Blest Be the Ties That Bind
by guest blog writer Rev. Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr. (my father)
Photo: Charles Marion Haynes and Jeannette Haynes, approx. 1946
Granny Haynes wore a lot of “hats” and an apron. I asked the only surviving child of her ten children to describe his mother. My uncle Charles, who lives in Cleveland, Georgia. said: “I can see her tying on the apron and knew something good was going to happen because she was such a great cook.” The Haynes clan does not mind being tied to her apron strings because we always knew that with Granny, something good was coming. The metaphor of the apron is so fitting for our grandmother. So, what is an apron for? All 22 grandchildren will continue to consider that question for long years into the future.
When reflecting on family roots we often discover one component that becomes a pivotal shaping force in our legacies. Surely our DNA plays a role. However, the crucial dynamic element is most frequently the profound influence of a person. The Haynes family would unanimously acknowledge the impact of Lena May Kinsey Haynes.
As the storm clouds of World War I hung over the world, Charles Marion and Lena Haynes migrated from Hall County to Bacon County (Alma, Georgia). My dad, Wilson Felix Haynes, Sr., was the first born of ten children. Charles and Lena soon moved to Waycross in Ware County where, as the years unfolded, nine more children were born. Their first abode in Ware County was in the Kettle Creek area on the very property where Baptist village is now located. My dad and his brother, Virgil, actually climbed into the branches of the massive and historical Oak tree still located on that magnificent landscape.
After a fire destroyed their house in Kettle Creek, the family moved to Gilchrist Park on 501 Washington Avenue. The family expanded with children and grandchildren, and careful teamwork enabled the family to eke out a livelihood. In due time, Haynes grocery was opened (1945) on Washington Avenue and became the central hub of life in Gilchrist Park. The store remains today as the only family- owned grocery store in Ware County. Hundreds of people scattered far and wide hold delightful memories of the store, with Lena Haynes, adorned in her apron, smiling behind that counter. The classic glass and oak candy case yielded vintage Topps baseball cards among many other delightful and memorable treats. Royal Crown Cola, Sunbeam (Hopalong Cassidy) and Tip Top (Cisco Kid) breads, and Duncan Yo-Yos held promotionals which drew the neighborhood into fun and bonding events, a tribute to Lena Haynes’s creative vision. Her inspiring presence touched many lives through the force of a store.
Charles Marion died at the age of 57 of heart complications which could be easily treated today. Only three grandchildren, including me as the second, hold any memory of this venerable and indulgent man standing behind the counter of the store and in the home. He would often treat us to a chewy Mary Jane or other candies from that familiar candy case. Lena continued to stand with recognized and resolute determination to make her family the highest priority.
The homes on Washington Ave, and later on Prescott Street, engender solid and forceful memories. Granny Haynes was insistent on the traditions that she established in these homes. Almost every grandchild climbed into the Persimmon tree next to the Washington Avenue house with unforgettable impressions of biting into the Persimmon too soon before it ripened. The annual family Christmas party was eagerly anticipated where every grandchild received a gift from her, most often a silver dollar! We drew names for the second gift. The two home sites are loaded with memories cherished by every single grandchild: listening to Perry Como sing “I Believe”, the stereo with the Elvis Album of sacred music, and seeing her adorned with an apron in the kitchen, a fabulous cook. The scenes of hearth and home at Granny’s house evoke warm feelings: just-picked vegetables from the garden, fresh eggs from the henhouse, friendly neighbors coming and going from her home, family folks sitting on the porch watching fireflies and building family bonds – and just being together. She had a way of making every grandchild think they were the favorite.
Lena was a cheerleader and found ways to encourage each family member. Her discipline was always instructive and graceful. She made life fun! She loved the trips to downtown Waycross on Saturday mornings with various family members. Additionally, she made frequent trips to visit her children in Valdosta and Tampa, Florida. Lena especially loved Gasparilla time in Tampa and well understood the meaning of the Abundant life, and the little child came out in her. Granny Haynes had a unique way of imparting the Word of the Lord that brought us joy and never fear. Instinctively, she knew that Lesson number one in life was the recognition that God loves us. She made us laugh and dried our tears.
The foundational stone in her family solidarity was Calvary Baptist Church, where to this day, there has always been a Haynes family member. The deep and extensive family roots were deepened in that hallowed house of the Lord. The most defining scene of Lena’s life is a photo of her sitting on the front row of Calvary Baptist Church with an open Bible in her lap surrounded by a sizable segment of her family. Everyone who views that photo realized the values and visions implanted in their lives because of this grand and gentle matriarch. The admirable spiritual dimensions of this family are traceable to a wonderful mentor whose life was nurtured by the Springs from the Everlasting Hills. Edgar A. Guest said, “I would rather see a sermon any day than hear one.” She made both real for us.
Lena planted the seed of “get an education” deep within these family roots. Nine of the ten children attended Gilchrist Park Elementary School. (Geneva, a twin girl, died at age seven). Ava Harper, a second grade teacher, taught all nine of them and several grandchildren, including me. She taught a Bible story every single day and taught her students quote several of the Psalms. We believe she was In cahoots with Lena regarding an additional reinforcement of discipline and spirituality. The difference was that Granny was more gentle! I can still hear Ava Harper pointing her finger and saying, “Felix Haynes, such naudness, such naudness!” (a stronger form of naughtiness). In retrospect, it took a village to raise our family and we were fortunate to have a good school, church family, and special neighborhood.
The story of Lena Haynes has become a model for generations of what family is all about. She is the persuasive embodiment of everything that makes family the design for what God intended it to become. She knew that family was the greatest priority. She created the traditions that matter most: Gathering in the home, churning ice-cream, eating water-melon and fried chicken, listening to the stereo, taking inventory in the store, and myriads of activities –all of these things– hold sacred memories. Her verbal prayers were simple and hit a lot of targets, even beyond family. In fact, literally hundreds would tell us she was Granny Haynes! The store became the home of the community and no human being was ever unwelcome. Lena’s spirit of adventure, love of life and people, deep understanding, unconditional love and example made life special for an untold number of people. The scenes and stories are etched unforgettably in our minds. We have learned from her that a positive attitude and determination are required courses in life to live with meaning and purpose. She was Granny Haynes. So, what about that apron, what is it for? It is a potholder for moving hot pots and pans for this large clan; for drying tears and dirty ears; for carrying eggs from the henhouse, peas from the garden, wiping the perspiring brow, a quick dust of the furniture before company came…and many of other uses. The purposes of this amazing emblem of days gone by will continue to help us recall scenes in the life of an amazing woman, Lena May “Granny” Haynes.
Robert Browning said of such a woman: “Through such souls alone God shows sufficient His Light for those in darkness to rise by.” And we rise.
Photos: Haynes Family Reunion, 2017