The Darlington I like to remember

By Bill Shepard

The Darlington where I spent all my childhood and youthful years are flooding through my mind, begging to be remembered! Remembering the youthful days and years of my young life is a happy journey and I travel along its paths often.
All of my young years were lived through one of America’s hardest and most difficult periods. The period known as the Great Depression had a full grip on America and refused to let go. I have very clear memories of the times, memories of old soldiers standing in groups and telling their stories of serving in World War I and getting no help from the U.S. Government. The truth is the government was not able to help. So, some had to sell pencils or apples or even resort to begging. Yes, I remember.
Starvation stalked the land like a hungry wolf and his tracks could be seen on the narrow dirt street of the mill village where I spent all of my happy years.
My dad moved to the mill village in Darlington with his wife and three little boys at the beginning of the year of 1922. I was the youngest of the three boys whose ages were 6, 3 and I was only a few weeks old. I have often said that the first sounds I could remember hearing were from the old mill that stood near the center of the sprawling village. When the horn would blow, the panes in the windows of the small house where we lived would rattle. The only other sounds that could compete with that from the mill was that from the long steam driven freight trains that lumbered along the Atlantic Coastline tracks that passed the small house only a few yards away. The long steam driven engine would often come to a complete halt and take on water from Swift Creek that flowed nearby. Ah, the memories that awaken as I write. It would require hours of time and space on which to write them all.
By the time I had reached school age of 6 years old, I had learned to pick the blackberries that ripened each year along the ditch banks and woodlands near our small house. By the time I was ten years old, I had learned where the deepest holes of water were located along Swift Creek, and I could be seen often sitting on a log somewhere fishing for the small perch that were plentiful in the small stream.
In the early springtime I could be seen gathering the red and yellow plums that ripened each year along the open fields and at the edges of the farmers’ plowed fields. The jelly Mama would make with the sweet plums would be so good. In the fall of each year, I knew just where to go and search for the wild grapes that would try to hide in the tallest trees that grew in the forest and along the edges of Swift Creek and the large pasture lands. Some of my most cherished memories were made when gathering hickory nuts from the tall trees that grew plentiful along the edge of the pasturelands.
Many were the memories made searching the woodlands, open fields, and dark swamp lands. Those memories entertain and awaken me when I sit nodding in my favorite chair. It seems that a finger of time just nudged me and said, “This is December, it is time to leave behind the things of summer and write something about winter and Christmas.” Yes, I remember.
Christmas in Darlington – choose most any year of the 30’s- O, what memories! It would seem that the entire world would experience a change overnight. People would become more friendly and kinder, as the town of Darlington would decorate in preparation for the coming of Santa Claus. The store windows on the Square would be filled with gifts to be bought and delivered on Christmas night. I recall the words I heard many times “Santa Claus is coming, he is coming in the night, anything he brings me will be alright.”
Did you ever sing those words? I’d bet you did. I have written before that the only two things I ever really wanted Santa to bring me was a red wagon and a tricycle. No, Santa was too poor to deliver either to me.
As a small boy on the mill village, another special event was the turkey-shoot which was held on Christmas Day or on New Year’s Day at a spot near the house where I lived. I never took part in the shooting, but I had a clear view of all that happened from a spot nearby. A big bonfire was kept burning close by where the shooting took place. The men and the boys would stay warm while watching each participant take the position to shoot. I recall their faces as I write and could write a lengthy list of names as through my mind’s eye each prepares to shoot. It is doubtful that one of them is alive, but my memory of them is!
The men of that time knew how to shoot a shotgun and most owned one. They used them for shooting wild rabbits and squirrels to be used for food during the harsh period known as the Great Depression. I liked to hear the men folk laugh and tell tales as they stood around the blazing fire. Many of their stories I still remember.
The turkey-shoot was held in the cow pasture near the village. The pasture bordered the swampland that was created by Swift Creek that flowed through it. The pastureland was part of the village and was furnished by the mill owners to the villagers who owned cows. None did!
As a boy, I often wondered why the event was called a turkey-shoot; I never saw a turkey! I suppose it was like the pasture being called a cow pasture even though there was no cow to be seen! I suppose the men enjoyed the shooting; the prizes being offered really didn’t matter that much.
No, I never saw a turkey, but I saw the following – chickens, roosters, and hens. Once I saw a guinea! I saw cakes and pies that were baked by the wife of a shooter just for the occasion. A shooter might offer a gun or a rifle that they wanted to get rid of. A good pocketknife might be offered. The person offering the prize would set a price for his offering and each shooter would pay for a chance to participate.
I reckon all turkey-shoots are the same, at least in principle. I don’t know for sure; I have never been to another! I was too young to participate in these, I was still in the slingshot age! We would line up tin cans and shoot at them with our slingshots, using small rocks from the railroad track nearby.
As the years of the 1930’s advanced, life on the village took a change for me. When the war in Europe began in 1939, I laid aside my schoolbooks and began what I thought was to be my life’s work at the big mill. There were many surprises ahead. Now that I have included the turkey-shoot, I wonder, what’s next!

Author: Stephan Drew

Share This Post On

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Posts Remaining