Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother's Day tribute to Grandma Shields

Grandma Shields in the Smokies
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “nurture.”

Mama (Fay Lankford) recently told me that she thinks of her grandmother (Hattie Jane Rhinehart Shields), not her mother (Daisy Lee Shields Holland Saylors Steward Casbohm Vest), on Mother’s Day. This didn’t surprise me since my Granny left Mama behind when she was just a little girl. I’ve already told you about my Granny so won’t retell it but you can read about her here if you’re interested. Instead, let me share some of Mama’s memories of Grandma Shields this Mother’s Day weekend.

When my Granddaddy, Samuel Jackson Holland, and Granny divorced, the courts found her to be unfit to take care of Mama (age 8) and awarded custody to him. Because Granny wasn’t around, Granny’s brother Jim Shields picked Mama up in Chattanooga, Tennessee every weekend during the school year and took her to Tunnel Hill, Georgia to stay with Grandma Shields. Granddaddy drove to Tunnel Hill on Sundays to bring Mama back home to Chattanooga. When summer rolled around, Mama stayed with Grandma Shields, Pappy (James Stewart Shields), and her aunts and uncles on the farm in Tunnel Hill. Grandma Shields was just 15 when she had Granny, her oldest child. She would go on to have 10 more children, including two that were born after Mama. Aunt Bobbie Shields was a year older than Mama; Uncle Charles Shields was three years younger than Mama; and Uncle Mack Shields six years younger so they all played together.

Hattie (Rhinehart) Shields, James Stewart Shields,
and Mack Shields
There was lots to do on the farm. They picked blackberries and then Grandma Shields made jam. They dug up potatoes and onions and then ate them with day old cornbread. Mama remembers going to the spring to wash clothes. Grandma Shields would take her scrub board, octagon soap, and the dirty clothes to the spring, put them in a tub, and then hand scrub and rinse them. Then they’d carry the clothes back to the house and hang them up on the clothes line. After the clothes were dry, Grandma Shields would heat up the iron so she could iron the white shirts the boys wore with their overalls on Sunday.

There was lots of good food on the farm too—cabbage, corn, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and biscuits. Grandma Shields made the best cornbread you ever had. And what went best with those great side dishes? Fried chicken of course! Mama remembers Grandma Shields putting a tea kettle on the wood burning stove before going to the barn to milk the cows and pick out a chicken for dinner. She’d give the first few squirts of milk to the cat, then she’d milk the cows until she had two gallons of milk in the pail. Then Grandma Shields would grab a nubbin of corn, pull up her apron and shell the corn into her apron. She’d throw the corn down for the chickens. While they ate, she’d pick out the chicken she wanted for dinner and then she’d pick it up and wring its neck. With the chicken’s neck dangling, Grandma Shields carried it back to the house and poured hot water over it, pulled the feathers out, rinsed it, and then cut it up. Finally, she floured the chicken, and then fried it in a big iron skillet.

Mama spent a lot of time with Grandma Shields between the ages of 8 and 10. Granddaddy remarried when Mama was 10 and they eventually moved to Atlanta. After that, she didn’t see any of the Shields’ family until after she married Daddy at age 15. My sister Bonita was born the following year. Later that same year, Daddy came home and told Mama he was selling the house to a couple that lived with them and she could do whatever she wanted. Mama’s uncle helped move her and Bonita to Tunnel Hill. The two of them moved between houses, staying with Granny and Grandma Shields. At one point, Mama and Bonita were separated for several months when Granny moved to Tennessee and took Bonita with her. Mama divorced Daddy that year. While living in Tunnel Hill, Mama got a job in Chattanooga. With no car, she left home three and a half hours before her shift at the textile mill began and walked three miles to the bus station, then rode the bus 20 miles to Chattanooga, and finally caught a city bus to the mill. Her shift ran from 3 to 11 PM and then she made the same trip home. Grandma Shields watched Bonita while Mama traveled back and forth to Chattanooga. After several weeks of this routine, she was able to get a room in Chattanooga and found someone to help take care of Bonita while she worked. They lived there a year before Mama got an apartment of her own. After moving to the apartment, Daddy re-entered the picture for a few days but then left again. Mama and Bonita moved back to Tunnel Hill and stayed with Grandma Shields again. Daddy eventually came back, they remarried, and Daddy helped Mama and Bonita move back to the Atlanta area.

The Shields old home place, Tunnel Hill, Georgia
Grandma Shields and Pappy’s house sat at the end of a gravel road, down the road from Granny’s house. I remember walking from Granny’s house to Grandma Shields house, picking blackberries along the way. Pappy owned 65 acres of land in Tunnel Hill. He gave an acre to Granny and another to my great uncle Paul Sam Shields, across from Granny’s acre. They both built a house on their land. You entered Grandma Shields’ house through the back door. The front of the house had a porch across the front that overlooked a beautiful pasture. There was an L-shaped porch on the back that always had stuff on it. That porch had rocking chairs on it and Bonita remembers sitting out there listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Grandma Shields had a big quilting rack set up in the living room and everyone sat around it working on a quilt section. They would let her sit with them and do something like she was working on the quilt too. I’m sure there was lots of music in the home—Grandma Shields played the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin.

Mama remembers that Grandma Shields was a very sweet person and she has very fond memories of her. She played a key part in Mama’s life—stepping in and providing a safe, nurturing environment for my Mama at a critical stage in her life. I'm thankful for that.

Daddy (Sam Lankford) holding me, Bonita standing in front of Daddy,
Mama (Fay Lankford), Jennifer standing in front of Mama, Hoyt Vest,
Granny (Daisy Shields Vest) holding Michael, Pappy (James Stewart Shields),
and Grandma Shields (Hattie Rhinehart Shields), ca. 1958


  • Personal memories of Fay Lankford and Bonita Streetman.

1 comment:

  1. Great memories... reminded me of many farm memories my mother has of growing up on a Georgia farm.