Week 8: February 22, 2014
Edgar Thomas McKinley
I have many fond memories of my grandfather…
Granddaddy’s farm was located outside of Siloam’s city limits, off Syrup Mill Crossing road; a small rural country town, commonly known as an “eye-blink” community – if you blink your eyes as you pass through – you’ve missed it! The main street of town consisted of only a few brick storefronts, one being the corner general-store, which belonged to Granddaddy’s cousins, Lawson and Ulmer McKinley.
My grandfather, or “Granddaddy” as I called him, was a hard working Greene County farmer – growing crops of corn, cotton, sugar cane, and wheat during his farming years. He was born in 1894 in the adjoining county of Hancock. Edgar T. McKinley grew up in the footsteps of a farmer – his father, Edgar Lawson McKinley. He knew farm life – it was what he knew best. Unless you studied to become a professional, your life was written to farm.
From the first moment of buying his farm in Greene County he walked the land and knew what was there – watching the timber grow stronger every year. He had plans for that timber one day and kept a close eye on it as he farmed. He bought the land and farmhouse from the government during the 1940’s. They had bought over 40,000 acres of abandoned land in Greene County – built farmhouses and barns and then sold to both white and black farmers on easy repayment terms.
Some farmers thrived and made good on their payments, while others soon lost their farms. My grandfather was one of those farmers who bought his farm from the government and made good. When the time came, he sold the timber and paid off his loan; he now owned his farm free and clear. He enjoyed nothing more than his plow and mule as he worked the land.
He was just a small country farmer to many – but in my eyes he was much more. I enjoyed spending time with him, whether it was just going for a ride to town (Siloam) or sitting out on the back stoop – where he taught me to whistle to the Bob White bird in the woods. When I was there, I was always by his side.
Edgar Thomas McKinley was mostly known as “ET” to family and friends.
Granddaddy was a quiet man, never raising his voice to me. I’m sure he had plenty of reason to at times, because whenever I visited, my first stop was always to the dog pens where he kept his “prized” fox hounds. Fox hunting was one of his favorite past-times and it was pretty much a ritual for him to load up the dogs in the old Ford pickup truck every Friday night. When you saw him gather his lantern and fox horn, you knew he was heading out. When I was there on Friday nights I was glued to the window late at night keeping a vigil for the truck headlights – just so I could announce “he’s coming.” As much as he loved those fox hunting dogs, I also loved them, but I loved to let them out of their pens. Granddaddy kept putting the locks on the pens higher and higher, but that just caused me to pile up more and more rocks to reach them. My mother remembers often how her father walked through the house grumbling, “I can always tell when Jeanne is here, she’s done gone and let my dogs out.” He never stayed mad at me any longer than it took to round them up and put them back in their pens.
I was never at a loss for entertainment on the farm, between exploring the old barns or just shooting my BB gun – I was never bored. The farm was exciting, so different from my city home in Perry. The car shed with the sandy floor was another favorite spot for me; the soft sand was full of ‘doodlebug’ holes. Only if you’re from the South will you know about doodlebugs. You take a stick and swirl it inside the doodlebug hole and sing “Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire, come out, come out, and see where your children are.” Moving the stick around the hole in a circular motion was suppose to make the little bug come up from the center of the hole; I don’t remember if I ever found any.
If we came to the farm on Saturday I kept my eyes peeled for Granddaddy’s green flat-head Ford car as we drove through Siloam. It was usually parked at Jarrard’s, the local filling station (gas station) in town. That was his regular hangout. I could always count on finding him there and getting a ride back to the farm – just him and me. He was often there sitting around talking politics, and of course fox hunting. Granddaddy loved to talk – no one could out-talk him! Those ‘discussions’ could get quite loud at times, with each one wanting their political views heard – and usually all at the same time. Granddaddy was a true and true Democrat.
Of course all things and times end – I grew up, married, and moved to Connecticut in 1971; my grandfather died in 1972. Mama kept the farm for many years so I was able to continue coming home to spend time there. Even my children were able to have a small glimpse of life on the farm for a few years before Mama moved away. She later sold the farm.
It was a sad day when I realized I could never go there again – never walk around Granddaddy’s farm where I hold very dear memories of family life and times spent.
The McKinley place, once lively with fields of cotton and corn, quickly became over-grown with timber making it hard to visualize what it once was. It has been many years since it was a working farm. The white clap-board farmhouse which once held a family – and beds covered with Grandmamma’s home-made quilts – and kitchen cabinets bursting with canned vegetables and jars of peach preserves and blackberry jam – my favorites – now was all gone. The farmhouse still stands and often when I go home we take a ride by, wanting another last look and remembrance of times long gone.
Growing up, I never thought anything about Siloam being a small country town and not having the same type of stores we had in Perry. I just loved going “to town” with my grandfather where everyone knew him and me. I was proud to be with him – at his side. I was definitely “Granddaddy’s girl” and loved every minute of it.
I have spent the past ten years very much involved in researching my family history. My research has stirred up many memories which I’ve written down for my family and future generations. My mother’s maiden name of McKinley and my last name of Bryan keeps me very busy in research which spans from Lumpkin to Greene County on my Bryan side, while my McKinley side traces back from Greene County, Georgia to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where I’ve traced my ancestors to before 1800.
Even though I no longer live in Georgia, I still feel very strong ties to there. Every summer I visit my mother and we go to Greene County to re-live those days I remember – visit with family, gather more family history, scout out a few old cemeteries and of course always eat Bar-b-que at Holcomb’s in White Plains.