|George 'Buster' Singleton|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “A community get-together – only the memories remain,” was originally published in the Nov. 3, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
As the chilly weather begins to creep across the land and the fallen leaves blanket the hills and ridges, many memories from a happy childhood come to mind.
As I stood outside in the crisp afternoon air Saturday, something seemed to be missing. Nowhere did I see a curl of smoke from a burning fire, rising from a smoking chimney. And the chilly, sighing winds carried no wonderful odors of dry oak wood burning in the large fireplaces that I remember.
I write of another time; a time when family togetherness and community fellowship were alive and well; a time when several families of the farm community would get together to cut and split wood for one another, especially for the elderly, while over a hot roaring fire in the yard, a large boiling pot of lye hominy filled the crisp air with an odor that had everyone’s mouth watering.
These wood-cuttings would usually take place on a Saturday afternoon. During the past week, the cross-cut saws had been made ready by my father. He took great pride in his ability to sharpen these saws so that they seemed to “drop through an oak log” when used. Also, the splitting axes were sharpened to the point that the edges would cut a hair when it was pulled across the edge of the cutting blade.
Always, there would be a contest of a sorts; the young boys would always try to see who could outlast the other on the end of the cross-cut saw. The older men always encouraged these sawing duels, which was one way to get a sizeable amount of work out of the young boys when the wood sawing had to be done.
Much bragging and recognition of the winners would take place after the contests were over. Little did the youth realize, but the more sawing contests were promoted, the less time the older men had to spend at the end of a cross-cut saw.
As the sawing progressed, the splitting of the blocks of wood would begin. The wood was split because it would be easier to handle and the split pieces would stack better in the rack or wood box. And, too, if the menfolk were away when wood needed to be added to the fire, it was easier for the womenfolk to carry inside and put on the fire.
After the logs had been sawed into blocks, the splitting contests would begin, just as had the sawings. A single blow to a wood block with the razor-sharp ax usually would cause the block to fall in half. Then, a blow to each half would leave the block in quarters.
Sometimes, when a large block was encountered, a sledge hammer and a wedge had to be put into use. This was always done by the older men, the professionals, as they thought of themselves. Some took great pride in their ability to make those decisions that caused the work to be easier and progress safely.
During this time of sawing and wood-splitting activity, all eyes of the young boys would, from time to time, stray over to the large pot where the hominy was cooking. It could be quite dangerous, swinging a razor-sharp ax, while at the same time trying to get a sneak look at that pretty, red-headed country beauty, dressed in that starched gingham dress, who came out to stir the cooking hominy.
After a few strokes around the inside of the large boiling pot with the battling stick, that pretty young thing would slowly make her way back to the house. After she entered the house, a quick inventory was made by those using the axes, checking to see if any toes were missing or any ax handles were broken.
All this had to be done without creating suspicion from the older folks, who were watching every move of the young boys with eyes like a hawk.
The wood-cutting finished, all gathered around the large cooking pot for a bountiful helping of delicious hominy. Many other goodies, such as potato pies, ginger bread, sweet muffins, baked ham and much more, sat in open containers around the edge of the front porch.
A sizeable cooler of fresh buttermilk, just drawn from the well where it had been cooling, was also there. A large pot of steaming-hot coffee rested on the hot coals at the edge of the open fire. As the evening shadows crept across the yard, two or three coal oil lanterns were lighted and hung from the limbs of a large chinaberry tree that grew in the yard. Over in the edge of the shadows, two or three pet hound dogs waited patiently for their feast on the scraps and leftovers.
As the delicious meal came to a close, out of the shadows came the sounds of a guitar and a fiddle. A mouth harp and a banjo joined the music. Old Man Jake, the oldest man in the community, sprang to the center of the yard and began to buck dance, as though he wasn’t a day over 18.
All activity ceased among the womenfolk as they put aside the dishes and joined their husbands and danced to the tune of the Virginia Reel and many other tunes popular among the country folks. Bashful young boys awkwardly joined the dancing after being almost dragged to the center of the yard by those pretty young things in the starched gingham dresses.
And, Old Man Jake, having regained his breath from his buck dancing, was now doing the calling for the square dancing going full swing in the front yard.
These wonderful times of community fellowship and togetherness have faded. No more do we join our neighbors for a few hours of happiness and friendship. Hardly do we know the names of those who live next door.
With the changing times, we have grown much poorer from this thing we refer to as progress. Sometimes, the few words of a little-known poet bring more to mind than pages upon pages about the happenings of the past.
Linger a while and walk with me
In the shadowy mist that was yesterday.
Stroll into the recesses of our memories
And learn of those good and happy times of a long ago.
Pass me not, for I am the spirit of the youth
Who walked among the winds of joy
And contentment of a time now faded
Linger a while, if only for a moment,
And through these memories, I will know
That I am remembered and not forgotten.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)