Daddy’s mother, who we called Mammy, had a sweet tooth that was apparently genetically passed to me. Our farmhouse was a mile away from the one she, Pappy, and Aunt Ruth lived in, so when we ran out of candy, cookies, cakes, or pies at our house, I was known to eat sugar from a coffee cup with a spoon. Some years later dentists explained the connection between my love for sweets and my prematurely rotting teeth while they slowly drilled into deep nerves beyond the Novocain to install yet another filling.
It is precisely because of my sweet tooth that I vividly remember Mammy bringing a large basket of candy bars to the fields we tended near their house as my brother Nolen Robert and I were growing up in the 1950s. Daddy had a sweet tooth too, so our routine was to visit Pappy, Mammy, and Aunt Ruth for a few minutes each day before commencing the farm work. This little visit served as a cue to Mammy that we were on the place, and off we would go to do the work of the day.
Pappy was getting up in years, had retired from farming, and seldom if ever came around to where we were working. Aunt Ruth stayed close to the house to care for Pappy and Mammy and take care of the house and garden.
Usually about an hour into the work, we would start watching for Mammy and her basket of candy bars. She always knew where to find us because our preparatory visit included a description of where we would be and what we would be doing. She always wore a bonnet and long dresses—the ones she pulled down around her ankles to prevent NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley from looking up as they broadcast the news. Her basket was oblong, about ten inches wide, sixteen inches long, and eight inches deep. She lined it with a cloth that she folded over the ample number of candy bars to keep the sun from melting them.
I always flashed a big smile at Mammy when I saw her coming. I no doubt salivated at the thought of the chocolate. Mammy’s favorite candy, which she bought from Uncle W. G.’s nearby grocery store, were Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. By today’s standards these were large candy bars and they cost a nickel apiece at the store.
Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Milky Way bars are visible here. (Photo credit)
Mammy never tried to limit how many candy bars we ate. She normally brought 15-20 bars in the basket just to demonstrate that she had more than we could eat. She was very generous. She never ate a candy bar with us, opting instead for the dip of snuff in her lower lip. In fact, as I think about it, I never saw her eat a candy bar anywhere. She seemed to be always dipping snuff unless she was eating a meal.
Maybe candy bars were not her thing after all. Maybe she knew they were our thing. All these years since I have assumed that Mammy had a sweet tooth; otherwise, I reasoned, she would not have had such an abundant supply of candy bars all the time. Maybe she ate dessert at our family gatherings, but I don’t remember one way or the other.
I’ll have to look into this story further when I see my cousins in Tennessee this summer. As it stands now, it’s similar to my armadillo story in that I started the story that was in my head, but before I finished, it morphed into something else. As the writer Joan Didion said:
“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”
I’ll report back on this later. Stay tuned . . .
Okay, reporting back now! During a June 8, 2012 discussion of this story with several of my first cousins, one of them, Edna Russell Jackson, said that Mammy used to mix sugar with her snuff, making a 50-50 mixture. Colleen Smith, the wife of my cousin Gabe Smith, said that her mother or grandmother also added sugar to snuff. In addition, Edna remembered seeing Mammy eat candy bars. She didn’t always dip heavily sweetened snuff.
So Mammy did eat sweets. She had a sweet tooth. These are important findings that help explain my own sweet tooth and why I have so many fillings in my teeth today.
Mammy was really sweet.