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My Sunny Friend
by Walter B. Jackson

NOTE: The comments in the story below are from Jackson's great grandpa, Walter B. Jackson.
They were taken from the newspaper column he wrote during the '30s Depression under the heading Your Sunny Friend.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The other day I got a hankering for some grape juice after I heard Paul Harvey say that a glass of Welch's Grape Juice is one of the healthiest things a person can drink. That revelation whetted my appetite for some fresh, homemade, muscadine grape juice.

I decided I would make a trip across the Trinity River to The Den -- a tract of land that has been in my family for over 150 years. Although it is no longer in production, this rich, fertile, sandy soil was most prolific during the years it was being farmed; now I share it with wildlife -- deer, wild hogs, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, foxes and wolves. I only get to harvest things that grow wild.

But these wild pickings are a true blessing, a real treat for me. My favorite things are the wild plums and mustang (muscadine) grapes. I also revel at trying to beat the raccoons to the persimmons and digging the wild sassafras to make tea from its fragrant root. The blackberries are plump and juicy, and I gladly share them with the varmints and snakes that like to lie in the shade of the vines.

I left early in the morning just as the sun was rising. A trip to The Den (our family name for the land) is always filled with high anticipation. I took along several pots for boiling the grapes and enough provisions to last a couple of days.

When I arrived at the century-old camp house, I unpacked my gear and grabbed a five gallon bucket. I quickly headed down to the spring. The crystal clear, cool water flowing out of the white sand of this natural spring is sure to quench anyone's thirst. A sign on a cypress tree growing on the banks of this oasis reads, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst again." -- John 4:14

The area around the spring is also a prime spot for grapes, and sure enough, as soon as I arrived there, I spotted an old dilapidated fence overgrown with grapevines and prickly blackberry bushes. On it were some of the fattest, juiciest grapes I'd ever seen.

I took a long slow drink of that cool spring water and headed over to the grapevines to begin my harvest.

As I walked, I thought I heard someone speaking to me. I stopped, cocked my head, and listened with my best ear. I looked around and asked, "Who's there?"

In a rapid response, I heard, "Who, who, who are you?" To my relief, I looked up and saw a hoot owl perched in the oak tree just above my head. I was amazed that this wise old owl would even be out in the broad daylight, much less conversing with me. I found a log and sat down. As the owl stared down at me, I began to drift off and let my mind start thinking about life on this land in bygone days.

I soon became lost in thought and started recalling the words of my namesake and great grandfather. He was born in 1858, and much of his childhood was spent on this old plantation. It was here he fell in love with nature and the wildlife around him.

"Texas was almost heaven when I was a boy. It was BIG then. I would pitch camp at Green's Bluff high above the Trinity River and look westward for miles and miles. Texas was such a beautiful place. Many an Indian maiden was wooed along that riverbank on bright moonlit nights when nature was all in balance.

"I remember Texas well when it was being settled. Abundant farm land, and the rivers and streams once fished by the Indians, attracted many a southerner from Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia. There were no fences, and the country was full of deer, wild turkeys, wild hogs, foxes, and wolves. It was not uncommon to see panthers, antelopes, and buffaloes. Bears roamed these woods, and I often saw cubs playing in Catfish Creek.

"Just look at that old sorghum grinder over there. That grinder came from Tennessee. The name of the manufacturer is still on it, Chattanooga Plow Works. I spent many a day playing here, while Paul Gee, Jim Vance, and the other 'darkies' ground up sugarcane to make syrup.

"While they worked, they sang spirituals. Those darkies loved the Almighty. They were true to their Lord and worshipped him with all their heart and soul. They were true believers seeking the Promised Land. I know--I was there! Never in my lifetime did I meet a Negro infidel.

"Fannie, your great grandmother, loved it here. It reminded her of the home she left behind near the Tombigbee River over in Mississippi. She would sit in that big rocker early in the morning and listen to the mockingbirds, doves, whippoorwills, and redbirds while they sang to her.

"In the evening, she and I would sit out under the stars, and talk, and talk, and talk about all the blessing of our earthly journey. The stars were bright, and big, and the moon always wore a big smile.

"This land has been home to your family for six generations. The hopes, dreams, and aspirations of many of your ancestors have passed over it -- just like moonbeams.

"Enjoy your short journey here, Walt -- just remember -- you are only a ripple on this pond of life. Make sure you leave this land in as good of shape as you found it. The man following you may want to live out his hopes and dreams here, too."

As the sun began to go down over my right shoulder, I awoke from my thoughts and returned to reality. Sometime during my great grandpa's story, the old owl had given up and flown to another tree, and I had filled my bucket with those plump, juicy grapes. I headed back to the camp house with my harvest. Tomorrow I'd come back for some of those blackberries; but right now I couldn't wait to find out what new words of wisdom a boiling pot of grape juice might conjure up!


Biographical Information:

Walter B. Jackson holds a B. A. in Political Science from the University of Houston. Walter lives in Mexia, Texas, where he teaches English and Spanish at Coolidge High School.

Walter spent most of his professional life as a chamber of commerce executive in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas. He served as president of the Humble, Conroe, and Galveston Chambers of Commerce, and later as Director of International and Domestic Business for the Greater Houston Partnership.

Read more of Walter Jackson's stories at USADS:
Uncle Buck
A Nun's Tale
Mother Goose and Me

Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.


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