Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 16, 2005


The good old days provide wonderful tales of bygone days


      My grandchildren roll their eyes toward heaven when my sweet wife starts talking about the good old days. Her good memory coughs up story after story about her grandmother’s life way back when.

          Grandma Emma raised nine children in the backwoods of Tallapoosa County, Alabama. All of them lived into their nineties until all that lard Emma fed them finally put them in the ground. Too much fat will kill you eventually.

          The cool creek water served as their refrigerator. After all, the only running water they had was the water that ran by in the creek, a hundred yards from the house.  Indoor plumbing was only a dream back then. Like most families, they had a well worn path to the Out House. A sack of lime helped only a little with the nauseating stench.

          When the cows were milked, the milk was poured into earthenware jugs and carefully placed in a shaded, shallow place in a nearby stream where it stayed until mealtime. Other items, like bottles of “soda water” and other perishables were also cooled in the creek. The water was clean and safe enough to drink.  At least that is what they believed.

          Butter and buttermilk were obtained by churning the milk in those old churns that are now on sale in every flea market. Churning was hard work, as any of Emma’s girls could attest. The older boys were spared the churning chore by staying busy feeding the livestock. Younger lads would often take their turn at the churn.

          Finally Grampa grubbed enough off the land to buy Emma an Ice Box. What a blessing it was, compared to walking constantly back and forth to the creek. The only trouble was, the ice soon melted. Now, instead of trips to the creek, they had to make frequent visits to the Ice House in town to purchase a block of ice. Grampa complained about how expensive it was to own that Ice Box.

          In time, not long before she died, Emma swapped her Ice Box for a fancy refrigerator. Her wood-burning stove was another matter, however. She continued cooking on it until they put her in a nursing home. She simply did not trust those electric stoves.

          Emma had her doubts too about the refrigerator. She and Grampa had used a smokehouse for years. They were sure it tasted better than that “store-bought” meat. When the men slaughtered a hog, they took the meat to the smokehouse while it was still warm. There it was salted down and stored away for the curing. My wife remembers some of Emma’s children telling about using black pepper, red pepper, and molasses, along with plenty of salt, to cure the meat.

          Grandma Emma never bought three pair of socks for five dollars at Wal-Mart. Instead she knitted socks for the whole family with her own knitting needle. When a hole was worn in the socks, Emma patched the hole with her busy needle.

          Flour was sold in large sacks in the old days. The sacks sometimes had a pretty design on them, pretty enough for the sacks to be made into colorful dresses for the girls. That custom lingered on for many years, since my wife can remember wearing flour-sack dresses herself.

          My wife feels a strange kinship with Grandma Emma. She can imagine her sitting by a winter fire, cooking and sewing for her large family. My wife enjoys her fireplace in our home. She refused to let me put in gas logs. She likes to sit like Emma once sat, pondering life before burning logs. A fire mesmerizes her soul, inspiring thoughts like these:

          “I sit by the fire and think of people long ago, and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times that were before. I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.”

          Most of us would like to do our part to make the world a better place. We can, but only if we recognize that our legacy reaches back thousands of centuries, all the way to the folks who made the first wheel.

          Countless generations have come and gone, each leaving a precious deposit of memories and achievements. The progress of each civilization depends upon each of us doing whatever we can to make things a little better for our children and grandchildren. We are all stewards of the past with the opportunity of adding to our rich heritage.

          I hope one day to meet Grandma Emma and sit on a cloud for a hundred years listening to her stories about the good old days. I am indebted to her. My wife inherited some of Emma’s genes. I have lived with her long enough to know that she came from good stock. Her strengths make me think that she and Emma would have been good friends, and goodness knows the stories they might tell around a roaring fire.

          Ah, yes! The good old days – what tales they tell! + + + +