Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 5, 2002
Fun times I remember from my boyhood days on the farm
Family reunions were always fun, for the most part. My mother was the oldest child of the Seth Johnson clan and I was the oldest grandchild. By the time I was eight or nine, there was quite a crowd at the annual gathering. The occasion was usually the Saturday nearest the fourth of July.
The old home place was a beautiful country home just off the Atlanta Highway west of Montgomery. To the great sorrow of many in the family, the stately home was torn down years ago to make way for what is now the Carol Villa subdivision.
Few families can afford to maintain a home big enough to raise 13 children. The house served its purpose and was gone in less than a hundred years. Life goes on. Change takes its toll.
His friends may have called him Seth, but the only name I ever heard my grandfather called was “Papa.” He and my grandmother, for whom my oldest sister Neva was named, raised 13 children on their farm, along with cotton, corn, and cattle. My mother, who was born in 1902, had seven brothers and five sisters.
The pump house was one of my favorite spots. It was in the back yard, not far from the steps leading up to the kitchen. I loved to go inside the pump house and listen to the old water pump wheezing, coughing, and sputtering as it struggled to pull cold water out of a deep well. I cannot recall whether the pump was powered by gas or electricity but I think it had a gas engine.
As my cousins came along we shared many adventures during those daylong reunions. One of our favorite sports was to find a yellow jacket nest, disturb those stinging devils, and run for our lives. The slowest ones sometimes got stung. I remember being stung a time or two.
Our uncles would lecture us about messing with wasps and yellow jackets, then treat our stings with wet tobacco from a cigarette. We were proud of those stings. They were our badges of courage. I guess we thought our bravery impressed the girls.
No reunion passed without us boys romping and playing in the hay barn. It gave us a good place to hide and smoke rabbit tobacco. That was exciting for a few years, but we gave that adventure up for lent after burning one of the barns down.
To this day none of us has ever owned up to being the guilty party. I guess the truth is we were all guilty. Our parents must have thought so because we all got a whipping, one of the worst ones my rear end ever suffered. My dad said I was more responsible than anyone because I was the oldest. Makes sense I guess.
One aspect of growing up in a big family like ours was the teasing we endured from our uncles. To survive we had to learn how to deal with friendly ridicule and sarcasm. They taught us many lessons, often through the art of embarrassment. If we were too loud, or impolite, or unwilling to wait our turn, we were sure to get a stern reprimand. No sin was left unnoticed or not dealt with.
In my late teens I brought my girl friend to the reunions. Having been raised in a small, quiet family with no boys, Dean was shocked by my boisterous family. She blushed with embarrassment when one of my uncles said, “Walter Junior, is that your girl friend? She’s cute. Where did a country boy like you find her? Has she let you kiss her yet, Walter Junior?” Both of us wanted to die.
My grandmother saved the day, however. She liked Dean and made her feel welcome in her home. The two of them developed a special relationship that lasted until grandmother died of cancer in the early fifties. Dean admired the inner strength and strong faith of this courageous woman who faced her impending death without whimpering. As much as anyone we have ever known she showed us how to face the harshness of life without losing faith in the love of God.
At each reunion every family brought loads of food. The only tables I have ever seen to compare with those meals were dinners on the grounds at country churches. Sumptuous meals they were.
Desserts were as plentiful as meats and vegetables. There were chocolate cakes and apple pies and banana pudding and always a juicy German chocolate cake. But the main dessert was freshly frozen, homemade ice cream.
As soon as my cousins and I were big enough, it was our job to turn the cranks on the ice cream freezers. It was hard work but our uncles saw to it that we turned those cranks as long as we could. Then one of them would take over and give the crank a few more turns to show us how weak we were.
Those were the good ole days. I would not want to go back to the way things were then, but looking back is good for the soul. Nostalgia has its value. We just need to be careful not to reminisce too much and neglect the greater value of looking ahead.