MRS. ROXIE CHESSER RENSHAW CRAWFORD, SOUTHERN COOK
By Virginia Wade
Charlton County Herald, August 29, 1979
Our featured cook this week is Mrs. Walter Renshaw. Mrs. Roxie Renshaw was born in Charlton County on Chesser’s Island where the Chesser Homestead now stands. She is the daughter of pioneer citizens Mr. and Mrs. Allen Chesser.
There were thirteen children born in this family, all of them on Chesser’s Island. Mrs. Roxie is third to the youngest. Four of these children are still living. Mr. Harry Chesser, Mrs. Kate Rider, Mrs. Vannie Hickox and Mrs. Renshaw.
Mrs. Roxie, her brothers, sisters and the other children who lived nearby, attended a one-room log cabin school built by her family on Mr. Chesser’s land. In those days the children went to school for just a few months in the fall of the year. The other part of the year they had to help out on the farm.
The teacher boarded with the Chesser family. Mrs. Roxie remembered several of these teachers. Among them were Miss Rena Taylor, Miss Ava Roberson, Miss Laura Nazworth and Miss Pearlie Johns.
After attending for four years Mrs. Roxie stayed home to help with all the family chores. Many of the household items now on display at the Chesser Homestead such as the “palmetto broom”, the gall berry “bresh broom” and the “corn shuck scrub” were made by Mrs. Roxie at an early age. Cooking was done on a wood stove – no temperature could be measured – you just knew” how much wood to put in to control the heat.
The washing (or family laundry) was done under the “sugar shelter”, where the cane syrup and homemade brown sugar was made. The clothes were boiled in the syrup kettle or iron pot. They were rubbed on the the homemade rub board and beat on the battling block to get them clean. They used homemade lye soap and took great pride in the quality of the soap they made and the clean white laundry. The water, of course, came from the well – pulled up one bucket at a time – and it took many buckets. The wash tubs were made of barrels cut in half.
Many other family needs were handled by the women of the family. Almost all the clothing worn by the family was made at home. Mrs. Lizzie, Mrs. Roxie’s mother, saved her egg and chicken money each year and made one annual trip into town to buy bolts of cloth to sew the various garments. Bolts of unbleached muslin for underwear, different colors of muslin for shirts and skirts, calico prints for dresses (mostly dark colors that did not show soil), apron checks for Mrs. Lizzie’s aprons (women of that day wore their dresses to their ankles and always a long checkered apron). And denim for the men’s waist pants. The shoes and overalls were either bought in town or ordered by mail. All repairs on shoes and clothing were done at home.
When Mrs. Roxie was sixteen years old she married Mr. Walter Renshaw. They had been “courting” for a while and after setting their wedding date he made a trip to Jacksonville to buy a new suit to get married in. While he was gone her uncle died. The family left the island to come to Sardis Church for Mr. Sam Chesser’s funeral and Mrs. Roxie left Mr. Renshaw a note. He followed her on to Folkston, accompanied by the preacher, traveled to Sardis and they were married that afternoon just outside the cemetery gates after the funeral. The date, October 12, 1924.
They began their married life in the Boone’s Creek area at Mr. John Wilkerson’s place. Mr. Wilkerson was Mr. Walter’s grandfather. The Renshaws had twelve children – eight of them they reared to adulthood. One little girl, Norma, died when she was three years old. Norma was only eighteen inches high and weighed fifteen pounds. She was a little doll and everyone who met her loved her. “She would talk to anyone and she could smile and sing and win your heart,” says Mrs. Roxie.
The Renshaws lived for 42 years at the Toledo fire tower. In a rambling farm house Mrs. Roxie was still cooking on a wood stove. [Our families were friends during my growing up years and I ate at her table many times]. She was and still is a very good cook.
The family farmed, raised cattle and hogs and tended the fire tower. Mrs. Roxie would climb the tower very early and not come down till dark, especially if the weather was dry. And sometimes they had to make night checks.
A few years ago – in June of 1972 – they built a home in St. George and moved “into town”. They attend the Baptist Church in St. George, where they are active in the Church work.
Mr. Walter has been ill for the past few years, but he is able to drive his tractor, and work in his garden and yard. He is growing some sugar cane to make syrup in the fall.
He said “I have been out there today hoeing the sweet potatoes and field peas, I don’t have the wind to work like I used to. I have loved living here in Charlton County. I lived a few years in Jacksonville during World War One, but I came back here after the Armistice was signed. One day I got tired of cooking for myself and I went to a lot of trouble to get “Edna”. (This is her real name and what he calls Mrs. Roxie. Everyone else calls her “Rock” short for Roxie.)I would not have wanted to live anywhere else in the world.”
Mrs. Roxie is a good cook, one who cooks with love. She always cooks special cakes for the birthdays of all her children and grandchildren. This is quite a job since there are 30 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Mrs. Roxie, who has a sunshine smile – the kind that lights up the face – and warm loving eyes, laughs as she says “I don’t cook with a recipe or recipe books, I just cook like I was taught. I have always just done it my way. I just put in what I think it will take and I taste it till it’s right.”
Then, three recipes were printed following Mrs. Wade’s interview. Mrs. Renshaw told how she made her delicious chicken and home-made noodle dinner; the Chesser favorite of sweet potato biscuits, and her very special four-layer birthday cake.