Week 35: August 30, 2014
“Reflections of “Mr. Paul”
Paul Pinkney Bryan
This week I’m sharing remembrances written to me by my first cousin, Robert Bryan, on our grandfather Mr. Paul Bryan. Robert graciously wrote these over the years as I begged and pleaded for stories. I just knew he had experienced way more than I did. These stories are written through the eyes of a young boy who spent countless summers at their house. Boys were able to go more places than girls – it was all I heard growing up, “he’s a boy”!
I’m thankful that I pushed Robert to write down his memories as I didn’t have the opportunity to experience or even know what he knew. Thanks Cuz!
“Reflections of “Mr. Paul”
Paul Bryan was my grandfather. When I was a small child I would spend all my summer vacation with him at his home in rural Georgia – Union Point. It is important for the reader to know this and to understand that even though I write these memories today, they are hopefully remembered as they were experienced, through the eyes of an eight year old grandson who believed his grandfather was the greatest human being God ever put on this earth. These are my reflections of the man everyone called “Mr. Paul”.
Growing up in a small urban city in North Carolina was much different than the little town of Union Point, Georgia where my grandfather lived. In that town they didn’t even have a traffic light. I refer to him as “Mr. Paul” because all the time I spent with him, I never remember anyone ever addressing him any other way. In this small town everyone knew everyone, as there were perhaps only 600 or so people living there. I realized many years later that this was a sign of respect when people addressed him in this manner. Even men in there 60’s or 70’s did this when he was in his 80’s. This was just how it was done. If a man came to his house and he wasn’t at home, the person would not get out of his auto, even when invited to do so. This would be considered a sign of disrespect to get out of his car when the man of the house wasn’t home. They’d just say they would come back later when he was home. Today this may seem strange to people, but back then that was just how it was. This was in the late 50’s and early 60’s, but it hasn’t really changed much, even today. So the reader will just try to picture this small little town, with the ways of a small town, and try to understand that this was truly a “different time and a different way.”
Vegetables for sale:
Although Mr. Paul worked in the cotton mill, he also had another line of work. He farmed about five acres of land that was all in vegetables. He went to work every day at 6 a.m. in the cotton mill, getting off at 2 p.m. He would then come home, change clothes and go to work in his fields. He planted many types of vegetables at different times of the spring so they had fresh vegetables maturing all summer, all the way up until the first frost. My grandmother canned and froze so they would have them throughout the winter months. The local people in their small town often came to his house all summer long to buy vegetables. They’d pass many stores and produce markets just to come and buy from him. The main reason being that they knew his would be fresher. The reason they knew this was because he wouldn’t pick them until someone wanted to buy. A person would come to his house and ask him if he had any corn, tomatoes, or okra, or butter beans ready for sale. Even if he had some ready, he would ask them what they wanted and tell them to get out and “set a spell” while he went and picked them. He never picked anything ahead of time to sell. He’d take his large canvas sack with the shoulder strap and away he went; he’d return in about 20 minutes with the freshest, most beautiful vegetables anyone could want.
I always noticed he wrote down exactly what he sold and for how much. He seemed to want to keep a record of everything he sold. I never really knew why, except so he’d know if he was making a profit or not. He would also, at times, when he had a lot of vegetables, hitch his mule to a wagon and go throughout the streets of this little town selling them. I remember sitting up on the wagon with him and feeling very proud that this was my grandfather because of the many people that came out of their houses to buy from him – and how they carried on about how good his vegetables were. He put long hours in his fields, doing backbreaking work in the hot Georgia sun to grow those vegetables. I wondered sometimes how he was able to do what he did, even after he was well up in years. I truly believe he had a connection to the earth that he was able to draw strength from, which enabled him to do all he did. Of course he had always worked hard and I don’t think he would have been happy living any other way. Several years after his death, I went by his old “home place”. All his fields that he had farmed and kept very clean for so many years, had all been taken back over by the swamp. It seemed sort of sad in a way, but then again it was probably as it was meant to be. Once he no longer had a use for it, it returned to its rightful owner, Mother Nature and God.
In the days before the interstate highway was built between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., the highway between the two ran directly through Union Point, Ga. This brought a good bit of traffic in and through the little rural town. Part of this traffic consisted of trucks carrying freight between the two cities. A few miles outside of town there was a truck stop named “Whit’s Grill.” It was so-named for it’s owner, “Mr. Whit.” It was a rather large place, room for all the trucks to park, a small motel, and of course the grill. Inside was a row of stools where one could eat at the bar, or booths if one wanted to sit away from others. “Mr. Paul” had a habit of rising early on the weekends, around 4 am, and going to Whit’s Grill before my grandmother got out of bed. As a young boy, I always wanted to go with my grandfather to the grill because it was exciting to hear all the men there talk and tell stories. I also knew that Mr. Whit kept illegal fireworks in the back room and I might talk my grandfather into getting me some, if there wasn’t too many people around and Mr. Whit would sell them to us.
This was a very exciting place to a small boy like myself. It seemed to always be a crowd in the place. There was the smell of country ham frying, with eggs, gravy, grits and just about anything else one could think of in a restaurant. The men talked about the usual things like sports, politics, weather, etc. It was all I could do sometimes to stay awake until we got there. But after we arrived, there was so much going on that it was hard to keep up with it all. It also had the usual truck stop trinkets for sale that intrigued me. Racks of this and that, but the thing that always caught my eye was the hanging air fresheners that had the pictures of barely clothed women on them. I would have to wait for the right moment when Mr. Paul wasn’t looking to get a peek. After we had been there awhile, and the place didn’t have many outsiders there, my grandfather would call Mr. Whit to the side and ask him about the fireworks. This was always a moment of anticipation for me, hoping and wishing Mr. Whit had some. Mr. Whit would take a look around the place to see who was in there, and if he thought it was safe, he would ask what we wanted, then quietly go into the back, returning with a brown paper bag. I knew that inside that bag was something I had waited all year for. We would quietly exit the place, me with the bag tucked safely under my arm and my grandfather giving me a lecture about how dangerous they could be. I hardly heard him, as we walked to the car in the pre-dawn darkness, because all I could think of was – all the fun I was going to have lighting off the contents of the treasure I held in the brown paper sack.
As the years passed, progress came to this little out of the way place, as it did to many other places like it. They built the interstate a few miles to the south, and when this happened, of course, all the traffic used the interstate and no longer came on the old highway. This was a real blow to Mr. Whit’s grill, as well as the other business’s that depended on the traffic. Time took its toll on the grill and eventually it closed. Even though it has been several decades since it was in operation, I can still drive by the old place and see all the trucks, people, and smell the aroma of food cooking. I can hear the voices of a place that time has passed by and if it’s not dawn yet, still see the faint image of a little happy boy beside his loving grandfather.
Fishing with Granddaddy…
Granddaddy usually fished in farm ponds or rivers. These were the days before all the big lakes had been built. He knew about everyone in the county that had a farm and they all had a pond to water livestock. Some would not let anyone fish, but most would let Granddaddy; he usually fished for bluegill bream but occasionally caught bass or catfish. Usually when he cooked catfish it was because Uncle Leon brought him by a mess. Uncle Leon (granddaddys brother) fished a lot in the Oconee River with trot lines and baskets. Granddaddy cooked fish outside because it smelled up the house if you cook ’em indoors. It was also because they cooked them a lot in the summer and it was cooler to cook outdoors when the house had no A/C.
In the fields…
Granddaddy never did any hunting that I knew of. He always seemed too gentle to hunt. He would set rabbit traps, just to let me see the rabbit and then he’d release it. I was sitting in the hunting stand/house this morning overlooking a bottom corn field and it reminded me of mornings at Granddaddy’s. I still miss him after all these years; he was a treasure.
In the summer we would go over to the sweet potato patch up on the hill left of the barn about dark to see if any rabbits were coming out to eat the tops. I remember taking a couple shots, but never hit anything, not with that small 410 gauge shotgun I had there. That was the only thing I wanted from Granddaddy’s house after he died. Granddaddy had won it at the “filling station” on a “tip board” for 25 cents.
He planted crops so they’d mature at different times during the summer so he’d have vegetables all the way up to frost. One of the reasons for planting so much corn also was because he had to save a lot of it to feed his mule through the winter. That’s the reason we finally convinced him to get rid of the mule – it took a lot to feed all year. We bought him a tiller, but he never really like it. It seemed like it broke his heart when he had to get rid of that mule. He would even take the time to rub lineament on it’s knobby knees.
I have been thinking about when he planted his crops and how I use to follow behind him dropping two kernels of corn in each footprint he made when plowing the row. That’s the way he and I planted corn. I don’t know if I was just short or what, but it seemed like the corn grew to 4 ft over my head; and the corn was sold for 60 cents a dozen ears. He used to take half of his corn to make his own corn meal. We would take the shelled corn – he had a hand corn sheller that shelled one ear at a time – up to the grist mill close to Athens on the Oconee River. We would fish in the river while the miller ground the corn. The miller took a portion of the corn meal as payment for the grinding. He grew a type of corn called “limber cob” because it had a very small cob and a large kernel; it was white corn, not yellow.
The river runs through…
There’s a neat story about the river (Ogeechee River) behind Granddaddy’s land. I was telling someone just today about the creek that ran through Granddaddy’s field. The mill use to dump their blue dye in it – that’s why we called it the Dye Branch. I liked to try and catch the minnows swimming by, but the dye often killed anything in the creek. The beavers use to dam it up all the time and the county would have to blow up the dams to keep it from becoming a swamp. Granddaddy built a small bridge so he could cross over in the fields – as the running stream separated his fields.
As Robert shared his remembrances with me of our Grandfather it gave me an even more insight into him. He was more quiet around me, being a girl. What could he talk to me about? And I never was able to help in the field or go fishing or hunting with him – girls didn’t do those things. But I gladly would have gone if I had had the chance. I was told that I dug up his sweet potato hill one time – how did I know they were suppose to stay buried – I thought I was helping:) If only I could have spent more time with him – watch and learn when he made his famous Brunswick Stew and BBQ – girls were never allowed down in the field when they cooked the pig over the pit. I do have that famous paddle that stirred the stew he made! And he gave me his pocketwatch I always admired when he took it out of his “pointer” overalls he always wore. I don’t think I ever saw him out of them!
But, being a girl, I hung around the house playing doodlebug under the car shed that had a nice sandy floor. I could play for hours with just a stick making swirls in the sand saying “doodlebug, doodlebug, come out, come out, your house is on fire.” And sometimes I’d sneak in his tool shed and play until I was discovered and yelled at, “girls don’t play with tools.” If only I knew what I know now, I would have followed him more when I was there and asked a thousand more questions. I’ve always been a question asker – my mother still reminds me of that today. But I’m thankful my cousin did have the opportunity to walk beside our grandfather and share his stories with me.
One Response to Week 35: 52 Ancestor 52 Week: Reflections of Mr. Paul (Paul Pinkney Bryan)
robert bryan says:
February 14, 2015 at 2:58 pm
As I read these words I wrote over the years I am surprised that I wrote what I believe was pretty good writing. I loved my Granddaddy and he did love me. He has been gone 25 years but I still miss him. My only regret is I didn’t spend more time him in his last years. I think the next thing I write will be about the time I went to his nursing and “broke” him out for the day. I set up a video camera on his screened in area. We set in the swing and he just talked about himself and the family. His memories were fading him at this time. He was 87, born in 1903. He didn’t know the cam was recording. I still have the tape. Hey, I have already written some about it. Hopfully more will come to me later. Stay tuned. And thanks to Cuz for putting this all together. RB