Think back to the early 1920s. If you can’t do that, just imagine that you are
a little child living four miles from downtown Columbia in that time period.
Your world included little more than neighbors, the dime store, the grocery
store, church -- and the Sears and Roebuck catalog. My early life was like
Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Sublett, had seven children -- six boys and Alie
May, who was about my age. Their home faced Richland Road and their land
backed up to the Fulton Gravel, which is now called Route WW. Bill Sublett was
a truck farmer who raised fruit and vegetables to sell. His watermelons,
cantaloupes and muskmelons grew in a sandy, creek bottom patch along the North
Fork of Grindstone Creek. The patch was across the creek from rock formations
that gave the water hole the name, Flat Rock.
In another garden the Subletts raised potatoes, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, corn
and other fruit and vegetables. He sold these products in Columbia to hotels
and restaurants in addition to his street “market.” Farmers just chose a
spot, parked and sold directly to consumers from their wagons. In those days
the grocery stores didn’t offer much in the way of perishable items, so this
street market enterprise was popular with housewives. Some bought enough for
canning and preserving. Freezers were unknown because electric lines hadn’t
reached beyond the city limits.
Depending on what was ripe and ready, the older Sublett children and their
parents would pick the vegetables early in the morning. They’d load sacks and
baskets into a wagon and Bill would hitch up his horses and be in town before
people went to work.
By the time he had secured the horses and set out water for them, the first
customers were there with shopping bags and open pocketbooks. He often had
produce, particularly melons, left at the end of the day, and he shared these
with friends and neighbors.
On hot summer evenings, more than a dozen men, women and children, plus
several Subletts, met at Flat Rock for a cooling dip in the creek. I was too
young to swim, at first, and I’d do what we called “the mud crawl.” I did
that with my feet splashing, my head up and my hands “walking” along on the
sandy creek bottom. Most of us swam in the clothes we’d worn all day: men in
bib overalls, kids in underwear or cutoff pants, women and older girls in
dresses. Afterward, we’d pat our clothes dry with towels and go home wet.
People would come and go, some on foot, some in buggies, a few in Model T
Fords. Most people stayed until after dark and then struck matches and lit
their oil lanterns to light their way home.
Today, people laugh at me because I like both salt and pepper on cantaloupe,
muskmelons or watermelon. I learned that as we stood around Bill Sublett’s
melon wagon. We’d begin in the middle of a long slice of watermelon, eat the
sweetest part to the ends, spit the seeds on the ground and wipe off the juice
with our bare hands. Mr. and Mrs. Sublett cut slices as fast as our hands were
empty or until our mothers made us stop. We tossed the rinds into a tub to be
saved for Sublett’s chickens and pigs. He’d also save the seeds of a few very
tasty melons, drying them and planting them the next year.
With friends like the Subletts and a water hole like Flat Rock, is it any
wonder that I was grown before I heard the words “air conditioning?”