Leila S. Case: Unique summer tradition adds to small town life

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 9, 2016

I consider Americus a small city but our town is like my Atlanta daughter describes “one big neighborhood,” where you know almost everyone. However, our Sumter neighbors, Leslie, DeSoto and Plains, actually are classified as small towns and they have unique traditions. I find something enchanting about each except the gnats are more prevalent than in Americus.
The Leslie Community Men’s Club swimming pool has a long and interesting history that dates back some 70 years, actually soon after World War II. The annual opening of the pool kicked off with a midday barbecue this week — the first Wednesday in June — a tradition I’m told began when merchants closed their businesses at noon on Wednesdays.
Of course we were there to enjoy delicious barbecue prepared by Thomas Harrell, Brunswick stew and other sides. But the homemade cakes baked by Town and Country Garden Club members are delectable. I always hope a thick slice of multi-layer yellow cake with caramel icing is on my plate. I got lucky. I don’t think we’ve missed many of these barbecues, especially in the past 21 years Mark and Anne Barrett, our son and daughter, have been in Leslie.
I’ve long been curious about the history of the swimming pool and have heard bits and pieces over the years from various long-time residents like the late Dr. Frank Wilson III and Tinley Anderson and others so I asked Dr. Frank’s daughter, Jane Wilson Abernathy, a lifelong resident of Leslie, what she knew.
She told me the swimming pool had been there as long as she could remember but she would ask her mother Adalynn Wilson for more details and the two came up with a few answers while frosting cakes the day before the event.
The pool was built about 1947, and actually hand dug by men of the community including Jane’s grandfather Frank Wilson Jr. and W.T. Anderson, and the concession/bath house was built in the early 1950s. Reid and Cara Wilson were among the first managers and kept the pool open until 9 p.m. The community pool was a social outlet and gathering place, especially for young mothers and children on long, hot summer afternoons. The women shelled butterbeans and peas and caught up on the news of the day while watching the children in the water.
In the early days the pork and stew for the barbecue were prepared by Reid Wilson Sr. in a fire pit and cook shed on the property. The opening day was always a huge social event in the ‘50s. For example Mrs. Herschel Smith (Cora), grandmother of Judge Rucker Smith and Herschel Smith III of Americus, hosted her Canasta Club for lunch before entertaining them at the Smiths’  cabin at the river for an afternoon of cards.
Jane recalls the pool was drained and refilled twice weekly from a deep well and the water was “icy, icy cold.” She said the late Floyd Hines Sr. rolled up his trousers and waded in the shallow end but as he grew older he slowly drove by “checking on things.” George Larson and Jane both remember varied swim instructors: Coach Doug Parrish, Coach Jack Makowski, Lana Crumpton Bass, Schley Gatewood, Clark Deriso, Emily Wilson, Frank Wilson IV, Dawn Butler and Tommy Cheek. And she recalls Claude Frazier lifeguarding.
Originally the Leslie Memorial Garden Club members took great pride in baking the cakes, then serving their own creation. Later the Town and Country Garden Club prepared the potato salad, each member making 25 pounds. Today, the Town and Country Garden Club members bake the mouthwatering cakes and the potato salad is purchased.
As always, the proceeds of the annual barbecue will be returned to Leslie for community improvement. I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Plan to go next year. It’s wonderful.
Out and about: There was a great crowd at the Cypress Grill at Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club for the Swinging Medallions concert/dance last weekend. I hear the band really “rocked it” and folks danced ‘till midnight. Among those attending were Jane and Ricky Arnold, Steve and Jeanie Stanfield, Wes and Jean Wheeler, Carson and Marylen Walker, Burton and Elaine Thomas, Lee and Faith Pinnell, Claire Peeples, Lori and Andy Shivers, and Guy and Janie Holloway of Atlanta. Meanwhile, we saw “Driving Miss Daisy” presented by Theatre Albany at the Rylander Theatre last Thursday. The play was as enchanting as I remembered it in the intimate setting of the Alliance Theatre’s studio theater in the late ‘80s in Atlanta before it hit Broadway. The acting was superlative, the sets good and, of course, the lighting perfect. I saw many familiar faces in the audience including Sam Peavy and Julie Megginson who were celebrating her birthday. Elsewhere, the Andersonville National Historic Site’s Avenue of Flags Memorial Day weekend was a beautiful sight to behold. The 250 American flags erected by National Park Service staff and the Robins Riders motorcycle group looked like glorious sentinels standing at attention on both sides of the road leading from the entrance gates to the granite rostrum in the National Cemetery, while the miniature flags on each of the 21,000 grave sites placed by local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts unfurled in the breeze — a fitting tribute.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.