Cedar Robes and Southern Food

My daddy’s parents, Granny and Granddaddy Davis, lived in Chickasaw, Alabama.  Their neighbors, the Coopers lived next door.  Granny called them Cooper and Mr. Cooper.  I can still hear Granny say their names in her southern accent, Coopah and Mr. Coopah. Granny and Cooper had coffee each day.  There wasn’t much talk. They would just sit and drink coffee.  My Granny and Granddaddy had moved from Uriah in Monroe County, Alabama in 1957 where my granddaddy had been a sharecropper.  He got a job out of Mobile as a cook on a tug boat.  Granny was born in 1911 and Granddaddy in 1905. Neither of them ever learned how to drive.  They were well-mannered and stoic country people. 

Their backyard backed up to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.  They were members at  Mt. Calvary.   They were Christians, but I don’t remember them going to church often. Granny didn’t enjoy being around large groups of people.  She preferred to stay at home where she did beautiful embroidery and was a talented cook. 

I loved to visit my Granny.  In the late 1960’s we lived in Mobile not too far from them.  My granddaddy was a cook on the Albert S. He was away for weeks at a time. Most of the time when I spent the night at their house it was just the two of us.  Granny was quiet and reserved, and her house was a refuge.  We watched Perry Mason, and she cooked for me my favorite dish, macaroni and tomatoes.  I was always relaxed at Granny’s.  I never got into trouble.  I didn’t have to eat food I didn’t like. Granny didn’t spoil me in the sense that I got anything I wanted. She just didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do.  

The den was at the back of the house.  Outside that door is where family legend has it as a 3-year old I showed my precocity and theatrics.  My daddy and Granny were working in her yard and dispersing weed killer.  My daddy looked at me and said, “Cookie, don’t you touch that.  It will kill you!” referring to the poison.  In a bit, they went around to the front yard while I stayed in the back.  When they returned a few minutes later, I was sprawled out playing dead.  

I heard about death at Granny’s.  She would look out her window and peek out to where her good friend used to live.  Her friend, a neighbor, disappeared one day.  Her husband told everyone his wife had run off and left him and their children.  Granny said her friend would never have left her children.  “He killed her.  He killed her and put her in a vat at the power plant.”  That was the talk among the neighbors.  We never walked on that side of the street.  At Granny’s we stayed in her yard where we were safe, and we only played dead.

I loved going to Granddaddy’s room when he was away and smelling the cedar in the cedar robe chest where his Sunday suits hung and his dress hats perched.  We would go to the Banana Dock to pick him up and bring him home. It was always a treat to drive up to the dock and see the activity of the men returning from their travels. During his time at home, he would sit in his chair and patiently let me play beauty shop with him. I would brush the little bit of hair he had, and I would put barrettes and small bows in it.  He slicked his hair back with Vitalis which helped the hold the barrettes in place. Granddaddy was a gentle and tolerant man.  Granny and Grandaddy’s house was a quiet and safe place to visit.

In September of 1969, I was in the kitchen with Granny when my Uncle Leslie Laverne and my daddy came in and told her that Granddaddy had suffered a heart attack on the tugboat, The Green River Gal.  This is the only time I heard my granny yell. Chaos and death were in Granny’s house.  Granddaddy didn’t come back to that quiet sanctuary.  

After Granddaddy had died Granny’s house was still a refuge. Her neighbor friend never returned home, and her death is only speculation and lore. When I was a teenager, she moved from the Chickasaw house. I remember going to visit her with my husband when she was well into her 80‘s; she insisted on cooking dinner for us.  As always, on the menu, that day was my favorite, macaroni and tomatoes.  Granny was 90 years old when she died in April 2001. I inherited Granddaddy’s cedar robe.  The smell of cedar and the taste of good southern food endures. 

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