Miss Ruth’s microscopic world
by Ruth Baker
Jun 05, 2011 | 2058 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ruth Baker
Ruth Baker
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The American writer I have studied widely is William Faulkner of our neighbor, Mississippi. Dr. Emerson at the University of Alabama did his dissertation on Faulkner, and I had the pleasure of taking all the courses offered in Faulkner’s writing, including many of the anthologies of American Literature, which contained his short stories. The unique thing about his writings is that he created a make-believe county and peopled it with his own families. I have visited “Yoknapatawpha County,” Mississippi, many times in the pages of his books.

We all have our “Yoknapatawpha.” We have our own microcosmic world in which we move, act, play, work, and live our daily lives. In the 30’s and 40’s, our world was much smaller than the younger generation of today. While I draw the perimeters around my “world,” you may mentally do the same.

My world was a three-mile radius including home, church, and school. All of these clustered around a coal-mining town called Townley, Ala. One of the founding fathers who was a horse trader by trade must have pulled some bad deals because at one time, the town was called “Trickum” by many. Townley, and Walker County, lies in the middle of the Great Warrior Coal Basin.

My parents lived for a few years in Supreme, which was about a mile down the road below the town. Later, Daddy moved the family to a 250 acre farm about two miles out of town. It was owned by a friend, Mr. E.C. Ellison, who had come from Scotland and had a furniture store in Townley.

There were three large underground mines in about a two-mile radius: Townley, Supreme, and Holly Grove.

Families moved into this area from many foreign lands. If you understood the language, you had to be bi-lingual, which we weren’t. It was fun to hear them spout their unfamiliar words. We sometimes could get the message from the sound or the look on their faces. Anyone can see and feel anger.

A few of the young men knew which button to push or string to pull to get their “dander up.” They laughed long and loud when they pulled their pranks. One day, a German native lady had parked her Model T Ford in front of a local store. The boys grabbed some bricks and lifted her car up just enough to have the wheels clear the ground. She came out and hand cranked the car. As soon as the motor started rattling, she ran and hopped into the car and put it in gear. The wheels spun and the car went nowhere. She jumped out, her face became livid with rage and she cursed in German much to the delight of the group of boys.

School was on the top of the hill above the town, churches were in the town and in each community surrounding it. Later, the school was built at the present site in town. Our lives revolved around these three places — home, school, and church. How simple. How secure.

It has been said many times and in many ways before that no child dared misbehave and think they would be “home free” if the parents did not know. Not so! Ms. Bessie Edgil would reprimand one of us as soon as she would her own. That held true for any of the neighbors. They certainly did not mind telling Daddy and the results were the same as if he had seen us. They were not called tattle-tales either. If we got into trouble at school, we were “richly rewarded” when we arrived home. Not one of us would have told on the teacher at home. We kept good secrets unless one wanted to blackmail another to get their chores done.

We had a home church, but everyone visited each others church for special events. No one thought for a minute that they would be “contaminated” by various doctrines. The preachers I heard in those days were more interested in getting sinners saved than in “indoctrinating.” We were blessed to have Rev. A.J. Lambert as a pastor. He was known as a “walking BIBLE.” He was much beloved by all the people. We attended revivals at Center Hill near our home and Guthrie Cemetery Church. It was fun to walk four miles to Beech Grove Church. We had whispers and fun times while the loud preaching and old-fashioned foot washing was going on. This, too, was a common practice in many churches.

Have you relived your childhood days with me? How many incidents did you find common with mine? Do you agree that those were safer days for the family and children? Today, we stay in our well-heated and cooled houses and never know what is going on outside our doors. An ambulance can arrive at a neighbor’s house, load up and leave and many never know it until later. We still need each other and our children need the whole neighborhood.