Volume 1, Number 11
It must have been June 1898 that I have my first remembrance of preparations for the Jenkins Picnic. I start the words with capitals because it was a very important and exciting time.
Three little girls stood by the front gate near the log cabin, watching their mother mount the "horse-block", as we called it.
To me, a four-year-old, she was a very beautiful woman and some of our neighbors did not like her because she tried to use good English and wanted her children to have nice manners.
This day, she had on her "fine" shoes and black stockings. The shoes were high buttoned. She wore a flowered calico dress made with a plain gored skirt in front and extending only about two inches off the ground but longer by several inches in the back and gathered fully. I do not know whether she wore a bustle, but I do remember that she owned one made of wire covered with sateen and tied around her waist with strings. The top of the dress was a tight basque with buttons down the front. The neck and sleeves had little ruffles, and she wore her "Sunday" bonnet of white calico with a little black flower.
She had a bay mare named Kit which her father had given her, and her side saddle had a lovely flowered seat of something resembling carpet material. It had belonged to her as a girl.
My father held Kit's reins although the mare was very gentle and would have never moved. When Mama was seated, Papa handed the basket of eggs up to her and she was on her way to the Flat Creek store about two miles away.
Eggs were only six cents per dozen but ten cents would buy a yard of calico and twelve cents would buy a yard of lawn. But then there was lace for trimming, and thread to buy.
I don't remember her return from the store, but I do remember the measuring, cutting out and sewing by hand of those dresses for three little girls. The sewing was all by hand as there were no sewing machines. It must have taken many hours for the stitches were so small they could scarcely be seen. Mama had large pictures of her girls made on the day of the picnic, helping me to remember how they looked.
When picnic day came, we were up and ready to go by sunup. Papa looked strange with his heavily pleated front white shirt, tall black hat and pol-
ished heavy boots. Mama wore a tan dress of some "silkish"
material made by the same pattern as the one she had worn to the store, and
a hat, al though I don't remember what her hat looked like, only that it was
black and had flowers. She probably had had it since her marriage as one only
had occasion to wear one two or three times a year unless there was a funeral.
The baby, Maud, had a white dress with a bonnet of starched white lawn. Myrtle and I had flowered lawn dresses with lace ruffles at the neck. The dresses also had four-inch ruffles around the bottom of the skirts which reached our shoe tops. Our black buttoned shoes and black stockings were carefully kept for such occasions and in case they got too small there was usually another one to hand them down to.
Some hay was put into the wagon, and a quilt on the hay made us a lovely seat, and Mama and Papa sat in the spring seat. The dinner box was carefully loaded, and we were off for (it must have been six or seven miles) Jenkins.
Before we could go onto the picnic grounds, Mama took us to a hat shop in Jenkins. My Aunt Nora Gooding, who was all of twenty-two or twenty-three--and already called an "old maid"-- trimmed the hats. Mama would have felt that people thought us poverty-striken if we went to a picnic without hats, although we were only four and six years old. She selected "leghorn" hats with a wreath of pink and blue for get-me-nots. They were just alike but mine had a rubber band under my chin as she was afraid I couldn't take care of it, but I was so thrilled I think the hat was safe.
The picnic ground was only a short distance from the little town, but we had to cross a swinging bridge over Flat Creek to get there as our dad had driven across with the wagon. I was "mortally afraid" of that swinging bridge as it moved up and down when people walked on it. But music was coming to us from the other side and of course I went on.
As we got closer, we could hear people calling from the stands, others talking, and smell cigar smoke. Let me say now that no one we knew smoked cigars except when a politician gave them one and if they accepted a cigar they were obligated to vote for him. People around Jenkins might smoke a pipe or chew tobacco, but when you smelled cigar smoke, you knew a politician was or had been there.
The wagons were just outside the picnic grounds and there was the smell of hay and horses and leather harness. There were a few buggies belonging to young people or to old pensioners like my grandfather, Jimmie Gooding, and "Granny Frances", as we called her, she being Grandfather's second wife and our step-grandma.
All the noises, smells, and excitement were almost too much
for me, but Big Sister and I made straight to the swing as that was where the music
came from. It was pulled by two little mules, and two old men sat in one seat
and played a banjo and a fiddle, and people of all ages rode the swing. It
must have seen many years of picnics as it was sort of one-sided and almost
dragged the ground on one side while the other side was in the air. In my childish
eyes I felt it might break down any minute.
The seats were around the outside with the mules going round and round in the center as there were no engines to pull a swing in those days. I remember feeling sorry for the mules as the man would use a long switch when they began to slow down, but I wanted to ride that swing. Papa said No, that was silly as we had just ridden miles that morning, but he took us to get some lemonade. I thought the lemonade was fine, but Papa made us throw it out after he had paid for it as he said it was made with some kind of acid and just enough lemons to fool people. There were no pure food laws, so there was nothing any one could do about that.
The dancing at the dance platform started about eleven o'clock and from that time on the tempo of the picnic increased. A young man paid twenty-five cents to dance with the lady of his choice, and there must be four couples.
The musicians for the dance consisted of three men who sat on a platform made above the dancing floor. There was a "fiddle" (nobody called it a violin), sometimes two fiddles, a guitar, and sometimes a banjo.
There were few people in those days who could not square dance, which was the only dance they knew, and things got livelier by the minute. One man called off, seemingly as loud as he could, and the people (if not the music) went "round and round". The girls' long, full dresses with long ribbon sashes whirled, and the boys' boots stamped.
But here again I was to know disappointment because our mother, being a strict Methodist, was very much against dancing and took us away from the crowd that gathered around watching.
Very soon people began to ask "folks" to eat with them, and as we had several kin who lived near, they found a shady spot and all set their dinner together.
It would take a smarter person than I to remember all the good things there, but I do remember a few: pies of several kinds, several cakes, lots of fried chicken, also several other kinds of meat, beet pickles, cucumber
pickles, peach pickles and home-made light bread. Nobody called it just bread--it was "light bread"--and my mother made the best. Grandpa and Granny Frances brought lemons and a cedar bucket with sugar, and made enough lemonade for us all.
Several people brought chairs, and sat in the shade talking, but our baby sister went to sleep and Mama was forced to stay with her. Myrtle and I, being drawn like a magnet, went back to watch the swing and dancing.
Papa found us and told us there was to be a show so we went and there was still another bunch of musicians but these had a jawbone of a horse to keep time to, a banjo, and two girls dressed in red and blue silk dresses with full skirts striking them just at the knees. These girls danced and sang, but again Mama took us away and we met Aunt Nora. She told Mama, "Those shameless women should be run out of the country."
The politicians began their talks at shortly after noon, and seemingly went on forever as we were not turned loose again, but were made to sit with our parents and listen to the speeches that we had no way of understanding. (I doubt if many of our elders did, either).
"Nice people" did not attend a picnic at night in those days and our
way was a long way, so Papa got us some peppermint stick candy, and we went home with Aunt Nora to spend the night. Long after dark we could hear shooting and yelling on the picnic grounds, so there must have been some people who were not too nice. I just remember lying on our quilt and watching tall, dead trees "go by" as our wagon went through some deadened timber.
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