Author, Journalist and Syndicated Columnist
If you are one of the close to 1.5 million readers, be sure to read Randall's cover article
"Making Films in Georgia" in the
January 2010 Georgia Magazine.
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of the Fiddle
Actor, Entertainer and Columnist
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When the rain wouldn’t come
As the water trickled down the rocks of Frog Leg Creek, the girls and boys gathered at its bank dangling their feet in the cold waters.
Summer days always meant early rising and chores finished before the heat of the day scorched the back of the neck. Often the children were free to find other summer diversions like swimming in Wilson’s Pond or cooling their toes along the Frog Leg.
There along the banks were the red-headed Scaley Wilson, he was called that because he shed his skin a lot sort of like a snake but in smaller pieces, the almost-always-mean Matilda Morris, who was generally to good to play with the other children because her folks didn’t want her to mess up her store-bought clothes, Jump Jemison, who could climb high up in the old oak tree beside the creek and hit the swimming hole every time and Pearl, who generally sat and played with her doll Maggie given her by the Rev. Smathers.
On this hot day much of the valley below the Gravelly Spur had succumbed to a drought and the fields and hillsides just weeks before green and teaming with life were brown. All of the farmers worked hard to irrigate their crops from the creek so not to lose them completely but the fields of the farms nearest the water were the only ones holding on despite all of the farmers banding together to haul barrels of water to the outer most farms in the valley on wagons.
The next greatest adult fear was that the wells might begin to dry up in the valley but this did not phase the effervescent play of the children around the swimming hole as they simply tried to wash away the heat with a little fun.
But even the kids noticed that the things were harder, their parent’s faces were not breaking with even the occasional smile.
Pearl had overheard her parents Bill and Kitty talking the night before about the Jemison's maybe pulling up stakes and leaving in hopes of making it somewhere else.
She didn’t mention it to Jump at first thinking he might not know. She had always liked Jump because he was full of life. He was the type of person who could find adventure in any situation and make even the most mundane task fun.
The kids often found themselves following behind him as if he was the pied piper to some mysterious location on the mountain where he concocted some tale of buried treasure left by pirates, an old Indian ceremonial ground filled with spirits, or just some game which could test the patience of any parent if they actually saw what the children were doing.
Pearl was saddened with the thought of Jump leaving and as she sat there retying the bow around Maggie’s neck she decided it was time the kids do something about it.
She stood up and called them all closer and said, “Jump, I hear you might leave us.”
“Yeah, if we don’t get rain soon, Pa says we will lose the crop and we’d have to move on,” he said.
“Well instead of playing in this water why don’t we spend this time trying to get some water to Jump’s farm to see if we can keep him here,” Pearl said.
“That’s a great idea,” Scaley said. “But how do we do it?”
“Well Dad has an irrigation ditch that runs from the creek to Scaley’s farm, that connects to one on Matilda’s farm, the problem is that Jump’s farm is uphill from there so what can we do?” Pearl asked.
It was Jump that had the idea. “What if we build a water wheel with buckets that puts the water higher so it runs down onto the farm. We could use the mules to turn it sort of like a cane press.”
It didn’t take much convincing before the group started enlisting every kid in the valley, scrounging buckets, looking for planks and nails, and cutting cane poles to put together a water wheel. Old man Johnson wondered for years where those big planks from the side of his abandoned barn went.
They didn’t even tell the parents what they were doing; they just spent all their time away from chores working on the project until about a week and a half later they had finished and borrowed Grandpa Bill’s mule Rawel to see if it would work.
As Rawel began going round and round the buckets turned filling with water from the irrigation ditch pouring into the elevated wooden ditch they built sending the water into a new earthen ditch they dug onto the highest portion of the Jemison field. The water began to flow down the ditch and slowly moved across the rows of corn down the hillside.
As the water flowed the children screamed in elation. You may wonder where Jump’s father had been all the time the kids were building this mechanism, he went ahead to visit with some relatives and see if there was a new place for the family with them in the west but as the kids were carrying on, he rode up on his chestnut mare, Elihue.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
Jump came forward telling his father what all the neighbor’s children had done to make the water flow on their crops.
He put his arm around the shoulder of his son as the others gathered round and they watched their contraption turn around and around as the water kept flowing giving the corn a new life to fill the Jemison family with a new hope and the valley with a glow of success that was shared with the other hillside farmers as the men and children worked to keep all the crops from floundering in the heat.
It is amazing what can come even from the minds of a child when sometimes simplicity is the best approach to solving a problem, that is what the people of the Gravelly Spur found the summer that the rain forgot to come and they held on to a Frog Leg for dear life.
The ferris wheel
As I held tightly to my mother’s right hand, I gripped the striped-red string that held my blue, green and yellow balloon we bought from the bright-colored clown. I knew if I didn’t hold on to both with all my might they might get lost amidst the crowd moving between the fair rides. I never saw so many people bumping into each other in my life. It was wall-to-wall people.
We waited in line to get a chance to ride the huge, white, wooden roller coaster. Burt Reynolds years later blew it up in one of his movies, but today it was one of the biggest rides I had ever seen, and I want to tell you I was a little scared and excited at a chance to ride it.
I was not sure if my stomach would keep down the combination of cotton candy, popcorn and hot dogs that had been the diet I pleaded for from my parents. Only a candied apple remained on my list of items I just had to have.
My mother told me I had to wait.
I watched as Dad pointed the gun at the ducks, knocking duck after duck down. He was a very good shot. Then I watched my mom take a turn, and she out-shot him. My dad helped me hold the gun and use one of his turns. I was so excited when I hit the bell. I am sure my dad played a big part in guiding the aim of my intentions.
We walked away with an arm full of odds and ends as prizes. I am sure they were glad to see us move on to the game where you try to get the rings on the bottles. We did not do as well at that.
There were judgings for pies, preserves and all kinds of foods. We moved from building to building, where farmers young and old brought their best livestock hoping to score a blue or red ribbon.
Throughout our visit to the Southeastern Exposition at the Lakewood Fairgrounds near Atlanta, Ga., I knew one thing — whatever we did, we had to wait. Patience for a four-year-old like me was not something that came easy. I gave it my best shot, but I am sure there was some squirming and squealing involved.
Of all the experiences at my first visit to a fair, it was the bright colors of the rides, the musical sounds and all the people smiling that stick most in my memory.
Over the years as an entertainer, I have been to many fairs, but for some reason in my mind none of them ever quite measure up to my first one.
Throughout my youth, I was a regular rider of the rides that spin you around faster and faster. I remember getting on one of those rides 18 times in a row. For some reason in my late teens my constitution changed. After my date and I got off the short ride on a large ferris wheel, lets say that cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn I ate when I was four finally caught up with me. Since then, I have not been able to enjoy many rides, but I still enjoy the sights and sounds.Although we are many weeks away from the fair season in my region, there is something about the heat of August that pulls me to those childhood fair memories; perhaps it’s the thought of a tall cool glass or fresh squeezed lemonade.
Encourage one anotherWhen one spends some time reviewing the sum of one’s life, one will find that there are many along the path that helps to propel an individual in one direction or another.
ut these jeans? Now I just bought those, I knew they were a little snug but I never realized washing them in cold water would make them shrink this way.
It has to be the laundry detergent I have been using.
Well I’ll keep looking; I am going to find something in this closet that fits.
Now that’s the ticket - sweats. But maybe not for a business casual event, it may be a little too casual. At least they do go all the way around without having to button or hook.
Maybe that’s the way all pants should be. You put them on and they conform to your size. Just hit a button on the side and they fit perfectly.
Of course that would put the belt and suspender companies out of business. They probably have a pretty strong lobby that would kill any innovation like that.
I imagine the shelf lobby would come out against them too. All the stores wouldn’t have to stock all the different sizes – one size fits all.
I guess there must be something in here that I could wear. Here we go, these fit perfectly, if I was just two inches shorter. How did I get pants that look like I need to wear them in a flood? They must be left over when I thought I was shorter or it’s that detergent again.
Well, let’s look for a shirt and maybe a sweater to wear, the pants will work themselves out.
OK. Have you ever noticed how most sweaters that folks tend to give you really are sort of ugly? The ones I have, I bought, and they are not much better. I guess I won’t wear a sweater.
Shirts, that’s easy. OK, Hmm. The points of the collar are blown on this one, and this one has that stain from the spaghetti I ate on tour earlier this year. This one looks good. There’s a tear. Where did that come from? Finally, this one will work, button down, neat, but why does it have to be such a terrible color of pumpkin. I must have got this as a present. I would have never bought this.
I’ll choose a shirt later. Let’s shine up my dress shoes. Hmm. These soles are starting to wear pretty thin. What is this thread sticking out? Don’t pull the thread. I said, ‘Don’t pull the thread.’ No!! I just couldn’t help myself. I pulled the thread. Who needs two shoes with soles any way? One will do. I can just polish up the tops and I am sure no one will notice there is no bottom to it especially if I wear black socks that match.
OK. Let’s see, where am I. I have no pants that will fit. Sweaters that only someone would wear to an ugly sweater contest, a shirt only a jack-o-lantern would love and two shiny shoes, one with no sole. It looks like I am almost ready to go – shopping.Or at least ready to make a new year’s resolution that will get me back into the pants I use to wear and buy a pair of shades dark enough that the sweaters and the pumpkin colored shirt won’t bother me anymore. I do think I will get a new pair of shoes though, that ground outside sure is cold on that foot. Happy New Year everyone! I hope you keep all your resolutions and find 2014 to be the greatest year you have ever known.