For me, Shubuta was my “city”. I knew it was a small town as a child, but it provided a few things I thought one needed for day-to-day life. There were gas stations, a corner store, grocery store, volunteer fire department, parks, and two factories that employed some of the people in the town. This was a far cry from neighboring Waynesboro and Quitman, which in the early eighties, shared similar offerings. The contrary experience to city living was that of the country, and not far from my home in northeastern Wayne County, I received a taste of this life.
We called the community St. John because of a small baptist church in the area, which now that I think of it is funny to me because many of the residents were not members of that church. There is a winding road would one day be named Horseshoe Loop Road; it was the home to my grandparents and specifically the Gandy family, my mother’s family. It featured all the amenities to rival that of a good city. My family raised their own crops, chickens, cows, and I am sure somebody had goats. It was rare for me to see the interior of homes when we visited; other than my grandparents and great grandparents, I can’t think of more than two other homes I entered as a child. I would learn that people were particular about who they would allow in their homes.
The Gandy family for me began with my grandfather DeLunzo and grandmother Augustine, or Bee to some. My grandmother told us many times that she and my granddad met when they were nearly 16 and had been a couple since about that time. They had eight children, five girls and three boys, and from my earliest memories, only the three oldest had moved to live on their own.
Granny, as I called her and she herself, is a loving woman. At the time, I enjoyed weekends there because instead of cartoons, Saturday mornings meant Granny would make biscuits, grits, and bacon. She would pour syrup on the plate to have with the biscuits. She would then clean the house and wash clothes while singing all before going to out. With five teenagers still under her roof, there were plenty of eyes to watch over my cousin, Monek and I.
It was here that I picked up most of my socialization skills. I was an only child at home and did not interact with others as much even though I played with children my age from time to time. None of that compared to the interaction I had with my aunts and uncles and how I saw them among one another. At some point, Annie became my favorite of my mom’s siblings; not that I had an ill feelings for the others though. My aunts Shirley, Delilah, and her would also play a huge factor in my respect for women as I grew older since I never had an any sisters.
I could never figure in my mind where my grandfather fit into everything while I was growing up. He went off to work early in the morning and came back some time before the sun went down. He hunted and fished. There were a collection of rifles in the house and his fishing boat in the yard. On Sunday mornings, he’d go to Sunday school and church because he was a deacon. There were stories of him being a tough character in his younger days, but other than his deep, thundering voice and stature, there was nothing that proved this true.
Granddad’s sickness and passing brought a lot into perspective as to his role in the family. Me being a father and husband myself had given me a sample of the pressures a family faces, but apply to his life when it was not common for a husband and a wife to be employed, Blacks in the South received fair treatment, and the economic factors. It became obvious that holding a family together through thick and thin is a feat. During his funeral I tried to relay this point:
Paw Paw, I’ve always loved you, and becoming a man myself made me respect you and my father so much more. You made being the man of the house seem easy. Our family is beautiful. Everyone has moved in their own way; all of that is because you made the sacrifice to make sure your home had what was needed. That is to be commended and revered.