Days Gone By - stories from the past

AUTHOR SUNDAY – Saturdays in Town in the Country and ‘Big Jim Folsom’ [films and old photographs]

Saturdays in Town in the Country

by

Becki McAnnally

My husband and I both remember a time when you went to “town” on Saturdays. There were lots of good reasons to go to town…buy groceries , shop the clothing stores, see your friends and relatives, and catch up on all the gossip. But there were other times when others knew it was a good time to show up in town when there would be a crowd available to hear them…. preachers and politicians.


Big Jim Folsom gubernatorial campaigns

My earliest recollection of such a day was during one of “Big Jim” Folsom’s gubernatorial campaigns. I was about four years old. We arrived in Alabaster , Alabama that  morning , and there were already huge crowds of people milling around the sidewalks and in the stores.

“Big Jim” Folsom shows the gubernatorial candidate in 1954 near Hutchins Quick Lunch that was on Greensboro Avenue near the courthouse in Tuscaloosa

Big-Jim-Folsom-50s

Daddy parked behind the Power company and as we were coming up to the sidewalk, we could hear guitar and fiddle music playing over a loud speaker. As we stepped up on the sidewalk, there was a huge trailer with a full band, playing a “Y’all Come”, the campaign song that EVERYBODY knew… and there was a man wearing a cowboy suit and hat singing into the microphone.

The Strawberry Pickers from Garden City

On the side of the trailer was a sign that read “Folsom for Governor” and the name of the man who was singing was Roland “Racehorse” Johnson, and his band, the “ The Strawberry Pickers” from Garden City, in Cullman, Alabama.  (Little did I know that he was from the very town where my future husband was growing up! And that Mr. Johnson’s own mother, Mrs. Vera, was the best coconut cake and fried pie maker, and all around best cook in Garden City!)

My daddy was carrying me, so I had a really good view. While he talked with his many friends , I watched the people and listened to the music. There were so many people! Then, we stood for the longest while listening to “Big Jim” speak and to the band playing.

Gov. Jim Folsom family 1958 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Jim Folsom family 1958

I Drew the Winning Number

I remember how tall and what a large man Mr. Folsom was. Then we moved on down the sidewalk to the 5&10 cent store, where there was a drawing to be held for a prize. The owner of the store was a good friend of my parents, so he asked Daddy if I could draw the winning number from the big fishbowl. Since my Daddy said it was ok, I reached in and pulled out a number. I thought that was really something special.

Our next stop took us to the preacher who had been preaching in the same spot on the corner, pretty much most of the day. A large crowd stayed around him, and I could hear the “Amens!” and “Praise God” from the audience. I was too young to know what that was about, so I got restless , and we moved on.

Wagon drawn by mules

My husband remembers the same type of things in Garden City. He also remembers  his great uncle Otis bringing his large family in on a wagon drawn by mules, then later, in the first truck Uncle Otis bought!  There was the same band , the same “Big Jim” Folsom politicking, and there was also a preacher with a loud speaker attached to his car. It really is a small world!!!

Garden City was a bustling, thriving city then, and all the merchants would put money in a pot for a drawing . Dale remembers there being a $40.00 pot once, and everyone wanted that! He also remembers riding his horse in the ‘Strawberry Festival” Parade, in which his horse kicked a dent in Big Jim’s car!!

Everybody was doing the same thing

Its humbling to know that in the 40’s and 50’s, probably in every small town in the South, everyone was doing the same thing on Saturday, or pretty close to it. I think it was so important to people for the communication and entertainment that they so desperately needed, and that it lasted as long as it did. The incursion of TV into our homes and the turbulent events of the 60s and 70s did more to change this tradition than anything. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we lost a wonderful sense of family and neighborly contact when we lost the Saturdays in town in the country!

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55 comments

  1. In the mid 50’s I would spend my summers with my GParents & my 3 uncles in Barbour Co.. On Sat. we would all go to Eufaula at 25 miles an hour. My uncles & I would spend all day in the 3 theaters watching westerns. Afterward we would just walk around and enjoy the smell of hamburgers being cooked in local restaurants bu the African Americans. I can still smell them now 63 years later. Before we left for home my GF would stop at the ice house & get a block of ice for the icebox and we would travel back home at 25 MPH. When we got home we would have cold leftovers for dinner by a lantern. I enjoyed every minute of it.

  2. Say “Ya’ll” everyday!

  3. Ya’ll everyday, plus when we shop for anything we’re going to town!

  4. I sure don’t know about you but I use ya’ll all the time and ain’t in my everyday talk. and yes mam and no sir., it was the way it was the southern talk. So we still all say ya’ll in the south well for except a few transplants, that just have not got the hang of the our southern terms. ya’ll come back now ya here.

  5. Love to say “ya’ll”. Also, remember Gov. Jim Folsom well – I remember seeing him and thinking, oh my goodness, he was so tall, and his little ole wife was about 5′ tall.

    1. i also remember gov.folsom and gov.george wallace when i was comming up in alabama

  6. Maybe you’ve just become immune to hearing it. I say ya’ll all the time.

  7. Very common to hear y’all. Don’t know where y’all live, but folks around these parts don’t know any other plural for “you”.

  8. ???…ALL DAY EVERY DAY

  9. I don’t know where Mrs. McAnnally lives, but we throw “y’all” around regular in these parts.

  10. he was a big man, i remember seeing him one time when i was a kid

  11. I say “y’all” at least once a day!

  12. I hear ya’ll all the time, I say it all the time too

  13. just heard it at Applebees resturant just as we were leaving, Y’all come back!. We loved hearing that the staff wants us to come again. Hugs to Brooksville Florida Applebees staff.

  14. first.i still use the word ya’ll and every day…guess i’m just a backwoods bumpkin…big jim was before my time….but from everyhing i have ever read about the man…i think he was and still is the best governor alabama has ever had…wish some of these modern egg noodle candidates were like him

  15. huh? I hear and say y’all all the time. and guess what? I’m from Alabama.

  16. I use “Ya’ll everyday of the year ! ! ! !

  17. The article on Big Jim Folsom’s campaign in 1954, my husband and his brother played with Roland Johnson and his band for Big Jim’s campain in 1954 and the name of the band was The Corn Grinders. The Strawberry Pickers and Rowland Johnson played in his 1949 campaign. I was 12 years old then and saw them in Decatur, Alabama. The Corn Grinders Band also played for Big Jim’s Birthday Party at the Governors Mansion in Montgomery in 1956 at the request of his wife, Jamelle. My husband and his brother played there also. Just setting the record straight.

  18. I already made my comment above.

  19. My Dad owned a Salvage Yard (junkyard) on 31 South. It was just North of Swafford Rd. It is now Peek Auto Parts. Mr. Johnson dropped by to see Dad occasionally. He was at one time the Mayor of Garden City. He knew where everyone lived in his community, he helped Dad locate people for Leeth National Bank.
    I grew up in a neighborhood very close to the Folsom home. Some of his kids and I played together back in the 60’s. It is located diagonally from East Elementary School. Spencer Speegle lived across the street. At that age we all marvelled that they had a tennis court next to the house. There were several of the kids from the neighborhood that spent a good deal of time with the Folsom kids.
    My family has fond memories of “Big Jim”.

  20. I think I still have a Ya’ll Come bumper sticker somewhere.

  21. I remember very well the Folsom family……….one daughter was my age named Rachel.

  22. I would drive Big Jim to the football games in Birmingham when I was married to his daughter, Bama. One sunny Alabama-Auburn day as we were driving from Cullman to Birmingham, Big Jim was complaining that I was only driving 75 and we were going to miss the kickoff if I didn’t drive faster, so I did. When the relatively new Olds 98 overheated and the hot light came on, Big Jim swore the light was malfunctioning and to keep on keeping on. A few minutes later when the engine exploded I pulled off the expressway and a car pulled beside us and ask if we needed a ride to the game. He never mentioned the car ever again. We made for the kick-off and life was good.

  23. The old country house, birthplace of Jim Folsom, has been relocated from out in the country to downtown Elba and has an historical marker in front of it. It needs lots of repair and maybe during the AL 200 Bicentennial we can do that. Lots of people stop by to look at it and marvel that 8 people lived in that small house. The Folsom family moved to town (Elba) when he was 2 years old and he spent his childhood in Elba and attended school for 12 years in Elba.

  24. “””Y’all come to see us when you can!”””

  25. My strongest recollection is watching one of his last tv appearences during an unsuccessful run for governor on, I think, WSFA in Montgomery. It was not his finest hour.

    1. What Was UGLY was they kept the camera rolling the whole time. Someone had slipped something in his drink, otherwise known as a Mickey Finn.

    2. I heard that. I never understood why they kept him on.

    3. Singing “You are my sunshine.”

  26. He gave me a silver dollar at my Grandfather’s country store when I was a boy

  27. I remember old big Jim making a pass at me as a teenage girl in downtown Birmingham in late 50’s.

  28. “Big” Jim Folsom stood six feet eight inches tall and weighed 275 pounds! He looks like a giant next to his family in the photo above.

  29. I saw Big Jim in Scottsboro one time. I greeted him, “Hello, Governor.” He shook hands and gave me a stack of his campaign cards to hand out.

    1. strange–There is a fellow up here in Sumnava Resort’s Indiana–about 20 miles from where I live in Crown Point—who has a model railroad display in HO gauge of a-I think—a copper mine in Scottsboro-Alabama–His little museum —part of which is outdoor’s—is called ‘Wally’s World”-inside the ‘railway” station “mock-up” there are fucnctional full size mannnequin talking-moving figures –

  30. I think everyone remember’s big Jim. Then his son ran for governor, Jim Folsom .

  31. Ya’ll Come, Ya’ll Come Ya’ll Come to see us now an then, Ya’ll Come Ya’ll Come.

  32. He was a great politician when he started & a pitiful drunk in the end!!!!!

  33. Yes, and visited his house many times withy grands

  34. Big Jim worked the rural votes. He paved many of the back dirt roads. He was known for kissing the babies, and sharing a drink of moonshine while sitting on the back of a pickup truck. He also had picture taken with bare feet propped up on governors desk. That view gave the image that everyone in the state were barefooted hicks!

  35. Ya’ll come was written by Roland “Racehorse” Johnson. Big Jim was not a racist, and probably helped more people, than he ever hurt.

  36. My mother used to sing, “Y’all Come.”

  37. I remember him lying on the steps of the capitol in Mont. and saying ” i’m tared” . Made everyone in Al. look like a bunch of hillbillies!!!

  38. I remember a rally at the courthouse in Tuscaloosa where”Big Jim” held up a mop in a bucket and promised he was going to “clean up” Montgomery.

    Despite the negatives Jim Folsom was a Progressive trying to bring the country folk into the 20th Century. He laid the groundwork for better education and economic development.

  39. Fred Grissom, this has a couple of songs included.

  40. Oh, what memories. I remember him shaking hands of folks sitting in the middle row of pews at church as he made his way to the front. The preacher stopped preaching until he & the Mrs.took their seats right behind the deacons. After the service, he shook hands of those up the aisle on the side pews on the way out. “Always politicking.”..my mother said with a sigh.

  41. Big Jim was also known as the kissing governor. While attending a national governor’s convention In New Jersey, he lined up all the 48 Miss American contestants, and kissed each one of them. It made the national news reels.

  42. I remember Big Jim on the front steps of the old Cullman County Courthouse when I was a kid. In 1976, I was working at the old Woodland Hospital in Cullman when Big Jim was admitted for an illness. He was such a nice guy.

  43. I Am Not From Alabama But My Boyfriend Willie Sanders Who Just Happen To Be Roland Johnson’s Nephew Is And He Tails Me About The Good Old Days In Garden City Al The Time.

  44. Story–Hebron-Indiana-1967-My brother and I operated a saloon in Hebron in 1966-67-I tended bar most of the time-I had two customner’s who were regularly at odds with each other-(Bill and Walt)–I had heard stories about how they got into “it” with one another in the old day’;s before we bought the place–at that time in the past they nearly knocked the wall out of part of the bar-room-wrestling–both around 6 feet tall or a bit more-stocky—well over 200 pound’s-
    So—after hearing of this I watched closely on the amount of BUd tap beer I served either one–they were quiet and peaceful for many month’s–no sign of these two reliable “friend’s having anythin more than critical and funny remark’s about the other-
    It was their personal “mind game”–not an unusual thing—(like high school kid’s but way over 40 year’s of age.They had reportedly been at it for over 20 year’s–now in their 60’s–
    On a particular day–the ‘snap” finaly came–they were expressing their desires to take one another “apart” once again–like the “old day’s” before I was around-I was 26 year’s of age and weighed around 160 pound’s–6 feet tall–but knew I wouldn’t stand much of achance keeping them apart–
    Odly–I hadn’t noticed one of my best customer’s sitting back in a dark corner booth–it was “Harvey”–a guy from the local railroad maintenance gang–harvey would drink only mug’s and pitcher’s—maybe two or three of the pitcher’s–eat a big meal and leave with a nice smile and” see you later”–Now—Harvey was well over 7 feet—maybe pushing 8–weight wise–I estimate near 500 pound’s and merely rotund—that weight fitting his height okay-
    At some point he stepped up to my two long time opponent’s and joker’s and said–“now you boy’s don’t want to cause any trouble —do you–?—and that was the end of the fray—I was lucky that day–I had a 38 under the bar and never would have used it in that situation anyway–(gift to robber’s only)–yep—Big Harvey—one of my favorite old Indiana railroader’s–truly big as a locomotive—may God rest his soul—along with fightin–Bill and Walter-where-ever they may be now-(Bill was an auto body repairman and Walt drove large tractor’s for a local farmer)both tough enough-From the Lighthouse Restaurant of Hebron–(still standing)we sold it later–but the new owner’s bartender burned the top floor apartment off reportedly due to smoking in bed)hot times there–(y’all come now—and we had a great little country western band–with Harry and Alex-)after the band left our place–they went on over the year’s to wear out 5 Greyhound tour bus’s in northern Indiana-Tommy Cash—younger brother of Johnny Cash sang for us a couple time’s–

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