Author’s Note: This is the true story of Aunt Francis, an old colored lady who came to live at the farm where we lived in 1944. She was respected and loved by everyone who met her; except for my mother and sister.
Aunt Francis as she told me to call her lived on this earth over 100 years. Aunt France born in 1865 was the daughter of slaves. She thought herself to be watched over by the Angels, her mother and father were never sold; they were still together at the end of the War. They died and were buried on the same plantation where they were born.
Her birth name was Sarah Francis Belew; she came into my life when I was five – years – old; she was seventy nine. My daddy needed someone to watch over me while he was in the cotton fields; and my great-grandmother was getting on in age, ninety-five. My mother worked in town and she would come home most times after we were all in bed and she would be gone before most of us got up. She asks to be called Aunt Francis. I realize when I became older that calling her that could be placed in the racist category. However, in those days my daddy who was discriminated against himself; nor I knew much about being racist. My mother and sister on the other hand I doubt thought much about being racist, with my mother it was more hate than anything else; and my sister followed in her footsteps.
Aunt Francis was because of several conditions. Daddy went to the cotton gin in Priceville, Alabama, pulling a trailer of freshly picked cotton with his tractor. When he returns in the trailer, where the cotton once lay was Aunt Francis sitting in her big rocking chair, it would be safely to say that I wondered how her legs could carry this gigantic woman; but there she was an indigo blue dress with pink flowers scattered across the material. Covering the dress was a white bib apron that like the dress reached to the top of her shoes. Beside her a huge trunk which held all of her worldly belongings.
It was a Monday, mothers off day from the beauty shop. A “fight” quickly develops when mother ran to the back porch of our farmhouse wanting to know why “the old colored woman was there”. She knew Aunt Francis, but act as if she were a total stranger.
Everyone in Morgan County knew that she live in a lean-to in the back of the general store. If one does not know what a “lean-to” is, it is a three-sided building place against another building, no windows, and one door in, one door out. She lived there with her son Gus. It was her only child and the story was that she was raped b a white man, the results being Gus. She was too old to work the fields and no one wanted her for a maid or cook. So, she and Gus lived behind the store. He worked for the store at night cleaning it for a place to live and groceries. He had been accused of stealing money and placed in jail with a one-year sentence. The owner of the Priceville General Store put Aunt Francis out on the edge of the road, her rocker and chest. It was said that he had someone to tear down the lean-to and burn it along with the beds, table and chairs.
We had a little one room shack across from our house, it had a small pot belly stove and a table and chairs, and bed. I help as much as I could and we cleaned up the shack and moved her in, daddy cut wood for the stove and brought her canned fruits and vegetables out of mother’s pantry, to tell her when she wanted meat he would bring it from the smokehouse. He also told her that I would bring her potatoes from the garden. Fresh milk and water from the spring house. She was all set up before the sun set that day.
Mother did not want her there, but took advantage of it by saying she could clean, wash and cook for the family. Daddy looked at her saying, that she was not brought there to do any more than help watch me and my grand-mother. My mother was very unhappy with the situation. Now she had two to “put up” with.
She disliked Ma my daddy’s grandmother living with us, and now an old colored woman. Daddy’s grandmother had raised him when his mother died of the Spanish Flu. She was a full-blooded Native American, Chickasaw. Daddy sometimes would say to me, “You know that your mama married beneath her upbringing”, I would be much older before I understood the inference of what he said. I also felt bad for my mother she had made the mistake of marrying one of the most handsome men in Alabama. Dark, strong, a beautiful Chickasaw man. Well it was not the kindness and love caused her to marry him. My guess is that when my sister was born eight months after she med him, that was the answer. Of course, it always set my sister off into a tantrum when I would say that they had to get married. When I was born, my mother did not want another child. She gave me to my daddy’s half-sister, she kept me until I was three – years- old; when I could almost take care of myself daddy wanted me home. I had some of the most wonderful care givers in the world, my daddy, Ma (my great-grandmother) and Aunt Francis.
Therefore, I grew up learning how to act, live and survive; these lessons came from Ma and Aunt Francis. I was a young woman when I lost both of them. Ma along with my daddy had given me full knowledge of “The Ways” of their people, the nobility and strength. Aunt Francis gave me the meaning of life, to be alive and how to survive. She also, gave me the graciousness, and how a young woman should act. I doubt that I have lived up to their expectations of me, I have tried.
When I returned to Alabama to attend the funeral of Aunt Francis, it had to be one of the darkest days in my life. My daddy had taken care of her until the day she died. She moved into town when daddy left the farm when I was twelve- years – old, he found her a house and paid her rent. He gave her spending money and brought groceries to her weekly, from a list she prepared for him. My heart aches at the thought of how much she meant to us. In many ways I miss Aunt Francis more than I do my own mother. She raised me gave me the love I did not get at home.
Later in life I painted a picture of Aunt Francis in Acrylics, I wanted her to be young and alive. I have the picture today. Then much later I begin to write poetry, naturally the piece created “Another Spring for Aunt Francis” was for her. I have to smile at remembering her huge body walking across the creaky boards of the old tarpaper shack. The long dress covered with a starched white apron. Most of all I remember her hugs and kisses, she loved me and I loved, still love her.
Oh yes, the racism, being raised by Native American daddy, my Aunt (daddy’s sister), a great-grandmother and Aunt Francis, the daughter of slaves. I went into life with a different perspective than that of my mother and sister, and all of my mother’s people. I myself was discriminated against because I was the daughter of a poor Chickasaw farmer.
The poem below was created for my Aunt Francis…
Another spring for Aunt Francis
Her knees bend forward away from the worn out rocker, her legs getting their bearings while she made a puckered brow while looking out the window at the garden. Everything dies she thought; soon the fragrance of spring will be gone.
She narrows her eyes looking into the hedgerow at the end of her flowerbed to see if the sparrow hawks have returned, slowly she turns keeping contact with the old chair, holding onto its arms. After one-hundred listless summers, her soul still feeds on emotions of the stillness of the sweet-scented honeysuckle growing around her front porch.
Holding her breath she falls back into the chair, it shudders under her weight. She knows not to take her being able to stand for granted. Closing her eyes to rest, bible in hand, and her thoughts were none other than she could get back up another time, another spring. Maybe!
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