Editors Note: South Georgia Today is pleased to bring you a new contributor; Ms. Margie Blanton. A native Hahiran, Margie has published a collection of poetry in a book called “Mended Fences – Front Porch Reading” and has written many stories that spin tales of her life growing up in Hahira. She is currently writing a book called “A Baby On The Hip.”
I grew up in “the country” in Hahira. In the 1960’s, what’s currently known as Hagan Bridge Road, Coleman Drive and Fry Road were dirt roads that formed what was known at our house as The Block. If you asked me where I lived, I didn’t answer with Hagan Bridge Road, I said, “Route 2, Box 301.” There were very few houses on The Block but if you rode your bicycle or walked The Block, everyone knew who you were and who you belonged to.
In addition to building houses and doing remodeling work, Daddy had a little store called Spearman’s Ideal Grocery and it served the turpentine workers that lived in our area who were our friends and neighbors. The little store was situated right next to our house on Hagan Bridge with a narrow, stoned breezeway connecting the two.
As a child, I loved Friday nights at the store. I’d sit on the concrete steps that led out of the house to the store with a Coke and a bag of Sugar Babies and watch our friends and neighbors come and go with brown paper bags in their arms. Daddy sliced bologna, cut wedges of sharp cheddar cheese and wrapped up links of sausage in white paper. Kids ran out into the yard and joined me on the steps with their drinks and cookies that had come out of the Lance cookie jars.
Seeing our Pepsi Man, Sammy Reeves, or our Coke Man, Troy Baker, drive up in their big delivery trucks was the highlight of the week for me. And Mr. Mullis, the Cigar Man, many times rewarded my Mama for being the top tobacco saleslady in the area by giving her gold pins to wear on her church dress. One looked like a lion, one was a banjo and another was a gold umbrella. I still have those in my jewelry box some 50 years later. Mama wouldn’t think of selling a single beer in her store but she could sell the heck out of cigarette papers and loose tobacco in the red-tin Prince Albert cans.
Pearlie was my best friend and she was the first person to teach me how to play jack stones. Marvell rode me on the back of his bicycle and played hopscotch with me on the dirt road in front of our house. Faye Belle would stand at her ironing board and let me hide under her long skirts when Pearlie played Hide ‘n Seek with me. It was a common thing to see Mattie and Mama sitting on the front porch, shelling peas and then sharing them with one another.
Sunday nights were special on The Block because, after church, Mama would make a huge platter of grilled cheese sandwiches for anyone that would follow us home. My sister was a teenager so the house was usually full of her girlfriends and some boys that would tag along for free food. Once we ate, we’d set out on foot to walk The Block. At just six years old, I felt special because I got to hang out with the older boys and girls, many times just lagging behind and watching the stars in the night sky. Stepping out into the dark felt just as safe as walking in the sunshine back then. Things were different. We could walk in the dark with our bare feet, sleep with our windows open and our screen doors unlocked without fear. I miss that.
Just a few steps down the dirt road I’d feel the music. It was the reason I followed the teenagers. That, and to run back and tell Mama if I saw a boy hold hands with one of the girls.
Sometimes Mama would wrap my grilled cheese sandwich in a paper towel and I’d take it with me to eat in the ditch. Ditch-eating is not very popular nowadays and most kids would have no idea how much fun it was. I’m sure that, in today’s world, it would be considered child endangerment and someone would place an anonymous call to the Department of Family and Children Services. But if you could just close your eyes and feel the music, you’d understand why the ditch was such a special place for me.
Up ahead, in the dark night, sat a big, round, buckskin-colored tent that glowed in the dark like a flying saucer that had landed in the middle of the pine trees. The dirt underneath my feet vibrated with the beat of the drums and dancing feet. While the others kept walking ahead, I would stop and feel the vibration of the ground beneath me, close my eyes and feel the music soar through my bones. Soulful singing and shouting praises filled the dark night air.
“Battle of Jericho”, “This Little Light of Mine” and “I’ll Fly Away” were my favorites. I would slide down in the ditch, lean back on the dirt bank and prop my feet up on the other side and eat my grilled cheese. Thanks to the county motor grader, I was sitting in my very own earth-provided recliner with a soft dirt back. It didn’t matter that the older kids walked on into the night and left me because I was in my safe, sweet place on The Block.
I sang along with those in the tent from my seat in the ditch. “He’s got the WHOLE world in His Hands,” I’d shout to the top of my lungs.
“He’s got you and me, Brother!” Joyful music accompanied by tambourines and clapping hands. And when the happy music was over and the singing was nearing an end, I’d sit quietly, hoping to hear the one song that touched my heart as a little girl and still brings tears to my eyes today. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” I never peeped inside the buckskinned, glowing tent to see who sang it but his voice was beautiful and deep and sad and I envisioned, in my mind, that it might be Mr. Sam who died later from eating butterbeans out of an aluminum pot. I remember Mama throwing away her aluminum pot the day he was buried, claiming that she’d never cook in one again. And to this day, I don’t use aluminum in my kitchen because of Mr. Sam.
Once the last song was over and families started spilling out into darkness, I’d jump up and run to catch up with the teenagers. I knew I needed to get to them before I got to the dark side of The Block where there were no houses. Word on The Block was, that if you got caught there alone, Madam Swift would put a spell on you and you’d go crazy.
So, now when you’re in your car, zipping down the paved “Bypass of Hahira,” hurrying home or taking your kids to ball practice, I hope you’ll slow down at the first curve on Hagan Bridge and listen. Maybe you’ll feel the ground vibrate underneath your feet or maybe you’ll catch the drift of a distant drum beat. Just know that, at one time, that little piece of our community was alive with music, lined with little houses full of people that loved one another unconditionally, and friendships that were true and loyal. It was a safe place for a little girl to grow up, knowing nothing but the good life in a small, South Georgia town called Hahira.