Friday, 15 October 2021 16:42

COLUMN: The Thompson Reunion Part II: Days long gone by

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Sidney Washington Thompson. Sidney Washington Thompson. J.A. Bolton

 

After dinner on the grounds, my family would wander on down the hill to the cemetery. There we would hear stories about my ancestors. 


A lot of the stories would be about Sidney Washington Thompson, my great-grandpa — how at age 19 he volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army. He was trained as a sharpshooter and sent to Northern Virginia to serve under Gen. Robert E. Lee. There Sidney fought at places like Tranter’s Creek, South Anna, Bristoe Station and at The Battle of the Wilderness. 

In the Battle of the Wilderness, Sidney was wounded in his leg, but won’t long, he returned to duty. Finally, at the battle of Burgess Mill, Oct. 27, 1864, at some point in the battle, Sidney and his entire regiment were cut off from their division. They were all captured and transported to Maryland and confined at Point Lookout as prisoners of war. He remained there till the end of the war.

Few of us can imagine what conditions might have been like at Point Lookout or Southern prisons like Andersonville. Prison conditions were deplorable. Bad water, rations that were very minimal, disease and being shot just for crossing a certain line were a common day in the prison yard. Records show as many as 14,000 Confederate soldiers died while at Point Lookout, but Sidney was one of the lucky ones. After the war was over, he was released and somehow made his way back to Montgomery County. The next year, he met and married a young girl named Mary and that union produced 10 children; one of whom was my grandmother.

After the cemetery tour and hearing the stories, we would all load up and ride the two miles over to Sidney’s old home place. The old house was still standing. It had wooden shingles on the roof and had wide lightered pine boards as siding. The house was held up with large rocks and wasn’t underpinned. Why, you could be inside and see the chickens walking around under the house. 

The house was still being lived in by a great uncle of mine by marriage. His name was Henry Randles and he was an old-time character with a bushy mustache. He wore suspenders and was always chewing and spitting “tobacee,” as he called it. Old Henry was a decent sort of fellow but folks said he was so tight he could give you change back out of a penny. 

Why, there just happened to be this big grapevine that hung on a beautiful cedar arbor right there beside the old house. The grapes should have been getting ripe about the time of the reunion but there’d be nary a grape on the vines. It seems that old Henry was picking them off on Saturday before the reunion, putting them in a No. 10 washtub and hiding them in his underground root cellar. 

The week after the reunion, Henry would make himself some homemade wine, don’t you know. Everything went well for several years but one day old Henry got to nipping heavy on his wine. Somehow, he wobbled down the road to his neighbors and got to bragging about how he’d been hiding them grapes for years and the word got out about what was a’happening to them grapes. 

Next, our journey took us across the hollow to visit my Great Uncle L.D. and Aunt Rilla. Why, you’ve seen pictures of old mountain homes sitting atop a mountain with a long winding road leading to the house — well, this was it. If’n it had been raining much, we’d just have to walk up to the house, but most of the time our old ‘50 model Ford would make it to the top with just a minimum amount of spinning. 

They’d always see us coming and would be waiting on the porch. Uncle L.D. had long since retired from farming but would always be wearing a fairly new pair of bib overalls, an old suit coat and a pair of brogan shoes. Aunt Rilla was a rather short and stocky lady and she always wore a long homemade apron around her waist. I really liked to visit these old folks but it never failed: when I stepped up on their porch, Aunt Rilla would lift up her apron, wipe the Tube Rose snuff from around her mouth and proceed to give me one of her big juicy kisses. Seems when you are a little fellow you endure a lot of things.

Well, I knew things were going to be better when Uncle L.D. would say, “Come on boy, let’s go out to the well and draw up a gallon of fresh cow’s milk.” You see, they didn’t have an icebox so they would pour their fresh cow’s milk in a gallon jar and keep it cool by putting it in the well bucket and lowering it down in the hand-dug well. It was my job to wind on the old wooden windless crank handle and bring the well bucket to the top.

After drawing the milk from the well, we’d take it inside the house where Aunt Rilla would just be slicing a freshly made deep-dish apple pie. Now folks, this won’t your store-bought apple pies, no siree. Them apples had been picked from a tree right there in her yard, peeled, sliced and placed on a hot tin roof to dry out. Aunt Rilla also made up her own homemade crust and baked the pie in a wood stove. After it was done, she would place it on the open window sill to cool. Why, even the crust was so good, if it broke off you dare not brush it aside but popped it in your mouth. Then I would wash it down with a large glass of fresh cow’s milk and no I didn’t mind if’en it ran down my chinny-chin-chin.

After all this, I was ready to take a nap, but the reunion day wasn’t over till I followed Uncle L.D. down to his barn to feed the mule and cow. Some of the tin was missing off the top of the barn and it looked pretty well run-down but it stood like a memorial to the Thompson farm. As we opened the barn door, there, hanging on the walls, were old mule bridles, singletrees, mule harnesses. On the floor lay old plows that had seen their better days. 

While Uncle L.D. fed the stock, I’d climb up in the barn loft and play on the hay bales. To this day, I can still hear Uncle L.D. saying, “Boy, don’t you tear up my hay up there, you hear?” Well I’d play up there for a spell, then I’d jump out of the barn loft to the ground below where there just happened to be an old hay rake. You know, the kind that had a medal seat with holes drilled in it to let the water out. Why, I’d sail up on the seat of that hay rake and pretend I was driving a team of beautiful black horses with shiny leather harnesses around and around the hay field. ‘Bout that time I’d hear a car horn and I knew my folks were ready to go home. I’d start back up the hill toward the house, looking forward to next year at the reunion.

You know, as the years go by and I get older and older, sometimes in my mind, I catch myself looking back down that hill. Also, across the hollow, I can almost hear the faint sound of good old gospel music coming from the little church in the oak grove. As my mind wanders back, I can sometimes feel a tear or two coming down my cheeks as my memories take me back to the days of the Thompson Reunion. 

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book “Southern Fries: Down-Home Stories” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..