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March 07, 2004

Alabama Roots:Hyde County

The memoirs of Ngnat's Great-Grandmother, Iva Wright.

Parts 1,2,3,4

The day we left Troy was much like the day we had arrived there, only this time we had Daddy Wright with us in addition to the baby. It had rained for several days before our move, and on the day we left, it also rained all day. When we began to pack the truck, I had to add a tub of wet diapers. It had rained for days, I had been unable to hang them on the clothesline to dry. There was nothing to do but take them wet. By the time we arrived, however, that would not matter. Carl had borrowed a pickup truck for us to move in. We didn't have much, so that was large enough for all our belongings. He had tried to find a tarp to cover the back of the truck but couldn't, so he covered everything with a large oilcloth, the kind that was once used for used for tablecloths. During the trip, that oilcloth flapped and flapped in the wind and rain, and before long began to tear into shreds. By the time we reached Lake Landing, it was in ribbons and everything we had was soaked. We must have looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.

Once again we were unable to move in to the parsonage when we first arrived. The former pastor and his family were still there, themselves unable to move until their new home was painted. During that time we stayed in the home of Tom and Blanche Mann, two of our parishioners. They had a lovely home. They gave us a large, comfortable bedroom, and treated us like royalty the whole time we were there.

When they found out about my tub of wet baby things, the colored woman who did their laundry came and took my baby's things too. She brought them back clean, ironed and neatly folded. I was very much impressed, not being used to that kind of service. Next morning before we got out of bed the, a little boy came in and made a fire for us in the fire place and had everything cozy warm. It was like that the whole time we were in their home. They had servants to do everything for them. Mr. Mann had a fellow who drove his car for him, and all the work was done by the black people just as it had been done in the days of slavery. The only difference was he paid them for their work. We stayed in their home for about a week before we were able to get into the parsonage.

The Mattamuskeet Charge consisted of several small churches which were located near Lake Mattamuskeet, a beautiful body of water and wilderness area which, then and now, serves as one of the largest wildlife refuges on the East Coast. It is also an area that was isolated from the rest of the state for many years because the area was very marshy and it was difficult to build stable roads. Eventually, a series of canals were dug which allowed the marshes to drain and farm land to be created, but for many years, the only way to access the area was by boat.

When we arrived there, we felt as if we were stepping back into another century. The whole area looked just as it must have looked during the days of slavery. There were the huge two and three-story homes belonging to the land owners and close by a group of small hovels for the black folks. We were also surprised by another aspect of their homes. Occasionally we would be invited to visit someone's home and would drive up in front of a large, unpainted, seemingly unkempt house, but when we entered the front door, the interior was elegant with beautiful furnishings, carpets, and antiques. I never ceased to be amazed at the difference between the outsides and the insides of those homes.

The parsonage was a nice, big two-story white house, and we were very comfortable there. We had plenty of furniture, and it was so much nicer than what we'd had before. We still had a outdoor toilet, but we were used to that by then. The only thing that was really a bother was the water situation. We had a pump to bring water into the kitchen, but the water was full of sand. We had to let it sit before we could use it to drink or cook with. We also had a cistern that caught water from the roof after it rained. It was attached to the back door stoop.

One night Carl went to a meeting at the church and someone remarked, " It's a good time to clean out your cisterns because it is going to rain." We got out there the next day with our buckets and cloths to mop things up. He got down into the cistern by ladder and scooped up every bit of water that was there. Then we got clean water and washed it best we could, but you guessed it–it did not rain, and we were out of water. For a while we had no water to wash our clothes or anything. We had to go to a neighbor's house and borrow water.

We were enjoying living there despite the water problem because every one was so nice to us. People were constantly giving us vegetables, fresh eggs, and even hams--all kinds of things that came from their farms. What a help that was.

Shortly after we moved there, a young black woman named Mabel came by our house. She said she had been working for the former pastor, and she really wanted to work for us too. She needed the job. I said, "Mabel, were are not used to having hired help. We can't afford to hire you."

She didn't let that stop her. She said, "Mrs. Wright, the other preacher could afford it."

"Well," I asked, " how much do you charge?"

"A dollar-and-a-half a week."

I couldn't believe what I had heard, but that was the going wage for people who worked in the homes around there. I don't know how they managed on that amount of money, but that is what she asked. We didn't really want hired help, be we felt we could not turn her down. We also felt it would not be right just to pay her so little. After she started working for us, we saw to it that she got more than that, and we also fed her two meals a day. When someone would give us food and vegetables, we always shared with her. She lived with her elderly parents and had four children of her own. She had no husband–he was dead--and she had two or three of her sister's children living with her. She was the main support for that many people.

We had four churches. The one at Lake Landing, the village where the parsonage was located, was called Amity. It was a very old church, a showplace really--and it still is. Inside, there was a balcony that had been used by the slaves, and the rest of the church was still just at it had been all in those years. We really enjoyed being in that historic old building. We also had a church at Engelhard, and in the community of Nebraska, a church called Watson's Chapel. Our church at Gull Rock had services only on Sunday afternoons, but the children enjoyed our visits there because they could watch for turtles sunning on logs in the canals which bordered all the highways in that county.

Sometimes, on the way to one of the churches, we would get stuck right on top of the ground if it had been raining, because the soil was very sticky. It was very black soil and it looked so rich. Hyde County had the richest soil around and some of the most beautiful farm land. After our daughter Grace came along, when the car got stuck, she would just scream. It frightened the child so.

Jo was almost a year-and-a-half-old when we moved there. She and her grandfather liked to play together, but many times he was not himself because of the slight strokes he had suffered. His mind was not as clear as it should have been. Many times he needed a doctor, but the doctors were very scarce. In fact, there was only one doctor in Hyde County when we moved there, and it was almost impossible to find him when we needed him. The rumor was that he was a drinker and went on binges quite frequently, so he was out of reach, away from home, and little help to the people in the community. That was one of our headaches there–the lack of medical help-- but we did the best we could. Finally, not long before Grace was born, a new doctor moved into our area. He was an osteopathic doctor and was looking for a new home. Carl helped him to get established, and I was his first patient.

Lilla Jo (Jo) was our pride and joy at that time. She would sometimes go with her father to church and would sit there just like a little lady. We soon found out that she was absorbing a lot that he had to say and understood it to a great degree. We realized that one day after Jo told us a fib. Mr. Tom Murray and his wife operated a little store next to the parsonage and beside their house. Jo liked to go over there because every time she went, they gave her something sweet like candy or chewing gum. I had told her she must ask permission to go so I would know where she was, but sometimes she would slip off without my knowledge. We had talked to her about this several times, but one afternoon we saw her heading in that direction. When she got back, I asked her where she had been and if she had been to the store. She said," No." That night, however, she went to her father and said, "You know, I did go to the store this afternoon."

He answered, "Yes, we knew about that."

Presently she said, "Now, I'm free."

We didn't know what she was talking about so her daddy asked, "What do you mean by that, Honey?"

She replied, "Well, in your sermon said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" We were amazed that a child at such a tender age had grasped that and understood so much.

Another aspect of Hyde County we thoroughly enjoyed was the food. The people there were wonderful cooks. One of the foods they prepared that we had never eaten was "pone bread". It was a coarse, heavy, sweet bread made with cornmeal and molasses, and it was a wonderful side dish to go with any kind of turkey, chicken. But it was especially good with the wild goose which the people ate in great abundance. We never found any other place where pone bread was common.

From time to time, we were also given beautiful wild geese. Of course, there was a season of the year when it was allowed to hunt and kill and geese, and there was a season when it was not. But the people down there had always been able to have the geese anytime they wanted them, so they didn't pay too much attention to that law. Every now and then someone would come to our back door and say, "Preacher, I brought you a ham, or I brought you a rooster," or something like that, but it would be a wild goose. We took those geese and ate them just as if they were lawful.

Shortly before our baby Ella Grace (Grace) was born, Carl's father became very ill with pneumonia. We had called the doctor come, but he was not able to do anything–he had needed a doctor much earlier. He died on September 2, 1938. I was expecting the baby at any time, and the night he died I was put to bed with a severe headache. In my condition, of course, I could not go home to Alabama with Carl to take his father's body, and I always regretted that. A young woman in our church came and stayed with me at night until Carl could get back home.

When Carl came back, he brought Mother with him. I didn't know she was coming and I was so happy to see her. She stayed longer that she had expected to because the baby just didn't come and didn't come. It seems when we are looking for them everyday, that is the way it is. In the meantime, my sister Vivian gave birth to her first baby, a girl they named Henry Anne. Vivian had been in the hospital with her baby, so Mother was not too worried about her. She thought she would stay with me and then go to be with Vivian when left of the hospital. Finally on a Saturday, September 24, Grace was born at home. We were thrilled that now we had two beautiful little girls.

As time went by, we came to appreciate many people there who were helpful to us, and many became lifelong friends. There were the Manns who took us in when we first moved. They lived just across the street. Then here was the Octavious Ballance family. They had three sons, Leon, Wesley, and Orville, who lived at home and who were active in our churches. Also living with them were Ethelynde and Bernice Ballance, nieces whose parents had died. Another family were the Midgettes, John and his wife Ellen. We went to see them many times, and they were constantly doing things for us.

It was also in Hyde County that we became acquainted with the Meekins family, Earl, Blanche and their daughters who lived in Engelhard. Earl was a professional fisherman. He and his brothers fished part of the time at Stumpy Point, where their true home was, and then part of the year at Engelhard. They were very devout members of the Methodist Church, and later Earl entered the ministry full time, but while they were there, they supplied us with fish. Any time we wanted fish, all we had to do was meet the boat when it came in at Englehard and help ourselves. That was wonderful.

When Grace was about a year old, we almost lost her. Our cooking stove in the kitchen used kerosene and needed refilling fairly often. One day I poured some kerosene from its larger container into a small soup can and then placed the can on the floor as I knelt down prepare the stove. No more than a few seconds could have passed, but as I reached back for the can, I saw that Grace had drunk the contents and was already showing signs of being seriously affected. Our new doctor's office was only across the field, so I picked her up, limp and seeming lifeless, and ran with her across the field. Thanks goodness he was so nearby. He immediately made arrangements to pump her stomach. She survived, of course, but the rest of the day she was so limp and pale and quiet, I realized how close we had come to losing her. Carl was so upset with me, as he should have been, but I was more upset with myself than he could have ever been.

Hyde County became like a real home to us and it is still a special place in our hearts. Many people there stayed in touch with us through the years and were such good friends. The Ballance family took Carl just as if he were a member of the family. They had a room in their home that they called his, and every year after we moved from there, he would try to get back during the fall when the geese were flying and go hunting with the boys and their father. He did that for as long as he was physically able. Later on we were associated with Ethelynde and Bernice Ballance because they both became Deaconesses in the Methodist Church. Ethelynde worked with us two different times in, once when we were in Columbia and again in Roberdell. She was a marvelous help to Carl and was like a member of the family. We loved both Ethelynde and Bernice dearly. So the place where we lived there has been a home to us in many ways and we think of Hyde County as a special place.

For those who are interested, many of the people mentioned by my grandmother can be found online in the Hyde County newspaper abstracts hosted at Rootsweb.

Posted by Bigwig at March 7, 2004 03:12 PM | TrackBack
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