The old John house

Published 4:49 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

This time of year I love watching the plants in yards and along roadsides come to life again. I’m sure this comes from the farmer blood of my grandparents coursing through my veins. Papaw swore by the Farmer’s Almanac and poured over it in much the same way my grandmother did her seed catalog. I think of my grandparents often, and many of my favorite and most vivid memories occurred on their farm in Neshoba County.

“Get your shoes on honey. Papaw is going to check on the new family in the Old John House. They have a little girl about your age, and she may want to play in the sand with you.”

“Mamaw, do I have to wear shoes?”

“Only until you walk across that patch of stickers. Then you can take them off.”

I had begged and begged to stay at the farm until the family came back in a week or so, and although I was more homesick than I thought I would be I was enjoying being the only grandchild on the hill for once. Unusually the old farmhouse and acreage were teeming with children of all ages, and this was a different experience for me.

“What’s the little girl’s name, Mamaw? Is she the only child they have?”

“I believe they have a baby and an older son too, but he will probably be helping his dad in the field.”

I felt important taking my new friend to the sand pile and showing her how to climb up the enormous hill of white sand only to slide down and do it over again.

We didn’t talk much that I recall, but we climbed and slid until sand was imbedded in every place sand could work it’s way into. The afternoon sun bore down on our little bodies causing freckles to pop out on our noses dotted with perspiration.

When Mamaw called that it was time to go home I hated to leave my new friend, but was about ready for a snack. This is the only memory I have of the girl who lived in the Old John House. I never even wondered why she and her family lived in a house on my grandparents’ farm. I just knew that people moved in, worked a while, and moved on.

I suppose that Old John must have lived in the sharecropper’s house for a long time and thus the name. I could tell the way that my grandparents spoke the words that Old John was someone they revered. Funny how memories work. Now I wish I knew so much more about the people who spent time working on my grandparents’ farm. I know that they moved from place to place looking to get ahead, and they were treated well because that’s the kind of people my grandparents were.

I hope my little playmate from that sunny day of my childhood has had many happy days sleeping in her own bed in her own house, but I can only hope.

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at