A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the honor of attending the baptism of our great niece, Emilee Hein, the daughter of Liberty High history teacher Sarah Hein and Liberty County detective Jeff Hein, at the historic Walthourville Baptist Church.
Emilee is the granddaughter of Jordye Bacon School food service clerk Hazel Todd and Roger Todd of Allenhurst.
A supper followed the baptism in the social hall. There I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Laura Thornton Martin, the wife of Fraser Martin of Flemington. They attend the historic Flemington Presbyterian Church. She describes Fraser as a fine southern Christian gentleman. We recalled many old memories that we laughed about. I will share some with you.
Laura and I first met in September 1953 in the first-grade classroom in Ludowici taught by Mrs. Esther Cato, who was one of the finest teachers ever to stand in front of a classroom.
Laura’s mother, Mrs. Frances Thornton, was a third-grade teacher and her father, Mr. Blakely Thornton, was a high school math teacher and boys’ basketball coach. They were both my teachers when I reached their grade levels.
Laura followed in her parents’ footsteps and has been active mainly in the Liberty County School System since she earned her master’s degree in education in 1971 and, later, a specialist degree. She is retired now but still works part-time. Her older sister, Barbara, who lives in Virginia, also is a retired educator.
Laura asked me to spend the night at her house in the spring of 1956 and Mama and Daddy agreed to let me go. I could hardly wait until 3 p.m. when school let out. She lived across the street from the schoolhouse in a brick house next to the Ludowici Methodist Church.
The street had a paved sidewalk that went right by her house and huge sycamore trees lined the street. I thought it was wonderful to live so close to school and to the church they attended.
Upon arriving at their house, we were greeted by a small, frisky black and white dog. Prissy was a toy terrier. My family had old hound dogs and they liked us, but they had to stay in the yard. This little dog even had food and water bowls in the kitchen and her own bag of special food. Our dogs had to catch the bones thrown at them out the kitchen window and eat whatever scraps they could get.
That night, I got an even bigger surprise when Prissy jumped up on the foot of the bed to sleep. Never in our house! The little dog only went outside on a leash accompanied by Laura or her parents.
I looked around the inside of the house. The wooden floors were slick and shiny with a few throw rugs scattered around. Even if there had been chickens under the house, I wouldn’t have been able to see them because there were no cracks between the boards.
I looked for a fireplace but could not find one. I learned Laura’s family heated the house with fuel oil.
After changing our clothes, we got a snack from the kitchen — cookies and milk. The milk came from a carton that had been bought from the store.
We went outside for more surprises. The yard had pretty green grass everywhere and it had been mowed with a machine. I felt sorry for Laura. She had no where to draw lines to play marbles or hopscotch. This grass should have been in a pasture for cows to eat.
Then I spotted tomatoes, pepper plants and blueberry plants. Didn’t Laura’s parents know they could go down to the edge of a swamp and pick plenty of sweet blueberries for free?
I looked around for the outhouse, corncrib or an old barn. I did not see any of these things. Now I knew I was in trouble. What if I had to go to the bathroom?
Laura’s mother called for her to come inside to have her hair trimmed. Laura sat in the straight chair on the screened porch while her mother trimmed her hair with a pair of sharp scissors. She did a great job. I asked her if she would cut mine. Daddy always cut my hair and sometimes my bangs were longer on one end than the other. My hair was straight and easy to cut. For the next several years, Mrs. Thornton cut my hair.
While I was getting a haircut, Laura had to practice the piano for 30 minutes, which she had to do every day. She took lessons for many years and became a very talented pianist. Today, Laura gives piano lessons to my niece Emilee, who is doing very well.
Later that evening, Laura showed me the bathroom. Her family actually went to the bathroom inside the house. I looked around for the Sears & Roebuck Catalog or some corncobs but did not see either in the bathroom. She saw me looking around and showed me a big, fluffy white roll of Scott’s toilet tissue. Boy, these people had everything!
Soon it was time for supper. I watched in amazement as Laura took down four plates that had not been broken and glued back together. She opened a drawer and took out forks, spoons and knives. These people were so rich!
We had to eat with spoons at home because we only had three forks and Mama, Daddy and Grandpa had the privilege of using them.
Then my friend took two aluminum trays from the top of the refrigerator and pulled the handle back over a pan. The neatest little cubes of ice fell out. My heart raced as she filled each glass to the brim with precious ice. I wanted to holler, “Don’t waste that ice!” My family of 12 enjoyed a tiny piece of ice twice a day because the ice man only delivered twice a week and we had to be very stingy with it.
I was excited about the meal because I had seen smoke pouring from the big black barbecue grill outside the back door, and I couldn’t wait to try a hamburger for the very first time. I had heard other kids talk about eating hamburgers, but I never had tasted one. We sometimes had hot dogs in the lunchroom at school, but never hamburgers.
Would you believe that there were no hamburgers on the table for supper? There was a large platter of grilled whiting fish covered with barbecue sauce. Whoever had heard of such a thing? Didn’t these city folks know how to cook war mouths or red-finned pike? Fish were supposed to be rolled in corn meal and fried in a large, black iron pot filled about half full of lard.
I do not recall what else was on the table for supper, but I did not eat any of those grilled fish.
When supper was over, Mrs. Thornton put the dishes in the sink and poured some bright green Palmolive dish soap into the water. She did not have to heat water in a dishpan on a wood-burning stove to wash the dishes. Her water was instantly hot — what a miracle.
That evening, I noticed that Laura didn’t do any chores like collecting eggs, shelling corn to feed the chickens, drawing water from the well for the horse and hogs or watching her younger siblings. The only thing she had to do was walk the dog.
It is good to go back in time and think about the old days and wonder how we ever survived. But we did. I am glad that Laura and I still are good friends.
She lives in the country now and I hope she is enjoying some of the finer things in life — things she could not experience when she had to grow up in the large city of Ludowici.