Granddaddy operated the cotton gin and sawmill at Cusaac’s Crossroads for a while. Hot boring days could become more interesting with climbs to the top of the cotton seed house. It was a small square building atop sturdy posts, kept filled by a conveyor that blew in machine-separated cotton seeds from the top. Harold and I climbed up the ladder (that was a no-no), jumped into the soft bed of cotton seeds (another no-no), and used that seed house like our personal trampoline. We didn’t know about the rats and snakes that made their homes beneath all that fluffy stuff until years later.
The gin building itself was another fascinating playground, when not in operation. The baler was a big hole in the floor, cotton-bale dimensions. The hole would be packed down and piled high with ginned cotton, a huge motorized press was lowered and in just a few moments you had a cotton bale! Finished bales lined the long platform outside like oversized ABC blocks. Exploring inside the gin building was another no-no, because the baler turned on and off with what looked like ordinary light switches. If we were playing hide and seek down in that hole and somebody accidentally leaned on the switch — well, I’m not sure what a baled-up eight or six year old would look like but it couldn’t have been good.
Granddaddy’s sawdust pile was another fun place to climb, but yet another no-no. It was an ideal place for shoot-em-ups with maypop grenades, or surfing on short boards off the lumber pile. We never really believed we could fall inside and suffocate like Mimi and Da claimed…
Climbing was just a natural part of childhood, be it on tree or tree-left-overs.Back home in downtown Florence, there was something tall I didn’t like so well: the Trust Building, a.k.a. “The Skyscraper.” Mother occasionally took me with her when she ran an errand there and we’d ride up on the slow, run-it-yourself creaky elevator. It was nothing at all like the neat one at Belk’s. When we arrived at our stop, the narrow, dimly lit hallway seemed just as creaky as the elevator. Our footsteps echoed on the tile floors, the sound bouncing back to us from the high ceiling.
There was no air conditioning in those days and office windows would be raised to let the air circulate. If the doors were ajar on either side of the hallway, you could feel a draft and look out into thin air on the left and the right. Worse to me, though, was feeling the whole building sway back and forth when we rode on the elevator! I know folks say it’s impossible but that’s how it felt to me.
And recently I’ve learned something about the Trust Building I never knew before – when it was first built it was only half as wide as it is today. If you stand across the street from the front and let your eyes travel toward the top, it is obvious where the new part was added. There’s a decorative brick layer on the original side that wasn’t duplicated on the addition, for some reason.
Maybe I really couldn’t feel the building moving, but local historians reported that the first occupants did indeed feel it sway! Maybe that’s why it was enlarged, who knows.
At age ten or so some friends and I discovered another climbing no-no, the stairwells in the Florentine, Florence’s second skyscraper. We were old hats at riding elevators by then, but the stairwells represented to us what the climbing wall at Ebenezer represents to kids today. See how fast you can get to the first floor. See how fast you can get back down, then how fast you can get to the second floor!
The third floor or so was as far as we usually got in our climbing contests, but one adventuresome day we asked ourselves: wonder if we can get out on the top floor? The penthouse level was private territory and we’d never been all the way up there before. Flight by flight we made it up the stairwell. The doorway at the top had been left propped open by painters or cleaners or somebody, and we tiptoed out. “Trespassers will be shot,” isn’t that what they say? We figured we’d be shot, or arrested, or maybe dropped over the edge. After all that trouble, it was pretty much of a letdown. There was nothing interesting to see except a closed door.
After a few moments of craning our necks looking at the tops of all the other buildings from this new vantage-point, we turned back to the stairwell for the trip back down, and I got an unpleasant shock. Rubber legs. I’d never climbed that many stairs at one time before and my muscles were rebelling. Clinging to the hand rail, I descended by placing both feet on each step, one at a time, floor after dreary floor.
Stopping to rub my calves now and then, I thought about this latest no-no. We hadn’t been shot, arrested or thrown overboard, but I was sure paying for playing where I wasn’t supposed to. Coping with their sore legs better than I was, my buddies beat me to the ground floor and disappeared toward home. Climbing sort of lost its appeal to me for a while after that, and I decided I really didn’t care for skyscrapers.