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I joined Peoples Temple when I was twelve years old. Maybe I shouldn’t profess that, because who, at twelve years old, could really make that kind of decision for themselves? Actually, my stepfather’s girlfriend was a member of the church, and she introduced me to it in hope of me “settling down.” I had taken a rather rebellious turn and had begun to act out in ways that were dangerous. The church had a large youth ministry which she felt would help tame me down a bit. I was placed in the custody of a Temple member who lived in San Francisco. Two years later, after attempting suicide, I was placed with another family in Redwood Valley. Being a Temple member did calm me down a bit, but in exchange it added a lot of anxiety to my life. I met Newhuanda Darnes, a friend and real confidante, something I really needed at the time. Her mom and Miss Frankie were friends, and they’d stay with her when the church came down to Los Angeles.
I really can’t recall the first time I met Frankie Grigsby, the woman we called “Miss Frankie.” I’d see her sitting behind one of the tables in the Los Angeles church selling her indescribably delicious cakes. She had a 7-Up pound cake that would knock you to your knees! And she could fry a mean bird! Her fried chicken was out of this world. I liked hanging out at her table, “helping” her any way I could just to get a slice of cake or a chicken wing.
We joked and laughed. Newhuanda knew that I needed to learn how to laugh again, so she began inviting me to Miss Frankie’s. Newhuanda and I changed the title of the song “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles to “Frankie Grigsby.” Miss Frankie laughed when we sang it. I liked her because she always seemed to be interested in what I had to say. She had a way of looking at you that made you feel interesting and important. When you talked with Miss Frankie, she gave you her full attention.
I don’t know why I began to spend Saturday nights at her home when the church came down for Los Angeles services. I mean, I had family to go home to in Los Angeles, but sometimes I’d bypass a visit with my siblings and go to Miss Frankie’s. I always felt bad about it later, but a night at Miss Frankie’s was always worth it. We’d stay up late talking. Miss Frankie was tireless. I could never figure out how she did it. She could attend her table, do church duties, and still come home and entertain out of town guests.
Sunday mornings were an event in her home. Miss Frankie believed in a hearty breakfast, and no guest of hers was going to leave before experiencing one. She wouldn’t dare let you leave her home before devouring her bacon, eggs, grits, biscuits, and sometimes fried chicken too! She made you feel like it was more than a meal to her. I guess she was sharing a little of herself with you. I doubt if she ever got the opportunity to share that part of herself in Jonestown.
It’s been decades since she’s been gone, but I can still remember the smell and taste of Miss Frankie’s love and kindness. I’ve often wondered if anybody misses and remembers her as I do.
(Glenda Randolph Bates was the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. She had a Doctorate in Theology, and passionately preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Glenda was also a board certified lactation consultant. Her numerous articles for this site appear here. She died on March 29, 2022 from pancreatic cancer.)