October 24
by Travis H. McDaniel

Except for Sundays, we went barefooted nearly all the time from May to September. We drank Double Cola, RC or Pepsi from the ice-filled metal cooler at Mr. Hoyt’s store. On Saturday nights we bathed in a # 3 washtub filled with water heated on the kitchen stove. We caught white-face bumble bees in our hands (they’re the ones with no stinger) from the wisteria-draped trees in Mrs. Cox’s front yard.

(First published in Georgia Backroads Magazine, Winter 2008)

My father moved us to Danielsville, a small town about 15 miles northeast of Athens, Georgia, in 1939, when he was transferred from Wilkes County to Madison County as the Extension Agent.

Unlike many small Southern crossroads towns, Danielsville’s courthouse “square” was not a square at all, but circular, with Ga. Hwy. 98 meeting U.S. Hwy. 29. Another thing different about Danielsville was the big monument on the south side of the courthouse lawn. It was not a figure of a Confederate soldier, so typical of most Southern towns, but rather one than commemorated one of the town’s native sons, Crawford W. Long, the first person to use ether as anesthetic during surgery.

The author behind Bobby.

In the early 1940’s Danielsville was an ideal place for a little boy. I lived there from the time I was three years old until I was seven. By the time I was six, Danielsville held no nooks or crannies unknown to my 11-year-old brother and me and the boys we ran with. We knew them all, from the post office and the few unpainted clapboard stores surrounding the “square” to the four sidewalk-lined streets (actually highways) that made up the main residential area, to the nearby creeks, woods and fields on the outskirts of town. We were scruffy-faced masters of our domain, and Danielsville and its environs was a very large playground indeed.

Except for Sundays, we went barefooted nearly all the time from May to September. We drank Double Cola, RC or Pepsi from the ice-filled metal cooler at Mr. Hoyt’s store. On Saturday nights we bathed in a # 3 washtub filled with water heated on the kitchen stove. We caught white-face bumble bees in our hands (they’re the ones with no stinger) from the wisteria-draped trees in Mrs. Cox’s front yard.

We played mumblety-peg, spun tops on the sidewalks, and made little dams in the creek. We lagged to the line with our favorite aggie toy, and played marbles for keeps, sometime pig-eye, but mostly round hole. We used outhouses both at home and school, slid down pine straw-covered hills on a rusty fender from a Model A Ford, and climbed on the barrel of the old World War I cannon on the opposite side of the courthouse square from the Crawford W. Long monument.

We saw a Tom Mix movie on an outdoor screen when the little country fair came to town, played with little homemade wooden cars, and made tunnels for them under the roots of the big oak tree in the front yard. We tied threads to the legs of June bugs and watched them fly around, listened to cicadas buzz in July, and caught lightning bugs on balmy summer evenings.

I remember old men in “overhauls” and black hats peeling apples with Barlow pocketknives while sitting around the courthouse square spitting tobacco or rolling cigarettes with their makings – a pack of CB papers and a pocket tin of Prince Albert.

On Sundays, Daddy took us to the First Baptist Church, where on hot summer mornings we cooled ourselves with cardboard fans from the local funeral home. At other times Daddy took us to all-day singings around the state and led the congregation in songs from the hymnals.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, we took Radio Flyer wagons all over town collecting scrap iron and tin cans for the scrap metal drive. We bought saving stamps for war bonds with the money we made, played soldiers with stick rifles, and stayed alert for German spies likely to be hiding in our town. I wore my army garrison cap when we had our first grade picture made and my white sailor cap when we lined up with the other grades to see the two-man Japanese submarine captured at Pearl Harbor.

We collected Coca Cola caps with military insignias printed under the cork inside the cap, and I played with my toy China Clipper airplane. We stood at attention and saluted when the National Farm and Home Hour program came on the radio and played the National Anthem, and our ’41 Ford had a gas ration sticker on the windshield.

In the first grade I filled Blue Horse school tablets with drawings of P-51 Mustangs, Navy Avengers and P-38 Lightning’s shooting down Japanese Zeros and German Stuka dive bombers. My teacher said the war would already be over if my drawings had anything to do with it. We argued whether Marines or paratroopers were the toughest, and which we wanted to be when we grew up and had to go to war.

In the summer, when my older brother Bobby looked out for me, I got to play with the big boys, even if they did try to run off and leave me behind. We went down to the river when Mama wasn’t home, smoked rabbit tobacco, and sneaked a peek in the window of the jail to see what people that didn’t go to Sunday school looked like.

We had spitting contest for accuracy and challenged each other to see who could pee the farthest. We seined for minnows in the creek, and on a dare peeked in the dilapidated haunted house where Crawford W. Long had been born. We chewed on tar cut from the highway with pocketknives, and hitched rides on the back of old stake body trucks as they lost speed laboring up the long hill from the river to the courthouse square.

We had few toys to play with back then. Mostly we just used our imagination and made up things to do.

I’ve been back to Danielsville several times over the years. My last visit was in the early 1990’s when my mother, brother, sister and I returned to see how things had changed and to remember old times.

In many ways Danielsville had not changed much in the half-century since we left. The courthouse, where Daddy had his office, was the same, as was the World War I cannon. Crawford W. Long still stood silent sentinel on the south side of the square. To my pleasant surprise, Mr. Hoyt’s clapboard store had changed little since the last time I drank a Double Cola there and coveted one of the Barlow pocketknives in the glass display case on the counter next to the hoop cheese. Many of the nice older homes were still there, but as expected, newer homes were evident, and most business establishments had been upgraded.

But I didn’t see any dams in the creek, or barefoot boys catching bumble bees, spinning tops, or playing marbles. I suppose they were all indoors text messaging on their cell phones, using their Play Stations, or on their computers. It’s a different world I know, but I can’t help lamenting what they are missing.

In February 1942, my father died in an automobile accident while returning from an agricultural meeting in Macon. I was a month shy of six years old. A year later my mother moved the family to Smyrna, Georgia.

Pleasant memories of my early boyhood days in Danielsville are tempered somewhat by the loss of my father at such an early age; but still, I mostly remember fondly the carefree days and innocent fun. Those were simpler times, and I am grateful I could grow up in such a place – a wholesome small Georgia town where life was centered on church, school, work and play.

If I listen carefully, it sometimes seems I can almost hear the choir singing an old familiar hymn at the First Baptist Church…pleasant memories, how they linger.

Read about Travis on the Writer’s Bios page