One summer afternoon, a Mr. Hood—a childhood friend of Dad’s—they had gone to school together when they were boys—came back to Trenton on a visit to old friends. He had been living back East somewhere.
He rented a horse and buggy from the Livery stable in town, and drove out to our farm to surprise Dad. But, I’m afraid it was he that got surprised!
Ralph, Harry and I were sitting on the front porch steps when the man drove up in front of our house, got out of the buggy, hitched his horse to the hitching post, came through the front yard gate –when he came through the gate, Jack placed himself in front of us kids, bared his teeth slightly, and raised the hackles on his back.
All our friends and neighbors knew and heeded this silent warning—they knew they better! For, to Jack, nobody could come too close to us kids, and especially not touch us—and to him nobody meant Nobody.
Mr. Hood was a big, jolly man, and walked up to us with a loud “Hello! There!” and reached out to pat me on the head—like lightning Jack leaped and caught his wrist, and held on.
Mother heard the man and came to see who it was. It took a lot of persuasion on her part, and Ralph’s, to convince Jack Mr. Hood was alright. And, even then, Jack kept a suspicious eye on him all the time he was there.
Jack had been trained to go for the throat of any man that tried to harm us kids, and Dad was always worried that Jack might kill some man that really wasn’t entending any harm to us. He had warned all our friends and neighbors to back off fast when Jack bared his teeth and raised his hackles—they might not get a further warning. Jack took his protection role seriously, and, when he warned anyone, he meant it.
Jack almost never barked. Sometimes there was a low, rumbling chest growl, but he never barked at anyone. The only times I ever remember him barking was when some of the mules would wander into the yard. There was a wide gate from the drive in the yard, opening into the horselot, so Dad and the men could drive the hay wagons to the big barn to unload hay into the hayloft. Sometimes they didn’t close the big gate and a mule would come into the yard. Jack would bark and drive it back into the horselot. If it came back into the yard, he didn’t bark—it got nipped and put back where it belonged. It usually stayed there.
There was little protection from the law in those days, simply because there were almost no telephones in the country homes. Dad had to pay for running the telephone lines from the two miles from Trenton to our house, so our telephone was the only one around there. When people needed the Sheriff when a crime took place, they had to go into town after him—by the time the Sheriff got there—the criminal was long gone.
At harvest time the farmers had to hire help in harvesting their crops, one man alone couldn’t do all the work. They helped each other as much as possible, but all the crops had to be harvested at the same time. They had to hire help—these men were “drifters,” both black and white—they just drifted from one place to another. No one knew who they were or where they were from. There had been some serious crimes in the county—robberies and even a few murders. Dad was concerned about the safety of Mother and us kids. So he wont to Dallas and bought Jack. He was a registered, pure bred bulldog. And he had him trained there to protect us. He was well trained and a good protector. He especially hated strange men, and wouldn’t even allow the neighbors to come into our yard unless Dad ordered him to let them in.
Jack Mackey and Lawrence Johnson were the only ones of our hired hands he trusted—except old Uncle Jim—Aunt Em’s husband. He was an aged little black man. Aunt Em had white hair, too, but somehow, to me, she never seemed old. She was a big, fat woman, but very active. No one dared call her a servant—she was Grandma Burns’ “helper.” And considered herself one of the family. She often said she was born into the family.
Her mother and father were slaves of Grandma Burns’ family back in Tenn. The Connelly family came to Texas by wagon train in 1851, and Aunt Em and Uncle Jim came with them.
Grandma Burns and Aunt Em told me stories about the wagon train trip, and Indian attacks, even after they got to Texas.
For some reason the kitchens used to be built separately from the main house. Aunt Em told me how the Indians—which she called “heathen” shot arrows at her as she ran from the house to the kitchen, and she was kept there most of the day. She was the only one that had any food, as the others were in the house, and had nothing to eat.
However, they never had any real serious Indian attacks—that is, no one was killed, though the Indians did steal some of their livestock and once burned their barn. But there was the ever threat of a possible Indian attack. All the men wore side arms, and the women had guns in the house and were taught how to use them.
Aunt Em told me once she was busy in the kitchen cooking when she looked up and saw an Indian man looking in the window. She said “she let out such a bloodcurdling scream” it must have scared him half to death, the last she saw of him he was going over the hill running like a lion was after him. Grandma Buns said probably the Indian just smelled the food cooking and was hungry. Aunt Em said she was the first black woman, probably, he ever saw, and the “heathen” must have thought she was some kind of evil spirit after him. Anyway, as far as she knew, that Indian never came back there. She said bet he had to change his pants when he got back where he came from!
Watching Aunt Em cook was my first interest in cooking. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old, for I had to stand in a chair to watch her make “tea cakes” as she and Grandma Burns called them. They were really cookies, and I guess the reason they called them “tea cakes” was because they always had them with their afternoon cup of tea. It was always hot teas—no one had ice in those days.
I wasn’t allowed to have tea—”it wasn’t good for me” so I had a glass of milk with the “tea cakes.”
When I got married, Grandma Burns sent me some family recipes—the recipe for these ‘tea cakes’ was among them. I still have it and a copy is enclosed.
I’m sure Aunt Em could not read or write. She said she cooked “by guess and by gosh.” But, boy, how she could cook! I’ll never forget how good it was. She said her mama taught her how to cook when she was a child, and she had done a “mighty lot” of cooking since.