Deep South – Deep North: The Courtship

In this third of four excerpts from her book, Deep South – Deep North: A Family’s Journey, published in 2018,  Ridgeway native Lottie B. Scott tells both the heartbreaking and triumphant tale of her maturation into adulthood against a racially-charged, impoverished, yet fiercely loving backdrop in Longtown, S.C.

THE COURTSHIP – Mama and Daddy met during the spring of 1935 at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Longtown, South Carolina, while attending a spring revival meeting.

Mama said the happiest time of the week was going to church on Sundays. Churches filled a social need for young people to meet people. Mama and her siblings attended no parties or dances, as Grandpa Saul viewed these as sinful. She had some opportunity for social life at school, which was opened only a few months of the year, but she spent little time there because of the demands of the farm. When school let out, Mama could not dally and engage in conversation with other children. She had to rush home and perform chores before sunset. Grandpa Saul kept a clock with him at all times and took note of what time she got home. If she and her sister Scillar were even a couple of minutes late arriving from school, he asked them to give an account of what happened. Grandpa Saul would begin to fuss and would not let up until bedtime. Mama said he wanted everything done his way and by his clock.

After working in the fields a half day on Saturdays, Mama would spend the remainder of the day preparing for Sunday. She would fetch two large pails of water from the spring, which was a quarter of a mile from the house. She poured the water from one pail into a small black wash pot and built a fire under it. When the water reached a very warm temperature, she used a dipper to remove the water to a large pail. Mama used a bar of soap made with lye to wash her hair. Then she rinsed the suds from her hair with the other pail of water. Next she used an old fork to untangle her hair and sat in the sun for her hair to dry as she waited her turn to use the straightening comb after her sisters. Mama at times became impatient, and instead of waiting for the straightening comb, she would heat a smoothing iron and use it to get some of the kinks out of her hair. She did this by placing her long hair on the ironing board and pressing it, beginning at the nape and proceeding to the ends. She then would sweep the warm smoothing iron over her entire head. This method got more of the kinks out of her hair but did not make it straight. Mama would make two corn rows and two large braids in the back, and crisscross the braids together to create a large bun in the back, and other times she would twist paper into long strips and roll her hair to make curls. At night, she tied a cloth on her head tightly to hold the hair in place. She did all of this without a mirror.

Saturday night was bathing time. Mama had to make a second trip to the spring to get water for a bath. She walked slowly to and from the spring, careful not to perspire, as she did not want her hair to “turn back”. There was competition between the sisters for the large washtub. While the water was heating for the bath, Mama would choose one of two dresses to wear. She did not like wearing gloves, or carrying parasols or handbags. Mama marched to her own beat and always wore plain dresses that her mother made. For one occasion her parents bought her a dress made of rayon. Rayon dresses were popular and highly prized. The drawback of wearing it was when it rained: you never wanted to be wearing your beautiful rayon dress during a downpour because it would surely shrink. Before putting on the rayon dress, Mam would check the sky for thunderclouds. She would accessorize it with a simple piece of jewelry. One earring was often all she had. She never cared if the earring matched the dress or not. Mama said she always wore a single strand of pearls, a practice she continued until her death at age ninety-four.

Young people could hardly wait until Sunday, knowing they would have an opportunity to see that “special” person. There was never an argument about going to church early. Young people would have an opportunity to sit together or near each other during church services and Sunday school, and to talk while waiting for service to begin. At church, they had many opportunities to interact, pass a note, give a smile, or hold hands when adults were not looking. However, adults always seemed to be looking. Services lasted all day and sometimes into the evening, yet at the end of the service, no one rushed home. Adults enjoyed the socializing after church. This gave young people further opportunity to continue their conversations.

The young people really like the nighttime service. They were required to stay in the church yard; however, they would stand on the edge. They obeyed their parents by standing on the edge, but the kerosene lanterns gave off only dim light, giving the young people a sense of privacy and an opportunity to hold hands. So they enjoyed the company of the opposite sex in the moonlight. 

Mama caught Daddy’s attention during the April revival meeting on a Sunday night. He was attracted to women with ebony skin color. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” was his mantra. Mama excited him with her deep dark skin and sweet disposition. Daddy was a handsome young man. He stood about six feet with a slim physique, honey tone complexion, and green-grey eyes, and was smooth talking. For the next few Sundays, they talked briefly with one another. Mama had been seeing a fellow named Tucker, but she was not quite sure he was the one. Grandpa Saul had very strict rules. He did not allow his daughters to entertain more than one fellow at a time. He forbade them from bringing home one fellow this Sunday and another one the following Sunday. Mama had to make sure she was willing to discontinue the relationship with Tucker. She needed to be certain that Daddy was as interested in her as she was in him. So began the dance.

Mama and Daddy lived several miles apart and saw each other only on Sunday. There was no other way of communicating. Sending a letter required walking to the mailbox more than a mile away. She had no stamps and no time to go to a mailbox. Grandpa Saul would not have allowed her to take time away from farm work. Grandpa Saul tried to watch their every movement. When Daddy asked to walk Mama home after church, she agreed.

When a guy is really interested, he shows this by asking permission to walk you home. The first time Daddy walked Mama home, Grandpa Saul was a little concerned. “Here we go again with a new guy,” he bellowed. The following Sunday, Daddy walked Mama halfway home and asked to be excused. He said he had an errand to do for his father. He did the same thing the next Sunday. On the third Sunday, as they were strolling down the road, he told Mama he had to turn back. She let him know she was fully aware of what he was doing. He was not doing errands for his father, but was racing back to catch up with Rachel to walk her home and spend time with her. Mama was not going to play second to anyone. She told Daddy he had a choice: walk her all the way home or just walk out of her life. This was probably the first time Daddy had encountered a woman who challenged him and gave him options that he had to choose on the spot. Daddy learned that Mama was very sweet but more than a handful when she got angry. He liked the feisty Mama even more and continued walking until they reached the Stones’ farm.

Courtship was not easy. Mama’s father kept a close eye on his daughters, and the fellows. When the couples sat in the sitting room, he would always be in the next room with an ear to the door. When the clock struck 9 p.m., he would clear his throat very loudly. If that did not work instantaneously, he would turn over a chair, causing it to make a loud crashing sound as it hit the floor. A minute later, he would say loudly, “It’s 9 o’clock. It is time for people to go to bed. Everyone should be home by now, or getting ready to go home.” With that remark, the fellow would say, “I am going home. See you next Sunday.”

The couple would proceed to the door, walking slowly, of course, and dallying a minute to say goodbyes. While Grandpa Saul could not see the couple, he listened carefully for every movement. If the goodbyes took too long, he yelled from his room, “What’s going on out there? I heard the fellow say he was leaving. How long does it take to walk to the door? He should have been halfway home by now.” Of course, this was an exaggeration as the fellow lived many miles away.

With the hard farm work of plowing and harvesting the crops, and the lack of freedom to attend even a ball game, Mama longed for an opportunity to escape from what she called “prison”. When Daddy asked for her hand in marriage, she viewed it as an escape to freedom.


“Deep South, Deep North: A Family’s Journey” is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Deep-South-North…/dp/1480960349. It is also available at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway.

Comments

  1. Robert E. Rue, Sr. says

    I really like this story. I am my family’s unofficial historian and reading the history of black families brings me joy. It’s not the big events that are exciting but the small details that we have no idea about in our generation, like the way “Mama” did her hair and how she retrieved water to do so. Thank you for this story, I really enjoyed it!

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