"But at the table all six would be … never to starve she would see …"

Cornbread and buttermilk was a delicacy that drew Emma Lee Buntyn fondly back to her early life in post-Civil War Tennessee. She migrated north in her youth, finding work in Harlem, New York City. In her third-floor, two-bedroom apartment, she was known to her six grandchildren as Pappie, the one who sacrificially shared her space and life with them. She never rested until all six of her charges had graduated from high school.

Pappie refused to split apart these six grandchildren. Three younger girls shared one bedroom, two boys slept in the living room, and the oldest girl, until she graduated, shared a bed with Pappie.

Pappie’s limited income from running a presser at a dry-cleaning shop meant that during the week food was meager. Snacks of mayonnaise sandwiches suited the grandchildren better than Pappie’s own preferred supper of homemade cornbread crumbled into buttermilk. However, Sundays meant home-fried chicken dinner with trimmings.

Clothes were patched and handed down from one child to the next. Sunday found the six Buntyns dressed for church in neatly pressed, though less-fashionable, outfits. Their shoes might have cardboard inside, but the leather outside was polished to a shine. Before taking on the Buntyn crew, Emma Lee was quite a natty dresser.

Each Buntyn grandchild has contributed to this memorial. They share how Pappie coaxed and cheered them on to become productive adults. Having learned from raising her only son (who mostly abdicated parental responsibility after his divorce), Pappie laid down clear rules with immediate and physical consequences for disobedience. She engaged with her grandchildren’s teachers and was respected in the community.

The reader will be proud to meet Ina, Bill, Paul, Cynthia, and twins Bernadette and Bernadine. They are proof that tough love, like Pappie’s, can maintain “old-fashioned” family values.

Return to USR Home