Old Barn House in Carlton, Arkansas in the Lake Village Area of Arkansas. Porter & Bunn Ancestors lived and worked the fields in this area which is forty miles from Lake Providence.
My trip to Arkansas & Louisiana this April, was a time to breathe in the clean country air, to walk the land that my ancestors walked, to imagine them in their environment and mentally roll back the time. These fields were greener than any I have ever seen as I live in Southern California, which is naturally a desert.
There was a mixture of the old with the not so new in Dermott, Arkansas which was my home base during my travels. I was nestled between the boarders of Arkansas and Lake Providence, Louisiana where the Mississippi river ran through. I was amazed by the scenery of the beautiful waters, lakes, rivers and the bountiful trees that grew everywhere, as there were a many cypress trees wading in the waters. I could not even imagine this place, even in the stories of those who knew the area. This is a place that one must go to if one wants to experience the rural south in all its glory, in all its majestic beauty. I could tell, that God walked here.
This vacation was a time for me to feel closer to my ancestors, and a time which allowed me to reflect about my Grandmother Helen Bunn and my Grandfather Harrison Porter and the many ancestors that passed on years before them.
As I have so much to share, I was thinking where shall I begin? Where does my present meet up with my past, my roots, my people? Then I thought, “Let me talk about the things my grandmother shared with me, or what I remember about my grandmother.”
Helen Bunn was born in Rayville, Richland, Louisiana on August 16, 1903. She was a child of a sharecropper. Her father grew cotton, wheat and rice. Helen’s family moved from one plantation to the next in order to get away from the mistreatment the land owners would place upon those who worked their land.
In Helen’s childhood the Bunn family moved to Lake Providence, Louisiana and worked the land of the Brown Plantation. Helen grew up in Lake Providence and remained until her son (my father) turned five, when she ran off the farm that her husband Harrison had tilled since he was a child.
Walking this area and seeing what was around, It was confirmed in my spirit of what my grandmother said, “I ran away because, I wanted your father to get an education. I didn’t want him growing up on the farm, where there was no future for him.”
Some memories and stories of my Grandmother told to me in the early 1970’s:
Helen had feet that seemed to curve in a funny way. I questioned her why she had a lump on each of her feet right below, where her big toes were. I later found they were called bunions. She stated that when she was a little girl and well into her teens, a missionary church of white folks would drop off a huge box of shoes that all the children on the plantation would go through to pick out their one pair of shoes for the year. She would have to make those shoes last all year round. It didn’t matter if those shoes were too big or too small. Helen always seemed to get shoes that were way too small, so it curved her foot and caused her to have bunions.
A thing I thought was odd, was the coloration of one of my grandmother’s feet. She was a brown skinned woman, but yet her foot was scarred to a very light tone. I was so curious as to why. When my grandmother was about twelve, she was walking barefoot outside (Something she would get on me about). She stepped on a large rusty nail that went through the bottom of her foot. Back in those early days of 1915, it was not uncommon for the home remedy of using turpentine to be a daily cure. Her sister Elizabeth poured turpentine on the puncture and on the bandage which she wrapped around her foot. Everything was fine while Helen tried to recover as she sat on the front porch of the house looking out into the field.
Why did Helen get this grand idea to play with matches? Well, she was bored, and she struck that match and she lit her foot afire when she accidently dropped it on her foot. I am not sure how she was able to distinguish the fire, but once it stopped burning she had three degree burns.
In those early days that my grandmother had to pick cotton in her father’s fields, she would chew plugs of tobacco. Why would anyone do that? One day when I was visiting, I was passing through my grandmother’s sewing room in South Central, Los Angeles to go outside to play with some friends. I notice Helen chewing on something I thought was beef jerky. “What is that?” I piped up! She handed it to me to try it. I took a bite out of it and my face screwed all up and I nearly choked trying to spit that stuff out of my mouth. My grandmother laughed so hard saying, “That’s tobacco!” I will never forget. This is how I learned about the taste of tobacco.
More stories to come….Hope you enjoy