In today's world of racial unrest, I wonder what Addie would think of all this. Addie Brownlee grew up on our land in eastern Tate County. She was born in 1909 and died in 2009 at the age of 100.
She came from a different era.
|Roy, Addie and Nancy|
She and her common-law husband Manuel, lived in a little shotgun house "down in the bottom." In case you don't know that term, bottom land is usually along a watercourse, in our case the Jim Wolfe Creek. It was farmland. Manuel and Addie never married. She refused to marry him because he wouldn't join her church, so they lived together for 50 plus years.
They were part of the now-dead sharecropper system. It is my hope that they were treated kindly, and I believe they were. The couple worked for my granddaddy, then my daddy, and my first cousin.
She wrote a letter to my mother (not my daddy for whom she worked) when she decided to quit farming. "Mr. Hayley and Mr. Ralph went the last mile with me to the rocking chair," she said. "I really hate to give up farming. I love it and Mr. Hayley was a good boss. He did not tell me when to go to the field. He always trusted me and that is something to be thankful for."
When she and Manuel were not working their allotted farmland, Addie worked for my family in town. She usually came to help my grandmother and great aunt. She much preferred outside work than in-the-house work. When they knew Addie was coming, my grandmother Latham always made her "ice potato salad," as Addie called it. "I think about Mrs. Latham and Mrs Ruth....when I come they cook a good meal for me and I eat a while," she said in the letter.
If I knew Addie was coming, I was overjoyed. She had been there to take care of me when mama needed a little extra help. Always smiling, joking, she rode me on her back and tried to keep up with me. In that same letter she said, ""I thank you for letting me enjoy your baby girl, Miss Nancy. To me she will always be a baby."
I was lucky enough that when my own children came along, they got to know Addie too. When she came to our house, she always played and joked with them. She drew giggles from the girls when she pretended to be scared of their big white stuffed horse. When my son was born she sent him one of her rare Indian Head pennies. Today, it rests in his baby book as one of the most prized baby gifts.
In my box of treasures are a set of hand-tatted Coke bottle covers and doilies that Addie made for my mama. In the 1960s, we all drank Cokes from glass bottles, and it was quite an honor to have Coke bottle covers. Who knew Addie made the first koozies?
One day she called me at work and said, "Miss Nancy, Miss Hayley done blowed up the microwave.
I'm so sorry." I could tell she was upset. What had happened was that "Miss Hayley", while attempting to make hot chocolate, had put the cup in the microwave, forgetting the water. The microwave was not blown up, but the cup was busted to smithereens.
Addie never had children of her own. She raised Manuel's nephew Roy, as her child. When he "went up north" in his early 20s, he got mixed up with a bad crowd. Roy died of a heart attack associated with a drug overdose. She was heartbroken.
So what would Addie say about all these shooting and taking down of flags? She wouldn't be happy.
I often wondered if Addie really loved us or was just "putting on a show." I got my answer one rainy Sunday afternoon.
My husband, daddy and a few extra helpers were in the bottom working cows. I was horseback, having left my vehicle at farm headquarters. When the weather got really bad, Daddy said, "Give me that horse and go over and sit this out at Addie's."
I had never, in all those years, been inside her house. She cooked on a wood stove, by choice. Addie had inherited land, but gave it to her church. She preferred to live where she was raised. Her little house was cluttered with discarded treasures she had been given by people she worked for. The tiny fenced-in yard bloomed with flowers that she had dug when cleaning out other people's flower beds.
Manuel, now bedridden, sat in the small twin bed. Addie said she slept sitting up on the couch.
While we sat there by the wood stove, listening to some of her stories and waiting out the rain, she said, "Miss Nancy, have I ever showed you this?"
She took down a blue scrapbook from her cramped bookshelf. In it were Christmas and birthday cards I had sent her over the years. She had saved my snaggle-toothed school pictures along with notes I'd written her in my little-girl printing. There were pictures I'd drawn, newspaper articles and photos of me with 4-H horses and band awards.
I think I got my answer.
My daughter and little granddaughter and two family friends went to Addie's funeral—the first black funeral I'd ever been to. "Why is Miss Addie in that bed," asked little Bella. The preacher talked about how Miss Addie had loved her church and helped the youth there. "Everybody loved Miss Addie, even the white folks....And we are glad to have y'all visiting with us today," he said, nodding in our direction.
When the time came to pay our respects, Bella helped me place a champagne rose on Addie's lapel. Bella looked up at me and said, "Nonni, why are you crying?"
"I feel like an orphan all over again," I said. As Addie said in her letter, "I hope the years don't end for a long time."