Having grown up around Rome, I look back at places that used to be but no longer exist.
In Anchor Duck there were some houses between the railroad tracks that was called Snake Island, which no longer exist. Scant Corners. There at Martha Berry and West 10th you can see the name, but old timers will tell you that the Scant Corners we knew no longer exist. A Saturday night on Scant Corners was something to remember.
There is one place that was going strong when I was growing up, that if you speak of it they will look at you kind of funny. Most people now days have never heard of Hell’s Hollow. Most of the people will shake their head and say “Hell’s Hollow, never heard of such a place. Where was it?”
There, just below the Civic Center, is a housing project. The first time that I ever saw it, it was full of run-down houses. It was a place where poor folk lived. It was a place where you could pick up a pint of white whiskey. I knew two bootleggers that lived in Hell’s Hollow. I bet you are wondering, that far back, how a small boy could know bootleggers.
When school was out on Friday, I would hurry home. Back then you had what was called school clothes and everyday clothes. When school was out you hurried home and changed clothes as fast as possible. On Fridays I would grab my fishing pole and head for the river. I would catch enough fish to sell and make what we called show fare.
To get to what I called my catfish hole, I would come off Fifth Avenue at the end of the bridge and come down by the old jail. There were houses all though the area. The road that led to Celanese was not much more than a road of potholes. I would go down by where the library is now. There were houses on both sides of the road. There was a cemetery on the right side of the road. There was one house that sat down in a field on the side where the river ran. I would go down by the house to get on the riverbank.
I had been down to my favorite spot and had caught a good-size string of catfish. I made it to the road and was resting when a gentleman came by. He stopped and looked at my fish. “What are you going to do with all the fish?” he asked. “I am going to sell them,” I said. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted them. “What will you give me for them?” I asked. He scratched his head, saying, Mighty fine looking fish.”
I watched him trying to put a price on them. I knew about what I had been getting from the people up on the hill behind Broad Street. “If you will come with me, I will give you $2 for half of them. A friend of mine will give you $2 and a half for the others,” he said. This was the best offer I had ever had.
I followed him as he crossed the road and started toward the Civic Center. I had never been in the Hollow so I was surprised at what I saw.
He said his name was Foster. He was a tall lanky fellow and one of his steps made about five of mine. I was trying to keep up, but carrying the string of fish and my fishing pole was too much. He stopped. Smiling, he handed me the brown paper sack that he carried and took my fish. The sack he gave me to carry felt like it was empty compared with the fish.
We came to the Hollow and he went up the steps to the first house. I will always remember what he did as I stepped upon the porch. He opened the door and said, “All right, you in there, keep your language decent. I have a young gentleman with me and he doesn’t need to hear your mouth.” I followed him into the kitchen where a lady was cooking. She made a fuss about the fish. And when I started out the door to the porch she handed me another dollar.
Foster came out carrying about half of the fish and said, “Come on, we will sell the rest to my friend Rooster.” I followed him down the step and across the road to a house. He knocked on the door and yelled as loud as he could, “Rooster, get your big self out here.” I got myself into position to see him, I did, and the biggest man I believe that I had ever seen came through the door. He had to turn sideways in order to get though the door.
I had backed to the edge of the porch to where I could run if he got after me. But he had a big smile on his face and I knew that he wasn’t going to hurt me. Foster held up the fish. They were still flopping around on the stringer. Foster asked, “What about it, Rooster? A mess of fresh catfish for $3.” I could tell Rooster was going to buy them but wanted to haggle. He and Foster began to haggle over the price. Foster wound up getting me $6 for all of them.
With money in my pocket I left, promising them that I would bring them some more the next weekend. I remember Foster telling me to never come in the Hollow after dark. He said it “wasn’t no place for a small gentleman.” I was told to always come to his house first. I met a lady who lived there named Edna. Edna was a nice lady who always had a piece of cake for a small starving boy.
I made some friends in Hell’s Hollow but never went there after dark. I know now that Foster and Rooster were selling white whiskey. I saw the police raid them several time while selling my fish. Then we moved from Fourth Ward and I lost sight of the people who had been friends to a small boy. I often wondered what happened to them.