Of my two grandmothers, my country grandmother was the one I knew the best. There was something about my mother’s mother that was charming and endearing. Her life had many hard times at the beginning, the middle and the end (which I will share in other posts someday soon). But her last years were some of her happiest.
Nina was born in 1901 and grew up on a farm in Georgia. Her father died when she was young and left her mother with 7 mouths to feed and a farm to care for. Her mother wisely sold the farm and used the money to buy a house in Athens, Georgia. Since she had young children to care for she asked the three oldest daughters to support their family by working in a textile mill. My grandmother was 9 at the time and had to drop out of school along with her two teenage sisters to support their family. Eventually the sisters married and the mother rented their rooms out for added income.
She continued to work in the mill until at 19 she married Bill Youngblood, her widowed church choir director. In 1933 they moved to Greenville, SC. For twelve years Nina stayed home to raise my uncle and my mother. She was very active in her church as well.
After the children married
Bill was laid off and later suffered a concussion from an auto accident. His health declined from there and he was depressed that Nina had to go back to work in a shirt sewing factory while he worked when he was able. Several years later Grandpapa Youngblood had a stroke that left him with frequent bouts of confusion. Nina became the only wage earner since my mother and uncle had already married and had families. It was very difficult for her to leave her husband not knowing if she would come home and find him dead or wandering around their tightly knit mill neighborhood. She carried a heavy load on her shoulders those days. He died in 1948 when she was 47 years old.
Widowhood and a new life
During the next twelve years of working in the mill she was able to buy nice things for her home. She became great friends with Shoeless Joe Jackson and his wife, Kate. The two women loved their flowers, yards and white picket fences around their front yards. She had peach trees and pecan trees growing practically in her back yard. She relished cooking country meals for her children’s families. She finally got to travel with my family and with some friends at various times. Her life though full of hard work had many rewards for her labors.
Courtship and New Love
Then one day she noticed that her porch needed some carpentry work done and a friend recommended a widowed farmer, Eugene King. He fixed the porch and they began “courting.” Papa King’s farm had twenty acres on which he grew corn and strawberries. Papa “Gene” King had been widowed for 4 years when they met. He was tall and skinny because he had lost a lot of weight since his wife’s death. I was told that many times he would plow the fields with Maude, his mule, half donkey and half horse, and come home and just sit alone in the dark.
Major Life Changes
Well things began to change for both of them even before they married. Grandmother must have missed the country life because she flourished living with Papa King. His life was never the same either. Nina made Gene promise that before they got married he would have the chimney fixed, which he did.
But there was one habit she could not abide. He chewed tobacco which was not even the problem. She made him promise to spit his tobacco “juice” in a spit can by his recliner instead of on the fireplace hearth. He seemed more than happy to comply.
Nina brought joy and light to his life, not to mention the good country meals! She helped him pick the strawberries, fixed up things around the house, and brought back joy to his life. I imagine she could not have been happier than when she was wearing her bonnet and apron picking strawberries or finding pecans and filling the fullness of her apron with them while thinking of the pecan pies she would make.
Two Skillets of Cornbread
One funny story was about the two skillets of cornbread she made everyday around 2 o’clock: one for Papa King and one for Maude, Papa King’s mule. It seems someone gave her a sample of that cornbread and she was hooked on it. She would vociferously request her cornbread every day about 2 in the afternoon until grandmother brought out a cooled skillet of cornbread for Papa King and for her. She was a hard working mule and loved those two people. Later Maude died and Papa King got a little Mediterranean donkey, named Bobo. He, like Maude, developed a love for Grandmother’s cornbread.
Papa King’s Teaching
As a result of Grandmother’s good cooking Papa King developed a pot belly. He was full of humor and loved to kid around. He taught my siblings and I how to smack an earthworm between cupped palms to stun it so it would lie still as we put a hook through it to use as bait. But the grossness was on me when I ended up squishing the worm because my hands were smaller than his. He laughed so hard at my expression and fixed the hook for me.
A Whole Lot of Living Going On
Grandmother was finally in her element. She loved the pecans from the trees in their yard; the cherries from the tree on the side of the house; the wide open spaces and calm beauty of growing things around her. Of course she had to have flowers planted in front of the house. Although her dog, Trixie, died of old age after she moved to the farm there was a long line of other dogs, some of which got killed out on the road. But they loved and followed Papa King around. There were also outdoor cats who kept the mice away from the corn stalks used to feed the mule. I remember she had a black cat named Inky too.
A Confused Peacock or a Persuasive Grandmother
One other fascinating experience about our visits to the farm was the male peacock and his peahens. Grandmother could talk to the male peacock, “pretty boy,” and coax him to strut around with his tail feathers opened up as if she were a peahen! Grandmother always had a canary long before she married Papa King. They always sang as if their little hearts would burst, and just for her.
Amazing Table Full for Holidays
I still remember the spread she cooked for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was turkey and dressing, and ham, four or five vegetables, three or four different pies, sweet rolls and of course sweet Southern tea for all. She could cook anything from scratch and of course never had to measure any ingredients!
Something I failed to mention is her habit of never letting anyone leave empty handed after a visit. I wonder if that was her way of sharing the plenty and joy that she had finally been living with since marrying Papa King.