January 8, 2003
I was born in Jacksonville, Florida to John William Walker McRae and Mary Opal (Phelps) McRae. Mom was one of eleven children of John Fletcher Phelps and Clyde (Felts) Phelps. Dad was called to service in the Army for World War 11 when I was three months old and Mom, sister and I moved to Inaha to live with Mom’s sister Margaret (Phelps) Hale and her husband Jim Hale. They lived in the Smith place just across the tracks on the road to Inaha Baptist Church. My Aunt and Uncle had a daughter named Jean. Uncle Jim raised me as his own till Dad came back from the war and I’m sure that there was adjusting to do all around as I probably thought Jim was my Dad. In later years Dad told me that when he returned from the war, the train slowed for a grade and when the train made the crossing at Inaha, him and his duffel left the train. Guess he figured he’d gone long enough. We moved back to Jacksonville in 1945.
Mom told me a story about her, her brother Harris and sister Nora riding in a two wheeled cart pulled by their pet goat. As they passed a neighbor's farm a dog started chasing them and the goat refused to speed up, so Mom reached out and started ringing the goats tail. She said the goat took off down that red clay road and didn’t stop until it was in the barn at their place. Grandpa Phelps farmed their place and contracted harvesting other folk's crops. When mom was about 15 years old, the cotton barn caught on fire from spontaneous combustion and burned up the cotton, pecans and most all the machinery they owned. Grandpa never recovered financially or emotionally.
When I was around 5 or 6 I started spending 2 weeks every summer with Margaret and Jim at the store in Inaha.They sold everything you could need for a farm household. Groceries, dry goods and they had a huge sign out front of the store that advertised “Good Gulf” gasoline. The pump was the type that had a clear glass bulb on it and you could watch the gas swirl around when it was being pumped. South of the road that went to the Searcy Place was a barn that had “See Rock City “ painted on the roof. That was my landmark when we went to visit. Rolling over those red clay hills up highway 41 I stayed glued to the glass of that old 52’ Ford Mainliner Looking for the sign on the roof of the old barn. I knew two things as sure as there is air to breathe that Aunt Margaret had saved me a “Lemon Lime” soda and that she had hidden a package of the best tasting cinnamon rolls that ever came out of a bakery. Those rolls were covered at least one inch thick with the sweetest frosty this side of heaven. Probably why I have store bought choppers now but it was every luscious bite. I mentioned the train tracks earlier. I was walking down the road that runs beside the tracks, I was probably 5 years old and a train came barreling past and Mom said I was so frightened that I ran all the way to the house crying my eyes out. Margaret and Jim lived in the back of the store and had one room lined with shelves that were always stocked with homemade canned goods. A porch off that room served as a place to cure hams .To this day I can still take in all those wonderful aromas. Aunt Margaret had a Hoosier type cabinet in the kitchen and she was a wizard at making biscuits. The best cat heads you ever filled with homemade butter.
Later Aunt Margaret manned a fire tower that used to set just on that narrow hill halfway down the road from the Church to the Cemetery. She also drove a school bus. I don’t remember the year but they moved down the road and lived in a house near the Searcy Place. Uncle Jim had a red and white enamel pan and dipper that he kept under the kitchen sink of that place. Once in a while I would see him get a drink from the dipper. Not knowing any better I figured if it was good enough for Uncle Jim that ought to have a sip. It was clear, but it sure wasn’t water. I must have spit and sputtered for close to week. That was were I learned that you don’t throw old wagon wheels at biddies when they won't stop when you want them to. Poor little fellow, never had a chance to grow up and crow.
We used to visit family all over those hills and once in a while, when I need to remind myself about the important things in life, I take a ride to Inaha and visit family and take in all those wonderful aromas from the store.