My World When a Boy
I miss the America of my childhood! I often wonder if today’s children will say the same about theirs, when they look back someday when they are old.
My childhood years were lived at a time when America was in the grip of the Great Depression, but l did not know it. I had nothing to compare the harshness of the time with. My world was that part of the old cotton mill where I had lived since I was only a few weeks old. I knew no other world. Everyone that I had ever known lived in houses like my own. There were no modem conveniences in any of the homes, such as the electrical appliances. Electricity was missing from my own house for a long time. ‘When night came, Mama or Daddy lit the kerosene lamps.
When I started to school, with my two older brothers, we did our school homework by lamplight. Imagine if you can, the confusion that often occurred. I can hear one of the three saying now-“Mama! Make one or the other bring the lamp back!”
I remember when a man from the Carolina Power & Light Company came to our house and persuaded my dad to have electricity brought into our house. One single light cord with a single socket and bulb hung from the ceiling. No other wall plugs or switches-we did not need any. It was so good to have “electric lights” in our house. My world was enlarging! I liked my world!
In the springtime and summer, I went barefoot. I hated the heavy brogan shoes I was compelled to wear during the wintertime. I lived for the last day of May each year. That was the time that school at St. Johns closed each year, and summer vacation began. I didn’t like school and I was glad when it was over. I would run home on that last day, hand Mama my report card and asked, “Mama, can I pull off my shoes and go barefoot?” Mama would glance at my report card and read the words, “Promoted to the next grade level” and I would know she was pleased. She would then say, “Go ahead!” I would hasten to the back porch, pull off my shoes and run around the house three or four times. The cool earth would feel so good to my feet. A long summer would pass before I would wear shoes again. I liked the good ole summer time when I was a boy.
I liked fishing and swimming in Swift Creek. I knew where the best places for fishing were, up and down that narrow stream, and I could be seen at one of them, most any day of the week.
Every boy on the village knew where the boy’s wash-hole was located on that creek. Visit it on any day during summer months and you would have company. It was the Village Recreation Center and membership was free! One could not count the memories that were made at that spot, and they still live in the minds of more than one generation of village boys. The first article that I wrote for this newspaper was about the “Wash-hole”! It happened a long time ago.
I liked my childhood America! I like earning my own spending money. In the summer, I worked in the farmer’s fields. I plowed the hard earth in preparation for planting early corn. I worked in the tobacco fields and cotton fields. As the long summer began winding down, I helped shock the dry cornstalks to be used for animal feed in the winter ahead. I broke corn, pulled fodder and gathered dry peas and sweet potatoes. I like working on the farms.
When Saturdays came and I was paid for my work, it was a good feeling that I had earned it by the “sweat of my own brow!” It felt so good! That was part of my world when I was a boy. With the money I had earned, I would go to town. On Saturdays, the town square would be filled with people. The “back lots” behind the stores were filled with wagons and buggies and the horses and mules that had pulled them from the nearby country farms. Of course, there were mill village folk present, too. Small groups of men could be seen at various spots around the square. Inside the stores, shoppers were busy and the Liberty Theater on the square would be filled with watchers of the movie being shown on the big screen.
My Saturdays would end and my visit to the square would be over. After leaving the movie, I would usually go by the McClellan Dime Store and buy a large sack of candy; I especially liked the peanut brittle that was laced with strips of coconut! It was so good! Now it was time to return to the village, my world when I was a boy. Next day was Sunday and I might go to Sunday School. All too soon, my world would end. It was time to move on’
Next time! Bill
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week. His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.