Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visiting Winthrop College

In 1951, to a country girl, leaving for Rock Hill, S.C. was like leaving for a foreign country.

When I was fourteen, we moved from town to “the country.” I started to Pendleton High School, and I was fortunate enough to have teachers who mentored me and convinced me that I wanted be a teacher. I had always loved anything related to homemaking, so I decided to choose home economics as my major. Besides, the home economics teachers I had were good role models. No one in my family had ever gone beyond high school, and I knew that I had to go to college to reach my goal – so I did. It wasn’t easy for my family to sacrifice and help me attend Winthrop, but they did, and I worked every semester to help earn my way. By today’s standards, it was cheap! Total expenses were $350.00 per semester and books were provided by the college – free to the students. Travel and a small spending allowance was all I needed. I made most of my clothes and ate my meals in the dining room. And loved it all!

Winthrop was another world. I actually had led a rather sheltered life, and going away from home was an adventure. My expected roommate and I had gone through high school together, and we were sort of like sisters. That wasn’t to be a major adjustment. Getting ready to go was exciting. I thought I had to pack everything I owned. All of my worldly goods were sent by train to Rock Hill, and men at the college picked them up and took them to my assigned room--no “moving in.” That in itself is very different from what happens today. When it left the train station, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see that trunk again.

I had been informed that I couldn’t come home until Thanksgiving. That too, I thought, would be no big deal – but it was. I think my parents believed that if I came home, I wouldn’t go back – and I probably wouldn’t have! I was so homesick I thought I would die! But I adjusted .

The first year passed quickly. I made lots of friends. I was chosen sophomore class president, and I moved into Bancroft Hall. My life changed. My house manager in Bancroft (we had adults “in charge”) and I got together and sewed a lot. I learned to love her; we spent hours together. Then, one day she introduced me to her son, and after dating for four years and my graduation from Winthrop, we were married. I’ve always told him that I loved my mother-in-law long before I ever loved him!

I loved Winthrop: the library (so many books, so little time); the dining room (all food made from scratch, and quite delicious); professors calling students by name; the home economics building with its long extended labs and grueling home management courses; the smell of tea olive in the spring; the front fountain always flowing ; the long blue line (we wore navy blue and white uniforms); Baptist Student Union meetings and retreats; late night conversations with my roommate; popcorn smell on the hall; rushing to get in from a date before 11 p.m. curfew; tea time with Miss Jones (she tried to make us into ladies); majestic trees and old buildings; the smell of freshly waxed shiny floors; everybody saying “hello” to everybody; little sisters; dances; May Day. I loved it; it’s priceless mind travel!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Visiting the Grape Arbor

A shady little room stood at the very end of the garden at the brick house on Park Street. It was an interesting structure, made from poles and heavy wire. A muscadine vine was planted at two corners and a scuppernong vine was planted at each of the other two corners. In summer, the growth from the four vines covered the entire top and sides of the structure (an area of about 12’X12’), making the enclosure a shady “room.” Grapes approximately the size of a nickel hung in profusion from the top. They were lush and juicy with distinctively different tastes. Not only were they good to eat, but the preserves and juices made from them were exceptionally good.

The grape arbor became a magical place to “hang out” and play make-believe for creative children who at that time had no TV, no video games, no movies. The room became a cave on a dark gloomy day where all sorts of scary creatures could be imagined, a fortress for a carefully orchestrated battle, a palace where the prince took his princess rescued from the wicked ogre, a hide-out with neighboring children when the occasion called for it. But the area most often became a play house. One could live in splendor within the shady “walls” of that grape arbor. It was an edifice anyone with a vivid imagination would appreciate. Bricks and blocks of wood were put to use as stoves and tables and refrigerators. Tin cans and bottles became cooking utensils. The grandmother who lived in the house on Park Street would regularly surprise her grape arbor neighbors with a picnic. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Kool-Aid and homemade walnut cookies for dessert were the usual fare. The grandmother would lower her long lanky body on to the brick chairs, set the food on the wood block table, and partake of a repast the likes of which one rarely enjoyed. The meal was usually followed by a story concocted in the grandmother’s imagination, taking the children beyond the realm of reality and farther into the wonderful world of make-believe.

One could not ask for a more magical place!

Visiting 517 West Main

It was a straight walk-way lined with moss roses and boxwood that led from the porch to the street. Never a sprig of grass could be found among the plants and the profusion of color was constant from early spring until frost. To the side of the house was the rose garden, continuing the riot of color and spotless ground cover between the rows of thorny plants. The perfume coming from the flowers was attractive to bees and butterflies and even a rare hummingbird-and certainly to those who walked in the yard or sat on the porch in the evening. There was always a vegetable garden just above the roses. Spring brought the smell of freshly plowed soil and late afternoons of planting all sorts of vegetables: corn, beans, butterbeans, beets, squash, onions, tomatoes. Potential abundance was foremost in mind when the planting was finished, because preservation of all extras must be made for later use. Every afternoon was spent chopping and weeding to give the plants every opportunity for growth and optimum moisture. At the back of the garden was the hen house and fenced chicken yard. The words “free-range” had never been heard at that time, but that’s what it was! Fresh eggs were abundant. A big red rooster was the intimidating factor among the hens, so little people were rarely asked to gather eggs! That job was delegated to the adults!

The yard at 517 West Main was the community play ground. Children were always welcome. In summer they played tag beneath the street light on the lawn, rolling and tumbling in the freshly mown grass until well past dark. In the fall, they tumbled in piles of raked leaves. In the winter, they built snow fortresses and constructed snowmen, playing until clothes were soaking wet and fingers and toes red and stiff with cold. Hopscotch was always a favorite whether it was drawn in the sand or in chalk on the sidewalk. Skating on the public sidewalk was allowed as long as the children never went beyond the streets identifying the “block”. Many skinned knees and elbows were repaired as a result of skating! Jumping the concrete expansion joints was especially challenging, and learning to stop forward motion was a major educational experience.

The end of World War II occurred at 517 West Main Street. The steps at the end of the walk-way provided an unbelievable spot for observing the sights and sounds that followed the announcement that fighting had stopped. The street was a main thoroughfare through town, and for days, it was inundated with cars blowing horns, people shouting from open car windows, and sirens blaring-- day and night.

President Franklin Roosevelt died during this time. The railroad track where his casket was transported from Augusta to Washington was only a few blocks from 517 West Main, and people gathered on the bridge to watch the flag-draped train slowly make its way down the track. A silent reverence existed; only the moving wheels along the track could be heard.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Visiting Park Street

The brick house was the only one of its kind on Park Street. The yard was big and green and child-friendly. In the back yard were big umbrella shaped Chinaberry trees that provided wall-to-wall shade in the summer. Just beyond the trees was a building called the “smoke house.” It was used as space for curing meat, storing dried fruits and vegetables, and stashing canned foods for winter use. All sorts of fruit trees were on the property: peach trees, cherry trees, apple trees, walnut trees. Apples and peaches were dried to make fried pies in the winter. Walnuts were cracked and shelled for making wonderful Christmas cookies! Then there were ½ dozen different kind of grape vines that provided luscious fruit in the summer and juice for the winter. The vegetable garden produced abundant produce for every season of the year. Even potatoes were banked for use in the winter; very little needed to be purchased beyond the home-grown food.

However, just in case, on the corner of West Main and Park was located a neighborhood grocery store. Access was easy – just run down the street to get there. As long as $1.00 was available, all sorts of things could be purchased: three pounds of beef stew for a dollar; a loaf of bread or a package of cinnamon buns for a dime; a pound of coffee for 15 cents, a quart of milk for forty-two cents, a candy bar for a penny; by today’s standards unbelievable! Going to the grocery store was a treat, and it was rarely done.

Beside the house was a steep drive- way that was great for riding wagons and home-made carts. The “street” was off limits however, and if the carts happened to go into the street, it was time-out for the rest of the day. Scooters were quite a challenge, because the slope of the drive was too great for control.

In the back yard, away from the house was the goat barn. Goats were raised for their milk. They were extremely fastidious. They didn’t like to eat food that had been touched by human hands. A platform had been made for milking, and the goats were milked twice daily. They produced rich, naturally homogenized milk that had a sweet taste, different from the other milk we were accustomed to drinking. The milk was quite good when icy cold. The homemade cottage cheese was also good.

A pen for pigs was located at an acceptable distance from the house. The odor could be offensive at times, so it of necessity must be located at the very back of the property- as far away as possible! The butchering of the animals occurred in the winter when the weather was the coldest. It was generally a two-day task with everybody in the family assisting in the preservation of the meat. Some was salted and cured, some was rubbed and sugar-cured, and some was canned. Generally the event provided enough pork for the rest of the year.

Nothing was wasted on Park Street, including scraps of cloth. There were often quilting frames set up during the winter months and several quilts were finished every year, providing cozy warmth for those fortunate enough to spend the night on Park Street.

Visiting Lloyd C. Douglas

As a prolific reader, there are very few books which wrap themselves around the mind, latch on, and just stay there. Authors are the same; in the mind, they tag along with their outstanding books. One such writer is Lloyd C. Douglas and his book The Robe. It’s an old book, out of print, and hard to find; but it’s worth the effort of the hunt. It was popular in the fifties, and was widely read at that time. Douglas explores the scenario which could have occurred when Christ was crucified. Very true to scripture, it fictionalizes facts that scripture does not provide for the reader. The soldiers who carried out the death sentence come to life as Douglas describes them; one lives with those soldiers, struggles with the reality of what happened as they decide what to do about the Christ. Ultimately, the guards had to make a decision as to what to do with the robe that Christ wore before the crucifixion. Because of its seamless construction, the soldiers considered the garment very valuable, and they cast lots to determine to whom the robe would belong. The story follows the path of the soldier who won the robe, and the effect ownership had on him and those he loved.

The sequel to The Robe is titled The Big Fisherman, also by Douglas. It is a continuation of the narrative concerning the followers of Christ, and how they became strong believers and suffered the consequences of their witnessing. Specifically, it targets Peter -not only his relationship to his fellow fishermen, but more specifically, his witness to those outside his circle. Eventually, his contact with the owner of the robe solidifies his relationship to the whole Christian movement and his ownership of the robe.

Visiting Lake Cherokee

Nestled at the foot of a mountain, at the edge of a national forest, one discovers-if one has been given good directions- a little jewel amongst the virgin pines and firs and dogwood. It’s hard to find without knowing it’s there. It’s private. It’s secluded. It’s a little bit of heaven on earth. The lake is small as far as lakes go; small enough for a canoe, but not a mighty motor-run boat. In the winter, the level of water is lowered so that folks may repair their docks and clean up the shore line. It appears desolate and abandoned, yearning for activity and the happenings of warmer days. But by summer time, the mountain springs replenish the cold water until it reaches the limits of the dam. Morning light shimmers off the surface, giving a mirror-like glow to the whole landscape. Ducks and geese abound, loving the quiet sanctuary the lake and its people provide. The swishing of a canoe going by is accented by a “hello” from its passengers to the newly arrived folks on the bank. The summer-time visitors have arrived to spend lazy days without the stress and cares of making a living. Full-time residents welcome the opportunity to visit with old friends that appear in increments of one or two at a time, catching up on all of the new babies that have arrived since last summer- good things and bad that have entered their lives since last they talked.

The woodsy smell permeates the surroundings. Occasionally the faint odor or charcoal drifts across the lake, announcing the fact that someone has gotten hungry, regardless of the time of day. The little cabin sits within a stone’s throw of the water’s edge. A screened porch makes it seem as if one is participating in everything that is going on outside: children are fishing and hunting frogs and looking for “ginger-pigs” hidden beneath the moss, the neighbors are raking leaves left-over from the winter. The enclosed part of the porch provides a sanctuary for quiet reflection and cozy warmth on cool and wintery days. A good book lying on the table convinces the reader to pick it up and discover the places to be visited while sitting on the shores of Lake Cherokee.

Visiting Canaan

The mist rose from the valley to make the whole mountain into a magical forest. The virgin pines and hemlocks stood tall and straight, reaching their branches into the heavens. They appeared to have been on the land since the beginning of time- certainly since pioneers first roamed the woodlands. On the way up the mountain, small streams and waterfalls were seen along the roadside, some of them flowing from beneath an outcrop of rock. One of the waterfalls was hiding in a cave, the opening completely exposed to the road. I guess you could call the little paths “roads”. They seemed more like tiny trails cut into the side of the enormous hillside, so narrow that remaining on them required a miracle from God. One dare not meet another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Something had to give, because there was no passing! Everyone came to a standstill until the bravest one could reverse his direction until he came to a wide place in the road, making passing possible. The drivers must be skilled and capable of maneuvering his vehicle with precision.

Upon reaching the pinnacle of the mountain, one was presented with a breathtaking sight. A lodge constructed of huge chestnut logs stood atop the apex, surrounded by those same ancient trees, dwarfing the lodge in their majesty. The smell of the pines and firs permeated the surrounding atmosphere, stimulating the senses. A veranda with a porch floor made of wide boards encompassed the front of the lodge. Two dozen rocking chairs appeared to have been there for years, and across the top of the porch hung 20 or 30 hummingbird feeders. Every one of them was covered in visiting birds, their humming clearly audible to all who cared to pass time away just rocking. The tiny visitors were so accustomed to people that they sometimes would buzz their heads or light on their shoulders for a few seconds. The interaction between man and the jewel-like birds was fun to watch.

Also lolling on the porch were two giant great Danes. Their size was intimidating, but they were gentle as lambs. All they required was a lot of food and a tousle of their heads occasionally.

It seemed that time stood still on that porch. Cares of the world were banished. Before one realized it, the day was over, and it was time to attempt that treacherous trail to the bottom of the mountain and back to the reality of living.

Dark seemed to come early on the mountain, and so did the end to our visit.