Golden Stories

“The Best Iced Tea”

by Elinor R. (retired Birmingham homemaker and business owner)

I remember a summer vacation in Mississippi with my mother and daddy, back during the Depression. I was a teenager.

We were staying on the family place a couple of miles outside of the little community of Hillsboro, near where my parents grew up. We went just about every summer for years. Hillsboro was a fair-sized town before the Civil War, but it was burned to the ground by the Union army.

One day I was at my Daddy's sister's house. Everybody called her "Sister," by the way. Right off, I don't even remember her given name. Sister's house was on a farm, and her house and Granddaddy's house were in hollering distance of each other. The farms weren't terribly large. Granddaddy's place was maybe about 40 acres.

Everybody else that day, including Mother and Daddy, were off fishing, probably at the Pearl River, but I stayed at Sister’s house with two of my cousins, Myrtle and Polly.

I usually didn't go fishing. I went with my Daddy when I was younger. We slept out overnight by Lake Purdy near Birmingham on blankets and quilts. It was OK, I guess. But when I was a teenager I wasn't much on fishing.

Myrtle and Polly were sisters. Myrtle was tall, slender, with dark hair, and was a little older than me. Polly was not quite so tall, had really curly dark hair, and was a little younger.

Me and Myrtle and Polly all pitched in to make a big lunch. We had lots of good stuff out of the vegetable garden close to the house. Even folks who had big farms back then had smaller garden plots, too.

And it was hot. Oh, it was hot weather. The house had electric lights, but they still cooked and heated the house with wood. And of course, cooking all that food on a wood stove made it hotter. And the kitchen was just a big square room with a back door.

We really wanted some good iced tea to drink with the big lunch, but we didn't have any ice. There was an ice house in the little town center in Hillsboro, but that was a couple of miles away, and we didn't have a car or truck to drive.

Well, Polly was sort of a tomboy, so she hopped on the old mule and rode to town. In fact, I think she rode the mule bareback.

I don't remember what she was wearing. She might have been wearing a dress. Women might put on a pair of overalls if they were working around the farm. Women didn't wear pants back then, though.

Anyway, Polly rode to town. She probably cut through the woods. She got some ice at the ice house – maybe not a whole block, but enough for tea.

I remember how delicious the food was, fresh out of the ground. We had fresh butterbeans. We had fried okra and boiled okra. We had tomatoes. There was a big skillet full of corn. We had a big pone of corn bread.

And that iced tea tasted especially good!

“A Lot of Happiness”

by Paul Schwaiger

Looking back, I think the happiest day of my whole life was a day in the summer of 1953, when I was 23 years old. It was the day I bought my first piece of property.

I had seen the lot years and years before I ever decided that I wanted it 'cause it was right over there in our stomping grounds, we'd walk down through that way. And I had my eye on that lot long before it ever went up for sale. It was owned by an older farmer named Nunnelley, who grew corn on it, and I told him that if he ever lotted it out and sold it, that I wanted that lot.

He finally came around and said it's for sale. I think he had about 10 or 20 acres in all, and the way he had divided it, there were many 75-foot by 140-foot lots, and just a few "left-over" lots that were the odd size of 90-foot by 140-foot. The one I wanted was at the corner of Lessman Street Southwest and Cleveland Avenue, and it was that bigger size .

I said "Is that lot for sale?" "No," he said "I done sold that one, you can have the one next to it" and I said "No, I don't want the one next to it." So he called me back and said "the man decided he didn't want that lot," said "it's yours if you want it." So I said I'll take it.

I can't tell you exactly what it was about that lot that made me want it so much, but it was up on a hill (higher than the surrounding lots), and I've always liked corner lots. (My house now is also on a corner lot, which I bought decades later.)

I was the first one to buy a lot. Mr Ward, Mr Blackmon, and Mr Singleton bought lots near me.

Nunnelly wanted $385, which was high. I knew it wasn't a fair price but that land went high. I paid him $100 in cash money that day, with the agreement that I'd pay him the rest in 1 year. His lawyer wrote the deeds up, and he gave me the abstract.

I had worked as a machinist in the Detroit area at a company that made vending machines and milk containers, and I had a little bit of money saved up from that job. I just worked there 7 months. I didn't like that place, had oil burns and everything else, so I came home to get cleared up. I was living at home with Mother and Dad that summer.

As I went to sleep that night I was crying 'cause I didn't have no money --- nah, I was tickled I got it! I knew I had to have a home some day, and I bought the lot while I could get it.

After that, I went back up to the Detroit area to make the rest of the money I owed. I didn't even know if I was gonna get a job, but luckily I got hired right away by General Motors.

Before the final $285 was due, Nunnelley asked me if he could get back the property back from me for the $100 I had already paid him plus a little interest. Turns out that Blackmon (who ended up buying the property next to me) had offered Nunnelly $1,800 for my lot, and Nunnelley was trying to make a nice little profit. I turned down the offer flat: I bought the lot because I wanted it! It was interesting, though, that the value of my property more than quadrupled in less than a year!

Over time, I built my first house on that property. Me and my three older brothers --Fred, Bud and Frank -- all worked on it. They helped build that house when I was up there in Michigan, but I helped them when I was down here in Cullman. The house was 38-feet by 26-feet. I drew the plan myself just the way I wanted it, never seen one like it. I just got me a piece of paper out and started drawing.

Whole thing only cost me $7,500, which I paid for in 3 years by working for General Motors, doing several different jobs on assembly lines. It was the house that my children would grow up in.

I got rid of it "that quick" (finger snap) later on. Of course the price I got for it, just about anyone would have took it. I got Nothing: Ol' judge in Michigan thought it belonged to him and he gave it to my ex-wife. But that's a whole other story!!

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