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Harris Blackwood: The best memories come free
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

My mother was born 3 years before the Great Depression. She used to say that they were so poor that they didn’t know the difference.

There is no family home place, so our crowd gets together every year at the homecoming at Center Hill Baptist Church in downtown Gratis.

When the people there found out that it didn’t cost any money to open a post office, they did so in 1893. The Post Office Department thought that Gratis sounded better than Free, so some bureaucrat in Washington named it Gratis. There is just something poetic about a federal bureaucrat assigning a more appealing name to a free post office.

My great grandparents on my mother’s side are buried there. My great-grandfather was named Atticus Bunyan Dillard. Sounds like he would be 6’5” and about 250 pounds. He was maybe 5’5” and weighed about 140 pounds. My great-grandmother, who I never knew, was named Viola Virginia, which I think is a great Southern name. Their daughter, my grandmother, was named Daisy Belle, which is also a great Southern name.

I have a great-great grandfather who was named Issac Newton Dillard. Unlike his namesake, he was not a scientist. My people may have been from the land of the free, but they figured out a few things like if you fall out of a pecan or oak tree, you’re heading for the ground.

I love going back because there are so many memories there.

My granddaddy, Harold Stone, who we called Papa, lived in a little shotgun house on a road named for my Uncle Ike.

Papa had an electric stove and a refrigerator by the time I came along. However, you got your water out of the well and there was a two-hole privy out near the fields where Papa grew a few crops.

Papa always smelled like Bull of the Woods plug tobacco. He carried a little coffee can with some paper in the bottom to church and would have a little chew after the Sunday service.

If you can go to a place where they talk about turning water into wine as a miracle, then you can take a plug of Bull of the Woods.

Papa heated the place with a pot-bellied stove and he would stoke the fire with coal. I thought those black rocks in his yard were wonderful, until I got their residue on my hands and clothes and mama would give me dose of seat warmer.

Today, my mama’s generation is nearly gone and the baby boomers are getting on up there.

But my treasure trove is full. I love to talk with my cousins about their memories of coming to spend time in Gratis. The stories are fun and they’re the kind of golden remembrances that kindle your memories of folks you know and love.

What’s great is they all were free, just like the name of the little crossroads called Gratis.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.
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