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Ballot counting and cake walking

I have a painting of the old courthouse that burned in 1965 hanging in my office, and I often gaze at it, and remember so many things, but today I am going to concentrate on just two of those memories, but they are fresh, and I think you will enjoy hearing about them.

In the early ‘50s, during election time, there was a huge blackboard (or was it green), mounted on the west wall in the giant hall of the entranceway to the seat of justice. There were several officials, who had pretty fair handwriting, and could balance on a chair or small ladder without tumbling onto the hard hall floor, with the job assignment of reading the results from each of the county ballot boxes as handed to them, and updating the number of votes for each candidate up for office in the county or the state by entering the number of votes in chalk on that giant board.

The hall was jam packed with onlookers, who really had nothing else much to do on a Tuesday evening, especially since Wilmer Shields, Charlie Grey Glass, Dot Lewis and Sam Drinkard were about the only ones in town with a TV, and our county results were not reported on the one channel on those television sets anyhow. Of those four, only Sam Drinkard was a courthouse official, either being the tax collector or assessor one, since they were separate offices then.

Now out on the porch, sitting on those concrete wings out from the steep steps, and all out in the courthouse yard were more folks packed around to get the exciting news for the evening. There were school children and others selling drinks, hot dogs and praline candy rounds to add to that great excitement and adventure. There was also money to be made. Many a time some fellow would promise me a nickel if I’d fight my way up the steps and into that hall to take a gander at the number of votes for the folks running for one particular office, and report back. Nobody ever did fail to pay me, or the word would have gotten around on such a four flusher.

There were certain boxes on further south in the county that held out sending in their results to make things more interesting as the night wore on, and sometimes final box counts would not come in until the next morning for some reason or another.

Well, let us move on along from election time to Halloween time in Linden, and the Halloween Carnival held on the courthouse grounds. Fortune teller, haunted house, games of chance, all set up and operated by school chullun and such. Most events only cost a nickel or a dime, but town ladies would bake their favorite and sometimes famous cakes, and donate them for the big time cake walk, and that cost a quarter, so I never did walk that walk, but lots of folks did go from one box drawn on the sidewalk with chalk and a number to the next one, and when the music stopped, whoever was on the winning box won a cake.

Our class headed up by pretty Miss Laird in the fifth grade set up a ping pong table with two taunt wires stretched across the far end, into which packs of cigarettes and boxes of matches were stuck. For five cents, you got a ping pong ball, and you chunked it trying to knock down a pack of cigarettes or if unlucky, a penny box of matches, or maybe nothing. I tried my luck with some extra nickels I had, and did knock down two packs of Lucky Strikes. Here I trotted on across the street to Mr. Brown’s grocery store, and as I recall it he gave me ten cents a pack, which was doubling my money. Can’t remember what he actually sold a pack for back in those days since the only smoking I did was cross vine or rabbit tobacco from out in the woods.

Just some of the goings on we remember around that 1902 courthouse setting on a hill, with sidewalks all around it which made for some mighty good roller skating in those wonderful days gone bye.

— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.

(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, February 5 issue of the Demopolis Times.)