Southern Matters

Southern Matters

Keeffe and Friends (Nashville, Georgia)

My maternal grandfather had an older half-sister, Bertha, who married my paternal grandfather’s brother Joseph Outlaw. Their homeplace joined the farm on its south side and bounded Aunt Lena’s on another side. My grandfather also had a full sister, Georgian (pronounced George Anne), who inherited from Grandpa Sam the farm that bounded my grandfather’s farm on its west side. Aunt Georgian married Lewis Keeffe, who dealt in stock and agricultural equipment. Early on, the Keeffes made their home in Nashville, 3 miles to the west, and Mr. Ab May lived on their farm as discussed elsewhere. In my youth, the Mays had moved over to the Akins place, Manning Gaskins had moved onto the Warren Place, and Aunt Georgian and Uncle Lewis had moved to Aunt Georgian’s and it seemed to me that that is the way that it always had been. The images of Uncle Lewis in his black International truck, on his red tractor plowing, or sitting on the porch are as vivid today as ever. He was a solid, hulking man with a deep distinctive voice that separated each word. He also had a measure of kindness and took care of his two unmarried sisters, Miss Addie and Miss Feeney. I remember Aunt Georgian equally fondly and saw her most days, as she was the lunch-room supervisor at my elementary school.

Half of Aunt Georgian’s children died very young, and Elmer was the sole surviving son. He now owns Aunt Georgian’s farm and his wife, Virginia, owns what we know as the Warren Place (above), and property elsewhere. Here (Slide 1), Melvin Blount and Elmer grow enough cane to make about 30 boilings a year. They fertilize once or twice a year with 4-12-12 (all sulphate).

The cane is taken to Jerry Hall’s farm, where the remaining photos were made. Jerry and his wife were classmates of mine, and it was interesting that Jerry enjoys many of the things that I do (citrus, pecans, and an old tractor)!



Melvin Blount takes a wild ride pulling the sweep at 6 rpm (Slide 2). The mill (Slide 3) is a QFM # 14, which yields about 45 gallons per hour. (Jerry also has a Goldens' No. 2, but it is not set up.) 'The syrup is cooked in a 60-gallon Goldens' kettle (which was a gift to Jerry from Bro. Julian Rowan, who was the father-in-law of Herbert, my mother's younger brother). Beginning at about 3:30 am, they cook one batch after another, and take the syrup up quickly. Fresh juice is added (Slide 4) without pulling the fire back or dampening it in any way. The furnace (Slide 5) is as fancy as you see. Trying to stay close to tradition, they cook with wood.

Jerry (Slide 6) removes skimmings as they rise, while Melvin looks on.


One of the special pleasures of going to that cane grinding was being accompanied by my late mother’s brother Sam (seated), who is in deep conversation with Elmer (Slide 7). Hearing Elmer speak almost brings Uncle Lewis back.

Elmer shows his serious side while studying the syrup, which is nearly ready (Slide 8). The final judgment is made with a hydrometer.


The syrup is taken up quickly and strained into a cypress trough (Slide 9) and then 5 quarts of corn syrup are blended into the syrup to prevent sugaring (Slide 10).

Postscript. Sam Watson, 81, died unexpectedly at his residence on September 24, 2004. Sam's easy-going, positive, confident and down-to-earth demeanor will be missed by many and deeply. Sam was a member of the Great Generation and bore the scar of a machine-gun wound. Sam's obituary.

Elmer Keeffe, 78, died after a lengthy illness on April 3d, 2009. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit with him privately for a couple of hours days before his death. Both of us enjoyed reminescing freely. Elmer's obituary.

Click here for more images of syrupmakers and friends at Elmer's Fiftieth wedding anniversay.