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WHITTLE: ‘Town Teams’ helped rural folks cope with Great Depression and War

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Rural community “Town Teams” were the focus of a recent WGNS Radio broadcast of the “Truman Jones Show” featuring legendary Rutherford, Cannon and Wilson county educator Jerry Gaither, age 85.

“The 1930s and 1940s were a special era,” Gaither recalled, “with communities coming out from under the Great Depression and eventually, out from World War II. Community baseball teams helped take our minds off our troubles.”

I was privileged to help conduct the recent radio interview with the retired Rutherford County Superintendent of Schools.

“Growing up in a holler (hollow) at Auburntown during the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s was not easy,” Gaither recalled. “We didn’t have much, no car, for example, during the Depression, but no one else did either.”

His mother, Jodie Hawkins Gaither, died when Gaither was an infant.

“I don’t remember Mother, for she died when I was very young,” Gaither described. “But when my older sister married and left home later, in the early 1930s, Father designated me (age 10) and my brother David (age 12) as ‘cooks’ for the family.’ We were mere boys, but did the best we could.”

What did they cook?

“Older brother I. B. Gaither was a crack shot with his .22-caliber rifle,” Gaither described. “We younger brothers knew to keep our mouths shut in the woods, for killing rabbits and squirrels were serious business. That often meant whether we had meat to eat with our gravy … I.B. could plink a dove out of the air or hit a rabbit on the run, that’s how accurate he was with his rifle.”

But there were play times too.

“My late father (Jesse E. Gaither) encouraged us to work hard, but to play hard, particularly when it came to baseball,” Gaither described. “Boys from tiny Auburn School loved to come home with us Gaithers, for they knew as soon as we finished our farm chores, we’d divide up and play a game of back-yard baseball.”

Neighbors helped neighbors in that era.

“Folks knew they could count on Jesse Gaither and his boys to come help rebuild a burned-out barn, or help harvest crops if our neighbor was sick,” Gaither recalled. “But we didn’t play ball until we got all our chores done…

“We didn’t have a large ball diamond up in our holler, so we had special rules, that caused us to learn how and when to bunt, and where to choke up on the bat, and hit the baseball in a specific spot, instead of just for power.

“We later parlayed those practiced ball-placement talents to use when we got old enough to play on the Auburntown team,” Gaither ran back in time.

“When the game got to the fifth inning, and we were behind a little in the score, that’s when we changed from swinging for the homeruns, and started playing ‘rabbit ball’ where we bunted and place hit our way onto base.”

He credited Readyville with having “great competitive town teams.”

“The Cedar Forest community of nearby Wilson County also had a great town team,” Gaither added. “The Alsup boys from Walter Hill were good too.”

They played on despite some preachers.

“Some preachers would preach against playing ball on the Sabbath, but we played any way,” Gaither recalled. “And it was free for the public.”

“At one time, Gaither boys fielded the majority of positions on the Auburntown Team,” he fielded back in time. “And we had large turnout of fans not only in Auburn, and in Woodbury, who had good players named Davenports.”

This particular radio show was dedicated to Smyrna residents Dorothy Jean Barnett and her husband, Johnny, for it was they who loaned us old Murfreesboro Central High score books and the old school’s first school annual published in 1923 with student John T. Woodfin serving as the staff business manager.

The historic score book also includes high school games in 1920, that featured  “Huddleston” at catcher, “J. Todd” at second base, “Ridley” in center field and McKnight at first base.

This old school annual and scorebook will be featured in a future column.

Batter up!!!!
Tagged under  Baseball, Dan Whittle, Jerry Gaither, Voices

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