red rubber but that was sometimes hard to get unless Grandpa found an old red rubber inner tube that he always brought to us kids. Grandpa sometimes would cut us kids slingshot stocks out of scrap wood he found. He used the band saw at work and thus they were fancier.
These lessons taught by Grandpa are just a few of many that I learned as a small boy roaming those hillsides in Mississippi. Since never having a dad at home to teach me how to be a little boy, God sent my Grandpa along and gave him the job. Thank God he never walked away and left me without his love and guidance.
One of the men that attended our church was Mr. Huland Bounds. He worked at another location in the mill but not far from Grandpa. Sometimes on our visits with Grandpa, Mr. Bounds would come by and see Kenny and me. We thought he was a very nice man and enjoyed visiting with him. He always had funny stories to tell us, and he always made us laugh. Mr. Bounds and Grandpa was very good friends and were deacons at our little church. Many times on Sundays, some of us boys would sit next to Mr. Bounds during the church service. He always took time and talked to us boys and we all liked him.
Mr. Bounds didn’t own a car and Mrs. Bounds almost never would ride in a car because she was always getting sick. On Sunday mornings and at other times, she walked to church. They lived on old Highway 61 just a short distance from our church, but on hot or rainy days you could expect to see her walking with her umbrella as she made her way to church.
Mom would send Kenny and me to the barbershop about every two weeks and this was our first memory of ever riding the bus to Vicksburg alone. We rode from Waltersville to Vicksburg and got off on Washington Street not far from Ryan’s coal yard. We would then walk up the hill a few blocks to Bell’s barbershop that was on the north end of town. We did this for a long time, but soon changed barbers when a shop opened in Waltersville.
The new shop was owned and operated by Bill Windom, and his haircuts were 25 cents for kids and 50 cents for adults. Bill was Mr. Bounds' son-in-law, and his shop was across the road from Harlen’s grocery store and next to the market run by the Jue family.
After going to Bill's barbershop once every two weeks for a while, I noticed he never had anyone shining shoes. I knew how to shine shoes as well as the next kid, so one day I asked Bill if he would let me come in on Saturdays and be his shoe shine boy. He thought it was okay, so I began to make plans to set up my shoe shine business. I didn’t have anything to get started with, so I asked Grandpa if he could help me with a shoeshine box. It wasn't long until he had built me one of the best and had attached an old csst iron shoe lathe to it for a footrest.
I had saved my worm money, so I could buy polish and a brush and other supplies and used old rags that mama gave me to shine the shoes. Grandpa had used that old shoelace along with a few others he had to repair his shoes and others in the family that needed heels and half soles.
The Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy was a popular song in those day,s and I loved listening to it on the radio and always thought someday I could shine shoes and learn how to make my shoeshine rag pop like they did it in the song. I never got that good but could turn out a pretty good-looking shine for my customers and they always seemed to be happy with their shoeshine.
When I began shining shoes, I had the best-looking shoeshine box around town. I brought it in Bill's shop, and he showed me where I could set up my little corner for shining shoes. It was a perfect location, and I was now a business owner and charged 10 cents a shine and got off to a great start that first day. I came home that first evening with a pocket full of change that would jingle when I walked. I would put my hands in my pockets and could feel the money I had made that day and was walking 10 foot off the ground. Like the old saying goes, "I was walking in high cotton" and was now a shoeshine boy. The funny thing about me being a shoeshine boy was, I never wore shoes unless it was cold weather or when I went to church or other special places where shoes were needed to make me look more presentable.
Sometime we kids would go to school with shoes on, but took them off the first chance we got. Barefoot was our way to go, and shoes just held us back in whatever we did throughout the day.
Saturday mornings was always a little slow but by afternoon when everyone was getting off work, the men would be stopping off for a hair cut, and some of them would be wearing their Sunday go-to-meeting shoes home from work. It was easy to tell if their shoes were for work or dress. I could take their black high top dress shoes and make them shine like a new pair. Many of my customers would only pay me a dime, but sometimes I’d get a nickel or maybe a few pennies for a tip.
When the shop was busy, I shined shoes over in my little corner, but if a customer came in and got a haircut and needed a shoe shine, I would shine their shoes while Bill was cutting their hair. I would use the footrest on the barber chair to shine their shoes on. It was fun for me, and also a good way for a little skinny kid to make some extra spending money. None of this would have ever been possible if it hadn’t been for Grandpa Conrad. He was a good Grandpa and I loved him very much.
I liked my name and was proud to be named after my Grandpa. When he and I were together Grandma, called me little Rufus and Grandpa was big Rufus. I always liked that. I was the fourth oldest grandchild, and the others that were older than I were my brother, James Kenny, who was Grandma and Grandpa’s first grandchild, and then came my cousin, Gene Williams, and then Charles Wayne Cowart, and then I came along.
We four grandkids became more like brothers as we grew up. Our visits together were many, and we had the time of our lives as we fished, hunted and swam in the lakes and creeks along with just about anything else we could find to do that was fun. Those memories we four boys made along with their brothers and sisters were many, and those good times were what made my childhood the greatest a kid could have ever had. Thank you all for the memories.
Grandpa planted a big garden each year and grew lots of good vegetables. His family had plenty to eat from the garden, and he shared his harvest with other family and friends. Grandma always canned everything she could, including jellies, jams and preserves from the fruit trees that grew on those hillsides. There were many different kinds of wild berries that grew on Grandpa's property. There were paw paws, chinquapins, muscadines, wild grapes and several big pecan and pear trees on those hillsides. There was a big quince tree that grew on the backside of Grandpa's little farm, and high on top of the hill above where the garden grew. Grandpa's place was a kid’s paradise.
We kids dug a cave just below the pawpaw trees and would play our games of Cowboys and Indians and swing on grapevines like Tarzan. We created our games after watching all of our heroes at the movies or listening to them on the radio or reading about them in comic books. That cave was our hideout, and there wasn't a tree anywhere on that hillside that we didn't climb. I can still see the results of my climbing trees every time I look at my crooked right arm.
I was at the top of a big sassafras tree one day and was trying to ride the top of the tree to the ground with Kenny in the tree with me. When we got the treetop close to the ground, Kenny fell off and that old tree shot me in the air like a slingshot. When it was all over, my right arm and collarbone were broken. I spent most of that summer trying to learn how to eat and do other things with my left hand. At the time it happened, Grandpa was plowing the garden with his old mule and Mama was hoeing beans. When they heard me screaming like a wild cat, they both came running and helped me to the house. I looked like a little dirt ball so Mama cleaned me up a little and off we went in the old van on what should have been a fun ride through the park with Grandpa. When they got me to the hospital, an x-ray was taken of my arm and collarbone. The doctor soon got my arm set and Mama then found out they would be keeping me in the hospital for a few days. After the doctor set my arm, I was put to sleep with gas and when I woke up, I was sick as a dog, but soon afterwards I began to feel better. It seemed that Grandpa was always there for anyone that needed him.
Grandma had a big storage area in the lower level of the house where she stored all the fruits, jellies, jams and all the vegetables she canned. In one end of the lower level, was the kitchen and the other end was the dinning room. Outside and across the back of the house was a long porch. Grandma could go in that old kitchen and cook up the best food you could ever eat anywhere. She cooked on an old wood stove, that had a warming cabinet above the stove and it also had a water reservoir on the side. After everyone had finished eating what they wanted, and if there were any left overs, Grandma would put them in the warming cabinet above the stove.
Seems like the fire never went out in that old wood stove during the daytime, and the water was always hot in the reservoir. The food always stayed warm above the stove, and nothing ever tasted any better when you were hungry at Grandma’s house than eating something that had been left over from breakfast or dinner. She could take out a leftover biscuit and maybe put a piece of salt pork or a fried egg in it and give it to me and out the door I would go, and soon the hunger pangs would go away. I could make it now until suppertime. I can still taste it and nothing ever came close to eating leftovers at Grandma's house. It always tasted good no matter what it was.
When Mom and we kids lived in Waltersville, down next to the railroad tracks, we would walk up to Highway 61 and take the old dirt path over the hill to Grandma’s house. If it was spring or summer time and the wild flowers were growing along the path, I would pick flowers along the way and make a nice bouquet. When we got to Grandma's house, I would give them to her and she was always very happy to get flowers. She would give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and would always have tears of happiness in her eyes. This always made me feel good to know she loved me that much.
Many times when we visited Grandma, she would sit at her dresser and brush her hair. I would sit next to her and watch her in the mirror, and for some reason I always noticed as I looked at her in the mirror that the right side of her mouth looked lower that the left. I always ask her why it was like that but she would just smile and say she didn’t notice it that way and didn’t know why it looked that way to me. I only noticed it in the mirror but was never able to see it any other time. I always thought it was strange for me to see it, and no one else could. Maybe I was just a silly little boy that noticed things that others never saw.
On Easter Sunday each year all the aunts and uncles, along with all our cousins, would gather at Grandma's place and after eating a big Easter dinner, all the kids were rounded up and made to stay in one place while Mom and all the adults hid all the Easter eggs. They were hidden across the road and on a hillside next to the old path that Mama and we kids would walk up when we visited Grandma. The eggs were many and were hidden a few hours after we had eaten dinner.
When it was time to go hunt the eggs, we all took off on a run with our baskets or sacks that we brought along to put our eggs in. There were always prizes given to the one that found the most eggs and prizes also given to the kids that found the special eggs.
Dinner was always finished up, and then all the great desserts of cakes, pies and banana pudding were ready to put out on the table. My favorite was coconut cake, lemon icebox pie and banana pudding, however, I never backed away from any of the other desserts. It was a great Easter every year, and each time many memories were made with Grandma and Grandpa along with all the other family members.
When we visited Grandma and Grandpa or when we lived with them, there was never a night that we went to bed without having Grandpa read from the Bible and saying a prayer before we went to bed. That was the last thing of the day that was done before the lights went out at Grandpa's house. Grandma and Grandpa loved the Lord and set an example for all their friends and family and practiced what they preached all the time.
I remember one time on a Sunday afternoon, right after we got home from church and had just finished up with dinner. A knock was heard and Grandpa went to the door. There standing outside was a lady all alone and crying. She began telling Grandpa that she and her husband had wrecked their car just a short distance down the road and needed to know if he could come and help her husband.
Grandpa and the lady got in his car and went down to check on her husband. When they arrived, the man was hurt badly, but they managed to get him out of the car and into Grandpa's old car. They took him to the hospital, and the doctors thought he would have to stay for a few days. Grandpa brought the lady back to the house, and she stayed with them until her husband was able to leave the hospital. This couple was from out of state, and during this time, Grandma and Grandpa would take her up to the hospital to visit her husband as often as they could. This was the kind of man and woman our Grandpa and Grandma were.
They were always there to give a helping hand to those in need. They were a prime example of what God wants from all of us, and they conducted their lives like this until the Lord called them home.
When my daddy left our mama with five kids, we moved from Memphis to Vicksburg. If it hadn't been for Grandma and Grandpa Conrad we would have never been able to make it on our own.
It must have been an awful hardship on all the family, since they still had three kids of their own at home, but they were always there for Mama and us kids. We stayed with them for a long time and even attended Culkin School for a while. That period of time held some of the greatest memories of my childhood years. Being a kid, I know I never saw all the hardships that were created for Grandpa and Grandma and their kids.
After growing up and looking back on those years, I then understood just how many hardships there must have been, but at no time, did I ever hear anything bad being spoken about those times. The adults always seemed to manage to keep any negative feelings from being heard by the kid,s and to me it was just one big happy family that depended on God for everything and he never let us down.
Attending church on Sunday morning and Sunday night along with prayer meeting on Wednesday nights was a must and seldom did anyone ever miss. The little church was the Waltersville Missionary Bible Baptist Church, and it sat on the west side of old Highway 61, above, and in sight of the old Anderson-Tully sawmill. The church was built on the side of a hill and had two levels. It sat down the hill from the highway and there was a steep walk with a handrail from the road down to the entrance of the front porch of the church. This was the home church of Grandpa and Grandma Conrad, Aggie, Aunt Betty, Uncle George, Aunt Mae along with Mama and her five kids. I still have a picture that was taken in the 1940's when I was just a little boy. I think it must have been taken during World War II. Some of the families that I remember going there were the Henleys, the Bounds, the Sharps along with the Fords, the Deasons, and many others. At the time the picture was taken I think Brother and Sister Guy pastored the church.
As the years went by and we kids began to grow up, I remember dinner on the grounds and all day singing. I always enjoyed singing from the old hymn books and listening to special music from many who would sing specials on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. The ones I loved best to hear sing were the quartet that was made up of Grandpa, Uncle George, Mr. Henley and Aggie.
Music was always a big thing in the Conrad family and gathering around the old upright piano was a favorite past time when the family got together. That old adjustable piano stool was made by Grandpa and sure did get a work out over the years. The holidays were a special time for everyone to sing, but singing could be heard just about every Sunday afternoon when the family joined together for big dinners with Grandma and Grandpa. Someone in the family may still have that old piano stool.
I remember once when Mr. Henley had Kenny and me, along with Peter Deason singing as a trio. We were just youngsters, and all of us were shy, but Mr. Henley did get us to sing a little now and then. I wanted to do it, but shook in my shoes every time I got up in front of the congregation. We sang a few songs and had lots of fun doing it.
In church there were always programs at Easter and Christmas and we kids were always a part of them. We were taught right from wrong, and Mama always brought us kids up in the ways of the Lord. Jesus was always the way, the truth and our only way of life. Grandpa and Grandma brought Mama up to be a Christian. Since we were always living around them and going to church and being taught about Jesus, I was led to the Lord when I was eight years old. The day I went to the altar, Kenny, Aggie and Peter Deason were also saved.
I remember a short time before I was saved, I would go to church on Sundays and come home at night and was always worried if I died, I would go to hell. This had been a burden on my heart for a long time, but as the week would go by, the feeling of being lost would get a little better toward the end of the week, but when I went back to church on Sunday morning and heard the word preached, again it would start all over. After accepting Jesus as my Savior, all that worry went away, and I began to sleep good at night, and the thought of going to hell went away and I began to have peace that everything was good between me and Jesus and knew if I died, heaven would surely be my home.
My upbringing by my mama was always right, and the guidance I got from her and the church, along with the example that was set by my Grandma and Grandpa Conrad, led me down the right path and made my life much different and has always kept me on the straight and narrow. Because of my Christian upbringing, I can thank God and my mama, along with Christian Grandparents for helping me become the person I am today.
Those years after I became grown weren't always lived the best I could, but because of my early years of growing up around so many good Christian people and accepting Jesus as my savior at the early age of eight, I never strayed too far without coming back. I thank God for being raised by a Christian mama and being surrounded by Christian grandparents along with my aunts and uncles who played a big part in my life.
I remember right after World War II was over, and Uncle Ashford was living or visiting Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa was trying to start an old car from under the hood by pouring gas into the carburetor, and it backfired. With a cigarette in his mouth, it set him on fire, and he got burned real bad and was in the hospital and off work a long time. It was a miracle that he ever recovered, but we all thanked God that he did. Grandpa was left with many scars and couldn't use his hands very well for a long time. God got him through it and he had a full recovery and soon was back to work.
During his time of recovery, his doctors gave him rubber balls to squeeze, and this would help him to get the full use back in his hands. He was able to return to his job and even played that old piano again. As you all know, he had a thumb missing on one hand and could play the piano before the accident but after recuperating from all his burns, he could still play that old piano just as well. This period of time was a big setback for Grandpa, but with his faith and belief in Jesus, he came through it with flying colors and surprised all of his doctors and nurses along with all his family and friends.
A story that was told to me by Aunt Betty was a request that was made of her by Grandpa right after he was burned. Just prior to the accident, Grandpa had killed and butchered out three hogs and had stored the meat in a storage compartment that was built in the wall of the kitchen. Grandpa’s request was for Aunt Betty to make sure that all the fresh meat didn't spoil. To keep it from spoiling would require lots of salt to be rubbed into all the cuts of meat. Aunt Betty honored his request, and along with other family members, they rubbed plenty of salt into all the meat. When it came time to cook, the salt was so plentiful on all the meat that Grandma had to wash it several times and then boil it before it could be eaten. Even with all the work done to remove the salt, it was still like brine, but the family managed to eat all of it. Aunt Betty told this story to me, and she still laughs about it. One thing for sure, the meat didn’t spoil and she kept her promise to Grandpa.
I remember one time Uncle James was raising hogs and would feed them fish scraps from Furr’s fish dock. Grandpa got a nice big hog from him one time and fed it corn and water for a few weeks before butchering it. Soon the day came and he, Uncle Aubrey and Uncle Fount butchered the old hog and afterwards some of the meat was cooked up for the family. They knew the possibility of the meat having a fishy taste, but since being fed lots of corn and water they thought the fishy taste might go away, it didn't. The meat was eaten, but that old fishy taste was there to stay.
Grandpa used to raise a few big hogs each year and kill them in the fall. Old Squire Harris was their neighbor and always helped when he killed and butchered them out. It was always quite a thing for us kids to watch Grandpa when he shot the hog. Afterwards he an old Squire would hang them up and cut their throat so they would bleed free of all the blood.
Old Squire would take a container and catch all the blood and use it for sausage. Soon as the blood was all drained out of the hog, Old Squire would then dip his cup in the large container and fill it up. He would drink it down and laugh real big and show off his bloody smile and his big teeth. We kids thought it was crazy, and we would all come close to getting sick when we watched him. He always laughed at us and we were glad to see that part of the hog killing over.
After the hog was gutted and cleaned out, the heart, liver, kidneys and some other parts were cleaned and cut up in small pieces, and Grandma would put it in a big pot and cook it in lard. When it was cooked up, she made gravy and let it simmer for a while and then served it to everyone with cornbread and ice tea. This dish was very good, and I think most everybody liked it. It was called haslet and it was dinner for everyone on the day Grandpa killed hogs. (Haslet, a cold meat preparation consisting of chopped or minced pork offal compressed into a loaf before being cooked.–Mel)
Grandpa and Squire would have boiling water in an old barrel and would dip one end of the hog down in the hot water and then pull it out and put the other end in the water. When they felt the old hog was scalded enough, they would take it out and put it on a big table and began scraping off the hair. Soon, they had a hairless hog lying there on the table, and it was ready to cut up and remove all the fat. After the fat was cut up, it was put in a big cast iron pot and rendered down for the lard and cracklings. The crackling was used for cornbread or just for eating, and the lard was used for all the cooking.
Grandpa would cut up all the meat and store some of it in containers and pour hot lard over it so it could be kept for long periods of time without spoiling. Some of it was salted down in a storage box and some was ground up for sausage. The chitterlings were always cleaned by Grandma and Mama and washed several times to get clean.
Back in those days many folks didn’t have refrigerators or freezers and had to keep food cool in an old wooden icebox. Other meats that were kept for long periods of time had to be smoked, salt cured or covered with lard in large cans. Meat was mainly eaten during the cool time of the year. After it had been kept for long periods of time, the meat began to taste rancid and could sometimes even spoil.
They took the head and boiled it in a big pot and then removed all the meat from the bone and made hog headcheese or some even called it souse. That process of making headcheese was fun to watch. After the head was boiled and the meat was falling off the bone, he would take it out and set it on a table to cool. When it had cooled down, the ladies would pick the meat from the bones and then add all the spices and other ingredients and then mix it all together. It was then placed in large bowls and pressed until the fat came to the top. The extra fat would then be skimmed off and a cover would be applied to the top and a weight put on it. After sitting and cooling for a while, it would be cut up and then served just like it came out of the bowl or cooked in a skillet. I liked it any way it was fixed.
Aunt Betty recently shared with me that she wouldn't eat hoghead cheese, haslet, or even those tasty chitterlings. I think she missed out on some good vitals, but she told me she has no regrets about passing up all those special cuts of meat from the old hog. She left all these dishes to others and was pretty picky about what she ate.
There were many other cuts of meat that Grandpa knew just what to do to keep them safe from spoiling. We liked it all, and like Grandpa use to say, the only thing he ever threw away was the hair and the squeal.
Old Squire was given a portion of the meat for his help and without him, Grandpa couldn`t have done all the work by himself. That was a time in my young years that stands out in my mind and has made many great memories for me.
When Grandma was having chicken for dinner or supper, she would go out and wring a few old chicken necks, or if Grandpa were around, he would take care of it for her. The necks were wrung and the chickens were thrown in a barrel or on the ground and left until they quit flopping around. She would have boiling water on the stove and dip them in the water and this made it easy for all the feathers to come off. When most of the feathers had been removed and the small pin feathers were still intact, she would light a piece of paper or take an eye off the stove and singe off all the remaining feathers.
She would then remove all the insides, but keep the liver, heart and gizzard. She would either fry up these parts or use them to make giblet gravy. Sometimes, she made chicken and dumplings, and sometimes, it was fried. Either way it was prepared it was always good and the best you would ever find anywhere.
When the chicken was fried, Grandma made gravy and always cooked the best macaroni and cheese in the country along with all the other good things that went with it. She always had hot biscuits or cornbread with lots of home-churned butter and lots of good sweet ice tea or milk.
The grownups liked Grandma's cooking a lot but we kids thought it was the greatest around. One routine that you could always expect when you eat in the presence of Grandpa was to always wait until he buttered all the biscuit and then he would pass them around. A biscuit buttered by me was just okay, but one buttered by Grandpa was the best.
One thing I forgot about and that being the Ladies Aid. It was always held on Thursday mornings at the church and was either once a week or once each month, but anyway, when we kids were little we went along with Mama and played outside around the church. I think all the ladies got together now and then and worked together on quilting, sewing or other thing of interest. It was always a good time for the ladies to get together and a good time for all us kids to play games and visit each other.
Bible School was always held during our summer vacation from school and many plans were always made each year for all the kid’s activities. The adults that taught us always planned out many games and crafts for us kids and we were all taught from the Bible and learned to memorize many Bible scriptures and new songs.
At the end of Bible School there was always a big picnic, and all the ladies brought lots of good things to eat. Mr. Jue’s grocery below the church, the only Chinese family business in the area, would supply the ice cream. Three of his kids attended our Bible School and their names were Maylee, Anna Rose and Pansy. The Sunday after Bible School ended, we would always put on a program for the adults, and it was a fun time for all of us. We recited our memory verses and sang all the new songs we had learned. Learning at an early age in Bible School left a mark that lasted for a lifetime and kept us kids from ever straying to far after growing up to be adults.
Grandma and Grandpa were always a part of everything that went on in our little church. They once had a jailhouse ministry and would visit the local jail in Vicksburg once each month on Sunday afternoon. Members that would be able to go would cook up food and take it to the jail, and there would be preaching and singing, and then food was served to the folks in jail.
Mostly, it was always adults that went to the jail services, but I got to go along a few times and found it to be very interesting. Something about those iron bars fascinated me, but I was always glad it wasn’t me behind them. One particular man I remember that was in jail had served his time and was let out. He had been a painter by trade for many years and the pastor and deacons of the church let him live in the church basement while he painted the church. I don't remember how long it took him to finish up, but it was a long time and this man always attended our church services while living and working there. He had accepted Jesus while in jail and agreed to help out with the painting in exchange for a place to live until he could get back on his feet.
Fish fries were a favorite of Grandpa's, and he would go down to the old Furr’s fish dock and buy lots of catfish and buffalo and have a big fish fry at his house. Everybody came that knew Grandpa and large plates of fish was fried up and we kids got the catfish because it didn't have any bones, and the adults got the buffalo. Grandma would always cook up cornbread and made lots of iced tea. It was always a fun gathering for family and friends.
One thing I remember about eating fish as a kid, and it was to never drink milk while eating it. No one had ever questioned it and always found other things to drink when having a fish fry. When I left home at 18 and went out to California, I continued to stay away from milk when eating fish. I was often asked why I felt the need not to drink milk when eating fish. I explained my feelings, and most everyone laughed at me. I saw that no one ever got sick, so I slowly began trying it myself. Each time I tried it, I would be a little skeptical for a while, and when I noticed it never bothered me, I was happy because milk was my favorite beverage as a youngster.
I always thought Grandma's house was huge since there were always big gathering during the holidays and special gatherings, but after moving away and going back after I grew up, I could hardly believe a group of 50 or more folks could have ever gotten inside at one time and visited with each other. I believe with God everything is possible, and those days proved that God still performed miracles.
There was sickness in our families, but seldom anything bad. The old home remedies always took care of our problems, and if we ever got a cut or bruise, there was always a remedy that was handed down from Grandma to take care of the problem. She had a cure for everything that came along. I was seldom sick as a kid, having only the childhood diseases, and they never bothered any of us that much. I broke both arms, and had to go to the doctor and get them set each time, but I am sure if there hadn't been a doctor or a hospital around, Mama and Grandma would have figured out a way to take care of it.
I am sure all the adults worried about things, but we kids never had a worry in the world. We trusted in Mama, Grandma and Grandpa and with their faith in God; being little kids, Jesus always made a way and took care of us and supplied all our needs.
Our Grandma Stephenson soon came and lived with us when I was about seven years old. This was when we moved from Grandpa‘s over to Givens Hill. Mama got a job at "Kresses) (S. H. Dress & Co.) in Vicksburg, and while she worked, Grandma Stephenson took care of us kids.
After moving away, I missed not living at Grandma's and Grandpa‘s house, but we still went to church with them and saw them often. On weekends, Mama went to town with them and bought her groceries at the old Jitney Jungle grocery store in Vicksburg. Sometimes I got a chance to go along, but always had to wait in the car. It was still fun just being able to tag along. I can still remember us kids sitting in the car while it was parked facing an old brick wall behind the store.
I can still smell that fresh sliced bologna that Mama would buy each time she went to the store. When we got home she would make us bologna sandwiches, with lots of mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. It’s still my favorite sandwich of all. The memories of certain smells and taste have lasted throughout my life, and if I ever get a whiff of something that I remembered as a little boy, it can bring back old memories of the past.
I like to think that my kids and grandkids have built up many memories of their own childhoods, but if I could be granted one wish, it would be that they could go back to those happy times and experience that life style for one week and see the peace and happiness that I had as a little boy.
There‘s not enough money in the world that can buy back that kind of childhood. That period of time and life style gave so many kids a peaceful life of happiness and joy and will never be experienced again on this old earth. I think you`ll have to go to heaven to ever have it that good again. It will never ever be seen again on this old earth, and it makes me sad to think that it‘s all over and the life of today moves so fast, and there‘s never enough time for family as it was in years gone by.
During those years, all the aunts and uncles, along with all our cousins, spent Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa‘s house. The holidays were always lots of fun, but one in particular brings back many memories. It was in the 1940's and Gene Autry had just come out with the song "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer". That Christmas Day we kids would be outside playing and when the song would be played on the radio, Grandpa would come out and get all the kids. We thought it was great to hear our favorite cowboy sing such a special Christmas song for all the kids. It was a happy song and made all us kids feel good when we heard it.
What has always seemed funny to me was all the good Christmas songs we heard and sang when I was a kid and still hear today, were written so many years ago and no one has ever come up with any more good songs since. I often wondered why we were so blessed to have lived in a time when all the old favorites were written and sung and nothing much since then has replaced any of them. We were all so blessed to have lived and grown up in those years.
Grandma and Grandpa Conrad were known all around Vicksburg, and everyone knew they were good Christians and had a big family of 9 children along with their husbands, wives and all their children. It always made me feel good to know that I was part of that family and always felt loved by everyone. A family that shared their love for each other and their love for Jesus was the first step toward happiness and all the rest would come together by exercising faith is God. This was a life style that many families had back in those years but seems to have been pushed aside in today’s world.
Those close family ties may have been in families before Grandma and Grandpa Conrad became husband and wife, but thank God they kept it alive for all their kids and grandkids throughout their lives. We, as a family, have a lot to be thankful for by having parents and grandparents that loved their own kids and grandkids enough that they sacrificed everything for them.
Growing up without a dad, but having a mama who loved us kids like her parents loved her was the secret of keeping our family together. Mom had a big load on her shoulders, but she never shunned her duty as a mother, and because of the love she had for her own family, she was able to keep us kids together through all the good times and the bad.
We kids have all grown up now and have families of our own. We've lost our mama many years ago when she went to heaven to spend eternity with Jesus, our dad, and our oldest brother James Kenny. Others that have gone on are Grandma and Grandpa Conrad along with aunts and uncles. Other family members have joined them and they all are waiting for the rest of us to make that journey. The ones that have gone on are much happier since they made it to their eternal home. They will all be there waiting for the rest of the family when our time comes.
I first thank God and then my mama and then my Grandma and Grandpa Conrad. I also thank all my aunts and uncles for always being there to lend a helping hand as we kids were growing up. All my cousins were always a blessing for me in those early years, and without them, my childhood would have never been so fulfilled.
Put all these folks together, and they make up a family that God intended us all to be a part of. From me and my brothers and sister, along with our mother, it was great to have had you all to call our family. One day when we all get to heaven, those family ties will all be brought together again and with no more pain, sorrow or hardships of life, we will live forever with Jesus and have peace and love in the family of God.
I wrote this at the age of 68 but my memories were made as a little boy beginning at the age of four or five and continuing until I was 13 years old. There were more memories along the way but these were my favorites. I tried to write this the best I could and hope it has brought back a few memories for each of you.
My mama, Louise Elizabeth Conrad Stephenson, along with my sister, Eula Mae, and brothers, Alton Ray, Joseph Marshall and my oldest brother, James Kenny, who went to be with the Lord back in 1968, thank you all for being there when our family needed you the most.
Tonight I was talking with Alton Ray in California, and he shared with me a memory he had about Grandma. He said he remembered very well once when Grandma gave him a bowl of soup, and as he was getting ready to set down at the table, he spilled it in his shoe. Right away, Grandma took off his shoe and put his foot in a pan of vinegar and water. Even though the burn was painful, there was never a scar and that was 60 years ago.
Grandma did have a touch of magic when it came to taking care of kids and God always worked miracles through her and made everything work for the best. I never had any doubt that she had a direct line to God, and she never got a busy signal because God was only a prayer away. Her prayers kept the family together, and in the end, took her home to heaven. She was a great mother, wife, and grandmother and showed it right up till God took her home. Thanks Grandma for always being there. I loved you then and still love you very much.
Grandpa had a special way about him that never let him meet a stranger. He was there to lend a helping hand at a moments notice and never turned his back on anyone. He worked hard to support the needs of his family and gave his all. He loved the Lord with all his heart and always practiced what he preached, and God always came first in his life.
As a kid I always wanted to be just like Grandpa, and I’ve tried to do my best over the years. I like to think I’ve used him as an example in my life, but know that I’ve come short many times in doing what I thought Grandpa would do. Devoting years to raising his family and always being there for kids and grandkids is something you don't see much of in today’s world.
Grandpa and Grandma Conrad could change the world today if attention was paid to how they loved the Lord and lived their lives. Grandpa, thanks for being there for me when I was a little boy. You made all the difference in the world. I loved you then and still love you very much.
One of the most tragic things that ever happened to Mom and us kids was to miss out on Grandma’s funeral. In early May of 1953, we received a telegram that was delivered to our home in the Clem community about 9 miles east of Prentiss, Mississippi. On that rainy night, the telegram was delivered to our house telling the family that Grandma had died. We were all shocked to get the news. Immediately, we began to make plans to be in Vicksburg the day Grandma was buried. We were right in the middle of spring farming and couldn't walk away for a long period of time. However, since we were less than 100 miles away, we planned to leave the morning of the funeral. We all got up early and got ready to leave. Our step-dad, Monroe Heggings and Mom, along with our sister, Eula Mae, and our step-sister, Willie Margie, rode in the front seat of the truck, and the seven boys rode in the back. Kenny was the oldest and was only 16 years old at the tim, and I would be turning 15 on the 30th day of May.
After everyone had loaded up in the old truck, we began to make our way toward Vicksburg. It was about 7 am when we left home, plenty of time to get to Vicksburg before the funeral. We drove a while and stopped often, but due to all the delays along the way, we didn’t make it in time for the funeral. When we finally got there, we found out that the State Highway Patrol had been notified to be watching along the road for us. The funeral was over, and Grandma had been buried. This broke our mama's heart along with all us kids. We never got to see Grandma again, and it had been months since our previous visit. Mom and the kids went to the cemetery that evening and then visited with Grandpa and other family members. We all stayed the night with Aunt Estus and left for home early the next morning. We were all broken-hearted, but had to accept the fact that nothing could change things, and we did the best we could to hang on to all the memories we had of Grandma. Mama seldom ever talked about this low period in her life, and we tried not to bring it up because it hurt her so much. She dearly loved her mama and missed her and Grandpa right up until she went home to be with the Lord.
There's so much left out of my memories, and it would take a long time to write them all down. Maybe someday, I will share the rest with you. I do have a suggestion to make and that being for all the grandkids to spend a little time sharing your own memories of Grandpa and Grandma Conrad.
With everyone writing down their memories, it wouldn’t take long until they would fill up a big book. Give it some thought, and if you do this, we could combine all our memories and leave behind a book that would give credit to our grandparents who loved us all very much.
May God continue to bless each and every descendant of Rufus Franklin and Leila Mae Hartley Conrad. I love each one of you very much.