This Place That We Call Home - Part IV by Nat Self

MainStreet 1950

Grandpa’s Death
Several days before Christmas 1929, Mom and Dad dressed to go shopping. Mom wore a beautiful dark-blue dress, black, high-top, patent leather shoes, a full-length dark coat with a fox fur-trimmed collar, and black leather gloves. Her gray-green eyes, set back and above her high cheekbones, sparkled as she pushed back her long black wavy hair. Expensive makeup enhanced her clear-beige complexion. Dad wore his blue serge wool suit, white starched shirt, a red silk tie, polished black shoes, and a dark-gray, felt Stetson hat.

Our good neighbor, Mrs. Friday, came over to our house to baby-sit while our parents were away selecting our Christmas gifts. We sat near the warm fireplace singing Christmas carols and listening to Christmas stories Mrs. Friday told us.
After a long while, Mom and Dad returned, and they did not disappoint us . They brought a box of apples, a crate of oranges, a large bag of mixed nuts, and a bag of candy. Unknown to us, they had stored our presents in the garage.

A few days later, Grandpa Self came on the train to visit us. He had sold his cotton crop and had come to pay back a loan Dad had made to him during the spring for financing cottonseed and fertilizer. He brought each of us children a Christmas gift. Sitting in a large cane rocking chair in front of the warm fireplace, he pulled me onto his lap and gave me a glass pistol filled with small colored candy balls.


Later that evening he told Mom that he felt very tired and needed to retire to bed for the night.
Mom said that Grandpa was running a high fever. Dad went after Dr. Luther Terry, our local doctor, who brought his black leather bag with him. He spent a lot of time in the closed front room diagnosing and medicating Grandpa. Finally, he opened the door and told my parents that Grandpa was very ill with double pneumonia. Dad and Mom took turns tending Grandpa throughout the rest of the night. The next day Mom wanted quiet in the house, so she put coats and caps on my two sisters and me and sent us outside to play. The sun was bright, but it was extremely cold and the ground was frozen. I discovered that ice had formed underneath a thin layer of frozen soil, and I entertained myself by crushing the crunchy ice by stepping on it. Bulger, always nearby, played with us, but he wouldn’t eat the ice I tried to feed him.

Grandpa’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and on December 20, 1929, the silent, absolute, relentless phantom of death moved in and transformed his life. That was the first time I had seen my parents dispirited with a heavy heart. Their sadness greatly concerned and confused me. Mom explained that Grandpa had gone to a much better place in heaven where he would remain forever.

Dad drove to Uncle Lothie Tesseneer’s house in the Haleyville area and informed his sister, Aunt Nellie, while sending word to the other family members that Grandpa had died. He brought Aunt Nellie home with him and other family members came later on the train.

The wind became extremely frigid, and dark clouds covered the sky. Late afternoon on December 21, snow began falling on already frozen ground. Neighbors brought platters and dishes of food to our house, and we gathered by our warm fireplace in the front room. Some of the adults sat in chairs in front of the fire, while others and all of the children sat on the floor. Conversation was held to an occasional whisper. Grandpa’s body lay in a beautiful casket in the other front room, where he had died. Many adults and all of the children slept on the floor on pallets that night. Some of our kin spent the night with our neighbors. After most of us bedded down, silent snowflakes floated to the ground.

Daybreak on December 22 brought a flurry of activity. Soft voices discussed the snow as breakfast was being prepared. I scrambled to my feet, rushed to the window, rubbed condensation from it with my sleeve, and looked outside at the thick white blanket. After breakfast Mom put coats on us and let us play on the front porch. First we scooped up snow on the steps to make snowballs to eat. Then my sisters and I threw snowballs at one another.

Our Whippet, which was not in the garage because of the boxes of Christmas gifts stored there, sat in the driveway. Dad measured the depth of the snow on the car to be nearly six inches. The snow covered everything in all directions that I could see.
Dad made arrangements to have Grandpa buried in East Dora Cemetery, with the funeral scheduled at the Dora Church of God for the afternoon of December 22. Family members, neighbors, and other friends drove cars through the deep snow to gather at the church. While the services were conducted inside the church, my two sisters, brother and I were left in custody of Mrs. Friday in the Whippet, which Dad had parked in front of the church alongside the main road. I was misbehaving in the backseat when Mrs. Friday said to me, “Now I want you to roll that window up and be a good boy.”

I thought about that for a moment and then responded, “When I get home, I’m going to take my belt to you.”
I watched as the pallbearers appeared in the open door of the church carrying the coffin. They carefully walked down the snow-covered steps and waded through the snow in front of the church to a nearby flatbed truck where they placed the coffin. Slowly the truck moved up the steep snow covered hill toward the cemetery. Not halfway up the hill the rear wheels of the truck began spinning, and it could go no farther. The pallbearers, all wearing white gloves, pulled the coffin off the truck and carried it up the hill to the freshly dug grave at the edge of the cemetery. I watched my parents, Grandma, and other family members followed by a crowd of people dressed in heavy coats climb up the slippery hill to the burial site.

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