I have already written three posts about my summer visits to Five Points, Tennessee as a kid: “Them Old Cotton Memories Back Home”, “To Kill a Chicken”, and “Does It Really Take an Entire Village”, but I have two more to write in the sequence; of course this one, and another to follow soon concerning my uncle’s general store.
While I did not really stay the full summer, I did usually stay from two to six weeks. Beginning at age eight, the length of time got longer the older I became, but by age fifteen the stays grew shorter because I had friends at home to spend time with by then. As evidenced with my own granddaughter, as friends and freedom to roam increases, the sleepovers at granny and papaw’s diminish.
The first three years were times of just enjoying my carefree youth and investigating farm life, and the out buildings (barn, smokehouse, well house, and chicken houses).
The barn during these early years was my favorite hangout, especially on rainy days. I explored the loft, crawling through the hay bail tunnels, crawling up and down the ladders that extended from the loft through the hay hole down into the different stalls, or into the corncrib where the corn sheller was located. From overhead I could look down on the mules, a couple of cows, and one horse that belonged to my uncle. I would often push a large amount of hay down on the mules’ heads or stick an ear of corn down to the horse.
In the later years, the barn was an even more exciting place as my cousin Lawrence and I bulldogged calves while his sister Doris Ann cheered us on. There were bruises that went along with this activity, but the worst part was being dragged through a big cow paddy that was still light green and moist! Whew, what a mess that was!
From age ten until about fourteen, I worked for either my Pa (grandfather) or my uncles chopping cotton for fifty cents an hour. Later, as I became stronger, I often worked for other farms in the area. The pay did not increase, best I remember, but the work got harder. There was a job called “grubbing” where several boys and young men gathered in a new field to pull up roots and pick up large rocks so the farmer could plow and disk the area to create a new productive field. This was hot backbreaking work, but having cousins around to cut up with made the time go by faster.
After long days in the hot fields of lower middle Tennessee, a cool dip in a creek was an incentive that dangled in front of you all day long. My cousins Lawrence and Larry Mac once arranged an over night campout at a nearby creek. There was a large campfire, lots of laughter, and good hotdogs and marshmallows. If there was beer, I do not remember, but it does seem that a group left to try and get some, but I cannot remember for sure. After all, we were teenagers by then!
On another occasion we all met at my uncle’s (Lawrence’s dad) cow pond. We were skinny-dipping, swinging from a rope, and splashing water like maniacs - one of the best times I can remember as a teenager.
One of the games was to swing out on the rope, let go, and land in the middle of a ring of boys who had joined arms to form a circle. As I remember it, I was the one out further than the others were and had just linked arms with my cousin and one of his friends, when right in the middle of the circle a “water snake” poked its head up! Someone shouted, “SNAKE!”
Just as “snake” was shouted, another boy let go the rope and splashed hard in the middle of the circle right where the snake had been. The next thing I remember is that I put my hand on Lawrence’s head and pushed toward the bank. As I remember it, I was the first naked boy on the bank, having nearly drowned my cousin!
Middle Tennessee is also known for its thunderstorms. Anyone who lives in that part of the country, including northern Alabama and Mississippi, that any respect for tornados, has a “storm cellar!” My grandparents and uncles all had their own storm cellar. The cellar doubled as a cool place to store canned beans, beets, peaches and the like.
A storm cellar is normally a concrete structure buried in the ground with only about twenty-four inches of the cellar sticking above ground. There are two to four three-inch vent pipes for ventilation sticking up on top with cone shaped vent covers to prevent the rain from entering. An opening on one side allows entry through the dirt bank into the cellar. The opening is covered by a door that is covered with a piece of tin roofing that encloses the cellar.
Inside, the cellar is about ten to twelve feet long by about five feet wide. The walls are lined with wooden selves on which sit Mason jars of canned vegetables and fruit. There is a kerosene lamp for light and there is a wooden bench on which to sit during visits or through storms.
At the first sign of a “bad cloud” (that’s storm to you Yankees), everyone would head for the cellar shouting, “It’s coming up a cloud!” to anyone they passed. I remember sitting in the glow of the lamp eating canned peaches as the wind howled and rain beat against the tin door and vent caps. It was a very secure feeling sitting in the amber light with your Aunt Lois’ arm around your shoulders.
Lawrence’s mom, my Aunt Maudie, was probably the most afraid of “bad clouds.” She was usually the first in the cellar and the last out. Once she was caught by surprise by a storm and decided it was too late to go to the cellar. They looked for her the next morning and found her asleep in her room on a “palette” with her head sticking inside the closet and her feet extending into the room. Her family had a good laugh, but she, now 101 years old, found nothing funny about it. She had evaded another “cloud” and was proud of it. Perhaps this is why she has reached such a mature age!
My memories of the farm are good memories and I would take nothing for them. My brother, who is ten years younger, never really got to experience farm life, at least as I did. He does not have memories of “coal oil lamps,” cellar visits, “slop jars,” “outhouses”, tin roofs and feather beds, coal fired stoves and rosy-red vent pipes, trips to the barn with dad (Messing ‘Round the Barn), country cooking, or even the old folks that started it all.
In only ten years, the old ways were forgotten, and a new age began. I sure do miss the old ways and the old folks, but mostly the old values.