Saturday, February 9, 2019

Singleton remembers the days of the vine-climbing possum grape hunters

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 “Only city slickers say ‘Opossum’ and mean possum” was originally published in the Sept. 26, 1991 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Don’t correct me before you read this. I know the proper way to spell possum is opossum.

But when I grew up, the only person who pronounced it opossum was some city slicker who didn’t know beans about possum grapes and the joy of going possum hunting on a cool fall night during the time of the full moon.

I am well aware that times have changed over the past several years. I don’t consider myself old, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time when the highlight of the week was a Friday or Saturday night possum hunt.

My intentions are not to stir up another disagreement, saying that I am trying to lead our youth of today astray, but I will continue to say that our young people of today have missed a great and wonderful experience if they have never gone on a possum hunt or gone looking for a loaded vine of rich, juicy, sweet-tasting possum grapes.

As I watched the almost full moon last night, I let my thoughts wander back to a time when several of the youth in the area where I was raised would get together for an afternoon and a night of good times.

The word was passed that the time was right for a Saturday afternoon of hunting possum grapes. Then, as darkness began to slowly settle across the countryside, the grape hunting would cease and the hunting dogs were gathered up for the possum hunt.

It wasn’t uncommon for as many as 12 or 15 young people, both boys and girls, to take part in such a gathering. Always, there would be one or two older couples, perhaps parents of one of the youths, to go along as chaperones.

I was always amazed as to how quick a sizable amount of parched peanuts, popcorn candy, and many, many other goodies would show up for a possum hunt, with little or no advanced notice. And, too, it wasn’t uncommon for two or three couples, parents of the youth, to decide to go along. They seemed to enjoy these outings as much as the younger people did.

Always there would be a coffee pot tucked neatly in a small sack, along with several tin cups. A couple of times during the hunt, a break was called and a pot of strong fresh coffee was brewed, with water from a nearby spring or stream, over a fire made of pine knots. During this time, there were always contests as to who could eat the most possum grapes in the shortest time or who could hull the most parched peanuts and eat them without the use of their hands.

The vine climbers prided themselves in their ability to scamper up a grape vine and shake down a sizable amount for the group below. This was done while also trying to eat a few of the larger and more juicy grapes before climbing back down into the scuffling group of young people as they tried to select the better-looking bunches for themselves and their young lady admirers.

Then there was the extra brave who climbed the tall trees to shake out that stubborn possum when the tree was too large to be shaken from the ground. These were the true heroes of the hunt. They set themselves aside from the common climbers as did the knights of old who had won many duels on the fields of conquest.

Those too young to climb the possum grapevines or the tall trees to shake out the fat possums was usually called on to carry the sacks of grapes. There were the lantern carriers; if the group was fortunate enough to have spotlight among them, always one of the older men had this honor.

The most elite of the menfolk on the hunt was the guide. He was supposed to know where the possum grapes were the most plentiful. He also was supposed to know where the possum grapes were the most plentiful. He also was supposed to know the location of the springs where the coffee water could be had and he knew first-hand where the wild possums were to be found.

Without this man’s guidance, an afternoon could very well turn into total disaster and disappointment. But always, the afternoons and cool evenings would be over too soon for the younger members of the group and plans for another outing usually began to take form before time was called and the group was told it was time to head for home and a warm bed.

As I look back on those happy memories and remember all the good times, I think of the great amount of patience that the parents who followed us mile after mile showed when they could have stayed home for a quiet evening of rest.

I think of the advice we were given, not in a brash way, but in a way so gentle until we knew that our welfare was foremost in the minds of the elders with us. There have been many times when a situation was such that I would search my memory and seek out advice that had been given to me by one of these wonderful people. This advice would be applied to the situation at hand, and most times, the problem could be dealt with and overcome.

My life has been richer because of these gentle people. Probably, in our world of today, these old country people would be laughed at and made fun of. But their memories and what they contributed to my life will be remembered for all time.

I shall never forget them. The youth of today have truly missed a great time in their lives. I wish they could had been fortunate enough to be a part of some of these events, as I was during the years of my youth.

(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 to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, 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. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. 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.)

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