Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Living on Hazel Street

My older cousin Aubrey Simms's told me he remembered as a boy of six, the very night in 1922 when my father told his father about his decision to sell his farm and move to town. The "Great Depression" had already hit the South!

My father learned he could get a job in one of the Porterdale Mills and move his family to Porterdale (a mill town near Covington in Newton County Georgia.)
Aubrey said his Dad replied, "Uncle Wilson, I will go to share cropping before I will move my family to a Mill town."

Aubrey told me about his father's continued refusal to move his family and have his children raised in a mill town when cotton farmers all over the South during the Great Depression and the Boll weevil epidemic were giving up on trying to make a living in farming.

Apparently my father, a hard working and intelligent Christian man in failing health, thought this his only option. I am told he worked in the Old Porterdale mill (pictured above) until he became disabled. The first house we lived in was on Laurel Street. Laurel Street was near the woods and Yellow River. I have written about it in another post.

My father was bedridden for over a year and died when I was nine. My first memories him is walking in the woods beside him holding his hand and picking wild flowers. I remember standing by his bedside in his final illness and two specific things he told me. He told me to always "mind my Mother"and to stay in my own yard to play unless I had "leave from my mother." The second thing he told me was to always tell the truth because one's word was important. This had a such a profound influence. My father's Christian witness has a profound influence on me.
Aubrey Simms and I both grew up proud of the same grandfather. Colonel William Baird who was a confederate Army Officer.

My mother told me one day she felt she had arrived at "the jumping off place" when they moved into one of the mill houses "behind the Mill." She loved farm living.

She often reminded me I came from "good stock, " (at a time when people thought "class" and "race" was important ) meaning our ancesters were educated and owners of their own housing.

Her well educated cousin, Opal Ficquit, was the wife of the Newton county school superintendent and drove her car out to visit Mama often.

Opal Lee and Ieula Dick (my mother) had been raised on neighboring farms in Fayette County, two of the granddaughters of Rev. Bogan Mask, a properous farmer (for the times) and a Methodist preacher.

I was interested a few years ago when Ferrell Sams, a well know Georgia Writer and medical doctor from Fayette County, published his book, Epiphany. In the book he had Bogan Mask as a preacher who bought a slave for the purpose of granting freedom to him. The grandson of the slave was said to be the first Black doctor in Georgia. Ferrell Sam's Epiphany is a book of fiction. But I understand this story is a part of our family lore.

We know "owning slaves" was not an accepted practice by Methodist preachers before the Civil War, even though it was a common world wide custom.
It was in the Christian Bible that people of all ethnicities learned that God is not a "respector of persons" but loves each individual..."the world." (John 3:16)

Before the Civil War (1861- 1865) many people who were wealthy enough and could not find enough peasants to hire, brought slaves to maintain their property. In the Southern United States, less than ten percent of the Caucasions , a few Native Americans and a few Aftican Americans "owned" slaves. The slaves were mostly people, bought (from other Africans) and brought from the continent of Africa.

Mama was well aware that the country and the world at that time, not only discriminated against people of different races but classes as well. The South paid a high price for it's participation in what John Wesley and John Wilberforce and other literate caucasion Christian men and women rightly called, "the unspeakable evil of slavery." In our egalitarian society, we would do well to try to put these years in the context of widespread illiteracy and worldwide serfdom. People born into a world of class and race divisions accept it as a part of life.

I have written briefly about how my husband and I began to take some licks for our work for the breakdown of segregation between the races and approval of integration long before it became a politically correct posture.

When I was a child, we were taught in our civics classes in school about the three economic classes: Upper, Middle Class and Lower Class. I remember one day when this unit came up. One little boy raised his hand and said to the teacher, "We are the Middle Class?" The teacher paused and tried to find words to get around the label. I remember thinking the teacher thought we were not "middle class" but a part of the Lower Class. Most of the students in my class were children of mill workers with little educational opportunities.

Lower Class? But I was thinking, "there are people poorer than we!" There was row of three or four "poor houses" out on Brown's Bridge Road near Covington where some old people lived in "poor houses." I understood they were old people, not able to work, who had no money and no relatives to look after them.
One day we were riding out that road and saw an old man sitting on the porch staring at people who passed by. I was told it was a row of "poor houses." This house and the pitiful elderly man is still on the wall of my memory.

It seems that a family must have lived in the Porterdale Textile village for some time prior to renting a house more to their liking. After a few years we moved to Ivy Street, which was in front of the Osprey plant and had better kept houses and considered a better neighborhood by some.

My brief memories of life on Ivy Street include a painful bee sting and a new pair of shoes. We seem to have always had a porch swing. I remember sitting on the swing on our Ivy Street porch when a bee sting sent me screening to my mother in the house. I also remember getting a new pair of black patent leather slippers while we lived on Ivy Street. I was walking down the street holding Mary's hand. I must have been about four and Mary fourteen. I could hardly walk for looking down at my new shoes. Apparently my delight with the new shoes embarrassed Mary or perhaps she was afraid I would fall down. Anyway, as we walked, she kept reminding me to stop looking down at my shoes.

We lived on Ivy Street until a larger house became vacant on Hazel Street which ran parallel to Ivy just one street over. We omoved into one of the "new houses." They were built to also be a duplex when needed but we rented to whole house. The bak had three small rooms. The center room held a large footed bath tub. Oneeach side was a smaller room with a comode.

Much of my memories of Porterdale center on Hazel Street. We thought Hazel Street the perfect location. We called in "our corner." Wonderful neighbors: Albert and Blance Fincher, whose children were my playmates Hazel, Dorothy and Lamar. Mr and Mrs Parnell were also our good frends, E.F Parnell and Mamie Miller. The Hornings with Guy, Sybil and Hazel, The Moores (Obie and Grace, Obie Jr. and Billie). The Martins, Capes, Loyds.

Mrs. Parnell had two older children from a former marriage, a son, Henry Miller and a daughter, Lois, who married Woodrow Rogers. Henry had married an older woman, a "grass widow." What is a grass widow? A divorced woman (of which there were few in those days) was said to be a "grass widow."

I remember Henry's first wife as very slim and flat chested. She had bright red hair that was said to have been“dyed.” They had no children and later divorced.

As I remember, some of the women in the neighborhood accepted Henry's divorce from the "grass widow" without problem because he was, they reasoned, "not Biblically married in the first place." Today we consider this discrimination (a word we probably had never heard then), but I think the harshness toward Henry's first wife was that the neighbors felt this "older, more experienced woman" had taken advantage of the teenaged Henry. Henry later married a pretty brunette his own age. I think her name was Maggie and they, in due time, had a son. I would occasionally go with my young freind Mamie to visit them and play with the baby.

Other neighbors were the Hornings, who had a son, Guy, and two daughters, Hazel and Sybil. Mrs. Horning's mother "Grannie Brooks" lived with them. Grannie Brooks was known in the neighborhood as devoutly Christian. I remember her as a boxlike short woman in long starched print dresses with her long gray hair pulled back in a large bun.

One day Grannie Brooks got very sick, and they sent for Dr. Baxley and Mama. (This is the same Dr. Baxley who "was first to "put women to sleep " before he delivered their babies.) When Mama returned for Granny Brooks , I heard her tell my older sister that Grannie Brooks' bowels were impacted, and Dr. Baxley had "picked it out of her." Dr. Baxley must have been a kind man. Grannie Brooks had said, "Dr. Baxley, pray for me." Dr. Baxley replied, “Grannie, you pray and I will pick." This is definitely more than you want to know! Mama was akind woman who also had a good sense of humor so found the doctor's remark something to laugh about. It is amazing what children hear and remember!

The Capes, Loyds, Browns, and Martins were also our long-time neighbors on "our corner" of Hazel Street. We referred to this section of town as "our corner." If we had owned the house, the block or the whole town, at least from a child’s point of view, it could not have been more ”ours” nor more “home."

Oh, the benefits of lack of ownership?

Hazel Street provided a slightly closer walk to school, church, post office and the few stores in town; one grocery store and one drug store. The Pharmacy had a soda fountain with ice cream cones going for five cents. However, in those days, nickles had to counted. We did not often patronize the soda fountain, It was a special treat on occasion.

One thing I remember buying at the grocery store was a package of six small cinnamon rolls for five cents. As delicious as my yeast coffee cakes are, they do not compare with the taste of those rare cinnamon rolls of my childhood memory.

One day Mama sent me to the store to get three cans of salmon? I

think it was three cans of salmon. Was salmon ever just ten cents a can?

I started walking back up the hill toward home with the three cans in a paper bag and sat down for a few minutes on the steps to the Methodist church (the church where I had been baptized as a baby and where my folks were members.)

BTW. Mama told me one of the neighbors said, "I cannot beleive they let that little baby join the church." I was not a member of the church but declared to be "saved" until I reached the age of accountability where I would reject or accept Christ for myself. Briefly, Infant baptism is also the church "naming the baby." The Christian name given me is Sarah Ruth. It is also the parents and the church family's committment to Christian living by "precept and example."

The steps to the Methodist church came all the way down to the sidewalk that went down to the General Store. I sat on the bottom step and counted my change.

As i counted I realized the clerk had given me five cents too much change. A whole nickle! As timid as I was, I would have to go back to the store to give the man his money. When I handed the man the nickle and told him he gave me too much change he laughed and told me the cans were three for twenty five cents.


Jane said...

More wonderful memories, Aunt Ruth. I love the comment by Mama Baird about us being from 'good stock'. She was a proud woman (in the good sense of the word) and set a wonderful example, not only for her children, but for her grandchildren and generations to follow.

Terrell said...

I so enjoy these stories, mama. Keep 'em coming!

Andy McCullough said...

Aunt Ruth, thank you for these memories and for your comments on grandma on my blog. I really liked the advice Great grandpa Baird gave you on telling the truth and one's word was a part of that person.

Carol said...

Great post, as always. You do such a good job of relating your experiences. They make fascinating reading.