Living in a warm and caring retirement community, with endless activities and interaction with neighbors, always takes me back to the community where I was raised and the natural continuity of love provided there.
Pleasant Gardens is a community about five miles west of Marion, N.C., bounded on three sides by beautiful streams with a mountain backdrop to the north. To the outsider, a settlement of some 200 homes may seem pretty dull and commonplace, but to a kid growing up in that environment, it was “heaven on earth”, although I didn't realize it until I had been gone about 50 years.
It was a place where womenfolk gathered in the winters to chat and sew on beautiful quilts. There were few telephones, so I don't know how everyone knew when a quilt frame was placed in someone's spare room, but women just showed up with a needle and thimble, a pot of soup and plenty of news. It was also a place where a lengthy sickness in a home brought a gathering of neighbors with groceries in a “pounding” ritual I've never witnessed anywhere else. And Sunday afternoons were reserved for sitting under the backyard trees and discussing the week's events, the Civil War, World War I or even the Farmer's Almanac.
When the peach truck came through and money was scraped together for a bushel, women just showed up with a sharp knife, found a seat under the big oak tree and went to work. Canning times brought the same response. Wash the Mason jars in the big wash pot, start stringing beans or peeling potatoes or tomatoes and you could count on somebody showing up to help. Everyone seemed to know when it was “hog-killing” time, arriving with a knife or “hair scraper” and leaving with a little bacon, pork chops or “cracklings” to cook in corn bread. A load of “slabs” attracted a few men with “saw horses” and crosscut saws.
When the blackberries ripened, there was always a group coming or going, buckets in hand, sunburned necks and an occasional yellow jacket sting. And the next day, there were plates of steaming, thickened berries and big, flaky, buttered biscuits, jam and jelly cooking on the stove and a newfangled Mason jar cap which guaranteed no spoilage.
On our immediate dirt road lived a lumber trucker who loaded up the “ton and a half” flat bed with a score of movie lovers about twice a month and drove into Marion for a nighttime treat. People stood behind the cab or dangled their feet off the tail or sides and I never remember an accident of any kind. Corn “shuckings” were a source of entertainment, with a red ear showing up every now and then, good for a kiss from one of the village beauties. In the corner of the corn crib usually sat a Mason jar with something we were not even allowed to smell, but it seemed like the men folk spent more time there than in “shucking” corn. Even moving the outhouse from one location to another was an opportunity to gather for a brief visit. If your were looking for a friend and couldn't find him on a hot, summer day, go on to the Clear Creek swimming hole, he'd be along in a minute.
The central gathering place of Pleasant Gardens was the school and the Clear Creek Baptist Church. PTA meetings were always a time for the youngsters to sit on the front row and “cut up” until being led from the auditorium by the ear. A yearly Halloween carnival was a big event in our young lives. The community fair was a summer highlight, with canning and quilting displays, bicycle racing, cake walks and a baseball game. Basketball, being the only school sport, also kept us busy from September to March.
The church always had Sunday morning and evening services, prayer meetings on Wednesday night and revival and bible school in the summer. “All Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds” was huge! And, of course, the annual baptizing in Clear Creek was a cause to gather and see who in the neighborhood had decided to walk the “straight and narrow,” and whose feet came off the bottom when they were “dunked.”
I'm sure that most of these gatherings no longer exist in the little community, and I don't even know when they started disappearing, probably with the arrival of radios and certainly with the miracle of television. But wouldn't it be fun to return, if only for a year, to those days of love and friendship?