Honeybees, irish potatoes and cucumbers
By By Lowell McGill
Honeybees, honey, irish potatoes and cucumbers are the theme of this week’s column. However, not in the manner you may expect.
In 1964 when I was principal of McCullough School the building burned completely to the ground. All important records, trophies and furniture were lost. We knew we were in the last years of the school with only six grades and enrollment less than 100.
But, we had two wonderful teachers besides myself and two wonderful lunchroom managers. Mrs. Fuller and Mrs. Stephens were our teachers and Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Green ran our lunchroom. Florence Hardy was our main substitute teacher.
The fire was discovered in late afternoon after the students had gone home. Fire officials said it began in the loft due to old wiring.
But the amazing thing about it, as the building was aflame, the west exterior wall began flowing with honey. Bees were flying everywhere. I have never seen so much honey. The bee hives had apparently been there for many years and no one knew about it. Some tried to take buckets to catch the sweet liquid as it flowed down the wall. But the bees and heat of the fire prohibited their getting close to the building.
That school was home to many area residents. It once was a successful high school in years past. Many graduates went on to important professions in later life.
I remember Mr. Frank Currie, who operated the gin there, would often come and eat lunch with us. He and I talked on many occasions. We both had something in common. That was baseball. He was an outstanding infielder at Auburn. He often told me about his playing days. He took a liking to Steve, my oldest son, who was playing Little League. He often came out to watch him play. He gave Steve a book on “Fundamentals of an Infielder.” The book was written to help develop middle infielders. A middle infielder is either a second baseman or shortstop. Mr. Frank stressed that the middle infielders must make “the scoop and throw” all in one motion. There should be no hitch or hesitation in this particular play. Steve often referred to this book all the way to his playing days at UAB. He still has the book and he has shared it with many of his fellow ballplayers.
One day Mr. Currie was very excited when he came for lunch. He told me he was going to gin the first bale of cotton for the year. The Advance came out for a photo, which was used on page one of that week’s edition.
Back in the 1960s when I was writing sports for Bob Morrissete, Marshall Robinson called the office and wanted someone to come out to the cucumber plant that he managed for a major pickling firm. He had uncovered a rather large cucumber that resembled a star. It was very unique and it did look like a star. Bob took a photo of it and ran it in the Advance. I have searched the achieves but have not been able to find that story and photo. Beryl, Marshall’s widow, and I were talking and she is crossing her fingers in hopes that I can recover that story. I’ll find it.
As I thought about the star cucumber, I remember when I was in school and had just learned to drive. I went to the potato shed near the Frisco Railroad office to buy a sack of “culls.” They sold for 50 cents a bag. When I got there two men were almost coming to blows. It seems that as they were grading potatoes, a very odd shaped potato popped up. It looked like “Humpty Dumpty,” very round with shoots that resembled legs. Each of those men were claiming ownership of the potato. The matter was settled by management of the shed and grading resumed. But as I left with my sack of culls I could still hear them “jawing” at each other.
I always found it very enjoyable in those years to go by the grading sheds and cucumber plants just to smell the aroma of freshness. You could even smell the fresh soil from the new potatoes.
Up at Marshall’s plant you could smell the aroma of the salty brime where the cucumbers were soaking. I asked him one day who was his most productive grower and he said it was Bully Brooks. Bully knew how to grow those cucumbers.
Eubie Etheridge later operated a cucumber processing shed and he, too, had many productive growers.
That potato grading shed can still be found now in south Baldwin County, so I am told. But they are not like the ones we had hear many years ago.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at email@example.com