Stirring up memories
Talk About Getting Wet
April 12, 2006
Carolyn Carter Pierce knows how to stick to things. After all, she taught for thirty-three years in the Decatur County Schools—starting out in Climax right after she graduated from Georgia State College for Women (now Valdosta State). By the time she retired, she told me, "I got smart, I'd worked my way up to the sixth grade."
Carolyn knows how to stick to more than just teaching. Take the floods; she loved the home on the banks of the Flint River she shared for years with her husband Jack Pierce. In July, 1994 water filled the house, "right up to the top," as Decatur County suffered a massive, devastating flood. But Carolyn stuck to her home and put things back together. Things were fine until 1998, and then disaster struck again—another flood.
Carolyn and her three children, Billy and Charles Harrell and Mary Lynn Moody, decided enough was enough. It was time for Carolyn to move to town. In 2000 she moved into her new home in Bainbridge and started gardening. Again all was okay—for a couple of years—until the edges of a hurricane swept through town.
During the stormy night, a noise startled Carolyn. "The loudest thunder I'd ever heard in my life," Carolyn told me.
Imagine her surprise early the next morning as she went through the dining room on her way for morning coffee when she could see nothing but leaves and branches—right there in the house. That loud thunder had been an oak tree crashing through her ceiling. She flooded again; this time from the top down instead of the bottom up.
The third flood deterred Carolyn not at all. "All my children came, my church (First United Methodist) came, my friends came, and I rebuilt." Again.
Later in our conversation, Carolyn told me she could handle getting wet. When she grew up in Climax in the 1930s and 1940s the family home was perfectly located—"one block from the school, one block from the Methodist Church and two blocks from town. We walked everywhere. If it was raining, that was tough. You got wet!"
Many of Carolyn's happy memories of her Climax childhood focus on the church—she was both baptized and married there—and the school. Why do you think she grew up to be a teacher? But most of them are of the walks that took her into town, a thriving town. Carolyn recalls a café and a barber shop, several mercantile stores, a drugstore (owned by County Commissioner Butch Mosely's dad), doctors' offices and Trulock Supply. Lots going on.
Young Carolyn took her time going through town, finally she trotted across the railroad tracks up to the door of Carter's Store. She'd give a swing around the post in front of the store then go in and greet the owner—her very own daddy, Charlie Carter.
Charlie's father Billy Carter along with his brother had established the store, and then Charlie and his brother Hayes took over, but "Uncle Hayes didn't like keeping store." Charlie became the storekeeper. Carolyn and her brother Charles loved to hang out in the store. Daddy Charlie may not have been so sure about this.
He would shepherd his youngsters into the back of the store and sit them down on the floor of well-oiled wide wooden planks. Then he took a handful of nails out of a nearby keg and handed each child a hammer. They hammered away because "we couldn't come back up to the front until all the nails he gave us were hammered in.
"When Daddy sold the store he told the buyer, 'It'll never burn down, 'cause the floor is solid iron'" (After Charlie sold the store he went across the tracks to the Post Office where he eventually became the Postmaster.)
Young Carolyn and Charlie didn't restrict their good times to the store. There were plenty of good times back at home—especially in the kitchen. In the summertime, Sunday meant ice cream (sometimes during the week as well). Charlie churned and Carolyn sat on top to keep the churn still. Vanilla boiled custard was a favorite, but the best, the very best, Carolyn says, was the fresh fig ice cream made with figs fresh-plucked from the yard.
Mother Mary was a whiz in the kitchen. "Mama did things just a little bit different." The best thing Carolyn recalls ever putting in her mouth were the special fried pork chops with tomato gravy.
It takes time to do special cooking. When young Carolyn turned 5, she decided to help out in the kitchen. Mary found it to be maybe too much help. She pulled some strings and arranged for Santa Claus to deliver a special gift for her daughter, a cookbook with the directions in illustrations—Kitchen Fun. Now Carolyn could cook by herself, right by her mother's side.
She wasn't playing! In fact, she still cooks from that cookbook, declaring that its recipe is for the "best ever" chocolate fudge. My only problem with making it was finding some real cocoa at the grocery store.
Carolyn's Chocolate Fudge (adapted from Kitchen Fun)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Put sugar, cocoa, milk, and butter in a saucepan and mix well. Cook slowly for fifteen minutes. Remove from the heat and beat hard, until creamy. Add vanilla. Pour into a shallow buttered pan to cool. Cut into squares.
Mary Carter's pound cake reminds me of my grandmother's. It's the real thing, made out of a pound of each of the essential ingredients. Like many hand-me-down recipes, it leaves some of the details to the cook's experience and/or imagination.
Mary Carter's Pound Cake
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 pound butter (no margarine)
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time to the butter, and then add the vanilla. Add flour. Beat 2 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until a tester comes out clean.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network