Friday afternoon and the Depot Museum is open. It’s a bit of a rainy day here in Downing. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic and so here I sit thinkin’ about picnics?!? Did your family like picnics?
In recent times, my cousin Norma Lee often told me how much my grandmother, Maude Appaline Barb Green, who we called “Mom,” how much she loved wearing hats and having picnics. That was before my time, but I love hearing those stories—remembering whatever I can, and feeling warm and fuzzy and nurtured just knowing that there were many stories told, even if I don’t remember the details.
The generations before me were pretty much into picnics. Many stories have been told about the tree area in front of Campground Cemetery. I’m told there were frequently folks camping there, Gypsies mostly, or that’s the exciting thing I remember. Gypsies! Before Hwy 136 was built, the road past Campground was the main through-road between Downing and Memphis, Highway 4 I believe.
At times everybody living around Campground and Downing would gather together and have ice cream socials there. Can’t you just see the kids running and playing games? Someone would have brought ice blocks packed in sawdust and burlap bags. When they were ready, the men broke the ice into small chunks, put them in the freezers sitting in washtubs, added salt, then sat down, and started churning. ‘Round and ‘round those handles went. They’d change men now and then to get all the freezing done, while the women set out cakes and pies. Oh, my! I’m sure you’ve heard how good the Downing women of the past—well, and the present, can bake.
Sometime in the 1920s my grandad, Ellot Ishmael Green, and his brother-in-law, Laurence Myers Barb, went to the official opening of Hilburn bridge. It was one of the largest truss bridges in the area at that time. It was an all-day event/picnic and quite the deal, with a huge turnout of folks. Haven’t heard of Hilburn bridge? It’s the bridge on Hwy 15 at the junction with Hwy W going east to Rutledge.
If you’re going to PICNIC, you want to spend the day, you want to take a long ride, maybe visit with some family, or at least look over the countryside and wonder how other folks are doing with their crops, livestock, and such. So those generations before me, my grandparents, my mother, Helen, and her two brothers, Charles and Lee, would prepare a feast and head off for a full day of picnicking. I imagine Laurence and Bessie Barb and their two girls, Norma Lee and Marjorie came along on most picnics. They were like one big family, living just one hill apart in the Walnut Grove school area, south of Downing, just off the county line road. And because Laurence and Bessie were Mom’s brother and Granddad’s sister, all the children were double cousins, but were closer, like brothers and sisters.
Another spot our family often picnicked at was the Barnett statue, south of Memphis. When it was first built, there was a large open area, like a park, surrounding it on three sides. One of my grandmother’s sisters, Ina Mae Barb, was then married to Clair Stice. They lived and farmed nearby, so there would likely be a gathering of family. Mae and Claire had three girls, the first one, Wanda, was born at Vassar Hill. “Inney” would tell her stories of the Civil War fought there and point out the location near the barn where northern soldiers were buried.
You may not realize, but over the years many Downing residents moved westward. And in traveling across country during the 1920s and ‘30s, most every day was a picnic. In our broader family’s case, six to eight separate relatives from three generations, who were born and raised in Downing and surrounds, pulled up stakes and headed west to Hotchkiss, Colorado, or to southern California, near Los Angeles. Once gone, the relocated family seldom visited back home—about every two to three-years, or they sent letters and postcards claiming the wonderfulness of it all, and “wish you were here”. Only my great–grandparents, Joseph Allen and Rosa Ann Myers Barb, encouraged by her brother, took their large family west to Colorado, then returned “home,” a year later, in 1913.
In 1955 my immediate family moved from Illinois to southern California. Mother and I were ever so glad to come back to rural Downing and family each summer. In late summer we would return to the boomtown area of aerospace—Lancaster, Palmdale, Edwards Airforce Base—for my dad to return to teaching and make our living. Apparently even in California Downing folks liked picnics and wanted a connection to home and family, as for many years we attended a “Downing Family Reunion” picnic in LA to visit with seldom seen friends.
Well that’s my take on picnics this rainy fall day. The Museum had four visitors (one for an English report and two looking for parents) and two volunteers came by. We’re happy to have them all. Lena Gallagher brought over a picture for Ann Alexander of four local men, including Ann’s husband and Link Turner, who we wondered about a few weeks ago. Carol Scurlock, Bonnie Hayes, and I had a good discussion on the Locker building’s fire in Downing, just east of I.G. Ruth’s current store—speculating when it was and who bought and sold it afterward. We have pictures of the burned area, but the notes are fading. That is another of our renovation projects.
The Depot Museum, located at Downing Appreciation Days Park, will be open for a last time in 2018 on October 19, from noon to 4 pm. Volunteers will be working there at other unscheduled times, too. If you’d like to volunteer to help with our renovation, please contact Jerry (660-379-2467), Carol (641-929-3915), or Judy (660-342-1454).