Monthly Archives: January 2015

Saturday nights were focused on Sunday

Betty at Mimi's house, 1940's

Betty at Mimi’s house, 1940’s

I once read an article about a church service where you didn’t even have to get out of your car to attend. While the preacher sat in the doorway and spoke into a microphone, inside the car you just tuned into a radio station to hear him.

You could come in your bathrobe, your old jeans or your bathing suit. No personal preparation was necessary, you could skip the shower and not even brush your teeth if you liked.

Of course, these hot summer days when you have to leave your car running for the air conditioner to work, you might burn up a few gallons of expensive gasoline doing that.

Inside-the-building attendance at Sunday School and worship services were a given for my family when I was growing up, and Saturday nights were focused on preparing for Sunday. The radio was usually on (no television yet in our house), but whatever program we listened to, we were busy getting ready for Sunday church attendance.

After supper, mama went through our closets and dressers and carefully chose, pressed if necessary, and laid out our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. She meticulously selected the right shirt to go with my brother’s dress pants, the right crinolines to go with my frilly dresses, and the right clean socks to go with our Sunday shoes.

Mine were white Mary Janes, of course, and any stray scuff marks left over from last Sunday had to be eradicated. There were always stray scuff marks, unfortunately.

That meant me pulling out the bottle of white shoe polish and the sponge applicator, a sheet of old newspaper, and covering each shoe with the chalky white liquid not once, but twice.

Once would be enough for me, but not for mama. “I can still see that streak,” she’d comment, pointing to a faint offending mark on one toe. I’d probably acquired it kicking the back of the pew in front of me the previous Sunday when my imagination was wandering in a far-away land someplace.

I managed pretty well to get through Sunday School and the hymn singing, but the preacher’s sermons sometimes let my attention drift right out of the window. After all, I was only a little kid and there was no such thing as Children’s Church in those days.

So scuff marks were usually present on the toes of my white shoes and a second coat of polish was essential to gain mama’s approval. Of course the first coat had to dry completely first, meaning I could do something else in between, usually also related to Sunday.

One such activity might be shucking corn for Sunday lunch, on those Sundays we didn’t go to the Boston Cafe after church or drive out to Mimi’s house. Or I might be called upon to peel a few potatoes to be transformed into potato salad, for the same reason.

If my assistance wasn’t required with food prep, I might get to help my brother with his also-scuffed shoes, brown instead of white, being sure his paste-wax polish didn’t wind up all over his fingers and arms.

Once everyone’s clothes and shoes were ready and neatly laid out, us kids finished up the evening with shampoos and tub baths. Mama finally let us listen to one more radio program from the relative safety of our beds, the bedsheets protecting the cleanliness of our beings.

By this time we weren’t permitted to do anything else, such as playing with dolls or cars – we might get gritty or grimy and wreck our just-bathed condition.

Sometimes I think fondly of all the steps our family went through on Saturday evenings to prepare for Sunday mornings, and we were not the only ones in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Mama and daddy had a principle about church attendance: You should “Give of your best to the Master,” which meant being clean and neat, trying to pay attention, singing when everyone sang, praying when everyone prayed, learning the Bible verses and lessons, sharing handshakes and hugs with the other people, and living according to the scriptures as best you could from day to day.

I’m not sure we would have benefited as much from a drive-in church where you could skip most of that if you liked.

The Florence Cotton Warehouse Fire of 1948

“RUSSIA REJECTS PLAN FOR SOLVING BERLIN CRISIS,” read the Florence Morning News front page headline Sunday, October 24, 1948.

Directly under it in smaller letters was another headline, “$80,000 Fire Destroys ACL Cotton Platform Here.”

It took me several years to find this story — not the one about Russia and Berlin; the one about the fire.

CottonWarehouseFireB&WI remember that night clearly, the sight, the sounds, the smells. And the people.

It was well past my bedtime when the alarm went off that night. Half of downtown Florence must have heard it. My parents hurriedly got us up and dressed and the next thing I remember, we were headed down the street toward the railroad tracks.

“The fire attracted a large crowd of people from all sections of the city,” read the newspaper article. Despite the late hour hundreds of people crowded the streets, all of us drawn to see what was going on. There wasn’t just a foot-traffic jam, there was a car-traffic jam too, as more and more people drove in and parked haphazardly along the streets.

Some men simply left their cars or trucks in the middle of the street, jumping out and running toward the fire. Looking back, I realize they were hurrying to help the overwhelmed fire department. From the horrible glow against the night sky we knew it had to be bad, and it was.

As we got near, water hoses criss-crossed the street and we had to watch our step. Mama and Daddy each held one of us kids in a tight grip while we walked with the growing crowd of other parents and children.

The fire engine roar nearly drowned out their speech as adults tried to talk. “Wonder what started it?” “What’s in there?” Then we began to smell it. The combined odors of burning cotton, rubberized roofing and wood veneer furniture created a stench. At one point, “a drum containing tar or oil exploded and was heard all over the city.”

When we had gotten as close as we were permitted by police and firemen, the crowd spread out and stood assembled to watch and to pray. Now and then through gaps in buildings we’d see flames shooting into the air, but mostly we just saw a dark red glare extending upward and outward. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising in the night sky, illuminated by the glare.

People shuffled around, jockeying for position and inching forward. “Can’t see much,” one man said, turning back to give his spot to someone else.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there in the night, watching and listening and smelling. Gradually the crowd began to thin out as people returned to their homes or their cars. The next day’s newspaper article began, “100 Bales of Cotton Are Burned, Weaver Furniture Co. Warehouse, Frank Key Roofing Building Lost… The cotton platform itself, about 200 by 300 feet in dimensions, was said to be almost a total loss.”

On Sunday afternoon our family joined others at the scene of the fire. Nothing much was left but pile after pile of blackened rubble. Several fire hoses were still in place, I guess in case of a flare-up. I don’t know how there could have been one, considering the thousands of gallons of water poured onto the fire.

We had to step around black puddles of run-off on sidewalks, ground and street as we walked closer. The smell wasn’t as much of a stench now, it was more like the stink from garbage piles burning down at the city dump.

That fire was a huge loss to the City of Florence. The cotton platform was the only one of its kind in town, according to the ACL spokesman, and I have no idea if it was ever re-built.

Why did I search for this news article for several years? Other major fires had happened in town before and several more after that, but this one imprinted itself in my memory. I could remember how old I was at the time. I could still feel the coolness of the night air on my face, so I knew it had to be fall or spring.

I could still see the glare of the flames in my mind, hear the fire engines and smell that horrible odor. I could still hear the word “warehouse” passed from person to person as we walked along. But I didn’t know exactly what had happened and it bugged me.

So I’m glad to finally learn what did happen that night, but sorry too. My mother’s house burned in 1965, also in the middle of the night. I’m not ready to write about those memories yet. A fire is a dreadful thing, whether it’s a business or a house, no matter what the year.

Here’s the full text of the Florence Morning News article (the fire image is from another source):

SUNDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 24, 1948 ACL Cotton Platform Here 100 Bales Of Cotton Are Burned; Weaver Furniture Co. Warehouse, Frank Key Roofing Building Lost

Fire caused an estimated damage of $80,000 or more here last night when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. cotton platform warehouse containing some 100 bales of cotton, and an adjoining building containing a boxcar of roofing and another warehouse full of furniture was destroyed.

The cotton platform itself, about 200 by 30 feet in dimensions, was said to be almost a total loss. It was owned by the A. C. L. and was used by cotton buyers of this section for weighing and shipping cotton daily. It was located between North Irby and Lucas Streets at the A. C. L. freight tracks.

Frank Key of Florence estimated that he lost some of the roofing, the most of which had just been delivered, he said. Mr. Key rented space in the south end of the platform building from the A. C. L.

An adjoining building, said to be owned by Marion Lucas of Florence and rented to the Weaver Furniture Company of this city was also destroyed by the fire. The company was said to have had the building stored full of furniture but no representative of the company could be contacted last night for comment.

R. B. Hare, superintendent of the Columbia District, A. C. L. said that the platform was built about 8 or 10 years ago. Mr. Hare was at the scene of the fire but he did not estimate the damage to the building. He said that it is the only cotton platform of its kind in Florence. M. J. Dickert, A. C. L. freight agent, also at the fire, said that cotton was handled on the platform daily and he estimated that about 100 bales were destroyed by the fire.

The fire alarm came into the city fire department about 11 p. m. and firemen fought the fire from all sides but it had got a big headway before the alarm was given. No one had any idea of the origin of the fire. Mr. Keys said that he did not have any insurance on his roofing that was in the building

The fire attracted a large crowd of people from all sections of the city. At the height of the fire a drum containing tar or oil exploded and was heard all over the city. Firemen focused their hoses on the section with the drums and no others exploded.

The Day the Martians landed

Kudzu Vines, Chinaberry Trees, and the Day the Martians Landed

kudzu1Kudzu has taken over the swamp on West Palmetto Street. This is an annual ritual, of course. Warm sunny days, a little rain, and lots of kudzu vines.

The broad, delicate leaves drive some folks crazy, pulling, burning, cussing – but to a kid in the 1950’s, the kudzu forest in the center of our block was a wonderful thing.

A few trees stretched upwards between the bushes, and under that shady canopy were many caves, tunnels and other hideouts. Cowboys and Indians? Of course. Cops and robbers? Them too. And Martians!

Whenever I pass the kudzu-covered swamp, I want to park the car and dive right in, become a kid again, burrow beneath the leafy branches and find arrowheads, bottle caps, bits of pull chain and bolts, maybe even pennies or nickels! Oh, for the good old days of kudzu vines and chinaberry trees.

A chinaberry tree looks like a cross between a pecan tree and an oak tree. The branches are thick and start low to the ground, and there are lots of them. They arch, twist, and form handy angles for sitting or climbing for grade-school kids.

Communications were great from the branches of a chinaberry. A couple of empty bean cans threaded with tobacco twine pulled taut, and you were all set. Enemy spies? I spy an enemy spy! Notify HQ!

Green chinaberries may look like oversize garden peas but they are hard as acorns. They made convenient ammo fired from your standard caliber sling-shot. Our sling-shots were hand-made, of course, with a sturdy handle ending in the best fork you could fashion, a length of rubber inner-tube for the business end.

Getting hit with a chinaberry propelled by a sling-shot was no laughing matter, but we didn’t have any crack shots in our crew so there weren’t many direct hits, or mama would have used a different weapon on our tender bottoms.

Oh yes, about the day the Martians landed…

All the kids loved our kudzu forest. It only stood to reason, (these were the days of the movies “Invaders From Mars”, “The Red Planet” and “Rocketship X-M”) if Martians wanted a good place to hide while they studied the earth, they’d pick that kudzu field, right?

One day Harold and I were out there playing when we saw them. They were tall and scary! They wore gas masks with long tubes to breath whatever kind of air they needed, helmets with ear flaps and spacesuits of course, and they made terrible alien noises. They started after us but our little legs were too fast.

Then they fell back laughing hilariously, and it turned out they weren’t Martians at all, just older kids who lived on the other side of the block. I was sort of sorry they weren’t real Martians, though.

It would have been really something if we were the first to discover them – it would have put Florence on the map, and us, too!

The Blizzard of ’73

HogInSnowSooooie, pig, pig, pig!

Sooie was a friendly pig, at least we called her a pig, even though she must have weighed close to 300 pounds. We fed her grain, sometimes weeds, and housed her in a nice, roomy electric fenced pen with a soothing, cooling mud hole.

The children didn’t really look upon Sooie as pork chops, sausages and bacon, but that’s what she was. Groceries on the hoof.

Of course, it helped that the children weren’t as attached to Sooie as they were to the yard dogs and house cats, but to save everyone’s sensitivities, we never referred to hog-killing time around Sooie herself.

Things were going very well, Sooie was gaining appropriate poundage and we were anticipating sugar-cured hams and real hickory smoked, vinegar and hot sauce-based barbecue, when it happened.

The Blizzard of ’73. One February morning we awoke to a wonderland of snow, and ice, and icicles, and the children went wild. Strangely enough, the lights stayed on. Guess the icy pine branches didn’t hang low enough on our power lines to hurt anything.

We all pulled on our clothes and went to investigate. Snow up to the porch! Snow filling the front ditch! Snow everywhere! Pine branches cracking and snapping from the ice made a strange, exotic musical concert. We had a grand day, no work, not much inconvenience, just fun, fun, fun. Snowballs! Snow cream!

Until we began to hear grunt, snort, grunt, snort, coming from around the side of the house. Sooie’s pen had filled with snow, covering the electric wire completely up and shorting out the circuit. She just up and walked out, probably wondering where breakfast was.

Being quite weighty by now, she promptly sunk down in the fluffy white stuff, and began creating a tunnel-like path as she plowed forward.

You really can’t afford to lose 300 pounds of prime pork, so Paul headed out the back door to construct a make-shift pen out of rough boards, and the kids and I headed out the front door to head her off before she went exploring too far.

Me in my knee-high leather boots, all-weather coat and driving gloves, and my similarly-clad children offering moral support and high-pitched yells – Sooooie, pig, pig, pig! – we did our best to corral our adventuresome, freedom-loving hog.

The kids confronted her with wild calisthenics from up ahead, and me and my bulky winter garb tried to block her escape from the rear. All we needed was a few more minutes, and Paul would finish hammering nails and begin shoveling a path directly into the new accommodations.

But Sooie’d had a taste of liberty, even if coated in snow and ice, and she wanted no part of a pen. She spied those peculiar shenanigans in front of her, turned her body around somehow, and suddenly I was facing one determined sow, snout to snout.

Alas, I wasn’t much of a match. She stepped right on my leather-shod foot, flattened me right into the side of the snow bank, and waddled on by me at full speed ahead.

Watching her ears flapping in the breeze, I decided at that moment that maybe poultry was healthier than pork. The children decided it was even more fun watching mama hobble after the wayward porker than to help round her up. As they contributed their yells and antics from a safe distance, I limped my way to the back stoop and observed as Paul finally intersected her path with a new one of his own.

By the end of the day, Sooie was tired out, maybe a few pounds lighter from her unaccustomed exercise, and happily munching corn in a dry, sheltered corner of the storage shed. As I soaked my swollen, black and blue foot in a bucket of hot water and Epsom salts, I was thinking, how much is pork per pound these days?