|Blooming mountain laurel flowers.|
(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 “Spring gives hints of homeplaces’ former beauty and bustle” was originally published in the April 1, 1993 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
The beautiful spring-like day of March 24 was an ideal time for wandering and visiting old places within the county.
It’s sometimes hard to understand how nature can return to the old homeplaces year after year with its tokens of beauty, when man has forgotten all about them, or doesn’t care enough about the past to cast even a slight shadow of remembrance.
Travel in almost any direction within this county, and you will find evidence of yesterday’s life. Visit the old homeplaces that dot the landscape, and there you will find that a token of the past beauty that surrounded the homes most always return at the beginning of each spring.
Push back the tall weeds and view for yourself a small, blooming jonquil or lily, planted there somewhere in time by the hand of a beautiful, white-haired lady or someone who sought to bring beauty to the barren soil. Or stop if you will, and smell the fragrance of the struggling day lilies that line the old walkways or flowerbeds of a forgotten homeplace.
Look closely around the remains of the old chimneys; most always a few purple violets push through the rough soil as though trying to be seen and remembered. Then stand for a moment and try to visualize the activity that abounded there in the forgotten years of long ago.
Listen for the sounds of laughter as the country children raced to and fro among the flowers and hedges planted there by a tall, dark-haired lady in a handmade sun bonnet. Then, picture in your mind, the activities of the evening, as the family gathered for the coming darkness.
Sniff the winds of the evening for the wonderful smell of country food being prepared for the family supper meal. And stand for a moment beside the old, abandoned well and think for a moment of a small country boy on a hot summer day, drawing from the depths a cool, refreshing drink.
Try and remember the long-handled gourd dipper, that hung from a wooden peg, driven in a post of the old well curbing.
Walk around the area, as I have this day, along the sides of that steep hill north of an old homeplace and notice the growth of mountain laurel. Examine it closely and notice the very tiny buds that before too long will blossom forth to become a most beautiful wildflower.
Then, picture in your mind a beautiful, dark-haired country girl, standing among the mountain laurels looking off in the distance.
Stand for awhile and feel the warm spring wind as it sweeps gently across the tall pine trees that grow now where corn and cotton once grew in the summer sun. And, picture in your mind, the sweat and hard labor that once took place out there in the large field where the tall pines now stand.
Take a close look at the few remaining old oak trees that furnished the cool shade in which the workers of the fields could rest for a while from the hot summer sun.
As you examine the crude rock wall that bordered the large front yard of the old homeplace, think of the care and work that went into the old, abandoned flower beds long fallen into decay.
While you are there, pay close attention to the ancient cactus plant growing there among the rocks of the old flower bed. Give some thought as to how this ancient cactus plant of the western deserts made its way to this old homeplace near the Old Scotland community.
Seek out the broken and decaying old pear trees that grew near the kitchen that once sat behind the old house, connected only by a covered walkway, or dog trot, as it was often referred to in those early times.
Try to visualize the juicy sweet pears that hung from the trees that now are broken and rotted. Look ever so closely at the three lone blooms that sprout from the aged and broken limbs of the ragged and decaying trees as they try so very hard, after all these years, to bring forth their delicious fruit.
Listen ever so closely, while standing near the old fallen soap rock chimney of the small kitchen, as you try to seek out the sounds of the old coffee grinder that was mounted on the kitchen wall. The grinding sounds of those parched coffee beans being made into a mixture reminded a small country boy of brown hominy grits. And later, sniff the early spring air for that wonderful smell of boiling coffee being made over a fire in an open fireplace.
Seek out the memories of the small front porch of the kitchen with its water shelf; there, where the water bucket and wash pan were to be found, where a large white homemade towel flapped in the spring breezes as it hung from the corner post.
Gather in your mind the memories of a large stone milk churn, setting there on the kitchen porch in a rack made so that the milk churn would not turn over. Nearby, the churn rack was a small handmade bench for the one who operated the churn dasher to sit on while churning the butter.
It’s true that early spring has a way of bringing back memories around the old, abandoned homeplaces. Whether it be in the Old Scotland area or in the area of my maternal ancestors in the lower part of the adjoining county, the memories are the same. The words of a not too well-known poet might say it best.
Pass in review all those memories
That dwell within my soul.
For I have returned once again
To a special place where time has no meaning,
And the spirits of the past cry out to be remembered.
(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 during a late-night thunderstorm on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “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. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. 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.)