The hardest times made the best memories

By Bill Shepard

It has been a long time since we walked along memory lane together. I enjoyed our walk together, stopping here and there while asking the question, “Do you remember when?” As nearly everyone who reads this column knows, I am a native of Darlington and spent all my childhood years, teen years and young adult years in the little town. It could be said that it took a world war to break the hold that the quaint little town had on me. Until that happened, I must have been among the happiest and most contented persons on the planet. Oh, what memories I made just growing up on the old Mill Village that made up a large portion of the west end of the town. The old mill, which was known as the Darlington Manufacturing Co., stayed alive during the first years of the Great Depression era, giving lifeblood to the little town. Those were some of my happiest years. Decades have passed and those memories are pure gold. Oh, what memories! Growing up on that old Mill Village during one of the hardest periods in our history was a great time of my life. The lessons learned have followed me all through my years of living. One of those lessons was and is that we need each other – people helping people! The Depression of the 1930s was unforgettable; it took people helping people to get through a day. I must not dwell on that too long. I made it, and the memories are among some of my most memorable. Living through that period, the 1930s, my world lay before me. It was mine for the taking. The open fields and pasture lands were mine. The woodlands and forests were mine. The lazy little stream that passed through the Village was mine. In the summertime, I could fish for small perch that were abundant in the shallow stream. Fried crisp, they added to the meal at suppertime. I had to be vigilant and watchful for the big black moccasins that were also plentiful in the deep dark swamp that the lazy little stream had created. I had walked for miles in each direction along that stream. I knew where the deepest spots were and would stop long enough to add another perch or two to my stringer. Ah, what memories I have of such times! In the early springtime, I knew where to go to find the first wild plums that grew along the edge of the farmers’ plowed fields. They would be so good. Some would ripen to a bright pink color while others to a deep red and the bright yellow ones were delicious. The jelly Mama would make with the juice from the yellow plums was the best. I knew where the delicious blackberries grew along the ditch banks where the soil stayed moist even through the driest times of late spring. The best place to go in search for the juicy blackberries was in the cow pasture belonging to Sam Anderson, a dairyman who lived near the Village. The little stream that flowed along the borderline of his pasture, the full length, kept the soil damp. The berries grew profusely along that area and were sweet and plentiful. To enter the pasture to pick the berries, one was supposed to go by the Anderson house and get permission from Ms. Daisy, the wife of Mr. Sam. After picking the berries, a person was then to go back by the Anderson house and share the berries with Ms. Daisy. That is what we all called her. In the mid- and late summer, I worked in the nearby farmers’ fields helping to gather their crops. I worked in the tobacco fields, cotton fields and corn fields. There was always something to do and the money that I earned, I used to buy my next year’s wardrobe. New overalls and matching blue shirts were all that I needed. When early fall began to move in, I began thinking of my fall harvest. I knew where the wild muscadines tried to hide in some of the tallest trees of the nearby forest. Also, I knew when the hickory nuts were the most plentiful. If I could beat the gray squirrels to them, I would be lucky. There were no TVs in those days to entertain the children and I am so glad there were not. I might have missed all the beautiful afternoons that I have long remembered. There was nothing more delightful than joining some of my friends on a Sunday afternoon and heading for the forest. I had no trouble finding a large spreading oak tree, climbing to its top and eating my fill of the wild grapes that I would find hiding there. I would gather a sack full and take them home to Mama. After eating the inside of the grapes that we called them muscadines or bullises, Mama would save the hulls and cook them for jam. When the cold winter days arrived, Mama would make a large layer cake, spread the jam between the layers and it was so good! With childhood memories like mine, there should be no wonder as to why I have written so much about my childhood years of growing up on the Mill Village in Darlington. I carried them wherever I went, shared them with those who would listen and am still telling them today. That is what you call memories that last a lifetime! Those were some of the hardest times in American history, but out of them came some of my most treasured years. I would not trade them for any others. The readers can expect to read them for as long as I am able to pick up my pen and write – “Do you remember when?”

Author: Stephan Drew

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