Black was the color of my true love’s hair

Olivia Fowler

Olivia Fowler

On The Way

By Olivia Fowler

My grandparents eloped. She was a teacher and he was a farmer. They came from two political families from opposite camps, hence the elopement.

Grandmama was 26 years old, teaching in a one room school house in Allendale, N.C. She drove home every Friday afternoon in a buggy her Papa sent to pick her up in. She idolized her Papa and never considered marrying without his approval until Granddaddy appeared on the scene. Our Granddaddy was engaged to someone else before he met Grandmama. He and his fiancé had already built a new house on a portion of his farm and had selected furniture for it. Grandmother was beautiful, bright and much-courted but wasn’t seriously interest in anybody.

They met. I don’t know where, but they met, and that was the end of Granddaddy’s engagement and Grandmama’s outings with other young men. We never knew the fiancé’s name but do know that after my grandparents returned from their honeymoon, they moved into this house furnished with what the old fiancé had selected.

Indeed, I have four of the chairs from their dining room in our dining room.

In those days married women were not allowed to continue teaching, so Grandmama left the school in Allendale. She was a fine musician and served as the church organist at Centre Presbyterian Church, where Granddaddy was a deacon.

He had been active in the Methodist Church but left that flock because Grandmama preferred to stay at Centre.

Although he died before I was born, we were told stories about him all our lives. He was the checker champion of the state and had played the guitar well before losing his left hand in a hunting accident.

He had a race horse named Queen that he was devoted to. He could do everything as well with one hand that other men did with two and had a sense of humor that was legendary.

Everyone said my Uncle Jack, the baby, was just like him. And this was a man capable of telling jokes on his deathbed.

He didn’t give up the guitar after losing his hand. Grandmama would make the chords on the neck with her left hand and he’d pluck the strings with his right.

He was a generous friend and a loving husband and father. If people had trouble, he was there. Mama always said he was the most positive and energetic person she’d ever known. He carried his burdens lightly.

Grandmama always said when she heard Uncle Jack striding down the hall like a race horse, “Jack walks just like his daddy.” We have just a few pictures of him, some of them formal pictures for which he posed with his left wrist in his pocket but also a few candid shots which reveal a lot more about the man.

He was a handsome man. Even in the faded photographs you can see his straight nose, thick black hair and laughing eyes. Grandmama said his eyes were bright blue and always looked as though they were smiling, even if the rest of his face was serious.

There’s one of him sitting on the grave of a man he disliked, propped against the headstone eating a slice of watermelon laughing. There’s another of him standing next to Queen, holding Uncle Russell, then an infant, in his arms.

Every Friday night he played checkers with a group that gathered each week at the local doctor’s office after work. It was a rarity for him to lose.

He was so strict about observing the Sabbath that he’d let hay stand in the field to be rained on before having it cut on Sunday.

He and Grandmama loved to play cards but had strict rules against playing games of chance on Sunday. When we were growing up there we held to that rule. We were allowed to play hearts though. Maybe that wasn’t considered a game of chance but a game of skill. I do know that not much skill was to be seen when we children played.

Sunday afternoons were reserved for visiting. That’s when families gathered to eat after church.

My grandparents hosted a dance several times a year. The biggest one was during Christmas holidays. Someone played the piano, and usually there would be a guitarist and a fiddler. Couples would dance in the hall. It was 75 feet long and 20 feet wide and could hold a crowd.

He was a great dancer, and I would love to have seen them whirling around to the music. I found their sheet music to “The Turkey Trot” in the old piano bench.

He died during World War II, and Grandmama outlived him by 30 years. Upon her death I was given her Bible, much used with the cover worn thin. There was a pressed rose wrapped in tissue with his obituary clipped to it. In her beautiful Palmer penmanship she’d written, “Jack’s last rose.” When I took it out it crumbled to pieces.