Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Fun times I remember from my boyhood
days on the farm
Family reunions were always fun, for the
most part. My mother was the oldest child
of the Seth Johnson clan and I was the oldest grandchild. By the time I was
eight or nine, there was quite a crowd at the annual gathering. The occasion
was usually the Saturday nearest the fourth of July.
The old home place was a beautiful
country home just off the Atlanta Highway west of Montgomery. To the great
sorrow of many in the family, the stately home was torn down years ago to make
way for what is now the Carol Villa subdivision.
Few families can afford to maintain a home big enough to raise
13 children. The house served its purpose and was gone in less than a hundred
years. Life goes on. Change takes its toll.
His friends may
have called him Seth, but the only name I ever heard my grandfather called was
“Papa.” He and my grandmother, for whom my oldest sister Neva was named, raised
13 children on their farm, along with cotton, corn, and cattle. My mother, who
was born in 1902, had seven brothers and five sisters.
The pump house was one of my favorite spots. It was in the
back yard, not far from the steps leading up to the kitchen. I loved to go
inside the pump house and listen to the old water pump wheezing, coughing, and
sputtering as it struggled to pull cold water out of a deep well. I cannot
recall whether the pump was powered by gas or electricity but I think it had a
As my cousins came along we shared many adventures during
those daylong reunions. One of our favorite sports was to find a yellow jacket
nest, disturb those stinging devils, and run for our lives. The slowest ones
sometimes got stung. I remember being stung a time or two.
Our uncles would lecture us about messing with wasps and
yellow jackets, then treat our stings with wet tobacco from a cigarette. We
were proud of those stings. They were our badges of courage. I guess we thought
our bravery impressed the girls.
No reunion passed without us boys romping and playing in
the hay barn. It gave us a good place to hide and smoke rabbit tobacco. That
was exciting for a few years, but we gave that adventure up for lent after
burning one of the barns down.
To this day none of us has ever owned up to being the
guilty party. I guess the truth is we were all guilty. Our parents must have
thought so because we all got a whipping, one of the worst ones my rear end
ever suffered. My dad said I was more responsible than anyone because I was the
oldest. Makes sense I guess.
One aspect of growing up in a big family like ours was the
teasing we endured from our uncles. To survive we had to learn how to deal with
friendly ridicule and sarcasm. They taught us many lessons, often through the
art of embarrassment. If we were too loud, or impolite, or unwilling to wait
our turn, we were sure to get a stern reprimand. No sin was left unnoticed or
not dealt with.
In my late teens I brought my girl friend to the reunions.
Having been raised in a small, quiet family with no boys, Dean was shocked by
my boisterous family. She blushed with embarrassment when one of my uncles
said, “Walter Junior, is that your girl friend? She’s cute. Where did a country
boy like you find her? Has she let you kiss her yet, Walter Junior?” Both of us
wanted to die.
My grandmother saved the day, however. She liked Dean and
made her feel welcome in her home. The two of them developed a special
relationship that lasted until grandmother died of cancer in the early fifties.
Dean admired the inner strength and strong faith of this courageous woman who
faced her impending death without whimpering. As much as anyone we have ever
known she showed us how to face the harshness of life without losing faith in
the love of God.
At each reunion every family brought loads of food. The
only tables I have ever seen to compare with those meals were dinners on the
grounds at country churches. Sumptuous meals they were.
Desserts were as plentiful as meats and vegetables. There
were chocolate cakes and apple pies and banana pudding and always a juicy
German chocolate cake. But the main dessert was freshly frozen, homemade ice
As soon as my cousins and I were big enough, it was our job
to turn the cranks on the ice cream freezers. It was hard work but our uncles
saw to it that we turned those cranks as long as we could. Then one of them
would take over and give the crank a few more turns to show us how weak we
Those were the good ole days. I would not want to go back
to the way things were then, but looking back is good for the soul. Nostalgia
has its value. We just need to be careful not to reminisce too much and neglect
the greater value of looking ahead.