Southern Play

One summer day traveling a back road with friends I made a prediction. “When we hit the town up ahead I bet we’ll see a trampoline for sale.” Sure enough as soon as we entered the town limits there it was leaning against the wall of a Western Auto. My friends broke into laughter and accused me of having been through the town before.

Not true I said. It’s just that more than a few times I’ve noticed how small town stores always have a trampoline for sale. The people who sell trampolines must be pretty good. In many a small town as soon as you hit the town limits, there it is: a trampoline leaning up against a store. Propping one up against a wall amounts to a billboard of sorts and it’s hard to miss. For sale. Get your jumps here.

Jump on oh trampoliners of the world but understand that backyard bouncing is nothing new. I present the joggling board. I’ve often heard folks speak about joggling boards. Trying to envision that mind-joggling contrivance always made me stop and wonder. What exactly is it? I had a hazy notion of a resilient plank on supports, sagging in the middle, and wide enough to accommodate a load of average derrières.

While sitting upon this pleasingly pliant board you joggle. Now the New Oxford American dictionary defines “joggling” as to “move or cause to move with repeated small bobs or jerks.” As you joggle or bob up and down an infinitesimal space comes between the plank and your backside. During that split second gravity pulls you and your fellow jogglers toward the center of the earth. Ever so gradually you slide toward one another. There was a great thrill to be had here. For young men and women out sparking the joggling board was yesteryear’s equivalent to parking. More on that in a bit.

The joggling board. It was an old time backyard amusement that entertained folks of all ages in simpler times. Back then kids couldn’t whip out their iPhone or Droid and send text messages to cross-town friends. They could joggle though but the joggling board required your friends to be with you. Imagine that.

Appropriately enough I first saw a joggling board in the South Carolina Lowcountry. It’s a wide flexible board that seems incapable of breaking no matter how many kids pile onto it. Of course, today’s scale-smashing tater-tot gobblers will give a joggling board a run for its money. Joggle, joggle, joggle, crack, pow … all come tumbling down in a pile of pine splinters.

The joggling board of yesteryear was a fixture in many backyards. As you’d expect it has a colorful past but as you may not expect it comes to us from Scotland by way of the South Carolina Lowcountry. According to legend the joggling board’s origin stems from the pursuit of good health. It gave people a way to exercise. (You’d think that before electricity, power tools, and conveniences came along people got plenty of exercise.)

The story goes that the first joggling board was built at Acton Plantation near Stateburg, South Carolina, the small town where Mary Boykin Chestnut, Civil War chronicler was born. Cleland Kinloch built Acton plantation in 1803 and when his wife died his sister, Mrs. Benjamin Kinloch Huger, came to Acton to care for the household.

Rheumatism bedeviled Mrs. Huger, and she wrote her relatives in Scotland bemoaning her lack of exercise. She had the side of her carriage removed so her chair could be placed in it and she could go for a ride. To her, riding along a bumpy lane in a carriage translated to exercise though I’m positive the horse got the better workout.

In response to her letter, her Scottish kin sent a diagram of a joggling board, telling her she could sit on it and bounce gently. That they said would be a bit more exercise, and a grateful horse agreed. Using the design sent from Scotland the plantation’s carpenter built a joggling board from local timber, no doubt longleaf pine. That first board was straight-grained and free of knots and cracks.

From this first board joggling boards spread quickly to the yards and piazzas of the Lowcountry. Its popularity still runs strong. Today only swing sets and hammocks rival joggling boards as backyard amusements down Lowcountry way.

So just how does this quivering contraption do its magic? Rockers support a long board at each end. Several people can sit on the board and joggle. As they bounce they gravitate toward the sagging center of the board. Soon they are snug against each other through no fault of their own. That closeness made a couple’s hearts beat faster in prim and proper times, and the joggling board also became known as the courting bench.

Legend holds that no daughter went unmarried in any antebellum home that had a joggling board. Many a proposal it’s said was made on a joggling board. After a proper amount of joggling rings jangled and in time some jiggling around produced a brand new family member. All the result of a springy plank that literally brought couples together.

This entertaining outdoor furniture became an everyday sight in the 19th century. They stood on Southern porches, in yards, and in piazzas. At first glance they looked black. Tradition mandates that joggling boards be painted “Charleston green,” a dark, dark green.

The story goes that “Charleston green” came about when Union troops sent the Holy city buckets of black paint to help the war-ravaged citizenry spruce up Charleston’s appearance. A colorful lot, Charlestonians added green and yellow paint to the buckets, (10 ounces black paint, 4 ounces green paint, and one-half ounce yellow paint) brightening the mournful black.

Today the joggling board is on the comeback trail. Several companies in South Carolina make joggling boards today. Prices run from the high $400s up to nearly $700. It sounds like a good way to soothe a baby … just joggle away until the baby is asleep. Children of all ages love joggling boards, even children in their 80s!

This venerable backyard amusement is such a tradition in the Lowcountry its name graces businesses that range from a gift shop in arrogantly shabby Pawley’s Island to a publisher in Charleston, the Joggling Board Press. On its website the Press sates that “the joggling board is an apt metaphor for the spirit of Joggling Board Press … Joggling boards are long, capable of seating many at one time. By joggling simultaneously, eventually everyone winds up side by side. So it is for the talented people who make up Joggling Board Press.”

Down in Charleston the Old Charleston Joggling Board Company makes these backyard-bobbing machines. The company’s tagline urges folks to “put a joggle in your life.” The company claims it’s shipped joggling boards to all 50 states and abroad for more than 50 years. If the company has shipped some to Scotland then I’d say the joggling board has come full circle.

Should you come across a joggling board give it a try. Perhaps you’ll find one in a park or more likely on the veranda of an old mansion on some guided tour. Put some joggle in your life. Sit down and bounce. When you do you’ll be maintaining a southern tradition that’s endured wars, fires, and hurricanes and I’m sure a few termites here and there.

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Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]