By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Harvey Pickles was born and raised in Lee, and has spent most of his life within a 35 mile radius of his birthplace.
Born in 1933, the only child of Madison natives George and Mamie Pickles, his earliest memories are from when he was about three or four years old, trying to help pick cotton and crop tobacco; the sharp edges of the cotton bolls would cut his fingers, but “we didn’t know what gloves were,” says Pickles. They were poor, but then, so was everyone else they knew; maybe the people they sharecropped for were a little better off, but in general, no one knew of any other way of life at the time. As he puts it, “You don’t miss what you’ve never had.”
His family lived in a log cabin about three miles south of Lee, where his father worked as a sharecropper for Till Webb; the cabin had a wooden-shingled roof with gaps through which he could see moonlight at night. “When it rained, you had to slide your bed over and set out the pots.”
There were also no pencils or paper to spare for schooling, so Pickles’ mother taught him his letters and numbers writing with a stick on a patch of smooth, bare ground. Thanks to his mother’s efforts, by the time he started first grade at Enterprise Public School on 255, he already knew enough of reading and writing to finish first grade in half the term. His teacher, Jeanie Wadsworth, promoted him to second grade for the second half of the school year.
After he finished third grade, his mother became too sick to handle the heavy work, so Pickles dropped out of school to help. Since everything from cooking to heating to washing required a fire, he was wielding an axe at eight years old, chopping the necessary firewood. Again, he though nothing about it; that was just the way things were at the time.
Soon afterward, he was working for J.C. Black as a farm hand, earning $5 a week. At age 12, he was doing farm work fulltime, making $2 a day, hoeing peanuts and cropping tobacco. At 13, he was plowing with the tractor.
His biggest thrill from that time was the once-a-year trip into Madison to see all the beautiful toys in the Van H. Priest Dime Store. Cap pistols were a dime, and a roll of caps was a nickel. If you found that in your stocking Christmas morning, along with an apple, an orange, some brazil nuts and maybe some candy, “you just had yourself a really big Christmas!”
Back in Lee, there was the McCall’s Grocery (later became the Ace Hardware store) where families would drive up and park their wagons for a Saturday afternoon of shopping for that week’s essentials; one of Pickles’ favorite places to visit was S.E. Whitty’s for ice cream and five-cent comic books. Superman, from the first issue, all the way up through volume100, Batman and Robin – he collected all the old favorites. He had a huge box of them that he threw out in June of 1956 when he fell in love and married Maude Graham. The house was small, they needed the space, and he never dreamed that people would one day pay hundreds of dollars for old Superman comic books.
The first movie he ever saw was when Swan’s Theater had a free day close to election time. He remembers seeing Tom Mix in black and white, and being totally fascinated by the moving images on the screen. Regular prices for movies were 25 cents; popcorn was five cents, drinks were five cents, and gas was ten cents a gallon. Later, when the competing Woodward Theater started charging 50 cents for movies, people were aghast and said they’d never make it charging that much; however, the Woodard stayed in business “an awful long time.”
He also remembers getting 25-cent haircuts at Simon Kinsey’s barbershop.
Eventually, he went to work for Madison Metal Products on the Valdosta Highway, back when wheel covers and car body parts were made out of stainless steel instead of plastic, and worked there for 18 years.
He and Maude had four children, Tina, Glen, Teri and Curtis, and one of the biggest treats for the whole family was to pack a picnic basket full of food, fill up a gallon jug with ice tea, pack all the children in the station wagon and head for the Madison drive-in theater.
“That was the big thing to do on Saturday night,” he says. Prices then were $2 a carload and it was usually a western that was playing. They would take along mosquito coils that “smelled like oily rags burning” to keep the bloodsucking insects at bay while they watched the show.
Then, the children, content and full of food, would usually fall asleep in the back of the station wagon, leaving their parents to enjoy the movie’s ending in peace and quiet.
Now, with seven grandchildren and five great-children, Pickles sometimes worries a little about the bits of knowledge that get lost from one generation to the next; he knows things about survival that his children were never interested in, and now realizes that “my daddy knew things that I wasn’t interested in until it was too late.”
People just didn’t keep records back then; whatever wasn’t handed down orally was lost.“
Remembrance of Things Past” he says, is one way to record at least some of what is still around, before it disappears forever.
Anyone interested in being interviewed for this article can call 973-4141 and make an appointment with Kristin Finney, or may drop by Greene Publishing, Inc., any day before noon. Those interested must have lived in Madison for a large portion of their life, and be able to recall a few things that have changed since then.