Saturday, June 10, 2017

George Singleton relives fond memories of good country life as a boy

Possum Grapes
(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 “Writer relives fond memories of good country life as a boy” was originally published in the June 13, 1996 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I will always continue to believe that those who didn’t live through some of the Great Depression in their youth missed some of life’s finer moments. This is not to say that I would like our country to go through another period of hard times like the Depression, but this time in our history was quite unique.

In talking to some of the old members of our society about this time in our history, the things that are remembered are always about hard work, lack of money, hard-to-come-by things needed for the families to survive. But always, if one listens long enough, a story or two of the good times had will burst forth.

Our modern society and our so-called progress that have made since the time of the Great Depression has produced a generation or two which don’t know one thing about the finer things in life. Take for example tomato gravy. Very few of our youth of today even know what tomato gravy is. No more do we know what it is like to sit down to a breakfast of hot biscuits, homemade butter, tomato gray and good sugarcane syrup. No more do we hear words like buttermilk pie, candy pulling, pecan roastings or watermelon rind preserves. The womenfolk know nothing about a quilting party or a knitting get-together. Who among us knows how to set up a quilting frame? If someone should by chance, organize a lye hominy cooking on a cool Saturday afternoon, everyone would think the organizer had gone off the deep end. What if someone were to serve a slice of baked pumpkin pie with brown sugar sprinkled over the top with a cup of hot coffee made over an open fire in the fire place.

Is it true that tomato gravy,
Is to be savored and eaten slow?
With buttered biscuits light and fluffy,
Only a country boy would know.

How about some of our youth of today having a candy pulling? A group of teenagers would get together under the supervision of an older couple or two. They would cook fresh sugar cane until it became like soft candy. Then, each would apply butter to their hands and take the soft candy-like syrup and pull and work it until it became almost white in color. Then, as the candy cooled, it was twisted and cut into short pieces or sticks. Games were played by the country youth while waiting for the candy to cool enough so that it could be eaten.

My, oh my, that sounds delicious,
Pumpkin pie so sweet and brown.
Spring cooled milk or hot black coffee,
Would make a jackrabbit slap a hound.

Who of us today knows how to organize a party to hunt possum grapes? As the hot months of the summer, before too long, begin to turn a bit cooler and the autumn season creeps across the countryside, the time of hunting wild grapes will be at hand. A group of 10 or 12 young people would get together on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, always escorted by a couple of parents, and go into the deep woods in search of those tasty wild grapes and sweet persimmons. The beginning of the good times was fast approaching.

Always, in each party, there would be an expert tree climber. The success or failure of the afternoon lay on the shoulders of the expert climber. This young man would be the one to climb the tall trees and shake down the ripe, juicy persimmons. Or, he was the one to climb the wild grape vines and pull the wild tasty bunches of grapes. Most times, he would pluck the nicest bunches and drop them ever so carefully to that special young lady who smiled so beautiful from the ground below. She always got the finest bunches, while the others in the party had to scramble for those thrown less carefully among the jumping and laughing group at the base of the tree.

Tell me more of all those good times,
While we rest in the deep cool shade.
Life was good and forever beautiful,
Little did we know, that we had it made.

True, the things that were important during those days are only fond memories now. Gone are the Sunday afternoon horseback rides and the fun times of getting together and boiling fresh corn on the cob. Always then, would come the contest of seeing who could eat an ear of fresh boiled corn in the shortest length of time. Always, the contestants put forth great effort so as to stay in favor with a certain beautiful young lady, which was dressed neatly in a beautiful gingham dress, who smiled ever so approvingly from the sidelines.

Let’s walk again those paths of yesterday,
And live again those memories old.
For soon the shadows of coming darkness,
Will forever gather within the soul.

Due to the passing of these many good times, I think that we are poorer for it. We tend to measure our so-called success on the fantasies and the make-believe world around us. We sit with our faces and minds glued to the televisions and never really know the meaning of a good time or a good frolic. We make heroes out of freaks and deadbeats while we push from our minds the true guidance that could put us on the path of success and happiness with our society.

Few of us today bother to journey into the deep woods or on a high hill for a moment of peace and to be alone with nature. We know nothing about meditation and the joys of life while being there. When I mention or write about being alone on a high hilltop and raising my arms to the heavens for a moment with my God, I get strange looks from some. But the time is at hand when we must turn to our yesterday’s guidelines if true peace and happiness is to come in this world.

But, as for now, I will again remember,
All the good times and dear memories flow.
Sweet, sweet life forever onward,
Only a country boy would know.

(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, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” 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.)

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