There is one story that I will never forget. It is my interview and story about Mr. Ted Cordes of Jasper.
Few people who reach 100 years of age can remember as vividly as this man and tell the stark story of those times.
“We didn’t do much travel. We used wagons. I never saw a buggy until I was 10 years old. My uncle, who was a doctor, got a buggy. We plowed oxen and later got mules.
“Our washing was done in a hollow log which we split open and fixed the ends for a tub. There were no rub boards. Mother did the rubbing with her hands. When I got big enough, I used a battling stick and beat the dirt out of the clothes.
“We made our soap by putting wood ashes in a hopper, pouring water over them and taking the drippings and boiling with lard to make soap.
“We made our own cloth. Of course, I don’t remember how my mother made it — she died when I was 6 years old, but I remember my stepmother making it. She carded the cotton and I learned to spin the thread. Then we rolled the thread on a spool to fit in the shuttle. I could run the shuttle in the loom. We had wool. All our socks were knitted from this. (At this point, a son brought out a suit of his father’s that was made from home-loomed cloth.) The cloth was loomed at home. We used red oak bark for dye and sometimes grasses, and other things.
“Women wore shoes up above the ankle and they were careful to wear their dress down to their shoes. I can’t remember ever a woman wearing pants. They might have put a pair on at Christmas to serenade for a joke.
“I can’t say anyone ruled the roost in the home. They worked together. If a question came up about the house, Mother had the say so. If it was on the outside, Daddy ruled. Mother went to the fields too. Those were hard times. I MEAN hard times! (He choked back tears at this point.) We didn’t go to the stores very often. It was 4-5 miles trip, and we only bought flour and a few things.
“I know one thing about the behavior of children back then — we were in better control than they are now. You can be too hard on children. They can work out some things for themselves if given time to do so.
“I joined the church when I was 16. Dad was a Lutheran, but he married a Methodist. If Dad could not go to church, he sent the children. When they came home, he would ask the preacher’s text. If they could not tell him, they’d get a whipping. They always wondered how he knew what it was and found out once by finding the scripture text written in the Almanac ahead of time.
“Some preachers still preach today like they did back then — some don’t. The preacher would cry sometimes as he preached; sometimes, he would get happy and shout.
“Women always wore bonnets to church. I’ve seen them shout ‘til their hair would tumble down.
“In our church, we had two doors. The men came in one door, and the women came in the other. The women sat on the right and the men sat on the left.
“We didn’t have but one song book. The preacher would read a line and we would sing the line, then he would read another. (He demonstrated the song ‘Amazing Grace’ by the method used.) You know, we didn’t have music for years because we could not afford it.
“We didn’t have a lot of play times. We played hide-and-go-seek, and Base, and a game called Cat Ball. We raveled socks and made balls.
“I went to school at Logan in Cullman County. My teacher was Professor Guthrie. I remember one time that he got into politics and was running for something. He got Uncle Jim Lott, a Methodist minister, to teach for him. I needed to know a word and I went up to Uncle Jim and while he was helping me, I was staring out the window. I said, ‘I see John Walker!’ Wham! He hit me over the head!
“All I had for books was a Blue-back speller. Before I was 12 years old, I could spell everything in that speller by heart. They were long, four-syllable words. (He spelled the word responsibility and gave the definition to show he remembered.) I never had any problem with spelling or reading.
(At this point, he recited a poem from those faraway days.)
‘Come little leaves, said the wind one day; Come over the meadow with me and play; Put on your dresses of yellow and gold — Summer is gone and the days grow cold.’
“We looked for Santa Claus at Christmas. I NEVER GOT A TOY IN MY LIFE. We got a piece of candy, and a handkerchief or something like that.”
These are the words that struck me in my heart. When I looked at this distinguished, silver-haired patriarch of 100 years, I decided we would do something to change the end from the beginning.
A birthday party was planned at Sherer Auditorium. I went to several merchants in Jasper and told them I thought he deserved to have “little boy toys” that he never had. They all agreed and I got a red wagon, baseball, marbles, stuffed toys, and the general toys that a young boy should have.
When the party was in full swing, I entered the room pulling a red wagon loaded with toys and presented them to this 100-year-old man.
I told him Santa was late, but here were his toys that he did not get when he was a child. I will never forget how his head went back and his laughter came from deep inside him.
Everyone there was laughing with him. His great-great grandchildren came from throughout the crowd to examine his presents.
Think about this story as you enjoy your air-conditioned home and all the modern conveniences of living.
If you know an elderly person that has no one left to visit him or her, adopt one for those special times. If you know a struggling family with children who are often left out of the joy of childhood, give them a toy now so they will never have to say that no one cared.
Many organizations work hard to see that this does not happen, but there are those they know nothing about. If you step in the gap, then you will know what Christmas is all about.
I promise the blessing will be more to you than to the one you help.