in the early 1930s, annual memorial services are held at the Old Saltillo Methodist
Church in Hopkins County. Until the early ‘60s the program was scheduled for the
third Thursday of July. By that time the cotton crops had been “laid by.” It was
a time of waiting through the Dog Days of summer until the cotton bolls began
to open. Since 1960, the services are held on the second Sunday in July.
In the ‘40s
and ‘50s prior to the day of the service a member of the Cemetery Committee contacted
citizens of the community to inform them of the day set aside for hoeing the weeds
in the cemetery. Before 1950 the cemetery was kept free of grass. One year in
the late 1940s each worker was paid for hoeing. The money came from donations
and from the profits of the concession stand that operated on the day of the picnic.
The service memorializing those who had been buried in the cemetery the year
before was and still is conducted at 11 A.M. The speakers were usually ministers
who had formerly served as pastors for the Saltillo circuit. During the ‘40s and
‘50s many men and some teenagers did not attend the services, though they were
on the grounds. The teenagers who did not attend sat in cars parked in the shade
of the numerous oak trees or strolled through the cemetery reading the quaint
inscriptions on the tombstones.
For two or three decades in the middle
of the century Tom Briley’s quartet often sang two or three “special numbers.”
Virginia Grace Briley, Tom’s wife, accompanied the group on the piano and sang
the alto part; Tom sang bass. Gospel songs like “Just a Rose Will Do” and “Just
a Closer Walk With Thee” were popular. After the noon meal several gathered in
the un-air-conditioned church to sing hymns.
Early each morning on the
day of the Memorial service two or three men took their shotguns to the woods
to hunt for squirrels. After they shot the squirrels, the men cleaned them. North
of the church building they built a fire under a large pot already containing
water. Into the pot they put the squirrel carcasses, stewed tomatoes, canned corn,
potatoes, salt and pepper. By noon time the stew was ready to be eaten.
The women of the community prepared a variety of food for the noon meal. The food
was spread on wooden tables under the oak trees behind the church. Certain items
appeared year after year: fried chicken, field peas boiled with okra and a slab
of pork, corn bread, mashed potatoes with a half of a boiled egg in the center
of the dish, deviled eggs, boiled ham, canned beans with mayonnaise for a sauce,
fried okra, stewed beets, cucumber pickles, peach halves pickled in sugar and
cloves. The desserts were numerous: chess pie, chocolate pie, pineapple cake,
German chocolate cake, butterscotch pie, banana pudding, blackberry cobbler.
In order to
raise money for the upkeep of the cemetery at Old Saltillo, men of the community
sold concessions during the noon hour and all through the afternoon. They sold
soft drinks, cooled in tubs of ice; candy bars; and even ice cream from canisters
stacked in wash tubs filled with ice. In the afternoon children stood near the
concession stand, located under the oak trees north of the church building, hoping
that a generous adult would ply them with sodas and ice cream. After all, the
money went for a good cause, even if a kid who drank his fill of soda and ate
several candy bars had no appetite that evening for supper.
Until 1960 the Democratic primary in Texas was held on the fourth Saturday in
July. Since Memorial Day at Old Saltillo came before that date, a number of candidates
for county offices often came to the picnic. Each had cards with the name of the
candidate and the office he was running for. Some children competed with each
other to see who could collect the largest number of cards.
days all the candidates for county offices were men. They wore white shirts, once
stiff with starch, but they soon wilted in the intense heat and humidity. The
men also wore Panama hats. As I grew older, I learned that in some county offices
female clerks actually took care of the business, knew the accounts thoroughly,
and foresaw problems the county faced, but technically the elected official was
a man. Those male candidates with various physical handicaps had an edge over
able-bodied men who opposed them. They came to the Memorial Day observance with
obvious signs of their disabilities: wooden crutches, braces, etc. Many voters
would ask about an able-bodied man: “Why should we elect him to a county office?
He kin git out and work jus’ like I do ever’ day.”
In the 1940s and the 1950s the annual observances were an all-day event, but in
more recent years the celebration ends with the noon meal.