Living In A Small Town

   Traveling around Georgia and Alabama doing research for my Georgia and Alabama Outdoor News Map of the Month articles I visit many small towns that remind me of growing up in Dearing, Georgia.  Small towns have a charm and feeling unique to them, and I often miss them.

    Each season holds special memories.  Halloween was special in the fall each year.  Everything from trick or treating on our bicycles to going to the Halloween Festival at Dearing Elementary School heightened the excitement of the season.

    We prepared our costumes for days, although they were always homemade and simple.  You could not go to the local dollar store and get one store bought and detailed.  I wore everything from mama’s carefully sewed clown costume to an old sheet with holes for eyes.

    My favorite for several years was my hobo costume.  I’m sure it would be politically incorrect now, but people were much saner back then. We did not take offense at everything that might trigger us.

    My hobo costume was old clothes that were ragged and patched, really just some of my oldest daily clothes I wore around the farm.  I wore one of daddy’s old caps and had a corn cob pipe I made with a corn cob and section of creek cane.  Sometimes I stuffed it with rabbit tobacco and even lite it – after getting well away from my house and mama and daddy’s watchful eyes.

    A mustache and beard, made with smut from a fire painted my face. And I had to have a stick with a colorful scarf bag hanging on it to put over my shoulder.

    There was no fear of the goodies we got from neighbors all over town.  Again, folks were sane back then and we all knew each other. There was no worry about foreign objects in the treats we got.

    Home made candy was the norm.  We knew which house would have candied apples, dipped with care and individually wrapped in wax paper. And where to go for fudge squares, some with a pecan half embedded on top.   
    Store bought candy was a special treat and rare. But some houses were known for dropping a Baby Ruth, Snickers or Milky Way into your bag and those houses were sought out every year.

    I do not remember “tricking” anyone on our excursions.  There was no need, each house in town had a welcoming porch light on, and a few even had some decorations, maybe a carved pumpkin or corn stalk bundle, sitting near the door.

    Daddy was principal of Dearing Elementary and teachers and students worked for days getting ready for the festival.  Each classroom was turned into a different game or challenge, but they were simple. 

    One classroom would be the “fishing hole” where the bottom half the door was covered with decorated cardboard to block it. On the floor or a small table were hand carved wooden fish with rings in their backs.  A short cane pole with q wire hook at the end of the line was used to catch a fish.  It was harder than it sounds, but when you landed one you were rewarded with a candy treat supplied by the PTA.

    Another classroom would be the haunted house, with cardboard corridors inside to lead you through gross and scary scenes.  There might be a table with a pig or cow brain in a pan, a turn where you ran into hanging “spider webs” of sewing thread, or a cardboard skeleton that would suddenly swing in front of you, controlled by a laughing teacher.

    And there was always a hidden cubby hole where a teacher dressed in a scary costume would jump out at you, to the screams of the younger kids and the laughs of older kids and the witch or goblin.

    There were skill contest, too.  One vivid memory is of a nail driving contest, where you got a reward based on the number of blows it took to drive a 16-penny nail to its head in a 2X4.  Daddy was beside me the year I wore a bulky clown costume mama had made for me. When I had trouble hitting the nail squarely, daddy said I was good with a hammer, but the costume hindered my swing. 
I hated the disappointment in his voice that I had not done a better job.

    Of course, the best part of fall for me was the opening of squirrel and bird seasons.  Daddy was also the agriculture teacher when Dearing had a high school and taught shop to eighth graders after the high school grades were moved to Thomson.  He visited local farmers to help them with his experience from his work and degree from UGA, doing everything from “cutting” male pigs when they reached the right age to helping with calf births.

    He was invited to dove shoots almost every Saturday and I got to go with him, at first acting as his retriever then being allowed to carry my .410 when he was sure I had learned field safety and etiquette.  And after dove season we spent every Saturday following our pointers, looking for quail

    But squirrels were my first love, from the time I grabbed my .22 and got Gladys, our maid and farm worker, to her great concern, to follow me across Iron Hill Road to shoot my first squirrel.  I was eight years old and had seen it out the window but knew I could not take a gun out without an adult with me, so I somehow talked her into going with me.

    After that I spent thousands of happy hours in the woods, mostly by myself, and killed hundreds of squirrels over the next ten years until I went off to college. And we ate every one of them.

    Every season had special memories. I wish kids today could experience, and be thrilled by, those simpler times.