The last time I saw my grandmother was on her 90th birthday. It was a bittersweet visit to Philadelphia that I talked about here. In happier times, though, I spent hours recording her recollections, especially those of her childhood. This is one of my favorite stories:
Papa told me to go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher. Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there. I said I’d never forget that. ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said “Daddy said” – I called him Papa. Anyway, he wanted to know if he could have some water. And the lady [school superintendent Charles L. Coon’s wife] said, “Yeah,” and she got a pitcher and a glass. And I took it on out there. So Papa stopped and drinked him some water, and I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle. And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good. And I said, “Unh, that’s a BIG orange!” I said, “Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.” And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out, and were on our way to Edmundson’s store, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug. And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, “He said I could have a orange. And put that on the bill.” And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there. And I got the biggest one out of the group. The one that wasn’t even orange. I made sure I was gon get me a big orange! I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was SOUR, “Ugh, that’s a sour orange!” I never SEEN a orange that sour. From then on I didn’t want no big orange. And I never even said nothing ‘bout it. And I said, “Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected, yellow,” it’s not a dark orange, like a orange, and it was so big. And now I always get little oranges. TODAY. I don’t buy no big orange. ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones. But, honey, that was a GRAPEFRUIT, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit. We ain’t never had no grapefruit. And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange. And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on there when I went up there. And she said, “Well, that was a grapefruit.” “A grapefruit?” I said, “Well, what’s a grapefruit?” And she said, “It’s like a big orange. But you have to put sugar on it most time. It’s a little sour. It’s got a little twang to it.” She said, “But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.” And I said, “A grapefruit? I got myself a grapefruit.” But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter. I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.
And here’s the only photo of her, little. She was about 10 years old, and her sister Mamie was 13:
Mama made our little skirts and gathered skirts and blouses and every kind of thing, and sometimes Papa might buy one. But she measured your arms, see ‘bout what the sleeve is. I said, Lord, I’m glad them days gone. ‘Cause you couldn’t do nothing to suit … I don’t know, you couldn’t do nothing to suit the older people in them days, ‘cause they, what you ask, you didn’t have but so much, and every once in a while when you get a new piece of change, and you’d get something and you was glad ‘cause it was new, but not ‘cause it was fitting. And that picture where me and Mamie, Mamie was sitting in the chair and I was standing up by it with that white dress on. Mamie sitting in the chair with her feet crossed …. Well, she had on a middy blouse, dress. It was all, it had a collar on it where had the tape running down there with the square collar and [inaudible]. And Mama made me that dress I had on out of her petticoat! She had, she used to sew a bit, and at that time embroidery wide pieces of cloth that come up, and the bottom part be all embroideried and scalloped all the way around there. Well, that dress I had on had all that scallop on there where Mama took her – she was wearing them hip underskirts, and where she was gathered up here, that had a band on it under there, and then this here was the whole yoke from halfway up to make this part, and she took that part and made me a dress.
Remembering my Mother Dear, Hattie Mae Henderson Ricks (6 June 1910-15 January 2001.)
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved. Photos from collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.