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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. 



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The Bird Fighter

barnswallow2

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 out of the 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 my bare feet could take me.  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 my visit, my aunt sent me to the old store to pick up something she needed, probably a Coke. Once the screened-doors of the place squeaked to a close and my eyes adjusted to the dimness inside the ancient structure and my nostrils grew accustomed to the musty odor of old things, 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 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, it was the getting there that gave me trouble.

To get to the store, I had to walk run past an ivy covered, two-story house on the corner of Douglas and Carter Streets. At the corner, I had to pass in front of the house, then turn left and journey toward the rear of the property. Something about the place sent cold quakes through me. No matter how many times I went to the store, I could never shake the chilling feeling I got when I was near the house. I found myself avoiding the sidewalk in front of the house by 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. 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 incarcerated, the Chief would send for the beautiful, nineteen-year old wife of the prisoner. 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. The Chief came outside, 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.

The young man was arrested and jailed. A couple of nights later, he was kidnapped from jail and lynched in downtown Cartersville.

The young bride, fearing the friends and family of the Chief would kill her as well, (because they couldn’t let anyone know what he had been doing with the nineteen year old, black wife of his prisoner), fled town and was never heard from again.

(This is the condensed version of the story, if you prefer to read more of the article ….written by local attorney Tony Smith who 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 Cartersville Police Chief Joe Ben Jenkins murder 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, three of four decades after the tragic events which unfolded there.           

 Thank you for reading,    Danita

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