Sweet treats from sweet hands

Published 10:50 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The knock at the door in the late afternoon hours of Christmas Eve meant only one thing at the Bryant household in Northampton County.

Perched on the front doorstep would be a diminutive woman…her snow white hair offset by the biggest grin known to man. In her tiny, but amazingly strong hands, were several containers, each bearing the best gift of them all.

Geneva Johnson Barrow was a simple lady with a sophisticated knowledge when it came to the kitchen. As a country girl reared on a farm just after the Great Depression, Geneva fully understood the value of hard work. Children, male and female, back in those days were expected to pull their weight in order to help the family survive.

As one of seven children of Luther and Georgia Johnson, Geneva wasn’t alone in her daily chores. She, along with her one brother and five sisters, worked by the sweat of their brow to help put food on the family table and clothes on their backs.

Just a stone’s throw away from the Johnson farm was one owned by my grandparents, Harvey and Thelma Joyner. “Ma” – as we called her – was the sister of Luther Johnson, meaning that my family and Geneva’s clan were not only next door neighbors, but family….close family. That bond, that love, would play out greatly down the road, but more on that in a minute.

My mom, Blanche Joyner Bryant, and Geneva were separated in birth by a mere 11 months, meaning they grew up together, played together, praised the Lord together, broke bread together  and worked in the field together. Later, they ran a catering business together.

Even though Geneva was the lone sister to live her entire adult life off the family farm (she married William Barrow, and they farmed just west of Jackson), she was still a “Pinetops” girl at heart. She was no stranger to where she was born and raised.

Like their mother, Billy Barrow and Jenny Barrow Wells were raised to understand what hard work was all about. Both, now living in Edenton, are successful individuals in their chosen professions. The same holds true for Billy’s and Jenny’s children….including Sam Barrow, who was overseas serving our country as a member of the Army National Guard, but made it home in time to see his grandmother one final time before she passed away.

It was the love of family that drew the Johnson clan and the Bryants closer together in the early 2000’s. My dad, Ray Bryant, was suffering from full body dementia. Unable to care for himself, that chore fell on my mom along with my sister, brother and I. It was a major undertaking, but that heavy load was lightened when the Johnson girls, Geneva included, took turns on the weekdays (and nights) to help cook, clean, nurse and whatever else was necessary. There’s not enough money on the face of the earth to repay them for what they did for my family.

I’ll miss that knock on the door on Christmas Eve. I’ll miss those sweet treats (caramel cake, red velvet cake) and world famous sweet yeast rolls made by Geneva’s capable hands. More than that, I’ll miss that sweet smile and warm heart.

Heaven must have needed another pastry chef on March 16, 2012 because we all know that’s exactly where Geneva Johnson Barrow is today. The next time you see a falling star, be advised that someone up above just stuck a fork into one of her cakes.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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