Friends, Family and Frontier Country

by Bob Sanders

The following stories are from the book Friends, Family and Frontier Country, Growing up in West Alabama by Bob Sanders (brother to Legacy Keeper Donna Thompson) and grandson to James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield through their youngest son, Prentice Sanders.  In the “Introduction” to this book, Donna described it as follows:

“What we have here is priceless–a book of memories.  Bob has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of his childhood on paper and of describing his growing-up years in the Depression and post-Depression era of the 1930’s and ‘40s, on a farm in Lamar County, Alabama, amid a loving, if poor, family and an extended family of grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins.  His recollections of family members now gone, famous family stories, and childhood friends and experiences will keep them alive for later generations of Sanders progeny.

Thanks for the memories, Bob!

Love, Donna

In his “Preface” to this book, Bob explains the process and people who were a part of bringing his book into existence.  

PREFACE

For 25 years, I wrote a weekly column for the Auburn Bulletin/Eagle and/or the Opelika-Auburn News.  For most of those years, I was also a regular columnist for the Auburn Alumnews, when it was edited by the late and much lamented Kaye Lovvorn.  I wrote about nearly every subject anybody could think of–airplanes, cars, books, comic strips, newspapers, school discipline, sports, religion, the military, and I don’t know what all.  But probably the central theme was my growing-up days in my other home, Lamar County which I usually lovingly referred to as Frontier Country.

Most people, at least through their parents or grandparents, have a connection with a “Lamar County” somewhere in their past.  Some of the things I wrote about should strike a familiar chord with them. Younger readers might possibly find some of the archaic customs and items described herein amusing.  I like to think so.

My sainted sister, Donna Thompason, deserves most of the credit –or blame–for this.  She originally got basically this collection together and had a few copies Kinko’d for family use.  A lot of people, well, Mother, Brother Jack, Cousin Anna Banks, et al., suggested that I put out a larger printing, that others might also like to remember…how it was back then.

Most of the columns date from the 1970s.  I hope you find them at least mildly entertaining.

Bob Sanders

Auburn, Alabama

October 1998

(Note:  “Grandpa Sanders” in this story is James Marshall Sanders and “Grandma Sanders” is Emma Springfield.  “Daddy” is Prentice Sanders, their youngest son.) 

MEMORIES OF GRANDPA SANDERS

by Bob Sanders

I used to worry Grandpa Sanders to death.  From the time I can remember, I’d toddle up the road to his house and ask Grandma for jam-and-biscuit.  She’d dutifully split a leftover biscuit, put a generous helping of delicious blackberry jam in there, put the pieces back together and hand it to me.  As I inhaled it, I’d go in to where Grandpa would be trying to read the Age-Herald and start pestering him to tell me a story.

He had a repertory of some eight or nine tales, all of which I knew absolutely word for word–I’d correct him if he deviated one whit from the accepted recital.  But my familiarity with them made them not a bit less exciting to me.

He’d stall and put me off, which made my desire to hear the stories increasingly unbearable, until he’d finally give in and slowly, tantalizing, start off on one of his classics, and I would squirm in ecstatic anticipation.

He’d tell, for example, about the time he carried the mail on horseback, about how, once upon a time, he was riding his mare through this long, desolate bottom when he heard a panther scream a long way off.  (Just like a woman screaming!) Feeling in a playful mood, Grandpa decided he’d mock it, so he answered it. The next time it screamed, it was a little closer. (And I’d get a little closer to him, as his voice would get low and dramatic.)

This went on for a little bit, the panther crying and Grandpa answering it, with the panther getting closer all the time until Grandpa decided that was just about close enough; so be pulled off his hat, swatted his horse across the rump with it, and said, “Nance, take me away from here!”

Now, you’d think I would have been satisfied with the fact that we, Grandpa and I, had satisfactorily thwarted that panther’s appetite for the thousandth or so time, at least Grandpa would indicate that he was through, as he’d turn back to his paper, but, eventually, I’d nearly always talk him into another tale–about the horse race, or Mad Dog Spring, or something.  I was persistent, and I don’t think he really minded too much.

By the time I came along, Grandpa was getting pretty near-sighted.  When I was six or seven, he’d take me to town with him in his T-Model.  He’d say I could be his eyes for him, and he’d build up my role in our driving partnership all out of proportion while I’d beam with self-satisfaction.  When we’d get down to Holiday’s store, where our road angled into the highway, I’d really put on a production about looking to see if any cars were coming down the highway.

Soon, he practically gave up driving, after he got up too high on the steep bank that surrounded his swept yard and the T-Model turned over on its side.  Daddy watched the accident happen from our front yard and came running up, and about that same time, Deward Roberts was coming by, going to town, and they got Grandpa out of the car, unhurt, but shook up a little, and the T-Model back on its wheels, not much the worse for it all.

So he didn’t drive much after that, and, anyway, Mother had misgivings about my riding with him when he did.  Daddy said he’d take him anywhere he needed to go. He had diabetes, among other things, and he began to weaken.  He didn’t plow much anymore and yell, “Gut take it!” at the mules when they peeved him. (That was about as strong an expletive as his Puritan code would permit; although I have suspected that most of the Puritanism in that family came from Grandma.  I’ve even heard it said that, before he married her, he would, on occasion, chew a plug of tobacco! She cut that foolishness out, I mean in a hurry.) 

Emma Springfield Sanders and James Marshall Sanders

He still puttered around and went to the Tabernacle services, but he began to break, as they say, fast;  and just before my eighth birthday, he died at 71.

Fortunately, before Grandpa died, Daddy and his Kodak got an excellent picture of Grandpa and Grandma, sitting in the sun at the south end of their front porch.  (See picture at right.) They were looking out toward where all the apple trees used to grow, and where, long before I was born, their first barn used to be; and where aunts Clara, Lessie and Myra, and uncles Kent and Kelley and Daddy worked mostly and played some, living stories that could later be told to their grandchildren.

(The following introduction is from the files of Legacy Keeper Donna Thompson.)

THE SANDERS TABERNACLE

The Sanders Tabernacle

We don’t know when the Sanders Tabernacle was built, but we do know it was active in the 1930’s and maybe a short time before that.  It was built by James Marshall Sanders, probably at the urging of his wife, Emma Springfield Sanders, who was a devoutly religious person, and who was known to have done some preaching, though probably only at Tabernacle services.

The Tabernacle was located on the north side of the Sanders Cemetery, which had been established by George Harrison Sanders in 1887 when he buried his son Garland Sanders there. At that time, there was an old Church building. Pilgrim’s Rest, there, near the road, but it was no longer in use. Efforts have been made to find more information on Pilgrim’s Rest Church – who established it and when, what denomination was it, who were the preachers, why did it go inactive, etc., but so far, no luck.

Even though George Sanders, and later his son James Marshall Sanders owned the land, I sometimes wondered why Garland was not buried closer to George’s home, instead of a good half-mile up the road, until I realized that it was because Pilgrim’s Rest Church was there.  The church building was converted into a dwelling, and George’s widow, Selena, lived there for a few years before her death in 1932. Shortly afterwards, the building was torn down.

I (Donna S. Thompson, born 1945) remember the Tabernacle building and used to play in it when I was very young. It was torn down when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My brother, Bob Sanders, remembered it well, and wrote the following:

(Note:  “Grandpa Sanders” in this story is James Marshall Sanders.  “Aunt Lessie” and “Aunt Myra” are his daughters and “Uncle Kelley” is his son.  The children are  his grandchildren.)

THE SANDERS TABERNACLE

by Bob Sanders

The other day my favorite preacher was reminiscing about great groups he had heard–the Roger Wagner Chorale, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Robert Shaw Chorale, the WAUD Birthday Choir, etc.-and about how he and, he supposed, all kids had at one time or another played “church.”  Remember? There was a time for playing “house,” and a time for “the fox and the hare,” and “cowboys and Indians,” and a time for “church.”

Except not many kids had as colorful a church to “play like” as we had.

The Pilgrim’s Rest Tabernacle was completely enclosed, with windows, a tin roof, benches as good as you’d find in any country church then, a stove, coal oil lamps, and a sawdust floor.  It was quite comfortable.

It was non-denominational.  There was no pastor or minister, there were no elders or deacons, and there were no finance committees or choir committees or any other committees.  Grandpa Sanders was the guiding hand behind the whole thing.

However, he worked out a system with the other men of the community whereby a different person would be responsible for getting a preacher for each meeting.  The meetings were held twice a month on Sunday nights. And, looking back on it, it appears that each man would try to out-do his neighbor when it came to getting a colorful, stirring, loud, yea, even exotic preacher.

Most of them were the strictly fundamentalist, “pentecostal” type who preached the fire-and -brimstone, burning-hell sermons so dear to the hearts of that Puritanically religious community.  Occasionally there would be shouting and even ”speaking in the unknown tongue,” which was apparently spiritually uplifting to the older ladies who participated in it, but which was indelibly terrifying to us six- and seven-year-olds.  Willadine, who James and I teased about going to sleep in Aunt Lessie’s lap anyway, would really snuggle up close when that began.

Aunt Myra and her huge family from over in Mississippi would come up sometimes, and her oldest daughter and son-in-law would pick and sing.  And there was a family of albinos who would appear once in a while from somewhere. One of their special numbers was “When I Take My Vacation in Heaven.”

That was one of the ones we “played-like” the best.  Willa and Polly and Wynell would get out some gallon-sized syrup buckets to use as our instruments and we’d sing and play away.  After we’d sung a verse or two, they’d hum in the background while I’d talk like our albino friends: “Yes, my friends, one of these days, I’m gonna take MY vacation in heaven, and what a wonderful day that’s gonna be!”  There’d be a few “amens” in the background. Flip Wilson would have been proud of us. And somewhere in there, I’d always try to get in one of Uncle Alec’s favorite phrases about the difficulties of reaching the Promised Land if you didn’t do thus and so:  “Beloved, it can’t be retched!”

And we might act out the time Uncle Kelley was dozing a little bit when the preacher said, loudly, “WAKE UP! before it’s too late!”  Uncle Kelley didn’t get the “before it’s too late” part. He jumped straight up, thinking maybe the house was on fire, and it took a few minutes before things got back to normal.

Grandpa died when I was eight, and without his leadership the meetings at the Pilgrim’s Rest petered out.  Later, the building was torn down, and now there’s no sign of it on the slope north of the family graveyard.  But those of us who were there will never forget it.

The ones who were kids then especially remember the time the lady preacher was telling the good news in a flamboyant fashion.  She slowed down for a moment and said, “Before I go any fudder…”

In the unbelievably quiet void that lasted for surely no more than a second, my voice could be heard throughout the tabernacle.

“Fudder?”

 

(Note:  “Uncle Harvey” and “Aunt Lulie” in this story are brother and sister to James Marshall Sanders.   “Uncle Kent” and “Uncle Kelley” are sons of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  Another son is “Daddy” who is Prentice Sanders.) 

 

GREAT-UNCLE HARVEY

by Bob Sanders

I had this great-uncle, Uncle Harvey.  He was Grandpa Sanders’ youngest brother, and he was, in many ways, a doozie.  They just don’t make them like Uncle Harvey anymore. He was continually in search of a treasure that was supposed to be buried on the home place.  Both he and his sister, Aunt Lulie, were convinced there was something of value in a hollow near the Ridge Field. The place came to be known in family circles as the Glory Hole.  It was a hole that got bigger and bigger. It is said that Uncle Harvey and Aunt Lulie would sneak out to it at night, separately, unbeknownst to the other, and dig some more, hoping to find the gold or whatever they thought was buried there.  Uncle Harvey had had a vision about it, he said. Daddy used to snort at such foolishness. He loved to tell about the time Uncle Harvey got hold of some early metal-detecting device and found–at another place–a “treasure” of old horseshoes. He was a highly original composer, too.  It was Uncle Harvey, you’ll recall, who wrote these immortal lines, “‘Neath the spreading white oak tree, the village blacksmith….” He was just as good at writing songs that he would introduce as originals at all-day singings.

‘Twas he who also built Uncle Kent’s house.  He was a carpenter of considerable notoriety.  Uncle Kent said he wanted the house to be a copy of lawyer Oliver Young’s down at the edge of town.  Not as fancy, of course, but the same general floor plan. Came time to cut the rafters for the main part of the house. After the cutting, Uncle Kent mildly ventured a tentative opinion.  “Er, Harve, don’t you think you cut ’em too short?” Whereupon Uncle Harvey commenced to bluster, as he was wont to do, things like, “Huh, how long have I been building houses? Think I don’t know how to measure?  I know what I’m doing. Don’t bother me,” etc., etc., etc. Uncle Kent’s roof is much flatter than lawyer Young’s. But what Uncle Harvey was most famous for was a medicinal concoction he invented. Oh, he believed in it.  When our illustrious Uncle Kelley was dying of Hodgkins disease, Uncle Harvey wrote him a most poignant and pleading letter, saying that if Kelley would only take some of his medicine, he’d be cured. Uncle Harvey even got a drugstore or two over in Mississippi to stock it and sell it.  Nobody knew the exact formula. It had a lot of whiskey in it, Daddy said. One vital ingredient was something Uncle Harvey called sarvice bark. Periodically he’d go down in our bottom, sometimes with Uncle Kent, to search for a sarvice tree. Nobody else ever knew what a sarvice tree looked like.  There was an aura of deep secrecy about these projects.

(Note:  “Uncle Kent” in this story is the son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  “Aunt Eunice” is Kent’s wife.)

THE DING BAT FOILED UNCLE KENT

by Bob Sanders

Every time I hear Archie Bunker call his wife his favorite name for her I think of Uncle Kent.

A Ding Bat was–and may still be, although I haven’t seen one advertised in a long time–a fishing plug.  It was an excellent one. If the Creek Chub company–I think that was the company that made it–isn’t still producing it, they’re missing a good bet.  It was a floater, but it had a metal lip at the front that made it dive on retrieve. It had two sets of treble hooks, and it had two little hair tails sticking out the back end which presumably caused bass to have an overpowering desire to consume it, guts, feathers and all.

Now, in case your fishing experience has been limited to ponds and the big impounded water areas of the state, creek fishing required some special tools and techniques.  Although the ads in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield would glowingly describe the beautiful action of the five-and six-foot rods, these were not for creek bank casters.  Nope.

What you wanted was a stubby little two-and-a-half or three-foot (at most) rod, because just getting up to the bank of the creek, especially after a timber sale when all the big trees had been cut and all manner of briars and bushes had sprung up, was a monumental task, and every extra inch of rod was just so much impedimenta, something else to hang or snag and make you say naughty things.

Uncle Kent was a creek fisherman.  Sometimes he’d start in just below Bailey Boman’s and fish Little Yellow Creek all the way down to the next bridge, which was where the creek crossed the road below Early Matthews’ place.  Such thickets and brambles you’d have to see to believe. And snakes too. I’ve had many a fishing day ruined along that stretch by the slithering entry into the water near my feet of a chunky, dull colored cotton-mouth moccasin. From that point on, every stick would look like a snake and every slightest noise would sound like one.  But that’s the way creek fishing was, and sometimes you’d catch two or three pound-and-a-half or so bass and feel real happy about the whole thing.

One particular day Uncle Kent got in his trusty ‘34 Ford and drove over past the Gilmer place to Big Yellow Creek to give it a try.  That was three or four miles upstream from where Little Yellow Creek flowed into it. He had his stubby casting rod and his reel all loaded up with 25- or 30-pound test line, because in that kind of fishing you caught a submerged limb or tree about every third cast and you wanted a line with rope-like strength to horse the thing out with so you could save your plug, because you probably didn’t have but three or four plugs to begin with – a Hawaiian Wiggler,  a Heddon River Runt, maybe a jointed thing or two, and a Ding Bat. The Ding Bat was his favorite.

He parked his car and started working his way down the creek, hitting all the likely looking spots with a few casts before moving on.  He caught a couple of nice ones and was, generally , in spite of clouds of mosquitoes and a few sloughs that had to be waded through, enjoying himself.

But about then he caught a big one.  His Ding Bat hung on a little branch out over the water and when he yanked on it smartly it let go of the branch and sprang back like a bullet and embedded a treble hook or two in his nose.

He found it difficult to concentrate on fishing with all the hooks and lips and tails hanging there, so he fought his way back up the creek, through the bushes and briars and sloughs, to his car and thence home, sneezing every once in awhile from the tickling of the Ding Bat’s hairy tails.

Aunt Eunice decided right away she couldn’t do anything with it.  Although she had handled innumerable cases of first aid with all her kids she felt inadequate to handle a major marine case of this type.

So Uncle Kent muttered something–it was hard to tell just what, his words being somewhat muffled as they were by the Ding Bat–and prepared to go to the doctor.  But he didn’t want to go with sweat and the primeval slime of Yellow Creek bottom all over him, so he, Ding Bat and all, took a bath and put on clean clothes and drove right to the center of town, where Doctor Robert’s office was located.  He claims you really have missed a lot in life if you haven’t had to park in the middle of town and walk across Court House Square during a regular working day, greeting all your friends, and acquaintances, with a Ding Bat hanging out of your nose.

Well, Doctor Roberts, after he recovered from his hysterical laughing fit and got up off the floor, was able to cure Uncle Kent of Ding Batitis.  But he took the rest of the day off. He was unable, he said, to treat any more patients that day.

Note:  The following tribute is from Jack Sanders (brother to Bob Sanders and Legacy Keeper Donna Thompson.  “Anna Banks” is a granddaughter of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield through their daughter Lessie.)

COUSIN ANNA BANKS

by Jack Sanders

My cousin, Anna Banks McCarver Pounders Eskridge passed away on January 28, 2019 at the age of 96 years.  Banks, as I knew her growing up (she later started going by Anna after she married T. J. Eskridge) was one of a kind.  Her funeral was on February 1, 2019 and she was buried in the Sanders Family Cemetery alongside her first husband J. C. Pounders. I noticed in her obituary that all her living nephews (6) were to be honorary pallbearers (one was missing).  I literally grew up with many of them.  

It was a gathering of the McCarver clan (more than have been seen around Vernon, AL in a long time and probably for the last time, since none of the McCarvers live in the area any longer).  Banks’ daughter Linda and her husband Dan Pennington split their time between their home in Vernon (at the old McCarver home place – the house that George Sanders built) and their home in Nashville, TN, especially after Banks entered the nursing home.

Banks had lived a very frugal and hard life until she married Mr. Eskridge.  After his first wife died and he proposed to Banks, it was said that she made him laugh and enjoy life again.  It was also said that he told her he had money and he needed someone to help him spend it. Banks replied that she could sure do that.  I don’t know how much they spent, but I do know they traveled a good bit after their marriage and until his death.   

She was one of the last of our older set.  On that note, her two sisters, Polly and Wynell [daughters of Lessie]; Thomas and Virginia [children of Kent]; Glenn [son of Myra]; and Donna and I [children of Prentice] are the only ones left of the J. M. Sanders’ family descendants of our generation.  Of once many, we are now but a few. 

Banks and another cousin, Frances DeVille Wojtusik of the Cunningham clan, were of the same era and were founts of old family lore.  What we heard from them and did not record are now gone except for our collective memories. I nearly always learned something new when I was around either of them.  

(L-R) Linda Pennington and Anna Banks McCarver Pounders Eskridge

In all her travels to foreign countries on concert tours with daughter Linda and her husband Dan Pennington (known professionally as DAN PENN), it never changed her.  She was still BANKS anytime or anywhere you saw her.

I will miss her bubbly and fun loving personality very much.  And, oh the stories she could tell about almost everyone in the family.  She was UNIQUE to say the least!

Wherever they are, I’m sure that she and Bob and all the other cousins that have gone before are having a high old time laughing and retelling all the family tales of which there were so many.

So Banks, I bid you God speed in starting your new life.

Jack Sanders – 2/9/2019   

 

(Note:  “Uncle Kent” in this story is the son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  Another son is “Daddy” who is Prentice Sanders. “Cousin Charlie” and James are grandsons through Kent and Jack is a grandson through Prentice.)

COUSIN CHARLIE

by Bob Sanders

It’s good to get up to the old stomping grounds every once in a while, to see all the folks, to eat much too much of that down-home cooking–what they call “soul” food now, as if it were some kind of new discovery–and to get together for the umpteenth re-telling of the standard, classic, family stories.

Saw Cousin Charlie the last time we were there.  I hadn’t seen him for, oh, I guess a couple of years.  Something would always happen: weekends he’d go home we wouldn’t, and vice versa.  You know how it is. But we got together for a good session this time, and he’s always good for the evocation of an old chestnut or two.

He’s Uncle Kent’s oldest youngun’, in case you don’t know my Cousin Charlie.  Uncle Kent had enough kids to spare Charlie to work for Daddy one summer to finish up a crop after a hired man quit about halfway through the season.  Then that fall Charlie joined the Navy, a little over a year before Pearl Harbor, and stayed on the “Russell,” a destroyer, practically the whole time from then until the war was over and he got out.

He was in the North Atlantic convoy-versus-submarine action before we were officially in the war, and made a couple of those cold runs to Russia.  He says his ship got a submarine on the day the “Reuben James” was sunk. Later his ship moved around to the Pacific, where he stayed for the rest of the war.

He was, and is, low and squatty and powerful, with immense resources of stamina.  Gets it from them Turners, Daddy says. Back in those pre-war days, we used to go down in our bottom to Yellow Creek, and he’d tirelessly swim all up and down it, carrying me on his back.  Of course, I wasn’t a very big load, but I’ve learned to appreciate the feat properly after a few very tiring and largely unsuccessful attempts to haul my boy like that.

After the war, in between jobs, when he’d be living at or visiting Uncle Kent’s we’d go set-hook fishing down on the creek.  We’d leave the house about an hour or so before sunset and get on down to the creek and get us some poles cut and baited up and set out by dark.  Then we’d build a big fire and sit around and listen with rapturous admiration as Charlie would tell about his wartime and other conquests.

He never has been one to operate with much finesse.  If we’d run out of bait, he’d start moving and tearing apart logs and rotten trees like a mad man, looking for worms and grubs and lizards or whatever.

Sloughs didn’t slow him down a bit.  He’d plow right through without a moment’s hesitation, while James and I would kind of lag back a little, correctly assuming that Charlie would be happy to do most of the dirty work and that he wouldn’t mind at all being soaked and smeared with stagnant water and slime right up to his Adam’s apple.  He thrived on it.

We got to talking about the times we’ve been hunting, and going hunting with Charlie is unlike going hunting with anybody else you ever heard of.  Back before I got sort of chicken-hearted about shooting squirrels–it’s these lovable little town squirrels I think–we used to go out whenever we got the chance and try to tree a few.  A bunch of family dogs would be along, and Charlie would go bulldozing through briars and undergrowth that would stop a light tank, and we’d still occasionally find some squirrels.

We always talk about the time we had two up one tree.  He was yelling at me to shoot it: “No! You’re shooting too low.  Shoot it! Shoot it!” It developed that I was shooting at –and killed–a completely different squirrel from the one he was looking at.

Then there was the time he put his pipe in his coat pocket while he was concentrating on shooting–and forgot it, and caught on fire several minutes later.

And best of all, the time he got all flustered and –in his haste to get reloaded after missing a shot or two–loaded up his shotgun with a Vicks inhaler.  The gauge was about right but it didn’t shoot very well. After it snapped and Charlie cussed a while, James finally regained enough composure to ask from the ground, where he had collapsed in a fit of laughter, “What were you planning to shoot him for?  Pneumonia?”

This time, Charlie, Jack and I had a nice uneventful little hunt.  Naw, we didn’t kill anything, but it was good to get together again for a while.

(Note:  “Uncle Kelley” in this story is the son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  All the others characters are grandchildren or in-laws.)

PLAYING ROOK AT KELLEY’S HOUSE

by Bob Sanders

Ever play Rook?  It seems kind of tame now, actually, after playing bridge all these years, but , law me, we used to have some rough Rook games.

We usually get together up at Kelley’s house.  Kelley, or Heck, as we called him most of the time, was my bachelor uncle, and he lived a couple hundred yards from our house at Grandma’s old place.

He was the family “Uncle,” the kind every kid deserves at least one of.  Unlike our parents who were more or less committed to a fairly strict timetable because of family responsibilities, Heck came and went as he pleased.  He worked at several jobs whenever the spirit moved him. If he wanted to sleep till noon and work till two in the morning, he did. Or he might work like a dog on Saturday, farming, then get in his battered old car and ride around over the countryside like a man of complete leisure on Monday when everybody else was out sweating and casually remark that he was all caught up with his field work and it was too bad they still had so much to do.

But he’s worth a book or two.  This is about the Rook games we used to play up at his house.

As nieces and nephews will, we kind of got scattered about.  Some of us were off at college, some working in Birmingham and other places, a few still around home.  Once in a while a bunch of us would happen to be home at the same time, and after hellos and brief reports on our activities since our last visit, we’d get a good country supper under our belts and head up to Heck’s house.

Naturally, everybody wouldn’t always be there, but there’d usually be enough for a couple of tables out of a pool of kinfolks and the accepted newcomers who had married into the family.  James and Gay would be down from Birmingham; Virginia and sometimes Nell would be there; and Willa and her husband, Bill; and Vinton, Polly’s husband, also from Birmingham; and Charlie and Thomas and Jack.  And if we didn’t have enough for two tables, any extra people would stand around and kibitz and then get winners when a game was completed.

Now, for the uninitiated, Rook, while similar to bridge in some respects, is simpler, and much more dependent on pure dumb luck.  For instance, the bidder gets a “widder” of five cards which, if he desires, he can substitute for five cards in his original hand;  so it’s quite possible, and the way we played, usually, to bid recklessly on practically nothing and get enough good cards out of the “widder” to make it.

It is equally possible to go set, or “in the hole,” to fantastic amounts –the way we played.  Ole Gay would chortle with pure glee when he could make a big bid, or go into a minor rage when he went set, especially if Charlie happened to be his partner.  Charlie’d catch hell, which bothered him not one iota.

In addition to the wild ups and downs of the game, as played by the Sanders rules, there was an element of cheating.  Kelley had such a mind for cards and figures and statistical chances–what a bridge player he’d have made–that the game itself was no challenge, so he’d devise elaborate signaling schemes to, among other things, find out if his partner had the rook card, which, in the game of Rook is almost a prerequisite for making a bid.  That added another dimension to the game:  in addition to trying to keep up with what cards had been played, you had to watch out for Heck’s cheating, which kept you on your toes.  He’d puff on his pipe and flatly deny any accusations.

Sometimes he’d play the role of host to the extent of having a pot of vile-tasting coffee on hand, which anybody who dared could partake of, and maybe somebody’d bring some cookies or something from the Yellow Front store for us to snack on, and, while he didn’t encourage it, knowing how our parents felt about it, if we felt like smoking, we could without being told on.

And the bidding and laughing and remembering and story-telling would go on into the wee hours of the morning.  There’d be a close, wonderful feeling of camaraderie, a true kinship amongst us, with even the bones of our ancestors in the family graveyard just a few paces from the north side of Kelley’s house adding to the feeling.

Finally we’d decide we’d better get on home, so we’d drift outside, step off the porch and still linger around for a moment or two, looking at the moonlight on the old George field, where we’d all worked at one time or another, reluctant to break up the meeting.  But we would, hoping it wouldn’t be too long before we had another gathering of the clan, up at Kelley’s house.

(Note:  “Uncle Kelley”  and “Uncle Kent” in this story are sons of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  Another son is “Daddy” who is Prentice Sanders. The other characters are grandchildren and their friends.)

OUR OWN SPECIAL SCHOOL BUS

by Bob Sanders

To hear my daughter tell it you’d think riding buses was something new.  She says it’s neat-o (I believe that’s the term). She thought so even more when a nice-looking young college student was the driver.

Well,  I’ve seen her bus.  It’s just a bus. No personality, no charisma.  If it weren’t for the novelty of the thing, riding it would be just as boring as riding number 20, which went north, or number 34, which went east, or number 36, which went down Yellow Creek, must have been back in my day.  They were just regular big old plodding unimaginative school buses. I felt a little sorry for their riders.

Our bus, however,  was something else, so to speak.  It was a pickup with a bus bed on it, something like a plywood camper body.  The bus bed could be hoisted off in a moment so that sides suitable for hauling cotton or cows could be substituted.  And that’s what was done, often, especially in the cotton-picking season.

Daddy drove it for a couple of years about the time I started to school.  Then my bachelor uncle, Kelley, took over and added bus driving to his six or seven other jobs.

He’d leave his house, which was just a couple of hundred yards from our house, and go up the west fork of the dirt road to Uncle Kent’s, where he’d pick up a flock of young’uns, then over by Uncle Jeff’s for some more, then circling to the right, on by the Chandlers, Bomans’, Todds’,

Matthews’ and others until he came back by our house down the east fork.  He’d pick up another big bunch there–us and the Reeveses and Thompsons–and head to town, making another couple of stops on the way.  That little ‘39 Chevy would be squatting for sure by then.

A seat in the cab was one to be coveted.  There’d be three people up there besides Kelley.  Norma and Nell had two of those seats pretty well reserved.  We thought they’d never finish, but they finally did. Then Willa, Ginny, Nell Roberts and some of the rest of us got to ride up there once in a while.

It was crammed and probably illegal to be packed in there like that, but we loved it.  We’d sing and play word games and hope (all of us except Kelley) that we’d get stuck when we forded Mile Reed branch after a heavy rain.  We hardly ever did.

Yep, riding in the cab was a privilege, and a leg gone slap to sleep from big toe to hip bone was a small price to pay.  Ginny created quite a commotion one time when she fell sprawling on the ground as she got out of the bus. They rushed her up to one of the little rooms by the auditorium stage that was wistfully called the first-aid room and frantically tested and worked with her till she was considered sufficiently revived to continue in her pursuit of knowledge.  After all that, she just didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was only a foot gone to sleep that had made her fall.  

Every morning when we’d come whipping into the circular driveway with the row of white posts on each side in front of the school, we’d sneer, just a little, at the riders of those conformist buses.  And when school was out in the afternoon, Kelley’d get right at the back of the line of buses and get all loaded up in a hurry and we’d scoot past all the others, making jeering sounds and gestures all the while.

The bus also came in handy in the summertime for trips to the swimming hole or to the Farm Bureau barbecue or, most of all, to the fair at Columbus, Miss. in the fall.  Kelley’d take time off from farming or embalming or doing tax returns or helping the sheriff raid stills or almost anything to haul us around.

The service was more personal on the school run than on the big buses, too.  Take the time a clamor arose from the back as we were on the afternoon trip. “Stop the machine!” “Hey, stop!”  Whistle, scream, bang-bang on the back of the cab!  Jack was showing off his first five-dollar bill and it blew out the door.  Had to back halfway up the hill there at Cousin John Todd’s and then get out and search through the kudzu a while. Found it, though.

And hardly anybody ever fell out.  Oh, Wynell did one time. But it didn’t amount to much.

Didn’t hurt her any, I don’t think.  On the other hand, maybe that’s what’s been wrong with her all these years.

(Note:  “Daddy” in this story is Prentice Sanders, son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  “Mother” is Prentice’ wife, Edna Boman Sanders. The other characters are family friends.)

DADDY AND MOTHER SANG FOR FUNERALS

by Bob Sanders

We got to talking about funerals the other night.  Somebody brought up the famous New Orleans funeral marches, and we kept on till we got to country funerals and the fascination with them–over and above the natural sympathy–of country folks, especially those of a generation ago.

I had to do a little looking up about funeral customs to satisfy my curiosity.  I found that our basic funeral customs came from the Romans, who brought them to England when they invaded that country in the year 43, customs like wearing black, walking in procession, and raising a mound over a grave, which were later passed on to our country, where regional and denominational variations were added as time passed.

Daddy and Mother used to sing at funerals.  Hundreds of funerals. I don’t know exactly how it got started.  They both grew up in the center of the all-day-singing, singing-school belt and became respected regulars at the singings in the area, and at various times they teamed up with other singers to form quartets at these singings.

Somewhere down the line, somebody asked them to get together a quartet to sing for a funeral and they did and somebody else asked them to and they did, and before anybody realized it, it had become a regular thing.  Along in the late ‘30s, through the ‘40s, and on into the 50s, whenever anybody died within a radius of ten or so miles, one of the deceased’s relatives would call Daddy or one of about six or eight others and say they wanted them to sing at the funeral and that was it.  They would.

Daddy’d work up till the last minute before time to get ready, then drop everything and get Mother and a couple of other singers out of a pool consisting of Lester Crowder, Bradley Wheeler, Otis Williams, Junie Harper, Uncle Grady and a few other singing types, and they’d head for Bethlehem or Nebo or Oak Hill or Pine Springs or Mt. Harmony or Shake Rag or Pin Hook or wherever the service was to be held.

The ritual was fairly consistent.  After a while, they knew most of the preachers who would be likely to be officiating, so they didn’t have to have many preliminary instructions.  Usually the family would have one or two songs they’d especially want sung–invariably the saddest songs imaginable, designed to purge every last tear and moan out of the survivors’ systems.  After the preacher had intoned a few appropriate words, he’d indicate that it was time for Daddy and them to sing. They’d quietly and quickly set the pitch with the always present pitch pipe and start singing.  Sometimes there’d be another song or two in the church house, and perhaps, one out at the graveside.

Down through the years they accumulated quite a stock of anecdotes about happenings at funerals–about the times when the song would be pitched too high and Bradley’d be standing on his tiptoes with his neck chords standing out, trying to reach the high notes and about the extremes in weather, from the tortuously hot, muggy times to the deluges to the bitter cold days when the wind would come whipping over the burial grounds in a manner calculated to freeze the vocal cords–and all other parts–of the singers and everybody else, while the preacher would grind on and on and on, exhorting and preaching to a helplessly captive audience–and about the time the wasp got up Junie’s britches-leg at one of the most emotional moments.  Junie got pretty emotional himself. His range broadened considerably.

Nobody kept records.  Nobody knows how many funerals they sang for.  For a couple of decades they probably averaged at least three funerals a week.  Of course no pay was asked for or accepted. Most times they weren’t even thanked.  But when Mrs. Mills rang a long and a short and it would be somebody asking them to sing, they’d sing.  It was just something you did.

I don’t know who does that now, if anybody, since most of the old singers have more or less retired.  People used to flock to funerals, to honor the dead, of course, but also to see other people and renew old acquaintances.  I don’t think as many non-family people go now, but funerals are still the biggest news around in rural areas.

Easily the most popular program on my hometown radio station, at least for the 50-or-over set, is the death announcement program at mid-morning, sponsored by the local funeral home, in which the announcer, in the dulcetest tones he can muster, tells that Mr. or Mrs. (pronounced “miseries” So-and-So “passed away” at such-and-such time and place with services to be held where and when.  And listen again tomorrow when your friendly funeral home will bring you the latest death announcements.

(Note:  “Daddy” in this story is Prentice Sanders, son of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield.  “Momma” is Prentice’ wife, Edna Boman Sanders. “Ross” is a first cousin to Bob on his Mother’s side.)

SHOOTING THE OLD 12-GAUGE SHOTGUN

by Bob Sanders

We got to talking about shotguns the other day.  Somebody had a Franchi automatic for sale, and the discussion involved how to pronounce it.  I said I didn’t know, but since the Italian singer with the same last name pronounced it Fronk-ee I figured that’d be a pretty good guess.  But the head of the Zeppelin Department over at East Alabama Male College proclaimed that the man who ran the general store at Grinders Switch or wherever it is he’s from called it Franch-ee, and his tone of voice bode evil to any man who disagreed with that, so I didn’t pursue the matter.

The Z.D. head went on to say that the man had said that it was a good gun, well put together and everything, and I said that the ads in the outdoor magazines certainly made it look and sound good. Then we went on to discuss and compare Brownings and Remingtons and Winchesters, etc.  It made me get to thinking about my early shotgunning experiences.

Our earliest family shotgun was an old hammer type double-barrelled model that was ancient when I was born, probably when Daddy was born.  To tell the truth, I don’t know how long it had been around then or where it originally came from. I must inquire about that. Anyway, that’s the gun Daddy would use when he’d go down in the bottom with old Buster to try to get a squirrel or two for Momma to fry up and smother with gravy and serve with hot biscuits.

Also, there was a little single-barrel 410 that had once been some kind of .44 caliber affair but had been altered to take 410 shotgun shells.  It would never extract the empty hulls, you’d have to take a stick and ram it down the barrel to get the old hull out.

There came a time, as it comes to all boys, I suppose, when I got up enough nerve to think about shooting the old 12 gauge double.  I had been shooting my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and a 22 rifle, and even a few times the 410 from the time I was, oh, six or seven, always with the necessary rules of shooting safety being shown and drummed in.  To those, unlike most instructions, I paid attention.

Ross and I got down the 12 and two or three shells and headed down to the bottom.  We walked out by the Ridge Field and then straight down the steep hill to our upper pasture.  It was a clearing of some two or three acres where we had instituted some more or less modern pasture technology, that is, we had actually plowed it up and fertilized it and planted some Dallis grass and white clover there.  To understand the significance of that you have to realize that in our area at the time the pasture was land that was too steep or wet or poor to grow anything else. You just put a couple of strands of barbed wire around the place and told the old cows and mules to make out as best they could.

“You mean y’all actually planted and fertilized grass?”

Well, that’s where we were.  There was a big beech at the south end of the clearing.  Ross and I got about 30 yards away from it and commenced to dicker about who would shoot first.  I generously offered to let him go ahead, but, true gentleman that he was, even then, he insisted that I be allowed to take the first shot.  But he didn’t have all the gentlemanliness in the Mt. Pisgah community tied up by a long shot. I was adamant that, since he was my guest as it were, he should have the first go at the thing.

This went on for quite a while, till we finally decided to flip a coin about the thing, to make it all according to etiquette and everything.  So I found a penny somewhere in one of my overall pockets, down among my Tuf Nut pocket knife that came free with the overalls and my Captain Midnight Secret Code Ring and the fish hooks and slingshot and other essentials.

“Call it,”  I said. He called heads and it was tails, so I made him go first.

He inserted the blue Peters shell and backed one of the hammers and aimed at the beech and closed his eyes and blazed away.

“Why,” he said, picking himself up from the soft grass, “that was easy.  Nothing to that at all. Anybody could do that.” I noticed the way his right arm hung limply at his side.

But it was too late to back out.  I also noticed that my shell was one of the high-powered kind, with the brass part sticking way up there.  I stuck it in, closed the gun, backed the hammer and pulled the trigger, all kind of fast, so I wouldn’t have much time to think about it any more.

Later, when Ross and I would discuss it, we’d talk more about the pattern of the shot on the smooth bark of the beech tree and what good shots we were to hit it and everything.  We didn’t talk about how the old gun spun me around and knocked me down and practically jumped up and down on me. We gradually found out that you’re supposed to hold a shotgun snugly to the shoulder, etc., especially if you weigh about 60 pounds and it’s a blunderbuss and the shells are high-powered.  And we discovered that the old gun really wasn’t designed for heavy loads anyway, that it came unbreeched when you shot one in it, in addition to pommeling the shooter soundly.

But these things a youngun had to learn.  We wore our bruises proudly as they turned slowly from black to greenish and faded away.