Category Archives: 1940s

My Heroes

MotteMilitaryPhotomerge2014My heroes have always been soldiers, and sailors, and airmen…

I learned the Star Spangled Banner in grammar school right along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Our music lessons at McKenzie included folk music, rounds, spirituals, patriotic music and national anthems from ours as well as several other countries.

I loved all of it, but especially the service songs — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Chorales or Choruses from various branches of the service came to Florence in the 1950’s and the whole town turned out.

The most popular movies were war stories from WWII, whether they were love stories, musicals, or dramas. When television arrived at our house, Victory at Sea became a favorite show.

These days a lot of businesses will remain open and feature big sales on Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veterans Day – holidays designed to remember and honor the sacrifices of our armed forces and their families. Some folks may take the day off and take advantage of those sales. Or they might picnic at the park or barbecue in the back yard, enjoying a long weekend off from work.

PowersMilitaryMen&FamilyIt wasn’t always like that. When I was small nearly everything closed down on those holidays, in honor of the men and women who had died in service of our country. Nevertheless, many churches will still include America The Beautiful in their Sunday worship services, and many remembrances will still be held at National Cemeteries and parks from “sea to shining sea.”

In researching my daddy’s family tree, I discovered that in the late 1700’s Stephen Motte was granted a “patent” for land in the North Carolina coastal area for service in the Revolutionary War. He traded that land for a parcel in what became known as Mott’s Township, the territory around Olanta, South Carolina.

My great-great-grandfather John Motte served with Captain Zimmerman’s Pee Dee Artillery. Wounded in May of 1864, he spent time recovering in the Confederacy’s Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. His son David Motte, too young to be regular Army, became a teenage prison guard attached to the Confederate Army.

Grandfather Charles H. Motte (see photo) joined the Army after the Civil War, stationed in New Orleans where he met and married my grandmother Etta Follette.

Some of Etta’s relatives had been Union soldiers during the Civil War, one fighting in several of the same battles in Virginia as John Motte. Charles and Etta’s first son Percy served in the US Army in WWI.

My father Harold Motte, Sr. enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1941, served several years and re-enlisted. He became a glider pilot and an aircraft mechanic.

Several of my mother’s brothers joined the Navy during WWII, Palmer becoming a career submariner. My brother Harold served in the Navy in the 1960’s, stationed on an ammunition ship in the Mediterranean Sea during the Six Days War.

Maybe it’s not politically correct nowadays, but every time I hear From the Halls of Montezuma or Anchors Away, my heart still flutters a bit and I recall my family’s centuries-long heritage of military service.

Whether you have these special days off from work or not, I hope you’ll pause for a few moments and say a prayer for all those serving today, grateful that so many have been – and still are – willing to pay the price for our freedom to have such a “holiday.”

(Edited / reprinted from 2006.)

Spending time with Granddaddy

MimiDa01I was the first-born grandchild to Marena and Dewey Powers (Mimi and Da to us grandkids). Although I spent most of my summer-time visits indoors with Mimi, Da tried on occasion to teach me the finer points of outdoor country living.

Lynches River always offered prime fishing for a variety of fresh-water fish. One morning Da decided to forego plowing and took me fishing. He baited both our hooks, then we dropped our cane pole lines over the side of a little bridge and waited.

“Watch the cork, now, watch the cork. The fish’ll take the bait and the cork’ll disappear and then we got him, but you got to watch that cork.” I watched the cork for a few minutes, then watched a butterfly, then watched a few birds, then watched the assorted branches and turtles floating by in the black river water.

“Doll baby, your cork’s bobbing, you got one, pull him in!” Da helped me land whatever kind of fish he was and there he lay, flopping about on the bridge and gasping for breath. His glassy eyes seemed to look right into my soul as he gave up the ghost, and I cried.

“What you bawling for? That’s your dinner, you caught your dinner, a pretty good one, too.” Da took my catch off the hook while I grieved over the poor little fish that I had killed. He fished a little while longer while I sniffled.

As we packed up our poles he kept shaking his head and muttering to himself, wondering what on earth was wrong with this girl, where’d I think seafood dinners came from. That was our first and last fishing trip together.

Da didn’t give up on me, though. Later on he decided I needed to learn to ride a pony or a horse. Since he didn’t have either one, the plow mule seemed a good substitute. The mule was very gentle and good natured, but very tall!

Da brought him around from the stable, let me pat his nose, look into his eyes and feel his hide. Then Da lifted me up to the mule’s broad back, showed me how to hold on tight to the bridle and slowly began to walk the mule forward.

After the first few steps I began to cry. I was so far up, so far from the safety of the good earth, “Let me down, please let me down!” I begged. And so he did.

Shaking his head as he walked the mule back to the stable, I could almost hear Da muttering his earlier sentiments, what on earth is wrong with this girl. That was my first and last mule ride.

In between attempts to countrify me, Da was spoiling me in other ways. Dimes and quarters often appeared in the strangest places, like mantelpieces and kitchen cabinets. Every time I’d spot one I’d exclaim over my find. “Guess the money fairy meant for you to have it, since you found it,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye.

Then I spied him pulling change out of his pocket one day, fingering through the silver before carefully placing several dimes among the dinner plates. I never let on that I knew who the “money fairy” was, I just kept enjoying my good fortune.

I was about fourteen when Da decided to teach me the tried and true traditions of bird hunting. His bird dogs were raring to go the day after Thanksgiving. We piled into his pick-up truck, dogs yipping behind our heads as they trotted from one side of the truck bed to the other.

On reaching our destination we met several other men, some with grandsons but no other girls. Da had demonstrated safe shotgun handling, pointed out tips to targeting a likely bird, and Mimi had loaned me her very own lightweight 410 shotgun.

My aim was perfect. I hit the first bird I aimed at and the dog brought it proudly to my feet. I took one look at it and cried. The poor little bird, I had killed it!

The men and boys looked at me like I was a real sissy and I guess I was. I spent the rest of our hunting trip camped out in the pick-up truck.

Granddaddy brought his and my bounty home that evening, cleaned and cooked the birds for supper. I probably ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All I could see was the poor little feathery creature lying dead at my feet and the puzzled look on the face of the bird dog.

I’m sure he was wondering along with Da, what in the world is wrong with this girl. You guessed it — that was our first and last hunting trip, too.

Some years later after I was married, Da would drop in occasionally to see how I was doing. Each time after he left I’d find a five dollar bill in the sugar bowl, a ten under a coffee cup or a twenty in the silverware drawer.

I knew it was my granddaddy’s way of saying that he loved me just as I was, city girl and all.

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

Good stuff like buttoning my coat and tying my shoelaces, “One, two, button my shoe.” That didn’t make sense to me but we learned it anyway. I also learned to say Please, Thank you, and May I. To share even when I didn’t want to, and to say sorry even if I wasn’t. Good safety habits like “Look both ways before crossing a street” and “Never hit back.”

The kids at Mrs. McIntosh’s learned to bow our heads and say a blessing before eating, and to be quiet and still on our little mats at nap time. I seldom fell sleep in the daytime but my imagination could keep me plenty occupied while waiting for the other kids to wake up.

I learned to count to ten and to write my numbers in big broad strokes. I learned how to grip the fat pencil and stay inside the ruled lines as I wrote my ABC’s in block letters. How to draw an almost square, a lopsided circle and a tilted triangle. How to put puzzles together, and the difference between red, green, yellow, blue, brown and black.

Some of our lessons were social, some academic and some practical but it was all fun. Us kids thought we were playing, but the learning flowed into our little heads like osmosis.

I attended Mrs. McIntosh’s kindergarten from age four to almost six. Her big two-story red brick house, big yard and a circular gravel driveway was on Edisto Drive close to Cherokee Road. A private home now, the house is still there behind the brick fence, tall trees and thick shrubbery. A glimpse of the house riding by brings back such wonderful memories.

I don’t remember riding to and from kindergarten, but I distinctly remember the finger paints. In the bright sunroom with many windows, a dozen or so of us kids got a hands-on lesson in primary colors. A gob of red plus a dab of yellow – orange! Red plus blue – purple! Blue and yellow made green, red and white made pink.

The slick paint squishing between my fingers felt so cool. “Let’s paint a flower today,” she would encourage. Swirl, swish, zip, “Don’t get it on your clothes,” swoop, swish, swirl, “Keep it on the paper,” zip, swish, swoop, “Don’t wipe your hands on your (fill in the blank: nose, hair, neighbor).”

Browns and blacks didn’t appeal to me much. I used them for outlines only. I preferred fire-engine red and cornflower blue. My flowers were colored like tulips but shaped like asters, zig-zaggy and shaggy around the edges. I carefully kept my colors inside the lines, carefully held the paper by the edges, and fiercely protected my drying masterpiece until I could take it home to Mama.

Making potholders was another creative pastime at Mrs. McIntosh’s. Little metal looms with toothy edges were handed around the room. A sack of stretchy fabric circles like cloth rubber-bands was passed around. “Get you a big handful, there’s enough to go around.” Some kids picked all yellow or all green. I picked mostly red and blue bands with a few greens and yellows mixed in.

We proudly presented our creations to our mothers, so colorful, so practical. (Mama used mine until they were too scorched or too thin. Then she dug out my little loom from the bottom of the buffet and we made some more.)

Some days we made music. The clear high-pitched tone of my triangle went “dingggggg” when I struck it lightly with the little metal rod, “DINNNNG” when I gave it a good swat. I learned that I could create an interesting combination, “dingggg-dink” if I grabbed the metal with my hand before the second sound died out.

Another kid chose a wooden block and mallet. His “clonnnt, clonnnt” soon dueled with the “clannnkk, clannnkk” of his pal’s cowbell. “Use the mallet on your own block, not your neighbor’s bell,” Mrs. McIntosh admonished sternly.

The “scritch, scritch, scritch” of the sand blocks made a nice fill between the “clack-clack, clack-clack” of the sticks. Our band was rounded out with “cling-clings” of miniature cymbals, “bom-boms” of a tambourine-shaped hand drum and “jin-jingles” of tiny bells fastened to shaker sticks. “All together children, One, Two, Three, Play!” We practiced like mad for our spring concert and I’m sure our parents clapped enthusiastically in praise of our joyful noise.

By the time first grade rolled around, I knew my numbers and the alphabet and could read simple Dick and Jane story books for myself. Mrs. McIntosh’s instructions in courtesy, safety, academics, and above all how to get along with my fellow kid stood me in good stead when entering McKenzie School.

Come to think of it, they still do today.

We didn’t need a car

HMotte@SanbornHotel0001Daddy (Harold Motte, Sr.) enjoying Sunday afternoon visit with friend in the lobby of the Sanborn Hotel. Love those socks!

Florence was easy to get around in when I was growing up. We had a variety of transportation modes, car for out-of-town, bicycle for around-town, and feet for in-town. Kids and grownups alike did a lot of walking in those days.

Things were closer together then, homes, gas stations, grocery stores, fish markets, churches, parks, schools, theaters, the shopping district, everything. You needed a car if you were going out to the airport, out to Second Loop Road or out to Five Points, but if you went downtown, you walked.

Buying something too big to carry, like a sofa or refrigerator? The store would deliver it right to your door. Weekly groceries too. The A&P and Colonial Grocery Stores were both in the 200 block of West Evans with smaller, locally-owned grocery stores sprinkled around. If you weren’t driving a car, the clerk would bag up your purchases and a nice fellow would bring them home for you.

Harvey’s Thriftway would even take your order over the telephone and deliver it, if you couldn’t make it in to buy your meat and canned goods.

Milk from Coble Dairy was plopped down on our front step every morning bright and early, just like the morning paper. Pickup trucks loaded down with produce fresh from the farm drove throughout our neighborhood, just like the ice-cream man. Mama selected our cabbages and butter beans and tomatoes just a few yards from our own kitchen.

Need ice? An old-fashioned ice box occupied a spot in our kitchen for much of my younger years. The mule-drawn ice wagon, later the flatbed ice truck, stopped at our address to haul in whatever we needed for the week.

One of my earliest memories is strolling down Pine Street sidewalk, headed to Sunday School at First Baptist Church where Daddy was a member. Daddy walked on the street side in case a car came along and splashed a mud puddle or something and mother on the house side. I usually walked in front of them, skipping along in my white Mary Jane shoes and frilly white socks.

They encouraged my brother and me to keep our young feet on the sidewalk and off the neighbors’ lawns, and discouraged us from taking a minor detour to chase a neighborhood cat or squirrel. After Sunday School, we all walked another block to attend the 11:00 o’clock worship service at Central Methodist, where Mother was a member.

BostonCafeSmallAll that walking naturally worked up an appetite, so after church we walked several more blocks to the Boston Cafe on Dargan Street. The few restaurants in downtown Florence were really busy on Sundays after church.

The Boston was one of our favorites, offering meat loaf and fried chicken and pork chops, butter beans and corn and string beans, dinner rolls, tea or coffee. Dessert might be vanilla pudding, chocolate cake, or lemon meringue pie.

We regularly saw a lot of Mama and Daddy’s friends there with their kids in tow and the low-back booths allowed easy conversation between families. If you cleaned your plate before Mama and Daddy were finished, you could go sit with a buddy in his booth and chat.

After lunch, the pace was a bit slower and this time the family split in two. Around the corner and up East Evans Street we would arrive at the Sanborn Hotel, where Daddy and Harold would sit in the great lobby and catch up on the week’s news with friend Sanborn Chase. (See photo above.)

Mother and I continued on, crossing East Evans Street to peruse the showcases in Belk’s before heading up one side of West Evans and down the other. We carefully examined every shop window. Dresses in Gladstone’s, shoes in Miller’s Bootery. Pocketbooks. Jewelry. Hardware. Men’s ties and suits.

Window displays changed every week and we needed to keep up with the newest merchandise, just in case we needed to come back and buy something in the near future. By the time we closed the circle back at the Sanborn, Daddy and Harold were ready to call it an afternoon. We might return home by a different route so we could check out somebody else’s lawn, or cat, or squirrel.

Families and kids walked other times, too, of course. There was always something entertaining to do, and sometimes getting there was part of the entertainment.

 

Easter: Vinegar, Hardboiled Eggs and Granddaddy’s Hound Dog

EasterAtMimiShelbyI opened a vinegar bottle one day and suddenly Easter popped into my mind. Vinegar, food coloring, hardboiled eggs, and granddaddy’s hound dog…

In the early 1950’s Easter had several meanings around my house. Jesus’ resurrection was first and foremost. All the other meanings sprang out of that one, like new Easter dresses. We had to have new clothes for Easter, because Easter represents new life, new beginnings, a new start.

I don’t know when my brother Harold’s new outfits were acquired but mama always took me shopping for mine. We browsed through J. C. Penney’s dress racks. “Why don’t we change colors this year?” mama would suggest, examining pink selections with frills and bows and poufy sleeves. “What about pleats?”

Yuk. I really, really preferred blue. Since mama preferred not to have crying fits or temper tantrums on her hands, blue it was for my dress, again. Next came the bonnet, of course. Wide brim? Chiffon roses? Fabric or straw? Whatever matched the dress, that’s what we wound up with.

Dress and bonnet in hand, over to the shoe department we marched. That was a neat place. It was such fun to see your foot skeleton in the x-ray machine. “Can I have black this time, please, please?” No, Easter needs white shoes and white frilly socks.

Easter eve meant pulling out the vinegar, an assortment of coffee cups and tiny food coloring bottles. Mama boiled a dozen white eggs, then let Harold and me dip them one by one in the smelly dye. I had a blast making mine light blue, and dark blue, and darker blue. Of course I was dipping the same egg over and over.

But mama said we needed pinks and yellows and greens too so she put a stop to my experiment. (I was trying to make a black egg but my curiosity was never satisfied in that regard. Pity.) We set aside our masterpieces for the morrow and went to bed early.

Easter Sunday Harold and I awoke bright and early to see what the “Easter bunny” brought. We were well aware there was no actual bunny, but here was another meaning that went with Easter: gifts, representing the gift of eternal life in Jesus.

Green cellophane grass spilled over the edges of a brand new basket. Nestled atop the grass would be a chocolate egg surrounded with other candy goodies and a small toy or two. The entire basket was encased in yellow or gold cellophane, gathered and tied at the top with a big bow.

Easter1967We usually didn’t get up early enough for the sunrise service at Timrod Park, but 11:00 worship usually featured “Up From The Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The sanctuary was filled to capacity and a sea of new ladies’ millinery met your eye in every direction.

After church we didn’t go home for lunch. Still in our new finery we headed for Mimi and Da’s house, a sumptuous Easter dinner of ham, fried chicken and potato salad, and another meaning of Easter: family. Being part of a family. Being reunited with family. Our family Egg Hunt with Mimi, Da, aunts, uncles and cousins, included lots of in-laws and sometimes some of their family, totally unrelated to us except on this special day.

The kids had to stay inside while the parents hid the eggs outside, naturally. We champed at the bit until finally the signal was given and we made a mad dash with our baskets. Mimi’s large farm yard was full of likely hiding places. Climbing rose bushes adjoined chinaberry trees. A fenced chicken pen was lined with clumps of jonquils, border grass and assorted weeds.

Upturned foot tubs and cracked enamel pots were scattered amidst bits and pieces of farm tools. A rolled-up clothes line lay across a pile of clothes pins. Partially empty chicken feed sacks sat side by side with a stack of dried corn cobs at the edge of the porch. Porch steps! Truck tires! Every imaginable spot was a potential hiding place for a dyed egg.

HoundDogEasterEggsThere was an egg count, of course, and a prize egg made of plastic. If you found that one you were awarded something really special, perhaps a chocolate bunny.

The race was to see how many eggs we could find before time was called, and how many eggs granddaddy’s hound dog could find. He wasn’t supposed to take part in the hunt but somehow he had developed a taste for boiled eggs, shell and all. If we did our job well he would be disappointed. If not — oh well, the lost eggs wouldn’t go to waste.

While us kids compared our basket totals, folding chairs were set up outside. Cups of fresh perked Maxwell House were handed around with wedges of Mimi’s pound cake for the grown-ups. The kids quenched our thirst with Kool-Aid, and more Easter eggs accompanied by salt and pepper shakers were distributed to anyone interested in actually eating them. Many were.

All in all, my childhood Easters were wonderful times. There were weeks of preparation as choirs rehearsed musicals, schools prepared for Easter break and we shopped for the latest spring fashions. Easter meant thoughtfulness, forgiveness, newness, celebration, reunions, food, fun and fellowship. (It still does.)

Even granddaddy’s hound dog had a good time on Easter! And the smell of vinegar brings it all back.

Memory triggers

OverstuffedArmchairThe other day I caught a glimpse of a flowered, overstuffed chair on a TV sitcom and my mind flashed back more than 50 years, to my grandparents’ living room. Clear as day, I saw again Mimi’s flowered, overstuffed armchair, backed against the wall between her living room and dining room.

Just over the chair hung a large framed photo of the U.S.S. Trepang, Uncle Ponk’s submarine home during WWII. I heard again Mimi’s matter-of-fact voice recounting his wartime adventures, not realizing until years later how terrifying those days in the Pacific must have been for him, a young sailor just out of high school.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Trepang_%28SS-412%29 for a little history of that ship.)

In my mind’s eye I saw the swinging french-style doors separating the two rooms and heard the little squeak one made when pushed. On the living room side the doors were faced with sheer, not quite see-through nylon curtains, affixed top and bottom with narrow brass rods.

The soles of my feet felt again the cool grit of sand tracked across the linoleum floor. (It was summer time; shoes were optional both in and out of the house.) Shades of pastel blue and  green floral patterns on the floor complemented those on the sofa and chairs.

Large, light and dark cherry pink blossoms predominated on Mimi’s slip covers, some of them hand-sewn from feed sacks. That’s right — feed sacks. Chicken feed for Mimi’s hens and rooster came in 100 pound sacks made of cotton material, never paper or plastic. None were ever discarded. Pillow cases, aprons, kitchen curtains and furniture covers could be constructed of that material.

Mimi owned a sewing machine in later days, but for the feed sacks she just used a large needle and strands of white thread. Her careful stitches never raveled. She didn’t need a pattern, at least I never saw her use one for these creations. If she got tired of a particular pattern, or if the material wore through, well, another sack would be along most any day.

In my house, I treasure several such triggers from that country farm house. Like granddaddy’s platform rocker. One of my earliest and fondest memories of my mother’s father (Da to us grandkids) is of him sitting hunched over in his rocking chair in the living room. In those days it was covered with heavy faded pink brocade, the pattern worn off on the arms and seat.

Da would call us over and suggest, with a twinkle in his eye, that we didn’t really want a slice of his apple, did we? He would proceed to use his pocket knife to slowly pare a large, shiny red apple, taking special care not to break the single spiraling peel.

When at long last he was satisfied that all the peel was indeed off, he would not halve or quarter the apple. Instead he carved thin flat ovals, offering one slice at a time to first this child, then that one, then one for himself, until every smidgeon was gone, all the way down to the seeds.

Other days he would bend forward a little so one of us could reach the top of his head with his metal pocket comb. His coarse, gray hair cut short in a military-style bristle, we thought it great fun to run the comb back and forth through his hair and watch it spring straight back up. These days it would seem like a peculiar way to have fun, but it certainly amused us kids back then.

I don’t remember Da ever rocking in that chair. He sat in it to read mail or a farm magazine, to pull off his boots at night or watch TV in later years, but mostly he reigned over us grandkids from that chair.

Today that chair resides in a place of honor in my sunroom, not often used as a chair by me but well used for naps by one of my cats. She doesn’t rock in it either. I never look at that chair without remembering Da, the apple or the twinkle in his eye.

Then, there’s Mimi’s pie safe. For newcomers to these parts, a pie safe kept pies (and cakes too) safe — from flies and gnats, mostly. It housed an assortment of other stuff too, like everyday plates, an occasional piece of mail, toothpicks and a few knick-knacks, but its most important contents were Mimi’s home-baked cakes and pies.

Coconut pies. Pumpkin pies. Coconut layer cakes or pineapple layer cakes. There was always a pie or cake in that safe, you could count on that. In the bottom section, dark and dry, Mimi would store one of the huge fruitcakes she baked at Thanksgiving, wrapped in rum-soaked cheesecloth and kept “safe” from sweet tooth marauders until Christmas time.

That pie safe now safely resides in my house too, not full of pies and cakes but books. Every time I pull one from those shelves, I can almost smell the grated coconut, pumpkin pie spice or rum-wrapped fruitcake.

Memory triggers appear in lots of places these days, like the block of ice I saw in a commercial one night. Suddenly it was a summer day in downtown Florence, school was out and all the neighborhood kids were skipping and yelling behind the ice wagon.

I smelled again the long-eared mule —  or was it a horse? I saw the splintered wood of the wagon bed… fingered coarse wisps of wet straw poking out around the frozen edges… ran my tongue around a mostly-clean sliver of ice… stuck my sandaled toes in the icy water dripping on the steamy pavement… and watched the driver swing his ice tongs, catch a choice block, and lug it over his shoulder to the ice box in our apartment on West Palmetto Street.

Pleasant memories, mostly.

March 23, 2015
(Adapted; first published October 21, 2004)

Ora Lee’s first taste of iced tea

Ora Lee Cox, 1919-2008

Ora Lee Cox, 1919-2008

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.

tannerreunionThe men would set up long tables outside, using planks on top of sawhorses. Sometime during the day, they would go into town to the ice house and bring back a block of ice for the lemonade.

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!

Rolling stores and locker plants

RollingStore1939TennesseeI tend to wait till my cats run out of food before I go grocery shopping. Of course, by then we’re nearly out of people food too and by the time I get everything checked off my list, my buggy is piled high.

Back at home I try to find a way to wedge more stuff into the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Bags of broccoli, boxes of waffles, shrink-wrapped corn on the cob and trays of hamburger — try as I might they refuse to stack neatly. Oh well, maybe the air can circulate better if things aren’t too orderly.

I usually shop in the supermarket closest to home for convenience sake. I don’t have to drive too far, there’s a handy drug store, a gas station on the corner and even a Burger King in case I don’t want to cook some of that stuff I just bought.

I don’t have a separate food freezer in my condo, but I think about shopping for one every summer when all the fresh vegetables are on display at the Pee Dee Farmer’s Market.

When I was growing up, a farmer with a pickup truck came through our neighborhood every week or so. His truck bed was loaded down with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, butter beans in the hull or already shelled and bagged up. Wooden baskets were piled high with cabbages, string beans, yellow squash and ears of white or yellow corn, sometimes even peaches or watermelons.

It was nice to have such a selection to choose from, right there at our front door. Of course, we lived in town so if the farmer didn’t come by we could run right down to the A & P for what we needed.

Listening to Tim’s mom and other folks around town recount stories of their childhood days, I have a fresh appreciation of how easy we have it today.

Shopping wasn’t so convenient in the decade or so before I was born, and especially not out in the country. Many farm families had no automobile and some that did couldn’t afford to drive it.

Trips to town for the things the family didn’t grow or raise might be made in a mule-drawn wagon once every few months, and if you ran out of something, you might have to do without it for a while — unless the rolling store came through your “neck of the woods.”

The rolling store was a big truck with sides built up and a cover on top. Inside, two rows of tall shelves were loaded with staple goods of every kind, a narrow aisle running down the center just wide enough for one shopper at a time.

Cash was short, and not every family had ready spending money to pay for their purchases. So, large crates were attached to the back of the truck to hold live chickens, fresh eggs and newly churned butter, traded to the rolling store for sugar, salt or coffee, maybe dress fabric, smoking tobacco or penny candy.

From about 1947 until 1964, D. C. McFadden operated a rolling store in Williamsburg County, a large speaker mounted on top to let folks know he was coming.

A former bread truck, his store had a feature many others lacked — a cooler for soft drinks and ice cream. Tim’s dad Theron Cox had helped him install it and rigged up a power cord.

He’d leave the cooler plugged in overnight, thus as he made his route during the day the ice cream would stay frozen and the cold drinks would stay cold. It was a popular attraction for all the neighborhood kids to hear Mr. McFadden’s store coming!

Most meat and produce were consumed fresh, dried, canned or salted at that time. There wasn’t any other way to keep perishable food. Only large cities had “locker plants,” refrigerated buildings containing rows of individual meat lockers, rented (and locked up) by folks needing a place to store large quantities of meat or vegetables.

Many Pee Dee area homes still used ice boxes, and actual refrigerators had small freezer compartments, only big enough for an ice tray or two.

After WWII, Theron Cox began putting his refrigeration skills to work. Locker plants began to appear throughout lower South Carolina, and plant owners hired Theron to install the equipment to make them work.

Now a family could purchase a side of beef or bring in their own pork and poultry, rent one or more lockers by the month to freeze and store their meat until needed.

Families could have fresh-frozen meat and vegetables year round, although they might have to travel many miles to get to their locker.

As home deep freezers began to appear, gradually locker plants around the state began to close down. Supermarkets with adjacent locker plants began offering meat cutting services, sausage grinding, hickory smoking or sugar curing for hams in order to maintain their customer base. Jim’s IGA over in Lake City was one of those.

These days an ice cream truck comes through our neighborhood in the summer time. The musical melody that announces its presence brings back fond memories of popsicles and moo bars, vanilla ice cream cups and wooden spoons. But I’d love to see a rolling store come by my house, even if I don’t have any live chickens to trade.

1964 Class of Kingstree High School

Excerpt from Family Memories of Tim Cox, Bette’s husband.

blackriver5The Cool Dozen

December 26, 1964, a dozen members of the 1964 Class of Kingstree High School, most home from our first college semester, took a boat trip down Black River for fun, fellowship and adventure.

Charlie Bell, Tommy Bishop, Buford Boyd, Tim Cox, Danny Fry, Paul Jacobs, Billy Jenkinson, James Hugh McCutcheon, Richard Mims, Frank Seignious, Phil Stoll, and Johnny Tanner distributed ourselves among seven small boats of varying sizes, all powered by small outboard motors.

An adult friend, Aubrey Williamson, served as unofficial guide for the first leg of the trip and carried our supplies in his large 16-foot boat.

One of South Carolina’s scenic rivers, Black River is indeed black although clear, not muddy, with a white sand bottom. If you scooped up a glass full, the water would look just like brewed tea.

Tannic acid from cypress trees growing along the river darkens the water, like the tannic acid in tea. Lynches River, Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Edisto, and Black River all have black water from cypress trees.

The morning after Christmas dawned sunny and cool. We put in below Kingstree, planning to end the day at Brown’s Landing. Near Kingstree the river was barely twenty feet wide and in narrow spots the water ran swift, but suddenly the river opened out into a beautiful vista.

Except for navigating around the occasional log we had smooth travel for miles. Ducks and deer peered at us from the banks as we put-putted by. There were no snakes or alligators to worry us, being winter time.

Our 4:30 arrival at the Landing left little daylight to set up camp and unpack food supplies. As the sun went down and the temperature with it, we scrounged for kindling and started a camp fire. Aubrey’s ride arrived and he departed for home and his nice, warm bed.

Hot dogs, Vienna sausages, peanuts and junk food made our supper, but our favorites that night were coffee and hot chocolate. It was growing very chilly.

We were all dressed appropriately for the occasion, we thought – heavy coats, hats, gloves, hunting boots and thick socks. Each had a sleeping bag and Charlie Bell and Tommy Bishop even had a tent. We kept the fire going until too tired to tend it, sleeping bags spread in a semicircle around it.

Crawling in fully clothed with hats pulled low and just our noses poking out to breath, we thought sleep would be easy. It wasn’t. We were not prepared for the 24-degree weather that night, plus sleet.

Tree branches kept the worst of the sleet off of us, but Charlie soon got so cold he decided to re-start the fire. The sound of Charlie chopping down trees to feed the fire awakened the rest of us every couple of hours.

At daylight all we wanted was coffee and hot chocolate to thaw us out. Ice had formed in the bottom of some boats and Billy Jenkinson and Frank Seignious’s outboard engine refused to crank. Billy pulled until his arm tired out and Frank crawled to the back to help out.

Unbalanced, their two-man boat tipped one way, then the other, and water poured in on three sides. Bailing out their boat delayed our departure, but finally we got that last engine cranked up.

Aubrey didn’t return that morning – guess he thought it was too cold – so Danny Fry took over solo control of my boat, I moved to Aubrey’s 16-footer, and the smaller boats moved out in front.

Aubrey had warned us that the river was deceptive close to the landing, and he was right. In the daylight the water appeared to run straight ahead but the map showed a 90-degree turn to the right.

Sure enough, some guys missed the turn and ran out of water. They thought for sure they’d have to haul the boats through the woods to find the river again.

Watching from behind, I circled around and slowly ran down the right hand side, checking the current until I found the turn between two large cypress trees. The opening was only 12 to 15 feet wide. We re-grouped and started again.

Down river we stopped at a cabin where some guys came out to chat. “We hate to tell you,” they said, “but there’s some fallen trees blocking the water downriver. Those small boats might make it but you’ll never get that big boat through.”

Well, being teenage boys we decided to go for it anyway. Sure enough, a few miles downstream the river was blocked. Now, some of our dozen had been football players, big strong guys, so they climbed out to clear enough of the brush on one sandy bank to carry the boats around.

The small boats were easy, but Aubrey’s 16-footer was nearly impossible. Wearing his waders, Richard Mims eased out into the water. We all yanked, pushed and pulled to make a gap big enough to manhandle the big boat through. A solid hour of precious daylight was soon gone. “Are we still having fun?”

Things seemed to be going fine again, when we hit a “T” where it looked like the body of Black River ran into some other river. As the boats up ahead turned right, I watched to see which way the water flowed. Yep, that was the wrong way.

Back-tracking was getting old, but nearing Andrews where the water gets wide we thought we could make up for lost time. And we did, until we reached the Andrews Narrows and yet another log jam.

This time there was no way around. Ropes were made fast to one log, then another, the outboards were cranked up, and gradually we pulled the downed trees apart.

Another long hour had passed, but all the boats were through. We were getting short on fun and a little long on adventure…

Out in the wider water there were no trees close enough to serve as windbreaks. The cold was seeping through to our bones, and with daylight getting away we speeded up and stretched out.

My boat had a smaller engine than the others and Danny had trouble keeping up. The rest of us arrived at Brown’s Ferry, piled out and got a bonfire started, but still no Danny.

When Aubrey rejoined us at the Ferry he and another guy took off in his boat upriver, searching. They found Danny still put-putting along, holding up a gas lantern to see where he was going.

Huddled around the bonfire we tried our best to get warm. Buford Boyd pulled off his frozen boots, stretched his feet close to the fire and said, “If I could figure out how to levitate and hold both feet out at one time that sure would be great.”

After a moment he added, “You know, I’m mad at my mama.” We all asked why? He said, “She had better sense than to let me come on something like this!”

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.