Sunday, April 19, 2009

Aunt Lizza's Cowhorn

From an old memory--as a young boy(about 11 yrs old) I would often find myself walking from the big house(grandma's house) through the small pecan orchard to the share-croppers house on the other side. It was a very small three room home--no plumbing, (by the way our big house was also without plumbing then), no insulation(old newspapers for wall paper, mainly to keep the wind out). There on those summer afternoons I would visit with our closest neighbors. Lee Jackson and his family--they were all black!! That stood out in those days. That fact aside--I went to visit not Lee or his children, but to see "old Aunt Lizza".

I was fascinated by the old(I mean very old black woman). She claimed to be 105 years old at that time and that was around 1950. I mention her age and the date to show the relevance of the stories she told.She would always be sitting on their tiny porch. She was quite a sight--her black face surrounded by long stringy white hair. Her smile revealing three or four yellow broken teeth--and, oh yes, that old hollow cow horn that she would hold to her ear as I spoke. Her hearing was bad, but her mind sharp. She could really tell stories about her youth. Looking back, I think that was her greatest pleasure.
One story stands out as I reflect on those days. One afternoon, after a morning fishing trip on the creek, I found myself on old Aunt Lizza's porch. I had caught two turtles and took them up for Lee to clean--he kept one for himself and we got the other(never got use to turtle meat). That afternoon, while waiting for the turtle I listened to Aunt Lizza telling her stories. On this particular afternoon it was about her days during "slave times" as she called them. She had lived in Port Gibson,Mississippi as a teenager and she related the time the "federals" came through on their way to Vicksburg. She didn't see them as liberators, but rather as dirty and foul-mouthed--she said they burned and stole everything on the small farm where she lived outside of town. They took off her older brother to help dig trenches around Vicksburg--she said, "I never saw him again". I believe she cried.
Aunt Lizza "passed" not long after that. My grandparents and I went to the funeral. It was at a black church called Star Hill. I remember sitting in the back--we were the only white people there. The singing was load and beautiful and everyone seems so happy. It took me a long time to figure out why. Some people never do!!
Lee Jackson and his family stayed on in the little share cropped house for many years. When LBJ's "Great Society" program came into being and food stamps and welfare in vogue, Lee and family left for the small town of Liberty, Mississippi. He didn't have to work anymore and help grandfather with the farm. I saw him once after that, probably around 1969. He told me that his biggest mistake was leaving the farm and moving into town. Lee said the food you grow yourself taste better that the food someones gives to you. He seemed a sad, beaten man.
I glad Aunt Lizza spent her last days sitting on that tiny porch in the country, telling her stories. Boy, did you have to talk loud into that cow horn for that lovely old lady to hear you. Strangely, I remember the cow horn more than the stories!

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