Last week Blind Pig reader, Susie Swanson, let me know G. W. Newton had passed away. Although I hadn’t talked to G.W. in a good long while I was saddened to hear of his passing. He was a Blind Pig reader and several years ago he wrote a couple of guest posts for me. One post told the story of his mother’s tenacity and determination. Today I’m sharing that post again as a way to celebrate the life G.W. lived and the efforts he made to keep the old ways and stories alive for future generations.
Mama And The Splinters written by G.W. Newton.
(The log cabin in GW’s story after it was moved to its present location in 1999.)
The log cabin I was born in has a long and varied history. It was built by my Grandma’s Papa in 1887 and used as a one room home, later as a Primitive Baptist church, and then moved three miles by my paternal grandparents for their first home.
After they built a new home, it was used as a makeshift jail when Grandpa was Sheriff of Colquitt County in the 1890’s, a corn crib one season, and then moved across the field to the hill where it sat for the next ninety-nine years.
The cabin served as a home for several tenant families before Papa purchased it along with one hundred acres from his Papa shortly after he got married in 1935. Even after our family left the cabin, it stayed there for 65 more years, used for tenant farmer’s homes, as a tobacco pack house, and then sat empty until 1999 when it was moved to a new location.
When Papa brought Mama to the “new house” in 1935 she was a young and blushing bride, who knew little to nothing about home making and less about house keeping. Raising children was not her mama’s strong suite, so Mama, Miss Opal, was left to her own devices to make a home.
Papa’s Mama, did not approve of the tenant farmer’s daughter he married, and she did little in those first years to help or guide Mama. There is more to that story, though, for as Grandma saw what a good woman my Mama became, she became her best friend and supporter. Grandma told me that it was because of her prayers and Mama’s goodness, that her son, David, turned out to be the man he became.
The cabin had a main room that served as living room, bed room, and parlor, with a fireplace for heat, and one light hanging down in the center of the room after the R.E.A. brought electricity to the farm in 1938.
Behind the front room was the small kitchen with a wood stove which had one light and off to the side was a back porch where we took our baths in a #3 wash tub. To the right of the main room was another small room that served as a bedroom for us four boys.
The cabin didn’t have a ceiling in the kitchen and back room and the only heat was from the fireplace and the cook stove. Funny thing, I don’t remember ever being cold in that house. Childhood memories are that way I guess.
The cabin was set inside a fenced clean-swept dirt yard, to keep the chickens, cows, hogs, mules, and horse outside. To the north, the chickens had their own house and yard out past the privy by the Yellow Plum Orchard.
Just outside the front gate was the wood pile where both firewood and stove wood were piled. There was usually a fat lighterd stump or jump-butt (cat face) out there for splinters used to start fires.
Papa was not a happy farmer in those early years. He was the youngest of nine children, raised by his five sisters and his mama as the “Little Prince”, so when he decided to marry, against everyone’s wishes, he suddenly had to learn the “cold hard facts of life”.
Mama quickly found that to be David’s wife, and by then pregnant with her second child, she had to make do just to survive those first years. Many quiet wagers and prayers were made during those years that when her sharecropper Daddy moved on to another farm so would she.
Papa tried to be a good husband but his happy boyhood memories kept getting in the way of the reality he faced, of suddenly being a poor dry land farmer. That was the price he paid to earn his independence from his father who only wanted his son to become a good farmer, husband, and Christian.
Mama learned that keeping a fire going was a lot easier than trying to start a new one before each meal. But it was just about a full time job to keep a few hot coals in the stove.
Getting Papa to keep a pile of stove wood split was near impossible. He left the house early, came back in from the fields late, and was usually angry about something so his mind was on other things than the wood pile.
Mama learned to split the pine logs and chop the stove wood. But many times Papa forgot to replace the fat lightered stump for splinters and the often damp stovewood was impossible to light without kindling. Then one day, as she was chasing a hog out from under the house she discovered “King Midas’s treasure!”
The cabin sat about thirty inches above the ground with the new front porch on brick pillars. BUT, the main cabin rested on the original pillars from 1887 and they were of hand-hewn heart pine, which is pure LIGHTERD!
Never again was she troubled for splinters. She went to the wood pile when there were lightered stumps to be used, but if there were none, she and her trusty hatchet went to work on the pillars. Papa was never the wiser.
In 1999 when the cabin was torn down to be moved for the last time, the workmen commented on the pine pillars that had so many chipped and odd shaped corners. None of us children knew why so we asked Mama.
She was almost defiant as she described how she had out-smarted our father so many years ago. She said, “That old sow did me the best favor of my young life when I chased her out from under the house, for I discovered that every pillar under there was pure lighterd. All those years when David was so mad at the world, I just got my splinters the best way I could, and didn’t bother him. But just to stay out of trouble, I would spit on some dirt, and rub it on the fresh chop marks, so they didn’t show. David never did find out.”
I hope you enjoyed G.W.’s post as much as I did. The story of his Mother making do with what she had, of doing what she had to do, of keeping it to herself all those years really stirs my heart. I don’t in any way think I’m as strong a woman as she was, but I want to be.