Tuesday, April 23, 2013

gimme shelter

between 1940 and 1950 jonesboro grew by 39%, from 11,729 to 16,310 inhabitants. it is probably most accurate to say that growth occured in 1946; I was one of many new folks, and there wasn't much room for us. my parents and my mother's parents were among those returning to jonesboro after the war, and they all moved into a one bedroom house whose 900 square feet of living space included a front porch on the north, which was an outdoor living room in warm weather, and a screened in back porch which was the exit to the world of the back yard, where my first birthday party saw me wearing my grandfather's hat and a diaper--it's hot in jonesboro in august--and my cake resting on a leather hassock. I'm guessing there was icecream from lundy johnson's store up the street at the culberhouse corner. my memories of that event come from phoographs my mother kept in a big ivory artificial leather photo album with soft black, addable pages and a pirate and his treasure embossed on the cover.

beyond the small backyard, which was bounded on the east by an overgrown privet and on the west by a tool shed standing mostly from habit, lay the garden. the garden was not unusual in the jonesboro of the '40's. it was my grandmother's own moveable realm which she reproduced wherever she lived. there were tomatos staked to oak poles by old stockings, great gothic cathedrals of okra, lettuce and corn and peas and cucumbers and squas and I know not what else.  i  doubt there were melons: everyone knew the only melons worth eating came from lake city.

there were also chickens, who ate bugs in the garden and provided eggs for breakfast and meat for feasts. my grandmother never cooked a chicken she didn't know personally.  in cold weather the chickens lived in the basement with the wringer washing machine and a lone, bare light bulb for heat. they and the soap gave the basement a remarkable smell.

all the windows of the house had screens with black painted frames, roll-down blinds, plastic in the bathroom, and curtains made by my grandmother on her treadle singer from lace bought by the yard at woolworth's.

where we all slept in that little beach head in the city ready for tomorrow in the land of opportunity, I don't know. the bed on which I was photographed often as a plump baby was covered with a white chenille spread. there were many quilts made by generations of woods (my grandmother's family), all with a unique smell singular to cotton boiled clean.

my mother and father soon found a little house of their own, but my grandparents lived at 723 west oak until I was four. I spent many happy days and nights there. friday nights belonged to my grandfather. he sat in his red leather wing chair and smoked lucky strikes and listened to the friday night fights, sponsored by the gillette razor company. saturday nights were my grandmother's,  when she listened to the grand ole opry and the barn dance. the philco radio soon had a companion, a crosley television, the first I ever saw. my grandfather's friday night fights were now visible, in a slightly fuzzy way, as were groucho marx and milton berle. it was a while before daytime programming let my grandmother watch ma perkins and helen trent as she sewed and ironed.

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