A look back at some good times

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last week you may have seen the TV news story or read about the Montpelier Methodist Church being moved from its Blacksher, long-time home to Stockton’s Bicentennial Park.

The church, which was built in 1895, was owned by the T.J. Earle family, whose pioneering roots in north Baldwin County were known quite well throughout south Alabama. In fact, many of the residents from that community drove through Lottie into Atmore to do their shopping back then.

Seeing this story reminded me of an event that occurred when I was a young teen.

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The youth at our Perdido Methodist Church were invited by Martha Earle to a Methodist youth rally at that church in 1950. Mr. Bob, an older member of our church, drove us up to the gathering on a night that was dry and dusty. In fact, rain, which was as rare as a four- door NASCAR racecar, had been absent for weeks.

After the dusty drive we found our friends waiting to greet us and to welcome us in. They came from Rabun, Canoe, Stapleton and Perdido methodist churches, all participating members of our “charge” of churches. I cannot remember all who attended but I do remember Luther Fountain and Betty Gibbs of Canoe and Ron McClain of Rabun were there.

Stockton’s Pierce Mason, who would later become a renowned author and educator, gave us a history of the church. Painted solid white, we learned the building was made of heart pine and was decorated with stain glass windows. A large steeple was evident on the front of the structure.

After the rally ended, Mr. Bob decided to try a different route back home. This time we went down to Stockton and took the Rabun road. It was a slow pace because the dust and dry air prevented our seeing too far down the road. About ten minutes into our trip, he brought the vehicle to a sudden stop as something seemed to be crossing the road. We all jumped out to see what it was.

Wading through the dust, we discovered it was five land gophers slowly crossing the road. They were as large as garbage can covers and it seemed forever for them to make it across. Suddenly, a pickup truck from the other direction pulled up and two young men got out. One of the men ran to the back of his truck and grabbed some corn sacks. He immediately yelled, “don’t let em git away.” The other man said, “we gonna be eating high on the hog when our mama makes us some gopher stew.”

As the truck pulled away, we could see the sacks twisting and jumping, caused by the movement of the gophers. And we could hear the two men laughing and talking about their “catch” as they drove away.

Mr. Bob remarked as we resumed our journey home, “you know the name of this community, don’t you?” “No we don’t”, we all replied. He said this is Gopher Hill. Sure enough, he was right. And it is still known today by that same name.

Incidentally, I never marveled at the fact an “anchor store” would be erected just up the hill from our church. Dollar General came to Perdido a few years ago. And, by all accounts and from seeing the many cars, it appears the store is doing quite well.

Now, taking a look back at some more news of interest: Yancey state Junior College changed its name to Faulkner State Junior College in 1970. Then it later became Faulkner State Community College in honor of former Baldwin Times publisher and politician James “Jimmy” Faulkner.

Several from here attended the 1958 Alabama-LSU football game in Mobile. That was the night the west end zone stands collapsed, causing injury to several who were perched in the stands.

In 1973, a popular First Baptist Church pastor, Arnold McRae, left to assume a pastorate in Montgomery. His son, Arnold, Jr., was a close friend with my son Steve. In 1975, Bob Norman was called to this church. Not only was he a fine pastor, but he was a talented trumpet player. He often told us his trumpet playing helped pay his way through college.

In 1973 middle school cheerleaders were Georgia Greene, Susan Holk, Vickie Carter, Paula Drew, Lisa Faircloth, Cindy Gomillion and Mary daily.

That same year Atmore Hardware celebrated 75 years of successful business. At that time it was called Atmore’s “oldest continuous business,” as reflected in a full page Advance newspaper ad. Originated in 1898, the firm was operated by A.P. Webb.
In 1956 I transferred from the University of Alabama to Mississippi Southern (now Southern Miss) so that my weekend trip to work at WATM would be shorter and less stressful. The money I earned from my work and from my riders was a tremendous help paying for my college. Some of my Alabama riders were Martha Staff, John Graham, Joey Osenington and David Matthews’s fiancé from Grove Hill. My Southern Miss riders included Jack and Leon Akins, John Bracken of Mobile and Kay Cunningham.

In 1986 Dana Pettis won the county Jr. Miss title and competed in the state contest in Birmingham. She is the daughter of Woodrow and Shirley Pettis. That same year John Garrard retired as president of The First National Bank. Ollie Strawbridge, who had a long time presence at the bank, assumed his position.

I am sad to learn of the recent death of Evelyn Henderson Lewis, a former Atmore resident who became a well known and appreciated educator in the Mobile Public School System and at Bishop State College. She was recognized as a leader in several Moble church and civic organizations. She was preceded in death by her parents John and Ethel Henderson.

Next week I will have more news from people, places and events from Atmore’s past.

“…Yes, it always whispers to me….those days of long ago….”

Lowell McGill can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net.