I grew up a Hayes. That didn’t mean much to me as a child but every year it becomes more and more important. I grew up a part-time Hayes. Oh sure, I was a Hayes all the time in name but the real Hayeses are in Toccoa, Georgia; a small north Georgia town. Growing up I lived in the suburbs of Atlanta; which made me a city Hayes. That meant I wore shoes during the weekday but went barefoot on the weekends.
So, what is a Hayes? Generally, a Hayes is a dark eyed creature. For the most part we have brown or green eyes. Big eyes with an almond type shape that tend to spark just a bit when push comes to shove. One eye tends to get smaller when we are tired…just a quirky trait. My daughter has Hayes eyes. Intelligent and sharp, not missing much. We also possess strong jaw lines and stubborn chins are a testament to the personalities that lurk just under the surface. When God invented stubbornness he did it with the Hayes’ in mind. We are strong folk. You can tell a Hayes by their hands. Strong hands. Elegant hands. Hands that can play a piano, hold a child or make biscuits from scratch. My grandpa’s hands are now my father’s hands and will one day become my son’s hands. My son was given the Henry name and was graced with the Henry hands.
Growing up a Hayes meant being a part of living history. Names such as Henry Turnbull, Augustus Butler were historical reminders of past generations. Elizabeth is part of the past and part of the newer generations sprouting up on what seems to be a daily basis. Nanny to me, Elizabeth on paper and is Liz to her friends. Her first daughter carries her name. I was named after her. My name is Elizabeth. My daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth. My older cousin is named Elizabeth. It’s part of who we are
As children we played a game of “name the aunts and uncles”. My father was one of 7 children. Seven children is unheard of in my lifetime. Every time we visited one cousin would ask the other to name them all, in order. Over the window in the dining room sat framed portraits of each one. When we couldn’t remember the order we’d run in to peek (and laugh) at the black and white photos. Elizabeth Alyce, Henry Turnbull, Julia Debra, Sara Nan, Mary Kathryn, Augustus Butler (Uncle Bucky) and baby Danny aka Robert Daniel. We’d giggle at Turnbull and Butler and Augustus without understanding that those were family name. Old names woven into the history of the south. Ancestors bearing these names fought in the Civil War. At the time I was growing up they were silly. Now I appreciate the honor that comes with a name…. especially names like Henry and Elizabeth that have been used so often and for such great people. My son and daughter bear those names. They might not be named Hayes but they are part of the Hayes history and future.
The history of being a Hayes goes deeper then names. Growing up a Hayes meant sleeping in a house built in 18—by my Nanny’s family. Walls are several inches thick. Bricks are made from straw and wheat. The family historian, Nanny even has the slave papers from the building of this house. The screen door that slammed when we ran outside is the same screen door that slammed when my dad ran out the front door. One of my favorite memories is of being dared to slide down the banister in the front room. Sliding down was a given but sliding down from the very top was another matter. Now the patina of wood gives testament to how many of us slid down that railing. The 13 of us alone made enough trips to wear out the wood. Now the 13 of us have children who are old enough to begin the trip. Sleeping at Nanny and Grandpa’s meant big rooms with tall beds and furniture that others would classify as antique…growing up I just thought of it as old. The double bed in the gold room was made by a craftsman who used to travel up and down the river. It’s made in the room and won’t ever leave the room because it doesn’t come apart. Ropes hold the mattress up onto the carved bedposts. Mom and Dad got that bed. My little sister and I slept in the same room in the other double bed. See, I wasn’t kidding about the big rooms. Each room had a fireplace. Ha! We were a bit more modern then that (I say jokingly). In the winter there were heaters that fit into the fireplace. You’d lit the heaters but they you wouldn’t leave them on. So in the cold morning of winter you would awaken to find the end of your nose colder then you ever thought possible. Many a morning I would lie there and try to force myself to throw off the covers. You had to mentally prepare to get up at Nanny’s house. Once those covers were off there was no heat. You had to become an expert at throwing off the covers and either getting dressed rapidly or grabbing your clothes to race downstairs to where a fire blazed. Standing barefooted on the wooden floor was not an option.
Of course as a child the cold was bothersome but it wasn’t enough to keep you in bed. Especially knowing that Grandpa would be waiting on you downstairs…no matter how early you woke up. No matter the time he would be there, on his stool, when you raced into the kitchen. Without asking he’d make you a cup of coffee. Then you’d sit with him…sometimes talking, sometimes not and drink your coffee. Grandpa’s coffee was more milk then coffee. The milk and the sugar were the flavor. The coffee added enough color to fool a child into believing they were drinking some exotic drink. Later, once the coffee was gone there would be breakfast. Homemade biscuits were a given. Country ham, grits, sausage and eggs might be there as well. My favorite was biscuits and gravy. Not the red eye gravy but the white gravy with chunks of sausage flecked with black pepper. No one made gravy like my Grandpa. He’d sit on that stool at the stove and whip up a breakfast that was not to be believed. As dessert you would take a pad of butter and some molasses or sorgum syrup and make a thick paste that would melt onto the biscuit. Yum!!! Such was a morning when you grew up a Hayes.
Being a Hayes meant lots of adventure. There were road trips out west with Nanny…an adventure in itself. How many grandmothers do you know who willingly take 3 girls in a car to Idaho? The number dwindles when you ask how many grandmothers do you know who, on the same trip, camp outdoors in the mountains of Idaho? Better yet, how many grandmothers do you know who go white water rafting in size 12 dress shoes? My Nanny did. Nothing scares Nanny, not even passing 18 wheel rigs on mountain roads w/o a passing lane. It scares everyone else, but not Nanny.
We didn’t need to go out west for adventure. You could find an adventure right there in the backyard. Lake Hartwell. We swam and boated and fished right there on the banks of the lake not 1—yards from my grandparents house. Adventure was climbing a bank, grasping a rope the size of your arm, lifting your feet and swinging out and dropping over 3 stories into the water of the lake. I kid you not. The climb up was easy. From there on out things got increasingly difficult. Of course when you were a Hayes there was no backing down. If you climbed the bank it meant you were going in. There was no way to back down from that point. One of the uncles would catch the rope and hand it to you. At that point you’d have to stand on your very tippy-tippy toes. Even now I get sweaty just thinking about it. There you are anchoring your feet against a root so you don’t slide down the dirt bank. One hand clasped a rope as thick as a sapling tree. The other hand holds onto something for dear life…a tree, an uncle, it didn’t matter. Below you sat a boat full of people who appeared to be the size of ants because of the distance. All of them were hoping and hollering and egging you on. On the bank beside you were your older cousins slightly sneering because they sensed your fear. Uncles offered encouragement but these were the same uncles who wanted you to let them tie one end of a string around your loose tooth and tie the other end to a doorknob so you didn’t completely trust them when they told you that you would be fine. Right before you gave up or wet your bathing suit in fear you’d reach up and grab the rope about the knot with both hands. Once you did that it was all over. Off you went. It’s incredible how fast one little adolescent body and go when you are hanging by a single knot from a moving rope. There wasn’t time to be afraid once you committed. You’d wait for an uncle to yell, “Now!” and then you would let go and splash into the lake. That was adventure.
Of course any pride you had about going off the rope was short lived because skiing was also a Hayes adventure. Every year Aunt Debbie, the world’s best skiing teacher, put one of us in the water with large boards attached to our feet. If you were a Hayes you were going to know how to ski. Most of us do thanks to Aunt Debbie, Uncle Gene, mom and dad. They started us young. So young in fact that the whole concept of skiing didn’t really sink in. On Uncle Bucky’s first attempt to teach me he left out one very important and very basic piece of information….LET GO IF YOU DON’T GET UP. Duh…you think being pulled underwater by a speeding boat one would automatically let go of the rope. Not me. If my uncles didn’t include it in the directions then I didn’t do it. Turns out that sort of blind loyalty isn’t such a good idea. The kid next in line got a little bit more instructions on what to do if they didn’t get up on the first try. Despite the first failed attempt I managed to learn in the summers to follow. Typical of my upbringing, I not only learned but learned how to drop a ski, then how to ski slalom, followed by being able to take off from the dock and how to cross over the wake and how to criss-cross ski lines with my cousin Stephen. One more accomplishment to be proud of.
In the fall the adventure was to walk up graveyard hill. Graveyard hill felt like a mountain. From Grandpa and Nanny’s you would walk down the road, cross the bridge over the lake and hike up a mountain. At the top of this hill were the graves of ancestors dating back to the civil war era. If the hike thru the untamed woods didn’t scare you the tombstones would. Crumbling momuments covered in moss and mold. Rusted, dilapidated gates entombing headstones. Worst yet were to indentions. You would be walking along when suddenly you would pitch forward because your foot had sunken into the ground. Often times when you looked you would see a large stone serving as a marker. These were unnamed graves. Civil war remains? I don’t now for sure but that’s what I’ve been told. Graveyard Hill was a solemn reminder that we weren’t the first Hayeses or Jarrett’s or Ramesy’s in these parts. It was also a testimony of sorts that we wouldn’t be the last Hayeses here either. Graveyard Hill was a challenge, a test, something that we used to spook one another. Now that I am an older Hayes Graveyard Hill is a shrine or a revered place. Graveyard Hill is now home to people that I knew and loved. Graveyard Hill is now a place where I go to remember. It now holds family…not ancestors carrying family name but members of my family who are part of my memories and my past.
Being a Hayes means a big family. The joy of being part of such a big family is that there are so many people to make memories with. For me there are memories of Nanci, the oldest cousin, reading Charlotte’s web to us on the bed in the gold room. Then there was my cousin David who looked like a Indian and who lived way out west in Idaho. When he and Suzi and Debra came to town it was liked being visited my people from outer space. They didn’t look like us with their piercing black eyes and jet-black hair. They didn’t sound like us with their clipped speech and western accent. Or Jeff, funny Jeff who was forever doing or saying something that made us laugh. Confident Sandi with an I who was beautiful and signed her name with a circle over the I in her name. Then there was me…shy, naïve little me who looked up to every one of my cousins. I tried to be Libby with an I so I could be more like Sandi, Suzi or Nanci but mom would have no part of that. Stephen rounded out our little clicque. He was younger then me but since he was a boy he was accepted. Daring, fearless Stephen who later became my best friend. That was our little group. We dared one another to go into the pink room to see if we saw the ghost of Uncle George. We swam and told stories. We ate one another’s vegetables on the back porch since our plates had to be clean before we could go back outside to play. Being a Hayes meant you always had someone to play with, to dare you or to just hang with.
My Grandpa used to pile all of us in the back of a red pick up truck that my Uncle Danny won in a contest. We would hear the truck engine rev and children emerged from the house, the yard, the barn to gather around the truck. Grandpa would shake his head and say, “I was trying to sneak off. Go ahead. Jump in.” Shoeless, we’d clammer over one another to get into the back of the truck. No seatbelts, no car seats. Just a pack of kids and their Grandpa. No one asked where he was going. We all knew the destination…the push up store. It was just a normal convenience store but to the Hayes grandkids was a special place. Grandpa would pull up and park. We’d jump over the side or off the tailgate and rush into the store. Grandpa would yell, “One thing. You each get one thing,” to us as we stampeded thru the doorway. A little bell tinkled to alert the clerk that there were customers. Mr. Hughes hardly needed that bell when we showed up. “Come on, Grandpa!” one of us would whine. “Does that mean one ice cream and one candy?” another of us would ask. “Can I get a coke too?” still another one shouted. Meanwhile we were grabbing candy and searching the ice cream cooler for the pushups in their cardboard containers. The trip always started with the threat of one thing but we always managed to convince Grandpa that he really meant one ice cream, one soda and one candy.
Once all the selections were made (a feat w/in itself) Grandpa would herd us up to the counter for our selections to be rung up on an old-fashioned cash register. Grandpa would reach into his pocket and pull out an old-fashioned change purse. The kind that squeezed on both sides and opened up in the middle. He’d fish out the appropriate change and then direct us all outside. There we lined up on an old bench beside Pate. I don’t know much about Pate. All I know is that he sat on the end of the bench outside the pushup store everyday, all day in overalls and drank 2-liter soft drinks. Grandpa sat beside Pate and one by one, like baby ducklings we sat beside our Grandpa. There we licked pushups, ate candy, drank sodas and laughed with one another. No one yelled at us to hurry up and finish. Nobody complained that we were making a mess. Everyone was content. How I wish I had a picture to forever preserve the memories of us on that bench. All I have is the memory. My dad now takes my little ones to the same store. They, for some unknown reason, call it the library. The name may be different, Pate is no longer there and the owner is no longer Charles Hughes but the idea is still the same. My dad sneaks off, only he has to contend with car seats and seat belts, to the store where he is begged, just like his dad, for more then one treat. And, just like his daddy before him, also gives in.
The ice cream store held a different kind of treat at night. My Grandpa, an amazing pianist, would join his cronies in the back room of the ice cream store on summer nights. There were banjos and guitars. A smoky room full of church pews served as their arena. Kids would dance and sing while the adults tapped their feet and listened. I can’t tell you the name of a song they played or much about the style of music but I can remember being proud that my Grandpa was up there, performing.
On Sunday’s there were a different kind of church pews. Growing up a Hayes meant you attended a little country church right up the road. Because it was in the country you didn’t have to go every Sunday. The “big church” in town sent a preacher out every 4th Sunday. As a child I thought that was awesome. No Sunday school, no fellowship hall. No sir. This was a tiny, one room dwelling with a piano, a pulpit and pews. Nothing fancy. In the winter dad had to go early to light the heater. In the summer there were paper fans to wave back and forth in an effort to quell the heat. You pulled up and parked anywhere you could on the small hilltop. People always gathered around outside until the preacher pulled up then they moseyed inside. He would come strolling in, step up to the pulpit and the service would start. Pinkie played the piano. Loud. I think Pinkie was ½ deaf. The kids used to snicker a bit at the out of tune, loud music but you couldn’t laugh aloud because Pinkie was a relative. In fact, everyone that attended the church was related to us in one way or another.
After church you would make your way back to Nanny and Grandpa’s house where a big southern meal awaited. Fried chicken, mashed potato’s, okra, creamed corn, fresh beans from the garden, gravy and of course biscuits and plenty of sweet, sweet tea. You rushed in from church and set the table. Adults got white china plates with a teal rim. The kids were handed mis-matched china plates and sent thru the line first. Of course moms were there to insure that our plates didn’t escape the vegetables. Once the plates were fixed to our parent’s satisfaction we were sent off to the back porch. The back porch ran the width of the house. In the summer it was screened so that there was a hint of a breeze. In the winter plastic covered the screens, which allowed you to use the porch into the fall. Winters were too cold. During the winter we had a kiddie table set up next the adult table. Summers were my favorite.. There was an old refrigerator on one end of the porch and an old freezer on the other. A large farm table sat to in front of the old frig. It was always covered with a faded plastic tablecloth. The table was big enough to sit about 10 children. One end had a rough, wooden bench. Mismatched chairs filled the other sides. There weren’t assigned spots. You just grabbed a spot and sat down. Out of the prying eyes of the adults we were free to barter and trade. You see, being a Hayes meant you had to clean your plate before you could leave the table. Luckily, with that many cousins there was always someone who liked what you didn’t. I didn’t like beans but Stephen did. Sandi didn’t like anything with bananas but I loved bananas. We would trade back and forth until plates were clear and we were given permission to get down. Of course we couldn’t head outdoors until the kitchen was cleaned. That took some effort. At any given mean there might be 30 or so people there. The adults would savor their meal and then stay at the table to eat fresh pound cake or a fresh cobbler. Usually by then our patience had run thin. When the adults FINALLY finished we’d all gather in the kitchen to clean up our mess. Aunt Debbie always ended up at the sink washing the dishes. Katie and my mom always seemed to take care of everything else. In those days all the leftover food was left on the kitchen table. After all, you never knew who might pop in or who might be hungry later in the day.
Growing up a Hayes meant that every evening you got bed supper. Bed supper was served at dark thirty and generally consisted of Neapolitan ice cream from a white plastic container with a red handle. Dark thirty is an intentionally vague time of day…it’s anywhere between dusk and midnight. We would usually start begging about the time the sun dipped down towards the lake. When he finally gave in, Grandpa would generously serve it up in coffee cups or heavy bowls (your dish depended on the order in which you lined up). We would then sit down at the back porch table. Grandpa taught us all how to use our spoon to mash and stir the ice cream until it was soft and creamy, just like a milkshake. So, there we sat. A ragamuffin group of kids spooning and mashing and stirring their bed supper. I was never patient enough to wait until it was good and soupy. To this day I will sometimes try and mush my ice cream up but to this day I just can’t wait. Some of my cousins could. I can’t remember who but I can remember being finished with mine and watching as Jeff or Melissa ate theirs which was that point at the consistency of a old fashioned milk shake. Bed supper still exists. My children now clamor and beg for bed supper every night. For them it’s just an excuse to eat a snack before bed. For me it was another chance to spend time with my cousins and my grandpa.
Grandpa and Nanny had other treats for us as well. Every year on your birthday you were given a cake. Your very own cake. There were no fancy scripted words declaring a Happy Birthday for so and so. No icing flowers or cartoon characters adorned this cake. There was, however, something special about a Grandpa and Nanny cake. When you cut the cake you would find, in the very center of the cake, a medicine bottle. Inside the medicine bottle was money. $10 for each birthday. Looking back I see that the special birthday cake held much more value then the money. But I didn’t know that then. I did know that I liked that birthday’s were such special days. Even now a birthday doesn’t go by with out Nanny sending a card with money inside. She has over 50 people on her birthday list and she still manages to not only send money but to get the cards to you on the day of your birthday. Only a Hayes.
Grandpa liked to dole out money. The Toccoa town is serviced by volunteer fire departments. Every year they would raise money by hosting a cakewalk. Grandpa would get all spiffed up in his bolo tie. He’d slick back his hair and off we would go. The events were held in a big tin building located at the end of a dirt road. If the cakewalk was in the summer the bay doors would be open so that you could hear the music and smell the baked goods as you drove in. Grandpa would instruct us to gather up whatever cake or fried pies he had made for the event and we would all trudge inside. Getting inside took forever because Grandpa and Nanny knew everyone. They would speak and chat as we made our way forward. Grandpa would then take the throne right near the cakewalk circle. The grandchildren lined up and received a quarter from the roll he brought with him. We would go around and around the circle all night long. Going to Grandpa in between the songs to get new quarters. I would like to know how many quarters Grandpa spent at those cakewalks.
There were other big events as well. Christmas, for instance. There were homemade Christmas ornaments like wreaths made of magnolia leaves. My favorite was the gumdrop trees. Briary limbs adorned when sugary-coated gumdrops were a favorite part of a Hayes Christmas. There were other special things as well. Dad would take us thru the woods in search of a Christmas tree. We would hike and search and hike and search until we found one that we liked. Christmas trees don’t come any prettier then than the ones you find yourselves. Dad would shoot mistletoe out of the trees in the backyard to hang in the doorway of Grandpa and Nanny’s house. Mom organized a caroling event. We’d invite other Toccoa folks and gather and the little country church to sing Christmas carols by candlelight. Everyone would then follow us back to Nanny’s for Christmas goodies and eggnog. I loved the nights of caroling so much that I later got married, in the same church, by candlelight at Christmas time. Presents at Grandpa and Nanny’s were always opened after lunch. We would eat a big country lunch, clean the kitchen and head to the “room across the hall” as it was referred to. Grandpa is gone but Nanny now does the same thing. After lunch everyone takes a place in the room. Nanny patiently, carefully and slowly opens each and every gift. In her 90 something years I don’t think she’s ever torn a bit of wrapping paper. After Nanny opens her gifts she hands (or elects a great-grandchild) to hand hers out. For her children and their spouses there is always something special. One year it was quilt top that her mother had made, another year it was bank stocks from my grandpa’s estate. Still another year it was a bound copy of love letters written from one family member to the next during the Civil War. Each year Nanny manages to give a piece of history to her children. As if that weren’t enough she buys presents for every grandchild and every great –grandchild. Christmas hasn’t changed a lot over the years. It’s just as meaningful now as it was then.
My last name is no longer Hayes. My children are not named Hayes but I hope to bring them up in the same way. Growing up a Hayes I learned what it is to be a good person. There was tough, brave, stubborn Aunt Cookie who fought cancer over and over again and did it with a smile. There is Aunt Alyce who always has something nice to say. Uncle Bucky who gave me my first driving lesson in his brand new car when I was only 14. Aunt Debbie who is genuine, honest, caring and hardworking down to her very toes. Aunt Katie who is level headed, trustworthy and intelligent. Uncle Danny who makes you laugh and who adds a bit of calmness to any situation. And then there is my dad. Henry. He put the gentle into gentleman. He’s the type of man I want my son to be. Patient and kind, loyal and fair. The type of man who can still do business with a handshake. Someone who will fight for what is right and who isn’t afraid to take on things that aren’t. He might not have a lot to say but what he does say is important. He’s got values and believes that children should say yes ma’am and no sir, please and thank you. He’s the kind of man to be admired.