Remembering blackberry jelly and a generous smile

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

My father's parents, Lloyd Alexander and Ida Belle Barrett Killough, died years before I came into the world. I know them only from the old photos hanging on the walls of the family farmhouse and the stories Daddy used to tell us.

Jesse Ellis Wood - Mama's father - passed away when I was only five. I do recall an elderly man, small in stature, with a thick crop of white hair and a resounding voice that could rattle the rafters.

It served Grandpa Wood well in the little country churches of east central Tennessee where, as a "hard-shell" Baptist, he preached sermons bubbling over with hellfire and brimstone.

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Grandpa's word was law, and if any of his nine children misbehaved, they could expect a sound whipping.

Sarah Belle Brewer Wood, my grandmother, was a soft-spoken woman, as gentle a soul as Grandpa could be a stern one. And Grandma's waist-length dark hair, plaited into two braids pinned atop her head, was only lightly streaked with silver well in her golden years.

As she grew older, the slim, wasp-waisted figure of Sarah Belle's youth thickened to provide a comfortable cushion for grandchildren who sought out her perennially apron-covered lap.

Grandma meant good things to eat.

Her blackberry jelly, coupled with a hot buttered biscuit, caused your taste buds to sing. Temperamental African violets always cooperated with Grandma, producing plenty of vivid flowers and velvety leaves.

Grandma's hand-stitched quilts added color to everyday life and kept you cozy and warm on a cold winter's night. Her warm, generous smile could light up any room she entered.

Her grandchildren - and she had a houseful of them – all adored her.

We were all a little afraid of Grandpa. That voice of his could roar when we'd be running around their house - 'hey, you children, quiet down NOW!'

But Grandma, now, she was absolutely a darling," my cousin Albert told me.

Those who know my mother need only imagine her with brown eyes, instead of blue ones, and a crown of silver-streaked dark braids in place of her short white waves, to have a good mental picture of what my grandma looked like in her later years.

After Grandpa died, Grandma would come to visit my family for weeks at a time. I can still see her in our pasture, picking blackberries for her delicious jelly and cobbler, walking with me through the chicken houses, and carefully tending to the array of African violets she started for my mother to enjoy.

Grandma Wood was creative, kind-hearted, and incredibly modest, as we learned when my big sister's poster gave Grandma the heebie-jeebies.

"The Man From Uncle" star David McCallum's soulful gaze seemed to follow her right around the room, Grandma said.

"Why, honey – I just don't feel right undressing in front of that young man," she told Mama. David came down for the duration of her visit.

We lost Grandma Wood to cancer when I was only eight. I admit I feel a little jealous of those who keep their grandparents into adulthood.

Still, I am so glad I had those few precious years with this beautiful, Christ-like lady. Everyone needs at least one loving grandparent in their lives.

This Sunday, National Grandparents Day, be sure and let those special people know what a blessing they are to you.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at