The night was terribly cold with the wind whistling through rattling windows. Sleet mixed with rain was falling. The coal fire had died. It was very dark and then came the sound. An eerie lonesome wailing which caused goose bumps and the hair on the back of my little neck to stand straight up. I whimpered and shivered as much from fear as cold. Shortly the choo, choo, choo of the Southern Limited was heard as it pulled up the steep grade into Cornelia, Georgia. Aunt Jeanette pulled me closer to her warm ample bosom and whispered gently into my ear, “S-h-h-h-h, Jackie boy it’s just the train going through town.” As she cuddled me close, once again I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
And so it was in the winter of 1947. Daddy had returned from defeating the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge and was seeking work. Mother and I had moved back to her home place in Cornelia while Daddy searched. Mother’s two sisters, Aunt Jeanette and Aunt Louise, still lived in the house their father had built at 38 Yonah Street. In fact that house still stands today along with many others houses my Grandpa built scattered through the North Georgia hills. Most that still stand are historical landmarks. Even the chinaberry tree my Mother climbed as a child to surreptitiously throw rocks at passersby was still there.
Aunt Louise had married, had four children then lost her husband, uncle Conley to a horrible brain disease. Aunt Jeanette, on the other hand, was an old-maid. She was quite fluffy, never wore a bra, and was quite happy only wearing her upper dentures. I’m not even sure she had lowers. She was hilarious and could gum to death anything she could get in her mouth. I was one of her favorites, which was clear at Christmas time. Aunt Jeanette gave Christmas presents priced in relationship to her fondness for us. The us were me, my younger sister and brother, and my four cousins (Aunt Louise’s children). I got the most expensive gift until I lost favor, then I was relegated to one handkerchief while someone else got the toy or candy.
Cornelia was Apple capital of the South until blight killed most of the apple trees several years before I was born. The train station still boasts a huge red apple on top of a pedestal and was known as the home of the big Red Apple.
When Daddy found a job, we moved from Cornelia to Albany, Georgia, but often returned to Cornelia for various periods as we were growing up. Aunt Louise and Aunt Jeanette had enough land to do a bit of gardening and for a pigpen. Times were very difficult, at least for Daddy and he schemed many schemes to augment his commission from sales. Daddy decided that he could raise some pigs with the aunts’ help. He had an old panel truck that he named Bucyrus. He rigged a pen in the back of the truck and bought a sow and a hog. With Mother and my sister, the princess, standing in the front seat, baby brother in Mother’s arms and me in back with the pigs we headed from Albany to Cornelia. Have you ever smelled a pig? It is worse when there are two pigs. It is even worse when there are two pigs confined in the back of a panel truck with no air conditioning or ventilation. Pigs, when disturbed like to squeal. So off we went, the five of us with two squealing, stinky pigs.
My little sister, the princess, was crowded between Mother and Daddy and diligently held a brown paper sack in her little hands. The sack was a constant nuisance. Whatever the bag contained was one of her greatest treasures. That was apparent each time Mother tried to take it from her to put it under the seat. Mother would attempt to take it from her and her squealing mimicked the stinky squealing pigs. After what seemed like a week in the car, we made it to Cornelia.
Daddy carefully examined the pig pen and decided it was too small for what he intended so, leaving the rest of the family at Aunt Louise’s, Daddy and I with the two squealing, stinky pigs headed on further north to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Ike’s farm. Aunt Bertha was another of Mother’s sisters. Uncle Ike and Aunt Bertha lived in Cleveland, Georgia, and had a much larger area in which to keep the pigs.
The story was that Uncle Ike’s mother, a real country queen, would walk to the edge of the front porch, lift her dress and pee as she proclaimed, “More room out than in.” Of course, they didn’t have any indoor facilities in those days and hygiene seldom took the place of convenience.
With the pigs safely ensconced at Uncle Ike’s, Daddy and I headed back to Cornelia to pick up the rest of the family and return to Albany, Georgia. When we got back to Aunt Louise’s, Mother revealed the secret of my little sister’s (the princess’) treasure. The bag contained rocks, just plain ordinary rocks. They weren’t polished river rocks, or fancy rocks—no they were just plain old ordinary rocks. Could she have simply wanted to replace the ones Mother threw?
We rode in Bucyrus for several months after that, but everywhere we went after a few minutes in the truck we smelled just like a pack of stinky pigs. At least we didn’t squeal. I think Daddy finally got rid of Bucyrus because he was tired of people giving his family the stink eye.
Just recently, I was back in Cornelia and Cleveland to visit those wonderful places of childhood memories and I was saddened at what has happened over time. I know that change is inventible but I don’t have to like it. The gristmill where the sweet smell of fresh ground grain is gone. The five and dime with the wooden floors that smelled like sweet oil is gone. We used to buy candy there with our weekly nickel. The movie house where we could spend all afternoon on Saturday’s is gone. We watched a double feature then Whip Wilson, Lash Larue, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Buck Rogers and the like. Gene Autry and his wonder horse, Champion, was there in person one Saturday. During some years when money was tight Aunt Louise and Mother could always find just enough money to get us in the door, but no money for popcorn; Aunt Louise would fix each of us a bag of fried okra. That was before theater owners realized that banning outside food in theaters opened a goldmine for popcorn sales.
Well life does move on, time brings change, but childhood memories only grow in richness with the telling. One of the things that makes me sad is that my grandchildren will not experience the sweet smell of a horse’s breath, the excitement of milking a cow and squirting fresh milk in a cat’s mouth. It is unlikely they will ever gather eggs from the hen house or be attacked by a rooster protecting his harem. Their mothers would never feed them possum garnished with sweet potatoes. They will never experience the pride that comes with the first time one is sent out with the coal scuttle to gather ice bound coal, nor ever be warm on one side of their body at a time. They won’t have the opportunity to hang under a train trestle as the train rattles overhead or drink water from a tin cup freshly drawn from a well. Sure, they will have their own memories, but I can’t imagine how a Wii can replace a real bicycle or a movie with horseback riding replace actually doing it? I must be getting sentimental as the years fly by.
Copyright © 2009 by Jack deJarnette