Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:
“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’ Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there. I said I’d never forget that. ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa. Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’ And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass. And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps. So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle. And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good. And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’ And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug. And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange. And put that on the bill.’ And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there. And I got the biggest one out of the group. The one that wasn’t even orange. I made sure I was gon get me a big orange! I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’ I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.
“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange. ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones. But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit. We ain’t never had no grapefruit. And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange. And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there. And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’ ‘A grapefruit?,’ I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’ And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange. But you have to put sugar on it most time. It’s a little sour. It’s got a little twang to it.’ She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’ And I said, ‘A grapefruit? I got myself a grapefruit.’ I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’ She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter. I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”
The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):
“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”
Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.
Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1916).
- Plug tobacco is made by pressing cured tobacco in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. The resulting sheet of pressed tobacco was cut into “plugs.” Edmundson likely carried locally manufactured product.
Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.