There is great excitement in the air at the Joe Griffin Place, for the Yearly Conference, better known as the "Big Meeting," is taking place in July here in Manor, Georgia. It is the early 50s, and I am a young boy. Yards have to be swept with the brushbrooms, porches scrubbed with the shuck scrubs, beds aired, floors mopped, and bed linens pressed. And food that is not grown or made on the farm has to be bought at Cousin Dan Henderson's store.
From the sister churches members come on Saturday to join in conference and a worship service and celebration at Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist church out of Manor on the Swamp Road. They call one another sister and brother; even the Elder is called brother by the members.
After the conference and service many of the members head for Minnie Jane Henderson Griffin and Joseph Daniel Griffin's home in the country. These are my beloved grandparents, and living with them is also my great-grandmother, Nancy Ann Bennett Henderson. My mother, Myrtle Loree Griffin Boyd, and her sisters and sisters-in-law, as well as some of Grandmother's sisters and sisters-in-law, have prepared food for the Saturday supper. I am excited as I see steaming bowls of field peas,
mustard greens, turnip greens mixed with white turnips, mashed potatoes, glazed sweet potatoes, maccaroni and cheese, fried okra, squash, and white rice being dished up. There are platters of sliced hams and fried chicken, bowls of chicken and dumplings, chicken and rice, and stew beef with potatoes, carrots, and onions. Large platters of tomatoes fresh from the garden and bowls of gravy add their aromas to this bounty. We have
homemade biscuits, yeast rolls, cornbread, crackling cornbread, and light bread bought from the store. The desserts are all made by my various female kin leading up to this
wonderful meal. I have been watching as the pie safe on the screened-in back porch begins to be filled. There is chocolate layer cake, coconut layer cake, banana pudding, lemon meringue pie, coconut meringue pie, pecan pie, tea
cakes and ambrosia. There are pitchers of sweet iced tea on the tables along with coffee, water,
and fresh milk.
After these drinks are poured the men folk come in from the front porch and the yards, and some leave their hats on the deer antlers beside the front door. (This deer was killed many, many years ago by Granny Nan's husband, Granddaddy Jim.) It is the custom for one of the men to "say grace," and then they begin their meal. The men always eat first with the women "waiting on" them. Then they retire back to the porch and yard, and the women eat next. It then is our turn as children to eat, and as we eat the women are back in the kitchen cleaning up.
Later the church members begin to sing their hymns in four part harmony. Grandmother sings treble, and I can hear her plainly above the other voices as they sing the old familiar hymns I grew up with ; "Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound," "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand," "Oh, Come Angel Band," and "Grace is a Charming Sound" are among the many sung.
All of us children and young people are out in the front lane playing various games and singing various songs: "Here Comes Dick a Riding," "Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me?" "Blue Bird, Blue Bird, Go in and Out Your Window," "Red Rover," and "May I," just to name a few of the games and songs.
The evening ends, and people are sleeping in beds and on pallets all over the house. All the windows and doors are open to let in the night air. There is no thought in anyone's mind about locking any of them. This particular evening I am sleeping on the pallet-strewn dining room floor with many of my cousins. I am "plain worn out" from all the excitement and the food and the play. The thought that I come from such a rich heritage and am so fortunate to be sleeping there in that farm house with my grandparents,
great-grandmother, and other relatives and family friends never crosses my young mind.
I called Mother last evening in Ware County and read her my notes. She confirmed what I had written from memory. She told me that when she was a young girl at Big Meeting the house would be so crowded that the children slept in the barn and Grandmother and Granddaddy slept under the kitchen table on a pallet.
Christopher Henderson Griffin Boyd
24 November 1999