Tri-City Ledger -

By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

Independence Day


June 28, 2018

A favorite holiday of my childhood was celebrated on the 4th of July. That day had to be earned with sweat and bother. Sweat was sweated in the early morning as we had to plant the last of the sweet potatoes.

Let me explain that.

Mama and Daddy always had a bed of sweet potatoes to grow plants for the start of the acre of those tubers to feed us and anyone else in our neighborhood or kinfolk.

We would pull up the plants from the beds to stob down into the rows, the plants grew vines that we took "cuts" from to keep adding so as to fill the required acre. Cuts are foot long pieces of the vines which we laid across the heaped row to be stobbed in the middle of the vine so as to push it down into the ground to make another sweet potato plant. Vine cuts oozed white tater tar. Tater tar stuck to our arms and turned black from being mixed with the grime of the dirt.

" Tater tar will wash off in the creek this afternoon".

"Yeah, but eveybody there will smirk at us".

" Let 'em smirk "!

Humpy never sweated the small stuff.

The small stuff clung to me like white on rice.

Those plants had to be watered. Water had to be carried to the field in wastubs for the watering. No sloppy watering accepted.


We started planting sweet potatoes in early spring after the threat of frost. The first plants had to be watered if the rains didn't come. Daddy was heck bent for Texas on having a blue ribbon crop of sweet potatoes. Our backs hurt from water drawing and tub hauling it to the potato patch.

We grumbled and the water sloshed out to spill between the well and that damnable sweet potato patch.

This was just the beginning.

As the potato vines grew across the middles we cut and stobbed and water hauled. When Daddy thought the place needed plowing, we had to lay the vines back on top of the beds so as to keep the plow from snagging and pulling up the potato plant.

In between the plowings, we had to hoe out the grass or pull it by hand if the vines were thatched.

I hated the caretaking of sweet potatoes but Daddy didn't cut slack on grassy crops.

Grass in any plants took nutrients away from our food source.

Cows ate grass which gave us sweet milk, we pulled grass out to enjoy prize sweet potatoes.

It seemed our lives depended on growing sweet potatoes.

As the end of June approached we started talking about celebrating the 4th of July on Big Escambia Creek aka "down behind Charlie's". Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Clara Dawson lived between us and the creek so the name of our location for the swimming hole. Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Clara ( Mama's Grissett 1st cousin) had four boys that went swimming with us almost everytime we had to pass their house. Daddy would stop, the Dawson boys would walk out to the front porch to snatch their swimsuits off the clothes line to jump on Blue Goose and go for a mid day swim with us.

Oh the fun and racket.......

One thorn in our sides was knowing that Daddy had planned the last hurrah for the morning half of July 4th.

My oldest brother Rayford would say,

"Dang sweet potatoes have to be planted on the 4th of July".

I really think Daddy had his reasons for the final planting so he could guestimate the time for harvest.

Thinking back I believe it was to keep us busy until Mama got all the cooking done to give us the ultimate picnic and impress her sisters-in-law and our prissy girl cousins from Atmore.

I could hardly contain my excitement at seeing them, but on the other hand I dreaded the fashion show that was guranteed to be in my face and make me so jealous I could cuss.

" Dadgum".......


We knew they would come rolling up in a shiny six hole Buick loaded with all manner of Jitney Jungle offerings in brown, two ply grocery sacks filled with tins of Vienna sausage, a box of saltines, a slab of hoop cheese, some brown speckled bananas and best of all, Moon Pies.

" Lordy mercy, I'm in like Flynn".

Moon Pies!

The sun started cancers that took fifty years to age enough to be paid attention to on my nose and cheek. The sweet potato draws got stobbed into the ground and watered by the rain showers of July 4th morning.

Thank you Lord for that blessing of not having to haul water to the last planting.

Mama had cooked all morning to have a variety of everything from our garden and several spring pullets.

Peas, butterbeans, squash, cabbage, okra, creamed corn, potato salad, tomatoes for slicing, a pot of chicken-n-dump'lins, cornbread and lard fried chicken. I'm here to say a DISHPAN of fried chicken.

Peach cobbler, a freezer of icecream fixins and a load of big old Stone Mountain watermellons rounded out our picnic.

I'd take a drumstick or a pully bone then hedge my bets to eat a sack of those Moon Pies from Chattanooga, Tennessee by way of Jitney Jungle in Atmore, Alabama.

Aunt Bama ( really her name was Alabama ) owned the Jitney Jungle and brought things we didn't often get.

I ate Mama's garden food all the time....

"Moon Pies, go on now".

Prissy cousins and aunts would be digging in Mama's dump'lin pot and all that garden fare.


Elevenish o'clock the Buick rolls to a stop in our lane. Sweating aunts and a back seat of sulking red faced girl cousins get out to have their faces slapped again while aunts grind their teeth.

"Oh here it comes".

The bother.

Girl cousins stand with folded arms while looking at the ground showing palm prints on their faces.

I loved the free show......

The one draw back was seeing them dressed in cute BOBBIE BROOKS shorts and tops with new Roman sandels on feet with red nail polished toes.

Galled me.........

Things settled to allow greetings and loading onto Blue Goose for the ride down to the creek.

We laughed and hollered as gallberry limbs slapped us silly while we hung over the truck body railings to see ahead.

Our Aunts sat in ladderback kitchen chairs that threatened to dump them as the road took us down steep red clay hills into the Big Escambia Creek valley.

Daddy geared Blue Goose through the gully cut ruts to the swampy flats of titi and huckleberry and gallberry thatched together under canopies of thorny greenbrier.

The ruts run through a permanent stagnant mudhole before the land turns to a white sandbar on the edge of paradise.

I could smell the creek. It always has the smell of magnolia blossoms and Lux soap.

I grabbed a juniper limb to strip off the berries and lacy leaves for another wonderful smell of what God intended.

I think Heaven will probably smell a bit like that.

My heart was young and gay.

Brothers and boy cousins jumped off the tailgate to run ahead and dive into the most wonderful, pristine creek waters in all of Alabama.

Daddy parks Blue Goose under the shade of a holly tree.

We off load to get into our swimming clothes while hopping about on one leg as we try to keep from stepping on thorny edge holly leaves.

I fade to bright red as girl cousins step out of those cute BOBBIE BROOKS shorts and tops to show their new CATALINA swimsuits.

I pull off my faded SEARSNROEBUCK dungrees and an old used up FRUTTLE LOOM tee shirt that had belonged to my brother to show my swimwear of a hand-me-down homemade sunsuit by MARTHA WHITE.

"Who you wear'in Earline"?

A slow burn here............

I think to myself,

"Suck it up Earline, today is for having fun".

Mama and the Aunts spread the picnic. Daddy gives thanks with,

" Accept our thanks Heavenly Father for these and all other blessings. Amen".

Aunts slap girl cousins into pouts because of shoving to the dump'lin pot. Everybody digs into Mama's food. Aunts brag on Mama's cooking with,

" Oh, Ila you make the best dump'lins and the fried chicken is so good".

"Yes, spring pullets are always so tender and tasty".

" Well Aunt B, if you would pull off your pearls you might learn how to cook like Mama".

Girl cousins smack and go back for seconds.

I just eat a fried back piece and keep on digging out those Moon Pies.

While Mama and Daddy and his sisters turn the crank on the icecream churn, we all head back to swim.

Bedsheets and blankets were spread on the pebble bars and sand washed banks.

The baby was pallet put and close watched for keeping rocks out of the mouth.

" You girls watch out for the baby now, don't let the little ones drown".

"Perfect time for Daddy to teach 'em to dog paddle".

Mason jars of tanning lotions made of Johnson Baby Oil and Iodine was smeared on legs of giddy girl cousins.

"Not me, it feels greasy and stains my hands".

Girl cousins preen in their new Catalinas and try for an Esther Williams off the old mossy log. All they got was a good gag/choking/spewed back nose burning of creek water.

Brothers and boy cousins head for the old railroad trestle to try some high dives.

I listen to girl cousins tell about shopping at Bowabs for their new shorts and tops and Roman sandels and those Catalinas.

I would bet my last dollar if I owned one that Grandma Minnie Smith had some words of wisdom for her daughters and their checkbooks.

As to her granddaughers wearing those Catalinas.


I let those Catalina clad cousins have our log this time as I waded upstream to shoot the rapids while my sunsuit bloomers caught air to balloon over my butt as I was washed downstream.

July 4th, last of the sweet potatoes were planted and we got creek time.

"Let Freedom Ring".

***To set the record straight here in my 77th year. I really loved/love my cousins and aunts. They never suffered my opinions of jealousy. I grew up and they never knew all that.




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