My dear little Momma was born in 1913 and raised at 38 Yonah Street in the North Georgia town of Cornelia. My Granddaddy built the family home in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It was a large two-story house that sat proudly on its foundation and saw children born and children die. It lost its matron and patron during the thirties and forties. My two aunts lived there after the family was gone. One a widow and the other an old maid were part of the richness of my memories of that old house.
During my childhood days, we often visited Cornelia and even lived there for a period. I loved that old house and Cornelia in general. From the front porch, you could look toward the Northwest and see Yonah Mountain. As a senior Boy Scout I spent a week with the Army Rangers rappelling and learning about cold weather mountain camping. It was in January and extremely cold. Yonah Mountain has a sheer rock face, which makes it ideal for rappelling.
My Momma was my heroine. She was born with congenital hip dysplasia and in her day, the only corrective the doctors knew was to remove her mal-formed femoral head (the ball that rides in the hip socket). This caused her a pronounced limp and so she was often mocked. I remember how angry I got as a young man when I saw people stop and stare at her when we were in public, but she never let it get her down. She was one feisty gal. She raised my sister, brother and me after my Father died prematurely. The stories Momma told us about her growing up in Cornelia were hilarious.
One of the things that I remember with great fondness about Cornelia was our weekly trip to the movies. We walked down the hill from Momma’s house, around the curve at the bottom of the hill, by the gristmill once driven by a water wheel. I can still smell the wonderful aroma of freshly ground grain. We continued up the hill across the highway (U.S. 441) and finally to the train station. Years ago, Habersham County was a major apple producer until a blight wiped out the apple trees, so the train station is marked with a huge red apple mounted on top of a white pedestal. We always walked through the station to experience the unique smells of rail traffic from years gone by.
We continued down Main Street past the five and dime where we walked through the toy department to compile lists of things we hoped Santa would bring or that we might receive on a birthday. The smell in the five and dime was wonderful since the floors were wood and treated with linseed oil. We walked on down the hill to the valley where the theater was located. It cost twenty-five cents to get in, and that quarter bought an entire afternoon of serials like Buck Rogers, Whip Wilson, Gene Autrey (who once visited with his wonder horse Champion), Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Then there were several cartoons and finally the main attraction, usually about cowboy and Indians. I still get cold sweats when I remember seeing “The Thing.”
I had three cousins who would go to the movies with me. Momma and Aunt Louise who lived there year around could scrounge up a dollar and maybe a nickel for each of us, but no money for popcorn. One year we had the brilliant idea of taking fried okra to substitute for popcorn. From then on we each made our journey for a Saturday afternoon of movies and fried okra. In those wonderful old days, theater owners weren’t trying to make money off of hyper-inflated popcorn so there was no ban against taking fried okra.
After the movie, we made the trek home after watching the evening train stop at the station to pick up and let off passengers. I can still feel the drive wheels of the engine pounding when the train started to move after the stop. The smell of the exhaust steam as it escaped the valves as the iron monster slowly passed by. People who have never experienced the awesome power and complex machinery of a 4-6-2 Baldwin Steam engine have missed a unique experience unduplicated today.
We visit Cornelia when we are in North Georgia and are astounded at the changes that have occurred over the years. The last time we were there that big old house at 38 Yonah Street was there, but had endured many renovations.