Week 10: March 8, 2014
Paul Pinkney Bryan
For the first five years of my life, I lived just one house away from my grandfather, Paul Pinkney Bryan. He was born on December 11, 1903, at home, in Jackson County, Georgia, to parents William Clark Bryan and Sara Elizabeth Turner; the second oldest of six brothers and three sisters. Granddaddy never liked to tell people his middle name – I don’t know if he ever knew where it came from, but his mother gave him her father’s middle name.
Paul ran away from home with a few of his friends at age sixteen to join the Army, but his parents were soon sent to bring him home. It was said because of his limp and he sometimes had a stutter, but we believe the true reason was that he was not 16 years old yet; his mother was very happy to have him back home. I never noticed a speech problem with him as he was a man of few words and he often talked in short sentences.
As a young man, before marrying, he held several jobs, one was working in the local sawmill owned by J. J. Rollerford. In a videotaped interview with Granddaddy, he told us that the inventor of Coca Cola and himself worked there together; him buying the land and my grandfather cutting and sawing the trees.
He met his wife, Evelyn Little, around 1923 and they were married on Nov. 8, 1924. His brother Gordon remembers them going to dances often, so I’m assuming maybe they met at a local dance or at church. (From the information of social history taken on her when she was admitted to a nursing home, it said they met at a church dance.)
They first rented one of the small white-board mill houses next to the Chipman Mill, where they both worked. Most all the communities that had mills built housing next to the mill to house their workers. They were still living there in 1928 when their second son, my father, Clayton Bryan, was born. As money was saved, Paul bought land nearby, within walking distance on Binns St. – a dead end street just across from the mill. There was about five acres there that gave him plenty of land to farm. After building the house, with probably help from his brothers, he built a barn and fenced in an area for the mules and horses; he had several mules during my lifetime. Granddaddy felt there was nothing better than a mule pulling the plow through the dirt field. It was said that if you saw him stopped in the middle of plowing, and lighting his cigar, that meant the mule was taking a break. Granddaddy never passed an opportunity for a smoke break. There was always a cigar tucked in the top pocket of his “pointer brand” overalls.
Paul Bryan was a gentle soul, very much like his mother Sara – a sweet and caring person; he very seldom raisd his voice. He was the same way toward animals as well. Granddaddy would set a rabbit trap, but only caught them to show us, the grandchildren; he then set them free. One of his mules had very bad arthritic knees and it was not unusual to find him rubbing liniment on its legs after a long day in the field. And if the mule wanted to take more than one break while working, as mules often tire easily, he never complained.
Living just one house away from granddaddy, I saw him everyday. His work day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m. when the mill whistle blew. Everyone in town always knew what time it was when they heard the mill whistle. Wherever I was at 2 in the afternoon, I scurried to the front porch steps to sit and wait for granddaddy to walk by. I would then fall right in step behind him, even down to his limp, and follow him home. My mother worried that I would continue walking with a limp as I mimicked him so often.
Around 1971 a film called “Coward of the County” starring Kenny Rogers was filmed in Union Point; they advertised for locals to sign up as extras and the promise of a meal. They filmed scenes in part of the mill and the local school gym. I was shocked to learn that my grandfather sign up as an extra and I’m told that as soon as they saw him, they told him to show up the next day. When I asked, why he went, I was told that if there was a promise of a meal, he was interested. He showed up the next day and was sent to wardrobe, but they kept him just as he was, even down to the hat cocked on his head. After viewing the movie several times, I finally spotted him in a scene at the school gym. There he was leaned up against a pole in his regular clothes and his hat cocked on his head; if only I could know what he was thinking. They paid him thirty five dollars for the day. A second day of shooting was planned but since there was no money or food involved he told them “no thank you.” When his wife told the family what he’d done, she said, “some man Kenneth Rogers was making a movie at the mill.” She had no idea who he was.
Granddaddy was a man of few words – but he often said “you make your own luck.” A definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. He was always prepared and never missed an opportunity.
Every afternoon, after returning from an eight hour shift at the mill, he donned his favorite pair of overalls, grabbed his field hat and off he went to the fields. He farmed around 5 acres of land, growing all their vegetables plus more to sell. I loved the watermelon patch he had on the side; there was always a waiting watermelon for me in the summer whenever I came. His largest crop was corn and he grew the best sweet Silver Queen around. His land was watered by the under-stream of the Ogeechee River; the small mouth of this river ran all the way to Savannah. The stream actually ran through his fields, separating his land; he built a small walking bridge to cross the fields up to the barn. I loved running over the little bridge, but always ran very fast as my imagination conjured trolls living underneath.
Granddaddy was a man of many talents, cooking was yet another. My mother told me he could bake a cake better than his wife; I imagine that was never actually said out loud though. I only remember a couple of desserts there, German Chocolate Cake and Sweet Potato Cobbler – there was always a dessert at Sunday dinner.
The one thing he only cooked was Brunswick Stew and BBQ. Those were mainly men jobs as they were cooked outside over a fire. The stew was usually cooked in a large cast iron kettle while the whole pig roasted slow over a pit all night. If people in town knew he was cooking, they stopped by to see if he’d be selling any. He was known for cooking the best in town! He would tell you the pig is ready when you can pull the bones out – you don’t cut the meat away, it must fall off. His secret of the best BBQ taste was to always use green Hickory wood and cook the meat with the fat side up, so the grease cooked through the meat.
My grandfather rode weekly in his wagon through town selling any extra vegetables at the end of the week after grandmamma finished her canning. Many people sold from their wagons, even his father peddled spring water from the local Daniel’s Spring in town and his homemade watermelon rind wine. As a young boy Paul helped his father and brothers make and sell moonshine to make ends meet when they weren’t working jobs.
I have fond memories of sitting on the front porch swing with granddaddy after a Sunday dinner of fried chicken, cream corn, butter beans, mashed potatoes and biscuits. Love those southern porch swings – many memories they made. It was always my favorite place to spend a quiet afternoon whether reading or just taking a nap; the front porch swing was the best seat in the house.
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