I cut a tree down last week. Not a good tree. Not a bad tree. A lone cottonwood tree, struck by lightning a couple of years ago. Last week it had no bark. It was long dead and dry. I feared it would fall. My son needed some firewood. We worked together. An hour later, we had a pile of firewood on my trailer.
I thought about my Grandfather and a beech tree that grew out behind his house.
My Grandfather owned over 400 acres of land in Franklin County, MS. He bought the place when he was a young man. I loved to listen to my Grandmother talk about it.
They had nothing. Not just a little, but nothing, nada, zero, zip. That was back in the 1920’s. They were not alone. Most of Mississippi had nothing. They needed some money. Enough to buy stuff so they would have something more than just nothing.
“We hitched up our little wagon. Had to cross the Mississippi River on a ferry. They were drilling for oil in Arkansas. We went to El Dorado.” she told me. “Couldn’t make any money at home back then.”
They called my Grandfather “Dollar Bill.” It’s even on his tombstone
Dollar Bill found work on the rigs. They scrimped and saved. He put back some money every week. They had a common goal: buy some land in Mississippi. Get a place of their own. Have enough to have something, instead of the nothing.
He knew a piece of land he could buy. In Franklin County, north of Bude, on Hominy Ridge.
He needed $100 to do the deal. Back then, when men worked for a couple of dollars a day, one hundred dollars was a fortune to be had. It took them two years. My Uncle was born up there. My grandmother took five $20 gold pieces and sewed them in the hem of her skirt.
“I was scared to death someone would jump us and steal our money.”
They packed the wagon and headed back to Franklin County.
There was 460 acres for sale. Dollar Bill and Ollie May put their money on the table. The deal was $100 down and two bales of cotton per year for five years. Easy financing in them days!
They raised a family on Hominy Ridge. They did a little farming, raised a herd of cattle, picked enough cotton to pay for the place and raised a lot of trees.
He called me a “Chap.”
He and I walked the woods when I was growing up. He pointed out the pine trees. They touched the sky in a ten year old boy’s eyes. Once or twice a year, he’d let someone come in and cut a few pine trees. Saw logs and pulp wood. No one touched his hardwood trees.
He told me to carve my name in the side of a beech tree. “Come back twenty-thirty years, Chap. Your name will still be right there.” he said, pointing to my handiwork. Back then, I thought everything stayed the same forever.
One day he said “They’ll come in and cut all these trees after I’m gone. I hate that. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Sure enough, he passed away, then my grandmother. A couple of years later the trucks came in and the chain saws. And the skidders and loaders.
I hope my beech tree is a piece of furniture somewhere.
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