The history of Gee’s Bend has never been written by its people, but the town’s storytellers have retained memories and anecdotes passed to them by their ancestors. One local griot is Deputy Sheriff Willie Quill Pettway, who remembers his mother, Annie E. Pettway (1904–1971).
She was born June 18, 1904. Her parents were Austin H. and Leetha Pettway. She had seven brothers and two sisters. She was married to Ed O.—they said Pettway, but he was a Williams. They changed his name to Pettway because he was living on the Pettway place, and they had to change their name as long as they stay on the place. So, when they took up the census, that’s what he kept his name: Pettway. His father was Ottoway Williams. He had changed his name to Pettway, too. My parents had five boys and four girls. My mama was a housewife and a field worker. She was picking cotton, hoeing, pulling corn, something like that. Pulling up peanuts and planting peanuts. Everything you can say on the farm, she did, but she didn’t plow. Some of the women plowed, but not my mama. We didn’t have no mules or nothing. The only man who had mules was the man who owned the place we living on. So, we got a bull and quit using the mule. That mule will plow along, and take a break and lay down under a tree, and you can’t get him up until he’s ready. He get hot, and he going to move, move to the shade.
We was walking about two miles and a half to the fields, and coming back about twelve o’clock to see about the baby, and two miles and a half back to the fields. Work until it’s time to cook supper.
Mama go to the fields with a pot and put on peas that morning, and every time she’d make a round she’d push the fire up under that pot, and that evening we’d have supper already done. When we knock off that evening, we bring the pot in the house, and nothing to do but fix the food. Didn’t have no good peas unless you do it that way.
My mama pieced quilts. She had to. She was piecing them in the house. My mama taught my sisters how to quilt. All my sisters know just how to make a quilt. And my sisters’ daughters know what to do with a quilt.