Friday, November 17, 2017



Mary Hopkin

Remember how we laughed away the hours
And think of all the great things we would do
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way
La la la la la la 
La la la la la la 
La la la la La la la la la la



That's me, maybe nine years old, on the left, eating a roasted marshmallow, with a bunch of boys who regularly played together on Sunday afternoons after church from the various small towns that made up St. Theresa Church. (Father Bob Ray is in that photo somewhere.) Our playground was the woods, farm ponds, barns and fields that went for miles in all directions.  Fences were not barriers, just something to be climbed over. We built fires, damned up streams and built forts without having to ask the owners of the land we occupied. About the only rules were you were not allowed to chase the cows, build fires in barns or bother the chicken house. You could pick their blackberries, pick up their fallen walnuts and hickory nuts, snare their wild rabbits or even cut one of their cedar trees down out of a fence row and drag it home for a Christmas tree. It was like we owned the world. We were "free range" kids in the real sense of the word. No one worried about us, no one checked on us and no one came looking for us, most of the time, till the sun was going down or it was time for dinner. 

It was not uncommon for us to swim in nasty farm ponds with green scum growing at one end and cowing standing in the water at the other end doing their business in the same water. I don't remember anyone getting a water-borne illness. 

During the summer at least, we went barefoot most of the time, walking over gravel, around broken bottles and over nails.  It seldom happened, less often than it should, but there were episodes of cut feet and nail punctures that were treated with home remedies - a touch or two from the iodine bottle and ripped white rag bandages. Even at that, we usually got up, carried on and limped around on our heels until it stopped hurting. 


Picking blackberries was an August tradition for several reasons. That was when they were ready to pick. Our mother made most of her jelly from blackberries because few people had enough concord grape vines to share their produce. Blackberries, on the other hand were plentiful because they grew wild in ditches and ravines and fence rows - anywhere birds roosted to deposit the seeds. My mother demanded an annual quota for making jelly. After that quota was met, we could pick them and sell them to our neighbors for cash. It was about the only way to earn money to spend at the annual  St. Theresa Church picnic in August. It seemed what we earned in a couple of weeks of black berry picking could be spent in a couple of minutes at the picnic.

I remember one tragedy in particular. I have never really gotten over it to this day. I can still feel the disappointment I felt that day in my body. I had found a huge patch with an abundance of larger than usual blackberries. You could pick them by the hands full, rather one at a time as we did usually. In a few hours, I had a five gallon bucket, worth in those days about $3.00 at $.60 a gallon. It was a fortune for a few hours of work. I was picking more to round it off, only to turn around to see a huge cow with its head in the bucket wolfing them down almost to the bottom in seconds, leaving only a small trace of crush blackberries covered in cow slobber. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my early childhood. 


The worst spanking I ever got when I was a child growing up in Rhodelia was over a bunch of apples. I might have been 5 or 6 years old. Junius Greenwell, our neighbor, had a big apple tree in the field next to his house. When they were ripe, we asked him if we could have some of them. He said, “Yes, of course, take all you want!”  As children, we unfortunately took him literally. We rolled a fifty-five gallons drum up to the tree and stripped it of its apples, without the faintest idea of how we would get it home or what we would do with all those apples.

The short of it was, Junius Greenwell was extremely upset and told my Dad when he got home from work.  Probably overly tired, my Dad went into a rage and spanked all of us kids. His words were similar to these, “Since I don’t know who is guilty and who is not, you’re all going to get it.” And so we did! As far as I know, that was my first experience of seeing the innocent punished for guilt by association.


About 1953, an old broken votive stand from one of the side altars was thrown into the dump behind the church. I guess it was too far gone to repair. The dump was a great place for my brother, Gary, and I to go "treasure hunting." I was 9 years old and he was 8. One day we came across this discarded votive candle stand. I had a big stick in my hand so I gave it a big whack. All of a sudden, coins started flowing out of it like some kind of heavenly slot machine. There was so many coins in it that it didn't rattle when it was thrown out, so nobody bothered to check its contents.

When we regained our composure, we gathered it all up a bag or box, took it home and hid it till we could process this moral dilemma.

After a day obsessing over it, and knowing we would get caught if people saw us spending a lot of suspicious cash in that small town, we decided that we would take our chances and take it to Father Johnson in hopes that he would let us keep it. Bad idea! He gave us a quarter each and sent us home! Childhood lesson learned! Crime may not pay, but sometimes honesty doesn't pay much either! 

As much as it hurt, Father Johnson was right, the money did not belong to him or us, but to the parish!


In the summer of 1959, I was barely 15 years old. It was my second summer home from high school seminary. In a town of 27 people, there wasn’t much to do on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon, except go swimming in a pond on one of my father’s farms. That day, there were four of us boys about the same age: me, my brother Gary, John Paul Manning and his brother Joe-Joe. We walked about three miles to the pond. None of us knew how to swim all that well, so we had agreed just to play together a few feet from the shore. 

For some unknown reason, Joe-Joe decided to swim across the pond alone. Distracted by each other, the rest of us didn’t even realize that he had done this, until we heard his cries for help from across the pond. We tried our best to get to him, but the short of it was, he drowned right in front of our eyes. I can still feel the tiredness in my arms, the struggle to keep from drowning myself, his panic stricken eyes staring right at me and our inability to reach him before he went down for the last time. 

He was thrashing about, wildly, trying to keep from drowning. The sad thing was, if he had done the opposite, if he had only relaxed and let himself float, we could have grabbed him and pulled him, or he could have floated, to safety. The more he tried to save his life by thrashing about wildly, the closer to death he came. If he had just quit trying to save his life, he might have saved it. 


One of my lazy Sunday afternoons on one of Father Bob Ray's horses.  He lived on a farm near Mooleyville, while I lived a few mile bicycle ride away in Rhodelia.  Father Ray and I share three common nephews. His brother Bob is married to my sister Kaye. Their son Todd and his wife Amy built their house on the very spot where the horse is standing. They are raising their family on the old Joe Ray Place.  


My very favorite childhood photo outstanding in my field. 

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