My childhood was spectacular! We were dirt poor, my father a World War II veteran who never finished high school and my mother a stay-at-home housewife; both had lived through the Great Depression; so, we didn’t really think of ourselves as poor. I grew up going fishing with my dad on the river and learning to ski on brown water. . . Our people were just struggling to make it, and everybody else who lived on our street was in the same boat. We were all like one big family, with every one of us kids having multiple moms and dads.
I spent a lot of time with my Bigdaddy and grandmother. Born in 1886 in Grenada County, he was a big, robust man. The years of being a farmer and in the timber business, until the Great Depression, made his physique noticeable. During World War II, when Dad and his next oldest brother Pershing were serving in the Army in Europe, Bigdaddy became moderately successful in the used furniture business in Greenwood. His success had pleased but surprised both sons when they returned in 1946. As a small child in the early 1950s, I spent most of my time when visiting him and my grandmother roaming about in that store on Carrolton Avenue in Greenwood.
On most weekends, after the store closed at 5 p.m., he rented the building out to two black men who were his friends and patrons as well. Willie and Seme, as he called them, would rearrange the furniture to clear an ample space in front of the checkout counter to serve as a dance floor. With Bigdaddy supervising as a bouncer of sorts, they charged for entrance into this temporary blues hall from eight until one p.m. most Friday and Saturday nights. On rare occasions, all black blues bands would provide the music, but most of the time tunes came from a small forty-five record player sitting on the counter with me. When I got older, I would change records for the crowd and learn to dance from many of the women who would pull me onto the little dance floor. Although beer drinking was allowed, hard liquor wasn’t permitted by my grandfather. Without any unruly crowd, these events continued until the death of my grandmother. After her death, my Bigdaddy sold the store, moved in with us, and never was the same fun-loving man he had always been.
Looking back at my life as a youngster, at the determination my parents had that I would go to college so that I could do “something better” than they had been able to do. . . I am grateful. My dad would not allow me even to learn the basics of anything less. When he ran the tractor and truck business, he told the men who worked for him to not teach me how to be a mechanic. Eventually, he would let me help sell and demonstrate the equipment – I was about ten years old when we sold a combine, and he let me drive it all the way from Highway 82 to Clarksdale – that’s about 75 miles at no more than six miles an hour through the Delta!
These are some of my stories. . .