Due to some family problems, I lived off and on with my grandparents, Adrian and Miz Lena, on their farm in Middle Tennessee from the time I was around 3 or 4 years old.
It was a large farm. The "big house," everybody called it, had been built a long time ago to a Confederate officer's specifications.
It was a two-story, wood-and-brick house, all white with a green roof and Grecian scrolled pillars running across the front porch. Huge front windows looked out at boxwoods and yellow and purple irises up next to the house and beyond to the pastures below. They were green with seasonal wild sprays of lavender and yellow spread here and there.
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Rain brings back memories of rainy days
- Southern Folks: Looking for a feeling right as rain
- Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)
- Southern Folks: Doing hard time with Miss Swann
- Southern Folks: Life, God and the world according to Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Remembering all our heroes on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Miss Juanita was a legend in her own mind
- Southern Folks: Gene Autry, the singing cowboy
- Southern Folks: OK, God, this is your last chance
- Southern Folks: Mr. Elvin was a quiet man
- Southern Folks: Saturdays made better with Green Stamps
- Southern Folks: Old Battle Axe, her dog and the Golden Rule
- Southern Folks: Praying and flying and Mrs. Silva's birds
- Southern Folks: Beans, Ole Tom and well-dressed scarecrows
- Southern Folks: Telephone party lines always rang up a good time
- Southern Folks: Good manners make good neighbors, even the scary ones
- Southern Folks: The orphans in my life taught me plenty
- Southern Folks: Family tragedy from 1968 still haunts
- Southern Folks: Everyone called him Doc Dean
- Southern Folks: Blue ribbons from the county fair for me and Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena's younger brother, Watt
- Southern Folks: Scrapbooks, pictures and memories
- Southern Folks: Old-timers and the twins
- Southern Folks: I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes
- Southern Folks: Mama Sue ruled the roost, without ever raising her voice
- Southern Folks: The formula for a full life
- Southern Folks: Facts, fiction and fibs about the holidays
- Southern Folks: Two days before Christmas
- Southern Folks: Mrs. Freeland, my favorite customer
- Southern Folks: In loving memory of Magic Man
- Southern Folks: Memorable mornings with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Be happy for what you have
- Southern Folks: Thanksgiving with Stumpy and the boys
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Jesus, for cold water
- Southern Folks: Autumn, miracles, magic and crawdads
- Southern Folks: Remembering Sundays with Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Mr. Glassman was a grump
- Southern Folks: I'm a Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic
- Southern Folks: Lessons at the table with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Sleeping in Elizabeth's bed
- Southern Folks: Chewing the rag with Mr. Remus
- Southern Folks: Remembering sweet, soft Southern summer nights
- Southern Folks: Sometimes the Lord understands why you lie
- Southern Folks: Thunder, lightning, bad words and politics
- Southern Folks: Growing faith through God's hidden treasures
- Southern Folks: Military academy and the power of prayer
- Southern Folks: I was raised to appreciate 'country simple'
- Southern Folks: Learning patience with a blackberry pie
- Southern Folks: Good people live in small Southern towns
- Southern Folks: Time to start carrying a big stick
- Southern Folks: 'You gotta do what the Bible says'
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Never try to pull one over on a Southern woman
- Southern Folks: Blind Remus
- Southern Folks: Up on the hill under a tree
- Southern Folks: My friend Calvin was a precious child and a nice young man
- Southern Folks: Thinking about Duffy on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Watching TV with my grandparents
- Southern Folks: The Lord works in mysterious ways
- Southern Folks: Hard country love good prep for Marine Corps
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Lord, for roadkill
- Southern Folks: God is colorblind
- Southern Folks: The Lord doesn't look the other way
- Southern Folks: Grandparents' farm sits just below heaven
- Southern Folks: Lessons in life from Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Memories of spring on Miz Lena's farm
- Southern Folks: A salute to Mr. Jenkins, the first war hero I ever knew
- Southern Folks: Baptism, Miss Mama and thunderstorms
- Southern Folks: Wedding receptions, pigeons and chuckles
- Southern Folks: Always a chance of rain
- Southern Folks: Skeeter the coon hound's great escape
- Southern Folks: Ghost at the grocery store
- Southern Folks: Willie and his wife vs. a mess of crazy people
- Southern Folks: Karma - country style
- Southern Folks: No time for crybabies
- Southern Folks: In search of the silver lining
- Southern Folks: Into the weeds with Ole Tom
- Southern Folks: Miss Bobbie and David and Goliath
- Southern Folks: My favorite Christmas memory reminds me to be grateful
- Southern Folks: Christmas fruitcakes and TV dinners
- Southern Folks: Dining out with Miz Lena over the holidays
- Southern Folks: Dressing up for the Lord and lessons in love
- Southern Folks: Memories of a southern Thanksgiving
- Southern Folks: God's secret
- Southern Folks: A belated happy birthday to the Marines and happy Veterans Day to us all
- Southern Folks: They called him Angel
- Southern Folks: Sunday lunch and Monday leftovers...perfection
- Southern Folks: 'Genies don't work as good as God'
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena had a remedy and an answer for everything
- Southern Folks: Tap dancing straight to a refund
Halfway up to the house, you crossed a wide creek over a bleached-out wooden bridge that had been built a lifetime ago by slaves.
Miz Lena, in the late of the day, would slip off and sit in her chair by the front windows and sip coffee, smoke a Salem and watch the cows graze. I left her alone. As young as I was, I somehow knew to let her be with her thoughts.
Off to the right and behind the big house were several small, rusty, tin-roofed, whitewashed homes where Miz Lena's farm help lived. They used to call them sharecroppers. They were black. All they'd ever known was farming. They were good at it. Everybody - men, women and their kids - worked on the farm.
During the day, a few of the younger boys and girls would carry buckets of cold water back and forth to their families in the fields. Later, they'd break for lunch up under water maples and birch trees that lined the creek.
Elizabeth was Grand Mom's trusted housekeeper. From time to time, Dimple, who mostly worked in the kitchen, would help Elizabeth with some of the more tedious chores. Like polishing all the silver.
Miz Lena's contention was, "If you don't clean it up regular, it's twice as hard to clean down the road. I don't wanna have to deal with all that come this Thanksgiving. There's gonna be too much else goin' on."
Elizabeth and Dimple would clean all the pieces and carefully place them back in those white boxes with the inside gold foil and the Cain-Sloan department store logo on the front. Back in the buffet they'd go, all set for Thanksgiving, still six months away.
Miz Lena was always prepared for anything. She used to tell me, "Honey Baby, life's full a' surprises. Yuh take care of what yuh can when yuh can."
She had two suitcases packed in case she ever had to go to the hospital. Brand new nightgowns, slippers, undergarments, makeup and a pack of cigarettes. Brand new suitcases too. They sat in the hall closet for years.
Grand Mom told me, "Yuh think I'm gonna trust yore granddaddy to bring me the right stuff from the house? I called him at his office last week and told him I was cookin' potaters and needed him to stop off on the way home and get me some milk. He brought me home a quart of Sealtest chocolate milk." Then she looked at the floor, shook her head, and said, "Poor man, he's been slippin for years."
In the back of the big house, just down the steps from the screened porch, was a picnic-type table and four or five wooden chairs pushed up around it. When the weather was good, Elizabeth and Dimple ate their meals out there. In those days, black people didn't eat in the same room as whites. It was either outside or in the back room.
Oftentimes, I'd go outside and eat my lunch with Elizabeth and Dimple. I loved them both, but I was much closer to Elizabeth. She, in many ways, was like a mother to me.
Elizabeth's the one who taught me how to tie my shoes using a stick. She talked to me about God's plan. Anything she said to me, I listened. Elizabeth was always laughing or smiling. Beaming from ear to ear. She spoke in a soft husky voice. It seemed like anything I said or did she thought was hilarious. I always loved being with her.
Dimple, God bless her, was sweet but a little different. She wasn't bigger than a minute and spoke in a very shrill, high-pitched voice. If she got tickled about something, she'd start talking to herself and laugh about it all day. You'd hear her, back in the kitchen, talk a little bit and then begin that laugh of hers.
Sometimes, she'd try to tell us a funny story, and before she could finish it, she'd start laughing at her own joke. Dimple was contagious. Even if you couldn't understand her, once she got wound up, you couldn't help but start laughing, too. She would get tears in her eyes and hold her stomach as though it was hurting. I'm not sure she ever completed a joke.
Before Elizabeth, Dimple and I began to eat, one of the three of us would say grace. Many times, Elizabeth would say, "Sweet Child, does you wanna gives thanks to da' Lord fo this meal?"
Every so often, Dimple would give thanks. It took a while. After she thanked the Almighty for our meal, she would begin speaking with her parents in heaven.
She'd say, "Hey, Mama, you remember dem pants I say Luther need? Well, he come home de other day wit' a pair. He say his friend from church let him have 'em. So I don't need em no mo'. Whut I really needs is some underwear fo' him. Could you see what you can do? Tell Daddy I speak wit' him later."
If Dimple rambled on too much, Elizabeth would jump in with, "Amen, amen and amen. Thank you, Dimple, fo' yo' words to God. Now, let's eat dis food befo' it fly away"
One time, Grand Mom asked me to go find Dimple. There were a lot of places to look. I found her upstairs in one of the bedrooms talking to her mother in heaven. I tiptoed backwards out of the room and headed down the stairs back to the kitchen.
Miz Lena looked up from the sink and said, "Where's Dimple?"
I said, "She's praying, and I didn't want to bother her. You told me to never interrupt anyone while they're praying."
Grand Mom asked, "Is she talkin' with her mama?"
I said that she was.
Grand Mom said, "That ain't prayin'. That's talkin' to somebody in heaven. They's a difference. When yuh pray, it's only to God. Go git Dimple, and tell her I said to git on down here. She can talk to her mama while she warshes these dishes."
And so life was, out there on the farm.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tenn. Contact him at email@example.com or through Facebook.