April 22, 1927 was the beginning of the great Mississippi River Flood, inundating some 37,000 square miles up to 30 feet in depth. Over 700,000 people were displaced, a large percentage coming from the Mississippi delta region. The outer edges of the flood reach Yazoo City, Mississippi, where just a month earlier, on March 23, Barbara Ann Gerrard was born. This is my mother.
Two years later came another flood; the Great Depression. During these hard times John Bunyan Gerrard and Barbara Fisher Gerrard would raise two daughters. He built a small house and opened a store in Bentonia, MS. A few years later he was unable to meet a $17 payment on the house, so the small family moved to rented quarters. John Bunyan would have a heart attack and die in March of 1943 while sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of his store. He was 59. My mother was 16.
It was a flood of hard times. People owed the store money, and Bunyan owed money on the store. They were saved when my grandmother, who we called Maw, received the appointment to be the Post Master of Bentonia. They all moved into a railroad boarding house next door to the Methodist Church.
There Barbara Gerrard met a railroad man from McComb named John Purser White. JP, as he was known, would go off to WW II and then return to the railroad and to the pretty girl from the boarding house in Bentonia.
They would marry in the pastor’s study of Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Jackson. There is only one fuzzy picture of them from their wedding day. While JP worked on the railroad, mother taught kindergarten then Home Economics. Then another flood came – children! First a boy came, then a girl, then another boy, and yet another boy (me), all in five years. Then five years later another girl with special needs was born.
Barbara and JP raised their family in church. Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night – we went to church. (I never got to see Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color nor any of the first season of Lost in Space because – we went to church.)
Not only did Barbara and JP take their family to church, they celebrated the mysteries of faith in family life. Our dining room table was a large door on metal legs. There would be a flood of family living around that door. We prayed around that door. We heard the Word of God around that door. And our mother placed many a delicious meal on that door. (Today that “door” is in my storage building.)
This weekend at Camp Buckner near Marble Falls, Texas, Barbara White’s family flooded in to celebrate her 90th birthday. Five children with four in-laws, eight grandchildren with five grand in-laws, plus 11 great grandchildren – 33 total. With six ordained ministers in the mix, Sunday morning we had our own church. It was wonderful.
We ate, laughed, and played games. Mostly, we shared old stories like siblings do when they rarely have a chance to be together. Then the flood receded. We all left and went back to our lives, from Texas to Mississippi to Georgia to Virginia.
I thank God for a mother who persevered the floods of life and instilled in us a strong work ethic, a love for music, and an ever abiding faith. I also thank God for parents who allowed each of us to soar in our own way and in our own direction. As a result, we are scattered and far apart, but we deeply care for one another.
Barbara Gerrard White’s life began with a great flood. I pray her remaining years are flooded with great memories of a loving, diverse and scattered family.