Dolly Olivia Greer
Walter Jones and his grandmother, Dolly Reid, in Mahopac, New York, in 1957.
Dolly Greer was born in Marion Walthall County, Mississippi, in the year 1880. I can't tell you what she did in her early life. She must have gone to school, because she knew how to read and write. Sometime in the early 1900's she married Jessie Augustus (Gus) Reid. They raised five children. Her only job in life was housewife, mother and grandmother.
Before we go on about Dolly, let's look at the duties of a housewife in that time period. They had none of your modern appliances to aid them in their job. There was no electricity and no gas, so look around and see all your appliances that she didn't have. She didn't have a heater or an electric or gas stove with a good oven, instead she had a fireplace and a wood-burning stove. No running water in the house, so no bathroom, the toilet was a good piece from the house because of the smell. The toilet paper was usually an old Sears catalog. A housewife got up before daylight, milked the cow, started a fire in her stove, cooked breakfast, washed the dishes, cleaned her house and then went to help in the field. When the mail passed, which was around 10:00 AM, she left the field to fix dinner. She returned to the field after cleaning up after dinner. She would leave the field a couple of hours before her husband to feed the chickens, gather the eggs and cook supper. After cleaning up the dishes, she would get the kids to bed and about dark go to bed herself. The good thing about this was that she didn't have to work in the fields every day, only when it was time to hoe the crops or pick cotton. All of you should thank the Lord you didn't have to pick any cotton.
Monday was wash day, if she was lucky she had a son old enough to draw water. The water came from a well. To get the water out you dropped a bucket down the well with a rope tied to it. The rope went through a pulley and the other end was tied to a spool with a handle, you turned the handle and drew the bucket up, thus you drew water. For washing you drew two tubs plus a wash pot full. The wash pot was for boiling the clothes, after boiling them she would rub them on a washboard then beat them with this thing that looked like a small oar. After that she would wring them out and then dry them with her solar-powered clothes dryer (a clothes line).
Tuesday was ironing day, yes, everything had to be ironed except underwear, and some things even had to be starched. The garden was hers to take care of. The husband helped plant it, but it was hers to take care of and harvest. She had to can food from the garden and the fruit trees. So, you see, a housewife didn't have time for a job, she had too many jobs already. I don't know about you, but I would rather have an outside job.
There wasn't much of a social life to be had back then. Saturday night was church night, the women and the kids went inside the church and the men stayed outside and talked and, once in awhile, if some one had a bottle they passed it around. When the singing started, they went to the windows to listen. Sometimes on Sunday they had what we called a "dinner on the ground". All the women would bring a couple of dishes and a cake or a pie. It was all set up like a buffet.
Now that you know what her job was, let's get back to Dolly. They moved to the Delta in the early 1920s. They lost everything in the Great Yazoo Flood of 1927. So they moved back to the Sartinville Community and Gus was a tenant farmer. Back then there was no FEMA to come to your rescue from a disaster. It was up to friends and relatives to take care of their own. After I was born, she had another burden to take care of -- me. My mother went back to New Orleans to get a job. She sent money to help out. When I was sick, Grandma took care of me, and when I was bad, she also took care of me. When I was six or seven I had a pet goat named Billy the Kid. My grandfather taught him how to butt and every time Grandma would bend over, BOOM! she would get it. Needless to say, Billy the Kid ended up as Sunday dinner. I didn't eat any goat. I really believed that was intended to be his fate all along.
After my grandfather died in 1942, we moved in with Uncle Dee for the rest of the school year. Then we moved to Mobile with my mother and Aunt Ned and Pat. Aunt Ned and Mama worked in the shipyard and Grandma kept house and watched me and Pat. There we had electricity and running water, even a bathroom in the house. The bad thing about that was that you had to take a bath every night. Mama and Aunt Ned would take us to a movie, but Grandma wouldn't go. She didn't like Mobile and wanted to return to her part of Mississippi.
So, they saved their money and the next year bought a farm in Walthall County in the Enon Community. Uncle Dee moved in to the house with his family and farmed the land. Grandma didn't go to the fields any more, she cooked and kept house. Sometimes she and Aunt Ina Lee would have some good vocal fights, but nothing serious. My cousin Jessie Walter and I would run to the woods all the time and when we came home she laid on, but it didn't do any good, we went right back.
Things changed in Mississippi in 1945, electricity came to the country. A pump was bought for the well and a faucet was put in the house, but no bathroom. Also the electricity brought radio you could listen to all the time. She loved the daytime soap operas. Her favorite program at night was the squeaking door, the real name was "The Inner Sanctum". On Saturday night it was the Grand Ole Opry. They also got a refrigerator and a washing machine. The washer was not like today's automatic washers -- it had a tub with an agitator and a wringer on top. You put the clothes between these two spools and wrung them out. Soon propane gas was there and they got a gas stove, which she didn't like so she quit cooking.
After my mother married in 1945 I had to go live with her. Grandma would come and stay some with us but she soon went back to the country. She never liked New Orleans. She mostly lived with Uncle Dee or Uncle Kermit on the farm. In 1955 she went to stay with Aunt Ned in Mahopac Falls, New York. There she saw TV. By then she was starting to lose reality. She thought those people were visiting her. She loved Liberaci and was always asking when he was going to come to see her. When they would tell her, tonight, she'd get ready in the afternoon. She would take a bath and put on her best dress and fix her hair. At supper, she'd tell every one that Liberaci was coming to see her tonight.
She grew tired of New York and in the spring of 1956, she returned home to her beloved Mississippi. In November of 1956, she passed away. She was buried alongside Gus and they were together again forever, on that golden shore with God. Someday I hope to meet them there.
Written by Walter S. Jones, 16 July 1999, at Kenner, Louisiana.