Paying a visit to the land of cotton

This past week took me back to Hoke County, N.C., to stay with Aunt Caroline and my cousin Bill. They are both recovering from a series of happenings that left them both less than ambulatory. Bill fell down stairs and broke his leg in two places and his shoulder blade, and Aunt Caroline had surgery on her leg. He has graduated to a cane, and Aunt Caroline is on a walker. Various family members have rotated in and out to help a little where and when we could.

Aunt Caroline is 95 now and a treasure. She plays bridge, attends church regularly and is blessed with a good disposition and a generous spirit.

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddThey live on the old McNeil place. The house was built around 1830 and is little changed except for the addition of a bathroom and an updated kitchen. The kitchen originally was detached from the house, but one of the downstairs bedrooms was converted when the bathroom was added.

There is a vineyard and pecan orchard behind the house, and longleaf pines grow thick.

We would go to Raeford to buy shelled field peas and to Wagram to check the mail. We’d go to Laurinburg to buy groceries and gas, as it’s cheaper there.

One thing we did while I was there was to drive to Raeford, the Hoke County seat, to vote. Bill and Aunt Caroline were able to cast their ballots from the car, which was so convenient.

The whole area was affected by Hurricane Matthew, and even now there are areas without electricity. Some of the cotton crop was damaged by the heavy flooding, and the peanut harvest was another victim of flooding.

Hay is in short supply, and there will be a lot of challenges for farmers.

There were still fields with water standing.

I have never in my life seen such a horde of mosquitoes. It’s impossible to walk from the house to the car without being swarmed. They are thick in the grass and trees.

I went out to the vineyard to cut grape vine for wreaths, and every exposed section of skin is now covered with bites.

We stopped on the edge of one of the Cooleys’ fields of cotton, and I walked out and pulled up a number of stalks of cotton for wreath making.

The plan was to make three —two for our family cemetery plot at Centre Presbyterian Church near Maxton and one for Aunt Carolyn’s front porch.

After they were finished, I fastened a cluster of longleaf pinecones and bolls of cotton onto the bottom and stuck wild grain beneath the pinecones.

Then we drove down to Centre, and I walked out into the cemetery and placed one wreath on our grandparents’ headstone and one on Mama’s.

The cemetery is well kept and was established when the church was built in the 1760s.

Grandmama was the church organist, and Granddaddy was an elder there.

After Granddaddy died, we would often go down to the church with Grandmama and rake up fallen leaves from the plot, and gather up broken sticks and pinecones. It’s a peaceful place, and I’m awfully glad we were able to go and pay tribute to the people who came before us. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.

They lived useful, productive lives and taught us our obligations to the people in our own community and beyond. I hope they’d be pleased with what their grandchildren have done with their lives.