Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wedowee Memories

Downtown Wedowee, photo by Rivers Langley, courtesy of Wikipedia

I will always hold Wedowee, Alabama* as one of the best spots in the world. My family moved there when I was one year old when my father became pastor of the First Baptist Church. I would spend the next five years of my young life in that place. In my memory, it was like Andy Griffith's fictional town of Mayberry, and an idyllic time in my childhood. A small county seat town, it contained everything a boy growing up would need. My older brother recalls the days when we lived there saying, "I would go out to play with my friends on a Saturday or on a summer day, and Mom would say, 'Be home by suppertime,' and that was the only requisite given. It was a great place to be a kid." I am still surprised looking back that I was able to convince my mother to let me walk to kindergarten, which meant walking from our neighborhood street to the town square, crossing two streets at the traffic lights, and heading down to Mrs. Perry's house where she taught our kindergarten class. But then again, it was a small town where everyone watched out for everyone else's children.

What follows is one of my early memories of life in Wedowee. I am not changing any names to protect the innocent or the guilty. In fact, part of my motivation is something like sending a message in a bottle. If my first friends, Phillip Haynes and Mary Lois Dothard happen to see this post, I hope they might get in touch since I lost contact when our respective families moved on to different locales. So Mary Lois or Phillip, if you see this, look over to the right-hand column, hit "view my complete profile" under my name, and you will see how to send me an email.

Old Mr. Lee and His Young Farm Hands

I spent some formative years in Wedowee, Alabama. My family moved there when I was one year old and we lived there until I was six.  Wedowee was where I learned to walk and talk. My first best friend, Phillip Haynes, lived just up the street at the top of the hill. My other best friend, Mary Lois Dothard, lived two doors up from our house and across the road from Phillip. The three of us often played together and sometimes got into mischief together.

Old Mr. Lee lived with his wife in the house in between my house and Mary Lois’s. His house sat on top of the hill just past our driveway. He was quite a character, and there were lots of stories that people would tell about him. He used to sit on his front porch chewing tobacco, but you didn’t see him spit like most folks do when they chew tobacco. Someone asked him once why he didn’t spit his tobacco. All he said was ,”Keeps the ‘skeeters away.”

I knew Mr. Lee as a farmer. He must have been retired from something. He certainly seemed too old to be working anywhere. He always walked with a cane whenever he went out, and his ready, playful smile revealed that he didn’t particularly enjoy wearing his dentures (if he had any), but he kept a hand in farming right there in the Wedowee city limits. He had some pigs in his backyard and we would often go over to watch him “slop the hogs.” I can still see those animals eagerly eating from the trough as Old Mr. Lee poured the hog slop down shoot that led to the trough.

He had grape vines, Mr. Lee did, that grew along the fence between his house and ours. He would tell my Dad, “Any grapes that you see growin’ on yo’ side-a the fence, I want you to hep ye’self to ‘em. I got more‘n I can han’le. Everthing on that side of the fence is yores.”

He wasn’t always that generous, though. Another story that went around was about the time a neighbor asked him if he could borrow his rope. "Nope," he said, "I gotta tie up my milk."

"You don't tie up milk with rope," the fellow protested. 

"One excuse is as good as another when you don't wanna lend yer rope," Mr. Lee replied.

Mr. Lee also had a mule and a plow. He kept a fair-sized garden plot behind his house, and he and that old mule would turn the sod for his garden every spring. Word had it that Mr. Lee once bought himself a tractor so he could do some modern farming. He was quite disconcerted, however, when he went out to plow his field and that fool tractor took off. It must have bolted on out, and Mr. Lee was shouting, “Whoa! Whoa!” pulling on the wheel. The tractor didn’t whoa and Mr. Lee ended up taking out his back fence.

The old man wasted no time. He sold his new-fangled tractor and went back to his mule and plow. He said, “I want sump’m ‘at’ll whoa when I holler ‘whoa,’ and this here mule knows how to whoa!”

One spring, Mr. Lee decided to plow a little plot in the front of his house up near the road. It was not a large endeavor, just a small section to grow a few more things. On this one particular bright spring day, Phillip, Mary Lois, and I were all playing at Mary Lois’s house. Her mother called us together and told us as we gathered on her big front porch that Mr. Lee had said that if we wanted to, we kids could go over to his garden and pull some weeds and use them for pretend vegetables to play house.

“Yay! Let’s do it!” Mary Lois was most enthusiastic. I had learned at an early age that girls are always eager to play house. We boys were more into exploring the yard looking for bugs, playing cowboys and Indians, climbing trees, or maybe swinging on the swing set. But on this day, Phillip and I were off to play house with our friend, Mary Lois, in Mr. Lee’s yard.

“First we have to find where these weeds are,” Mary Lois said. She was a natural leader so we naturally followed her lead, and off we went.

‘Here they are!” she exclaimed as we came upon Mr. Lee’s small garden plot. “I’ll start here, and you and Phillip go over and start over there,” she pointed us over to the other side of the garden.

Mary Lois set our immediately, plucking the small grass-like plants.

“Why are these weeds growing in rows?” I asked.

“That’s just the way these weeds grow,” she explained. Who could argue with such a confident view?

Phillip and I each took our row of weeds and began pulling and gathering. It wasn’t long until we had pulled every weed we could find. Mary Lois then gathered them all into a bundle. She handed them to me while she set out to mark off the kitchen area under the tree in our imaginary play house.

I took the bundle of weeds – which was just large enough for me to hold in both hands with my thumbs and forefingers containing them in a nice circle. As I held it, I did what I suppose any four-year-old boy would do: I held it up to my nose and smelled the roots.

“This smells just like corn,” I said.

Phillip reached over to take the bundle. “Let me see,” he said as he gave it a big sniff. “You’re right! It does smell like corn.”

“Never mind,” Mary Lois said. “This is where we’re going to have our kitchen. And right here will be the stove.”

We then went through the motions of cooking and stirring and dishing out food onto imaginary plates. We sat in a circle and said things like, “Yum, yum! This is so good!” “Are these beans or carrots?” “I think they are beans.” “We can pretend its corn.” “Next time, if it rains we’ll make mud pies.”

I suppose we kept playing house for about as long as our attention spans could take it. I don’t remember the rest of the day, but we probably headed back over to Mary Lois’s house to play with toy cars on her front porch or to watch Popeye cartoons on T.V.

I do remember, however, the next time the three of us got together to play. Mary Lois’s mother gathered us together just like before, only this time she told us, “Mr. Lee does not want you playing in his yard anymore. He told me that some kids ran through his garden and kicked up all of his corn that he had just planted.”

I can still remember the look of Phillip’s face as we both, right on cue, turned and looked at each other, remembering the aroma we had smelled on the roots of those weeds.

After those words of admonition, we three were off looking for something to do.

“I wondered why they were growing in rows,” I said as we headed around to Mary Lois’s back yard where her swing set was.

*    *    *

Looking back, I can see how this story has played out many times in my life. Amazing how our childhood years become prologue to patterns that will follow in our adult life.

[My poem, “An Early Time,” shares another memory from this period. You can read it here]

* "Wedowee is a town in Randolph County, Alabama, United States. At the 2010 census the population was 823, up from 818 in 2000. The city is the county seat of Randolph County. It was initially incorporated in 1836, but its charter lapsed by the late 19th century. It was reincorporated in 1901...Wedowee, which means "old water" in the Creek language, was named after a Muscogee Creek Indian chief. This area was historically occupied by the Muscogee Creek people." (From Wikipedia)

WWI monument in the town square
"Honoring the Heroes of Randolph County"


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