In Those Days, Mrs. Elizabeth James, Wake County (Published in I Remember When in 1978)
Every so often something happens to remind my mother of those days! Recently the death of my mother’s older sister called for several unplanned trips back to her old home place. Of course, her memories are always with her and she shares many of them with me, but those memories tended to snowball when we passed a house she lived in as a child. The house is in Hoffmann, and from there on down the road to Hamlet, it was a series of recollections. It was an unexpected bonus for me because now as never before in my life, I realized how precious recollections are for each of us.
She was born on a large farm in Chesterfield, South Carolina, one of five children. Her mother died when she was five and her father never remarried. Her father moved the family to Hoffmann to buy another farm, but evidently decided not to and settled in Hamlet, North Carolina and went into both the banking and grocery business instead. Although my mother’s memories of these days are sketchy they are none the less plentiful. Hoffmann was play time. Her mother’s sister lived there and her numerous cousins did too, so she was never without someone to play with other than brothers and sisters. She recalls as how her aunt decided she was old enough to be taught piano lessons, and how she stubbornly refused to learn more than the bare essentials, and how she regrets it to this day.
After her father settled in Hamlet, it was one housekeeper after another until “Aunt Lou” happened on the scene, and managed to mystically keep the somewhat unruly bunch in line. My mother speaks very affectionately of “Aunt Lou” and has on more than one occasion, usually when her own brood would get out of line, said “if only Aunt Lou were here she would know what to do.” It seems that when Aunt Lou came to them, she established her own order of doing things and not theirs. She started by lining all the children up and giving them a bath. My mother grouses “and what was so bad is that it wasn’t even Saturday.”
I’ve never heard her talk about stories of the War Between the States, but sometimes I’m privileged to hear accounts of day-to-day living ‘In Those Days.’
Recreation was a do-it-yourself project, so even chores were transformed into occasions. Even husking corn was turned into an occasion for a neighborly get-together. According to my mother, the children would salvage enough husks to make their own dolls and as many doll-like accompaniments as the imagination would allow.
After the corn was husked, both the corn and the husks were stored in a barn. Although my mother has no personal memory of barn raising, she does remember that there was a separate barn for storing about everything. The cotton barn was off-limits, so of course, it held a special fascination for children. According to my mother, a favorite pastime of her and her brothers and sisters was digging tunnels through the cotton that had been stored in the barn. To this day she claims it must have been an out and out miracle that those tunnels didn’t collapse and smother everybody. This brings to mind other memories of things to do with barns. Like the time her father took a wagon (horse drawn), put a canvas cover over it, lengthwise benches in it, and made a school bus to haul the children and their friends to school and back. The time they were rounding up the geese to pick feathers and trapped an especially hard to capture one in the barn. Her father told all the children that if that goose got loose, they were all going to get a spanking. She says that old goose must have understood every word, as he squatted down and proceeded to fly right over their heads. She also says her father was a man of his word. Although I suspect it was more like just retribution for past misdeeds. Children constantly grow and so do the memories.
She tells me that in those days a blade of grass in the yard was a sign that whoever lived there was lazy. So every Saturday, the yard had to be swept clean, but first you had to gather some broomstraw and tie it to a handle to make a yard broom, and woe be unto the person who busied themselves with anything before the yard was swept. Needless to say, winter, however harsh it was—was looked forward to simply because it meant that the yard didn’t have to be swept so often. She tells about the time she filled in for a friend and taught at the local school. She found out one of her brothers was playing hooky. He would leave for school every morning and very seldom arrive there. She confronted him and threatened to tell her father. All of a sudden her brother became quite civil and even taught her to drive the Model T.
Each day provides a new crop of memories and although arthritis prevents her from even trying to jot a few of them down, everytime I hear her say “In those days”, I listen and listen hard. Because for me those recollections are priceless and I don’t want to miss a word of them.
I Remember When: Reminiscences of Fifty Years Ago, is a collection of the memories of Extension Homemakers from across the state of North Carolina. It was published by the North Carolina Extension Homemakers Association, Inc., in 1978 and is copyrighted.