22. November 2004 · Comments Off on The Night The Lights Went ON in Georgia: Part II · Categories: General

When we left our narrative before, I was on my tricycle poised to go out and conquer the world – or at the very least, to go into Lumber City, some seven miles from our old clapboard farm house in Wheeler County. The road in 1944 was a very primitive dirt road, and in fact the truck we had was a Ford Model A pickup. I used to love that old truck, especially the jiggledy-jiggledy sound the motor made. Today, the road is a nice paved road, our old house is long gone, forests have grown up there, but the beginning of the lane to where the house used to be is still visible.

I remember that I left the front yard through the gate, went down the lane and out onto the sandy dirt road, headed in the direction of town. The sand there was deep, and pedaling was hard, but I made it about a quarter mile down the road to a bridge across a little creek. The creek is pretty much dry today, but there is a culvert there, and it is still recognizable as the place where the wooden bridge was. The bridge was one of those very simple types, without side rails, just timbers crosslaid, with runners over them; we had many of those kind of bridges, even as I grew up and started driving myself. But they’re all gone today (sigh) progress……but I digress……I got to the bridge and trundled across it, and when I got to the other side I saw a car coming. Somehow, in my little brain, I knew to get out of the way, so I pulled my tricycle off to the side at the end of the bridge, a little way down the embankment.

I guess I thought the car would go on by, and maybe I’m lucky that it didn’t. As they approached, the driver slammed on brakes, and some neighbors of ours jumped out, grabbed me and my trusty ride, asked me, I believe, something like where did I think I was going, and promptly delivered me back home to my mom. Her hair stood on end, I guess, as they told her where they had found me, and I definitely remember the punishment that followed: She had this hairbrush, you see, and it had a flat back surface. That surface was applied to my little bottom forcefully a number of times, while she alternately yelled and cried. It seems she was frightened out of her gourd! One thing for sure: I never left that yard again without anyone with me. The story of this episode was legendary in my family, as were quite a few of my hare-brained schemes when I was a kid.

Oh, yes. In part one I mentioned a huge rattlesnake. Just days after my adventure, Daddy came to the house, got us in the truck, and took us down to the bridge where I had stopped for the neighbors’ car. There, right where I had pulled off the embankment, lay a dead snake. A really BIG dead snake! It was something over 6 feet long; not the biggest I’ve seen around there – that one was around 8 feet. But big enough that it made a serious impression on all of us. It sends shivers down my spine to think what would have happened had that thing been there when I was off on my little adventure! Rattlesnakes are territorial, too, and that was most likely his back yard. Yikes, it still raises the hair on my neck!

Oh, and the alligator? He probably wasn’t around right then, but a few hundred yards past the bridge was a place in the road that was prone to developing a really big mudhole when it rained much. The mudhole was so big and so deep that people had forged trails through the woods to get around it, and many are the times I remember us going out and around that spot. Naturally, it’s gone today, but I can still point out just where it was. One day sone time after the road trip, Daddy took me with him, took his rifle, and we went down to the mudhole. There, in the road, or in the water over the road, was a big alligator. Daddy went over and climbed a tree with his rifle and shot the gator. This was, mind you, a long time ago, and I don’t believe there were such restrictions on killing them as there are today. I don’t remember how many times he shot it, but it was more than once. I do know that he showed me the gator when we got there, and warned me to stay in the truck. This time I did as I was told!

As I remember, he took me back to the house before he disposed of the alligator, so I don’t know what became of it. I regret never asking him about it; there are so many things I wish he had told me, but he had a stroke in 1987, and never regained his speech. He lived in California the last 20 or so years of his life, and I was able, thanks to an Air Force TDY that took me to NAS Miramar for six weeks, to go and visit with him at his home in Newark, California, just out of San Francisco, over a weekend soon after his stroke. I called him many times after that, where I did the talking and Dad just grunted, but was never able to get back out to see him. Dad passed away in 1997, having survived lung cancer some 20 years before, and having lived for 10 years after suffering the stroke. I loved my Daddy, he was ten feet tall in my eyes. He made his mistakes of course, but he was my Daddy. He and mom were divorced years later, and he went to California then.

There are a lot of stories I remember from that house in the woods of south Georgia, like the time a bird nest fell to the bottom of a chimney, the fireplace being covered for the summer, and the sound the baby birds made was just like a rattlesnake. It scared the bejesus out of everybody, we evacuated the house pretty quick, and Daddy went back in with his gun to kill the “snake”, only to come out a few minutes later grinning sheepishly as he carried out a bird nest full of baby birds!

We had no electricity, but we had running water, if you count the water as running while you hand pump it. The pump was at the edge of the back porch, and they kept a bucket there with a dipper in it to drink out of. Mama cooked on a big old wood stove, and I have never tasted food so good since then! Man alive, those biscuits! We had an outhouse, too. It was out back, past the garden, and I was always scared to go out there. Oh. You’ve heard the tales of using the Sears & Roebuck catalog? True. Yep, absolutely true! Those slick pages don’t work too well. Moving along swiftly, now…..We never knew we were poor; to tell the truth, I don’t believe for a moment that we WERE poor! Life was good, especially for a kid. No electricity? No problem. Didn’t need it. We had kerosene lamps, and Daddy had a battery radio that we listened to Grand Ole Opry on every Saturday night. No need for a refrigerator. All the food was either in the garden or running around on the hoof. We had a smokehouse where meat was smoked for preservation, so nothing was lost there. It’s sad, to me, in a way, that I’m of the last generation to experience life like that in America. It still exists in some parts of the world, but it’s not likely that our children or grandchildren will ever know what that life was like.

The lights did go on in Georgia, around 1950, when we gave up the farm and moved to Lumber City. We were city folks now. Electricity, indoor bathroom, and eventually a phone. We still didn’t have TV, though, not even when I joined the Air Force in 1961. It was somewhere around 1964, the year that Nurse Jen and I got married, that Mama bought a TV for Daddy. Even though we moved to town Daddy didn’t stop farming. He had garden plots all over town, and guess who had to do hoeing, plowing, and harvesting? You got it, me. The kid. Or all us kids, really. Daddy got something when we moved to town that he never had when we lived in the country. A tractor. A garden tractor, that is. I’ll never forget it. A David Bradley walk-behind from Sears!

The house we bought was an old general store with a house attached. I remember that there were old hand pumped gas pumps out front, and there was one of those old insulated rooms where they stored ice that they sold. The gas pumps were removed, and later on, Daddy made a bedroom for him and Mama out of the old ice house. Mama opened a boarding house and later a restaurant. She could have made a killing, but she never charged what the food was worth. She gave most of it away, anyhow. It was just her big heart and generous spirit. No one ever went away hungry, money or not.

So, the lights went on in Georgia, at least in my little world, in 1950, and they DID go off again some years later – when I went out in the country to live for a time with my Aunt Lollie. She was old and needed someone to stay with her and help her with chores…..but that’s another story!

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