When I was a barefoot boy
When I was a barefoot boy, the world was a much different place than it is today! It was a much smaller place! I heard folk say names like Florence, Hartsville, Lamar and Timmonsville; to me, they were foreign countries.
When I was a barefoot boy, we had no TV, telephone, radio or computer. There were no more than a half dozen cars on the village where I lived as a small boy. The man who lived next door to my house owned a Whippet Auto. The children liked to ask him what he did to the car when it wouldn’t start. His answer was always, “I whip it!
When I was a barefoot boy, I lived in a house that had no electric lights, refrigerator, electric stove, air conditioner, inside water, or bathroom. We had no carpet on our floors, and Mama scrubbed our wood floors with a scrub-broom made with corn-shucks and strong lye soap that was homemade.
When I was a barefoot boy, my world was the village where I lived and I seldom traveled more than a few miles from it! I would sometimes follow behind my Mama when she went to the Company Store for groceries, and I would look for empty Coca-Cola bottles along the way. I would exchange them for candy at the store.
When I was a barefoot boy, I would stand in my front yard and count the boxcars on the long freight trains that passed my house every day. I don’t know what was inside the boxcars. I would sometimes count the hobos that were riding on top of the cars. I would often see the passenger trains and wave at the people inside and they would wave back. I would often wonder where they came from and where they were going. I would wonder what it was like to ride on a train. I thought only rich people rode on trains. When a person sitting by the window waved at me, I would run into the house and tell Mama. I knew that I would never ride on a train. Mama took my brothers and me to Florence once and we rode on the train. It cost 10 cents to ride from Darlington to Florence when I was a barefoot boy.
When I was a barefoot boy, I made the things I played with; I had to, there was no money with which to buy them! I made kites, marbles, balls and bats, yo-yos, tops and wagons.
When I was a barefoot boy, I worked in the farmer’s fields to earn some money. I picked cotton, worked in tobacco, dug sweet potatoes, picked dry peas, pulled fodder, shucked corn-stalks, and plowed the fields with a mule instead of a tractor. No one had a tractor, when I was a barefoot boy!
When I was a barefoot boy, I attended school nearly a mile from the village where I lived. I carried my lunch in a brown paper bag. There was no lunchroom at school, when I was a barefoot boy! Sometimes I carried a large baked sweet potato, but most of the time, I carried two biscuits with fried Irish potatoes inside them. They would be so good, when the teacher took us outside for recess. Some of the children in my class would have a box of sweet crackers or an apple, or a pretty sandwich made with pretty red and yellow stuff. I later learned it was called pimento and cheese – so good!
When I was a barefoot boy. There was a black janitor that swept the floors of the huge schoolhouse all by himself, and using straw brooms that he had made. His name was David and the students loved David. He was kind to us. We were sad when David quit being the janitor. I didn’t like school! I liked the times my teacher would take us on field trips. She would take us outside and let us walk behind the big red brick building and pick up leaves. We would then go inside and trace the leaves on paper and color them.
When I was a barefoot boy, I liked going to town with my Daddy. We walked to town and I would go inside the stores and stand by my dad while he talked with the owner of the store. We didn’t go into many stores, only the ones where Daddy owned some money. Lyles Furniture store on Pearl Street was one of them, and once a month, Daddy went to Carolina Power & Light to pay our light bill. That was after we had electric lights put in our house!
When I was a barefoot boy, my dad always would buy two small pigs in the early springtime to raise to become big fat hogs by winter time. I liked to hear them squeal and watch them play. I pulled butterweeds for them. I like to watch them eat the weeds. I don’t know why they were called butterweeds, except that they had a yellow blossom that looked like a patty of butter. Daddy would say they were sweet, and I wondered how he knew they were sweet? Come Thanksgiving, Daddy would kill one hog and save the other until Christmas. I would have a sad feeling when the hogs were killed, but they weren’t little pigs like they once were. And I knew that as soon as winter was over, Daddy would buy some more.
I liked summertime most of all, when I was a barefoot boy. I didn’t have to go to school and be shut up inside a big building nearly all day. In the summertime, I was free to explore the fields and woodlands in search of wild plums and berries, go wading in the narrow ditches for minnows and crawfish to use for bait when fishing in Black Creek. Ah, to be a boy again and go wading in the narrow streams and to feel the mud squishing between my toes – like I did when I was a barefoot boy! I liked being a barefoot boy. I had fun!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and 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.