Retired teachers share memories in new book
Retired Coweta County educator Sue Young Hunter and her sister, Grace Young Smith, shared the experiences of growing up on a south Georgia tobacco farm, learning and growing at Berry College – and then teaching for decades.
The sisters have now put their memories from those three facets of their lives on paper. “Crabapple Blossoms and New Beginnings” begins by capturing what life was life for two girls growing up from the 1930s to the 1950s on a small farm between Ocilla and Fitzgerald.
The antics and oddities of their family, community, church and school life are shared with humor and authenticity. They relate how they made games of their work in the tobacco and peanuts fields – and with chores indoors and out, including raising livestock.
“Crabapple Blossoms” is sprinkled liberally with humor but also includes the hurtful and sad events of life.
The second segment of the book gives readers a front-row seat to Berry College, Martha Berry’s legacy and dream in the north Georgia mountains near Rome. Smith and Hunter were among the students who had to work with their hands and get along with supervisors to work their way through at a college which offered an education to farm and mountain students who could not afford college any other way.
The sisters’ work as teachers included a rural high school biology class unlike anything imaginable today. They share frank observations about policies and administrators, and also paint pictures of school life – classrooms, graduations, fundraisers. Their careers extended into the 1970s and “Crabapple Blossoms” offers insights into how integration shaped the lives of students and teachers.
Hunter spent her teaching career in Coweta County. She came to the county after college to teach, married Leonard Hunter and brought up her twin daughters. Leonard and Sue Hunter still live in the home they built decade ago in rural Coweta. Smith and Hunter will be signing books at the Senoia Coffee Shop and Cafe on Aug. 16 from 1-4 p.m. and at White Oak Hall at White Oak Presbyterian Church on Gordon Road on Aug. 17 from 3-5 p.m.
An excerpt from Hunter-Smith memoir
"As children, we grew up on a small farm half way between Froster and Obera in South Georgia. The small, unpainted gray, wood-framed house was surrounded by a large yard with a wooded look. There was a mixture of different kinds of oaks among the darker green pines. Underneath grew wild grasses, hawthorn bushes, Spanish bayonets, and shrubs native to the South Georgia woods. Mingled with these were transplants of a crabapple and dogwood trees from upper Middle Georgia.
The crabapple tree was almost centered in the wooded area next to the road just to the left of the mailbox. This was no ordinary crabapple tree as most people know them. It had little resemblance to the scraggy, scrawny trees which grow wild in the upper Middle Georgia woods. It had been petted and pruned into a beautiful, shapely tree and had far exceeded the typical size of its species. Its bottom limbs touched the ground all the way around. In early spring it became the focal point of beauty for the whole community. When the oaks were just beginning to put their new leaves of palest yellow and reddish green, the dark-needled pines with their yellow male cones made a suitable background for the crabapple tree which became our symbol of a new beginning.
On a warm spring day when Mama wasn’t too busy, usually in the afternoon, she would ask one of us to accompany her to the crabapple tree. While sitting in the tall grass and basking in the spring sun, we took deep breaths, becoming intoxicated on its perfume. Mama always needed to share “her tree.” If visitors came, they went home with a bouquet of crabapple blossoms. It pleased the whole family when the “city” people from Froster and Obera drove by and slowed down to a creep to see the one and only crabapple tree in the area. My sister and I carried bouquets of crabapple blossoms to our favorite teachers or to ones with whom we wished to make peace.
In the area just in front of the house was a lawn which gave us the privilege of developing our muscles. The grass was thick and the lawn mower was strictly man- or child-powered. The area near the road was allowed to grow wild with very little pruning or clipping. The low-hanging branches of the trees and the tall grasses gave privacy and caught much of the dust from the unpaved road.
The back yard had three huge chinaberry trees which, with their dense foliage, made great places to play and work. They were the sites of our playhouses and where we cut off corn, made sauerkraut, cleaned fish, and did many other tasks. In addition, the weekly job of washing the family clothes was accomplished under the trees.
The area under the chinaberry trees was clean swept, which was no easy task as the chinaberry trees dropped something continuously all summer long and into winter. The blooms in the spring were pale lavender and had an overpowering, somewhat lilac fragrance – almost pleasing, but not quite. Blooms were in great abundance. When they shed, dead flower parts covered the yard. In the fall, the leaves and stems fell continuously for weeks, leaving a multitude of berries to fall in late winter. Flocks of migrating robins sometimes fed on the fermented chinaberries and provided entertainment in their inebriated condition.
There were two very large oak trees just beyond the chinaberry trees. As they were not part of the inner yard, they were not swept under. There was a fruit orchard on the knoll back of the barn which consisted of grapevines, several varieties of peaches and pears, and one lone apple tree. In the spring they formed a cloud of pink and white. It was a breath-taking sight to us coming from school in a spring afternoon. Those blossoms gave promise of the fruits we would have in the summer.
On the outer edge of the backyard between the chinaberry trees and the two large oak trees was a woodpile, which served as the only source of energy year round. It was there that Daddy cut wood for the winter fires and for the cookstove. There were usually several stacks of wood drying for use in the kitchen stove. A few feet behind one of the oaks stood the privy. Two large sprawling fig trees grew to the right of the woodpile.
Mama’s love of colors and flowers enriched the surroundings from early spring until early winter. A profusion of flowers grew on both sides of the house, near the woodpile, and usually on one or two rows in the vegetable garden. Black-eyed susans, petunias, and California poppies reseeded and became a small field of brightly colored flowers. Her cannas tended to stay in one place and clumps became quite large and hid the washpot. At midsummer, the crepe myrtles bloomed. The pink and red blossoms reminded us of watermelons soon to be cut. Along with the crepe myrtles were lantanas with yellow and orange blossoms and red four-o’clocks. Heavenly blue morning glories were strung up on the edge of the front porch, and a delicate pink rose bush ran up one end of the porch to the roof – supplying a profusion of pink and emitting the fragrance of roses throughout the house."