Skip to content

Cultural continuity

When I was a young’un in the 1950s, growing up in the farmland of the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, one of my uncles operated a country store. Every day, local menfolk, especially farmers, would congregate there. If it was winter, they’d sit around the stove. If it was summer, they’d sit around the fan. Of an evening, they might move outside onto the benches under the store’s front awning.

It was called “loafing,” and by some people it was frowned upon. I call it important cultural glue. Today, there are far fewer places where neighbors can congregate than there were in the 1950s.

But this tradition persists in Stokes County today, and no doubt in rural areas all over America as well. Most of the country stores are gone now. Today the loafers hang out at fast-food places at the nearest town or highway stop. In this area, Hardee’s rules, but I’ve also seen congregations of elderly people hanging out at McDonald’s. In Madison-Mayodan, one of the Hardee’s actually has live music and square-dancing once a week (for old people). Or at least they did a couple of years ago.

Even in the 1950s, though, loafing was nothing new. Its roots, I’m sure, are in the old countries.

Most of the people in this area are descended from people who migrated here in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of them came from the British Isles. Even today, rural pubs are common in the British Isles and Ireland. A couple of times I have visited a Welsh family I’d befriended. Of an evening the menfolk would go down to the pub for a couple of hours in the evening, while the womenfolk cooked dinner.

In this country, Puritan, anti-alcohol values were strongly enforced, so country stores took the place of pubs. The same Puritan culture that demonizes alcohol used the pejorative term “loafing” for it. Now fast-food restaurants have taken the place of country stores. At least it’s cultural continuity, but it looks like thirsty work to me.


  1. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    When I was a boy visiting my Papa & Mama Johnson in Walnut Cove, the old mill was one of the important loafing spots. Me & Papa used to go up there every couple of days to get cornmeal and birdseed and eggs. I remember the smell of the place, and how dark it was inside.

    I don’t know if men gathered there after work or not, but anybody who went there during the day stopped for a bit on the porch and talked things over. Back in those days, in that part of the world, any activity that brought you into contact with friends and acquaintances was an opportunity for standing around and chatting. Everybody called Papa “Preacher Johnson”, even though he had retired years earlier. He was as close to a town elder as there was, I guess.

    Likewise, I always thought everybody went to Walnut Cove Baptist Church every Sunday mostly to stand on the lawn outside after service and catch up on their socializing.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Jimmy, was it also called “loafing” in your memories?

    Alas, though the mill is still in operation, no one loafs there anymore…

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink
  3. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    Don’t recall the word “loafing” being used. It was “stopping to talk”.

    Papa never hung out with the boys. He always puttered around the garden or the woodworking shop in his basement garage. He was a homebody. He only ever left the house for church or errands or to take Mama to the beauty parlor.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  4. admin wrote:

    Very interesting. I would love to better understand whether “loafing” was a more local Yadkin County expression or whether the term was generally used in the South to describe this activity.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  5. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    Anyway, my memory includes a lot of slow movement from place to place in Walnut Cove. I spent much of my time there in the Summer, so that explains some of it. But nobody was in a hurry. There was always time to stop and talk.

    I should write of Papa and Mama’s foodways. Master Gardener and Master Cook, they were. Mama was an All-Time Super Southern Chef.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  6. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    BTW, alcohol sorta kinda deserves to be demonized, doesn’t it? Everything in moderation, I know, but alcohol is seriously harmful, and abused by billions across the globe. I have a middle-aged man’s perspective, I guess. And I am a father now. But I certainly understand why well-intentioned people sought to prohibit it a century ago.

    Nothing enhances loafing better than a bit of booze. But therein lies at least part of the rub…

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  7. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    Atlanta’s (not very good) alterna-weekly is called “Creative Loafing”, for what it’s worth.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *