I got an unusual call a couple of weeks ago, from a reporter from the big city newspaper in Atlanta. Seems this guy was sitting around a truck stop near Hog Mountain and got into a conversation with a local yokel about haints and boogeymen and such, and the old fellow mentioned Soap Sally. Now anyone who was raised up around Porterdale -- or anyone who is a regular reader of my columns -- should know that Soap Sally was an old crone who wandered the streets after dark, carrying a croaker sack over her shoulder, looking to snatch up bad little boys and girls. When she got a good mess of them in her toe sack, she would take them to a secret location and make soap out of them.
Laugh if you must, but that story about Soap Sally kept me from wandering away from home after dark on many an occasion.
Anyway, this nice Mr. Davis, from the big city paper, decided he wanted to write about Soap Sally for Halloween. He had already made her his own at a Cub Scout overnighter by conjuring up certain images around the campfire, but he wanted to hear more about her from the folks who grew up fearing her. He began to trace old Sally's trail along the Internet and that investigation led him right to me.
We spent a pleasant half-hour on the phone one afternoon, talking about Soap Sally and Bloody Bones and other supernatural figures that have made their way across Appalachia and into the homes of now-defunct mill villages across the South. Always eager to talk about my childhood and the idyllic little mill village of my youth, I invited Mark Davis to join me on the banks of the Yellow River for the 25-cent tour of the town.
To my surprise, he took me up on it.
Honesty compels me to admit that I really enjoyed Mr. Davis's company and learning about his childhood in the Raleigh, N.C., area. After comparing notes we decided that our upbringings had been a lot more alike than different. After he watched me enjoy a Reuben sandwich and tall glass of sweet tea at the local grill (don't tell my lovely wife, Lisa; I am supposed to be on a diet), we went for a drive around town.
It was the first time I had actually driven over the entire village in a long, long time. We drove up behind the mill and I thought about all those evenings of my youth when Mama and I would bring my daddy's supper to him at the back gate. I was sitting in our car with Daddy at that same back gate, listening to Ed Thilenius on the radio, when Theron Sapp scored the touchdown that broke the drought over Georgia Tech in 1957. I was 5, and have been a Georgia fan every day of my life since.
We drove on over to where the "big league ball field" used to be to and I was surprised to find a nice park with a walking trail there. I told my new acquaintance about how the town barbecue used to be held there every year on the Fourth of July and how the Boy Scouts would stay up all night helping Mr. Homer Hill and the volunteer fire department cook whole hogs and Brunswick stew. I thought about telling him that the area was a POW camp for German soldiers who were brought over toward the end of World War II to help work in the mill, but I wasn't sure he would believe me, so I let it go.
I did drive him all the way around the Osprey Mill, however, and made sure he learned that it was the most productive textile plant in the country during the war, at least among plants that turned short fiber cotton into cloth. I also told him about the material from the mill being used to manufacture Eddie Rickenbacker's life raft and about the golden Coke bottle that used to hang in the Porterdale museum, signifying that the Osprey Mill sold more Coca-Colas every day than any other place in the world during that same war. Sadly I shared the story of the gymnasium, where the museum was housed, having been burned.
We drove the main streets and the back alleys of my hometown and wound up under the Yellow River Bridge, looking for evidence that Soap Sally might, indeed, still drop by for a visit sometime. We didn't find any slivers of soap or any evidence of lost children, but we did find the remains of a camp fire under the bridge and there were some footprints that might have belonged to just about anybody -- and the hair on the back of my neck did stand up when an especially chilly breeze blew off the shoals.
I'm not saying old Soap Sally was lurking around watching us, but I'm not saying she wasn't, either. At any rate, I enjoyed showing off my town and telling my stories to a fellow journalist who at least seemed to be interested. Let me know if you ever want your own personal tour. I have lots of stories yet untold.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.