Ora Lee Tanner Cox (my mother-in-law) remembered her very first glass of iced tea, when she was about ten years old. This photograph was taken at her birthday celebration at the Tanner family farm, July 2005.
Ice was a rare thing in my house growing up. Once in a while daddy brought home a load of fish packed in ice. He’d sell the fish off the back of his truck and after being in with all those fish the ice wasn’t good to use for anything else.
On special occasions we’d have iced lemonade to drink, like daddy’s birthday when all his family would come to see him. Daddy had two complete sets of children, eight with his first wife (she died in 1917). All of them were married with families and some lived up in Gastonia, North Carolina where the men could find work in the factories. Then daddy had seven more children with my mother, and we all lived at home.
The ones living up in Gastonia had to drive on dirt roads all day to get here. Mama would take one mattress off of each bed and put down on the floor so at least the grown-ups would have a place to sleep and they’d make pallets on the floor for all the kids. The next morning the children would all go out to play and the women would go over to the kitchen and fix breakfast, then immediately start on dinner.
The kitchen was in a separate room built off a little ways from the house, for fire safety sake. Cooking for that crowd would take a long time in those days, considering you had to start from scratch. Like frying chicken. First you had to catch a chicken, or two or three.
Lemonade was made in a big barrel with lots of lemons and real sugar, and that block of ice kept it cold. That cold, sweet lemonade was a real treat. In the afternoon everybody would bring out their fiddles and guitars or banjos and we’d have a lot of music and singing before supper time.
In school (1920’s and 30’s) I was a member of the 4-H Club. One year our club was invited to a 4-H meeting at the high school in Kingstree. I had never been to Kingstree in my life and I was excited to get to go. I had to catch a bus over on the Hemingway Highway not too far from our house and I waited for the bus in front of Miss Grace Stuckey’s house.
She must have seen me standing out there in the hot sun, because she came out and asked if I would like a glass of iced tea. Since I was pretty warm I said yes ma’am and she brought me a glass. I thought it tasted like Black Draught, but she was so kind to bring it to me that I had to drink it. At least now I knew what iced tea was!
When I was in high school the 4-H Club took a three-day trip to Charleston. In high school the club didn’t meet during school hours but you’d meet in a lady’s house after school. I needed to go home right after school so I had to drop out of 4-H. But a friend asked me to go on the Charleston trip with her that summer, so I did.
We rode to Charleston in the back of a cattle truck, a large open-bed truck. There must have been benches down the sides but there wasn’t any roof. I stood up all the way, looking in amazement at everything we were passing. I especially remember crossing the old Cooper River Bridge. I also remember that by the time we got to Charleston I was sunburned.
The club slept that night at the Citadel and the next morning we all piled back into the truck for a sightseeing tour around the city. We went to the Museum and the zoo, and also to the Isle of Palms to swim. I don’t remember there being a lot of houses at the Isle of Palms, just beaches where we could all swim.
And we had lemony flavored cold drinks but no iced tea. That was just as well to me, I remembered iced tea as tasting too much like Black Draught!