The excitement has started to build for the Crenshaw Reunion. Reservations for cabins have been made. Parts of our family are committing to be there, and most are already looking forward to having a great time. So what is the big deal? We just had the 2008 reunion last month, and it is now eleven months into the future before the 2009 Crenshaw Reunion will take place. What is in a family reunion? Like people, reunions come in all different sizes, shapes and places. There are usually some key figures in family history in which reunions are begun, or are held in remembrance of. My family—Daddy’s side—began many years ago having a birthday celebration for him somewhere around November 13 each year. Since Daddy outlived all of his siblings, he was the likely candidate. He did, however, have a sister-in-law, Aunt Alice who survived Uncle Sam, my namesake, and she also was treated to an annual birthday party by her six daughters. We usually attended that celebration as they did on Daddy’s birthday. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of consolidating the two into a family reunion, which we did. November seemed to be a great month in Georgia for that to take place, and it worked well, rotating it at different homes or parks around middle Georgia, that is, until that really early winter Sunday around the latter part of the 1970s. We had a good crowd. We had it around a lake in Bibb County, and we almost froze to death, cutting short a reunion of two great families. More changes were initiated before the next year. Everyone decided to move it to wonderful October, almost always a more, friendly month weather-wise. October has remained constant since that time. The only other thing that changed was the location. We adopted Indian Springs State Park, near Jackson, Georgia where it has remained constant for over twenty years. Sadly, my father, mother, a brother and a sister along with Aunt Alice and several of her daughters have passed away since that time. If there is a downside to family reunions, it is that many die as the years go by. The upside is that many more have been born into the various splinters of all of our families, and therein is the problem with an ongoing family reunion. How do you get young people interested in becoming a part of the family get-togethers? At a time when your children are young, they go because the family goes together. The difficulty happens when they become teens. Teens dance to a different drummer as any of us know who have them, or have completed the rearing of our children. They are experiencing new and different things, not all of which we always approve. The best thing is to start early letting them get to know their cousins, and by all means have something to make the reunion interesting to young people as well as those of us who have settled into senior status. Nothing bores young people faster than idleness. Nothing seems better to those of us who are elderly than sitting around in a good chair reminiscing about old memories or passing down tales that have been ingrained in our memories from having heard them over and over. Young folks like action, such as hiking, boating, walking and campfires—even horseshoes challenge them. Oh, and don’t forget the great eats at reunions when the aunts and cousins delight in bringing their favorite dishes. Some even become legendary. Uncle Billy promotes his banana pudding each year, as does Uncle Meredith his fried apple pies. Many people show their insecurity by dipping their desserts first and then loading up a platter with all the dinner delicacies. It just gets to be fun. There is even a small amount of time for business, albeit a small amount of time for that. Usually it amounts to only passing the hat for donations for the shelter, paper products and drinks to accompany the meal. So successful has the Crenshaw Reunion been, many of those attending have stretched it out to three or four days in a cabin, culminating with a drive into the north Georgia mountains for apples and cider while enjoying the early beginnings of Fall colors. Sadly, not all reunions are as successful as this one. The Barlow Reunion which actually began first faded away as many family members died and others lost interest. But the biggest drawback to achieving success was the inability to recognize that a reunion must have young people to carry it on years later. In order for that to happen, they must be included in the planning and the excitement of taking part. There is no better time than a reunion to seek stories about genealogy research. Who hasn’t said at one time or another, “I wish I had asked Grandma or Aunt Alice or Uncle Wright about this or that?” Those are the missed opportunities which can in many cases never be recaptured. For example: Long after the death of my father, we pondered why we had never been able to locate the gravesite of a Great-grandfather who we thought for years had been buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon. I don’t know the countless hours we trod over that sacred burial ground looking for his final resting place. Then out of the blue at a reunion, an older uncle said, “He’s not buried in Rose Hill! He was buried in Fort Hill in Macon!” What? With that revelation sinking in, and after obtaining directions to the newly-discovered cemetery, my son, daughter and son-in-law wasted no time in heading in that direction in quest of the long forgotten burial place of my great-grandparents and in less than an hour of walking, they came upon both graves and a small amount of rubbing the tombstones revealed the secret mistakenly thought to be in another place. One year, after extensive genealogical research, my son and I embarked on an adventure to meet some cousins whom we had never become acquainted. The connection was my grandfather and their grandfather were brothers, yet through the years, we had never met any of them, that is until we met them on paper and through census records. Meeting them in the flesh was a different story altogether, as we tracked a couple of them down. One elderly woman was suspicious of the two men knocking on her door claiming to be relatives. After reassuring her that we only wanted to meet her and others of her family—with no interest in monetary gain—did she relax enough to listen to our story of finding genealogical connections with her family. Bottom line was, enough were interested in finding out more about us, that when we invited them to come to our family reunion that year, we nearly doubled in size on that day. It was quite an enjoyable time meeting and attempting to introduce all of our family to all of theirs. There were many questions and not enough answers, but all in all, it was a great day. And the young people enjoyed wading in the stream and walking on the rocks at Indian Springs.
My first indication of a problem was when I bit into the sausage. Incredible pain shot through my every nerve, as if someone poked an ice pick about 6 inches into my gum. “Owwwwww!” I yelled. Sheila took one look in my mouth and declared, “We’ve got to go to the dentist.” “What is this We’ve got to go to the dentist stuff?” I asked her. It is amazing to me that nurses and doctors are so free with comments about, “How are We doing today?” or “Well, We must be feeling better today.” Et tu, Sheila? After protesting, I prepared to go to a dental clinic, the only place available on Saturday in the small town in southern Pennsylvania. In 1966, we were on temporary assignment for the government. I sized up the small clinic right away when we got into the waiting room and the receptionist was wiping grease from her hands. “Doctor Homer will be with you as soon as he washes up.” Out the window, she yelled, “Homerrrr!” I saw a man close the hood to an old Chevy pick-up and head toward the rear of the building. The receptionist said we could go on back. Dr. Homer looked in my mouth and said, “Ummmmm! (I hate when they do ummmmm!) It looks like we have an abscessed tooth here.” (There’s that We stuff again.) One extraction later, we were on our way back to our temporary home, Sheila said, “How are we feeling?” Mouth packed with gauze, I replied, “Nutt tu guuie! Huz wil beaa!” “I’ve never heard of anyone pulling an abscessed tooth,” she said. Immediately upon arriving home, I lay down. Hard, cold chills set in. Sheila called Dr. Homer to report what was going on. Nurse receptionist told her I should be taken to the emergency room. Once again we were rolling, and I was feeling like I was about to expire. When we arrived at the ER, I was convinced they were related to Dr. Homer, the dentist/part-time mechanic. The ER doctor took off his grease-stained coveralls and put on a green hospital outfit, “What’s our problem?” he asked. I knew what mine was, and it was getting progressively worse by the minute. “Uhhhggg!” I said. “Ummmmm!” he said. I closed my eyes and waited to die. Poison had backed into my system from the extracted tooth. He gave me a shot of penicillin to combat the poison. I had taken penicillin many times before, including many shots, when as a child I had lockjaw. We left once more to return home, only to have more difficulties---a reaction from the shot broke me out in blisters, and breathing was difficult. Back to the ER! I received another shot to counteract the penicillin. Finally three days later, I decided I might live. In the end, I was convinced that Emergency rooms and weekend dental clinics are manned by off-duty mechanics. “Next time,” I told Sheila, “take me to the nearest garage.”
In 1966, I was employed by Robins A.F.B., GA as and Electronics Repairer, when the word came down that we were going to get a Missile Repair Station out of Olmstead A.F.B., PA. There was considerable excitement about the news and, I felt it would be a great opportunity for advancement in my Civil Service career if I should be selected. I was selected to go to Pennsylvania on temporary duty to learn the Guided Missile Repair System and to assist in helping to relocate it to Robins A.F.B. Initially, my wife Sheila and I decided that I would go alone since the temporary duty would only be three or four months, thereby saving money on housing and food. Later, however, Sheila and our three little daughters joined me in a very small trailer in the strange surroundings of a quaint coal mining town named Hummelstown which was nestled along side of a small river. We had some great adventures while living there which included going to Gettysburg, the famous site of the great turning point of the Civil War. The whole time we were there turned into an exciting adventure of exploring new places and things. One weekend however, turned out to be a scary time which we did not bargain for. When I awoke on Saturday morning, I had a not unfamiliar pain in my mouth. I say not unfamiliar because toothaches and I frequented each other during my entire years of growing up. I knew immediately that this one had the earmarks of being bad because of the pain and swelling. At first I thought perhaps I might prepare some breakfast for us quietly, eat and then have the pain subside. Cooking breakfast has always been something that I enjoyed, probably because I always enjoyed eating a big breakfast during the years when I was a child. Once, breakfast was ready, I eased over to our bed and said, “Sweetie, come on and get up and see what I’ve got ready to eat.” Sheila, never one to enjoy food at the crack of dawn, mumbled something unintelligibly, rustled in the sheets and turned her back to me. “Come on, Honey … wake up while I get the girls up”, I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster while trying to ignore the increasing amount of pain in my mouth. After having only a slight bit more success in awakening Sleepy, Grouchy and Dopey, I was finally able to get the entire family around the small aluminum table in the somewhat diminutive area that served as kitchen and dining room in our temporary home. I served the less than enthusiastic crew breakfast consisting of eggs, rice and bacon with a piece of toast as they struggled to join the living. My first bite was the warning that said I might have a problem, “Eeyoooowww!” I yelled startling all the erstwhile sleepers who suddenly took notice of their surroundings at the table. Some jumped, all eyes widened and some mouths fell open. “What’s wrong?” Sheila asked looking somewhat shaken from the sound of my scream. “I’ve got a bad toothache and it is really starting to hurt.” “Let me look at it.” “Well, just don’t touch it or anything. Okay?” She looked inside my mouth as I held it open and almost lost her breath, “Oh Honey, we’ve go to go find a doctor or dentist. It looks really bad ….. maybe abscessed even.” After checking next door to see if the people there might have an idea where we might get in touch with a dentist, they said they did not think we would be able to find one on Saturday that was open. They did, however, loan her their phone book and telephone. After scurrying through the pages Sheila was able to find and make contact with a dental clinic that was open on the weekend for emergencies ….. in retrospect I think perhaps the clinic was either manned by dental students or off duty automobile mechanics. After looking inside my mouth they made a decision to extract the abscessed tooth immediately, thus the tooth and I parted ways forthwith. Leaving the clinic almost immediately, I wasn’t certain whether I felt better or worse. With more than a small amount of irritation at the unexpected series of events, I told Sheila, “I think I need to lay down. I am feeling shaky.” “Come on over here and lay on the sofa,” she said as she whisked a pillow from the nearest bed applying it underneath my head. Seeing that I was not feeling very well, she pushed the little girls outside and said, “Play quietly and don’t go off anywhere.” What seemed like only moments later, I was starting to feel extremely cold. “Honey, I’m freezing!” Finding anything she could to place over me, Sheila quickly tried to make me comfortable. Nothing seemed to help as I began shaking uncontrollably. She lay beside me to avail her body heat to me in order to stem the onslaught of whatever was happening to me. Fearing the worst, she said I’ll be right back whereupon she ran next door to place a call to the automobile mechanic at the dental clinic. He said, “The poison from the abscessed tooth must have backed up into his system. Call the emergency room and they can probably help him out.” Immediately she located the number to the emergency room and explained to them what seemed to happen to me earlier that day. They said to bring me in at once. Sheila asked the neighbors to look after our children, and summoned some help from a nearby friend to give her some assistance in getting me to the emergency room. I was hardly aware of being moved as they placed me in the back seat of our Ford Falcon. Getting directions Sheila headed to the downtown area where the hospital was located in our adopted town. Upon our arrival, the on duty doctor examined me and determined that I needed a shot of penicillin to counter the poison that had rendered me helpless. After the emergency room treatment, we headed back to the small trailer hoping for things to settle down. It was not to be! In a very short time after our arrival home, I started having difficulty breathing and Sheila noticed blisters forming around my mouth, on my face in my throat and on my chest. Racing next door to use the phone again, she placed a call to the emergency room where she again talked to the mechanic who had apparently come to the emergency room to help out. They told her to bring me back right away. Once more Sheila loaded me into the car and headed back to the hospital where it was determined that I had an allergic reaction to the penicillin shot. “Don’t worry”, the mechanic reassured her, “we have something to give him to counter the penicillin.” After a shot of what certainly must have been STP or Fix-a-Flat, we headed back home once more to see if peace and tranquillity would await us upon our arrival. After three days of rest, I returned to normal minus one tooth and with some memories that until now have remained beneath the surface of my mind for many years. I am certain many others have some emergency room stories they can share with us.
It was such an innocent time when as a child of very few years, I walked the streets of the cotton mill village without shoes, sometimes without a shirt, and nearly always with a cotton rope through the loops of my short pants to hold them up. Just a runt of a boy who by the time I reached eight years old, had overcome a disease named tetanus, more commonly known as “lockjaw.” A typical day in my world as a young American might have me cutting limbs from a chinaberry tree. After trimming part, or all, of the bark from the limbs the limbs would then become my “pretend horses.” I had the run of the mill village, and for that matter, most of the town where I grew up. As previously stated, it was an innocent time in the lives of most Americans. After WWII, the boys who had gone away to fight, came home as men, once more taking their places with their families. Warm, lazy days were the order for summer months. Fall would burst through with magical colors in the trees painting the Georgia landscape with unbelievable beauty. Wintertime quickened the step of the bravest of hearts when an assignment from our father would have us make a run to the firewood pile, or to fetch a scuttle of coal in order to battle the fierce southern cold air which forced entry through cracks into our small frame house. As winter tired of being around, the spring rains ushered in the beautiful white flowers of dogwoods, and the brightest, most beautiful greenery our eyes could behold. Robins hopped around in search of a meal, while the bees and other insects brought a continual hum that was welcome music to the ears. Much has been made about three very popular 1950s television sitcoms portraying parents on “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Ozzie and Harriett.” I am not sure where the role models for the parents on those shows came from, but as I reflect on my own mother and father, I certainly had wonderful examples with which to pattern my life. The previous statement is a lot like the old television show starring Walter Brennan as an old, gun-toting cowboy when he said, “No brag, just fact!” During my lifetime, my folks never took a drink of alcoholic beverage, never used offensive language, and with only one short exception they never imbibed in smoking. Let me explain. My mother suffered from bronchial asthma, and one of the things someone told her to try for relief from the constant coughing was to smoke Kool cigarettes. That old folks tale did not last long as she quickly discovered the opposite of relief came from smoking, bringing to an end my mother’s “addiction to the evil weed.” When I look at my ten wonderful grandchildren, I sometimes feel guilty for having had such a wonderful time during my youth, as opposed to all the terrible temptations to which they are subjected. My childhood was filled with five cent drinks, moon pies, penny wheel crackers, and ice cream cups with pictures of movie stars on the underneath side of the lids. “Picture shows” cost only twelve cents with enough change left over from a quarter with which to purchase treats. On Saturday at the movies, we could count on a cowboy movie starring anyone from Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, to the Durango Kid or Sunset Carson, to name only a few. In addition there would be what we termed a “regular movie” such as the Bowery Boys or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Following those treats there would be a cartoon featuring Tom and Jerry or some other zany comic characters, and in addition to all that, we looked forward with much anticipation to the ongoing serial which would last for 15 weeks, with each chapter ending in a suspenseful cliffhanger resonated with the deep voiced announcement, “Be sure not to miss next week’s thrilling episode. Will Jack Armstrong escape the oncoming train, or will he be crushed to death?” Fat chance! No one would dare miss next Saturday. Even as a teenager, the worst peer pressure temptations we had to face was slipping around behind a building to smoke a cigarette, which actually was an exercise in coughing and fake inhaling. Later in my life as a 17 year old, I was put into a position of turning down an offer to drink a beer one night, when to my surprise, some of my best friends announced that they were going to the drive-in to get a “cool one”. When I declined with the excuse that I promised my mother I would be home early, I was laughed at when they dropped me off in front of our home. The sound of their laughter rang in my ears for some time that night. Even with those temptations, it is nothing to compare to the horrible things that are offered to young children such as our grandchildren. Drugs, alcohol, premature sex and many other tools of Satan face our children’s offspring at an age much too young. With the inevitable growth of television, and less things done together as a family, life for our children’s children will continue to present them with terrible examples. It was said by a great man one time that “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” For all of you who are raising children, remember the least expensive, and yet the most valuable thing you can do for your children is to give them a hug and make the time to do things together as a family. The dividends for this effort are never ending.
Sometimes I think nostalgia may be my middle name; sometimes I remember happy times, and sometimes I remember sad times. This is not to imply that I live in the past, rather I seem to bring the past into my present life by remembering. For instance, the harness racing festival in neighboring Hawkinsville is right around the corner. My memory is vivid about a “sideline job” of selling Coca Colas at the old track. “Heeeyyyyy! Git yore ice cold Co Colas! Right here! Only ten cents!” The loud chant rang out as I walked the old steps of concrete, selling the famous cups of soft drinks. Even at that early age, I envisioned that advertising helped to sell my product; even if the advertising was the high pitched voice of a young boy trying his best to sell as many cokes as possible. In those days the horses trotted around the track as the county fair took place just outside of the stands. The Ferris wheel rolled over and over, the Merry-go-Round went in an endless circle, and the relentless voices of the side-show and game barkers called out for the nickels and dimes of those walking the fairgrounds, “Hey buddy, come over here and shoot the ducks. Win that pretty girl a Teddy Bear!” Not too far from there one might call out “Come on in and see Jo Jo the dog-faced boy! He walks! He talks! He crawls on his belly like a reptile. Only fifty cents! Step right up here!” In those earlier times, young children could walk all the way to the fairgrounds without fear or concern on the part of the child or the parents. One could go swimming in a favorite watering hole such as Bembry’s Mill, Fountain’s Mill or at Limestone Creek. One could say they went swimming at Mock Springs, however anyone familiar with that place knew they were lying. That water was too cold—coming out of a fresh spring. One could jump in, but they would quickly exit. Goose bumps came to the surface of the skin abruptly. No one could stay long enough to swim. In those days we completed twelve years of school in the same building. There was no lunchroom in those days, but school turned out for a lunch period sufficiently long enough to run from the campus all the way to “Eddie’s Green Grill.” Once there, you could purchase two of the best tasting hamburgers, and a coke for a quarter. A quick stop at Jones Bakery on the way back, two doughnuts or two cinnamon rolls could be bought for ten cents. A quick jaunt back to the school grounds, eating the dessert on the way, a boy could be back in his desk in plenty of time. My mother worked long and hard at the old Superba Cotton Mill in order to leave four boys thirty-five cents apiece each morning. I sure would enjoy one of Eddie and Ruby Dunn’s hamburgers or one of those Jones’ Cinnamon rolls today.
The red light is on! Head up that hill! I feel the need for the ultimate comfort food! Anyone who is into donuts knows what red light I’m talking about. For the unlearned, it is of course, Krispy Kreme’s red light giving off the signal that fresh hot donuts are in the house and for sale to those who get there in time. Much is made today about comfort foods, and most are off base. Sheila fixed us some dumpling soup the other day that had red things and green things in it along with chicken and creamy soup out of the Campbell’s can. She put some garlic and other veggies in it and it was lip-smacking good, but when she referred to it as comfort food, I knew she’d been watching the food channel too much. Now, lest some of y’all try to misquote me on this and say something that is different from what I am saying to the love of my life, let me re-iterate. It was lip-smacking good! But, real comfort food is hot donuts—the kind where you bite into it and hit a sugar pocket—like the kind Jones Bakery used to make when I was a mere young’un. Oh! If there is a heaven on earth, it would have to be a bakery like Jones Bakery was. They probably never measured their sugar, and no doubt when they stirred it in the big pan, they never tried to get the sugar perfectly distributed. I was so good at figuring those donuts out with the sugar pockets, I could look through the case window and pick out a couple of the perfect ones. Now that is what I call a trained eye. Not only that! The dadgummed things didn’t cost but a nickel. Now that’s comfort food! When our children were young, Jones Bakery was long gone—probably assigned to make donuts in Heaven—but we found out about a bakery in Eastman that made a “run for the money” attempt at making donuts like those from my youth, but they cost more than a nickel apiece. It wasn’t any trouble getting the kids up on Saturday morning to work in the garden, because we were going after real comfort food. A gallon of milk and a couple of dozen donuts and we were in good shape to work in the garden. Krispy Kreme has a rival, who I will not name in this column, but suffice it to say that they were ordered to cut back on the sugar in their donuts a couple of years ago and it was almost like trying to eat cardboard. I complained and was told by the manager that I should contact the company. Not my job! Krispy Kreme was only a few blocks away, and they have a red light that is turned on when their donuts are hot. Besides that, if you buy a dozen when they’re hot you get the second dozen at half price. Now that’s comfort food! Tell me what your favorite comfort food is.
The enormous red brick building stands on the eastern side of the town overlooking the muddy river. The one time employment hub of neighboring Hawkinsville now stands empty with a large sign placed beside it telling part of the story. The sign says FOR RENT. The empty building serves as a grim reminder for over three hundred people who labored there for so many years …. life can indeed be fickle.
My first memories of that building came during World War II when it had the name of Superba Mills. It looked different then, because it was smaller, it had windows, and there was always wisps of cotton floating in the air or clinging to nearby bushes and trees, having escaped the confines of the building by clinging to the hair and clothes of those people who made their living working in the building. The windows served as a place of relief during a brief lunch break. Sitting in the framework of the window seeking a cool breeze or merely watching people driving or walking across the old curved bridge, employees were seen to wave quickly and dart back inside so as not to come under condemnation of a foreman.
During those early years of my life, the cotton mill played a large roll. Both my father and my mother worked in the mill for many years. As has been chronicled in the "From the Cotton Patch" column before, my father started working in a mill at the age of nine by sweeping, and my mother worked for many years until bad health forced her to stay out of the mill. While she was working, I have vivid memories of my three brothers and I finding thirty-five cents each on the kitchen counter every morning. With that change I could run from the campus to the Green Grill in the center of town, where I could purchase two hamburgers and a coke with ten cents left for either doughnuts or cinnamon rolls to eat on the way back to school. In those days before the school had a lunchroom, students were let out one hour for lunch. Many children would go home to eat, but for the children of mill village workers, there was no reason to go home.
During the summer between my Junior and Senior years of high school, I applied for summer employment at the mill which had changed ownership, and was known as Opelika Manufacturing Company. The year was 1955 and my hourly wage was seventy-five cents an hour for a forty hour work week. The man whom I was assigned to train with was a long time mill worker. His job was something called "doffing" which meant removing full spools of thread from a large frame machine, replacing the spool with an empty one without breaking stride or breaking the thin cotton thread, all the time pushing the large hopper down the wooden aisle with his knee. He was truly an artist or expert in his field, but the hard work took it’s toll on the little man as he developed a crooked walk from the many laborious years in the cotton mill. After that summer, I was more determined than ever to seek my fortune elsewhere other than working in the cotton mill.
South of the empty building which was last known as Pillowtex, a company which had to declare bankruptcy, lies the remains of the mill village which was home to me for so many years of my life. The house which I was born in no longer is there, the house on the village which my parents purchased in the fifties is no longer there, and many of the houses stand in a dilapidated state which makes me very sad. The ghostly memories of my past seem almost surreal as I look around the village where I was born, and where I spent the formative years of my life.
Since Yahoo Geocities is making so many changes we have decided to try a new route: Blogging. This is an experiment but we are hoping it will be a good one. Updates will be coming. Bear with us and enjoy the stories! -the cotton patch team