Chuck Wilsons Grandma Katie

Everybody said my Grandma Katie was different, and they were right. She wasn’t unique; she was sui generis (and I hope you caught what I did!). When a boy, many of my relatives said, “I declare, Charles, you’re just like your Grandma!!” That pleased me!

Grandma Katie was my mother’s mother. She is the source of the best memories I have of my childhood.

She lived on a 90 acre farm, in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia, past Johnson’s Corner, south of Lyons, which is three miles south of Vidalia, on US 1, a town known for onions, moonshine, and Piggly Wiggly.

At the old farmhouse, I loved waking up to smells of coffee brewing, eggs frying, sausage cooking, and grits boiling. For my breakfast, Grandma would break an egg into a bowl, cover the egg with grated hoop cheese and crumbled fried sausage, and then cover the mixture with boiling grits. After a few minutes of simmering, she would sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top and mix the ingredients together. The first time Mama saw it, she said, “Charles, that looks awful! Give me a taste!” It tasted good!

When I was a boy, Mama wouldn’t let me drink coffee.

Grandma taught me to drink coffee — her way. She poured out a half cup of coffee, put in four teaspoons of sugar, finished filling the cup with milk, and added “just a drop” of whiskey for taste (and Grandma liked “just a drop” of whiskey for her arthritis and everything else!). Mama and Daddy didn’t argue with Grandma. Only four-foot- eleven-inches, she was large-and-in-charge.

Grandma also made what is called “Cat Head” biscuits. That is, biscuits the size of a cat’s head. Sometimes she would make what she called a “Lion’s Head” biscuit just for me. She would carve a large hole in the center of the biscuit while it was hot, put a large dab of homemade butter in the hole, and then overfill it with pear preserves she made from the fruit of the large pear tree back of the house. After eating that biscuit, a puppy was able to pull a freight train all day.

Grandma smelled so good! Juicy Fruit chewing gum! Navy snuff! Noxzema! And, of course, Ben-Gay! And when Grandma gave me a hug, it was like being enveloped in a sweet, sweet cloud of cotton candy, flavored and spiced with generous helpings of goodness and love.

My memories of summers at Grandma’s farm are precious. I loved working in the corn, cotton, and tobacco. I loved the good smells of the soil, the crops, and especially the tobacco barn and the smokehouse. I loved the hours spent on the front porch shelling butterbeans and peas, snapping string beans, shucking and cutting corn, slicing okra and squash and peppers, and doing all the other tasks needed for canning and freezing.

On the front porch, I was told the stories of my people — the Wilkes, the Branches, the Corsis, the O’Neills, and other names lost to memory. Since she was born on August 1, 1898, Grandma was a woman of two centuries. She regaled me with stories about members of my family: of her older brother Ira, who soldiered in the trenches of France during World War I; of relatives who lived through the difficult time after the Civil War; of her grandfather who lost a leg at Vicksburg and of others who did not return home; of plantations and slaves, and of riches and poverty; of soldiers who fought the British in the American Revolution; and of a matriarch who survived scalping as a little girl of eight, in 1760, when her family was ambushed and killed by the Cherokee Indians, during the French and Indian War — and this story was so detailed I thought she knew the woman and the horrific event was recent.

Grandma knew things we don’t know today. She knew the names of wild flowers. She knew the wild plants that were good for food — and tasty. She knew what to pick for poultices. She knew on which side of the tree the lichens grow and the ones that were edible. She knew where the fish were in the river and how to hook a worm and spit on it so that you would catch a fish every time. She knew how to wring a chicken’s neck and clean it, and she knew how to skin a catfish with a nail.

Grandma told me about the first time she saw an automobile (a marvel she never learned to drive, but a four- legged, brown mule and a blue-grey Farmall tractor she learned to drive hard!), the first time she drank a Coke, the first time she heard a voice coming out of a box, the first time she saw a movie, the first time she saw an airplane (and she said it frightened her and she ran into the house crying, for she thought it was a dragon). And I was with her when she ate her first bite of pizza.

I was her first grandchild, and she spoiled me. She had a fiery temper, but I never felt her fire. Even the time I soaked her with the garden hose. She ran after me, caught me, and I knew she was going to switch me. She didn’t! Instead, she picked me up, hugged me, and laughing heartily said, “Let’s get some ice cream, Charles!” I never tested her temper again to see if her fire would burn me!

Born in 1898, she married her “Bud” in 1914 when she was 16. Upton Wilkes was a farmer and a teacher. He graduated from high school when that was unusual in rural Georgia. He was thought of as educated. He was a reader. He knew Latin, a little French, and he was proficient in math. Mama told me stories of her father teaching in a one-room schoolhouse when the county couldn’t afford a “real” teacher for their little, out-of-the- way school. She also told me he could buck dance and sing. He was a deacon in the nearby Primitive Baptist Church, who memorized Scripture and preached occasionally.

Grandma and her Bud had five children (three boys and two girls). Hattie (the youngest girl) died in 1927 from a fever; the other children lived long and productive lives. On Hattie’s grave, unless it has been recently moved, is the little girl’s tea set my mother placed there in 1927. At her death, Hattie was 9; Mama was 11. I hope no one has disturbed the tea set the little girls played with!

Bud died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in 1949 when I was 3. I only have one clear memory of him. It was on my birthday. We were in his pickup. He had on overalls, a starched white shirt, and two yellow pencils in the pencil pockets of his overalls. He had a farmer’s tan. His face was sun and work worn. His dark eyes were intelligent and intuitive. The sweat band on his old hat was over-stained. His hands were calloused and rough and hard and yet gentle. He smelled of the sweat of years of hard work, of the good soil of Georgia, of animals cared for, of crops gathered, and of more than a few cigars smoked — a good smell! He had a 5¢ cardboard cup of ice cream and was spooning it to me with the wooden spoon which came attached to the lid of the cup.

As I said, I don’t much remember Katie’s Bud. But Katie did! When she told me stories on the front porch, she always got around to the day Bud died. He had been sick for a good spell. As I said earlier, he died of what Dr. Yeomans diagnosed as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The truth is: who knows!?! He died!!

Their bed had been moved to the front room so family members could better attend to him. Grandma begged him not to leave her. She said, “What will I do without you? Who will love me? Who will I love? I don’t want you to go!”

My Grandfather said to Grandma: “I won’t be far, Katie. Go down the hall to the spare room where I read. Go past my rocking chair and floor lantern until you come to the Morning Star, cross the bridge over the Rainbow, go past the Milky Way, take the first path to the right and walk up to the door called ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ Knock! I’ll be just inside and waiting for you. I won’t be far!”

I wasn’t allowed to attend my Grandfather’s funeral. They said I was “too little.” My Aunt Marie Branch held me in her arms in the front yard of the Little Flock Primitive Baptist Church in Tattnall County, Georgia. But I did hear (and can still hear) Grandma crying, saying, “Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me, Bud!”

Grandma had just turned 75 when she died suddenly of heart failure in 1973. It was about 7:30 in the evening. Still sui generis as ever! And I wonder! I wonder! That evening, at about 7:30, when she knocked on the door called “Heaven’s Gate” (which is not too far), I wonder . . .

The doctors tell me I should have died a year ago. They tell me my dance with amyloidosis will end sooner rather than later. Well, whatever!! I’m not dead yet and the music of life plays on and I keep on dancing!!

Yes, whatever! But in the pages of my memory, I do go back to the old farmhouse in Nowhere, Georgia. Is the rocking chair where Bud read by a kerosene lantern still there? Is the portal leading to the Morning Star, to the bridge over the Rainbow, to just past the Milky Way, and to the path leading to the door called “Heaven’s Gate” still there?

Soon I’ll know! I’ll not be too far!

With a few remaining thoughts, I am

Charles W. Wilson


  1. Mark Shaver on June 28, 2024 at 7:58 am

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Charles Wilson on June 28, 2024 at 1:20 pm

      Dear Mark Shaver,

      Thank you for reading the story of my grandmother.


      Chuck Wilson

  2. Tanisha Brissie on June 28, 2024 at 10:09 am

    This was beautiful!! I love you!

    • Charles Wilson on June 28, 2024 at 1:22 pm

      Dear Tanisha Brissie,

      Thank you for reading the story of my grandmother.


      Chuck Wilson

  3. Scott Robar on June 28, 2024 at 6:29 pm

    In tears -wow!

    • Charles Wilson on June 29, 2024 at 8:21 am

      Dear Scott Robar,

      Thank your for reading the story of my grandmother.


      Chuck Wilson

    • Gayle on July 1, 2024 at 9:00 pm

      You’re my favorite storyteller. Keep dancing, Uncle Chuck!
      We love you!

  4. Lori Tonya Frasier on June 28, 2024 at 9:28 pm

    I loved reading this story! You are precious! ❤️

    • Charles Wilson on June 29, 2024 at 8:20 am

      Dear Lori Tonya Frasier,

      Thank your for reading the story of my grandmother.


      Chuck Wilson

  5. Joy Wilkes Martin on July 1, 2024 at 9:14 pm

    Wow – what a wonderful tribute to our Grandmother! Your story telling is a true gift. Thanks for sharing.

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