There were few social events, other than family reunions and church activities, in rural Liberty County during the depression years. A lack of funds and transportation prevented most backwoods families from attending any but the most important social events in other parts of the county.
Community square dancers were held in homes, since there was no other place to gather. There was always the danger, however, of being “turned out of the church,” because dancing was considered a sin by most houses of worship. Local musicians provided music for the dances, and the only refreshment available was cool water from a sweep bucket in an open well.
Fields of peanuts were planted by most farmers to fatten their hogs. Before they were let in the fields in late summer, a “peanut boiling” would be arranged by young people at one of the farms. They pulled up the vines, picked off the peanuts, cleaned them in a washtub, and started them boiling in a cast-iron vat late in the afternoon. They gathered at dusk to eat peanuts, play games, and enjoy being with one another.
When the first cool nights of autumn arrived, “cane grindings” took place at those farms where sugar cane was raised to make syrup. Those persons who did not raise sugar cane would visit the farm to drink the cold, sweet juice, and watch the juice boiling in a cast-iron vat over a roaring wood fire. It was an occasion for old and young alike to gather and have a good time.
Washing and ironing clothing was a particularly hard task for the farm wife during the depression years, because it was the same process with some of the same equipment used in Liberty County nearly 200 years before. The equipment consisted of a cast-iron vat, a “block,” or section of an oak tree about three feet high, a stout stick about three feet long, a scrub board, and large tin tubs. Commercial soap was sometimes used during the depression years, but the farm wife often made her own lye soap.
Water for the day-long operation came from an open well with a sweep bucket, so the laundry area was located nearby.
The white clothing was boiled in the vat, while colored clothing was washed on the scrub board in the tin tubs. Both were placed on the “block” and beaten with the stick to remove remaining dirt. They were then rinsed two or three times and hung out to dry on bushes or on a wire strung between two wooden posts. In wet weather, the clothing was dried in front of an open fireplace in the farm home.
Farm wives during the depression years usually traded chickens or eggs for starch which they boiled to use. The clothing, once dry, was “starched” and then hung out to dry. Ironing of the clothing was done by flatirons heated in an open fireplace.
There were black laundresses for white persons in Liberty County who went through the whole laundry process as many as three times a week. They were generally paid 50¢ to wash, starch, and iron a family laundry that might consist of 50 or more pieces. They were paid more during and after World War II. The practice gradually came to an end after laundermats were installed in Liberty County.
Country store operators sometimes emptied a room adjacent to their sales area and installed a coin-operated phonograph and a few chairs. Young people in the community would gather there to dance for five cents a selection. They had no stimulant of any kind other than soft drinks when they could afford them at five cents a bottle.
Almost all of the clothing worn by a farm family was made by the farm wife on a sewing machine she or one of her neighbors owned. She rode the school bus to town during the winter with chickens and eggs she traded to a general store for yard goods and thread. “Rolling stores” traveled through rural communities weekly. The farm family usually traded what they produced on the farm to the operator for what he had for sale, and maybe some peppermint sticks for the children.
Weddings in Liberty County during the depression years still took place in church and the home of the bride. Many couples, however, “eloped” to Ridgeland, South Carolina, and were married by a justice of the peace to avoid the expense of a formal wedding. They generally returned home right after the ceremony, because they had no money for a honeymoon.
When there was a death in the family, the corpse was “layed out” by friends of the family in a homemade casket, or one the family bought from J .R. Bagley in Hinesville, long enough for everyone to learn of the death, and a grave to be dug by friends of the family in the church cemetery. The remains were then taken to the church, often by horse and wagon, for the funeral and burial. If the death occurred when flowers were blooming, there were floral offerings. If it happened during the winter, there generally were no flowers at all.
Idle schoolhouses were sometimes used in rural Liberty County during the depression years for “Singing Schools” conducted by traveling music teachers. Whole families attended the schools and learned how to sing a kind of religious music later known as “gospel rock.”
The coming and going of the rural mail carrier was quite often the only sound in the backwoods of Liberty County during the depression years. In the complete silence of a backwoods winter night, the sound of an automobile approaching in the distance meant that something important had happened.
Most farmers owned hound dogs to hunt deer during the winter season, and opossum and raccoon any time. Each hound seemed to have a distinctive sound easily recognized by almost anybody in the community. The “baying” of a hound came loud and clear from a considerable distance. A farmer sitting on his front porch after dark would listen and say, “That’s old Ring; I’d know him anywhere.” If the hunt was successful. there would be venison stew, or golden fried opossum or raccoon on the family table the next day.
Farmers harvested their tobacco crop once a week for three or four weeks in July. They often traded labor with their neighbors, or hired persons to help them “crop” and “string” their tobacco for 50¢ or $1 a day, payable when the tobacco was sold. The tobacco was “cured” in a tall log barn with heat from a wood furnace and tin flues. It was sold in markets at Glennville, Vidalia, or Blackshear, Georgia.
Rural churches during the depression years sometimes raised funds by sponsoring “Box Suppers.” Young ladies prepared lunches and packed them in decorated boxes. The young men who bid highest for the boxes were given the pleasure of sharing the lunches with the donors.
Farm families visited each other often during the depression years to discuss current events, and talk about people and times long gone by. If there was a full moon they would watch it come up over pine and cypress trees. The silence was broken only by frogs croaking in a nearby pond, and the haunting sound of a .. whippoorwill in a blooming crape myrtle bush. The scent of yellow jessamine was everywhere.