By Eula Golding Walters © 2015
Online: January, 2015
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s on a poor dirt farm in Carroll County, Virginia, in the shadow of Fisher's Peak, 'poor' was our middle name. We worked hard, made do with what we had and did without the rest. Daddy was always looking for a way to make some extra money.
An opportunity to do that came when Grandma Copeland married a Southern gentleman from Fairhope, Alabama. Even though they were married, they never lived together. Grandpa couldn't tolerate our cold Blue Ridge winters. He lived with his two spinster sisters in the middle of a pecan grove. Daddy took him up on his invitation to come pick pecans and sell them.
The fact that he had no vehicle to travel in, no drivers' license, nor even knew how to drive, he wasn't deterred. He bought our very first automobile - a 1952 Ford pickup, and talked a 16 year old neighbor boy into doing the driving. I was seven years old, the baby of the first four kids, later four more were added, and I was too small to leave behind. So the rest went to stay with Grandma Copeland, and the four of us piled into the cab of that new smelling pickup and struck out to Alabama. I was off on my first real adventure!
I remember bits and pieces of the trip - the straight roads in South Carolina, stretching as far as the eye could see, with tall southern pines lining each side of the road for miles and miles. Tiny unpainted sharecropper's houses, with bare dirt yards, filled with little black kids and sleeping hound dogs, dotted the roadsides along the way. This was my first memory of ever seeing black children, and I was entranced. We drove through Atlanta in the middle of the night, and I was awed by all the lights. We didn't even have electricity back home at that time. For some reason that I can't recall, crossing the state line into Florida was a big deal. Daddy, ever the teacher, saw to it that I learned each state and its capital that we drove through. He had fun teaching me to spell, "Miss-iss-ippi."
We finally arrived in Fairhope, and as far as I was concerned, another world. I instantly fell in love with the laid back, slow moving, and lazy Southern ways. I was fascinated with the gentle swaying of Spanish moss hanging from the trees. The dirt was red clay, lizards were everywhere, and the fire ants were fierce, chasing me from yard to house, but still I loved every bit of it.
Daddy and Mother were soon in the pecan grove, climbing ladders and filling their sacks. I picked the 'culls' off the ground and was allowed to keep the money they brought at the market. On days that I didn't help in the grove, I hung out with Grandpa Copeland. He loved playing the piano, and tried to teach me to sing, "Where O where is dear little Mary? Way down yonder in the Paw-Paw patch." He gave that up though the minute I opened my mouth and nothing but squawks came out. No more music lessons!
Somewhere along the way, Daddy got a case of the guilts for keeping me out of school so long. So he enrolled me in the local elementary school. My school experience up to that time had not been so good. For some reason I was picked on and ostracized by my peers in my one room school back home. I really never understood why. I made very good grades, and they were just as poor as we were. I was so pleasantly surprised when the teacher and all the kids in my new second grade accepted me with open hearts and minds. For reasons that I have never understood, instead of fitting in with these good people, I deliberately pulled away from them. On the second day, I insisted that I pack my lunch instead of buying. I can still remember the expressions on their faces when I opened up my pint jar of corn bread and milk and began eating. After that I begged to not go back, and so stayed during the day with Grandpa Copeland when I wasn't picking up pecans.
There were so many new adventures to experience at his house. The chameleon lizards fascinated me. They were everywhere. Climbing the walls inside and out, darting across the floor, and occasionally even dropped from the ceiling onto the bed. I loved to watch them change colors as they crawled from one thing to another. I absolutely had to catch one! I finally got my chance and grabbed one by the tail. To my horror and utter surprise, I was left holding a tail while the lizard scurried off to grow another one!
The little house we stayed in during our time there was near the Gulf, and in the evenings we would walk down and play in the warm water, under the pier so I wouldn't be seen just in my undies. Daddy would fish and often brought home a big flounder with both eyes on the same side of his head.
Mother worked evenings in a seafood restaurant and brought home scrumptious food that I had never heard of, much less tasted. We feasted on 6" shrimp, fried oysters and juicy scallops.
I think we stayed in Fairhope about six weeks, and would have stayed all winter, but one fateful incident took the decision out of our control. Wade, our 16 year old driver, had made friends and stayed out late every night. About 4:00 am one morning, Mother shook me awake and told me to get up quick that we were leaving for home. It seems that Wade had met a girl and had 'compromised' her. Apparently her daddy, who also happened to be the local sheriff, was at that minute making his way to our house to have a talk with Wade.
I have no idea how we got everything together and out of there as fast as we did, barely missing the sheriff whom we met on the road. Daddy was driving, without a license, and we were sitting on Wade, who was lying across the seat to stay out of sight. By the time the sheriff realized that it was us, and turned around, we were long gone. That little pickup could fly when it needed to!
After driving for over an hour we stopped at a little all night cafe for a bite to eat. I was sitting on a bar stool, drinking chocolate milk, fell sound asleep and hit the floor flat on my face. So much for a great ending to my grand adventure!
We made it home in record time, gathered the three kids who had stayed behind, and resumed life as usual on the farm. With the money I made from my pecans, Mother helped me pick out enough chop sacks (feed sacks) to make four new dresses, complete with bloomers to match. The bloomers didn't last long though. The first time I came down the slide and someone caught sight of them, and made fun of them, they became history.
We ate a lot of pecan based dishes that winter, including the wonderful pecan pie that Mother made up and perfected; today, each time we gather for Christmas, one or more of us brings the pie, and we never fail to reminisce on how it came to be.
A few years ago my husband and I vacationed in Fairhope. I attempted to find Grandpa Copeland's home and pecan grove, but couldn't locate it. We did find the elementary school I had attended for two days, as well as the restaurant where Mother worked. We also found the pier where we played and fished. Fairhope has become quite a tourist town. I didn't feel or see any ghosts from the past while there.
I am sharing Mother's pecan pie recipe for your pleasure.
Mother's Pecan Pie Recipe
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup sugar
1 cup thick cream
3 eggs beaten
1 tsp vanilla
Combine everything and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly till it comes to a full boil.
Pour into a baked and cooled pie crust.
Serve with fresh whipped cream...straight from the cow if possible