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red clay ponderings

Hmmm… what shall I ponder on today?

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March 2015

Who Remembers?

  

When I was growing up in Canton, Georgia, one of the most exiting days of the year was Opening Day. Not the  Braves Opening Day at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium…better..,opening day of the DQ. The line of teens in Cherokee Warrior T-shirts, parents holding toddlers, old couples holding hands, businessmen in ties, doctors and lawyers in suits, was so long, it would wrap around the side of the building and snake up into the Rutledge’s shaded yard.  Standing in that line, no one grumbled and complained. We caught up with our friends and neighbors…we learned who had broken up with whom “and right before prom! My goodness what a jerk!” 

Our town was small, our county not congested (we had one high school in all of Cherokee County). It didn’t take much to make us happy. We didn’t have a McDonald’s or a Waffle House, we had a Burger Chief and a Happy Kitchen (and they served us well). But the DQ, owned by the Rutledge family, was a summer treat. They only served dairy products and Slushies…. No burgers, hotdogs or Cokes. And it was only open from late spring to early fall. 

The Dairy Queen is still there, in the same location, but it is no longer owned by the Rutledge family  and it’s no longer the only DQ in town. And for reasons I don’t understand, the ice cream and shakes from the old DQ on Highway 5, taste better than they do at new one. The treats served up at the original taste like summer. And home. 



The Bird Fighter

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This morning, with a cup of Russian Tea in hand, I called my mom. It’s something I do daily. Most days, we chatter about the day before us, “what are you doing today?” Some mornings, the conversation is a lullaby of memories. Other times, she voices her concerns about the health and well-being of those she loves. Many mornings, she mentions her brothers and sisters….she misses them. The oldest of six, she has one surviving sibling.

Occasionally, our conversation takes a sharp turn. Unintentionally, I say something that whips up her Crawford temper, and she has to “bring me down a notch or two“. It’s ok.

Every now and then, regardless of conversation topic, I hear her with the ears of someone not from the south. Although I am from the south, I hear her with foreign ears and wonder what someone from New York or California would think of her Alabama vernacular. On those mornings I smile and silently shake my head. I learned a long time ago the pointlessness in correcting her. (When we visited the United Kingdom, an agent behind the ticket booth in a London train station asked her: “Where bouts in the states are ya from, M’Lady? Alabama or Tennessee?”

This morning, this is what I heard on the other end of the line:

Mama: Hello
Me: Are you busy?
Mama: Just fightin’ these old birds.
Me: (silent chuckle) What birds?
Mama: Aw, you know. Them ol’ birds that builds nests where they’re not supposed to. (The birds know this Rule of Helen? I wonder…)
Me: (She likes birds, usually, so now I’m curious). What kind of bird is it?
Mama: You know. Them old Mud Birds (Barn Swallows). I put the plant from Jake’s funeral out on the porch yesterday, and they’ve already started buildin’ a nest in it. They orta (ought to) know better than that. That’s a live plant, not no autoficial (artificial) one! Your daddy’s already knocked a nest out of the barn’s porch rafters, now they’re tryin’ to build one on this porch. They’ll mess all over the place! Nobody wants to clean up birds%$t all the time! Well, I need to go so I can get back out here to them birds. Before they build another nest.

So…if you need a good Mud Bird buster….you know who to call.





It Was A Dark and Stormy Night….oh, wait.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to spending a week or two every summer with my aunt and uncle. My family lived in what I considered the “Boonies” of Cherokee County; but my aunt and uncle had moved from Cherokee to the big city of Cartersville. They lived on Douglas Street. My visit to Cartersville had all the makings of a great summer. Everything I needed was within the traveling distance of my bare feet.  Their house was a stone’s throw from Main Street; three blocks from the outdoor Olympic sized pool at Cartersville High School, and just a skip and a jump from the Iced-Slurpees of a convenience store on Tennessee Street. An old, wood-framed store was located a street or two behind their house.

 One afternoon, early into the visit of the summer of my twelfth year, my aunt sent me to the old store to pick up something she needed…most likely a Coca Cola.

Entering the ancient structure, my nostrils were greeted with the musty odor of old things. Once the screened-doors of the old store creaked to a close behind me, and my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I found it was a place I liked. The older man who owned the store kept a good selection of penny candy on hand and my Aunt Mae had told me I could buy some.

I enjoyed the independence and responsibility my aunt entrusted to me. I relished the idea of doing such a grown-up thing as walking to the store alone. But, the getting there that gave me trouble.

To get to the store, I had to walk run past a time worn, ivy covered house. The two-story home loomed eerily over the corner of Douglas and Carter Streets. At the corner, I had to pass immediately in front of the house and then turn left onto Carter Street. This journey that took me toward the rear of the shaded property.

Even on the brightest, sunniest, 100° days, there was something dark about that place. Bone chilling quakes rippled through me as I neared the house. No matter how many times I walked to the store, I could never shake the freezing fear I felt when I was near the house. Instinctively, I found myself avoiding the sidewalk in front of the house. Crossing to the other side of Douglas Street, turning left on the far side of Carter Street and then zig-zagging back when I was a safe distance from the “spooky’ house, made me feel somewhat protected. Holding my breath the whole time. 

Even now, more than four decades later, I can drive past the place and remember the coldness I felt there, on hot summer days. 

 This past Valentine’s Day, someone on Facebook posted this question: “Anyone know where the house is in Cartersville that is on the Travel Channel tonight?”

I scrolled down and saw that someone had posted an article with a photo of the house. My spooky house.

Turns out, in the 1930’s,  the area of the sidewalk in front of the house had been the scene of a murder. Which led to a kidnapping and a hanging. The murdered man was the Chief of Police of Cartersville….he had been seeing to the arrest of young black man. aged twenty-two years. While the young man was frequently incarcerated, the Chief would send for the prisoner’s beautiful, nineteen-year old wife. And so it went.

One night, the young man escaped and he and his brother drove to the home of the Chief, presumably to bring his wife home. She had confided in him, the details of the Chief’s despicable behavior.

When the brothers arrived at The Chief’s residence, he came outside. He was not willing to peacefully let the girl go. An argument ensued, and somehow the Chief’s gun wound up in the hands of the escaped prisoner.

The gun was fired. The Chief died on Douglas Street, in front of the house… (in the very spot where I had #fullbodychills on hot summer days).

The young man was arrested and jailed. A couple of nights later, local citizens kidnapped him from the city jail and lynched him in downtown Cartersville.

The young bride, fearing retaliation from the friends and family of the Chief, was afraid she would be killed as well. (she believed they would murder her before knew they would let anyone know what their Chief had been doing with the nineteen year old, black wife of his prisoner), She fled town and was never heard from again.

(This is the condensed version of the story, if you prefer to read more about the incident, I’ll post a link to an article written by local attorney Tony Smith. He quotes local historian Ed Bostick, author of “Lynchings in Bartow County” for the Etowah Valley Historical Society. He quotes and names many other local residents. You can read the full account of the murder of Cartersville Police Chief Joe Ben Jenkins, by scrolling down to “1930” at this link: http://www.tony5m17h.net/CartersvilleLynchings.html ) Thank you Phil Bridges for the link.

No matter how you feel about ghosts, haints, haunts, ghouls and lingering spirits….I know I felt something cold and creepy on that street, four decades after the tragic events which unfolded there.           

 Thank you for reading,    Danita

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