Ora Walton (Rahn) (born 1874, died 1945) and James Alfred Augustus “Gus” Exley (born 1862, died 1925) were married in November of 1893. They had 10 children with nine surviving to adulthood. Son Troy lived only a few months. They were members of Laurel Hill Lutheran Church.“Gus” was a farmer and Ora a homemaker.
All of the children lived in Effingham County, except Slade and Eldred W., known as “Chub.” They both became veterinarians, the only ones who received a college education. “Chub” lived in Covington, and Slade in the Atlanta area, last in Smyrna.
Grandmama Ora Exley lived 20 years after her husband’s death. Son Barnard stayed on the farm, married, brought his bride May home with him and raised his family there just south of Clyo on what is now Highway 119 North. They took care of his mother until her death.
After Grandmama died, the family began regular reunions in 1946, twice a year, on July 4th and the day after Christmas. These gatherings rotated from eldest to youngest as host each time at their homes or some of their children’s residences. When the brothers from Atlanta had their turn, it was often at Barnard’s on the old home place or at the American Legion hall.
As we all got more used to air conditioning and Laurel Hill Lutheran built such a nice convenient and well suited social hall, appropriate for the event, it was permanently decided the Fourth of July gathering would be held there. The parents and many of the now deceased children rest in the Laurel Hill Cemetery nearby.
The “Day After Christmas” gathering was always rotated until around 1970 when it was Uncle Chancey’s turn. My father Arthur Exley and Aunt Rebecca had built a building by my parents’ home for gatherings that we know as “The Camp” and Uncle Chancey asked to hold the gathering there. Uncle Chancey said the Christmas family day should always be held there and for over 40 years the cousins and two living sister-in-laws, now up in their 90s, gather at Arthur’s for food and fellowship at Christmastime. We average around 40 attending.
My wonderful childhood memories of the many “Fourth of July” dinners that I have attended for well over 50 years are cherished. In the early days, the host usually provided barbecue or some kind of meat for the gathering. Now we have a covered dish dinner.
In the old days, the smell of smoke and crispy pork skin permeated the warm air. Sometimes you could smell chicken frying or get a whiff of freshly baked hams. Everyone brought churns of custard and flavorings like peaches or strawberries and the host provided huge blocks of ice broken into chunks in a huge wooden box with big bags of salt. Each person hand churned the ice cream as they arrived on site and packed it in ice covered with salt. The churns were placed in a shaded area or garage and we looked forward to ice cream in the mid to late afternoon after lots of ball games, playing with cousins and sometimes a sudden cooling thunderstorm.
Now we bring the churns of ice cream already churned and packed down but nonetheless a delight in the afternoon. Nothing compares to Aunt Mamie’s cold pineapple sherbet, a sweet frozen lemonade-like pineapple concoction, so cold it gave you “brain freeze.”
We usually average about a hundred on the Fourth of July, although there are many more descendants, some even living abroad. It is always great to see those who come back to their roots, gather and honor their ancestors. Good food, good times, lively conversation and good fellowship are anticipated for the annual event.
Historic Effingham wishes each of you a safe and happy Fourth. Please pray for our soldiers away from home in harm’s way and their families as we enjoy the freedom that they secure for us with their service to our country.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org