The quarterly reunion for Junior High was held Thursday, January 4, 2018. Although the school was located in Pulaski County, the reunions are now held in Vidalia. This one took place at Meadows Park Health and Rehab in Room 223.
Junior High was a small rural school that included the first through fifth grades. Its name seems a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps the original plans also included grades six through eight, but that’s just speculation. Other than a blue metal road sign there’s nothing left of Junior High.
The school was housed in the original Bethlehem Church building. It preceded the Bethlehem I remember that was on Mock Springs Road. Folding doors separated the sanctuary from the classroom, an open span that accommodated all the students and two teachers. A coal burning heater kept it warm enough to study. It was as comfortable as most of their homes, which relied on open fireplaces.
My mother, Margaret Hill Joiner, only attended Junior High for the fifth grade. She went there because a relative, Robert Coleman, was a newly-hired young teacher and needed more students. Elizabeth Stokes Dunaway, Mama’s first cousin, attended all five years at Junior High. She serves as President of the Alumni Association, but has delegated most of the reunion details to Mama.
Cousin Elizabeth and Mama grew up near each other. They often visited, played, and had meals together. They attended church at Bethlehem Baptist, and were both baptized in the ice-cold waters of Mock Springs. They double dated, married Dooly County farmers, raised families, and spent decades together as members of Harmony Baptist Church. Harmony is two hours from Vidalia, where Elizabeth now lives, so they don’t see each other on Sundays anymore.
My brother, Jimmy, and I were guests at the recent reunion. We heard some delightful childhood stories from another generation. I asked Cousin Elizabeth if she remembered her first-grade teacher. Without hesitation she named Mrs. Bathsheba Johnson. “We called her Miss Bassie,” she said, noting she was a much better teacher than her sister, Miss Drusilla Sewell.
In nice weather Cousin Elizabeth walked the short distance to school. At other times she caught the bus or was taken by her parents. Mama lived about three miles away. She walked almost a mile, then rode Mr. Tom Dunaway’s school bus with her good friend Kat McKinney.
Mama and Cousin Elizabeth talked about their aunt, Ruth Hill Shelton, who each day milked four cows. She hand-churned the cream into butter that she sold or bartered. I remember as a young child in the 1950’s going with Mama to a grocery store in downtown Hawkinsville. She showed me some of Aunt Ruth’s butter, something I felt provided my great aunt with celebrity status. The days of homegrown products being carried in the stores were rapidly winding down.
Cousin Elizabeth said that she didn’t do much milking herself, but that she loved working in her family’s vegetable garden. Her mother, Aunt Effie to us, had big gardens. She liked sharing from them, especially with people in need. Gardening must have been in the Hill Family genes as Mama also seemed to relish the work. In my childhood, and many years afterward, she picked bushels of peas and beans with an enthusiasm I admired but did not understand.
I attended a funeral recently for Mrs. Helen Cross, a fine lady and renowned cook from the Harmony Church community. Her nephew, Reverend Mike Peavy, described love in a way that I had not heard before. Mike told about Miss Helen picking and shelling butterbeans, then cooking them in a big pot. But love, he explained, was when she gave those butterbeans away, something she did often and in generous portions.
I used to wonder how the ladies of that generation could enjoy the hard, sweaty, work of gardening. I think Mike Peavy gave me the answer. Maybe they loved the work, but I think what they really loved was the sharing. They gathered some to keep, but gathered much to give away.
The Junior High Reunion helped remind me that we all have gardens to tend. Every garden looks a bit different, but so do the needs that they meet. I guess the blue metal road sign isn’t the only thing left from Junior High. There are two alumnae and a huge collection of sweet memories. I hope that I get invited to their next gathering. Maybe I’ll find out what happened after fifth grade.