by Lonnye Sue Pearson
Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie were characters to say the least. They met when Uncle C. D. showed up at Aunt Lillie’s daddy’s farm looking for work sometime just after the turn of the century in the hills of east-central Mississippi. Aunt Lillie was several years older than Uncle C. D., but that didn’t stop them from falling in love.
At some point after their marriage, they moved to the Delta and leased some land from Mr. Heslep in O’Reilly, Mississippi. Uncle C. D. also worked in the company general store (the old green store on the highway) for Mr. Heslep for a while. That’s where my daddy was introduced to billiards.
O’Reilly is just a blink of an eye spot with only a sign to denote it on Highway 61 now, but at one time early in the twentieth century it was a bustling community of farmers and tenant farmers located half-way between Shaw and Boyle. Uncle C. D. leased sixteenth section land and farmed cotton, beans and corn. He and Aunt Lillie lived in a three-room house just a stone’s throw from the highway and were as happy as two dead pigs in the sunshine. They were my link to rural life. I learned a lot from them about simplicity and happiness.
The house (if you could call it that) was a marvel of eclectic construction. The tiny front stoop opened into a combination sitting room and bedroom where Aunt Lillie’s somewhat questionable taste dictated the décor. A maroon velvet sofa covered in hand crocheted doilies sat beside a maroon velvet upholstered rocker which sat beside an old rocking chair with a homemade cushion covered in a flour sack sham.
The bulky double bed covered with one of Aunt Lillie’s handmade quilts commanded most of the tiny room’s space. Prominently displayed above the bed were the shotguns…his and hers. The walls were covered with ancient wallpaper, Victorian prints of children and angels, old calendars, and newspapers strategically placed over cracks. An old rusty tin can lined with newspapers sat between the chairs. Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie used it as a spittoon…chewing tobacco and snuff were their major vices.
Behind the sitting/bedroom was another room that probably was originally a bedroom, but by the time I came along electricity had been introduced to the rural communities, so this room housed the freezer and otherwise became a storage room. I rarely went into that room, as it was always off-limits to children. They may have kept homemade hooch in there for all I know.
Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie did everything together. They hunted squirrels, rabbits, dove, and deer. They fished. They raised chickens and always had a milk cow. Aunt Lillie worked right along beside Uncle C. D. in the fields and in the truck patch where they raised every vegetable known to man. The overflow from the truck patch was sold to local merchants, but Aunt Lillie canned and froze enough to get them through several winters.
And then there were the beehives. The honey from those hives was the sweetest nectar on earth, and Uncle C. D. kept Mama and Daddy well supplied with quart mason jars filled to the brim with the golden, sticky substance. Each jar had one perfect piece of beeswax inside that became mine for the chewing.
My brother and I enjoyed going to see Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie. Although Mama and Daddy were reared in the rural area of the Delta (and even I had spent the first few years of my life about two miles from Uncle C. D.’s forty-acre farm), we had somehow become citified, so the trip to the country was a treat for us. Usually we just went to visit. But sometimes those visits would turn into events.
When my brother was about seven years old and I was about thirteen, we went to Uncle C. D.’s for a dove hunt. Daddy had his older brother’s .410 gauge shotgun and Uncle C. D. let Dwayne use Aunt Lillie’s shotgun. We hunkered down in the front yard behind the old International tractor to wait for the right moment. All of a sudden birds flew out of the field straight at us. Daddy shot first, then Uncle C. D. Several birds fell and we retrieved them from the dusty path that led to the gravel road in front of the house. We settled back behind the tractor again and Uncle C. D. told Dwayne that the next ones would be his. My brother had never shot at an animal of any kind before and was very excited at the prospect. We didn’t have to wait long before Dwayne got his chance. The birds flew; he stood up, aimed and followed the path of the birds as they headed for the house. Dwayne waited too long to pull the trigger and by the time he did, the gun was pointing at Uncle C. D. who was lunging for the gun and shouting, “No, no!” Daddy managed to jerk the gun up and prevent a disaster, but we decided then and there that we’d had enough for one day. Dwayne was mortified; Daddy swore off hunting forever; Uncle C. D. never offered to take us hunting again; and I…well, I stored this one for future torment on a little brother.
Several years later, the land at O’Reilly was sold and Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie had to move. Eventually they bought my grandmother’s house on North Bayou Road in Cleveland. Mamaw had made the house into a duplex and Uncle C. D. and Aunt Lillie lived in one side and rented out the other.They continued to live the same way…hunting, fishing, raising and selling vegetables…until the day Aunt Lillie fell and broke her hip.
I was grown with two small children when it happened. And I lived about twenty miles from Cleveland at the time. Still, I went in to town several days to sit with Aunt Lillie in the hospital so that Uncle C. D. could get some rest. Aunt Lillie was a big woman – always had been – and by this time she was old. As hard a life as she had had, the broken hip was just too much for her. She refused physical therapy, and went home in a wheelchair where she stayed until she died. I thought her death would kill Uncle C. D., but he carried on for many more years.
He loved to watch wrestling on television and believed every throw was real, but he believed that the government in 1969 somehow deceived the American people when Neill Armstrong walked on the moon. “Now, Little Sue [he always called me Little Sue instead of Lonnye Sue for some reason], you know that’s a lie. No man can even get to the moon, much less walk on it. Those pictures are just make-believe.”
Uncle C. D. lived to the ripe old age of ninety-four. The last real conversation I had with him was Thanksgiving Day in 1981. Mama tried to get him to come eat dinner with us, but he didn’t like to get out much any more. I took a plate of food to him and stayed to chat a while. The day was unusually warm and he was sitting outside in a rusted metal lawn chair enjoying the sunshine when I drove up. By this time he had lost a lot of weight and was just a mere shadow of the big, strong man I had known as a child. His hair was long at the neck and sides, curling slightly from under the John Deere cap that covered the bald spot on top. He couldn’t see well enough to shave anymore and his clothes were old and tattered. But he recognized me the minute I got out of the car.
“Little Sue! Come on over here and sit down in this chair.”
I placed the plate of food on the stool between the two chairs and sat down. We spent at least thirty minutes talking about absolutely nothing, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
When Uncle C. D. died, Daddy inherited the house, the old Chevrolet El Camino, the maroon velvet couch and matching rocker, an ancient bedroom suite and the kitchen table and chairs. He kept the house for years until it became a burden to him. It was a very hard task for Daddy to sell the place. Mama had always wanted to tear down the old house and build an A-frame there, but somehow that just happened. I used the table and chairs until they just fell apart. Still it was traumatic when I had to finally give up on repairs that just didn’t work. And I have letters from Uncle C. D. that he wrote to me when I spent a summer in Atlanta working at Six Flags Over Georgia. I have two of Aunt Lillie’s quilt tops and several pillow cases on which her child-like embroidery reminds me of those days spent drinking well water and eating pound cake with homemade butter slathered on top in O’Reilly, Mississippi.
Yep, simplicity. That’s what I’m after!
Read more of Lonnye Sue’s stories at USADS:
Hail to the Chief Drive-In
The Last Train
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