I spent hours checking in on my dear old crowd, my friends who just happened to have been the same age and had grown up with my grandfather, W. J. Cooper. They were living and breathing history books. People who had known my family for generations and they knew of them as well as their own family. My personal slice of heaven during days that won’t ever return except in my many memories.
I was welcomed without hesitation in those dear, wise, and learned souls homes. I sat with them in wonderful old kitchens, dusty front rooms, and many front porches. The absolute best treats were in sheds that no longer held bounty from the farm. My silver-haired history friends would say, pull out that old trunk and let’s see what. I think that was the ONLY time in my life I was not scared of snakes.
With bare feet, which you washed on a cool stone under the “spikket” before knocking on the screen door. I went armed with an arsenal of Aunt Jerry’s (Geraldine Cooper) wonderful pound cake wrapped in parcels of aluminum foil. It also helped that Aunt Jerry was known to have never cut a small piece of any cake. The sight of that shiny silver wrapped confection would loosen old tongues and strike up an unforgettable history lesson in no time. People wonder what I mean when I say, there is power in a pound cake”, now you know.
I will also share with you that tomatoes and squash worked well too. Mrs. Ruth Gaffney like the small zucchini and yellow squash Daddy grew. The Jacobs sisters liked apples from our farm and lemon icing on their cake. “Mrs. Jewell” Petty Smith and Mr. Smith liked a bit of anything. “Miss Jewell” was the only person to ever call me Stevie until I became Uncle Stevie to my nieces. Vera Nix loved mystery books. She and dear Lucille Williams just plain loved me. That really is my favorite part, they all did, and how I loved them. One thing they all liked was the attention and company of the boy who never tired of hearing what they shared. And, our dearest 108 years old Mrs. Nell Brooks Foster still loves my grandmother’s huge pink roses!
I think of my old (OLD) friends so often. What dear memories they left in my heart and mind. What a deposit in life’s bank. I would love to run their errands, rake some leaves, and cover porches with gallons of paint again. Yes, the more paint you used meant the sagging, swaying porches would last a little longer. It is so often I go back to the feeling of my foot on that cool stone, hungering for a new story. These were the Old Grayson folk that helped shape and nurture my love of preserving the history of our town’s early days. My first history teachers outside of my family and school.
I was told of cotton, the railroad, and civic-minded leaders in the early part of the Twentieth century. Cotton being our lifeblood and security, as it was in most of Georgia. They told me how cotton made the wheels of life turn. It was credit, money, security, and hard work. A low yield crop from bad weather or insects during the growing season could send a family into dire straights; it would be like living paycheck to paycheck today. Leading merchant, Mr. John J. Cofer said in an interview before his death, that cotton and guano (naturally produced fertilizer from chicken and fowl) came in and went out on the railroad at a rapid pace in good times. I learned that Grayson was well promoted by the city fathers from its booming start in the late 1870s. It was a bustling and busy place; a picturesque Southern town. There were several large mercantile stores, a bank, blacksmiths, warehouses full of goods, a fine doctor, a coronet band, a city baseball team, and even a coffin maker.
I was shown a newspaper from 1899 when the city was still known as Trip, The News Herald reported that the town had a policeman, but instead of carrying a billy club, he just carried a cheese knife. One of my finest treasures was that newspaper from Hazel Jacobs, which I still have. I learned our School in Grayson was one of the best schools in the county and responsible for the continued growth and fine reputation of the city. Also, during the depression that Mr. Ellery Jacobs kept the school running with his own money that was later repaid.
My dear people told me about beautiful homes that were built of all different styles and sizes for families, large and small. Many of the families that were neighbors in the city, had grown up together on large farms and plantations on the outskirts of town. Even in death, some of these families rest in the old cemeteries next to one another. Most families were connected by extended bloodlines, church, school and business. All were intertwined like the kudzu that had yet to swallow up everything except memories.
They said, not all years proved prosperous as time marched on. Land and cotton prices went up and down, stretching the resources and security of families and businessmen who knew nothing else but the speculation of next year’s crops. Grayson made it thru the ups and downs with neighbor helping neighbor. Grayson merchants extended as much credit as they could with the assurance that next year would be better. Well, most times it was and the cycle continued. I believe the cycle of borrowing and lending at that time can be called cotton commerce. After the death of Mr. Ellery Jacobs, his daughter Hazel was still trying to collect debts owed due to the aforementioned cotton commerce.
Most of the interesting memories I heard could not have been found in a textbook or taught in school. First-hand accounts that were entrusted to me. I have told them to my God, children, school groups, scout troops, and new citizens of Grayson that want to know our town’s history. This is the gift I was so freely given. These, my precious memories, are the driving force that moves me to share them 40ish (well, maybe 29ish) years later with you.