For anyone who knew Leslie (or Daddy, Granddaddy, Mr. Smith, or however you may have known him), this book is a true treasure! Many of us fondly remember growing up, listening to his stories of Brady Branch, Waverly, Buffalo, Blue Creek, Pumpkin Creek, "The Wild Buggy Ride," and all of the stories of the Smith family in the first half of the twentieth century.
One of the things that was simply amazing about him was his unbelievably clear memory. He began writing this book in 1991 on his eightieth birthday, more than five years after his wife Catherine (or "Memama" as we grandchildren knew her) had passed away. To remember so much detail from his the early days of his family was truly remarkable. Most of us have trouble remembering what we were doing last year. Just imagine having the ability to remember what your mother was wearing on a cold day in December over 75 years ago!
For Granddaddy, the process of writing this book brought him both great joy and some sorrow. As he arduously wrote these stories down on his sturdy yellow and white legal pads, he often relived much of the experiences of his early life about which he wrote. As you will read, these stories refer to times of great joy and excitement coupled with episodes of sadness and turmoil. Towards the end of the process of writing this book, when he got into the 1950ís, he began to realize how his parentsí move from Brady Branch to Nashville and the eventual death of his father had affected him. He remembered how much pain Catherine experienced in the early 1950ís with several deaths in her family. And, as he got closer to telling the story of their life with young Ron and Larry on Oakley, the later years at Sears, retirement, Smith Office Supply, Cavershamwood, and more, he did not want to continue. He also felt that this book of memories should focus on the early family history as he experienced it through the times at Brady Branch. With the move of his parents to Nashville, the story of Brady Branch ended.
Leslie "Granddaddy" Smith died on February 16, 1997. He has been missed very much by everyone who was close to him. Fortunately, we will forever have many of his favorite stories right here in this book of his memories.
We should remember him for taking the time to put as much selfless effort in this as he did. As time goes by and as our memories of the family stories begin to fade from our minds, I hope that this book will help to keep us all a little closer as a family, which is what he really wanted to have happen as a result of putting these memories on paper.
And remember, if you ever get a little down, just read the "Wild Buggy Ride" story and remember how he used to tell the story and the laughter that would follow. This will certainly bring a big smile to your face and nothing would have made him any happier that that!
For a long time, my children, grandchildren, and others of my family have urged me to write a history of our family and to record some of the incidents we have talked about so much. So, on my eightieth birthday, March 20, 1991, I decided to do just that.
This is written from memory, along with a lot of help from several people. Jack Simpson, my nephew, has been doing research on our family for a long time and has been most helpful. Also, Margaret Simpson has helped by typing all this work. Thanks to everyone who helped and encouraged me to place these thoughts on paper.
When my mother died in February 1986, she was living in Nashville, Tennessee. Her obituary also appeared in the Waverly, Tennessee News Democrat. She had lived near Waverly in Humphreys County for more than fifty years. As the result of the obituary notice, her first cousin, Archie Dean, surfaced. He had lived in Detroit, Michigan for more than fifty years and had returned to Humphreys County to live at Cuba Landing near Buffalo. We did not even know that he existed. He had grown up with my mother and knew much about both the Williams family and my dadís family. We learned many things from him about the early life of both families.
In writing this history of our family it is not my intention to make a hero of anyone other than my mother and dad, who did their best to raise a family of responsible Christian children. They were wonderful. My mother had to take the lead at all times, as my dad became blind in 1916 when I was five years old. He was a kind man who never downgraded anyone and had many friends. I just wish I could be as good as he was.
There may be some minor discrepancies in some of the dates as listed, but generally the story is true and complete.
Emily Baker Smith, my dadís mother, was the daughter of Emily Penwell (first marriage), who was born and lived in Georgia. Her husband died in about 1845 and left her with four children, William, Elizabeth A., Martha A., and Emily F.
Emily remarried about 1846 to Batley Sweat. Their daughter, Nancy M. Sweat, was born in Georgia. About 1849 Emily and family moved to St. Clair County in Alabama. In 1849 their second child, Emily G, was born. Between 1850 and 1854 Elizabeth A. Penwell married James Baker. They had four children, Emily Baker, born 1855, Matthew, born 1858, Jack, born 1861, and Harvey J., born 1862.
Not much is known about James Baker. I have been told by older family members that he came through St. Clair county Alabama looking for work. He met Elizabeth and they were married. Elizabeth was very pretty and also part Indian.
James was a hard worker and loved Elizabeth and the children. As no one knew much about James, the neighbors started talking about him and rumors were that he was an outlaw hiding out or an Army deserter. Elizabeth said he told her nothing about his family or his past. While these rumors were spreading around, James became restless and worried. One day he came home from work, he said he didnít feel good, he didnít sleep much that night and didnít go to work the next day. About noon he said he was going to the store and that was the last he was ever seen or heard of. That was 2 or 3 months before Harvey was born. After he was born Elizabeth was paralyzed and never walked again .
The neighbors kept the family up during this time. Elizabeth would drag herself out to the garden and tend it the best she could. Between 1865 and 1870, Elizabeth and her family along with members of the Sweat family left Alabama and moved to Hickman county, Tennessee, possibly traveling to Nashville before settling in Hickman County. Grandmother Baker said their move was made by ox cart.
In Hickman county, Emily Baker met Newton Smith and they were married November 8, 1874. Newton and Emily lived in Hickman County until some time between 1890 and 1900, when they moved to the Buffalo community in Humphreys County. Their children were, James B., born May 1879, William E., born March 1881, Orista B., born April 1884, Newton E., born February 1886, Allen, born June 1889, John H., born March 1891, Samuel H., born April 1893, Nora B. born June 1895, Jesse M. born July 1897 and Boots who died as a young boy.
By the early 1900ís, the Newton Smith family had moved from the Centerville area and settled about two miles east of Buffalo in an area called Barron Hollow. Here, they farmed and the children attended the Bodine School from July to December each year.
In 1905 my grandfather, Newton Smith, died, leaving my grandmother, Emily Baker Smith, with teenaged boys and one girl to make a living for themselves. My grandmother was a true pioneer. She was of small stature, weighing less than 100 pounds, but she could get things done. She had a spinning wheel and, I believe, made all the clothes for the younger children. She had her own remedy for most illnesses and made medicine from Calimuss root, Poplar buds, Cherry bark, Mullen tea, Mutton suet, and other sources. She always wore a bonnet when outside of the house. She would sit in her rocking chair on the porch in her bonnet and smoke a clay pipe filled with dried, homegrown tobacco.
The James Pilgrim Williams family also lived near Buffalo about one mile to the west and near the "Slip-off Methodist Church." In 1904, my grandmother, America Dean Williams, died and was thereafter buried at the Williams Cemetery in the Flatwood community. In those days, when the death of a spouse occurred, the survivor would usually remarry after a short while. This was necessary in order to rear the children and help in general with the farm work. So my grandfather was remarried to a woman with children of her own, and the marriage seemed to create a real problem. My mother, Mattie Allene Williams, was twelve years old at the time. Mattie had loved her mother dearly, heartbroken, she could not accept her new stepmother. Her stepmother, perhaps suffering from jealousy, made little effort to ease the situation.
So Mattie Allene Williams ran away from home and went to live with the Morgan Dean family at Buffalo. Morgan Dean was her motherís brother, and a Methodist Minister. They took her in and made her part of the family. As far as I know, her father made no real effort to have her return home. He may have been discouraged by his new wife and by the strong protective feelings of the Deans. My mother lived with the Deans until she married.
At this point I want to explain about the Dean brothers, Morgan and Aaron, and the Buffalo general store commonly known as the "Old Log Store." It was a two story building constructed of logs. The building was large and, in addition to housing the general store, there were three doctorsí offices and the Buffalo Post Office. The second floor was used for meetings, such as community gatherings and Saturday night dances. All the fixtures in the store were made of solid cherry; not a single nail was used. Merchandise sold included groceries, medicines, dry goods, harnesses, hardware, farming tools, kerosene, seeds, plants, and many other items necessary for a large prosperous community.
Because Morgan Dean was a minister, he preached, presided at weddings, conducted funerals, and did anything else a minister is required to do. I understand he would donate a casket if a poor person died and the family could not afford one.
In addition to the "Old Log Store," the Dean brothers, Morgan and Aaron, farmed a vast tract of land at Buffalo. At present, the farm is for sale and is quoted at 800 acres.
It is not known how my mother and dad met. They both attended the Bodine School (at that time it was known as the Bodine Academy), but due to their difference in age (my dad was six years older than my mother), it is doubtful that they met there. They may have met at the "Old Log Store" when my dad came to purchase supplies for the farm. My mother had free run of the store, helping out when she was needed.
It is most likely that they met at the "Slip-off Methodist Church." Archie Dean, my motherís cousin, told me that this was the Sunday meeting place for families and especially young people. Morgan Dean would preach, and after the church service, there were picnics, family get-togethers, and usually a baseball game. Another story says my dad worked for my motherís dad.
I asked Archie Dean what kind of girl my mother was when she was growing up. He said she was normal; that she climbed fences, played ball, and fought with the boys.
My dad courted my mother by riding a mule from Barren Hollow to Buffalo. I donít know how long he courted her. They called it "sparking." So, on August 7, 1907, her fifteenth birthday, they eloped. My dad told me they took a roundabout route from Buffalo to Bakerville to get married. They were in a buggy and had to ford the Buffalo River. He showed me the road and the exact spot where they had to ford the river.
The marriage created a storm and a "family rift" that was never completely healed. My mother was six years younger than my dad; she was fifteen and he was twenty one. But I believe the real problem was the history of Indian blood in my dadís family; this made his family inferior to both the Williams and the Dean families. The rift with the Dean family soon healed, or at least, we never heard anything about it as we grew up. The rift in the Williamsí family involved only my grandfather, James Pilgrim Williams. A later incident made the situation intolerable.
As long as my grandfather lived, my mother loved and spoke kindly of him. She would cry and we would cry with her.
I do not know where my mother and dad lived for the rest of 1907 after their marriage on August 7. It seems reasonable that they returned to my dadís home in Barron Hollow and lived there. By that time, my dad was probably the oldest brother living at home and he was responsible for gathering the fall crops of corn, hay, peanuts, and tobacco. Also, plans would have had to be made for the coming winter, so they may have lived there until the spring of 1908.
In 1908 my parents lived on a rented farm known as "the Parks Place" near Buffalo. I do not know whether or not he still farmed some of the land at his home in Barron Hollow. They lived on the farm for two years, during which time, in early 1909, a baby was born. They named the precious little girl Willie Dee. They were doing very well. My dad was a successful farmer and they had their little family.
There is no evidence that my motherís father, James Pilgrim Williams, was ever reconciled with her family, even though they were relatively close neighbors.
My dad wanted more land to farm, so in the spring of 1910, they moved to a farm on the Buffalo River in the Flatwoods community. This farm was adjoined to the old home place of the Williams family where my motherís grandmother, Martha Murphree Williams, lived. She was a special person. My mother was considered her favorite grandaughter. Because their homes were so close, Martha and Mattie spent much time together. My mother learned much about such things as childcare, general housekeeping, the canning of fruits and vegetables, and the preparation of jams and jellies. Her grandmother was like a mother to her.
Henry and Pearl Williams lived about two hundred yards down the lane toward the main road. Henry was the youngest of the Williams children, and they were about the same age as my mother and dad. They were very close and frequently played pranks on each other. One time Henry was coming by the lane to see my dad about something; the night was dark and he was whistling to bolster his courage. My dad stretched a rope across the road about knee high. When Henry tripped over the rope in the dark and fell to the ground, he made such a noise that he scared a flock of geese. That in turn scared the mules, so they jumped out of the lot and ran away, to be rounded up and brought home two days later. Those were wonderful times for my mom and dad. They had their little family and were expecting another child. It was summer and my dad had a good crop and, with my great grandmother Williams, the Henry Williams family and the other families of the Williams children, love seemed to be everywhere. Fruit was ripe in the orchard and there were plenty of vegetables in the garden. So my mother and her grandmother canned vegetables, dried apples and peaches and, in general, put up food for winter.
It was time for the annual camp meetings that they always looked forward to and enjoyed so much. It did not matter which denomination was involved or who was doing the preaching and singing; the whole community would go. Many times, they had not seen some of the people since the previous year, so it was time for a real get-together.
Then tragedy struck. Their daughter, Willie Dee, at eighteen months, was a typical little girl. She always wanted to help her mother or her great-grandmother, and she especially loved to be teased and played with by her dad and Henry Williams. She became ill on a Sunday afternoon and died the next morning. Doctor Capps, as well as the whole Williams family, was there all night but could not really do anything. The doctor diagnosed her illness as convulsions.
Though her cause of death is unknown, my mother always believed Willie Dee had gotten into some fermented apple juice. My mother and dad were unable to think straight or do anything in their distress. The whole community came together as they always did when a tragedy occurred. The Smiths, the Williams, the Deans, the Bakers, and many others were there to help. As usual, Martha Murphree Williams took charge and handled everything.
The funeral was on Tuesday afternoon. It was a beautiful day; there was not a cloud in the sky. Morgan Dean donated the little pine coffin, and Willie Dee was dressed in her best Sunday dress, a white one. My mother often told me how pretty she was. In those days, there was no funeral home, so all preparations for burial had to be done at the deceased personís home. Flowers were everywhere. The grave had to be dug.
The coffin had to be taken up a relatively steep hill to the Williams cemetery, a distance of about one hundred fifty yards directly north of the Williamsí old home place. A plot near the northeast corner on a gentle slope was selected. This became the location for the graves of her mother and father many years later.
Morgan Dean led the crowd in the singing of two hymns, my motherís favorites, "In the Sweet By and By" and "Nearer My God to Thee." After a prayer, he preached a comforting sermon that was very meaningful to the entire family.
Willie Dee still sleeps in her little grave with the simple marker. Her parents are at her left; her grandparents, America Dean Williams and James Pilgrim Williams, are at her right.
While writing this, the phrase comes to mind, "A little child shall lead them." Willie Deeís death was a terrible blow for my mother and dad, but as my mother told me long after the funeral, it must have been Godís will. She said that after things had settled down, they turned their attention to the new baby that was to come.
The fall of 1910 was a busy time for my mother and dad. They tried desperately to accept the death of Willie Dee and, as a result, turned their attention to the farm work. My dad had a good crop of corn, hay, and peanuts. All of these had to be harvested. The corn and hay had to be stored for the winter and the peanuts had to be taken to market at Sycamore Landing on the Tennessee River.
In those days, neighbors would help each other. It was a cooperative effort. My dad would help Henry Williams and Henry would then help my dad. But the harvesting of peanuts was a different story. Those were the days before the use of mechanical thrashers, and the harvesting or "pea-picking" had to be done manually.
In the late summer, the peanut would be "plowed up" or "dug" with a special plow called a sweep. For drying purposes the vines with peanuts attached would be placed in a stack around a pole eight or nine feet high. A single field could have one hundred stacks or more. In late October or November when the peanuts were thoroughly dry, a pea-picking point would be selected, and with two mules and a sled, the stacks would be brought to this point for picking by hand. Usually the stacks would be placed around the "pea-picking" point to form a shield against the cold wind. Again, this was a community effort as it took many hands to complete the harvest. The peanuts would be bagged in sacks holding about five bushels and taken to the barn for safekeeping until they could be taken to market.
My mother stayed busy with household chores and preparations for the winter. She spent considerable time with her grandmother, helping her with laundry, ironing, etc. More importantly, they talked and made plans for the baby to come, expected to be a girl. Often, they would take flowers up the hill to the cemetery and place them on Willie Deeís grave. My mother was eighteen years old and dearly loved by her grandmother.
Christmas Day, December 25, 1910, was on a Sunday. It was a cold winter day, but you would not know it if you were in the Williamsí home. There was a fireplace at each end of the house and warm fires in both. My mother and her grandmother had been preparing for Christmas throughout the month of December. The house was decorated with green cedar boughs. The silverware was polished, the house clean, and the table linens white as snow. As for the food, there was plenty. This may be an understatement.
At this point, I do not know if all the Williams children came home, but I think most did. I am almost certain my motherís father, James Pilgrim Williams, did not come, but I may be wrong.
In the afternoon, they went up the hill to the cemetery. In addition to Willie Dee, there were other Williams buried there, including my motherís grandfather, William Henry Williams.
While it was a sad Christmas for my mother and dad, they felt the warmth and love that came from the good Christian family of which they were a part.
January of 1911 came with a bang. Along with the cold north wind, there was snow and ice everywhere. Because the pond was frozen solid, my dad had considerable difficulty watering the stock and the chickens and geese. He had to draw water from the well for all of them. Along with having to care for the stock, there was a wood problem. Wood for the fireplace and the kitchen stove had to be brought in and stored. The fire in the fireplace burned continuously, thus there was a continuous need for wood.
The cold lasted for some time and they began to run short of supplies, especially meal. In those days, you had to take a "turn of corn" to the mill and have it ground into meal. A "turn of corn" would usually be about one and a half to two bushels of shelled corn that had been selected from the very best available supply. The miller would charge twenty percent for grinding. He did this by taking a large tin cup, about the size of one quart, and measuring the corn with every fifth cup of corn going into his container for the milling charge. I donít know where my dad had to take the corn for grinding. Buffalo was five miles away, Bakerville was also five miles away, and Hurricane Mills was eight miles away. I do know that Hurricane Mills, because it was powered by water going over a dam, did a tremendous business in grinding both wheat and corn. There was also a general store where all sorts of supplies could be purchased, so I suspect he took his corn to Hurricane Mills.
My mother spent her time doing her regular household chores and planning and waiting for the new baby. Almost every day she would go across the lane to her grandmotherís house. They would talk about many things, but especially about the baby to come. They remade some of Willie Deeís dresses and also made some new ones as they were sure the new baby would be a little girl. They had a good time, and I know her grandmother was a tremendous help to her in bridging the gap between Willie Deeís death and the coming birth. The bond between my mother and her grandmother would last a lifetime.
January finally eased by and the wintertime moderated a little during the last of February. As March came along, it became evident that spring was coming. By the middle of March there were a few plum bushes trying to bloom and their white blooms were a welcome sight after such a rough winter. But my mother and dad had more important things to think about.
So on the first day of spring, March 20, 1911, I was born at 8:30 a.m. It was a cold, frosty morning. Dr. Capps, my great-grandmother, and Henry and Pearl Williams had been there all night. After the doctorís slap, I announced my arrival by squalling as loud as I could. It was evident I had a good pair of lungs. I believe it was this first slap which roused my dislike for Dr. Capps, which I will explain later.
Everyone was so happy, but my mother and grandmother suddenly realized that they had planned for a little girl, and there I was, a little boy. It did not make any difference, and I could and did wear the little dresses anyway; I have a picture of my mother and me as proof. My dad was ecstatic. He had a boy to bring up on the farm and take fishing. Since he grew up with a large family of boys, his son served to restore his youth.
At this point, a rift between my mother and great-grandmother appeared. There was the problem now of selecting a boyís name. My great-grandmother promptly named me John Wesley. My mother, resistant, named me Leslie Gilbert, and made certain the name was registered this way on the birth certificate when it was filed at Buffalo, on March 21, 1911. I do not know why my mother chose the name. There was no Leslie Gilbert in either the Williams or the Smith family. Nevertheless, I was Wesley to my great-grandmother until she died in 1928.
I doubt any child could be loved more than I was from the day I was born. Just as my mother was her grandmotherís favorite granddaughter, I was her favorite great-grandson. Many years later, we corresponded regularly. Her letters were always addressed to Wesley Smith.
Since Henry and Pearl Williams did not have any children, they looked to me as one of their own, and I loved them the same way. When Henry was over ninety years old, he told me how he played with me and took me on his knee. He said he was the worst "youngun ruiner" in the whole area.
Spring went by and summer came. My mother and dad went to show me off to the Deans at Buffalo and Grandmother Smith at Barron Hollow. I was content as long as I had a full stomach and a place to sleep. Grandmother Smith always showed little or no emotion; I was just a "youngun."
Fall came and with it, crop harvests. It had been a good year. My family counted its blessings, and they were many.
At the age of nine months, I walked everywhere, and especially loved to go across the lane to Grandmotherís house. There were so many things to get into.
Christmas Day in 1911 came on a Monday, and there was the usual get-together at the Williamsí old home place. I donít know who came, but I suspect Uncle Henry, Aunt Pearl, Aunt Martha Phebus, Aunt Molly Hagler, Uncle Buck Williams, Uncle John Williams and possibly my grandfather, James Pilgrim Williams were there. It was a great day for the family. My great-grandmother was seventy four years old. It meant so much to her to have her children come home. They all walked up to the cemetery, taking flowers to the graves of father William Henry Williams and great-granddaughter Willie Dee Smith.
We do not know very much about what happened in 1912. My parents never talked about it. It seems that two of my dadís brothers, Lee and Allan, had moved their families to Gibson County, near Humboldt, Tennessee. Leeís brother-in-law, by name of Mayberry, had also moved his family to Humboldt. These families went into the truck farming business.
They wanted my mother and dad to move there. Letters would come to my dad with the glowing reports of big money made on one crop after another. It seems that they would clear three crops or more every year, starting in April with strawberries, followed by cabbage, beets, onions, tomatoes, okra and beans. It was not unusual to clear as much as $500 on strawberries or tomatoes, and $200 on each of the other crops; that was big money in those days. So the word was: move to Gibson county and get rich. My dad failed to consider that his brother Lee had a big family of children; fifteen, I believe, and probably ten were of working age. They would work on the farm as practically free labor. Lee was successful for many years and his sons for many more years.
The letters kept coming, and each one seemed to make the move to Gibson county more enticing. So after a lot of discussion and dreaming and pressure from my dad, they decided to move to Humboldt.
There were many problems to be worked out. My mother did not want to go, but, in those days, the husband was the strong voice in the family; since my dad had made the decision to go, there was not much choice in the matter. It was already fall and the crops had to be harvested and sold. Also, there was the problem of disposing of the farm equipment and stock, mules, hogs, chickens, etc. Henry Williams took most of everything as he was still farming the Williamsí home place along with some additional land. There had to be a final settlement with the landlord. It seemed like the problems were endless.
My great-grandmother and Henry and Pearl Williams objected, but it did not do any good. In the last week of December 1912, we boarded the train at Waverly, bound for a bright future; so my dad thought. It was our first train ride, and both my mother and dad were excited. I was twenty-one months old; I did not have any idea what was going on and did not care.
We arrived in Humboldt in the dead of winter. While waiting for our household things to arrive, we lived with my dadís brother, Lee Smith, and his family. They made us feel at home, but my mother was already a little homesick. She missed the love and support of her grandmother. I was almost two years old, and having the time of my life playing with all those kids.
My dad was busy making plans for the spring. We were to live on a farm about five miles north of Humboldt. It was not a fancy house, but it was in the general area where my dadís brothers were farming. My dad soon learned that truck farming required much planning and a lot of luck. We got moved in and settled and things were going very well. My birthday came along, the big two, but passed almost unnoticed. Too many things were going on.
In the spring of 1913, my dad was twenty-seven years old and my mother was almost twenty-one. They both began picking strawberries with the Lee Smith family. This was the first crop of the spring. Everyone was excited, except my mother. She was not accustomed to working in the field; picking strawberries was backbreaking. So this was truck farming.
Green cabbage was our first crop to be harvested, closely followed by string beans of the bunch-bean variety. Both these crops required backbreaking work, and, with no extra help, my mother and dad had to do the job.
Our biggest crop was tomatoes. Two things had to be done by March fifth or earlier: a hotbed had to be prepared by digging an oblong area six feet wide and twenty feet long. A hotbed was usually about twelve inches deep and framed underground by one inch by twelve inch boards. It was covered by regular windows, which formed a tight kind of hothouse. With the proper mixture of organic fertilizer and regular soil, the bottom of the hothouse was covered to a depth of about three to five inches. This formed the seeding bed and required constant care to keep a constant temperature and prevent freezing. The seeds were planted in this bed and were spread in such a way that the plants would be very thick. The seeding bed was kept moist at all times.
About the first of April, or as weather permitted, the plants were taken from the hotbed and planted individually in what was called a cold frame. The cold frame was sixteen feet wide and forty or fifty feet long. It was constructed in the same manner as the hot bed except above ground with soil banked around it to the top of the twelve inch boards. Covered by a tent made by strips of cloth sewn together, it was about six feet high in the middle. If the weather turned cold, this tent could be covered with straw; if it turned warm, the tent could be raised on each side.
The transferring of the tomato plants from the hot bed to the cold frame was another backbreaking job. Containers four inches square and four inches deep were placed side by side to cover the entire area. Each square contained an individual plant, placed in a mixture of fertilizer and soil. When this job was finished, the whole area was covered with growing tomato plants. These plants required constant care, day and night, to regulate temperature and moisture.
In the meantime, the field where the tomatoes were to be grown had to be prepared and readied for the transfer of the plants from the cold frame. The plants were placed in rows about thirty inches apart. Then a wooden stake was driven next to each plant, and the plant tied securely to the stake. The plants would grow so fast they would have to be tied in this manner every week. Also, the plants had to be "suckered." All the branches were pulled off except two main ones right below the first fruit pod. This also had to be done weekly to insure a strong healthy plant and produce the best tomato.
The soil had to be worked constantly, usually plowing three times a week to keep it loose and to preserve the moisture. When the first tomatoes were mature enough to be pulled and taken to market sometime in late June, they were not allowed to ripen, but had to be pulled when they were a pasty white or had a little tinge of pink. Then they were taken to the packing shed in Humboldt, inspected, and packed in cartons for shipping. They would ripen on the way to market. The tomato harvest would be complete by the third week in July and the ground would be prepared for a new crop, possibly beans.
All this detail is given on the growing of tomatoes to point out the many problems involved especially in those days. Today, with modern equipment and facilities, it would be different.
In late summer, a violent storm occurred. My mother said it was a cyclone, but I suspect it was a tornado. With tremendous thunder, lightning, and wind, it destroyed many homes, barns, and other farm buildings. It also wiped out many crops, including that of Allen Smith, my dadís brother. His home was destroyed, and his wife, my Aunt Mary, and her baby barely escaped by running through the opening where the chimney had stood. Mary ran across a cotton field at the height of the storm, carrying her small baby to our house, which had been spared.
The storm occurred at night and even though I was only two years and five months old, I remember how scared we were. Fortunately, our house was not seriously damaged. We were lucky. Nevertheless, this storm was the crowning blow. My mother had always been afraid of storms and this was the worst one she had ever experienced. So she said, "Enough is enough - we are going back to Humphreys County even if we have to walk."
Fall came and my mother and dad picked our cotton and harvested all other crops, at the same time making plans to return to Humphreys County. I do not know how they managed it or if they made any money from the Humboldt adventure. I do not know the exact date of our return, but I do remember seeing the big engine of the train in which we were to ride home.
One other thing I remember about Humboldt; we lived next door to the Barker family, the owners of our farm. They had an eight-year-old boy, and he had a bicycle. I would watch him ride his bicycle, wishing I could ride it.
My motherís grandmother, Martha Ann Williams, strong and individualistic, was truly the matriarch of the Williams family. As mentioned earlier in these notes, my mother was her favorite granddaughter and I was her favorite great-grandson.
Martha Ann Murphree was born in 1837 and died in 1928. She married William Henry Williams, who was born in 1824 and died in 1898. She bore eleven children: Annette (born 1863), William D (1865), Ann (1867), Martha (1869), twins Pora and Molly (1870), Henry Alford (1871), John (1875), Alice (1878), Buck (?), and Mary (?).
The Williamsí farm consisted of several hundred acres in the Flatwoods community in southern Humphreys County. It was located on a main road leading east to Buffalo and north toward Waverly. The farm extended from this road westward about two miles to the Buffalo River. Part of the farm consisted of fifty acres of virgin timber. We do not know when William and Martha Ann Williams settled on this farm, nor do we know when they were married. It must have been in the late 1850ís or early 1860ís, as their first child was born in 1863.
The house was a sprawling structure built of logs and heavy timbers. It was one story with a chimney on both the east and west ends. I believe the kitchen was at the northwest corner and had a door opening onto the porch toward the well. I believe the house had three bedrooms, two on the east and one at the southwest corner. The dining room was adjacent to the kitchen on the north side of the house. I believe the floors were made of wide planks of white poplar. Incidentally, these floors, after being mopped once each week with suds from homemade Merry War Lye Soap, shone like new money. You did not have to worry about bugs of any kind. If I remember correctly, there was a covered porch eight or nine feet wide all the way across the north side of the house. This porch was used for storage, especially firewood in the wintertime. The house was surrounded on three sides, north, east, and west, by a large orchard of fruit trees, apple, peach, pear, and plum. The roof was made with white oak shingles that had been handmade from fine white oak. There were many flowers, and my great-grandmotherís favorites were hawthorne, or japonica as we know it, hollyhocks, roses, tulips, daffodils, and other spring flowers.
There was a utility or smokehouse to the west of the well that was used for curing meat, storing canned fruit, and other things.
Looking through the eyes of a child, the old home place appeared to be gargantuan. It may not have really been that big.
My great-grandfather, William Henry Williams, fought in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier. We do not know his exact unit, but we feel he may have been with a unit out of Bakerville, Sycamore Landing, and Cuba Landing, that patrolled a stretch of the Tennessee River from Cuba Landing to the north of Duck River, a distance of about fifteen miles. Their purpose was to scout and harass the Federals, as the Tennessee River was a major route of transportation for supplies and material going to East Tennessee and Chattanooga.
It was learned that a unit of the Federal Army was advancing southward toward the Flatwood Community, burning homes and confiscating food and equipment and any other property that was loose. Panic spread everywhere.
At that time, my great-grandmother was running the farm even though she was a young person, about twenty to twenty-two years old. She had no children of her own, but some of her brotherís or William Henry Williamsí family members lived with her. She must have had help with the responsibility of running the farm. When the news came that the Federals were coming and destroying everything, she took the family and loaded food and as many other supplies as possible and moved the whole household along a trail about two miles west to a secluded cave on Buffalo River. They took all the stock and tools that they could handle. This strategy had been planned in advanced. I suspect that William Henry Williams had a big part in planning it before he entered the Confederate Army.
They had just moved when the Federals came. They took everything that was loose and proceeded to wreck everything else. All of the windows were broken, the well was contaminated, and the doors were ripped off their hinges, but they did not burn the house. My great-grandmother said she did not understand why it wasnít burnt, as so many other homes in that area were.
While my great-grandmother was heartsick, she said it made her more determined to go ahead and try to keep her farm going. All this must have happened in the spring during the six months when they lived on the Buffalo River. The boys would go back and forth to and from the farm to oversee, inspect, and plan. During the summer they had a good supply of fruit, as the orchard had not been damaged by the Federals.
Because things were relatively quiet by late fall, they began to move back home. In the meantime, under my great-grandmotherís direction, the house had been repaired, so it was habitable at least. With the well cleaned, they had water. They brought the stock back and things began to get back to normal. By Christmas they had much to be thankful for.
Later, however, tragedy struck. An eighteen-month-old baby died. We do not know for sure, but this may have been my great-grandparentsí firstborn. At a loss, they made a little coffin out of boards and took the baby up the hill, one hundred and fifty yards to the north, and buried her beneath two cedar trees. That little grave was the first in what was to become Williamsí Cemetery. A seventeen-year-old girl died and was buried beside the babyís grave. We do not know who she was.
Today, it is a big cemetery with many Williamsí graves, including William Henry Williams and Martha Ann Williams, my great-grandparents and my great-great-grandparents, Evan Williams and Elizabeth Ann Flowers Williams. There are also countless other families represented: Smith, Baker, Bowen, Phebus, etc.
My great-grandmother was a real lady. She wore white all the time and asked that she be buried in white. Before my great-grandfather died in 1898, he had deeded the cemetery property to Humphreys County. My great-grandmother lived until 1929 when she was eighty-nine years old. She was living with her son, Buck Williams, in Sheffield, Alabama, but was brought back to her beloved Flatwood and buried beneath the cedar trees next to her husband, William Henry Williams. She was dressed in solid white.
Because my mother and dad were both homesick for Middle Tennessee and anxious to once again be settled in Humphreys County, we returned in December of 1913. My mother was expecting another child and she wanted a place to call home. Whatever happened, life was exciting for me, for I was coming up to my third birthday. There was no fanfare about our return and no one met us at the station. I do not know where we stayed for the first month we were back. We could have stayed any one of several places: with my dadís mother Emily Smith, my motherís grandmother Williams, or, most likely, Henry and Pearl Williams. This seems to be the most logical place as my mother and dad had been so close to them when we lived near them two years earlier. We could have spent Christmas with Great-grandmother Williams and all the Williams clan.
My dad immediately started trying to rent farmland for the coming year. He had the help of Henry Williams, Math Baker, and possibly his brothers, Tad and Ely. My dad had a good reputation as a farmer but he just needed to get settled down. He immediately rented a considerable amount of land on the John Daniel farm in Cherry Bottom.
Cherry Bottom was and still is a beautiful area of farmland, possibly several thousand acres, bordering the Buffalo River for about four miles on the east. To the west, there are beautiful hills and valleys. There was a thriving village set on the western edge of Cherry Bottom by name of Bakerville. It had two general merchandise stores, a bank, a blacksmith shop, the U.S. Post Office, three doctors, and a weekly newspaper. It also had two churches, Church of Christ and Methodist.
In January of 1914, we moved into a small community about three fourths of a mile south of Bakerville. The families there were the Bob Jacksons, the Roy Dreadens, and the Fred Marrs. We moved into a recently built, three room, as yet unoccupied house about one hundred yards south of the Bob Jacksons. There was a steep hill on each side. I suspect my dad, with family help, may have built this house after renting land from Mr. Daniels. I believe the Bob Jackson family was connected with the Daniels family. Possibly Mrs. Jackson was a daughter.
I remember that my dad, with help, had to cut trees and blast out the stumps with dynamite so we could have a garden. I was terribly afraid of the blasting and the loud sounds.
The Jacksons did not have any children, so they took us in and were especially good to us. Mrs. Jackson spoiled me by giving me cookies, reading, and telling me stories. Also, she would have me visit with her so my mother could have some rest. Bob Jackson also spent a lot of time with me. He would ride a mule holding me in front, and this was exciting. They were extra good neighbors, always sharing and being concerned about us.
Winter slowly passed and my mother and dad prepared for spring. My dad was anxiously getting everything ready so he could start plowing as soon as the ground would permit. Spring arrived on my birthday, March 20, but I do not remember having a birthday party. My mother was too busy preparing for the baby to come. She spent a lot of time with Ann Jackson for moral support. Ann Jackson did not have any children but was good company and help.
Wednesday, April 16, came and was a beautiful day. Spring was everywhere, and no place in Humphreys County is more beautiful that Cherry Bottom in full bloom. I spent most of the day with Bob Jackson. He not only let me ride the mule, but he even let me ride in the farm wagon and hold the reins to drive the mules. When he took me home in the afternoon, there was a pretty little baby girl. Dr. Capps had delivered her while I was away. Of course she was my sister, Effie Mae. I was so proud. Now I would have someone to play with. Ann Jackson spent a lot of time helping my mother for the next few days. I tried to help also, but I am sure I was more trouble than anything else.
Summer came, and my dad had a fine crop. He was working from sunup to sundown six days a week. My mother was busy with my sister and me, yet she still had time to can fruit and vegetables for winter. Even though we did not have an orchard, she was told to get all the fruit she wanted from the Jackson orchard. We spent several Sundays visiting my great-grandmother Williams and my grandmother Smith (this was the time I remember going to see Grandmother Smith at my dadís old home place in Barron Hollow.) I always wanted to show everybody how big I was since I was three years old. Occasionally, my dad would go fishing with his brother Ely. They would go on Buffalo River and usually had good luck.
1914 was a good year for our family. We did not see Dr. Capps after Effieís April 16 birth. That suited me fine. I did not like him at all, with his bad tasting medicine and his suggestion that I needed a little "peachtree tea," a euphemism for a little switching with a peachtree limb. This was his way of teasing me.
My dad had raised a bumper crop of peanuts, hay, and corn and the harvest was coming along fine. Fall was beginning in Cherry Bottom and it was a magic time. There was a special aroma in the air of the harvest and the anticipation of winter to come. We began to see "V" shaped droves of wild geese and ducks flying high in the sky headed south. Cherry Bottom was a regular flyway for wild geese and ducks migrating from Canada to the southern part of the United States. Sometimes we would see two or more droves high in the air at the same time. Sometimes we would hear their honking at night as they were flying over. This sounded weird and made me feel afraid.
As the weather turned cool, my mother began to complain about how cramped we were in the little three room house. She said that as my sister Effie and I grew, we would need a yard and more space. So my dad arranged with Mr. Daniels for us to move into a bigger house for the coming year. At the same time, he arranged for considerably more land to cultivate.
Christmas in 1914 was a quiet one for us. With the baby and the bad weather, it was difficult to go anywhere. Going on my fourth birthday, I had my first introduction to Santa Claus. Santa brought bananas and raisins and a small package of fine crackers for my dad.
Early in January 1915 we moved to a bigger house, about one hundred yards south of the Bob Jackson place. Although this house has changed somewhat, it sill stands today, seventy-six years later. It was a one story structure with a chimney at both the north and south ends. It was a large house with a large kitchen and eating area and two large bedrooms. It also had a big porch in front and another just off the kitchen in back. It had a good size smokehouse and utility room. There was an orchard with apple, peach, and plum trees just north of the house. North of that was the barn and the barn lot. I do not remember exactly where the garden was, but I believe it was in the orchard area. At last we had a real home. Things were looking good. I had my own bedroom. I believe Effieís little bed was in the room with my mother and dad. Later, her bed was transferred to my room for a short time but was moved back, as we had a hired hand, Dallas Swan, who shared my room. What I did not know at that time was that a man had shot himself in that room and there were blood stains all over the floor. There was a well at the Southeast corner of the yard, and close by the wall was a mulberry tree. We did not have a telephone or electricity.
I had found some new friends, the Dreaden boys - three little boys about three to five years old. They lived about one hundred fifty yards north of us toward Bakerville. They came to our house almost every day and sometimes my mother would feed them lunch. They were good neighbors, but not as good as the Bob Jacksons. We had the usual farm animals Ė two mules, one cow, chickens, and a flock of geese. The geese we used in place of a lawnmower because they ate grass and young weeds. I was scared of the geese. They would peck my legs and chase me into the house.
I was approaching my fourth birthday when spring broke out all over. The scene is almost indescribable. The plum trees began to bloom, followed by the peach trees. Two weeks later the apple trees bloomed. On the hillsides there were hundreds of dogwoods and redbud trees in bloom. In the garden we began to get green onions, mustard greens, and lettuce.
My dad would leave for the field at daybreak and got back home after dark. There was much to be done to prepare the land for planting, and he always tried to take advantage of the good weather. Things were going well.
The Liberty Methodist Church at Bakerville held Sunday services, and since my mother had a strong Methodist background, we attended regularly. If the weather was good, we would walk with my dad carrying Effie, who was nearing her first birthday. The thing I remember most about Liberty Methodist Church was the crying baby choir. The church had no nursery facilities, so the mothers held their babies. Out of a congregation of one hundred or more people, there would usually be eight to twelve young babies. As soon as the preacher started his sermon, a baby would start crying. This was the starting signal. Others joined in and sometimes it seemed all of them were squalling. The mothers would feed the babies, and since this was before the day of the baby bottle, they were all breast fed. The preacher kept right on preaching and he never missed a word. My sister, Effie, performed well in the group of babies. Sometimes she was the loudest one. Another incident I remember about the church was a weekend that my dadís cousin, William Baker, was visiting us. He helped me get dressed, and purposely put my shoes on the wrong feet. My mother discovered this after the service had started. I was sitting on the front pew swinging my feet with my shoes on wrong. Between my shoes and Effieís squalling, my mother just about lost her religion.
Summer came on, and what a summer! We had an abundance of June apples, peaches, and plums. My mother was busy canning fruit and vegetables for the winter. My dad realized he was trying to farm too much land, so he hired a young man by name of Dallas Swan. He seemed real old to me Ė I guess he was about twenty. He would take up time with me and take me places. He had a kind of harp (I think it was a zither) and he would play for us at night. I sure wanted to get hold of that zither, but he said, "no!"
Late summer and fall came and my dad was so busy cutting and bailing hay and digging peanuts that we hardly ever saw him in the daytime. When crops are ready for harvest, there is no fooling around. Time is important. When the harvest was over, Dallas Swan left us and we never heard from him again. I will always remember Dallas Swan and his zither.
I did not get a visit from Dr. Capps that summer. He would ride by on his horse, wave, and say something, but he definitely was not my best friend. I was always afraid he was going to leave another baby. He really was a wonderful doctor and served the Bakerville area for many years. His son became a doctor and has served a long time at Waverly.
Late fall arrived, and we began to see the droves of wild geese and wild ducks flying south over Cherry Bottom. Their honking and quacking was a sure sign that cold weather was coming.
I do not remember Christmas, 1915, but I am sure it was a quiet one since my sister Effie was only one year and eight months old. It is most likely we did not go anywhere. Travel by a two-horse wagon was rough in winter.
1916 arrived on a Saturday. It was a cold day with a strong north wind that seemed to blow all the time during the winter. My dad had gone down to the Bakerville general store to get some supplies. A good fire was burning in the fireplace. My mother was busy in the kitchen. We could not possibly dream of all the things that would happen this year, good and bad. I would have my fifth birthday, and my sister, Effie, would become two years old. I was busy asking questions such as where did we get the wood for the fireplace, or how big would I be on my birthday. I guess I was beginning to get the "smarts." I could count to a hundred and I knew the alphabet. I must have driven my mother mad asking so many questions.
At the time of my birthday, spring was showing everywhere. My mother baked a little cake and we invited the Dreaden boys for cake and apple juice. My sister Effieís birthday was celebrated quietly by our own family.
In the warm days of spring we played outside next to the public road that was about fifty yards from the house. One day we were out there with the Dreaden boys, when we saw this thing coming, without any horses or mules pulling it. It made a lot of noise and seemed to be breathing smoke. It was going about as fast as a good horse and buggy would go. We had never seen anything like that before. It went up the road and then came back and stopped right in front of us. We saw that it was one of the Bone boys, and he had just acquired an automobile. So he said, "Come on, get in and take a ride." I said, "No siree, you are not going to get me in that thing." He kept on talking so finally, the oldest Dreaden boy, Earl, said that he would try it. He enjoyed it so much that before the day was over all of us had taken a short ride in the 1916 Ford automobile. If I remember correctly, it was a one seater; a roadster with a space behind the seat. It did not have a top, or if it did, it was not attached that day. That was my introduction to the automobile. In those days, country roads were not good for automobiles. They were dusty in dry weather and ankle deep in mud when it rained. Also, horses and mules were so scared of these contraptions, it took all the power a man could muster when they met one.
Another incident happened in late spring that deserves mentioning. Somewhere south of our place, possibly several miles, lived an eccentric old lady. Let me say right here that I mean no disrespect in mentioning her. She was well known and recognized throughout the area. Sometimes she would come down the road dressed in a long, black dress carrying a sack and a long stave or cane. Sometimes she would have a boy about twelve years old with her. She had no visible means of support, so she would ask for handouts: sugar, coffee, eggs, or any kind of food that was available. If a family was not home, she would go in and help herself. In these days no one had locks on his doors, so if a person was not at home, she would have a field day. When we saw her coming, we would yell, "Sack is coming!" Then we would make a run for the house. One time when we were away, probably gone to church, she cleaned us out taking sugar, coffee, eggs and some jellies. My mother did not notice it until the next morning when she started to fix breakfast. She was fit to be tied. Also, Sack was deathly afraid of storms. In rain or wind storms, she would stop at the nearest farmhouse and could not be gotten rid of until the storm was over. I never knew what finally happened to her.
Another springtime incident that affected our lives involved my grandfather, James Pilgrim Williams, and my motherís youngest sister, Mary. It seems that, as a teenager, Mary was secretly seeing a boy that she liked. Her dad found out about it, whipped her, and forbade her to see the boy again. She ran away from home and showed up at our house, where she stayed about a week before her dad came after her. He was going to whip her again and take her home. My mother and dad tried to talk to him, but that seemed to make the situation worse. He decided he would take her by force. My dad calmly picked up a fire poker and told him to get going or he would knock his head off, and to never show his face around there again. We were all crying, and the irony of the thing is that Mary finally went back home and later married another boy.
This incident simply widened the rift in our family that had existed since my mother ran away from home and married my dad. We had no contacts with my grandfather, even though we loved him and wished we could really have a grandfather. Years later he would ride by on his horse, but he would always turn so that his back was toward us. It just broke my motherís heart, and we would all cry with her. Then, in 1926, his mother, Martha Ann Williams, died and was brought back to Flatwoods and the Williams Cemetery for burial. We attended the funeral. My mother tried desperately to talk to him, but he refused to speak to her and ignored us altogether. Many years later, I learned that he had moved to west Tennessee and was living near the highway I traveled from Memphis to Waverly. I stopped by and introduced myself to him and his family. I had my wife with me, and I had no idea what would happen or how he would accept me. The old man was like a kitten. He seemed delighted to see me and wanted to know all about my family and what I was doing. Also, he wanted to know about my mother and the rest of the family. He was so glad I stopped by that he insisted I stop by every time I made the trip. He seemed like the grandfather I always wanted. What a shame that he had deprived himself, my mother, and her children, of the love that could have been. I never saw him again. He died within a few months and was taken back to Flatwood, Williams Cemetery for burial right next to America Dean Williams, his first wife, and little Willie Dee Smith, his first granddaughter.
Another interesting thing happened in 1916. My dad needed a part for some of his equipment and some supplies that were not available at Bakerville. Also he would get merchandise from the general stores at Bakerville. So he took me with him to Waverly. We went in a wagon drawn by two mules. There was a wagon seat attached by springs near the front, and it made the ride easy even though the roads were rough. It was big day for me. We got up real early and were ready to leave by four oíclock. It was about twelve miles to Waverly, and it was a long dayís ride to make the round trip. We went across Cherry Bottom and Buffalo River and turned north toward Waverly at Camp Branch. There was a bad place in the road two miles north of Flatwood. The mud was so deep that two mules could not pull an empty wagon through it. An old farmer kept his mules with harness on at all times to help wagons get through this mud. He charged fifty cents and had a good business. We went on across the Duck River Bridge. We passed some Indian mounds, and my dad talked to me about Indians. There were few bridges, so we forded Pumpkin Creek and Blue Creek and then crossed Brady Branch three times. Since my dadís brother, Tad Smith, and his family lived near Blue Creek, we stopped and visited with them for a while. They were amazed at how big I was, or at least they said so. We again turned north on the old Ridge Road, proceeding about four miles to Waverly. I had never seen so many interesting things. I kept pointing and saying "Papa, see that, Papa, see that" so my dad said, "Quit pointing or people will think we are from the sticks." Well, the truth was, we were from the sticks, about as far out as you could get. My dad started immediately on his chores and was still going strong when lunchtime came. We ate lunch at Burt Runionís Grocery Store. It was a stand up deal and consisted of bologna, cheese, pickles, and crackers by the handful. This was a wonderful lunch, and I think it cost a quarter for both of us. It was a popular place. There were a lot of people there, eating, talking, and laughing. It made me feel real big. By early afternoon, everything had been taken care of and we were ready to start back home. We had a barrel of flour, fifty pounds of sugar, a fifty-pound container of shortening or lard, and other staples, such as coffee, spices, etc. Also, my dad had bought a new pair of overalls for me.
So we started back to Cherry Bottom. We took the old Ridge Road about two miles and turned left on Mill Hollow Road to go by my Grandmother Smithís farm. She was glad to see us. A little accident happened here. The white clapboard house was built in an "L" shape. So a barrel had been placed in the "L" corner to catch rainwater. My grandmother said that rainwater was soft water and was good for washing clothes. The regular water that came from a spring about one hundred yards away was hard water and did not lather very well. There was a porch around this area of the house and a post supporting the roof adjacent to the barrel. I was swinging around the post when my hand slipped and I fell into the barrel of water. After the excitement, my grandmother ironed my little shirt dry and I put on my new overalls. There was no more swinging around the post. My grandmother said, "Younguns will be younguns." She gave me some cookies and everything was fine. This was her day for baking, so she sent my mother a loaf of freshly baked bread. We left and picked up the main road at Blue Creek, where my dadís brother lived, heading for Cherry Bottom. I was one tired little boy. Long before sundown, I curled up and went to sleep on some cracker sacks that my dad fixed on the wagon seat. He covered me with another cracker sack and the next thing I knew we had arrived home and my mother was yelling, "Here they come! What took you so long?" What a day! I will never forget it.
Another incident happened in the summer of 1916 that I remember quite well. It was July and time for school to start. I was five years old and two of the Dreaden boys were older and ready to start school. They wanted me to start also. I began to pressure my mother to let me go to school. Normally you have to be six years old to start school, but since I could count to a hundred and knew the alphabet, my mother and dad let me start. The school was about a mile south of us and in a flat area about one hundred yards off the highway. It was called "Happy Hollow School." The teacherís name was Miss Grimsley. It was a one room school for eight grades. My first encounter with Miss Grimsley was not a good one. I was going to show her that I could print my name "Leslie" and I was doing it with the pencil in my left hand. I am naturally left handed. She said, "Little boy, donít you know you donít write with your left hand? Now take that pencil and put it in your right hand, and donít let me catch it in your left hand again." Of course, I could not print with my right hand. Miss Grimsley did not know that some psychologists say that forcing a left-handed child to write right handed will affect that childís personality. That may be what has been wrong with me all these years. So when recess came, I bailed out, went home, and did not go back.
In the latter part of July my mother took Effie and me to visit her aunt, Martha Phebus, whom she called by her nickname, "Aunt Pig." She lived about a quarter of a mile east of the Buffalo River Bridge, just before the highway forked with one road leading toward Buffalo and the other leading toward Flatwoods and north to Waverly. I suspect that my dad dropped us off there when he was going to Waverly, as I know we stayed all day and into the night. I loved to visit "Aunt Pig." There were so many interesting things. Camp Branch ran right in front of the house and was full of minnows and small sun perch fish. I spent quite a bit of time fishing with a bent pin on a string. About the middle of the morning, this itinerant photographer came by and wanted to make a picture of Effie and me for twenty cents. "Aunt Pig" dug up twenty cents and he proceeded to take our picture. It took quite a while. Effie got restless and decided she did not want to cooperate. With a little help from "Aunt Pig" and my mother, we were ready and he flashed the contraption. When we got the picture, Effie was standing there with her finger in her mouth. That was a prize picture, but it has finally deteriorated and disappeared.
Later that day I got into some half grown green apples. I believe I ate two or three, but that was all I needed. We went back home that night, and within a couple of days, I began to have chills. They were hard chills. One would come on in the afternoon and last for several hours. We had to have my old friend, Dr. Capps, give me some terrible medicine, quinine, I think. He came by several times and was always talking about "peachtree tea." He said that was what I needed.
Dr. Capps really was a good doctor. He treated the sick regardless of whether or not he would be paid. And he was loved by the whole community.
One day in the latter part of August, Mrs. Dreaden invited Effie and me to come down and stay all day. Her children and some others were there. We had a good time. When we went home in the late afternoon, there was a blue-eyed blonde baby girl. I was really upset. Dr. Capps had been there and left another little girl. I cried and wanted to know why he did not leave a baby brother. Well, this was Annie, and I grew to love her right away. Dr. Capps would still ride his horse down the road and tease me but he never had to visit our house again.
Ann Jackson came down to see the new baby and to help my mother. She was really a good neighbor. She said that Bob was busy making sorghum molasses and that she would give us some if I would bring a pitcher down later that afternoon. Nothing tastes like new sorghum molasses which was a substitute for sugar and a staple food for almost all farm families. It was used a great deal in baking cookies and cakes. Sorghum cane, much like sugar cane, was a pithy type cane full of sweet juice. It usually matured in the fall prior to the first frost. The cane was stripped of all foliage with a large knife, then cut and taken to a community sorghum mill. There were usually one or two mills with one or two specialists in each community, each with a different method and reputation, who knew how to make sorghum molasses. The cane had to be fed into a crusher which included two vertical rollers connected in such a way as to roll in opposite directions. This was powered by a long pole connected to the top of the crusher and pulled by a mule going round in a circle. Juice from the crusher went into a barrel for storage until it was time to transfer it to the cooking pan, a large flat pan about four by eight feet with several divided compartments. The pan was placed over a fire in a pit of the same size. The raw juice was put in the first compartment, and after a specified period, pushed into the next compartment. This process was repeated until it was in the last compartment where the cooking was finished and the molasses drained into a gallon bucket. The molasses cooker had to know his business. There were swarms of bees and yellow jackets around these operations. We questioned whether or not the operations were sanitary, but by the time the juice goes through the cooking process it is sterile.
But let me get back to my story. My mother gave me a small pitcher and told me to go up to the Jacksonís and collect molasses from Ann Jackson. I went as directed. Ann filled the pitcher, and I started back home. About halfway, I stopped to sample the molasses. I sampled again and again until the pitcher was empty. So I took it back to Ann Jackson and told her that I had spilled the first one. So she said, "I see you did. Looks like you spilled most of it on your face." So she filled the pitcher again and said, "I will go with you this time so you wonít spill it again."
It was late summer and my dad was working feverishly trying to get his crops harvested. On this particular day, I was to take his lunch, or dinner, as we called it, out to him and we were to eat together. He was plowing and stacking peanuts to await their harvest. My mother had fixed fried chicken and biscuits, corn on the cob, cookies, and a cup of new molasses. She had fixed plenty and packed it in a gallon bucket. I started out and had gone nearly the entire way when I was waylaid by a teenage boy, by name of Stanfield. He wanted to know what was in the bucket and I told him. He grabbed the bucket and ran. By the time I got to my dad the boy had eaten the contents of the bucket. My dad was fit to be tied. He took a pea stick and whipped the boy unmercifully. My dad and I had to go back to the house about a mile away, where instead of eating fried chicken, we had left overs.
The fall season of 1916 was a hectic one. My dad worked almost seven days a week to get all his crops harvested. He was having trouble with his eyes. The stress of the farm was really getting to him. He told me in later years about how he felt that a cloud covered his eyes. Since his dad had been blind, he knew what this meant. It was frightening. He went to Dr. Capps in Bakerville, and finally to a doctor in Waverly; possibly Dr. W. W. Slayden. Arrangements were made for him to see Dr. Solomon, a well known eye doctor in Nashville. In the middle of December, when he felt that everything was in good shape on the farm, he went to Nashville to see Dr. Solomon. He was placed in a hospital. I do not know which one. His brother, Tad Smith, was with him in Nashville. Another brother, Hiram, may have been with him. Dr. Solomon performed surgery on my dadís eyes and, from what my dad told me in later years, it was something like cataract surgery. But this was well before modern cataract surgery as we know it.
While he was gone, we had all kinds of help from our neighbors: the Jacksons, the Dreadens, and the Marrs. They took care of our stock and saw to it that we had plenty of wood, groceries, and so forth. We heard almost every day from Nashville by long distance to Bone store in Bakerville. The word came that he was being released from the hospital on December 24 and would arrive in Waverly on the 4:06 train Saturday afternoon, Christmas Eve. I will never know how we got to Grandmother Smithís house on December 23 and spent the night there. I suspect we had help from one of our neighbors. So, on Christmas Eve, we went to Waverly with my dadís brother Jesse, to meet the 4:06 train out of Nashville. We were so excited we could hardly stand it. When the train came to a stop and we saw him ready to get off, we almost went into shock. His brothers Tad and Hiram were literally carrying him down the steps as I stood up on the platform. His face from his mouth to the top of his head was solid bandage. He could not see a thing Ė not even light. We all started crying, my mother, Effie, and I. Annie, only four months old at the time, had been left with Grandmother Smith, who did not come to meet the train. Tad, Hiram, and my dad tried to calm us down by telling us that things were going to be all right, but we had this terrible feeling that things were not going to be all right. I remember being so scared that I did not say a word. Jesse, Tad, and Hiram helped my dad into the wagon and wrapped a blanket around him to keep him warm. The rest of us got in the wagon, and with Jesse driving, we started through Waverly and on to Grandmother Smithís house. She did not have much to say when we got there. She had been busy keeping Annie and trying to bake cookies. One thing I remember about Grandmother Smith, she was always baking something.
We had very little Santa Claus that year. Hiram had bought some candy, cookies, and mixed nuts in Nashville, and he put that out for us. Grandmother had baked several kinds of molasses cookies, and on the next day, Christmas, we had plenty to eat. It was a quiet day. We were worrying about the future. What was going to happen to us? My dad was optimistic. He was determined that he would be able to see.
On Monday, Hiram and Jesse drove us home to Cherry Bottom. They talked a great deal on the way, about how, if the worst came to the worst, we could live with them. Most of the talking was done by Hiram, who was always close to my dad. When we arrived home Hiram and Jesse built fires in both fireplaces to heat the whole house. They also checked on the stock to make sure they were fed and then they returned home.
My dad was determined not to be blind. He remembered his fatherís blindness very well and said it would not happen to him. But he did some things that caused his condition to worsen. Even though he had been told by the doctor in Nashville to leave the bandages on his eyes and positively to stay inside the house, he did not cooperate. On Tuesday, against all advice and pleading from my mother, he took off the bandages and walked down to Bone store at Bakerville to get some tobacco. It was a cold windy day and by the time he returned home, he had a terrific headache and his eyes were swelling. That night his eyes swelled closed and the pain was almost unbearable. Several people were at our house and someone suggested a slippery elm poultice to draw out the swelling and ease the pain. At midnight, two of the men went to a slippery elm tree near Sycamore Landing and got enough bark to do the job. It made the situation worse. My dad lost one eye completely and about eighty to eighty-five percent of the other eye. We will never know what really happened, but my dad had to live the rest of his life without his vision. In later years he was stone blind in both eyes. But he had a wonderful mind. In later years, he could calculate math problems in his head faster than I could with pencil and paper.
One beautiful memory I have of Cherry Bottom is my mother rocking me by myself, Effie with me, or Effie, Annie, and me, while singing old Methodist songs like "In the Sweet By and By" and "Nearer My God to Thee." She had a strong Methodist background and never forgot it.
Once during the summer of 1916, my dad took me cane pole fishing on Buffalo River. I caught one little catfish about six inches long. Because we did not have a stringer, my dad cut a fork out of a Willow tree to use as a stringer. We took the little fish home and cleaned him out by the well. My mother cooked the little fish for me. In the meantime, I stuck the Willow fork into the ground. Some fifteen years later I was there. It had lived and grown into a large willow tree.
New Yearís Day 1917 was a dreary one. My mother and dad were depressed and wondering what to do. It was obvious that we could not farm that year, though I was almost six and kept telling my dad that I was big enough to do farm work. There was the problem of giving up the land he had rented from John Daniel. What should we do? My dadís eyes were not getting better.
Grandmother Smith, with my dadís brothers, Hiram and Jesse, came to see us. Grandmother asked us to move in with them. This seemed to be the only solution to our problem, even though it would be a crowded arrangement. The brothers would rent additional land and plant peanuts for additional income. They would use my dadís equipment. My dad promised to buy an extra mule.
Early in January we said goodbye to Cherry Bottom, the Jacksons, the Dreadens, and the Marrs, and moved to my grandmotherís house, three and one half miles southwest of Waverly. It was a white clapboard house consisting of three bedrooms, a kitchen, and an eating space. There was a wide porch in an "L" shape on the north side. The house was located about two hundred feet from the highway fork leading either to the Forks of the River community, Flatwoods and Buffalo, or Cold Branch and Cherry Bottom. Any of the three roads would take you to Bakerville. The dirt road was dusty in dry weather and muddy in wet weather.
My grandmother moved into the eating area, Hiram and Jesse took one bedroom, my mother and dad took one bedroom, and the other room was given to the children. Needless to say, it was a crowded situation, and at times tempers were short. They were not accustomed to having children around, but we got along. Hiram was always teasing me. Jesse was fifteen and seemed to resent the situation.
I cannot recall the exact location of the fireplace, but I know it was near the central part of the house. The kitchen, strictly my grandmotherís area, was located at the northwest part of the house. She was really good at baking bread, cookies, and cakes. She always did her baking on Thursday. So the house was filled with fragrance on Thursdays. She had her spinning wheel and supply of medicinal roots in the eating area. Just to the south was a small grove of poplar trees where Grandmother gathered buds. She also dug the roots of a nearby calimuss plant that grew in abundance. She also kept supplies of cherry bark, beef fat, mutton suet, and dried mullen leaves to make mullen tea Ė which was the worst. She was her own doctor and knew what to do for every illness. The stuff tasted so bad, you had to get well in a hurry.
The road just north of the house was heavily traveled by horses, buggies, and wagons. Occasionally a car would come by if it did not get stuck in the mud.
On the day we moved in and unloaded furniture, two little boys came crawling through the fence to see what was going on. Sam and Albert Buchanan, twins, about five or six years old, had been down in the field with their dad, but decided to run off and see what they could find. Mr. Buchanan looked for them, found them, and gave them both a good whipping. The Buchanan family, with nine children at home, lived one mile northwest of my grandmotherís place, on Walker Branch which ran into Brady Branch on my grandmotherís property.
To the west of the house was a large garden. In the southeast corner of the garden was the ash-hopper. It was used to collect ashes from wood burned in the fireplace. My grandmother poured water into the ashes, catching the draining water in a container. This water supposedly contained some kind of acid that was good in making homemade soap. I remember one night when the ash hopper caught on fire and burned part of the garden fence. We were really scared.
One hundred yards west of the house was Brady Branch, about fifteen feet wide with plenty of minnows and perch. Angling through the horse lot, it provided plenty of good water for the mules and cows. There was a large spring that never ran dry. In addition to good water, the spring provided a cold storage place for milk. There was a good-sized orchard just north of the barn with apple, pear, and plum trees. There were several kind of apples: June, Rusty Coat, Sweet, Winesap, and others. I liked the place.
But, our bad luck continued. My dad purchased a mule as he had promised, paying one hundred dollars for it. The mule lived but one week. We figured he must have gotten into some poison weed while grazing. Another disaster: my dad had not sold his 1916 crop of peanuts, but held them in storage in hopes of a higher sale price due to the war in Europe. The price dropped and we took a loss.
Spring came late that year. It seemed like winter would not turn loose. But we planted a large garden and about one-fourth acre of potatoes. My mother and grandmother were making plans for the canning season even before spring was fully there. They planned on raising more chickens and geese. The geese would furnish feathers for our pillows and featherbeds. There is nothing like sleeping on a feather bed and pillow that have been outside all day in the summer sun. We had wheatstraw mattresses and good featherbeds over them, which was wonderful in cold weather.
Spring finally came and my dadís brothers commenced the spring plowing and planting. They rented extra land for peanuts and hay, so they worked six days a week. My dad did what he could to help, but he felt useless. He fed all the stock, cows, and chickens and did other menial work, but this never satisfied him. He would saw wood for hours and rank it for storage till winter. But he did not feel that he was doing his part.
I remember one little incident very well. Hiram and Jesse would hunt ginseng for its root which was worth about twelve dollars a pound when dry. This root has long been used by the Chinese as a kind of medicine. The stuff is real light when dry, a weight about like feathers. They went to the woods every Sunday looking for ginseng. I begged them to let me go with them. They would not give in. It was too risky as there were many snakes in the woods. One day while they were preparing the land for spring planting, Hiram plowed up a large pokeweed root. It was bigger than a gallon bucket and must have weighed over twelve pounds. He was always playing pranks on me, so he talked to Jesse and they planned a big ginseng hunt and took me along. They purposely steered me to the spot where the pokeweed root was. I found it yelling, "ginseng!" so loud you would have thought I had found the motherlode. They feigned surprise and envy. They helped me get it out of the ground and started walking home. I would carry it for a while and then stop to rest. I would yell, "ginseng!," spontaneously. I had really hit it big. When I got within 100 yards of the house, I struggled to climb over a fence, but could not make it. I called my mother and she came down to see what was wrong. I was still yelling, "ginseng!". When she saw the pokeweed root she said, "That is not ginseng. They are playing a prank on you." That night my grandmother chastised Hiram and Jesse, but it did not bother them much. Thereafter, they frequently invited me to go with them on ginseng hunts. I always declined.
Summer came, and there is nothing like summer for a six-year-old boy on the farm. There was an abundance of plums, peaches, apples, berries, and a big old mulberry tree right by Brady Branch. I helped my mother and grandmother, mostly by minding my two sisters. My dad always found something to do. Hiram and Jesse went fishing, but they would not take me. I did not trust them anyhow, after the pokeweed incident. I became friendly with the Buchanan boys but never went to their home. I was afraid of the hound dogs they raised.
On July 9, I started attending Glenwood School, across Blue Creek and one mile south on Pumpkin Creek. The Buchanan family had five children going to school there so we walked together. It was a distance of over two and one half miles. Along the way we met the Roberts girls, Louise and Ione, and the Brisentine boys, and just before we crossed Blue Creek we were joined by five of my cousins, children of my dadís brother, Tad. We walked together. It was fun for a six-year-old. We were afraid of Blue Creek, which was normally about fifty feet wide, but a summer rainstorm would swell it and make it even scarier. We crossed it on a "foot log" and some of the boys always fell in the water; most of the time on purpose. When there was a bad storm and a lot of rain, my dadís brother Tad would send someone with mules and a two horse wagon to bring us across the creek. This was also really scary.
At that time, Glenwood was a one room school for eight grades. In later years I believe it had two teachers, but I may be wrong. Miss Ollie Weatherspoon was the teacher, she seemed real old to me and I was afraid of her. She was probably only about thirty-five, but always stern. She did not seem to care very much about the children, but I am sure she was a good teacher. There was a large playground for the boys but none for the girls. There was a small outside restroom for the girls but none for the boys. We had to take cover behind a tree or in a clump of bushes. There was a shallow well that always seemed to be dry, so we took turns fetching water from a spring just across Pumpkin Creek, about one fourth mile away. All students used the same dipper for drinking water. There were no screens on the window to keep out flies and bugs and the occasional bird. School started in July and continued until the third week of December. It was extremely hot during the summer months and extremely cold in November and December. School was closed for two weeks in the fall so the kids could help harvest the crops. In those days, children were expected to work on the farm both boys and girls.
So off I went the first day, pencil in my right hand. I assuredly did not want a reoccurrence of the Happy Hollow School and Miss Grimsley. I made it very well the first day and began to make friends among the other first graders. I believe there were eight of us. Classes for the seventh and eighth grades were small, maybe two or three total, as most boys dropped out to work on the farms. It was an exciting day and I got along fine. I enjoyed seeing my cousins: Mary, "Ood", I think her name was, Louise, Hattie and Emma Smith who were all the children of my dadís brother Tad. I loved school, especially the recess and lunch periods. My grandmother made sure that I always had plenty of cookies, especially sorghum molasses cookies to share with the other children.
Summer went by, and I think I learned about as much as anyone else in my class. That school business sure interfered with my fishing for minnows and perch, but I can honestly say I was never bored.
My mother made all my clothes, including all my school clothes. She would buy several yards of brown domestic cloth to make my underwear, and white cotton material to make my shirts. She bought blue denim cloth to make my little overalls, which were knee length after the first laundry. After the weather cooled a bit, I wore a little jacket that she also made of blue denim. During the summer, I like all the boys, went barefoot. The thing was to get your feet real tough so you could walk on rocks or gravel. Almost everyone had a stone bruise at one time or another. I cannot remember about the girls for sure, but I know that some of them were barefoot also.
Fall came and my mother and grandmother had canned enough fruit and vegetables to last all winter. They also had a good supply of dried fruits and white beans. My mother said it was enough to feed Coxesí army, whatever that was. But a hard winter was coming. A big snow came in December and did not clear off the ground until six weeks later. We ran out of wood, so Hiram and Jesse had to go up the hill to the east of the house and cut wood. They slid it down the hill on the ice. My job was to feed the birds, and there were lots of them, as it was hard for them to find food during the long, cold spell of snow and ice.
The long cold spell seemed to worsen our crowded situation, so my mother and dad again talked about moving. They wanted their own house. My dadís brother, Tad, knew of a spot called Ferby Place on Pumpkin creek near the place where it emptied into Blue Creek. Mr. Ferby had recently died. Mrs. Ferby and her two children, "Lizzie" Beth and Henry Ellan, had moved to a smaller house on Blue Creek near the mouth of Brady Branch. So my dad rented the Ferby Place, a small farm of about twenty acres, half of which was bottomland near Blue Creek. The house was a small one, with three bedrooms and a kitchen. We looked forward to moving so we would be close to Glenwood School and I would not have to cross Blue Creek.
Early in 1918 we were making plans to move to the Ferby Place. Hiram, my dadís brother, was drafted into the Army. World War I was raging in Europe. All men from 18 to 35 had to register for the draft. Hiram was 18 years of age and was automatically taken. My dad also had to register but was rejected because of his eyes. My dadís cousin, William Baker, and my motherís cousin, Willie Phebus, were both drafted. All three went into the army at the same time.
I remember very well the morning that Hiram left for the army. It was a Monday. My grandmother was outside doing the family laundry, "washing" as it was called. I was with her, trying to fix the fire around the kettle. Hiram came out of the house having talked with my parents for some time. Hiram told his mother not to worry, that he would be all right. My grandmother very seldom showed any emotion, but at this point, she had tears in her eyes. She simply told Hiram to take care of himself. Then she asked him if he had anything that needed to be washed. He handed her a handkerchief. Then he walked over to me, took out his pocketknife, and quickly cut off the button on the fly of my overalls. I could never keep it buttoned (zippers were unknown at the time). Hiram had told me time and time again that if I did not keep it buttoned, he was going to cut it off. He put the button in his pocket and quickly left, walking up the road toward town. We were all crying. I did not know what was meant or what it was all about, but I knew I was losing my best friend.
Of the three boys that left that morning two would be killed in action. Only one would return home alive.
A few days after Hiram left for the army, we left my grandmother and moved to the Ferby Place. Tad helped us move and get situated in the new place. He took over as a sort of guardian for our family, since Hiram was gone. He sure was good to us.
The new place had many problems. The house was neither as well built, nor as well heated as my grandmotherís. It did not have a fireplace but depended on the kitchen stove and one other stove for heat which was insufficient. There was a well for water, but it was hard water, and my mother constantly complained about it. Ferby Place also had its charms. There was a good sized garden and a place for a potato patch. There were clay gullies where the land had eroded that were just right for exploring. Also, there was an old overgrown cemetery out in the field to the southwest of the house, but I never bothered it. A dirt road ran right in front of the house that was muddy all winter. Across the road and about seventy five yards south lived the Simpsons, Mr. Walter and Miss Annie, as we called them. They had a white clapboard home with a wide front porch that spanned the length of the house. Their house was bigger than the average farmhouse, but not as big as a plantation home. They were wonderful neighbors, but had no children when we moved there.
A short time after our arrival we were hit by the flu. The influenza epidemic was rampant throughout the United States. People were dying everywhere. Annie, who was less than two years old, was the first to catch it and after a short while we all had it. Dr. W. W. Slayden from Waverly came daily, stopping at every house along the way. He traveled to farms South of us on Pumpkin Creek and then he went back up Blue Creek to the Hurricane Mills road and then back to Waverly, getting there late at night. Of course, with no known cure, there was little he could do. We did get a lady by name of Nora Barber to come to our house every day and take care of us. She had recovered from the flu and was doing housework for Bill Knight. Nora was a heavyset person, but she walked about one and one half miles every day to come to our place. Without her we probably would have died. I do not know what we paid her, it probably was not more than 75 cents a day. When we finally recovered, things began to look much better.
I never knew what the arrangement was between my dad and his brother Tad. But I suspect it was one third of the crops for the landlord, one third for my dad, and one third in return for Tad furnishing all the labor and combining his farm equipment with ours. This worked out very well. Uncle Tad and Aunt Molly had a big family and everybody worked on the farm: Dave fifteen, Robert thirteen, Ethel eighteen, Mary eleven, "Ood" (I never knew her real name) nine. There were some younger ones, and everyone worked in the field, girls and boys.
If I remember correctly, the boys, Dave and Robert, did the spring plowing and all preparation of the ground for planting. We had about ten acres of corn down the hill by Blue Creek. After the planting was done, Robert alone had the responsibility of cultivating the corn. The girls helped chopping out weeds and bushes while the crop developed. The eight acres west and south of the house was a relatively flat area that had been farmed for a long time. Dave and Robert prepared this land. After the planting of peanuts, it was the girlsí responsibility to plow and cultivate the area. After the ground was prepared for planting, it was made flat with a roller. Then it was marked for planting by a plow made with a wood frame and five prongs twenty-eight or thirty inches apart. Then it was marked with the same plow going crosswise, creating perfect squares. Peanuts were planted at the corner of each square with two peanuts to each point. This created a field that can be plowed one way one week and crosswise the following week. As I remember, they used two old mules, "Old Bird" and "Old Jim," that really should have been retired. They were so old and tame, they would not hurt anything. Plowing peanuts was about the easiest kind of plowing there was. They made a game of it by alternating and teasing each other. Even my mother did some peanut plowing. They let me try my hand at it, though I was only seven years old. I wanted to be a farmhand.
Another thing happened in 1918 that was important to me. One afternoon in early summer, my mother took all of us about one half mile south to visit Mrs. Jennie Shawl. I do not remember the reason, but while we were there Mrs. Shawl said that her dog had a litter of puppies and that one of the puppies had gotten into a henís nest and eaten some eggs. She was going to drown that puppy. It was solid black with a brown spot on the neck, a shepherd, apparently full-blooded. I wanted that dog and made all kinds of promises and my mother let me take him home. I named him Bob. He became our guardian for many years. No person or animal could get near us without a fight. He was my friend.
Another summer pleasure was "Bunch" Miller, a niece of Mrs. Shawl. She was thirteen or fourteen years old and had a pony and a small pony buggy. She took my sisters and me riding in the buggy and sang such songs as "Missouri Waltz" and "Let the Rest of the World Go By." But I most enjoyed fishing in Pumpkin Creek under a big beech tree about one hundred yards from our house. The water around the tree was crystal clear and about three feet deep. It was well stocked with minnows, sun perch, and finger-length catfish. Bob and I went fishing for several hours almost every day. I kept plenty of worms dug. I was not big enough to go to Blue Creek, but once in a while I would go there with Robert Smith or someone else. My favorite little spot was on Pumpkin Creek with my dog Bob by my side, under the beech tree.
School started as usual in July, and I enrolled in the second grade. It was good to see my friends. Miss Witherspoon was still my teacher. I got along fine and made some new friends. Some of the big boys made a path down the steep hill just to the north of the school, and on homemade sleds, slid down the hill about a distance of two hundred fifty feet or maybe a little more. They carried water up the hill and poured it on the path to make it real slick. I tried the slide once. That was enough for me. I understand that later that fall, when there was a snow on the ground, one of the big boys came down so fast, he crossed the road and went through a wire fence. I do not remember the slide after that. I think it was declared unduly dangerous and off limits for the school.
In April of 1918, my sister Effie had her fourth birthday. She followed me around like a little puppy. She could not say my name, "Leslie," but called me "Dettle." Then she began to call me "Two Rooster." I do not know where she got that name. One day she met me as I came home from school and very excitedly said, "Dettle, I can say Leslie." But I was still "Two Roosters" for a long time. She went fishing with me down by the old beech tree and usually had better luck than I did. One thing that always fascinated both Effie and me was the telephone at the Simpsons. How on earth could you stand there and talk to some one a mile or more away? It was a party line and we could not understand how it worked. My mother and dad sure were glad to have a telephone so close.
The summer of 1918 passed slowly. We visited Grandmother Smith two or three times. My mother read letters to us from Uncle Hiram. We did not understand what the war in Europe was all about. Also, on quite a few Sundays we went to visit Uncle Tad and Aunt Molly. This was fun. They had a big orchard and lots of apples and peaches and lived a short distance north of the bluff on Blue Creek where there was a good swimming hole. Two teenagers, Robert Smith and Clarence Story, took on the project of teaching me how to swim. Their method was to catch me and throw me in the creek. It was up to me to get out. I panicked and learned nothing about swimming. I became afraid of water and did not want to go near the swimming hole. I am still afraid of water and never have learned to swim.
In late summer there was a Church of Christ revival at Glenwood School. We went in the farm wagon like most people did. It was a big deal. My mother and dad knew so many of the people and everyone wanted to show off his family. I was seven, Effie was four, and Annie was two. The services lasted about two hours. I always fell asleep early in the program. The final day was on Sunday with a service at eleven oíclock and a baptismal at two thirty down at Pumpkin Creek behind the Bill Knight farm. Between the service and the baptismal there was what they called "Dinner on the Grounds." There was enough food to feed an army.
Fall came, and though the leaves turned to beautiful colors, I missed living at Grandmother Smithís house and gathering chestnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, and walnuts. As was the custom, school let out for two weeks so the children could help harvest the crops. When we returned to school, all boys had to gather wood for the stove which never seemed to have enough.
One day in late fall, one of our hogs came in the barn lot with a steel trap on his leg. It had stepped in a trap and broken the chain that held it. My dad was able to release the trap and I began to beg for it. I had heard some of the boys at school talk about trapping animals for their hides. I knew the placement of a prime rabbit den. My dad set the trap and gave me specific instructions as to how it should be handled. I took it across the field to the den and placed it inside. Luckily I did not spring the trap. Then every day before school and after school, I checked my trap to see if anything had been caught. I did this all winter. In the spring my dad told me to spring the trap and bring it home. I was warned to be very careful. When I pulled the trap out of the den, it had a rabbit skeleton in it. In all my checking that winter, I had never looked inside the den. I think I expected the rabbit to be sitting outside the den.
On Tuesday, November 12, my dad walked over to see his brother, Tad, about the final gathering of the corn crop. They then walked up the Brady Branch Road to see my Grandmother Smith. While there, they learned that the war in Europe had ended on Monday, November 11. I believe this information had been relayed by the postman. When my dad returned home, he walked in the door and said, "Yesterday will be long remembered. The Great War has ended." We were ecstatic, jumping up and down, yelling, "Uncle Hiram is coming home!" Two days later, the postman delivered a telegram to my dadís brother, Jesse, informing him that Hiram had been killed. We also learned that Willie Phebus, my motherís cousin, had been killed. It was terrible.
Hiram had been killed on Saturday morning, November 9, just two days before the Armistice was signed. An eyewitness told us that they had been crouching in a trench, under rain early that morning when the order came to advance. They were under terrific fire from the Germans. Hiram had been killed by shrapnel. When my grandmother was told of his death, she simply said, "I already knew it." I do not know how or why she felt that way. Our whole family was in a state of shock. My grandmother knew that she could not maintain a farm of that size with only a sixteen-year-old son. There was still much work to be done to complete the harvest of the 1918 corn crop. Tad was already loaded with work on his farm, but he said he would help his mother and Jesse somehow. He did just that, and they managed to get all the harvesting done. Then a request came to my grandmother asking whether she wanted Hiram returned to Humphreys County or buried in a Military Cemetery in Europe. Willie Phebus, my motherís cousin, was returned home and buried in the Williamís Cemetery. He was in such bad shape they could not open the casket. My grandmother said she could not go through that and asked that Hiram be buried in Europe. Years later I secured the help of Senator Howard Baker, who managed to get information about the battle in which Hiram was killed and a picture of Hiramís grave. It was located in the United States Military Cemetery, St. Mihiel, at Thiaucourt, France. When his personal things were returned to my grandmother, I am sure the button from the fly of my overalls was there. After I located the cemetery, I ordered flowers each Armistice Day to be placed on his grave. I did this for many years and always received a picture of his grave with flowers on it. One time I received a picture of the wrong grave with flowers. I realized what they were doing. They left the flowers on the grave long enough to take a photograph before moving them to the next grave and the next photograph!
Christmas of 1918 came and Santa Claus brought me a little red wagon that lasted about two days. My good friends, Robert and Clarence, made it into a little car and then wrecked it. Santa Claus brought Effie and Annie each a doll. We also got the usual candy and nuts, and I got some firecrackers. It was a quiet Christmas for my mother and dad. So much had happened, and the future was uncertain.
The New Year arrived almost unnoticed. It was dead winter and freezing cold. My mother was expecting another child and was limited in what she could do. We could not get out of the house, but we did get plenty of fresh air from the cracks in the walls. My dad was anxious to get started with the spring farm work and talked to me about our plans. I did not know anything about it, but I think it helped him to talk to me, as I was to become an important part of the operation that year.
My dad told me that I would be working the peanut crop, both the plowing and the weed chopping. The ground would be prepared by Dave and Robert Smith, the same as last year. The peanuts would be planted, and then the field would be my responsibility. Plowing peanuts is one of the easiest and dullest jobs on the farm. My old mule would be "Old Bird" who was so old that she almost went to sleep every time we plowed a row. My dad also began to teach me how to feed and take care of all the animals: mules, cows, and hogs. I was coming up on my eighth birthday. On the farm, an eight-year-old boy is expected to do a lot of work.
In the meantime, my Grandmother Smith and Jesse had moved from Brady Branch to Cherry Bottom near Bakerville, where they had rented land on the John Daniels place. They lived in the mouth of Happy Hollow near the Happy Hollow School where I had experienced a less than happy initiation. Things seemed to be going all right. Jesse was seventeen years old and had quite a bit of experience as a farmer.
My birthday came on March 20 and passed without much attention. I was busy following my dad around and learning as much as I could about farming. I felt important.
Then on Thursday, the twenty seventh of March, while Effie and I were visiting Miss Annie Simpson, Dr. Slayden of Waverly came by and left a baby boy. I sure was thankful that it was a boy. I now had a brother. It was a good thing that Dr. Capps did not bring the baby. He only brought girls. My mother and dad promptly named him Samuel Hiram after Uncle Hiram, casualty of war.
At the same time, we received the news that Jesse was seriously ill and Dr. Capps was unable to make a diagnosis. He grew worse, finally dying on April 4, just eight days after Samuel Hiram was born. My grandmother was so distraught she could hardly speak. "How much can happen to our family? How much can we stand? What are we going to do?" Jesse was buried in the Walker Cemetery of Buffalo. The funeral was held, I believe, with graveside services at the cemetery. My dad and I had gone to Grandmother Smithís house but did not go the cemetery because it was late and we had such a long drive back home. If I remember correctly, one of Uncle Tadís boys, either Robert or Dave, was with us to drive the mules hitched to the farm wagon. It was a long ride home and we did not return until late that night.
My grandmother was fortunate to have her sons, Ely, Tad, Johnnie, and my dad, Emmett, as well as her daughter, Nora Gartrell, living in Humphreys County. They helped her get things settled and sell all of the farm equipment. She moved in with her daughter, my Aunt Nora, who at that time lived in a log house near the mouth of Brady Branch where it flows into Blue Creek. They were cramped, as my aunt and her husband had four children. I remember the house being small, with perhaps two bedrooms and a kitchen and maybe an eating space.
Let us get back to our own family. With the advent of spring, we were busy getting our crops planted, garden pruned, and potatoes attended. On the farm, one does not need a clock. One works from sunup to sundown. I was allowed a nap at lunchtime. My dog Bob was now almost a year old. He stayed in the field as long as I did. He chased rabbits in the sage field to the south and west. I think they just teased him.
Summer came, but the work did not decrease. I got to do very little fishing and no swimming. I always avoided Robert and Clarence. They were still trying to teach me to swim and I did not trust them. One afternoon some of my little friends came by to invite me to go swimming with them down at Blue Creek. My mother would not give me permission to go, so they went on. Later that afternoon, one of the boys, Ivy Buchanan, drowned in Blue Creek. He was my age. That made quite an impression on me. I was more afraid of water than ever.
My peanut crop gave me trouble. The weeds and grass grew as fast as the peanuts, so I had to have help. It was the female crew from Uncle Tadís family that came to my rescue. The glamour of the farming business began to fade in a hurry. But we did get the crop "laid by" about the first of July. Just in time to start to school. I was in third grade and really smart, so I thought. I could show the little first graders around and tell them what to do. One big problem I had was keeping my dog Bob from going to school with me. He would show up and cause a lot of confusion.
To celebrate something, I guess it was the end of the plowing season, my mother and dad gave a party. It was an ice cream supper or candy breaking. They invited about a dozen farm families and had a three-piece band, fiddle, guitar, and banjo. Everyone danced the old fashioned square dance. We sold ice cream cones and soda pop for a nickel each. I never did understand the candy breaking part. They had a large pan full of many kinds of stick candy broken into small pieces. The pan was covered with a cloth, and a boy and his date would reach into the pan, each drawing a piece of candy. If the pieces matched, they danced. If the pieces did not match, the boy was fined five cents. I agree that the games were not sanitary, but in those days you never heard the word "sanitary." My mother and dad cleared eight dollars on their party, which my mother used to buy a mantel clock. This clock would strike on the hours, half hours, and quarter hours. It caused me a lot of trouble in later years when I came home late at night. That clock ran for almost thirty years.
In 1919 something happened that affected our lives tremendously. My dad and my Grandmother Smith received a letter from the Federal Government advising that Hiram had a $10,000 insurance policy with them as equal beneficiaries. This insurance was to be paid in equal payments of $28.75 to my dad and my grandmother. Also, there was a lump sum of about $200 for each of them representing the months since Hiram was killed in November 1918. I have never heard this insurance discussed and I do not know if my dad and my grandmother knew anything about it. But I suspect that Hiram had talked to my dad about it right before he left for the army. Most of dadís brothers resented his participation in this insurance, creating a storm in my dadís family. The only one who seemed to be glad was my Uncle Tad, perhaps because he was relieved of much of the responsibility he had assumed after my dad became blind. The brothers felt like the entire insurance should be left to my grandmother, to be divided equally among them. This resentment never died. We faced it constantly in later years. The insurance collected interest and payments continued for about twenty years.
My mother was busy canning vegetables and fruits for the winter. We had plenty of tomatoes, string beans, beets, cucumber pickles, apples, and peaches. One of her best dishes was a soup mix made of tomatoes, corn, and lima beans. She believed in having an ample supply of canned goods for the whole winter. We always had plenty to eat.
The newest member of our family, Hiram, was our pet. He was always jolly and laughing and seldom cried. The first food he ate was oatmeal, and the first word he spoke was "pie." This meant oatmeal. He seemed to be addicted to "pie."
In late fall, with the break in school, we managed to get the peanut crop dug and stacked. We had a large patch of turnips and turnip greens. Everything was fine until late October or the first of November, when the rains came. It rained, and rained, and rained, and rained.
The farmers were working day and night trying to gather the corn crop in Duck River Bottom. Uncle Tad with his boys, Dave and Robert, managed to save most of their crop, but it was too late to save ours. Duck River flooded the land from the hill on the east to the hill on the west, a distance of at least two and one half miles. As a result, Blue Creek was backed up and flooded all bordering land, including our entire corn crop. Blue Creek, normally about fifty feet wide, was now a mile wide. Pumpkin Creek was so backed up they had to close Glenwood School for two weeks. Robert and Clarence came to see about us. They had to take quite a circuitous route to get there. They discussed building a canoe to cross Blue Creek. The Simpsonís telephone was out. We had no connection with the outside world. When the water receded after about a week, the cornfield was a sorry sight. The corn was soured and a complete loss, ten acres totaling four hundred and fifty to five hundred bushels.
Interestingly enough, that summer a crew of about twenty-five men working for the Telephone Company installed long distance lines, from Waverly to the southwest toward the Tennessee River. Until now, there had been one line mounted on makeshift poles to carry the Simpsonís party line. The new long distance lines were installed on big poles fifty to sixty feet tall and carrying at least thirty lines. I watched the men dig the hole, lift the long poles to install the lines, climb the poles to install the cross arms and glass brackets, and finally, install the lines from pole to pole. They gave me some of the faulty brackets. I carried them around in my right hip pocket along with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, in case I could help. They teased me about the poles and offered to take me up, but I refused. They lived in a big tent down by Blue Creek with their own cook and other help. I almost decided to give up farming and go into the telephone line installation business. I never learned where these long distance lines went.
As winter approached, we completed the harvest of peanuts and had the dried peanut vines baled for hay. It was good food for the cows and mules during the winter.
About the last day of December, my Uncle Tad, who always seemed to be in the know, learned that the Shug Miller Place by upper Brady Branch was for sale. The place consisted of forty acres of cut over timberland. It was on the Memphis to Bristol highway, which was a gravel road. It had a good well and a rundown three room house. There was clean fresh water in Brady Branch and an area of about fifteen acres that could be cleared for farming. All timber of logging size had been cut. That was Shug Millerís profession, logging. Shug Miller wanted $500 for the property. With Uncle Tad and Robert we went in a farm wagon to look at the property. Even though it was winter and extremely cold, we fell in love with the desolate looking place. My dad said we could be pioneers. I asked Mr. Miller if he had seen any Indians around. He assured me that there were none. My mother and dad discussed the matter with Uncle Tad. We took a vote to buy the place. So plans were made to go to Waverly in the next few days and get the financing and all the paperwork done. We were to pay $200 down and the balance of $300 was financed at 6% interest to be paid $100 each year plus interest for the next three years. We were so excited we could hardly stand it. There would be no more renting and no more moving. Uncle Tad agreed to take the Farby place off our hands and everything looked good.
We moved to Brady Branch in the middle of January. It was a cold, cloudy day and the north wind blew with a fury. Uncle Tad, Dave, and Robert helped us move. We arrived about noon. I was the first out of the wagon, axe in hand, and before a piece of furniture was unloaded, I was chopping down a tree. I was a pioneer and I wanted to live up to the name. Spirits soaring, we gathered dead wood and built a big fire in the fireplace.
The house consisted of two bedrooms, one of which was also the living room, and a kitchen and eating space. With my mother and dad along with four children, we were somewhat cramped, but cozy. It was wonderful to have our own place. The fireplace was huge, probably about five feet wide, and it certainly added comfort. It had a tremendous appetite for wood. There was a corncrib constructed with logs and a shed on the east side for "Old Bird," the ancient mule my dad had purchased from Uncle Tad for $25.
A well sixty feet south of the house gave us good, clean water throughout the year. It never went dry. Either Dave or Robert installed a pulley so we could draw water. Things were working out very well. By nightfall, we were safely moved in, and fires blazing in the kitchen stove and fireplace, we were quite comfortable.
Bob crawled under the house and curled up right next to the fireplace. That was his favorite place for many years to come.
During the next few days we cut both firewood and stovewood. There was an ample supply of wood because trees grew within twenty feet of the house on the east side. The first thing my dad taught me was to cut only scrub trees and let the good ones grow for logs and lumber. We also cut some for fence posts for a garden and a potato patch. There was much work to be done, but visible progress was being made. I wanted to explore with Bob, but Dad said that would have to wait. Bob went by himself, chasing a chipmunk that promptly entered a hole in the ground near a stump. Bob started digging but never caught the chipmunk, and to my knowledge, never caught one, though he chased them as long as he lived. Chipmunks do not live in a single tunnel, but they have a labyrinth of connecting tunnels. I have watched Bob dig for hours with no luck at all.
The second day was as busy as the first. I began to realize that this pioneer business was not going to be easy. We spent the second day cutting more wood and trimming brush and briars and good sized trees off the area where the garden was to be located. We kept a fire going to burn the small brush. I enjoyed keeping the fire. I believe that our nearest neighbor, Mr. Ky Crowell, came and introduced himself. His property bordered ours, and he wanted to show us exactly were the property line was. There was a sort of "lean-to" on the west side of the corn crib where we kept our one milk cow. This old cow not only gave milk, but also served as the family pet. She was a solid black jersey or Holstein. I do not remember which.
In theory, we did not work on Sunday. My mother and dad did not think it was right but it seemed to me that my mother worked as hard on Sunday as any other day, with all the cooking and housework she had to do.
My dad began to talk about all the equipment we would need. The equipment we had was for two mule farming: a wagon, turning plow, cultivator, etc. Now we needed equipment suited for one mule. Dad had disposed of our original equipment and we had to start over. Uncle Tad helped him plan our purchases. My dad chose to buy a one horse wagon with a spring seat, a one horse turning plow, a plow known as a scratcher, a bull tonque plow for laying rows for planting, and a double shovel plow for regular cultivation of the garden and potatoes. This was our basic set of tools. We later added a one half harrow to be used in preparing the ground for planting.
By the end of February, we had made amazing progress. The place began to look like a farm, with a fence around the garden area and potato patch, and another around the horse lot so "Old Bird" and our cow could roam in the open. We had a snowstorm, which slowed things down, but I made a new discovery. I found rabbit tracks in the snow and followed them for a short distance. But it was too cold!
Winter dragged on, and we continued to cut trees and underbrush to get some of the land ready for planting. It seemed to be an impossible task. We had to cut trees with a crosscut saw, then cut them into firewood, fence posts, or into lengths that could be burned on the spot. Progress was slow. There was one thing I did not understand. In the area we were clearing, there was a giant chestnut tree that had fallen and was more than half buried underground. It was about four feet in diameter at the base and more than seventy-five feet tall. While the outside of the tree had decayed, we later learned that the inside was solid and showed no signs of decay. There were three of these trees lying on the ground within two hundred yards of our house, all in exactly the same position. This indicated that they had fallen during a violent storm, possibly a tornado. In later years we dug around these trees, cutting two into lengths that could be split for fence posts and selling the other for dye wood. But it was at least two years before we got rid of those trees.
I still wanted to explore our farm area on the big hill to the west. On a Sunday in March, right before my ninth birthday, Bob and I crossed Brady Branch and climbed the big hill. At the top we could see the area below on the east and across the valley on the west. I decided to cross this valley to the property line, where I found another creek about as big as Brady Branch with minnows. Bob had to chase a couple of rabbits, but he always came back. On top of the hill was an old wagon trail that went north and connected with the old stagecoach road leading to Waverly. That was a fun day for this little boy. I dreamed that some day all the land would be cleared and, either in cultivation, or used as pasture land. How lucky we were to have two fresh water creeks on our property.
My ninth birthday came on a Saturday and passed with little notice. I felt grown up. The clearing of the land was going slowly and it became evident that we would not have any land in cultivation that year. Then Tad suggested that we have a community work day and attempt to clear the first five acre plot of land. Uncle Tad contacted Charley Buchanan, Woolsey Miller, Ky Crowell, and one or two others. They planned the community work day for March 27, a Saturday. Uncle Tad brought two teams of mules and Dave and Robert. Charley Buchanan brought two teams, Curley Flowers, and Lester. Woolsey Miller brought one team and himself. Ky Crowell, Roy Shawl and Clarence Story brought equipment for clearing and their families. They brought enough food to feed an army: fried chicken, country ham, baked apples, and home baked bread. My mother made coffee, and someone brought apple juice. What a day! It was like a big picnic. The men teased each other. If someone found an idle worker, everyone would really get after him. We had an unusual quantity of bosses, including Uncle Tad, Charles Buchanan, and Ky Crowell. The trees were cut, trimmed, and dragged to a storage area. Since the highway ran south right next to Brady Branch, all the logs and brush were dragged and placed twenty five feet east of the road for a distance of over two hundred yards. This formed a natural fence for about two years.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so the bosses held a conference. They decided to lay off the rows and plant the corn without attempting to prepare the ground. There were so many stumps, the ground could not be plowed with a turning plow. With my dadís permission, they began laying off the rows. I need not tell you: those rows were so crooked, a snake could not have crawled down one. As the rows were laid off, someone came right behind with the single row corn planter, probably belonging to Charley Buchanan or Woolsey Miller. It was late, almost dark, before the job was finished.
What a day! Five acres of land cleared and planted with corn, all in one day. In a week the corn began to sprout at the same time as the weeds and bushes. The whole area looked more like a hay field than a cornfield. This is when I took over with "Old Bird" and the scratchers. Let me explain the scratchers. This was a plow with seven flexible arms and a sharp plow point on each arm. The arms were fastened to a frame, forming a "U" shape in reverse, about 30 inches wide. This plow was especially good in a "new ground" situation because it did not catch or snag the roots. The arms were flexible and bounced off the stumps and roots, simultaneously cultivating the soil. This plow only plowed three inches deep and thus was good for cultivating the garden and potato field as well. As the corn plants grew, we were introduced to a regular old garden hoe. Between plowing the corn, the garden, and the potatoes and chopping weeds and bushes out of the corn, I faced a busy summer.
The first sign of spring was the pokeweed with tender green shoots, which we called "Poke Sallet." The plant itself was poisonous, but the young tender shoots could be boiled and eaten, tasting somewhat like spinach. There was an abundance of "Poke Sallet," so I picked it and my mother cooked it as long as it was young and tender. Incidentally, I would not eat the stuff today.
My ninth birthday had passed and I was doing a manís work. With my dadís teaching and encouragement, I plowed up the garden with the turning plow, made the bed for onions, and with the bulltongue, laid off rows for beets, radishes, lettuce, bunch beans, and okra. With the help of my mother and Effie, who was about to have her sixth birthday, we planted all the seeds. I had to prepare the ground for the potatoes, and we planted them. I also prepared ground for sweet potatoes to be planted later.
Spring came in all itís glory, the most beautiful spring I had ever seen. The dogwood and redbud trees were in bloom. Wildflowers, sweet williams, bluebells, lady slippers, violets, and ferns, covered the hills at the south of our property on the west hill. There was about one half acre of what we called honey suckle, but were wild azaleas, solid white with a pink throat. The shell was tantalizing. Also, there seemed to be birds everywhere: jays, wrens, blue birds, hummingbirds, and crows. My dad built, and we installed a martin house. I understand that purple martins eat mosquitoes and keep the hawks away from the chickens. The only cares I had in the world were the weeds and bushes in the cornfield. With the corn we planted great northern beans (which we called soup beans), cornfield peas, pumpkins, and watermelons. It was a common practice in those days to plant extra things with the corn.
During April, May, and June, I worked almost six days a week. If it rained, there was work to do around the barn. On Sundays Bob and I would go exploring or visit our family. Uncle Tad had a big family of children and an orchard with apple and peach trees. I had to watch out for Robert and Clarence they always teased me about learning to swim. I built a rock dam across Brady Branch and made a small swimming hole about two and one half feet deep. I enjoyed this with all the rest of the children. Of course, the first big rain flooded the creek and the dam washed away. Mr. Crowell, who lived about one fourth mile above us, had built a dam with large rocks. The creek filled in behind the rocks moving the water over the dam to create a waterfall. The resulting pool was about four to five feet deep. He stocked the pool with catfish and had a screen to keep them from escaping. When the rains came and the creek flooded, my temporary pool had to be rebuilt. My Aunt Nora and her husband, Will Gartrell, bought the ten acres of woodland just north of the Crowell farm and proceeded to build a four room house on it. They moved in June, along with Grandmother Smith. They had three children: Allene eight, Cecil six and Louise four. A younger child had died earlier that year. We were glad to have family close by, especially the children to play with. Since they moved there too late in the year to plant a garden, they got plenty of vegetables from us.
The summer went by quickly, as we were very busy working the garden and the corn crop. By the last of June, we had an ample supply of potatoes and garden vegetables. By July 4, we plowed the corn for the last time. Since this was virgin land, the crop was extra good. We looked forward to fresh corn in August and had plenty of vegetables until the frost came.
There was an overabundance of snakes that summer which, we deduced, had been disturbed when we cleared the land for our cornfield. We were surrounded on two sides by large tracts of timber. There had been much activity cutting logs during the past year. I understand that thirteen rattlesnakes were killed within a quarter mile of our house. We also killed several chicken snakes, racers, spreading adders, garter snakes, and green snakes, in the general area around our house. Some were found in our yard. I guess this is why I am afraid of snakes today.
Summertime sounds made a big impression on this nine-year-old boy. Between dusk and sundown, I would sometimes take Bob for a walk down the road. Bob answered the hound dogs howling about a mile away. They seemed to understand each other. An old cow in the valley bawled in a mournful way. There were sounds of insects and bugs, but the thing I remember most is the wailing sound of the whippoorwills. Sometimes there would be a chorus of six or eight answering each other. I soon learned that if a whippoorwill hollered one or two times, we could expect rain within a few hours. If the wailing continued, there would be no rain.
Just after July 4, school began at Glenwood. I was in fourth grade and Effie was a beginner in the first grade. It was good to see all my friends. I enjoyed the threemile walk every day to and from school with all the kids: the Buchanans, the Roberts girl, my cousins Allene and Cecil Gartrell, the Brisentine boys, and Uncle Tadís children. Something happened almost every day. For example, one day in August, one of the Brisentine boys said that he was cold. He built a fire next to one of his fatherís haystacks. The fire spread to every haystack in the field. It was a tremendous fire. I believe the Roberts girls, Louise, and Ione wore shoes but all the rest of us were barefoot. The dust felt good to our feet.
Our teacher was Mr. Parker White. He kept an ample supply of switches on hand at all times and did not hesitate to use them on the boys. He never switched the girls. One day I found a real good pocketknife on the ground. A little boy had lost it and told the teacher. He learned that I had found it but would not give it to him. The teacher confronted both of us. I told the teacher that the knife was mine, that my dad had given it to me. After a lengthy interrogation I finally confessed and gave the knife back. I had lied. For this I received a whipping of about fifteen licks. That was the only whipping I ever got in school. My problem now was how to conceal the incident from my mother and dad. Effie, my little friend, said she would not tell, so we kept quiet about it. Later that afternoon, my cousin, Allene Gartrell, walked in the door and blurted out, "Did you tell them you got a whipping at school today?" My mother was furious at the teacher whom she had known for some time. She was upset with me and gave a stern lecture on doing the right thing. It was a good thing this happened. I tried with greater resolve to be truthful thereafter.
In late August, two young men came by our place selling fruit trees to be delivered in January of the following year. They had planned to work the whole county and were looking for a place to stay for about two weeks. We had a space just across Brady Branch next to Mr. Crowellís property line that had grown up with briars, weeds, and a few bushes that my parents decided would be a good place for an orchard. We placed an order for thirty-two tree, apple and peach, and agreed to board the two young men for two weeks. I do not know the sum of the bill for the trees, but I believe the two week board paid all of it but about eighteen dollars.
During this period, there was a Methodist revival going on at Glenwood. Of course we had to go. There were few converts because the whole area was, and is, Church of Christ. My mother decided that she wanted to be baptized by immersion. She was already a member of the Methodist church and had been sprinkled when she was young. She talked to the minister, who agreed to perform the baptismal at 2:30pm on Sunday, the last day of the revival. The place was Blue Creek, where the water was about four feet deep. The young fruit tree salesmen wanted to go. Since they had an old Ford touring car, we were glad. The whole carload of us went to the baptismal. Blue Creek is fed by many springs of cold water. As a matter of fact, I know of four large springs within one mile of where the baptismal was to be held. I understand that the temperature of Blue Creek is about sixty-eight degrees in the summer. The solemn ceremony began, and the minister with rubber trousers waded waist deep into the water. He motioned for my mother to come forward, reaching toward her, and led her out to the point where the water was well over her waist. She was shivering like a leaf. He completed the short ceremony and asked my mother, "Do you want to be baptized in this faith?" She replied, "yes," and he proceeded to immerse her in the water. She came back up fighting and said a loud "wup!" She almost knocked the minister down in her frenzy to get out. The minister asked if anyone else would like to be baptized. There were no takers. My mother was now a real Methodist. This story had been told many times. She would laugh about it, saying it felt like she was baptized in ice water.
The summer dragged on, but it seemed like something was happening all the time. John Crowell, who lived about two miles south of us near the mouth of Brady Branch, wrecked an old building. He gave the lumber away to get rid of it, so my Uncle Tad brought us enough old lumber to build a smokehouse and a chicken house. This was good lumber. Both buildings lasted many years. The smokehouse was used for smoking meat and as a general storage area for canned fruits, vegetables, brine pickles, kraut, and the keg of sorghum molasses. The smokehouse had a dirt floor. We didnít put a lock on it until later years. The chicken house had two racks for hen nests, where they lay eggs and hatched chicks. The chickens roosted here at night for protection from predators.
Around the first of August, "Old Bird" and I plowed and prepared an area in the garden for a turnip patch. We also planted some late cabbage. In the fall the turnips matured and provided plenty of turnip greens and turnips. Then, just before the frost, a place would be prepared for storage of turnips for the winter. A well drained spot of ground was selected. The turnips were placed in layers and covered with heavy layers of straw and dirt. This was repeated several times and covered with a tarpaulin to keep it dry. There was enough moisture that the turnips sprouted leaves, so we had both turnips and greens through the winter. The same process was used for cabbage.
In late summer, when the tops began to die, the onions were pulled out of the ground and tied in bundles. They were hung in the smokehouse for drying and storage. Peppers, both red and green, were picked, strung on a string, and hung in the smokehouse. At about the same time, all mature cabbage was converted into kraut. Layers of chopped cabbage and layers of salt were stacked in a crock and weighted by a heavy rock. We also had brine cucumber pickles. I do not recall how they were made, but I believe they were in a wood container like a half-barrel. I remember that before being eaten they had to be desalted by soaking in water a full day. There was a pit in the smokehouse where hams and other meats were smoked. A fire could be built in the pit on extremely cold days or nights to keep the temperature above freezing. I have often wondered how we were able to not burn the place down.
October of 1920 was spectacular on Brady Branch. The air was crisp and the trees were colored at their best. There were sugar maples in shades of red, hickory trees with bright yellow leaves, the dogwood of a dark red, poplars, sweet gums of dark brown and red, oak trees of green and brown, beech trees of yellow, and many other trees and colors. I discovered an abundant crop of nuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, filberts, and others. The chestnuts were my favorite because they broke open ready to be dropped in a stove. My second favorite was filberts, or hazelnuts, as we called them. The bushes were plentiful, and frequently I could get more than a gallon from one bush. Walnuts were plentiful, but until they were completely dry, they left a brown stain on the hands, which is almost impossible to get off. After the nuts dried, they were delicious. We had enough to last all winter.
Cool weather came. It was time to stop going barefoot and put on new shoes. This was extremely difficult after having gone barefoot all summer. New shoes were always about one size too big to allow for growth. It was not much fun to walk three miles to school in new shoes about one size too big. Except in really cold weather, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot as I came home.
While I was out hunting for nuts with Bob, I found some muscadine vines loaded with the ripe, grape like muscadines. I shook the vines so the muscadines would fall to the ground to be gathered. My mother made muscadine preserves which we enjoyed.
November came, and one Saturday we took "Old Bird" and the wagon to gather our five acre corn crop. We picked the mature, dry soup beans and cornfield peas at the same time. We had quite a few pumpkins that we gathered with the corn to feed the pigs. I believe my mother made some pumpkin butter, but we were not pumpkin butter fans. While gathering the corn, we found a watermelon protected by dead grass. It was dead ripe.
All fall we had been cutting wood, though somewhat spasmodically. Now we had to cut wood in earnest. We had a crosscut saw that my dad and I used to cut down trees so they could be dragged to the place next to the house. We found a lot of wood among the piles of logs and brush gathered on the community workday. My dad sawed wood every day while I was at school. The crosscut saw was lightweight. He took the saw handle off one end.
School was finished for the year in December, just prior to Christmas. I passed to the fifth grade. We celebrated Christmas Day. It was the only holiday we observed. My mother was busy cooking for Christmas. Effie and I helped her grate coconut, wash pans, and taste everything. My mother baked three cakes: fresh coconut, chocolate, and a plain cake with white icing. She baked several pies, too: apple, chocolate, and egg custard. Santa Claus brought each of us a pair of stockings, some peppermint stick candy, an orange, and some raisins. I had a small box of sparklers and a small package of firecrackers. It was a wonderful day for our whole family. Allene, Cecil, and Louise came down that morning. They had received identical gifts, with exception to the firecrackers and sparklers. I was the big hero. My grandmother, Aunt Nora, and Uncle Will came down for Christmas dinner. That was a wonderful day. We could truly count our blessings.
The New Year came in right on time. the weather was raw and cold and the fireplace continued to have a big appetite for wood. Luckily, we had plenty of wood for cutting. My dad said we would never be caught again without a big supply of wood on hand for the winter months. I was approaching my tenth birthday and felt grown. My dad and I would discover problems, and he would let me agree with the decisions he made.
One problem we had was the preparation of land for an orchard. The fruit trees ordered the previous summer would arrive and have to be planted. The area selected would have to be cleared of briars, brush, and a few good sized trees. The project was started immediately after January first, as we expected the fruit trees to arrive some time that month. As the work began, we learned that the area had an abnormal number of large rocks, and these had to be cleared away. So my dad and I worked long hours day after day. When the trees finally arrived about February first, we were almost ready. All the briars and brush had been cleared and burned, and with a sled drawn by "Old Bird," we had cleared a tremendous amount of rocks from the area. We later learned that we had only scratched the surface. We cleared off rocks for many years afterward. "Old Bird" and I attempted to plow up the area with the farming plow. It really was a sorry job. All we did was plow up more rocks.
Then came the planting. We planted an apple tree at the edge of the garden near the kitchen and another just west of the front porch. That left thirty trees, peach and apple, to be planted. If I remember correctly, we planted five rows of six trees, alternating peach and apple. We lost a few of the trees that never showed any signs of life, and some by rabbits gnawing the tender bark. The peach trees were all right, but I always felt that the apple trees were of inferior quality or were not the kind of apples I liked. It may be that the soil was not good for apple trees, as the apples were usually small and many were faulty. Except for the early June apples, most of them were a variety we had never seen before. There were no winesap, rusty coat, early harvest, or pound apples. There was one variety that we did enjoy called winter apples. The tree did not shed its leaves until the apples ripened in December. The apples were a red black color and good to eat.
Some of the trees were destroyed by a cave in of the banks next to Brady Branch, but in later years, we always had plenty of both peaches and apples. The first spring the area was planted with watermelons and cantaloupes and it always produced a bumper crop.
My tenth birthday came and passed with little notice. "Old Bird" and I had a lot of work to do. First, we had to get the garden ready for planting. Onions, cabbage, potatoes, beets, and radishes needed to be in the ground before the end of March. This meant breaking up the ground and preparing the bedding before planting. Also it was time to get our old, faithful scratchers and plow the cornfield. The corn stalks had been knocked down earlier and burned. There was no way the cornfield could be plowed with a turning plow because there were so many stumps and roots. We did the best we could with the scratchers. The land was ready for planting by the time of the last frost. Everything worked out fine and we were on our way to another spring and summer of fighting the bushes and weeds. I was a real farmer now, and I frequently talked with my dad about what we should do. I felt important and I think I really liked the responsibility. I never felt disadvantaged.
I had one little job that was not very pleasant. In those days, livestock such as cows and hogs, was not fenced in, but roamed the woods and came in at night. It seems that our place was the meeting place of about seven cows including one of our own. Every night they parked in our front yard. In the morning it was my responsibility to clean up the droppings with a shovel. These droppings were placed in a pile in the garden and later used as fertilizer. In later years, when I was walking to school and saw cow droppings along the road, I felt the urge to clean it up.
Spring came in full bloom. Even our new fruit trees had a few blooms, though they produced no fruit the first year. My dog Bob continued his frustrating chase of chipmunks and rabbits. Though the snakes were plentiful, they were not nearly as bad as last year. While plowing one day, I found an arrowhead and knew the Indians had been there, even though it may have been over one hundred and fifty years ago. My dad and I went fishing down at the back of Duck River Bottom with cane poles. I do not remember catching anything, but it was a fun day. My dad told me that the Indians once lived along the river, and that on the high bluff to the north, they had painted a large moon with stars. My dad said that he had seen this many times before it was blasted away to build the road around Paint Rock.
We were very busy all spring getting the corn planted, taking care of the garden, and keeping plenty of wood for the kitchen stove and the wash kettle, where my mother did the weekly laundry each Monday. The wash kettle held about five gallons of water, which had to be drawn from the well. A fire was started around the kettle and the water brought to a boil. The clothes were separated into two groups. The white clothes were placed in the kettle of boiling water with homemade soap and boiled for thirty minutes. Then they were taken out of the wash kettle and placed in a galvanized tub filled with clean water for hand rinsing. Sometimes the clothes were still not clean and had to be rubbed on the washboard before repeating the whole boiling process. Finally, they would be rinsed, squeezed dry by hand, and hung on the clothesline to dry completely. The whole process was repeated for dark clothes, but required much more scrubbing. The following day, the entire wash was hand ironed with irons heated on the kitchen stove. I never realized that my mother had to work so hard to keep our clothes clean.
Because our farm was on Highway 1, the Memphis to Bristol roadway of America, later renamed Highway 70, we saw a lot of people moving westward. There was no bridge across the Tennessee River, so everyone used the ferry at Trotterís Landing in Big Bottom. There were covered wagons, regular wagons, buggies, and hacks. Directly across the road to the north, there was about one half acre of flat area on our property that was ideal for camping. Consequently, almost every night we had families camping there. My mother and dad never turned anyone away and occasionally let someone with children sleep in the barn. I have no idea how much food we gave away to those who were destitute and down on their luck. Sometimes we might collect a dime for a dozen eggs. There was plenty of water in Brady Branch, so it was an ideal camping place. We talked to these families from East Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and other places. It was so interesting. They were common people like us. As far as I know, the only trouble was with some Orthodox Jews. I believe the problem was communication. They would not leave until after six oíclock Saturday night. Saturday was their Sabbath. They would not travel on the Sabbath which ended at sundown.
We were busy during the spring and early summer with the farm work. We did not have any additional land, except for the orchard area, which had been planted in peas. This area did not require much extra work other than regular plowing once each week during the growing season. The garden required quite a bit of extra work in addition to plowing. Sticks had to be erected for the stick beans and stakes for the tomatoes. All of these sticks had to be cut and brought in from the woods. The garden also required weeding and watching for bugs and worms. The cornfield, in addition to the weekly plowing, required removal of weeds and bushes. We used a heavier type cane hoe instead of regular garden hoes. The job of hoeing fell to Effie and me. Effie was seven years old, and I was ten. My love of farm work began to fade. Hard labor lost a lot of its glamour that spring.
In late June I discovered some dewberry vines loaded with berries along the bank of Brady Branch. As they ripened, I picked them, and my mother made a delicious pie, the first one of the season. This became an annual tradition for many years. I also found blackberry briars along the southern edge of our property. I watched the berries until they ripened in July, then picked several gallons which my mother processed and canned for winter use. This was also an annual event with growing importance in later years.
On July 5, Effie and I returned to Glenwood. We now had our cousins Allene and Cecil Gartrell to walk with us. We had all the kids who had walked with us the previous year: the Buchanans, the Roberts, and the Brisentines. I was in the fifth grade, and Effie in the second. Our teacher was Mr. W. L. Cude of Waverly. He commuted every day from Waverly in a Model T touring car. We immediately arranged a ride with him. By the time he drove down Brady Branch he had a load of kids. We paid him ten cents a day. I do not know what the others paid, if anything, but my dad insisted that we pay something. Since Mr. Cude lived in Waverly he had access to a daily newspaper, probably the Nashville Banner, and he would discuss the news with us during the summer. He told us that President Wilson had worked hard for a peace conference and the formation of the League of Nations to prevent another war like World War I. Mr. Wilson had little support from the European countries and little, if any, support from the United States Congress. Mr. Cude thought this caused the Presidentís illness and later, his death. I was upset and wanted to be President some day.
Mr. Cude said that anyone could be President if he had a good education. He explained that there were a lot of things to consider. The number one thing was to get an education.
We talked about history often, and I believe this was the beginning of my love for it. Now I realize that he may have taken an interest in me because he did not have a little boy in his family. He had two girls.
Summer went by so fast that I cannot remember much about it except one incident at school that really made an impression. At lunch time, or dinner as we called it, we played ball. One day we had a game going, and my friend, Ernie Spencer, had his leg broken when a bigger boy fell on him sliding into second base. There was so much confusion and excitement that school was suspended for the rest of the day. Ernie did not return to school that year. I didnít see him again until 1987, sixty-six years later. I was attending the funeral of my brother-in-law, Harry Creighton, in Dickson, Tennessee. A nicely dressed man walked up to me and said, "You do not know me, but my name is Ernie Spencer." I asked, "Are you the Ernie Spencer that broke his leg while playing baseball at Glenwood School?" We talked for quite a while about Glenwood, and I learned that he had spent most of his life in Nashville in the insurance business.
Fall came, necessitating the usual preparation for winter. It seemed like we would never get enough wood cut for the fireplace, the kitchen stove, and the wash kettle. My dad spent most of his time cutting wood. I thought we had enough, but my dad kept reminding me of last winter. I spent Sunday gathering nuts and exploring with Bob in White Hollow. I found a large crop of ripe muscadines. Life was exciting. The leaves were beautiful and the air was cool and crisp. This ten-year-old boy did not have a care in the world. I had enough walnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts to last a long time.
I continued to talk to Mr. Cude about President Wilson, history, and current events. One day he said, "Why donít you go to school in Waverly? You live about halfway between Glenwood and Waverly. You would get a much better education there. You could go to high school and learn a lot more." Well, I was not interested in changing schools. I had a lot of friends in Glenwood, but did not know a single person in Waverly School. Also, I wanted to be a farmer, and saw no advantage in going to Waverly.
In November, an incident occurred that changed my mind. It was the day after Thanksgiving and Waverly Grammar School was not in session. Mr Cude brought his two young daughters with him to visit us at Glenwood. Hattie was in the sixth or seventh grade and Irene was in the third grade. They were dressed in white and wore shoes. I learned that the kids at Waverly Grammar School wore shoes all summer and seemed to have a big time. We played games, and I think one was "drop the handkerchief." Mr. Cude told them that he and I had been talking about my going to Waverly Grammar School. They looked at me, and one of them, probably Hattie, said "Ugh." But my mind was made up. I wanted to go to Waverly.
So Mr. Cude said that he wanted to talk to my parents. On the way home a few days later, he stopped and discussed with my parents why I should go to Waverly. He said I had possibilities if I could get an education. Glenwood was a limited situation with one room for eight grades. He said that he would talk to J. A. Gray, the principal at Waverly, and make all the arrangements. My dad was non-committal. He was planning on my being a farmer. My mother was really interested and thanked Mr. Cude for his interest and offer to help. She said it would depend on what I wanted to do, since I was going to be eleven years old in a few months. She felt that I should have a part in making the decision (my smart mother!) We thought and talked about it. I thought about Mr. Cude, our conversations, and the little girls in white dresses and shoes. I said, "I want to go."
Mr. Cude talked to Mr. Bill Knight, the county school superintendent, and to Mr. Gray, the principal, and received instruction that I was to report at Waverly Grammar School on Tuesday, January 2, 1922, at 8:00am.
Glenwood finished on December 16. I said goodbye to all my friends there. I was promoted to the next grade. It was a little sad, but I sure got over thinking about it with Christmas so close at hand. We were finishing a wonderful year.
One other thing I should mention about my last year at Glenwood was a man who came through the county showing a new-fangled contraption. A black and white motion picture. The picture was to be shown on Friday night and cost ten cents a person. We had never seen a movie and had no idea what it would be like. It was a dark night. The room was filled to overflowing, and a lot of people were standing. I do not know exactly how the man worked the projector, but I believe he had to run it by cranking the film through by hand. All the lights were out and it was really dark. There was no electricity in the school and the film was projected onto the screen by kerosene lantern. After two or three false starts he finally got the picture going it was sometimes too fast and sometimes too slow. The film was black and white and titled "The Great Train Robbery." The main character was the comedian, Fatty Arbuckle. Even though the whole operation was poor compared to todayís standards, the crowd enjoyed it immensely and applauded several times. It was a wonderful and memorable experience. As I write this, I think how lucky we were. It could have been a firetrap if something had gone wrong.
It was 6:00am on Tuesday, January 2, 1922. The weather was cold and cloudy, and the wind was out of the north as usual. My dad said it felt like it was going to snow. My mother was feverishly trying to get me ready to go to school. I had to leave home by 6:30 to get to school at Waverly by 8:00. Everybody was excited, including Bob.
Iíll describe how I was dressed for my first day of school. I had a new haircut courtesy of my mother. It was called the "soup-bowl," which meant it was straight around my head. She shaved my neck with my dadís straight razor. I had long cotton underwear which was tucked into my stockings. My little overalls were homemade and faded due to washing and drawn up until they barely came to my knees. My shirt was homemade from blue chambray cloth. I had on a sweater and an overall "jumper," also homemade. I had a cap that came over my ears, no gloves, and my shoes were relatively new, as I had worn them only a short time. I had a World War I army surplus knapsack on my back to carry my lunch and future books.
Promptly at 6:30 I tried to leave, but was delayed because Bob was determined to go with me. I tricked him by getting him into the house and easing out the back door. A quarter mile up the road I passed the Crowell house with their dog barking at me. Two hundred yards further up the road I passed Aunt Nora and Uncle Will Gartrellís house and no sign of activity. From there to the Webb place, one and a half miles from Waverly, there was deep forest on both sides. There was not a single home place between the Webbs and Waverly. There was no traffic on the road that early in the morning and the road was made of dirt, rough and full of chuck holes.
I arrived at school a few minutes before the assembly bell sounded. I walked up the steps shaking like a leaf from cold and fear. If I had not been so cold I would have turned around and gone back home. The big hall that stretched the entire length of the building was crowded with children. It seemed like they were talking about Christmas and the holidays. As I walked in, I was noticed by the group nearest the door. They became very quiet. They gathered around me, more and more coming up, saying nothing, just looking. You would have thought I was Daniel Boone coming in. One boy stepped forward and asked if he could help me. I identified him later as Joseph Gray, Jr., or "Eckie," as he was commonly known. About that time the assembly bell sounded and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought the place must be on fire. The boy explained that the bell was for assembly, but because the weather was so cold, the kids would not have to go outside and line up, but would go directly to their room. I said, "I want to see the teacher, I think his name is Mr. Gray." He said, "Thatís my dad. He is the principal. Just follow me." I followed him, along with about twenty other children tagging along, to see what was going to happen. J. A. Gray taught the seventh and eighth grades in addition to being the principal of the grammar school. When we arrived at his room it was already full of students in the seventh and eighth grades. Everybody got real quiet. Eckie said, "Sir, this is a new student, and he wants to talk to you." Mr. Gray asked me several questions and finished by saying that Mr. Cude had talked to him about me. He explained that, even though I had finished the fifth grade at Glenwood, I would have to finish the last half of the current school year in the fourth grade. Any student coming from a county school to Waverly was automatically put back one grade because of the difference in the quality of the school and the courses taught. It would be almost impossible for a fifth grade student from Glenwood to carry the fifth grade work at Waverly. He took me to Miss Dolly Porch, teacher of the third and fourth grades.
I will never forget the look on Miss Dollyís face when I was presented to her. Her expression seemed to say, "Why me? I donít deserve this!" She asked me some questions and assigned me to desk number two, row two, immediately to her left. Miss Dolly appeared to be quite old. She was a spinster, probably in her thirties.
Miss Dolly asked that everyone settle down. Then she said, "We will now have third grade arithmetic. Johnny, do you have your homework?" Johnny said that he did not. She asked him to come out into the hall where she proceeded to give him a good switching. Was I scared? I knew my time was coming. I did not have my homework. I didnít even have a book. What I did not yet know was that Johnny Durham never had his homework and received a whipping every morning, five days a week, for the entire school year. He tried to soften the whipping by wearing two pairs of pants and putting newspapers in the seat. He never did his homework.
I spent a good part of the morning listening and observing. I had already decided that this was not for me. Right before morning recess, Miss Dolly reminded the fourth graders that each one was to have written out on a slip of paper the full name of his or her best friend. Here was another crisis for me. At recess I was in the hall with a lot of other kids around me looking and talking. I was trying, with no luck, to get someone to be my best friend. Finally, Joseph Alexander Gray, Jr. said he would be my friend, but I couldnít spell all that. About that time, a little third grader, redheaded and freckle-faced, came forward and said, "I will be your best friend. Here, I will write it out for you. My name is Thomas Carter Morris." I told this story at a class reunion fifty-five years later, but Tom did not remember.
Lunch went by and we did not go outside because the weather was so bad. We came back from lunch at 1:00 and had afternoon recess at 2:30. I made it through the rest of the day without being called on for anything. Right before 3:15, when school was let out for the day, Miss Dolly gave me a list of books and supplies that I would need. I told her that I would get everything the next day before school and that I might be a few minutes late coming in. She said it would be all right.
At 3:15 she read a list of all those who had to stay after school for talking or some other infraction of the rules. The rest of us were dismissed. I headed home. What a day. I had already made up my mind that I was not coming back. The walk back home was not quite as cold. The wind hit my back and not my face. I ran part of the way and arrived home about 4:30. They saw me coming and came to meet me, Bob leading the way. He was barking and running and nearly knocked me down by rubbing against my leg and trying to lick my face. Effie said, "How did it go? What did you think about it?" I said, "I ainít going back!" We walked on to the house and Effie ran in and announced, "He ainít a goiní back!" My mother said, "What happened? We will talk about it since you must have had a big day. Did you know anybody?" I replied, "They put me back in the fourth grade and a boy got a whipping just as the first class started. Miss Dolly Porch is my teacher and she has a big wastebasket full of switches." We talked about it while we ate. After supper, while I helped my mother with the dishes, she got serious with me. She explained that this was a wonderful opportunity for me, one that the Buchanans, the Roberts, the Brisintines, and others did not have. It was a chance for me to show what I could do and really make something of my life. She believed in me and wanted to help in every way she could. She said it had only seemed so bad because I had been scared. Each day would be better. All I had to do was be a good boy, study hard, and do what I was supposed to do. She said tomorrow would be better than today had been. We had to try it at least one more day. I said, "I will do it." Then I showed her the list of books and supplies that I needed. She said she would give me a signed blank check to take to Mr. Tom Miller. I should get a receipt showing the total amount spent. I said, "Momma, I am going to make you proud."
The next morning we went through the regular routine of getting ready for school. I was ready to leave at about 6:15 to allow time to go to the bookstore. It was still cold and windy. I got my books and arrived at school at exactly 8:00 so everything was fine. I paid Miss Dolly five cents for ink to go in the inkwell on my desk. I gave her another nickel for a package of twenty-five sheets of notebook paper. I was in business. The kids seemed to be friendlier today than yesterday and I felt pretty good. Johnny did not have his homework so he got the usual whipping. I felt sorry for him and wondered why he seemed to enjoy getting a whipping every day.
After the morning recess an attractive young lady came into the room and was introduced as Miss Augusta Finch, our new music teacher. She took charge and began talking to us about what we were going to do. This was strictly a foreign field to me. She began talking about the scales, which we were to learn first. She then sang a little song using every note on the scale. It was very interesting but I doubted if I could learn it. Later in the week I was looking through my favorite new book, Websterís School Dictionary, and found the word scale. There it was: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. I memorized and practiced singing it as I walked home. I never volunteered to sing it in front of the class because I was too timid. I did sing it to Effie, Annie, Bob, and "Old Bird." At the end of January, we had a test in music; everything pertaining to the scale. I made a 100% on the test. Miss Finch was astonished. Some time in January Miss Dolly taught the vowels and consonants. I found them in the dictionary and memorized and repeated them as I walked to and from school. When the test was given, I made a 100%. I practiced any assigned memory work and my spelling lesson as I walked to and from school. I made it a practice to have each lesson prepared for the next day. I kept this up through the eighth grade.
Things began to work out very well. The kids were friendly for the most part and I participated in the games at recess and lunch. Valentineís Day came and we had a party in class. I did not get a single Valentine. I really did not know what it was all about.
I shocked Miss Dolly and the class when I ranked second in the class for the month of March. They were in double shock when I ranked number one for the month of April. My mother and dad were so proud they could hardly stand it.
For the end of school, the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades participated in the program of music, skits, and drills before a packed auditorium of family and friends. I was part of a Chinese drill where we wore white pants, white shirts, and little black string ties. We sang the song, "Hi Lee, Hi Low" and it came off quite well. My mother and sister came to the program. My mother met Miss Kit Stockard who would be my fifth grade teacher. Miss Stockard said that she was proud for me to be in her class next year.
Another incident happened around May 1. Eckie Gray asked me to go to Sunday School with him and we agreed on a day. I asked if I could bring my cousin, Cecil Gartrell, with me. We were to go to Sunday School, church, and have dinner with the Grays. Cecil was six years old at the time. We agreed to leave home about 8:00 to allow enough time to get to the Grayís at 9:15 and go to Sunday School at 9:30. We did leave home at 8:00, but caught a ride in a car, and by 8:15 we were sitting on the Grayís porch, when they were just getting up. This was an awkward situation. We went to Sunday School and church but Mrs. Gray did not go. She had to fix Sunday dinner. We came back with Eckie and Mr. Gray at about 12:30. We sat down to dinner. I sensed that Mrs. Gray was not too happy about the situation. After a while, Eckie and I finished eating, but Cecil was still going strong. So Mr. Gray asked Eckie and I to go downtown and mail a letter while Cecil was finishing. Eckie and I left and walked down to the post office and back. It must have taken at least twenty minutes. When we got back Cecil was still eating. I do not know where he was putting it. That was the only time I went to Sunday School and church with Eckie. He attended Presbyterian Church and my mother insisted that I attend Methodist Church.
The spring of 1922 Brady Branch was beautiful. Along the three mile road I walked to school, there were hundreds of dogwood trees in bloom. There were also a lot of redbud trees. Wildflowers covered the hills. Our orchard was in full bloom with both peach and apple trees. At home there was plenty of work to do to get everything ready for spring planting. The teachers had a meeting on the last Friday in March, and so there was no school. This gave me two days for plowing. I do not know how we got everything plowed and planted by the end of school around May 1 We were in high gear.
I was eleven years old, Effie was eight, Annie was approaching six, and Hiram was three. I had to do all the plowing: the garden, the potato patch, the orchard, and the cornfield, where two acres had been cleared since last year, making a total of seven acres. My mother, Effie, and Annie pulled weeds in the garden and picked bugs off the potato vines. I had to do the plowing once each week. There was also the problem of chopping weeds and bushes in the corn. It seemed like this was a neverending job. The new area was full of rocks because most of it had been an old creek bed. This was hard work. I began to wonder if farming was in my future. As usual my dog spent most of his time chasing rabbits and chipmunks.
The most interesting area was in the orchard where we planted watermelons and cantaloupes. They were planted in hills about ten feet apart to allow the vines plenty of room as they grew along the ground. By early June they were beginning to bloom. By July the little melons appeared everywhere. My mother said I watered them too much and that they would never grow big and ripe. We had a large crop of peaches and a small crop of apples. I counted the apples on each tree, with particular interest in the June apples, which were the first to ripen.
My dad was erecting a fence around our front and side yards. We cut a white oak tree with no lower branches and sawed it into three foot blocks. The blocks were split into quarters and then eighths. The eighths were split again. My dad, with use of a tool called the "fro" and a mallet, split off narrow panels or palings. They were used to build the fence which lasted for many years. Using the same method, he made shingles for reroofing the house which had originally been roofed with tar paper. There was some concern about the weight of the wood shingles but they worked out all right. They helped keep the house warmer during the winter.
My mother and dad would not permit us to work on Sunday. That was the day when Bob and I would go exploring up Mill Hollow, out to Old Ridge Road, and other places. At one time, there had been a sawmill in Mill Hollow, and there was a huge pile of sawdust that covered almost an acre. Sometimes we would play for hours digging tunnels in the sawdust and pretending we had a fort for protection against the Indians. Now I realize how dangerous that was. The dust could have caved in, suffocating us.
My dad kept telling me that we would go fishing in July after the crop was laid by. We might even stay all night. The prospect was exciting but I think he used that promise to encourage me and keep me working. In late July we did prepare to go fishing and stay overnight. I cannot remember who went with us but it was probably Robert Smith and James Crowell. We made a trot line with fifty-five hooks. The hooks were tied onto a piece of lighter cord that was connected to a heavier cord at about four foot intervals. We made a seine by cutting two burlap bags open and sewing them into a rectangular shape. The sewing was done with heavy cord. A light chain was sewn along the bottom to give weight and keep the seine on the bottom. Two lightweight handles were attached to the ends to complete the seine. We left at 12:30pm, walking towards Duck River bottom at the back of the Daniel farm, three miles away. We had to carry everything: food for supper and breakfast, two cane fishing poles, the seine, extra crocker sacks, a tackle box, a small frying pan, a can of worms to use for bait for bank fishing, and other supplies needed for camping. We stopped near the Binkle-Crockett place on Brady Branch to seine for crawfish to be used for bait. My dad said we would keep only the small and medium sized crawfish and throw back the large ones. It took us thirty minutes to seine one and one half gallons of crawfish. They were put in a wet crocker sack which added to our load. We walked on down Brady Branch, up the hill, and across the Daniel farm to the area between the hills and Duck River. It was a beautiful area with a fine corn crop waving in the wind like a big lake. The road across this area was about a mile long. We arrived at the river at about 3:30pm. I was tired and excited. There was much work to do. Robert Smith and James Crowell were already there. They had already put out their lines. Luckily, they had already secured a boat, a flat bottom canoe. They helped us get our trot line out and baited. My dad explained that we would run the trot line, beginning at the gravel bar edge, and extend it into deep water. This would give us a better chance of catching fish in various depths of water. After getting the line in the water, fully anchored and baited with crawfish, we proceeded to set up camp. We had to gather driftwood for a fire because nights were cool and we were wet. We hoped to catch some fish for supper but had no such luck. There was no drinking water and we did not want to drink the river water. Robert and James paddled up the river to the mouth of Blue Creek to get fresh water. My dad and I fished from the bank with our fishing poles but still had no luck. At dusk we ate supper. My mother had fixed chicken, biscuits, fresh tomatoes, and fried pies. We shared with Robert and James. There was plenty to go around. Just after dark, it was time to seine minnows for bait. We took the seine to the edge of the bar and dragged it through the water. We seined minnows, all right, but along with them, we seined two water moccasins and a turtle. This was too much for me but Robert and James laughed about it and kept going. Robert and James baited our line and theirs with minnows. Then we prepared to bed down for the night. My dad and I cut horseweeds to make a sort of bed. Of course, the weeds had plenty of bugs and chiggers, but we managed to get some sleep. When Robert and James ran the lines at about midnight we had caught some fish and an eel. I do not remember how big the fish were. We went back to the horse weed bed for the rest of the night. When morning came, we ran the lines again and took off a few more fish, but thankfully no eels. Then we fixed breakfast: eggs and regular side meat, with some biscuits left over from the night before. My dad made coffee in a gallon bucket, but I did not drink any. My dad, Robert, and James drank the coffee made with river water, and pronounced it good. That was some fishing trip. It sure made an impression on me. The night sounds were different from those I had heard before. There was a screech owl which was terrifying. There were two bobcats on the bluff serenading each other with wild screams. There were many strange birds with weird sounds. We had no life jackets. Any kind of any accident would have been tragic. We arrived home at about 10:00 in the morning. I have never been more tired than I was that day.
With August came a beautiful supply of fruits and vegetables: watermelons and cantaloupes, maturing corn (for roasting ears), a bumper crop of blackberries, and a good crop of wild blueberries, or huckleberries, as we called them. My mother prepared and canned the fruits and vegetables for the winter; we helped her. I picked blackberries for jams and jellies. We had more food than we could possibly use, so we gave quite a bit to my Aunt Nora and Grandmother Smith. We still had dried peas and beans to harvest.
We had to get ready for school which started on August 21. I was anxious to get back to school and see all my friends. Effie was going and she was excited. Annie was six, but for some reason, she was held out and did not start this year. My cousins, Allene and Cecil Gartrell, started school at the same time. They were put back a year as I had been last January. We walked together, frequently getting a ride with someone in a farm wagon, rarely in an automobile.
Miss Maggie Tubbs taught Cecil and Effie. Miss Dolly Porch taught Allene in third grade. My teacher was Mrs. Catherine Stockard, a widow. Her deceased husband, sheriff of Humphreys County, had been killed in the line of duty. Mrs. Stockard was affectionately known as "Miss Kit." She was a heavyset woman always in control. I was assigned to the last seat in the second row to Miss Kitís right. My seat was right next to the door that connected our room with the seventh and eighth grade room taught by Mr. Gray. The door was never locked and he came into our room often and without warning. Some times he took over class and conducted it, asking many questions. It was upsetting to go through a grilling like that. Sometimes he left the door open and asked Miss Kit to watch the seventh and eighth grades for a while. The desk next to me was occupied by Melvin Bass who always had trouble with spelling. I was usually assigned to help him. He improved later on in school.
If I remember correctly we had arithmetic, spelling, reading, drawing, health, and geography. I had a special liking for health, or hygiene, because it was my first exposure to methods of sanitation and causes of illness. At home we had not heard very much about sanitation and knew little about it. We didnít have screens on the windows or doors so there were flies everywhere. The flies had free run of the house and sure took advantage of it. I began to talk to my mother and dad about screens. Within a few months we had screens on all the doors and windows. While not 100% effective, it certainly diminished the number of flies. While studying health I received a small toothbrush and a sample tube of toothpaste from the Colgate Company. Up to that time there was not a toothbrush in our family. One thing I was never able to correct was the common water bucket and dipper. We spent many hours at home talking about sanitation and how it affected our health.
The Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway advertised a special excursion train to Nashville to depart July 3 and return July 5. There was to be a professional baseball game in Nashville on July 4. The train probably originated in Memphis or Jackson. My motherís brother, his family, and younger sister, Mary, lived in Nashville. They visited us early in the summer and began to talk to me about visiting them in Nashville. With the special train on July 3, it would be a good time. Of course this excited me. I began to pressure my mom and dad to let me go. I believe that Uncle Benson had two children, one was a boy about my age. The plans were made. They would meet me and take care of me. There would be no problem. When the day came, my mother gave me $1.75 for my ticket, and a ten dollar bill. I walked to Waverly and went directly to the train station. About an hour before the trainís arrival, I bought my round trip ticket, which was $1.75. When the train came at 11:30, it was already crowded, and quite a few people got on at Waverly. I knew some of them. Everyone seemed to be having a big time. We started out and it was exciting. The engineer sounded the whistle at every crossing. We stopped in every small town to pick up passengers. By the time the train arrived in Nashville there was not even standing room left. We arrived at Union Station at about 2:30. I began to get scared. What if they forgot or couldnít find me? We got off the train and everyone walked in the same direction toward the station entrance. I spotted my Aunt Mary at the same time she saw me. She began to yell, "over here, over here!" She gave me a big hug and said she was glad I had come. We got on a streetcar, the first one I had ever seen. It ran on tracks right down the middle of the street. It took us to the car barn where streetcars were coming and going in all directions. We had to catch a different car that took us to the area of Nashville where they lived. By this time, I was excited, but a little homesick. It was quite an experience for an eleven-year-old boy.
The next day, July 4, was spent at a park. I do not remember the name of the park but there was a sulfur spring and a drinking fountain with sulfur water. People came with large containers in which they collected sulfur water. It was supposed to preserve health. The water had a terrible odor and taste. They kept trying to get me to drink it but one swallow was all I could stand. We had a good time with the swings, the rides, and the trails. I would not spend any money. They teased me all day and tried to get me to loosen up and spend my ten dollars, but I held out.
On July 5, they took me to Union Station. I was to catch my train at 2:30. This had been a fun trip all the way. I arrived in Waverly at about 4:30 and promptly went to the city café where I spent thirty-five cents for a plate lunch. That was my only expenditure other than the $1.75 train fair. When I arrived home everyone wanted to know exactly what had happened.
When fall came there was again a bumper crop of nuts, especially chestnuts and hazelnuts, which I gathered and took to school to swap for different things. The boys learned that I would trade nuts for cheese and crackers, bananas, cookies, marbles, etc. I had a lot of friends in both the fifth and sixth grades.
I led my class, not because I was smart, (I was probably average), but because I studied hard and made certain I was prepared every day. I had good study habits due to my scare the previous year.
Thanksgiving was the first big event of the year. I had heard practically nothing about Thanksgiving until this time. Miss Kit read stories about the pilgrims and Indians. When she mentioned Indians I really perked up and paid attention. We had a good story about the first Thanksgiving. On Wednesday we had a Thanksgiving skit. I was an Indian. This program involved both the fifth and sixth grades and was so exciting I could hardly stand it. At home, though we had never celebrated before, we had a Thanksgiving dinner with baked hen instead of turkey. We decorated corn stalks and a big pumpkin. We made a little Indian out of Hiram who was three years old and most cooperative. We invited Aunt Nora and her family and Grandmother Smith. I told the story of the first Thanksgiving.
When we returned to school after Thanksgiving we had only three weeks before the Christmas holidays. It was a hectic time. We were so excited we could hardly stand it. Miss Kit immediately started to get her class in the mood for Christmas but gently reminded us that we would be taking December exams the week prior to Christmas. We decorated the room with drawings of green Christmas trees on white paper. It was so hard to study. I think Miss Kit was as excited as we were. She was probably thinking about the time she would have off between Christmas and New Year. She promised us that we would have a Christmas party on December 22, the last day of school, if we studied and worked hard. We did not have a Christmas tree because it was illegal to have one in the school building. We did not draw names but most of the children exchanged gifts anyway. My friend, Byrom Baker, gave me a little wind-up toy tractor. This was the first toy I had received since 1919 when Santa brought me a little red wagon. I was very happy. I was really getting the Christmas spirit.
As we walked home we talked about the parties in the other classes. Effie and Cecil had a big party in the second grade. Allene said they had a party in the third grade, and that Miss Dolly Porch put her arm around Johnny, the little boy that got so many whippings.
But this was only the beginning of Christmas for us. Effie and I, along with Allene and Cecil, had been attending Sunday School at the Waverly Methodist Church. On the previous Sunday they had announced that there would be a Christmas tree on Saturday night for all the children of the church. Everyone was urged to be present at 7:00. We had never seen a Christmas tree or a real life Santa Claus, so we begged my mother to let us go. She was excited also and agreed to go with us. On Saturday night at 7:00 we were all there: Allene, Cecil, Effie, my mother, and me. The church was packed and the tree was beautiful: fifteen feet tall and decorated with tinsel and imitation snow. It had no lights but it sure was beautiful. All around it were packages. Some were tied on the tree. The program began with the church pianist playing Christmas songs, then the minister gave a long prayer, at least it seemed long. Then a young girl, Josephine Exum, daughter of Kenneth Exum, a banker, gave a reading of a Christmas story and concluded with "The Night Before Christmas." She was in my class, studying speech and expression. When she concluded we heard the sound of bells in the basement and then a loud, "Whoa, Prancer!" Old Santa Claus bounded up the steps and started down the aisle towards the Christmas tree. He had a big pack on his back and was "ho, ho, hoing" to everyone. Bedlam erupted. I had never seen anything like this in my entire life. When Santa got to the front by the Christmas tree, he asked the crowd to calm down and said he had some presents to give out to good little boys and girls. He asked that all little boys and girls who had been good hold up their hands. Mine went up immediately as I could not remember having done anything bad. He began to take the presents off the tree and said his eyes were not so good, so a teenage girl began to help him read the names. As time went by, my name was not called, and I felt let down. But then Santa took a list out of his pocket and said these would get a special gift of fruit, candy, and cookies, and to come forward as each name was called. The first named called was Leslie Smith. I froze. I felt like I was paralyzed. Effie said, "He called your name!" So I got up to walk down the aisle. We were sitting on the pew in the back row and I was shaking like a leaf in the wind by the time I got down there. Santa asked, "Have you been a good little boy?" and I replied, "Yes sir." He handed me a sack of fruit that weighed about twelve pounds and patted me on the head saying, "Merry Christmas." The next name called was Effie Smith. She did not hesitate at all, almost running down the aisle. Then Allene Gartrell was called, and finally Cecil. The bags were distributed until every child in the church got one. I learned in later years that Tom Miller had given these. He did it every Christmas. Each bag contained apples, oranges, seeded raisins, a box of Cracker Jacks, a box of vanilla wafers, some bananas, and a big stick of peppermint candy. The program concluded and Santa left in a hurry. We started walking home. Though the loads were heavy our spirits were sky-high. A car came up beside us. The driver said he would take us home. I do not know who was driving but it was Tom Millerís car. He was the man that gave all that fruit.
The next day, Sunday, was Christmas Eve, and another busy day. My mother spent the entire day cooking and baking. Effie and I helped by grating coconut and tasting everything. Also, I had to make certain there was plenty of wood on the porch for the big fire we would need all Christmas day. The day itself was almost a repeat of Thanksgiving. We had Aunt Noraís family and Grandmother Smith. My mother had fixed everything, a fresh coconut cake for my dad and me, and chocolate cake for Effie. Annie and Hiram had no special favorites. They liked them all. Santa had been good to us. We got clothes and other practical things. I got some firecrackers and a box of sparklers. We took a jar of preserves to Mr. and Mrs. Crowell, our neighbors. We then went to see Allene and Cecil to compare notes and goods. Everyone was having a big time. Annie, who was now six, seemed to be the most excited. Hiram, three, took it all in, ready for anything. My dog Bob enjoyed the festivities until we started popping the firecrackers and sparklers. Then he crawled under the house next to the chimney where it was warm. On Christmas night, we sure did not need anything to eat, but mother fixed hoecake bread and sweet milk. Hoecake bread is made with meal, salt, water, and baked in an iron skillet, a flat iron utensil that looks like a stove lid. It was cooked on top of the stove, good to eat on a cold winter night.
On Tuesday, the day after Christmas, dad said he was afraid it was going to snow. So we began to add to our wood supply for the fireplace, the kitchen stove, and the wash kettle. We cut most of the wood from trees that had fallen down during past summer storms, except we always cut backlogs for the fireplace from hickory or gum trees. These lasted longer after they were on the fire. We began cultivating an area of about five acres at the southeast part of our property. It was a big project and lasted until late spring but provided plenty of wood to burn.
On Tuesday, January 2, a cold, blustery day, we went back to school. Effie got so cold that she cried. We were not sufficiently dressed for cold weather. Thereafter, I carried matches, and many times I built a fire because we were so cold. But on cold, rainy days, this was not possible. I often think about us trudging three miles to school in all kinds of weather and being so cold when we got there that our feet were numb. These days, there is a lot of talk about the "disadvantaged." We never considered ourselves disadvantaged. We really felt that we were blessed in many ways.
Miss Kit was a great believer in fresh air. Every morning at about 10:00, she had some of the boys raise the window, and we would stand and do exercises for about fifteen minutes regardless of the temperature outside.
School settled down to a normal routine of study until February 14, St. Valentineís Day. Then we had a Valentine party. I got one Valentine, from my friend, Byron Baker. It read, "You may be the teacherís pet, but I will get you yet." I was definitely not the teacherís pet. She did not give me any special attention but I had my lessons prepared and made excellent grades. I really studied hard.
My birthday came on March 20th, and the class sang "Happy Birthday" to me. I loved it. About the last of March there was a teacherís meeting and we had a holiday. Of course this meant I would be at home preparing the garden and planting Irish potatoes. Work! Work! Work! It seems like there was no rest at all.
Hiramís birthday came on March 27. He was four years old, big enough to follow me around everywhere. Effieís birthday came on Monday, April 16. She was nine years old and a very pretty girl. She helped with the housework but did not like to chop weeds.
Spring came to Brady Branch. It was again spectacular, even more so than last year. It was exciting. I got home from school at about 4:15, and my dad would have the harness on "Old Bird," ready for me to start plowing. I began and continued until dark. Saturday was a full day but there was never any work on Sunday. I think back now about how hard we had to work but there was no bitterness. It was our farm and our home which we loved.
School ended on Friday, May 4 with the graduation of the eighth grade. On Thursday night we had our drill with the third and fourth grades. I do not remember the title but the program consisted of a duo on the piano and a reading by one of the girls studying expression and speech. Mr. Gray came to the stage to make a presentation. He explained that every year a pin was given to the best all around boy in school as voted by the faculty. He said the boy had to be at the top of his class, exhibit qualities of good leadership, and show a Christian attitude toward his teachers and fellow students. He mentioned several other things but I was not paying much attention until he said, "This year we have selected Leslie Smith of the fifth grade as the best all around boy in Waverly Grammar School. I ask that he come forward at this time and receive this pin. If his parents are here, we would like for them to come with him." I practically went into shock. I had never dreamed of such a thing. I began to cry. I still had on the little suit I had worn in the drill. My parents were not there. The auditorium was packed, and I was on the side, several rows back. Then the crowd began to clap and I stood up. Then the whole crowd stood up, clapping. I walked up to the stage still crying. Mr. Gray put his arm around my shoulder and gave a short speech. The only part of which I remember was that they had made a good choice, that I had been in Waverly grammar school only one and one half years, and that I exhibited the qualities they were considering. Then he pinned the pin on me, shook my hand, and patted me on the head. I walked down the steps to my seat as the crowd clapped again. I still have the pin and I shall never forget that night. When I arrived home and told my mother and dad about it they were very proud. On Monday we went back to school to get our report cards. I had led the fifth grade for nine months and was promoted to the sixth grade.
After school was out, the farm work really got into high gear. We worked sunup to sundown. By May 15, we had plenty of vegetables: onions, radishes, beets, bunch beans, and new potatoes. I worked three days in early June for Mr. Jim Raney who had a big farm on Trace Creek. I earned seventy-five cents for an entire day. I used the money to buy a pair of Duckhead overalls. Now I was in style, with my first pair of store-bought, ready-made overalls.
The number of travelers was lighter this year than last, but we still had quite a number of campers. It was quite interesting to talk to them and find out where they were from. Summer went on and we just settled down to a busy farm life.
There was a good crop of blackberries and huckleberries. My mother did such a good job of canning that we had more food than we could use. She always shared with my Aunt Nora and Grandmother Smith because they did not have an orchard. I sold some blackberries for ten cents a gallon and huckleberries for twenty-five cents a gallon. It was a good summer with plenty of everything.
School began on August 13th. I was in sixth grade, Effie was in third, and Annie was in the first grade. Allene and Cecil started at the Waverly School. Allene was in the fourth grade and Cecil in the third. It was more fun to walk to and from school with my sisters and cousins. We got along well. The only problem was getting a ride We were hardly ever offered to ride in a car because there were five of us. We sometimes got a ride in a farm wagon if someone came along who knew us.
In the sixth grade I had to study geography, which I liked, except that we were required to draw maps of all the states and continents that we covered. Art was my worst subject. I could not draw a straight line with a ruler. A girl by the name of Flora Mae Raney sat in front of me and she was not good at drawing either. She stole my drawings and I had to redo them. Later in the school year they were accidentally discovered in her desk. Miss Kit was quite upset. I believe Flora Mae failed the sixth grade.
Another incident of interest was the extemporaneous speaking and debating program. If I remember correctly, it was for boys only. The speeches and debates were held in J. A. Grayís room before the seventh and eighth grades. The first subject of the fall season was Lincolnís Gettysburg Address. Fifty cents was awarded for the best delivery. It had to be perfect, word for word, with proper enunciation. I studied the speech, practicing it over and over again, as I imagined Lincoln would have. I practiced it before my dog Bob. He seemed to like it. So on the day of the contest, I believe it was a Friday, I built up my courage and entered the competition. The first speaker was Tom Morris, the second was Joe Morris, the next was Joseph Gray, Jr., and then it was my turn. I made up my mind that I would try to deliver the speech exactly as Lincoln had. I realized that the occasion must have been both a sad and a glad one. I did my best to portray this time. I won first prize, fifty cents.
Thanksgiving came and we were excited with all the attention given this holiday. We were farm children not accustomed to such things. It was a fairyland and we loved every minute of it.
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was a busy one. We had to kill hogs. Hog killing was a community project. Neighbors helped in return for fresh pork. We had two hogs that had been fattened. It was rather sad to us to see them killed as they were almost like pets. This was just a part of living on the farm. It was done on a Saturday so we did not have to stay out of school. We shared the fresh meat with Aunt Nora and Grandmother Smith.
At school there was excitement over the coming of the Christmas season and a little concern over the mid-term exams scheduled for the week ending, Friday, December 21. We would be out of school until Tuesday, January 2. With all the excitement, there was the problem of cutting wood and having an ample supply on hand. Also, we had so much food stored in the smokehouse, there was always the fear that something might freeze. We had a good supply of canned fruits and vegetables, pickles, kraut, molasses, dried beans, peas, and onions. All the meat from the recent hog killing was stored there. Self-reliance was an important lesson learned on the farm.
I went over to Waverly on Christmas Eve. I drove "Old Bird" and the wagon. There was a traffic jam on Main Street and the hitching racks were full. I had a hard time finding a place so I went down an alley behind Tom Millerís store and tied "Old Bird" to a telephone pole. All of the stores were busy with the farmers buying groceries and Christmas things. There were two grocery stores on Main Street: Tom Millerís and Bert Littonís. Bert Runionís was on Church Street. There were two grocery stores near the depot. They were all busy. My dad had given me a dollar to spend for Christmas. I bought my mother a bowl for twenty-five cents and my dad two sacks of R.J.R. tobacco for twenty-five cents. I bought Effie, Annie, and Hiram some horehound candy. I think I bought firecrackers with the money I had left.
Again we came to the end of the year counting our many blessings. We were not disadvantaged though we did not have many of the things other families had. My dad and I talked about our plans for 1924. He mentioned one thing that really excited me, the possibility of making a boat. There was a large, yellow poplar tree in the lower field that could be cut and sawed into lumber of the proper size. I have always been a dreamer. I guess it is because my dad taught me.
The story of life on Brady Branch would not be complete without mention of the legend of the buried treasure. Our neighbor, Mr. Crowell, seemed to know more about it than anyone else. He lived with his wife in a two room log house one fourth mile north of us. Mr. Crowell had lived there a long time. He had been a small boy during the Civil War, possibly a teenager. He told me many stories of how the Yankees had come through there, saying, "Them Yankees came right down the Mill Hollow Road." I do not know why they did not burn down his house.
Apparently, at the Battle of Johnsonville in 1864, one of the boats captured by the Confederates was carrying a considerable amount of gold, possibly the payroll. A Calvary unit moving toward Waverly confiscated the gold. The unit stopped at a farmhouse near the southwest corner of our farm. At this time the colonel gave orders that they would rest here for some time and let the horses drink from the water in Brady Branch. The colonel borrowed a spade from the family living there, and accompanied by his slave, took the gold and left the group for about an hour. It is not clear whether he continued on the main road toward Waverly or went up a hill on an old logging road that follows the ridge nearly to Stagecoach Road.
The legend was so strong that the deed to our farm carried the statement, "Any gold or silver found on this property within the next twenty-five years shall revert to the seller." The name of the seller was shown.
It is believed that the man burying the gold may have been familiar with the general area, in which case, he may have gone up the logging road and buried the gold out of sight of the main road, as shown on the attached map. There had been major excavations just below a big oak tree with a large nail driven into it on the east side. The area excavated around the tree is about fifteen by forty feet. My dad always believed Mr. Crowell found the gold at this spot because he knew so much about it. Mr. Crowell told the story that two men came to him with a map showing this location as the right one, and dug for several days without any luck. My dad said that he believed Mr. Crowell returned at night and found the gold. Of course, the truth is not known.
A large beech tree off the main road, where there have been major excavations, is another possible location. If the person burying the gold had not been familiar with the general area, he would have followed the main road and the large beech tree would have presented an ideal place. As far as we know, nothing has been found there. The beech tree is still standing.
Both the colonel and his slave were killed within a few days. So we do not know if the story is true, but it certainly helped me as I dug fence-post holes and plowed the cornfield on both sides of Brady Branch. The gold may never be found. Itís a good story anyway.
We returned to school Wednesday, January 2, glad to get back into our regular routine. I was especially glad because we had two new boys in our room. John Smith in the sixth grade and his brother, Delmus Smith, in the fifth grade. They lived near the mouth of Brady Branch on what was later called the Binkley Crockett farm. Their mother taught at Spann School west of Waverly on Clydeton Road. John and Del rode a horse called "Dump" to school. After a short while, they asked me to ride with them, making three on a horse. Their mother caught us and was very upset. She said, "Donít let me catch you doing this ever again." We tried very hard but she caught us again. That was the end of that. They were both nice looking, becoming immediate favorites of the girls in our room.
The sixth grade boys had to prepare and deliver the Declaration of Independence in Mr. Grayís room before the seventh and eighth grades. The best delivery would merit a dollar. I guess my dog Bob got tired of hearing me practice. He was usually asleep by the time I finished. The speeches were to be given late in February. I imagined that I was Thomas Jefferson giving the speech at the meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. I won the dollar.
The cold was raw. I got a pair of high-top shoes, somehow. I was so small and short that they came up my legs almost to my knees. So the boys gave me the name "Puss in Boots," and, finally, just "Boots." The name stuck with me through high school. Even today, when I hear someone mention boots, I recall that old pair of high-top shoes I wore to school in sixth grade.
In mid January Annie brought home the measles and mumps, so we had about ten days of the measles and mumps. Annie always brought home the disease that was going around at school. If I remember correctly, my dad caught the mumps and had a rough time, but my mother did not catch either. I guess she just did not have time. The rest of us had a good case of both. We studied at home and were able to keep up with our classes without any problem.
As March 20th came along I got excited about being thirteen years old. If I remember correctly, I had a good case of the smarts. It did not last long with so much work to be done on the farm. During the winter we had cleared more land and had about twelve acres of stumps, roots, and rocks. I do not know how we ever got all the work done but my dad always planned ahead. He worked all the time with only fifteen percent of regular vision in one eye. I was amazed at how much he could do. The work was not new to me. I had been doing a manís work since the age of nine. We rented about three acres of ground in the mouth of White Hollow, just east of our house from Cheathom Brisintine; it had been cultivated and was free from stumps and roots.
Spring came to Brady Branch in all its glory. It is almost impossible to describe the orchard in full bloom. The woods were a lush green. Birds were everywhere, singing and making nests, sometimes even in quilts hanging on the garden fence.
School continued until May 2. After exams we had to go back to get our report cards. We all passed to the next grade and were excited. At the end of school, the third, fourth, and fifth grades had their usual drill program, along with piano music and speech reading. But in the sixth grade, we had a play, the title of which I do not remember. The setting was a train station. I was a station agent who had to call all departing trains. We borrowed a real locomotive bell from Mr. Talley, the local train station agent. A boy walked behind the stage, ringing the bell while another boy rolled a barrel behind him. With the bell ringing and the barrel rumbling, it sounded like a train coming in. Then I called, "All aboard, train on track nine, leaving for St. Louis, Chicago, and points north." On the night of the play, I changed the line without permission from Miss Kit, and she almost had a heart attack. I substituted the names of small towns and weigh stations west of Waverly on the N. C. & St. Louis Railway. When I yelled, "All aboard, train on track nine, leaving for Eva, Camden, Johnsonville, Hollow Rock Junction, and Sawyer Mill," the crowd went wild. The play was a great success.
With the end of school things began to hum on the Smith farm. My mother was sick a good part of the time so Effie had to do a lot of her work. Effie was ten years old and able to do almost everything. Annie was seven and helped a little. Hiram was five and followed me around while I worked. I watched the sun come up every day and saw it go down every night. My dad planned the work and I did it. There were so many things happening, I never bothered to calculate my disadvantages. It rained around June 1 and was too wet to plow so I decided to go into the mayapple root business. Dried mayapple root earned twenty-five cents a pound. Unfortunately, it was so light that a bushel of dry root weighed only two or three pounds. Our neighbor, Mr. Crowell, roamed the woods digging mayapple root and seemed to be doing very well. With a brief respite from farm work, I decided to dig mayapple. There were several patches up the hill northeast of our house. I organized a crew: Effie, Annie, Allene, Cecil, and me. We got underway. Bob went along to guard us, and promptly fell asleep. It was hot and steamy but we began digging. Suddenly Effie began to yell loudly and dance around. I did not know what was wrong with her. She scared Bob and he woke up and began to bark. I could not get any sense out of Effie. I thought she had been bitten by a snake. Eventually it developed that she had hit the funny bone in her elbow on the hoe handle. The result of our digging was about a pound of mayapple root, twenty-five cents worth.
Later in June I found about six ginseng plants. That was enough to propel me into the ginseng business. I transplanted the plants. They lived the first summer but did not last through the second year.
On June 18, another baby boy was born. We tried to help name him but my dad wanted to name him Jesse after his dead brother. I knew a boy in school, one or two grades above me, named Hillman Gibbons. So I suggested the name Hillman. My mother and dad decided on the name Jesse Hillman. He was a sweet baby and certainly got a lot of attention from all of us, especially Effie and Annie.
On July 4, there was a picnic at Waverly on the grounds where the new high school was to be built. I talked my dad into going with me. It had rained the night before and I could not see any farm work to be done. On the way, just east of the Webb place, the road was covered with water, one to two inches deep. A man rode behind us on a donkey, or jennet, and the animal refused to cross the water. The rider tried to force the animal to go forward, kicking it in the side. The animal bucked and threw the man into the water. I wonder if that donkey ever crossed the puddle.
The main thing I remember about the picnic was a disturbance by a young man that I knew. He was drunk and wanted to fight everybody. It took the sheriff and three deputies to subdue him and take him to jail. I had never seen a drunken man before. It made quite an impression on me.
July was berry picking time. Due to the new baby, mother was unable to help. In late July and early August, we processed a lot of fruits and vegetables for canning. They had to be picked, washed, and peeled. There was a good supply for winter. In fact, there was such an abundance of everything, I decided to set up a fruit stand. I put some boards across some sawhorses right beside the road. We sold watermelons for ten or fifteen cents, and one that weighed at least thirty pounds, for a quarter. We sold peaches and apples for ten cents a dozen, cantaloupes for five cents each, and later in the season, fresh corn, three ears for a dime. Tomatoes sold well at ten cents a dozen. We had a good business from tourists and Tom Miller, who bought quite a bit for his grocery in Waverly. We sold over forty dollars worth of fruits and vegetables that summer. The money was used to buy school clothes and books for all of us.
On a sad note, Uncle Will Gartrell died, leaving Aunt Nora with a small baby, Allene, Cecil, and Louise. He had been sick with tuberculosis for a long time. When he was able, he would travel over the county, in a one horse wagon, buying eggs and chickens for resale to the produce house in Waverly. He drove an old horse named Charlie. We called him "Charlie Horse." His death left my aunt almost destitute. She had no means of support. My grandmother lived with her and drew $28.75 a month, the same amount my dad received. It became my responsibility to plow their garden and cut their wood. This added to my work but I did not mind.
School began on August 11th, and I was proud to wear my first pair of corduroy knickers. Most of the boys wore corduroy knickers so I was now in style. Of course I only had one pair so I was constantly alternating them with my overalls. I still had to wear my homemade shirts. It was fun to get back in school and see everyone. I was amazed to see how much some of them had grown.
Mr. Gray, the grammar school principal, was the teacher of the seventh and eighth grades. He was a stern man and a strict disciplinarian. He was a great admirer of Sawney Webb of the Webb School in Bell Buckle, and frequently made reference to him. He never smiled or said anything amusing. He was the one who whipped the bigger boys when they caused trouble. He was not afraid of anyone. Needless to say, I was afraid of him. Up to this point, I had studied hard and led my class for the past nineteen months. I did not know what would happen in seventh grade. He was hard on me. I not only knew the answers, I was expected to know them. When we had a spelling bee or a math drill I was expected to win. I realize now that he was driving me to my limits. In later years, he told my dad, that in all his years of teaching, I seemed to have the most common sense of all the boys he had taught. He was an excellent teacher, especially in literature and the classics.
Mr. Gray was a devout Christian and tried to instill the teachings of the Bible in all of us. We took turns reading the Bible and saying the prayer each morning.
We spent weeks studying the author Washington Irving and his stories, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." He made the stories come to life. We studied about the times and the people. We paraphrased the stories and added comments.
Memory work for the seventh grade was Washingtonís Farewell Address. The only boys participating were Eckie Gray and myself. I was sure Eckie was pressured by his dad to participate. It was a long speech and when I practiced before Bob, he promptly went to sleep. It was difficult to practice while walking to and from school because we all walked together. I was in a difficult situation, competing against the son of the principal and delivering the speech in the principalís room. I pretended I was Washington saying goodbye. Mr. Gray let the seventh and eighth grade classes decide the winner and they did not hesitate. I won the dollar.
Even though Eckie Gray and I were rivals in class we were really good friends. At that time I considered him my best friend. Sometimes when the weather was pretty on a Saturday afternoon, he would ride his bike out to my house and we would hike through the woods, hunt for nuts, or just talk. Sometimes another boy would come with him, and we would play pranks, harmless of course. In the right season we could introduce the new boy to the wild crabapple tree near the old road in Mill Hollow. The fruit had a wonderful aroma and we pretended to enjoy eating it. Actually it had a lovely aroma but could not be eaten. The butternut tree near the road on our farm provided yet more entertainment. As far as I know there was not another butternut tree in the whole area. Apparently the tree was the result of some past traveler who had dropped a butternut. A butternut is an oblong black walnut. We told the boys that, in the past, someone had run over a walnut, making it into the oblong shape of the butternut.
As cold weather came we had a problem with the wood supply because my dad and I were responsible for cutting wood for our family and Aunt Noraís. Once in December, when there was snow and ice on the ground, I had to haul wood in a wheelbarrow so they could keep warm. Keeping a wood supply for both households was a major undertaking.
Christmas Day in 1924 came on a Wednesday. It was a wonderful time. We had so many things to be thankful for. The Gartrells: Allene, Cecil, Louise, James, my Aunt Nora, and my Grandmother Smith, came for dinner. With our family, that made a house-full. The roaring fire in the fireplace gave me a sinking feeling as I knew what that meant, more wood to be cut. My mother was busy as a bee trying to get everything just right. All the children compared their Christmas loot. Everyone got about the same thing: fruit, candy, an item of clothing, such as stockings, a shirt, or a dress. There were never any toys in our family. I did have some sparklers and firecrackers. When we shot firecrackers or fired sparklers old Bob would retreat to his special place under the house next to the chimney.
At this time I was thirteen years old, Effie was ten, Annie was eight, Hiram was five, and Jesse was six months. As for the Gartrells: Allene was twelve, Cecil was ten, Louise was eight, and James may have been three. We were almost like one big family. Since I was the oldest, it always fell to me to be the leader. It seemed like the whole family looked up to me.
We returned to school on January 2, a cold and windy day. It was good to see everyone and compare notes about the Christmas holidays. I had one thing to talk about, my first hunting trip alone. I had borrowed a shotgun from Mr. Crowell and Bob and I went squirrel hunting. The gun was a twelve-gauge and was so old that when it was fired the barrel became unbreached. The spent shell popped out right by my head. I do not remember killing any squirrels. Nevertheless, it was a big event for me. I realize now how dangerous that gun was, but I borrowed it many times over the next few years.
I would soon have my fourteenth birthday. I had a good case of the "smarts." I went into the wood selling business. I do not know how I managed it but I cut wood, stove wood and heater wood. I hauled it to Waverly where it sold for $1.25 a rank or one half cord. My dad decided that we needed to clear some more land. He contracted with Mr. Stevens, called "Old Daddy Stevens," to clear one acre for ten dollars and board. Mr. Stevens had a special liking for salmon only he called it "simons." At that time salmon cost twenty-five cents for three large cans. We had it for supper every night while he was working for us which I believe was one week. At mealtime he would say, "Pass the simons, Mr. Emmett." He would put two pieces on his plate and say, "Mr. Emmett, simons are the cheapest thing you can eat." Thereafter, every time we ate salmon we remembered "Old Daddy Stevens" and someone would mention his name. The new ground that Mr. Stevens cleared was interesting. While working it, I continued to look for the buried treasure. Old Bob had new territory to explore. He spent his time digging for chipmunks, unsuccessfully, of course.
There was one important development that spring that affected us. The Tennessee Highway Department decided to correct a sharp curve and flooding problem about one fourth mile south of our property on Highway 70. The curve was at a point where Brady Branch and Walker Branch came together. During times of heavy rain there was a real flooding problem. In order to correct this, they had to build a new highway on the east side of our house taking about one hundred feet of our cornfields. This was a terrible blow. It destroyed some of our best land leaving us with an abandoned roadbed and two weed beds. We went to court after the state had the land condemned. We lost the case. My dad was paid $400 for the land. The new road came right by the east side of our house not more than twenty-five feet from our porch and about ten feet higher. This created a terrible dust and drainage problem. Later the road was paved or blacktopped. The water problem was never corrected. Our well was damaged by cracks in the well casing.
Spring and summer of 1925 were very difficult times for us with the road building and its resultant dust and inconvenience. The road machinery was interesting though, especially the steamroller used to pack the ground. A young man by the name of "Bo Slusser" boarded with us for about a month. He was a fine, friendly person. He drove one of the big trucks that hauled gravel or chert used to pave the road. When I was coming home from school I would wait at the top of Cooley Hill until he came along. He would give me a ride home coasting down all the way to our house. This was strictly against the rules. He would have been fired if he had been caught. But he was a happy-go-lucky sort of person and did not seem to worry about anything. Our house was so damaged by the road building that it practically had to be rebuilt. We survived in spite of it.
School ended on May 2, and we all passed to the next grade. It was time for the never-ending farm work. We worked six days a week from sunup to sundown. We had a good family spirit; I never heard my mother and daddy complain. We were proud to have our own place.
We subscribed to two publications: the weekly Humphreys County newspaper and The Southern Agriculture, a monthly farm magazine from Nashville. This magazine maintained a library for its subscribers. I ordered books usually two or three at a time. They could be kept for two weeks, and the postage was the only cost, usually ten cents or less. I read scout books, western stories, and adventure books. Once I wrote a poem, "Down on the Farm," that was published in the magazine; I received $2 for it.
We were almost caught up with our farm work by the middle of June, so my dad allowed me to work for one of our neighbors, Mr. Roberts, for about two weeks. I worked from sunup to sundown, six days a week, for seventy-five cents a day and lunch. Mr. Roberts did not have any boys. He expected me to know and do as much as he did. We made it fairly well until July 4. Around noon on that day, which was Saturday, Mr. Sam Burnham and his grandson, Clarence Story, drove up to our house and picked up my dad to go fishing over on Buffalo River. They stopped by the Robertsí place to see if I wanted to go with them. I did, and it was all right with my dad. Mr. Roberts was infuriated and fired me on the spot. He told my dad that my work was not satisfactory and he did not want me back. He asked my dad to come down the following Monday and settle up. My dad agreed to settle for $1.50 less than I deserved. I lost pay for two days of work. I did not realize that my work was not satisfactory. I thought I was doing a very good job. I later learned that Mr. Roberts had a critical personal problem that could probably account for some of his actions.
I went back to selling fruit and vegetables. The new road had not been paved and it was too dusty to accomplish much.
Later in July, Uncle Ollie Williams, from Union City down in West Tennessee, came to see us. He was the husband of my motherís sister, Elizibeth Williams. I do not know why he came but it may have been to show off his brand new 1925 T-model Ford car. It was pretty thing. He began talking about my going back to Union City with him in his new car. He said I could work on his farm for a few days and earn enough money to ride back on the train. I was excited and my mother and dad agreed to let me go. We left early the next morning heading west. We crossed the Tennessee River by ferry at Trotterís landing, went west to Huntingdon, and then turned north to McKenzie where we stopped for lunch. We then headed northwest to Martin. In the middle of the afternoon we ran into a terrible rainstorm. In one place the road was covered with water for two hundred yards. We happened to be in front and stopped because of the water. A big black car, holding a chauffeur and two passengers, was behind us. One of the passengers was angry and kept talking about the stupidity that permitted such a stupid situation to happen. He said, "It wonít happen again." He was the governor of Tennessee, Austin Peay, I believe. They drove around and entered the water. We followed. It was frightening even when I think about it now. My stay in Union City was cut short because I became sick with a stomach disorder, which caused me to be homesick, or vice versa. Somehow they contacted my mother and dad to tell them that I was coming home by train. They put me on the train from Paducah with strict instructions to change trains at Hollow Rock Junction, catching a Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis train for Waverly. Uncle Ollie talked to the conductor as I boarded the train. As luck would have it, C. D. Crowell, the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Ky Crowell, our neighbors, was on the same train to Waverly. He worked in Paducah as a barber and made the trip often. We knew each other and made it like pros, transferring to the train out of Memphis at Hollow Rock and arriving in Waverly at 6:30pm, right on time. C. D. Crowell hired a taxicab. In a few minutes we were at his home on Brady Branch. I walked two hundred yards down to our house. Bob spotted me first, and met me about one hundred yards away. I got well in a hurry after I came home. I will never forget that trip and the few days I spent in Union City.
In early August, right before school began, the Waverly boy scout troop went on a three day camping trip in the northwest area of the county. I was a Boy Scout, but I could not pass all the tests to be a first class scout, especially the one that involved building a fire without matches, using a flint rock. On the camping trip we lived by securing fruit and vegetables from the local people and fishing in a beautiful clear water stream. There were a lot of colored rocks. Some were like clear glass and some were different shades of blue. Volcanic heat may have caused the strange coloration. We slept in open pup tents with bugs, mosquitoes, frogs, and two or three snakes. One night the scoutmaster sat up a ring and we had several boxing matches. I was paired with a short, stocky boy. When he hit me on my nose, right between the eyes, I saw stars in all directions. That ended my boxing career.
School began on Monday, August 17. I was proud to be in the eighth grade and have the lower grades looking up to us. I think we abused the privilege a little. Effie was in the fifth grade and met Mrs. Kit Stockard for the first time. Effie has told me many times that she had a hard time in school since she was always being compared to her brother. Annie was in the third grade with Miss Dolly Porch as her teacher.
I was not as afraid of J. A. Gray as I had been in the seventh grade. I still respected him very much. I was seated to his left in the second or third desk from the front. His son, Eckie, was on my left, and John Smith, my neighbor friend, was right behind me. Art was my worst class, but John could have been an artist. Later that year a scandal that shook Waverly occurred, and Mr. Gray divorced his wife. He was given sole custody of Eckie. This created a real problem for Eckie as he loved his mother dearly.
Just as we were settling down to hard schoolwork a circus came to town. I had never seen a circus. At the morning recess the eighth grade boys decided to go to the circus. All the boys in the eighth grade except two went over the school fence and headed for the circus. Of the two boys that did not go, one was Eckie, and I do not remember the other boy. The next morning, just after my class was assembled, Mr. Gray announced that he hoped the boys had enjoyed the circus. He asked all of them to stay in at recess. When recess came we were a pretty sad looking bunch. He gave us a stern lecture and said any boy leaving school like that would normally get a hickory switching, but this was an unusual situation, with eighteen of us involved. Frankly, I believe he realized that switching eighteen boys would be a sizeable job for him. He simply told us he had not decided what punishment he would give us, and in the meantime, we would not have recess in the morning or afternoon for one month. I breathed a sigh of relief. When the report cards were issued at end of the month, we were all given a 50% on deportment. When this was averaged with my grade I was prevented my leading the class that month. I do not know how I explained this to my mother and dad but I sure was glad to get it over with.
The first party was a Halloween party on Friday night, October 30th. It snowed most of the day, an early snow that caught everyone by surprise. The leaves were still on the trees and it looked weird. We had a big time playing games and dunking for apples. The whole school participated. It was the first such party that I ever attended.
As the weather grew colder we went possum hunting. My dad taught me some of the fine points about hunting. We took old Bob and a lantern, and went up Mill Hollow out to Old Ridge Road. We walked a mile into the woods and stopped to build a fire, to give old Bob time to find a trail. When he found one, he would let out a yelp and then bark about every two minutes. This meant he was following the trail. When he had chased the possum up a tree or to a den in the ground, he would start barking continuously until we arrived. If the possum was in a tree, it was my responsibility to climb up and shake him down, which was sometimes a problem. Old Bob would catch him when he hit the ground and the possum would play dead. We would pick it up and put him in a sack. A possum weighs between four and ten pounds. I remember one time we caught five. They started fighting and I thought I would never get home with them. The possum hides brought from twenty-five cents to two dollars, depending on size and quality. One night I took old Bob and went by myself up Mill Hollow to the first small hollow branching to the right. Bob found one and trailed him to a shallow den near the head of the hollow. By the time I got there, Bob was digging feverishly, and I began to help him. We soon learned that there was another inhabitant of that den, a skunk. He met us spraying in all directions. Old Bob got a good dose. He began yelping and plowing the leaves for at least fifty feet. My clothes were sprayed thoroughly. Since old Bob started for home in a fast run, he arrived long before I did. They were waiting for me and said they could smell me for at least one hundred yards before I arrived. My mother burned my clothes and washed both Bob and me with Merry War Lye Soap. I do not know how I ever got rid of that smell, but the incident did not stop us from hunting possums. I made quite a bit of money doing it but was always careful if Bob found one in the ground.
When Thanksgiving came school was closed Thursday and Friday. My dad and I spent three days cutting wood for our family and Aunt Noraís. It seemed to me that we would have enough to last all winter but we did not. Our big fireplace sprayed sparks out the top. I wondered why it did not catch the house on fire. I guess we were just lucky. The fireplace served many purposes in addition to heating the house. My mother baked sweet potatoes in a kind of oven in the ashes. Sometimes she would make hominy which took all day and required constant watching. She made it by taking several pounds of good clean corn kernels, washing them, and placing them in an iron pot about half full of water. She included a small bag of ashes and placed the iron kettle over the fireplace to bring the water to a boil. I do not know what part the ashes played but they may have provided an acid to help the corn lose its cover. When ready, the corn would be taken off the fire, the bag of ashes discarded, and the corn thoroughly washed in cold water to get rid of the husk. Then the hominy was placed back in the pot with fresh water and cooked until done. Homemade hominy was delicious.
School closed for Christmas on December 23 and resumed on January 4. I got a job working for Tom Miller on Christmas Eve Day. Tom Miller had one of the main grocery stores in Waverly, at the corner of Main and Mill Streets, and did a tremendous business. On that day both streets had a traffic jam of wagons, buggies, and horses, but very few cars. The sidewalk stretching along the north side of the square was jammed with people doing Christmas shopping. Along this street there was a post office, J. P . Cowenís clothing store, J. P. Cowenís mercantile store, Tom Millerís grocery, Farmersí & Merchantsí Bank, Waverly Drug, Folkesí Drug Store, Luff-Bowen Furniture, Citizensí Bank, B. C. Litton Grocery, and Hooper,Porch, and Pearl Mercantile & Clothing Store. Every place was jammed. It was my job to help the customers collect the things they wanted and take them to the register. These old farmers with long hair, wearing overalls, bought all the things from Santa Claus: oranges, apples, raisins in bulk, hoop cheese, crackers, bananas, and bologna. I really enjoyed this because I knew some little children would have Santa Claus. I worked until about 9:00pm. Then Tom sent me home in his delivery truck with Bob Ingramís brother driving. I made one dollar for the dayís work. I promptly spent twenty-five cents for a bowl for my mother, twenty-five cents for three bags of R. J. R. tobacco for my dad, and the rest for peppermint stick candy for Effie, Annie, Hiram, and Jesse.
Even with the upheaval caused by the new road built in 1925, we had a wonderful Christmas. We were a close family. My mother acted just like one of us, always taking part in everything we did. Since my dad was blind he usually went out and smoked his pipe. We also had the Gartrells and Grandmother Smith close by. They seemed like part of our immediate family.
We returned to school on January 4, ready to work. The circus incident had been forgotten, and we were focusing on the end of school and graduation. My fifteenth birthday approached. I thought I was grown.
As soon as the weather permitted the state began paving our road, starting at Waverly and going on to the ferry at Trotterís Landing. The work went really quickly, and within a short time, they were past our house. Paving was quite a problem as there was no way to reroute traffic. We were very happy with the paved road, especially in rainy, wet weather, when there were no mud puddles.
This birthday was a real milestone. I was ready to meet the world. I got my first pair of long pants, pin checks. I believe they cost $1.50. But a boy wearing long pants must wear socks; no more long black stockings. If a boy were caught wearing long pants and stockings, the boys would hold him down and forcibly cut the stockings to make regular socks. Luckily, I wore a pair of my dadís socks to circumvent the crisis. Most of the boys wore knickers, so I wore the long pants only once or twice, and continued wearing knickers and overalls.
In late March we studied civics. There was a chapter about the American court system. This interested all of us. We pressured Mr. Gray to let us have a mock trial with him as judge. We worked up a case about a stolen calf that was sold for seventy dollars. Eckie Gray was the prosecuting attorney. I was the defense lawyer. Lucian McNabb was the key witness. Tom Miller was helping me with the defense. Since his dad was a lawyer and county judge, we decided to talk to him about the best way to defend the case. He said that a little money under the table might help, in other words, bribe the witness. We went to the seventh grade and got into a casual conversation with a boy whom we hoped would do the dirty work. He thought it would be fun. He was to go to Lucian McNabb, the key witness for the prosecution, and get into a conversation about how smart the defense lawyers thought they were, and encourage him to really pour it on. We had given the boy a quarter. He was to say, "Here is a quarter. I hope you really let them have it. They think they are so smart." The day of the trial came. Mr. Gray, as Judge Gray, presided after cautioning the seventh and eighth grades to be quiet. No outburst would be permitted. After brief statements from the prosecuting attorney, and me as the defense, the trial got underway. The first and only witness called by the prosecution was Lucian McNabb. He was confident and smiling, evidently coached. Eckie Gray did an excellent job in leading him through the whole thing. Then it was my turn for the defense and it went something like this: "Sir, you seem to know a lot about this case, as you observed the whole thing." He replied, "Yes sir, I sure did." I said, "Sir, do you have a monetary interest in this case?" The witness seemed to be stunned. He just set there with a strange look on his face and said nothing, so I repeated the question, "Do you have a monetary interest in this case, say about twenty-five cents worth?" The witness was very uncomfortable and did not answer. So I turned to Mr. Gray, the judge, and said, "Your honor, we have information that this witness has been bribed and we are prepared to prove it. We ask for a mistrial and the acquittal of our client." Mr. Gray laughed out loud, one of the few times I saw him laugh. This is one of my favorite stories. We laughed about it for a long time.
Since Mr. Gray was a devout student of the classics, he gave us a touch of Latin and Greek. We learned quite a bit of elementary Latin and memorized the Greek alphabet. We also had some high school math: algebra and geometry. I think his purpose was to whet our appetites in hopes that we would choose to go on to high school instead of dropping out after eighth grade.
Our family seemed to be growing old fast. My dadís birthday was February 22. He would be forty. On March 20, I was fifteen. Effie was twelve on April 16. She was finishing the fifth grade. Annie was ten on August 23 and she was finishing the third grade. Hiram turned seven on March 27. He was finishing the first grade. Jesse was two on June 18, and my mother would be thirty-four on August 7. We were a close family. Unless there was a good reason, we were all expected to be home by dark. We did our homework by kerosene lamplight. I did a lot of reading by the Abraham Lincoln method, sitting by the fireplace with my back to the fire. One Saturday night, which was always bath night, Annie was taking her turn in the kitchen when someone knocked on the door. She jumped out of the washtub and streaked through the house, where we were sitting, and into the back bedroom. She did not have a stitch of clothes on. Saturday night baths were a real production at our house.
At this time we began to supply the City Cafe in Waverly with milk and butter. I took a gallon each of sweet milk and buttermilk, and a pound of butter each day, if needed. We sold the sweet milk at forty cents a gallon and buttermilk for twenty cents a gallon. I do not remember the price of the butter. I got ten cents a gallon for carrying the milk to Waverly. I did this until the end of school.
Shortly after the first of April, Mr. Gray talked to me and said he wanted me to be valedictorian at eighth grade graduation. My heart missed a beat. I had led my class for four years with exception of the circus episode. He said he would give me the speech. I was to prepare it and do a top-notch job in delivering it. The following day he announced to the class that I was to be the valedictorian. It did not excite anyone and I felt a little strange. I felt like some of the class resented this honor being given to an unordinary farm boy. Eckie Gray congratulated me and seemed to be genuinely proud. I received a copy of the speech several days later and I was shocked. I do not know who wrote it but I suspect it was J. A. Gray. To me, it did not sound like a fifteen-year-old boy talking. It was extremely difficult to prepare. Since Mr. Gray had put so much emphasis on it, I was really scared.
With final exams and my regular spring work on the farm, I did not have much extra time. I first read the speech to my dog Bob. Before I was halfway through, he was asleep. Then I read it to my mother and dad. They seemed to get the general idea. My mother simply said, "You can do it. Remember that night you promised to make me proud." She said, "This will do it." As I began to prepare the speech, I decided to deliver it directly to the class just like I was saying goodbye to a group of friends, just like I was talking to them. I worked on it constantly, usually with Bob. He did not seem to mind. The three weeks passed quickly and then there was the end of school, with the play, the drill, and the musical program.
On Friday night, May 7, graduation came. My mother and sisters went to the graduation with me. We rode in a buggy drawn by "Old Bird." We drove downtown to the courthouse square and hitched "Old Bird" to the long chain on the hitching rack. Then we walked down Main Street to the Waverly Grammar School. I had on a brand new pair of short pants, a suit that had cost $12.50, and a white shirt and tie. When we arrived, the crowd was already coming in, and the auditorium was half full. My mother and two sisters were seated on the front row, in front of the stage, a little to the north side. Since I was to make my delivery at the front of the stage, a little to the south side, I would be looking directly at them.
The class had to assemble in our room and then march upstairs to the auditorium and assemble on the stage as we had practiced. A lady by name of Augusta Porch, married to John F. Porch, was the prompter, and she was directly behind me. J. A. Gray was the master of ceremonies. The program got underway with a piano selection that required two performers on one piano. These were the same girls that had performed several times in the past four years. Mr. Gray introduced his son, Joseph Gray, Jr. as salutatorian, and Eckie welcomed everybody. Then Mr. Gray introduced me in the most complimentary way, which made me more nervous, as I knew what was expected. I looked at my mother. She already had tears in her eyes. I got up, walked to the podium, and turned it so my class was on my left and the audience was on my right. I delivered my speech to the class in a soft voice and slow manner, loud enough for the audience to hear. I had no trouble with the speech and was not prompted once. At the end, some of the girls in my class were crying, and I got a standing ovation from the audience. My mother was crying. Then Mr. Gray spoke for a few minutes about the importance of education and urged all parents to see that we all went to high school and possibly college. There was a prayer and the program was ended.
As I came down from the stage, a lot of people were surrounding my mother and sisters. My mother was smiling and crying and receiving congratulations from many people. I tried to hug her neck, but she hugged my neck instead, saying, "I wouldnít be more proud of you if you were elected President of the United States." We left school and walked to the courthouse hitching rack, got in our buggy, and headed home.
But the exhilaration of graduation was short lived. Within a few days, my best friend, Eckie Gray, went fishing by himself and did not return. He was presumed to have drowned. The town was in an uproar, with searching teams working almost around the clock. Mr. Gray became a sad old man, though he was later remarried to Miss Anderson, the home economics teacher at Waverly High School. She was a nice lady and they had some children. I drifted away from Mr. Gray, though I saw him occasionally when I went to Waverly. He was always grieving for his son Eckie. Twenty years later, I received a letter from J. A. Gray telling me that Eckie was alive. He had gone to Birmingham, Alabama to live with his mother. Mr. Gray asked me, as Eckieís best friend in school, to write Eckie a letter telling him how his dad desperately wanted to see him. He enclosed Eckieís address. I did write him a letter of four pages, sending a copy to J. A. Gray. I did not get an answer and there was no sign of reconciliation.
Many years later, Eckie came to Waverly with his wife and two children to see his dad. I never heard from him, and his dad died, so I never saw him again. In 1992, almost sixty-six years after that graduation night, I learned officially that Joseph A. Gray, Jr.,"Eckie," had attended Birmingham Southern College, majoring in math, and had later received a doctorate in physics. He had a major role in developing Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II.
"We have been looking forward to this time and we have been striving to gain knowledge and meet the requirements imposed upon us before we could graduate. Sometimes it seems like a waste of energy to conform to the fixed standards, but those who are wiser than we deemed it best that we should meet the specified requirements, and we shall, no doubt, profit by it in the years to come.
"We are going out into the world that has made a place for the scholar and looks to the educated man or woman to lead the way. Opportunities are before us, opportunities that will test us, prove whether it has been worth the expense of the public, the sacrifice of our parents, and the effort of our instructors to develop our minds to this present state of partial efficiency.
"We have our eyes fixed on the goal of graduation, which appeared to us not so long ago as a mountain peak, but now, since we have climbed to the top, we find that we are only in the foothills of life. We have not yet reached the mountain peak at all. We do look over a broad expanse, for our horizon has been widened. We see other hills to climb and we do not know what is beyond them, but we may be assured as we climb, our horizon shall ever widen until we reach the highest altitude represented by our capability or perhaps inclination.
"When a company of people set out to climb a mountain, if it is very high, the chances are that after all have traveled together for a time, some will begin to lag behind, and finally stop. Others will drop out, and the higher the mountain the fewer there are that continue to climb. The highest peak cannot be reached without resorting to unusual measures, and only the exceptional people can get to the top.
"This illustrates the human effort to climb the mountain of opportunity in the everyday life that we live.
"Some lack the zeal and the spirit and possibly the ability to get far in life. Others get farther, and a few reach the very pinnacles of high achievement.
"But one cannot get far without a vision and the strength born of determination to struggle on through the days of life. One cannot let the world wag on and shirk the fight and fill the place which the scholar is expected to fill.
"Some bewail their faith, some claim that it is useless to try, for fate is ever unkind, others seemingly combat fate by determining their own attainments. Only the courageous will risk the discomfort and dangers of Mt. Everest.
"Only a scholar who is brave can be depended upon to carry the light of the world to the highest peaks of life and there stand steadfast and straight as the rock on which the lighthouse is built, from which the rays may be shed that guide the marines on the sea of life through the shoals and rocks and dangers.
"With all the dependence placed on the scholars, it is ill for the state if he weakens in the strife or if he follows the short sided policy of letting the world wag on, shirking the fight.
"It is well for all if the scholar bravely climbs on and stands steadfast and straight, holding aloft the light as a flaming torch of freedom in the hands of the goddess of liberty.
"This commencement is the beginning of a new life, though perhaps our friends shall not note the difference. Never again shall everything be like it was before the days of our working together with a single purpose have come to an end, even though we may have common interests to some extent hereafter. The class ties may not be served, but the class must be broken up into several units. We must say farewell to the past, farewell to the pleasures of the commencement season, farewell to each other as a group working for a single goal.
"We no longer have our eyes fixed upon the same objective, inclination, ability or circumstance shall turn us in many directions. Whatever the future may hold in store for you, it is my earnest wish that you, in the hills of life, may stand steadfast, holding the torch that sheds the light upon a world that is still largely in darkness."
One story that seems to be a favorite with my family is the wild buggy ride. In the summer of 1926, my dad bought a used buggy for $25. Our old buggy was worn out and ready to be discarded. It was really a pile of junk. I persuaded my dad to give it to me so I could tinker with it and dismantle it. I removed the shaft, the seat, and everything except the chassis, which was in pretty bad shape. The wheels had some broken spokes that had to be wired together with bailing wire. The buggy had tires and rims of metal, not rubber, and they were loose. Here was another wiring job. I took the wheels off and greased the axles with axle grease so they would turn easily. I took a rope and tied both ends to the bar that connected the two front wheels. This was to be used for steering. I built a platform with boards so I could sit with my feet against the front bar and hold the ropes with both hands. With more boards I connected the platform for seating on each side and in the back. All the kids in my family and the Gartrellís were interested in my racer. On the Sunday after I had finished it, we pushed it up the road to the top of Cooley Hill, about one and one-fourth miles. This was the newly paved road. It was a steady incline to the top of Cooley Hill. We loaded all the kids on it: Effie, Annie, Hiram, Allene, Cecil, and Louise. We set it in motion coming down Cooley Hill which was a rather steep incline with a sharp curve. Before we had gone fifty yards, I knew I had made a mistake, and we were in trouble. The kids began to fall off, and we barely made that first curve. The buggy had no brakes. The farther we went, the faster it went. Some of the boards came loose and dropped off in the road. We must have gotten up to twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. Only Cecil and I were left on the racer, holding on for dear life. We passed Mr. Crowellsí place at about twenty miles per hour. As we passed our place, we finally stopped by dragging our feet for about fifty yards. Both of us were shaking and so scared we could hardly talk! Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it could have been tragic. That was the one and only time we tried that. My racer was grounded permanently.
The rest of the summer was a difficult time for me. I was due to enter high school which created a furor in my dadís family. My dadís brother deeply resented the fact that we "got all that money," $28.75 a month from my Uncle Hiramís insurance. Now they were going to send me to high school, when no one in the Smith family had ever attended high school. Most did not finish the eighth grade. They felt that, "They are making a fool out of that boy." I never understood why they felt that way, as they never did anything for us and gave us very little attention. Mr. Gray talked to my dad and me. He said it would be criminal for me to drop out of school. So we made the decision that I would go on to high school.
On August 23, I registered for my freshman year at Waverly Central High School. The school was new, only a year old. It was modern, with classrooms on the east and on the west and a gymnasium/auditorium in between. There was an athletic field on the west side of the building to be used for football and baseball. There was a large, grassy lawn in front of the school. The whole thing was quite impressive. The school was located on the highway, east of Waverly city limits, about one extra mile for me to walk. Effie, Annie, and Hiram had already started at Waverly Grammar School, and I walked with them before going through town to the high school.
Registration day was a mass confusion. In grammar school, we had a single teacher for two grades, but in high school, we were going to have a different teacher for each subject. There was no counseling, so each student had to decide whether to take four or five subjects, and which ones. Of course, certain subjects were required, so there were few choices. I registered for five subjects: Math, English, Latin, History, and Science. I did not choose farming or vocational training because I had decided I did not want to be a farmer.
The principal was Mr. L. Bodkin, a heavyset man, about forty years old. We soon learned that he kept a little black book in his coat pocket for listing names of boys he found downtown after 9:00 each night as he made rounds. It was amazing how the boys would scatter when someone announced that he was coming. The teachers, for the most part, were recent college graduates. Most of them were daughters of local prominent families. Mae Belle Bowman was the daughter of the local Attorney General. Bettye Lee Daniel was the daughter of Jim Frank Daniel, a banker. Roberta Thomas was the daughter of the prominent Thomas family. Nell Catherine Slayden was the daughter of Dr. W. W. Slayden. Lillie Mae Garrett and Mary Belle Wheeler were not local people, having both recently graduated from college. All were good teachers who we were fortunate to have, but it was strictly a new ballgame.
In high school a freshman is about as low as you can get. This was different from last year when we were the senior class at Waverly Grammar School. Our class did have three or four new boys, about twenty total, but the girls had more than thirty. This made it difficult for the boys to do anything. We had a meeting to elect class officers and a new boy was elected class president. He was handsome and drove a new car so the girls elected him president. He never held a meeting and dropped out of school before Christmas. This became a pattern over the next four years.
Classes started and we settled down to hard work. Now we had a chance to size up the teachers. They were all young and attractive, except Mr. Bodkin, the strict math teacher. Pretty Mary Belle Wheeler was my favorite teacher. She taught English. I immediately fell in love with her but she married Douglas Cowen a little later. During the second week of school, there was a note on the bulletin board, "All freshman boys are invited and encouraged to meet on the courthouse lawn in downtown Waverly at 6:30pm on the coming Friday night." We knew what this was about. In those days freshman were initiated and to miss this meeting would be worse than the hazing that occurred during the meeting. All of the freshman boys except one or two showed up. There were about forty upperclassmen there.
One of them, the president of the senior class, made a speech welcoming us to high school. He explained that it was a tradition to initiate all freshman boys as a sort of welcoming ceremony. He said that no one would be hurt and that it was all in fun. He asked that all freshman boys come forward. He then ordered the upper classmen to proceed. They stuffed our clothes with leaves and grass and assigned us three to a car. We were not told where we were going. The cars went off in all directions. The car I was in went east up Highway 70 about two miles. The three of us were asked to get out of the car and we were thrown in Trace Creek. By the time we got out of the creek, the car had left, and we had to walk back to town, soaking wet and cold. I could never make my parents understand how this was a part of high school.
Every Friday morning the whole school met in the auditorium for chapel exercises, announcements, instructions, etc. On the third Friday we met as usual. Porter Daniel, president of the senior class, called the meeting to order, then stated that the meeting would be opened with a prayer by Leslie Smith of the freshman class. My heart missed a beat or two. I was almost paralyzed with fear. I had not dreamed of such a thing. I have no idea what I said but that sure taught me a lesson, watch the bulletin board.
About this time, the moving picture house came to Waverly. They were silent black and white pictures but they were wonderful. On Saturday afternoons, children and students would go to the picture show for fifteen cents. The theatre opened with a comedy. Arnold Lloyd was a mixed up sheriff that could never catch the bad guys. I saw it three times. While the picture was showing, they had music, a record player that had to be wound up manually, and would sometimes run down and come to a stop. I remember two selections they played over and over again, "America Patrol" and "Doll Dancer." They may not have had any other selections.
Then came the first football game of the season. I had never seen a football game before. We were to play Camden High School on Friday afternoon at 2:30. We had a good team: Charles Talley, J. D. Lutton, Jesse Townson, and L. Johnson. Ralph Lutton was the referee. He asked me to be timekeeper and handed me a stopwatch. He gave me five minutes of instructions before the game started. I would get so interested in the game, I would forgot to keep the time. I heard the Camden coach remark that he had never seen quarters that long. But I learned and performed this job several times that season. It made me feel important.
As the fall session moved on, I realized what a load I was carrying: five subjects, school activities, and work to be done at home. My dad did everything he could but there was still a crop of corn to be gathered that fall. He fed and watered the stock. He sawed wood. He was busy all the time but I never heard him complain. My mother worked just as hard. They were both under heavy criticism from my dadís family for letting me go to high school instead of staying home and working.
At school we had a debate one day on the subject, "Alcohol is Harmful and Should Be Outlawed." I was on the affirmation side and my team lost. This hurt me as I was not accustomed to losing. It was a good lesson.
The Christmas season came. On the last day before Christmas break, we had a Christmas tree in the auditorium for the whole school. In each class the student would draw names. In my class there were two sisters who were most unattractive. They were good people but they definitely were not affluent and did not dress well. The boys would have nothing to do with them. When we drew names I pulled the name of the younger and less ugly of the two. As I walked out of my room I met one of my friends who said, "I will swap with you sight unseen." I said, "I will swap," and I got the other one. So I did a thing I am ashamed of. I bought a handkerchief and placed it on the tree but did not sign my name. I should have been man enough to tell her I was glad to have her name and wish her a Merry Christmas. This taught me a lesson I remember to this day. Every person, no matter how ugly or how pretty, rich or poor, has feelings.
The Christmas break lasted from December 23 to January 3, and I had a lot to do. The main project was woodcutting. I did get to spend some time hunting squirrels and rabbits with Bob. Christmas came and went and, my mother dressed up as Santa Claus, went up to the Gartrellís and came back to our house, mainly for Jesse, who was two years old. He was scared and would have nothing to do with her. Christmas dinner was the usual big production and my mother worked for days preparing it. I grated the coconut but felt I was too big to do the usual tasting and sampling.
We returned to school on January 3. In my mind I realized I was approaching my sixteenth birthday. This caused me quite a bit of concern as I realized that I would never be satisfied trying to scratch out a living on the farm. There were a lot of things that I liked about farming: planting and watching things grow, and watching the seasons change, for instance. I realized that my dad was approaching his forty-first birthday, and without the insurance money, we were desperately poor. I felt that I must try to get an education so I would be in a position to help my parents and family. I could not do this on a one-horse creek farm.
I also began to get a taste of small town politics. When there was a special job to be done, it was usually given to the son or daughter of a prominent family. For example, our class prepared and presented a play in the spring. Lillie Mae Garrett, one of the teachers, was in charge. After two meetings, she had completed the casting, and I was chosen for the lead part. Before we had practiced at all, an offer came from Vanderbilt University to send a student from their theatre and art department to assist us with the play. We met, and before any discussion, the girl who was to play the lead, Patricia Porch, asked if she could speak to the young man in private for a moment. After a few minutes they returned and the young man said he would recommend that Tom Morris, boyfriend of Patricia Porch and the son of the county judge, be given the lead. I was given the minor part of a handy man, which I did without any difficulty. This did not bother me particularly, as Tom Morris was a good friend of mine. This is just one example of the things that happened many times during my high school days. My parents were uneducated and my dad was blind. It was easy for me to feel inferior and rejected.
School went on and I made good grades without trouble. I did not participate in many school activities and spent more time at home, which made Bob happy, as we did a lot of hunting at night. After my birthday on March 20th, my dad said we ought to build a boat. This really hit a chord with me and we began planning. My mother was not very happy about this because it meant we would be going fishing which worried her. But we continued to plan. We decided to build a flat canoe of yellow poplar so it would be light and easy to handle. We cut a large poplar tree and then a log about fourteen feet long. Then we cut another log about eight feet long. These logs were perfect, without a single knot hole or weak spot. My dad decided exactly how he wanted the boards cut and we got our neighbor, Woolsey Miller, a logger, to haul the logs to the lumber mill in Waverly. They were cut in a few minutes and Woolsey brought the lumber back with him. We stored the lumber overhead in the barn so it could dry. We started working on the boat on July 4, after our crops had been laid by. I still do not know how my dad knew how to build such a good boat. If I remember correctly, it was fourteen feet long, three feet wide at the rear end, and two feet wide at the front end of the stern. There were seats at the back end, in the middle, and at the front end. The boat was tight and did not leak. I do not remember how we sealed it but we may have used tar. I built a dam across Brady Branch. We kept the water there for about two weeks. On August 1, we planned our big fishing trip. My dog Bob watched all the activities with interest between naps. We persuaded two of the Buchanan boys, Sam and Albert, to help us haul the boat to Duck River at the back of Raney Bottom. They had the two-horse wagon and equipment to move it and were eager to help. We had made two solid paddles from hickory wood, and we had a chain and a twenty-five cent lock to secure it. The lock unlocked with a solid lick from a rock so a key was not really needed to get the boat in the water. It was a real beauty. It did not leak a drop for the next half hour while we tried it out, paddling around and giving old Bob a ride. He was not impressed. Sam and Albert stayed until after dark helping us bait our lines and gathering driftwood for a fire; nighttime in August was cool. We ate supper and ran the lines, to have them completely baited and take off a couple of small catfish. Both lines were anchored on the bank of the river and entered into deep water. It was easy to feel the lines near the anchor on the bank and determine if there was anything on them. We had, together on both lines, one hundred hooks extending in different depths of water to accommodate any fish that might be interested. One thing bothers me now, we never had a life jacket, and I was not a good swimmer. We got wet several times but were never in any serious trouble. We went fishing several times in the summer but the first trip was the most fun.
I was busy all the time for the rest of the summer with routine farm work. I plowed peanuts for Woolsey Miller who lived on lower Blue Creek where it emptied into Duck River. I left home at daybreak and got home after dark, making seventy-five cents a day. Because I did not have a watch, I told time by listening for the whistle of the passenger train from Memphis to Waverly at 11:30, though it was at least four miles away. On cue, I would water the mule and eat my lunch. After a while, I would go back to work and continue until sundown. I earned enough money to buy school clothes but Wooley Miller had a cash crunch. Working in the timber business, he was frequently a little short, but always paid eventually. I worked for him several times over the years. He was a fine man.
The question of continuing high school came again. I had made enough money to buy my school clothes and books so we decided that I should continue. My dadís family still felt that mother and dad were making a fool out of me.
We returned to school on August 22, and I was a sophomore, which was a little better than being a freshman. There was much conversation about the latest hero in the U.S., Captain Charles Lindberg, who had flown across the Atlantic Ocean by himself in a single engine plane, "The Spirit of St. Louis." He had flown from New York to Paris and the first man to cross the Atlantic in this manner. There was a lot of talk about things to come. Some of us thought that one day there would be planes carrying people across the Atlantic as an ordinary means of transportation. It was exciting.
I signed up for the second year strata of all the classes I had taken the first year. I believe I had the same teachers. We had several new boys in our class, including the Powers brothers, James and Carl. There were one or two new girls. I sort of liked one of the new girls. But Maureen Taylor already had several boyfriends. We still had many more girls than boys, so at our first class meeting, Eleanor McKeel was elected president of the class, to console the boys, I was elected secretary-treasurer.
About this time, the county started running a school bus from Big Bottom and Hustburg to Waverly Central High School. Now I had a ride to and from school. Only high school students were allowed to ride the bus so Effie, Annie, and my brother rode with Aunt Noraís second husband, James Markle, who worked in Waverly. Sometimes, when the weather was pretty, they walked home, always in a group. Riding the bus to and from high school limited my activities after school because the bus left promptly after school. But by riding the bus I had much more time to do my chores at home. Bob liked the idea of my getting home early.
We settled down to hard work. I liked Latin. We were studying Caesar and I considered it a challenge. I learned to read it without difficulty and never used a "pony," or translation, as some of the boys did. At this time there was a lot of political news. President Calvin Coolidge had earlier issued his famous words, "I do not choose to run." For some reason, I wrote a one-act play in Latin with the title "I do not choose to run." I persuaded my friends John Smith, Tom Morris, and a couple of freshman boys to practice with me. I talked to Mr. Bodkin, the principal, and got permission to present my Latin play during a Friday morning chapel service later in the fall. Roberta Thomas was delighted. When the day arrived, we performed without any difficulty. What we did not realize was, the State of Tennessee Secretary of Education was in the crowd visiting our principal. He was quite impressed, and I got a write-up in the Nashville Tennesean the next day. I have never regretted studying Latin.
The football season got underway. Our first game was at Camden, as usual. Our team was not as good as it had been the previous year; it lacked experience. I did not try out for football. I was too light, about 110 pounds. I managed to go to most of the games as some kind of official team manager, team mascot, or, in later years, president of the athletic association. I do not remember ever paying an admission fee. For this game, I was team manager and was again asked to keep time. If I remember, we won the game, though not easily. I made several trips that fall to Huntington, Dickson, and Bruceton.
To continue my athletic career, I began keeping time at the girlsí and boysí basketball games. One time, the Waverly girlsí basketball team was playing the McEwen team in our gym. At game time they did not have a referee. They asked me to referee the game. This was my first and last performance. I had both teams so mad, they could have hanged me.
Sometime during the fall, there was an eclipse of the sun. It was given a lot of publicity in the newspaper and we talked about it in science class. When the day arrived, we were ready with our smoked glass. The eclipse happened in the morning between recess and lunch. A few of us slipped out of study hall, went to the south end of the building, and set up shop to watch the eclipse. There were about eight of us, most of whom were in my class. About the time the eclipse got underway, my glass became totally dark as a big man walked right in front of me. It was Mr. Bodkin, the principal. He wanted to know what we were doing. We explained that we wanted to see the eclipse. He said that we had slipped out of study hall without permission and we would be punished accordingly. On Friday morning at the chapel service, he called us down front and went into detail. We were denied morning recess for one month and were to spend our free time with him in his classes. He said we were to be his bodyguards. Each Friday at chapel, he called his bodyguards to come down front with him. Fortunately, the one class I had to spend with him was senior Elementary Psychology. I enjoyed this class and missed it when I went back to my old routine.
By riding the bus home in the afternoon, I got home before 4:00, which gave me more time to do chores and cut wood to sell. Sometimes I would cut wood until 8:00 at night and haul it to Waverly on Saturday morning for $1.25 a half cord. Bob stayed with me until I stopped for the night. I also made some money by hunting opossums and selling their hides. Money was hard to come by.
Christmas break came, and I worked for Tom Miller at the grocery for two or three days. I spent the three dollars I earned on my family, except for some sparklers and firecrackers for myself.
The high school and the grammar school reopened on January 2. It was terribly cold. I was glad to ride the school bus with door to door pick up and delivery. However, I donít think the bus had a heater. I did not stay after school and take the chance of having to walk home in that weather. Effie, Annie, and Hiram rode to Waverly Grammar School with the Gartell children in James Markleís Nash Touring car. His car had strong curtains, but no heater.
Our family was getting older, and everything was expensive. I managed to earn enough money to take care of my needs, but shoes and clothes for Effie, Annie, and Hiram were quite expensive, according to the standards of that time. One of my goals was to get a pair of Jarmon "Friendly Five" shoes, but I was a senior before I acheived this goal. We all wore common work shoes. The soles wore out so quickly that my mother ordered a shoe repair kit from the Sears, Roebuck store that had just opened in Memphis. The stand and three different size "lasts" cost $1.25. My dad taught me how to half-sole shoes, and I became rather good at it. I used the inner fabric lining from worn out automobile tires. Effie and Annie hated to have their shoes half-soled with this material because it smelled like burning rubber when they stood on the furnace at school. I repaired shoes for the entire family.
In high school we were required to dress nicely. Most of the boys wore ties. I had one tie which got a lot of wear. I had one pair of black corduroy pants and still wore overalls on occasion. I wore a warm skullcap that came down over my ears.
In the dead of winter life on the farm was rough. The stock had to be watered, fed, and protected from the cold. Sometimes they were not let out of the barn for several days at a time. I could not milk the cows. This was my motherís job, regardless of how cold it was. The chickens had to be watered, fed, and their eggs gathered. Wood had to be brought in for both the kitchen stove and the fireplace. We had to be sure that we had plenty of kindling to keep the fire going. Also, we had to draw water for drinking and for the reservoir in the kitchen stove, essentially, a hot water heater. The reservoir held twelve to fifteen gallons of water. The water was heated by the fire in the stove. Hot water was needed to wash dishes, take baths, etc. As I mentioned before, the whole family used a common water dipper, which was most unsanitary. We were crowded into a relatively small house with routine housework to be done. Another major problem was the outdoor bathroom where occupancy was usually quite short in this weather! I do not know how we survived. We did not get sick or have colds. I guess the germs just froze to death.
Schoolwork continued on a routine basis. Some of the boys began to notice the girls and went on dates to the picture show. I noticed the girls too, and secretly liked one or two of them, but no one ever knew.
Finally there were signs of spring, and my birthday came on March 20th. I was seventeen and knew it all. I doubt I will ever be as smart as I was at seventeen. In class and on the school bus, I was teased about getting old. Hiram was nine on his birthday, March 27. I probably expected too much out of him. I remembered all the work I had to do at nine years old when we first moved to Brady Branch. Effie would be fourteen on April 16, and she thought she was grown. She was a lot of help to the entire family. Annie would be twelve in August and she was not so fond of farm work, especially the use of a garden hoe and the picking of potato bugs off the potato plants. Jessie would be four on June 18 and he just followed everyone around.
About this time, there was a new county agriculture agent who wanted to promote truck farming as a source of income for local farmers. This spring, he was promoting tomato farming, and a lot of people joined the project. We did. I do not know why after the experience at Humbolt in 1913. My mother and dad decided to plant one acre. We started in early March with the land preparation, the hot bed, the cold frame, the cutting of tomato sticks, and the accumulation of supplies. Constant care was required to raise those tomatoes from the time the hot bed was prepared to the planting of the seeds. Then came the cold frame where the small plants were transplanted and held until there was no danger of frost. Then they were planted in the field. After the plants were in the field, we had to remove worms every morning. The worms would cut the plants off at the ground. A stake had to be driven beside each plant and the plant tied loosely to the stake, so it would grow straight up. All the prongs had to be removed, except the one right below the first bloom. This caused each plant to have only two strong stems. The plants grew so quickly they had to be tied to the stake twice a week until they were three to four feet high. Then the top was pinched off to stop growth. At first, the field had to be plowed with a scratcher twice a week and later, three times a week, and finally, it had to be plowed every day. This conserved moisture. I plowed from five to five-thirty each morning and caught the bus at seven-thirty. When the tomatoes began to mature in June and were ready for market, they were bringing $4 a bushel. Within a few days, they were bringing $1 a bushel. If I remember correctly, we made $100 and had plenty of tomatoes for our own use. Mother canned about fifty half-gallon cans, many quarts of tomato pickles, relish, and a substantial number of cans of soup mix. That was the last time we tried to grow tomatoes for market.
School was out the first week in May, so we went to farm work in a big way, with everyone helping. It had been a beautiful spring. The apple orchard in full bloom was a sight to behold. The aroma could be enjoyed from several hundred yards away. I located several dewberry vines and anxiously anticipated our first dewberry pie. I will never forget the abundance of fruits, vegetables, and berries on the farm. We always gave a lot to our neighbors. We loved our neighbors, and the love was returned.
I was so busy with farm work that, with the exception of plowing Aunt Noraís garden, I did not do extra work for anyone.
School began on August 20th for Waverly Grammar School and a week later for the high school. It was hot, and our school was not air-conditioned. We did not have electric fans; all the windows had to be opened. We were not accustomed to air-conditioning so we made it all right. We had a new principal, R. C. Austin, and a new football coach, C. B. Laws. Mr. Austin taught math, and I had Geometry in his class. I had one science class with Mr. Laws. He and I became good friends for the next two years.
For some reason, the student body elected me to the position of chairman of the athletic association. I held this position for two years. I scheduled football and basketball games for both the boys and girls in conjunction with Coach Laws and Mr. Austin, made arrangements for visiting teams, and kept time at all the football and basketball games. I met a lot of interesting young people from other schools. I do not remember much about the boys, but I remember quite a few of the girls. I liked a little girl from Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, and corresponded with her for quite some time. I also remember Elizabeth Rucker, Cecil McClure, Janet McDonald of McKenzie, and the twins from Trenton.
Since this was an election year, there was a lot of interest in the presidential race. The Republican Party had nominated Herbert Hoover, and Alfred E. Smith was the candidate for the Democratic Party. It was a hot contest, especially since Al Smith was a Catholic, and many people thought his loyalty would be first to the Pope in Rome. I led a group for Al Smith, for the simple reason that my name was Smith. We had speeches, banners, and a mock election. My group lost the mock election, and history records that Herbert Hoover was elected president. That was my only experience with politics and I decided it was not for me.
About this time, I heard in a round about way that one of the senior girls, Lucille Raney, wanted me to ask her for a date. She was popular and dated three boys: Carl Meadow, Layton Ridings, and Mark Twilla, all from Lobeville. I was flattered that such a girl would be interested in me. Each of the three boys she was dating had his own car; I did not have one. I finally got up enough nerve to call her, talk for about two minutes, and invite her to the picture show on Saturday night at 7:15. She seemed happy and said she would be glad to go. After the phone call, I walked home. I doubt my feet touched the ground. I told my mother about it. She smiled and said she knew this would happen. So on Saturday night at 7:10 p.m., I walked up the steps of the Raney house, met Lucille at the door, and was introduced to her mother. She was pretty and wearing a linen dress. She lived on Maple Avenue about a hundred-fifty yards off Main Street. The picture show was on Main Street across from the Methodist Church, so we had to walk about two-hundred yards. The show lasted until 9:15 and afterwards, we walked up Main Street to Fowlkes Drug Store and ordered two large fountain cokes. They cost ten cents each and the show was thirty-five cents apiece, so the whole date cost ninety cents. A lot of our classmates were at the drug store, so there was much giggling and talking. We left the drug store and walked back to her house at about 9:45, well before the ten oíclock deadline set by her dad. I walked home in a bewildered state.
About this time, a tragedy occurred in our family: my great-grandmother Williams died.
At this time I helped A. W. Lucas, Jr. deliver the Nashville Banner to 142 subscribers, for which I received twenty-five cents and an extra copy. As I went to meet the evening train to get the papers for delivery at four oíclock on Friday afternoon, I noticed quite a few more people there than usual, including my Uncle Henry Williams and my grandfather, James Williams, who did not recognize me. There was a hearse parked there, horse-drawn. I asked my Uncle Henry Williams what he was doing there, and he told me that Grandmother Williams had died and her body was coming in on the four oíclock evening train. I heard the whistle of the approaching train; my heart almost stopped - I was crushed. When the train stopped, eight men, including Uncle Henry and my grandfather, gently unloaded the large wooden box that held the casket. They loaded it into the hearse, and Uncle Henry concluded some final transactions with the station agent. Two men got into the driverís seat of the hearse. They started to the Henry Williamsí home in Flatwoods, only a short distance from the home of my great-grandmother. The hearse was followed by several wagons drawn by mules. One wagon was driven by my Uncle Henry, one by my grandfather, and one by one of the Baker boys, I believe it was Frank. My grandfather did not say a word to me.
Great-grandmother Williams had closed her old home and gone to Sheffield, Alabama to live with her son, Buck Williams, and his family. With the help of some of the children, she corresponded with me, always referring to me as "Dear Wesley." We were special to one another.
I delivered my papers and walked home. My mother already knew about the death. She explained that Great-grandmother Williams had lived a long, useful life and would be happy to be back in her beloved Flatwoods. The funeral was set for Sunday afternoon at the home of Henry Williams, where she would lie in state all day Saturday. We went to the funeral with Aunt Nora and Jim Markle. My mother, Effie, and I went. Everyone except for my motherís dad, James Williams, was very nice to us. My grandfather ignored and turned his back on us. My mother was so devastated that we did not go to the cemetery, but left immediately after the funeral service. My mother could not understand why her dad would not forgive her after more than twenty years had passed. Effie and I were also upset; we never had a grandfather.
Grandmother was very pretty in her casket, with her snow-white hair and white dress. She always said she wanted to be buried in white. She was buried in the Williams cemetery between the cedars, and next to her husband, William Henry Williams. She had come home.
In the fall of 1928, I continued to date Lucille Raney about once each week, either going to the picture show or to a school ballgame. We got along fine, especially after she dropped one of the boys she was dating, leaving only Layton Ridings, Mark Twilla, and me. I was busy with schoolwork, the athletic association, and trying to earn money for expenses. I worked for Tom Miller at the grocery on Saturdays and a few days before Christmas. I was glad we had a substantial supply of wood at home and did not have to cut any more until the Christmas week. My dad had a light saw that he used to saw wood. I always thought he liked to do it, but I may have been wrong. For Christmas I bought Lucille a small box of stationary, the first present I ever gave to a girl.
Even though he hardly ever saw me, Bob did not give up on me. During Christmas week, we went hunting in the daytime on the "Old Ridge Road." We caught a possum in a persimmon tree. That was the first time we ever caught a possum in the daytime. I also killed some quail that I found huddled near a stump. My dad got real upset, saying I should never shoot quail on the ground.
When we returned to school on January 1, there was talk of a recession. Herbert Hoover was to be inaugurated as President in March. A lot of people were uneasy about the economy. My class was interested because we graduated in less than two years and faced our futures. Some of us felt that our country was too great to have a depression. How wrong we were.
Winter dragged by, and on my birthday, March 20, there were no signs of spring. My dad planned a planting schedule anyway. With the first warm day, we would start plowing. When the ground was frozen, we knocked all the corn stalks down so it would be ready for plowing. This spring we had a new farm hand. Hiram was ten years old on March 27, and though he was not especially in love with farm work, he was able to do quite a bit. I remember one time, he had two chills in one morning. I canít say I blame him, those rocks, stumps, and bushes would give almost anyone a case of chills. I guess the job I hated most was hoeing the weeds and bushes out of the corn with cane hoes, which were heavier than regular hoes. Jesse would be five in June, not old enough to help, but interested in everything. Effie was fifteen, and Annie was going to be thirteen. They did work in the garden and helped with the cane hoes in the cornfield.
With the farm in fairly good shape, I decided to get a job. In mid-summer I applied for a job with Humbard Construction Company. They were building a concrete highway from the nearly completed Johnsonville bridge to Waverly and on to McEwen, a distance of about twenty miles. I applied along with my friend, William B. Collier, who was a year ahead of me in school. He got a job in Nashville at a newsstand and gave up the idea of a job on the highway. I got a job shoveling dirt on the new concrete road. I made twenty-five cents an hour, working ten hours a day, six days a week. After a while, I was given the job of operating the concrete finisher right behind the mixer. The finisher operated on the same steel rails that the mixer used. As soon as the concrete was dumped, the finisher would go back and forth across it, smoothing out the roadbed. The touch up finishers operated right behind me. It was a hot, dry summer, and we all prayed for rain and a little relief. Sometimes we laid 1,200 feet of highway in one day. It was considered a record at that time.
I was still dating Lucille Raney, or at least trying to date her. My good friend, C. B. Laws, football coach from the previous season, destined to be Principal of Bakerville High School in the fall season, did not like my dating Lucille Raney. I never knew why and to this day I donít know. He was a widower. His wife and child had drowned in a ferry accident a few years earlier. He was dating a young lady by the name of Vivian Pack, who lived in Dickson. I believe she also taught school at the Bakerville High School. I went to Dickson with Mr. Laws on Sundays and sometimes we went to Nashville and, though I did not particularly like her, I felt obligated to date her cousin, Georgia Corlew. One Sunday Mr. Laws asked me to go to McKenzie, Tennessee, to see Dorothy Parnell, also a teacher at Bakerville. She had a younger sister, Harriett, who was quite pretty. I liked her. This trip took all day. I did not get home until two oíclock in the morning. I had to be at work at six-thirty a.m. It was late July, hot and dry. I could not stay awake on the finisher. I made it through lunch, but at about two oíclock, I went to sleep on the finisher and my right foot was crushed. I was wearing a heavy work shoe, which helped, but my foot was broken. That was the end of my summer job. I was on crutches for three weeks and walked with a cane for a month.
Lucille Raney came to see me at my house the night after the accident. She was with her date, Layton Ridings, but he did not come in. She stayed about twenty minutes. We corresponded by letter for a few weeks, but I never dated her again. In late August, about the time school started, I asked her for a date but she refused, saying that her mother forbid her from seeing me again. I pressed for an explanation and she said it was something about the family. I figured it was because we were poor, and my future was uncertain or perhaps they knew of the Indian blood in my family. My feelings were crushed. Nearly twenty years later, her mother, Mrs. Raney, came to see me at Sears. She was visiting her relatives in Memphis and came by my office to see how I was doing. She was certainly unexpected, but I welcomed her and gave her a tour of my general area. At this time, I was manager of the central record office with an assistant manager, a secretary, five division heads, and about 120 employees. We kept merchandise records for the buying organization of fifty-five buyers, including purchase orders, all invoices totaling approximately $250,000 per day, and merchandise disbursement to seven retail stores in the south. I was also president of the local Sears credit union, which was the equivalent of either of the two banks in Waverly. Mrs. Raney stayed about an hour and she was impressed, even astonished. I felt vindicated.
I finally settled with the Hombard Construction Company for my accident. They paid all medical expenses and gave me one-fourth wages for four weeks, totaling less than twenty dollars.
High school opened on the last Monday in August. The bus from Big Bottom was no longer in service so I had to walk to Waverly and then catch a ride to school. This was quite difficult because my foot was not completely healed. I immediately became busy with the Athletic Association position. We had a new football coach, and he was rather stern, quite different from C.B. Laws. He also taught science. My foot gave me trouble and I could not participate in basketball practice. I was discouraged. I had lost my girl and my dexterity.
A.W. Lucas Jr. was still the local carrier for the Nashville Banner, and, at this time, his parents decided to send him to Military School. He was doing very well at Waverly Central High School, so he talked to me about taking over the paper route and I could use his bicycle. The route earned about $75 a month, and I was to pay him $25. If I made all the deliveries, it was a $50 profit. The paper came from Nashville at 4 p.m. during the week and 9:15 a.m. on Sundays. This arrangement only lasted one month. He was not satisfied at the New Mexico Military School, returned home, and took back his paper route.
I got a job working at W.J. Nolan Grocery after school and on Saturdays, but this was not satisfactory because Layton Ridings, my former rival with Lucille Raney, worked there. So that didnít last very long. It was hard to earn money, and my needs were great. My class ring cost $8.75. My football sweater cost more than that. I had earned the sweater as Chairman of the Athletic Association. I went back to working for Tom Miller on Saturdays, hunting possums, and cutting wood.
For my science project, I drew plans for a chemical plant. This took about two months. The drawing was framed and hung on the wall in the Science Room. I believe it was there until the school burned down in 1939.
In October the famous Wall Street Stock Market crash occurred. Both Nashville newspapers, the Tennessean and the Banner, had two inch headlines about the crash. There were stories in both papers about the loss of huge fortunes people and were committing suicide by the hundreds. We did not know what it meant. Some people thought it meant the end of time. That was all the talk for a while, but as Thanksgiving and Christmas approached, basketball again became important.
Christmas of 1929 was not a good one for me. I worked a few days at the Tom Miller Grocery and bought the usual things for my family. We no longer drew names and exchanged presents at school. I did not give or receive a gift. I seemed to be in a state of confusion. I spent more time at home with my dog. I was quite concerned about the future. I would graduate in the spring. I began to wonder if the years in high school had been wasted. My dad and I talked about buying a pair of mules and renting more land, perhaps over on Duck River across the Cold Branch Bridge. I was unhappy, but the days passed, and the new year was on the horizon.
When we returned to school on January 1, 1930, we were quite concerned about the future. Some of the boys who had graduated the previous year still had difficulty finding jobs. There was talk of a depression, and I was scared. I began to write letters to different companies explaining that I was graduating from high school on May 1, and was seeking a job. The result was either a rubber stamp, "No Position Open," or no reply. The United Fruit Co. of New Orleans replied that they were not hiring. The Hombard Construction Co. of Chattanooga did not have anything. So I kept on working for Tom Miller Grocery on Saturdays, and that was about it.
My birthday passed almost unnoticed; I was nineteen. Spring came, and the Brady Branch area was beautiful. I did not know this would be the last spring I would spend on Brady Branch. I remember this spring like it was yesterday.
My friend, Willie B. Collier, who had graduated the previous year, now had a job with Standard Oil Co. in Memphis as a service station attendant. He worked ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week, making $75 a month. I wrote him a letter asking about the job situation in Memphis. He wrote back in late April saying that he might be able to get me a job with Standard Oil Co. if I would work in a service station. He said I would need enough money to pay for one weekís board, $8.50, and a little extra spending money. I quickly replied that I would be there on Saturday May 10th, and asked for instructions about how to meet him.
The weeks went by so quickly, it was soon the first of April, five weeks from graduation. At this time an incident occurred which I regret. I was editor of the school paper that came out every two weeks. It contained information about school activities, and any other news about things coming up in the future. In this particular issue, I wrote an article about our teachers and their futures. I liked all the teachers except one, who seemed to give us a hard time. I said that her future was doubtful. She cried and I cried, but the damage was done. Actually, she was a good teacher. She just expected everything to be perfect. This incident taught me a good lesson about the feelings of another person.
There was a controversy about whether we would wear caps and gowns at graduation. Hazel Raney was chairman of the committee. The girls voted, in a solid block of thirt,y to wear caps and gowns and the boys, voted in a solid block of eight, to wear blue suits and white dresses. We wrangled about it, and finally we told the girls to wear caps and gowns while we wore overalls. They relented, and we settled on blue suits and white dresses.
I did not have a suit for graduation, and it was only three weeks away. I talked to my mother and dad about it, and my dad suggested that I go to Grandmother Smith and ask her to lend me $25 to buy my graduation suit. I know now that he was thinking that she would probably give me the suit for graduation. I was the first individual in the Smith family to attend high school, and graduation was a big milestone. Also, since she had made her home with my Aunt Nora, she had benefited from all the things I had done for them, cutting wood and plowing the garden and the potato patch. I finally got enough nerve to ask her. She listened and gave me a flat "no" without any explanation. She said she would lend my dad $25 if he wanted it, and the conversation was closed. I was crushed and realized more than ever the animosity in my dadís family about my going to high school instead of going to work full time on the farm. My dad was very upset and told me to go to Henry Bone Clothing store, buy a suit, and charge it to him. I did and the suit cost $25. I donít think that I received a graduation gift from my Grandmother Smith.
The job situation in Waverly was hopeless. I had a chance at a job melting lead for the old Linotype machines of the News Democrat, the county paper, for $9 a week. I heard a rumor that I would be offered a job with Citizensí Bank at $12 a week, but it did not develop. I made up my mind that I wanted to try to get a job in Memphis. I talked to my mother and dad about it. My brother Hiram was eleven years old and could take over most of my farm work. I planned to help my family and I would have a better opportunity in Memphis. With my dadís permission, I went to the Farmersí and Merchant Bank and talked to Mr. Jim Frank Daniel, the Vice President. I explained my situation, and he agreed to lend me $25. I went to J.P. Cowen Co. and bought a cardboard suitcase for $1.50. I went back home to get ready to go to Memphis. My mother got my clothes ready, and it was a little sad for all of us. On Saturday, after Friday nightís graduation, I caught the Memphis-bound bus at 10:30. I believe the ticket cost $3.50. The trip took about six hours. I became a little homesick, as I had never been that far from home before. I asked the bus driver to let me off the bus at Summar and Trezevant, where Willie B. Collier was working. Fortunately, he was on duty, but he had to work until ten oíclock. I hung around until he was finished. Then we went to 206 North Decatur St. where he was boarding with an aunt, Mrs Doty. She welcomed me and my $8.50. I was plenty homesick by this time, but my attention soon turned to a violent storm that came up. It was a really bad one, and I remembered how my mother and dad talked about these West Tennessee storms. I slept very little that night.
On Sunday we rode around Memphis and went by the Standard Oil Bulk Plant where I would apply for a job on Monday. I was excited and worried. On Monday we were down there at 8:30 a.m., and there were quite a few boys there to apply for a job. I made it fine until the physical. Mr. Jim Perry, the district manager, said, "Son, you are too light, you donít weigh enough. When you gain some weight, we will give you a job." I only weighed 117 pounds. We did not give up. Willie B. spent the entire week taking me around town. I didnít have any luck, my money began to run out, and I faced the possibility of having to go back home. Willie B said, "letís try it one more week. I will pay your board and if you get a job, you can pay me back."
On Sunday we decided we ought to go to church. Since we were both Methodists, we looked in the phone book for the closest Methodist churches. We chose the First Methodist Church on Poplar at Second Street and boarded the streetcar to go down there. I was really surprised when I recognized the pastor, Dr. Clovis Chappel. He was originally from Waverly, and I had played with his sons, Clovis, Jr. and Bob Hart. After the sermon, we went down and met him. He was excited to see two boys from Waverly and wanted to know what we were doing in Memphis. I explained that I had just finished high school and was looking for a job. He looked around and hailed a man about twenty feet away, calling, "Hey Bob, come over here. These boys are from my hometown. This one has just finished high school and is looking for a job. Can you help?" The man was Bob Lane, personnel director for Kroger. We talked for a couple of minutes and he gave me his card, saying, "Come see me in my office on Florida Street at ten oíclock in the morning." I was high as a kite! This was a prospect for a job. On Monday morning at ten oíclock, we were in his office. Frankly, I think Willie B. did more talking than I did. Mr. Lane was very nice. He explained that Kroger had bought all the Mr. Bowers stores and the stores were being converted to Krogers as fast as possible. He said he might be able to work something out, but it would take a few days. Good old Willie B. said, "Weíll make it." The week dragged on and I did not hear anything until Friday. I received a call from Mr. Lane and he told me to report to the Mr. Bowers store at Chelsea and Thomas at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Willie B. drew a map for me. The store was about two miles north of the place I was staying. I worked all day Saturday until nine oíclock that night, when I had a call from Mr. Lane to report to Mr. Bowers at number 59 at Madison and Cooper. I was walking on air; I had a job. On Sunday, we attended the First Methodist Church again, where I saw Mr. Lane and thanked him.
I wrote to my mother and dad to tell them the good news. I was making $18 a week. It was in a select neighborhood. Mayor Watkins Overton, several top businessmen, lawyers, and doctors lived in the area.
Bowers number 59 was a relatively new store. The fixtures were new and it was well lit. The store did a good business, especially in fresh vegetables. There was a store manager, one other sales clerk, a delivery boy who delivered on a bicycle, a butcher and his assistant, and me. We had a good group. I did not even mind the hours, six-thirty a.m. to six-thirty p.m., nine p.m. on Saturdays. And there was cleanup work to do after nine oíclock, so we usually didnít leave until eleven. I remember some of the prices: $0.29 for a pound of Maxwell House Coffee in the can, $0.07 for a small loaf of bread, $0.10 for a large loaf, $0.04 for a batch of fresh mustard greens, and candy bars were three for a dime.
On Monday, June 2, 1930, my little brother was lost in the woods for more than six hours. He had gone up the hill just north of our house with my dad and Hiram. They were going to cut some tomato sticks. They found a white oak tree that was suitable and proceeded to cut it down and saw it into logs. Jesse decided he wanted a drink of water at the house. My dad told him to walk up the hill, across the old road, and to follow the path down the hill to the house. The path was several feet wide and easy to follow.
We have to remember that the woods were a lush green and the leaves were full-grown. This was quite an undertaking for such a small boy. He did go up the hill to the old crossroad, but instead of crossing the road to the path, he turned to his right and headed to Old North Ridge Road and turned right on it. He walked about two miles and turned left on the Matthews Hollow Road. Then he followed this road about one and one-half miles toward Blue Creek. This whole area was wild, and his journey was on an old road, long abandoned and grown up with weeds and brush. He came to a farm, which we later learned was that of John Buck Stewart. He saw a man out in the field and told him that he was lost.
My dad and Hiram had returned to the house at about eleven oíclock with the tomato sticks. It was then that they discovered that Jesse was missing. My mother and Hiram went back up the hill to the place where my dad and Hiram had been working, calling for Jesse, but there was no answer. They came back down the hill to the road, and my mother flagged down a car going towards Waverly. She asked the driver to go to the sheriff and report that her child was missing in the woods. Within a few minutes, the sheriff arrived with two carloads of volunteers. He set up a command post and sent out a request for volunteers. More cars came. There may have been more than fifty volunteers combing the woods. My mother and dad were devastated and my dad felt so guilty. My mother and sisters helped with the search, expecting the worst. They searched in all directions from the original starting point. The volunteers had a prearranged signal to notify everyone if he was found. It was getting close to four oíclock in the afternoon and there was still no sign of him. More and more people came, including our neighbors and my Grandmother Smith. It was a desperate situation.
At this time Jesse was in Matthewís Hollow. John Buck Stewart did not know our family, and because Jesse told him he was lost, he took Jesse to the sheriffís office in Waverly. They washed his dirty, tear-stained face and gave him a candy bar and an ice cream cone. The mystery was solved, and they notified the sheriff. The sheriff gave the signal, two shotgun blasts, and the volunteers came out of the woods.
John Buck Stewart brought Jesse home in his farm wagon, and there must have been a hundred people - volunteers, neighbors and family - to meet them. What a reunion! My mother, dad, sisters, and brother were crying. Jesse had been lost more than six hours.
I did not learn about this incident until several months later. It was good that I did not know about Jesse being lost in the woods. If I had, I probably would have quit my job and gone back home. I wouldnít have been able to help feeling that it was my fault. They must have known I would feel guilty for having left home.
On Monday night, June 30, I received a telephone call while working late at the store. It was Jess Bowen, Sr. at the Luff-Bowen funeral home in Waverly with the message that my Grandmother Smith had died. The funeral was to be held the next day. I did not know what to do. I was really homesick, and my grandmotherís death made it worse. At the same time, I did not want to loose my job. I talked to the store manager who was somewhat older. He said that I should go, and if I came back on Tuesday, I would not loose my job. I caught the bus at midnight and went to Waverly, arriving there at about five-thirty in the morning. I got off at the intersection of Highway 70 and Bakerville Road and started walking home. It was a clear morning and summer was in bloom. Everything was a lush green. As I walked along, I thought about all the times I had walked along this road to school. I had picked berries on the hill, and I wondered when they would be ripe this year. As I walked over Cooley Hill and started down the south side, I remembered the wild buggy ride. I met my mother and dad right in front of my grandmotherís house. They were caught utterly by surprise. I hugged both of them and we were all crying. We stood on the old wooden bridge by the road for at least fifteen minutes asking questions and just talking. I realized now that it meant a lot for me to come to my grandmotherís funeral. I guess the happiest soul of all was Bob; he barked, whined, and jumped all over me.
We went to Aunt Noraís house. There were a number of people already there. They had brought Grandmother out from the funeral home, where she had spent the night. I saw family that day that I had not seen in a long time. Many of them I never saw again. They were there from Nashville, Humboldt, Buffalo, Cuba Landing, and other places.
The funeral was to be late that afternoon at the Slip-off Methodist Church at Buffalo. This was fitting, as she had raised her family of nine boys and one girl about two and one-half miles from there in Barron Hollow. My grandfather had died in 1905, twenty-five years earlier, which left her with a tremendous responsibility. I do not know who preached at the funeral. I believe Morgan Dean had left Buffalo by this time. Also, I understand this was the last funeral service held at the Slip-off Methodist Church. It was replaced by the Buffalo Methodist Church. Grandmother was buried up the road from the church in the Walker Cemetery, where many members of the Smith family were buried, including, Newton Smith, Grandmotherís husband.
I left the funeral procession at Waverly before it turned on Highway 13 to Buffalo. It was extremely difficult to leave my family at this time of grief. But I had to keep my job so I caught the bus at about four oíclock and headed west.
I reported for work on Wednesday. The store manager was glad to see me. He had not expected me to come back. I liked my job and did not want to go back to the farm, though I missed my family and my dog. I decided to move from 206 North Decatur to 534 Reese Street. I hated to move away from Willie B. Collier, but I did not like the place on Decatur Street. I had to ride the streetcar to and from work, and often got home late at night. Living with the Blackard family, at 534 Reese, I could ride to and from work with Claude Blackard, the meat market manager at the store where I worked.
We began to hear rumors about new Kroger super stores. One was planned to be open in the fall. There was a lot of talk about the depression, but they did go ahead and open the one super store at Union and Belvedere. This store was about three times as large as the one where I worked. It was a super store according to those dayís standards.
There was not much to do on Sunday. Everything was closed and it was too far for me to go downtown to church. Sometimes I would take long trips on the streetcar. I could ride all over town for seven cents. I rode to the Haragan Bridge and walked across the Mississippi River to the Arkansas side, the Overton Park Zoo, and the Chickasaw Baseball Stadium to see a ballgame. Several times I went to the East End Amusement Center to see a few people I knew. I met one girl that I liked, and we dated a few times.
On Labor Day weekend I went home again, arriving at about six oíclock Sunday morning. The place looked good, and it was wonderful to see the family. Bob was ecstatic. Hiram wanted to show me his corn crop, it was a good one, and I told him so. The orchard was loaded with apples. I spent every waking moment with my family and then I caught the four-thirty bus back to Memphis late Monday afternoon. The only bad thing that I remember about the trip was a sneering remark made by a boy in the Fowlkes Drug Store. " I hear you are working in a grocery store." "Yes," I replied, "and I am proud of my job."
Shortly after I came back to Memphis, I was given a raise, to $19 a week, and transferred to the new super store at Union and Belvedere. This created another transportation problem. I had to ride the streetcar at least six miles each way. If I remember correctly, this store had one manager and four of us worked with him. I liked it because it was so modern. It had carpeting and big fans for cooling. It was first class, but did not do the business that had been expected.
I did not go back home at Thanksgiving because I only had one day off. I saw a couple of high school football games. It was a battle between Tech, Central, and Messick for the championship. It seemed like the whole city was excited. They played the championship game at Hodges Field, and I believe Messick won.
We approached the Christmas season and I had never seen such Christmas decorations. I was a little sad, constantly thinking of Waverly and my family at home.
I got into the habit of attending St. Lukeís Methodist Church, and had my membership transferred there. The church occupied a new building and was quite impressive. Incidentally, except for a short time in the 1940ís, I have faithfully attended St. Lukeís Church for over 60 years.
It was Sunday afternoon on December 21, 1930. I was sitting in the living room of the Blackard home on Reese Street with Carey Mantell Clark, my roommate. We were looking at the Sunday paper and listening to the radio play Christmas music. I felt about as low as possible. This was to be the first Christmas I had ever spent away from home. Carey was going to a party that night at Mr. and Mrs. Millerís house. The party was being held for some young people, from Buntyn Presbyterian Church, I believe. He was dating Hattie Mae Perkins who lived there. At about three oíclock, Hattie Mae called Carey, saying one girlís date had cancelled, and she would not be able to come. She asked Carey if he knew anyone he could invite. He turned to me and asked if I would like to go to a party and meet a pretty girl. My ears perked up, and I replied that I would be glad to go. Hattie Mae said she would call the girl and arrange it. She called back a few minutes later to say she would bring Catherine Martin over to her house at about eight oíclock and she would be my date. This was exciting, and I almost forgot about being sad.
We arrived at about five minutes to eight, and Hattie Mae had gone after Catherine. When they came in, I saw this pretty girl with smooth, dark brown hair. She was rather tall, wearing high-heeled shoes and a light colored dress with an orange floral pattern. She was a striking picture. We were introduced and we sat down and began to talk. She was seventeen and a senior in Messick High School, expecting to graduate in June. She already had enough credits to graduate, but wanted to graduate with her class. Since I had already finished high school, I was able to give her some good advice, so I thought.
She told me that she was dating Charles Marshall, who was going to UT Pharmacy School. He had broken the date, saying he had to work and she doubted him because this was not the first time. I learned later that he might have had a drinking problem, which was probably the reason she said she would never date a boy who drank.
We talked about hobbies and things that we liked to do and she said that she liked music and dancing. I explained that I could not dance, as we had so little social life in Waverly.
"Would you like to learn?" she asked.
"I would like to try."
"I will teach you."
"That would be great. When do we start?"
"Come over Wednesday night about eight. I want you to meet my parents and we can start. I have a record player and some good dance pieces." We enjoyed talking and laughing. It was a very pleasant evening. I walked her home, thinking of what a beautiful person she was.
On Wednesday night, I was at her house promptly at eight oíclock. She introduced me to her parents and her little brother. Her parents were very nice and asked quite a few questions about farm life because they had lived on a farm when they were young. After a while, Catherineís sister, Mary, came in with her husband, Leland, and we had a good time talking until Catherine told them that she was going to teach me how to dance. She turned on the music. I was shaking like a leaf. I was about as agile as a wooden wagon on a rocky road. We made it though, and Mary said they were going to dance at the East End Amusement Center a week from Friday night and would like to have us go. Catherine asked me if I would like to go, and I said, "Sure."
This was the beginning. I never did become a good dancer, but I tried desperately and managed. We began to date once a week, then twice a week, and, finally, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights. Catherine had some close friends, Virginia Dabney, Evelyn Crabtree, Alice McGlocklin, and others, so there was something going on almost all the time. We met at someoneís house, played records and danced, or just talked and had fun. Occasionally, we would ride the streetcar downtown to a picture show, and ride a taxi back home. Things were going very well.
As 1931 dawned, the depression seemed to be getting worse by the day. Many people were out of work, and the news was always bad. I was transferred to vacation relief. The excuse given was that I was good with figures and could handle all the reports. I worked one week in a store relieving the manager or a clerk, and was then assigned to another one. This caused a real transportation problem, since I had to ride the streetcar and usually had to transfer once or twice. I remember some of the stores I served: Bellevue and Lamar, Madison and McLean, Semmes and Southern, and, for several months, Union and Waldron.
I was interested in bookkeeping, so I tried to get a transfer to the Kroger office on Florida St., but was not successful. With the depression in full swing, they were cutting the organization as much as possible.
At that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened a big office in the post office building at Front and Madison where they loaned money to farmers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. They had loaned a lot of money in the spring of 1931 and in the fall, farmers were repaying their loans. I happened to meet the secretary of the general manager. She said if I could get a letter from my Congressman or Senator, I could possibly get a job with this office. I wrote Congressman Clarence Turner, whom I knew at Waverly, and he gave me a letter of recommendation. I wrote Senator Cordell Hull and explained the situation, and said that I had a letter from Congressman Turner, whom he knew personally. So I received a letter and recommendation from Senator Hull. I was called to work in September of 1931. I would be making $4 a day for an eight-hour day of regular clerical work, which would lead to the bookkeeping that I wanted.
This job had one major disadvantage, it was a solid political job, and the employees with the most political support had the best chances of staying employed. It was also a seasonal job. Each time a person was laid off, he had to go through the whole political process of getting re-employed. I went through five seasons of this, always getting laid off and then contacting Congressman Turner and Senator Hull to get back on. Senator Hull became Secretary of State in March 1933 and no longer supported me directly. Once in 1933, he personally contacted the Secretary of Agriculture on my behalf and I was rehired.
In between sessions I managed to get part time jobs, one of which was at the Memphis Steam Laundry where I worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $10.50 a week. I was determined not to give up, but I came close. I did have free laundry and dry cleaning service while working at Memphis Steam. In the fall of 1933 when I was laid off at the Seed Loan office, I got a job with a grocery store, Silver Saver, operated by Mr. Freeman. In January of 1934 I was given a job as checker at a Silver Saver store on Highland Street at Walker Avenue. I earned $16 for a six-day week. Then an ironic thing happened. I received a telegram from the Seed Loan office saying I was being reinstated, and to report to work the following Monday. I resigned from the Silver Saver and reported to the Seed Loan office on Monday. I was told that a mistake had been made. The telegram had been sent to the wrong Smith. There was nothing I could do; this was another example of politics. I could not get my job back with the Silver Saver store, so I went back to the $10.50 job at Memphis Steam Laundry.
In January of 1934 my youngest sister, Joyce, was born. This created a problem at home, as all the other children except me were still living there. At that time, Effie was approaching her 20th birthday, Annie was 17, Hiram was almost 15, and Jesse was 9. They had a crowded situation. But they all loved that baby sister. Effie and Annie were a lot of help in caring for her. My mother was 41 and my dad was almost 48. Since they lived on the farm, they had plenty of food, but only $28.75 per month from my Uncle Hiramís insurance. It was tough for them.
I did not get to go home until June and I was about ready to give up. The depression was not going away, and the future was most uncertain. I was glad to see everyone, including my new little sister. My dog Bob still knew me, but was old and almost blind. I did not know what to do, but I had to make a decision. After looking the situation over, I decided to come back to my $10.50 a week job. At least I could live on that, and maybe something would come along.
A short time later, Willie B. came by the Memphis Steam Laundry and informed me that Standard Oil was hiring. I went with him to the bulk plant and talked to Mr. Perry again. He said I was still too light, but I promised to gain weight. So he gave me a job at $62.84 a month and assigned me to a small station at Cassitt and Linden. I worked seven days a week, closing at eight oíclock at night. The job was all right, but not as exciting as I had expected.
I did not go home again in 1934. It was work, work all the time, but I was glad to have a job. We were closed on Thanksgiving and again on Christmas. In the fall of 1934, Standard Oil discovered a gasoline-stealing ring and nineteen managers were fired. I was not aware of the stealing and was offered the lease of a medium to large sized station. I couldnít make the $200 deposit, so I began to do relief work at various stations.
I continued to date Catherine Martin on a somewhat regular basis. She had secured a job at Sears and Robuck and was earning $0.45 an hour. She dated other men regularly also. I didnít seem to have much of a chance with her.
In November 1934 Effie married Carl Simpson, who I knew well from high school. Carl was a fine young man and did much for my parents in the following years. Shortly after marriage, they moved to a small house on East Main Street near the eastern boundary of Waverly. It looked like a dollhouse. They fixed it up and furnished it well.
Effie and Carl drove out to see my parents three or more times each week. Carl was always doing something around the house, fixing things as needed.
In 1935 or 1936 the Federal Government passed the Rural Electrification Act, to help farm areas. A power line was installed across our farm. In later years, Carl and an electrician friend completely wired our old house into the main line. It was hard for me to imagine electric lights on Brady Branch; we had known only kerosene lamps that gave the same amount of light as a 10-watt light bulb. When my mother got the electric iron, she no longer had to heat the iron on the kitchen stove.
In winter when it snowed and the weather was bad, Carl and Effie would drive to the farm every day to make sure they had plenty of wood. They were always going the second mile to take care of my mother and dad.
When spring came, Carl took my dad fishing on Duck River at Paint Rock. Even though my dad was blind, he loved to go fishing. It is impossible for me to list all the things Carl did for my family, as I only learned about them in letters from my mother. I did not get to go home more than once or twice a year. This good relationship continued for more than thirty years. Carl was truly a wonderful person.
While the New Year inspired a great deal of optimism from the news media, the unemployment situation was still serious. The total number of unemployed had decreased only slightly, and jobs were hard to find. Many of the acts proposed by President Roosevelt and passed by congress ended up in the Supreme Court, where they were declared unconstitutional by favoring only some of the people and not the whole country. I had voted for Roosevelt in 1932 and thought he was second only to God Himself.
I was still working for Standard Oil on a salary of $62.84 per month, stationed in south Memphis at McLemore and Latham. I had to work seven days a week in a rough area. It was a good-sized station and required quite a bit of night work. I learned that the Seed Loan office had a new general manager, Judge Tipton from Covington, Tennessee. With my letter from Congressman Turner and the support of the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, I applied for reinstatement, and was accepted. It paid $4 per eight-hour day. I knew that the job would be temporary, but it was the kind of clerical work I wanted to do. I lived at 1256 Union St., and it was a short streetcar ride downtown to work. Also, with this job I was free on the weekends and thus able to go home more often. I started night school, studying typing and shorthand. I felt that this would help me in the future in the field I sought.
I was quite busy. I usually worked on Saturday and made an extra dayís pay. I began to save my money, watching every penny. My goal was to save enough to make a down payment on a used car. By August 15 I had saved $75 and was ready to make a purchase.
Through a friend, I located a 1934 four-door Plymouth with 35,000 miles on it. The salesman said it had been driven by a little old lady, and was a steal at $500. So I paid the $75 down and bought the car. It was a steal all right, but I was the victim.
Plans for a Smith Family Reunion were being made. It was to be held at Cold Branch Spring on a Sunday. This was my chance to take Catherine Martin to Middle Tennessee, and show off both my car and Catherine to my entire family. In thinking about this, I am surprised that she agreed to go and that her parents let her. We started out early Sunday morning and drove about twenty-five miles before the first flat tire. We had the tire changed. This left us without a spare tire. We had the oil checked, and the engine was dry. It took six quarts of oil to make that trip.
When I think back, that was a fun trip. There must have been over one hundred Smiths there, including: the Lee Smiths and their fifteen children and numerous grandchildren from Humbolt, Allen Smith and his family, also from Humbolt, Ely Smith and his family from Buffalo, Johnnie Smith from Squeeze Bottom, J.B. Smith and his family from Nashville, and our family Ė mother, dad, six children, Aunt Nora Markle, and her six children. There were also many friends and neighbors. It was a beautiful setting on Cold Branch near the big spring. The sun was shining and a south wind was blowing. I have never seen so much fried chicken, homemade bread, sliced tomatoes, apple pies, baked beans, and pickles. The children enjoyed wading in Cold Branch; it was a warm day and the water was ice cold. There was a short service of remembrance for brothers Boots, Hiram, and Jessie, as well as Grandmother Smith.
The brothers told many funny stories about things that had happened when they were growing up. My dad told his favorite story about the time he climbed a tree to catch a squirrel he wanted to raise as a pet. As he reached into the squirrel nest, a lizard ran up his sleeve, and he hit the ground with a thud. I have heard that story many times and in 1987, when we visited the old homestead, I pointed out the tree to the group.
They sure gave Catherine the "once over"; she made her assessments, as well. My family fell in love with her, and she seemed to like all of them, especially my dad.
As far as I know, that was the last reunion of the Smith family. The brothers were getting old, and they died off rather fast and the children spread out in all directions.
We left Waverly at four oíclock and headed back to Memphis. I breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived at Catherineís home at ten thirty. Her parents were relieved, and I think Catherine was also. I was sure that this experience would end our friendship, but it did not. She had never before been exposed to country life. I think she was impressed by such a large, loving family gathering.
In 1935, a son was born to Effie and Carl Simpson. He was promptly named David Ray. Within a few days, James Pilgram Williams came to see Effie. She did not know him, but he introduced himself and asked if she would name the baby after him. She told him she could not, as the baby had already been named and registered. He was disappointed, and said that he was sorry. I wish he had gone by and talked with my mother.
I made arrangements to have Judge Tipton, the general manager of the Seed Loan office, ride with me to and from work. I thought this would insure my job, but it did not. In late fall I was laid off. Judge Tipton talked to me for some time, and advised me to seek work in a private sector, as there was no future in government work.
So there I was with no job and very little money. Christmas was coming and I had a car note of $23 per month. I went to see Royce Smith at Memphis Steam Laundry about the possibility of a laundry route. The company had fifty-one routes and several routes for the Memphis Linen Supply. He said that he had a route open, but a bond of $100 was required. I talked to him about my previous experience in the shipping room at Memphis Steam, and said that I would not need training to handle a route. I told him that I did not have any money for a bond, but they could hold $1 per week from my commission until the bond was secured. They already knew that I was dependable and honest. He told me to report the next morning for Route #4. Running a laundry route is not easy, but by hustling I could earn $25 to $30 per week. My laundry expenses were free, and I wore a blue suit as a uniform, which they helped me buy at Oak Hall for a special price.
I did very well with my laundry route. Accumulating $1 each week, I now had $21 in the bond fund. At this time, the General Manager of the Memphis Linen Supply suddenly died. The Memphis Lined Supply was a subsidiary of Memphis Steam Laundry, and the best moneymaker of the company. Guy Ruby, office manager for Memphis Steam Laundry, was promoted to the job of General Manager of Memphis Linen Supply.
Word came to me that I was being considered to replace Guy Ruby because of my experience in the shipping room and with a regular laundry route. If I had known anything about the size and responsibility of this job, I would have automatically turned it down. The Memphis Steam Laundry Co. was the largest in Memphis, with nine subsidiaries including, Memphis Linen Supply, Crescent Cleaning, White Rose Laundry, and units in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, Hattisburg, and Gulfport. The accounting, monthly, quarterly and annual reports, was done in the Memphis office where there was a private office for the company President, Jules Rowe, and an open space office for the Secretary/Treasurer, W. H. Wear. There was a switchboard with three operators and twenty girls doing bookkeeping and general office work. The treasurer, Mr. Lucas, had his own private secretary/bookkeeper. All together there were twenty-three women working in this office.
My interview with Guy Ruby lasted one hour. He explained the general set up and the handling of the finance reports. I would be bonded and responsible for the giant safe where money and receipts were stored. Even though one of the girls acted as teller and checked all the route men, I would have to stay and wait for latecomers. On Saturday night this was usually nine oíclock. He asked me if I could do the job. I told him, if they were patient, I could. I thanked him for talking to me and then he took me to Mr. Wear, Secretary/Treasurer.
Mr. Wear explained that he was responsible for the financial operation of the company and would be my immediate supervisor. He explained the work and asked me if I could do it. I said, with time to learn and constructive criticism, I could. He said he would talk to Mr. Wenzler, Vice President, and Mr. Rozler, President, and then contact me on the following Monday.
Even though I had only a little idea what the job was all about, I knew it was what I wanted. This was the field I had been dreaming about. If I got the job, I would be a, "Trainee for Office Manager." When I broke the news to Catherine, we both cried. We felt this was an answer to our prayers.
On Monday, Mr. Wear sent for me, and we talked for a little while. Then he called the girls together and introduced me as "Trainee for Office Manager" and asked them to help me through this period. I already felt about eight feet tall. He asked me to give all lists, information, and keys for my route to Royce Smith, and to report to him the following morning. My salary was $25 a week with the same benefits I had before.
The next morning when I reported to work, I asked Mr. Wear if I could have a short meeting with the girls. He called them together, and I spoke to them for a few minutes. I told them that we would work as a team, and I needed their help in learning the job of every employee. I asked each one to give me her name. They seemed to like it.
I began a period of intense study with each one, starting with Margaret McGoughran, the teller who checked the route men in each day. She explained that some were always late and had to be watched. After I had spent half an hour with her, I moved on to one of the bookkeepers. She explained what she did. I made my rounds, talking to each one and learning what she did. Finally, I came to the girl who handled financial reports for the subsidiaries and the composite company report. Here I ran into a problem; she was reluctant to tell anyone about her work. I learned anyway by checking back on old reports. I learned a little that first day and began to study and observe each day thereafter. Mr. Wear was helpful and never got impatient with me. Within a short while, we were operating fairly well.
When I began working in the office, I was placed on the new Social Security plan because I earned $25 a week. I contributed twenty-five cents, and the company matched it with twenty-five cents. I was accumulating fifty cents a week for my old age. I didnít think much about this as old age seemed far away.
Time went by quickly because I liked my job and was learning something new every day. Of course, I continued to have my old problem with $25 a week. My car note was $23 a month and board was $8.50 a week. I lived at 846 N. Stonewall with Mr. and Mrs. Northland, a fine couple.
I donít remember going home in 1936. The office was only closed on one holiday, Christmas day, which came on a Friday. With a shortage of money, I was afraid to drive that distance in my old car. I wrote my mother and dad once a week, but they always said that was not often enough.
In the fall of 1936 they secured a battery-operated radio. This was wonderful. They could listen to WSM from Nashville, and they loved country music. Even though my dad had never seen a football game, he would listen to Vanderbilt play, getting upset when they lost. He was totally blind and learned a great deal by listening to the radio. He followed all the farm market reports and the news. My dadís mind was sharp, he out figured me most of the time.
The depression continued through 1936. There were still millions of unemployed people. It seemed like the fight between President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court worsened. I was glad to have a job, a solid job doing what I liked to do.
Even with all the problems facing our country, President Roosevelt was re-elected in a landslide, carrying 46 states.
In late 1935, my second sister, Annie, was married to Harry Creighton. I did not know him because he had moved to Waverly from Dickson, Tennessee after I had gone to Memphis. His family lived on Highway 70 about one mile west of Waverly. I do not remember much about him, but I believe he had attended high school at Waverly. In later years, after World War II started, they moved to Nashville and he attended Vanderbilt University, studying in a special warfare class, "Tool and Dye Making." He learned to make rifles and was especially interested in German guns. He made and sold guns and custom-made German rifles.
Annie secured a job with the Baptist Sunday School Board and worked there for many years. She became active in the Park Avenue Baptist Church where she did a lot of volunteer work. While delivering meals to shut-ins, she suffered sunstroke. It broke her health and she never fully recovered.
In the early 1980ís, they bought a lot, built a home, and moved Harryís whole operation to Kingston Springs, Tennessee. In 1989, returning from a hunting trip to Canada, Harry became ill and died in Detroit, Michigan. His death was devastating to Annie, and she later became seriously ill, confined to the hospital for weeks. It developed that Harry had made Bill Warren, a friend and lawyer, executor of his estate and guardian of Annie. Bill Warren initiated a court hearing and after a doctorís report, it was ruled that she could no longer live alone and would have to be in a nursing home with full care. She was taken to the Puryear Nursing Home in Puryear, Tennessee, ten miles from Paris, Tennessee. Annie did very well there for several years. In the spring of 1996, Annie passed away and was laid to rest in Dickson Cemetery.
I was working very hard and still learning. I went through my first audit at the office. The period covered all of 1936. We came out all right, with a few suggestions for change and improvement. Then I had a real disappointment. The Board of Directors met and they approved a raise in salary for the officers of the company. Because I was responsible for the officersí checks, I had to make these checks retroactive for 1936. I was not an officer of the company, but with my responsibility and eighty-hour week, I should have been given at least a token raise. My boss, Mr. Wear, got a $75 a month raise for all twelve months of 1936. As time went by, I forgot about it and kept on doing my job. At least I had a title and contact with banks and various companies with whom we did business. Furthermore, I was responsible for company payroll. With the approval of my boss, I could hire and terminate people.
I continued to date Catherine Martin three times a week, but she started dating another man on a regular basis. He was twelve years older than she, handsome, and a real ladyís man. She seemed to believe anything he told her. He said that I had a bad temper and did not have much of a future. But I had a better job than he did. I made $100 a month, and he had a clerical job with Memphis Power and Light Company making $90 a month. He was a smooth talker and a handsome guy. As a matter of fact, I expected her to marry him. Iíll never know why she didnít. He continued to insult me and I told her I had enough and could not go on. She cried and said we had known each other too long. I told her that I did not want to hear that guyís name again. I do not know if she dated him again. I do know that he continued to call her for several months.
In 1937, things were going reasonably well on Brady Branch. Hiram graduated from high school and managed to get a job at the shirt factory in Waverly. The farming had been left to Jesse, now thirteen years old. Some of the land was sown down in pasture, but they continued to have some corn planted. The orchard area, garden, and potato patch were still cultivated. They completed the erection of a flue for the wood stove and the demolition of the old fireplace. This cut down the amount of wood needed to heat the place tremendously. Later, Hiram joined the Civilian Conservation Corporation, or C.C.C. as it was called. This was one of President Rooseveltís conservation programs. He was stationed near Clarksville and made $30 a month. He kept $10 and sent $20 home. He had all his living expenses paid by the U.S. Government. On a sad note, in 1937, old, blind Bob was hit by a car, and was too badly hurt to survive.
My dad still got $28.75 a month from Hiramís insurance, and now received $20 from the C.C.C. Camp, so they got along very well. During the summer my mother had canned the usual quantity of tomatoes, corn, soup mix, and fruit, so they were in good shape for winter.
My little brother did not have the fun of gathering chestnuts as I had Ė some kind of disease or blight had killed all the chestnut trees.
During Christmas week of 1937, Catherine and I decided to get married. We did not discuss it with her family or mine until the first week of January, 1938. Then we decided on April 17, and things began to happen. There was the matter of rings, and how I would pay for them. Catherine went with her best friend, Alice McGlocklin, to Brodnax Jewelers to pick out the rings. The engagement ring cost $100 and the wedding ring cost $35. I arranged to pay $30 a month in February and March. Then the hard part came. I had to pay $35 before I could get the wedding ring. How I did it, I do not know. I had joined a suit club in July of 1937 and was depositing $1 each week until I had paid $40 for a tailor made suit. I ordered a double-breasted blue suit to be delivered on April 1, 1938. I only owed $2 on it when the tailor filed for bankruptcy. My money was gone and I did not have a suit. This was a terrible blow, but I went to Oak Hall Clothing Store and arranged to buy a suit on credit with Memphis Steam Laundry standing good for it.
Catherine and her family arranged for the announcement and picture to be in the Commercial Appeal in the third week of January. Catherineís mother, Mrs. Martin, was an excellent seamstress and wanted to make Catherineís wedding dress. It was white satin with a long train, covered with lace in the front.
When the announcement came out in the Commercial Appeal, it was picked up by the Waverly paper almost word for word. This caused quite a stir in my family. They were not accustomed to such publicity.
Catherine was a fun-loving person, and she had many friends at her workplace (Sears), at Buntyn Presbyterian Church, and at a working girl sorority, Omega Sigma Tau. She was given seven bridal showers and one luncheon at the Peabody Skyway. There was also a rehearsal dinner party at her parentsí home. After the wedding trip, her Aunt Clyde Brown gave us a welcome home party. I was not so popular. I was given a bachelor party, where I was the only one who did not drink. But I did get to pick up and deliver Catherine to all her parties.
By spring, the popular song was "Easter Parade," and we felt like it was our song. It has been our favorite over the years.
When we selected April 17, we did not realize that was Easter Sunday. We never considered changing the date. Reverend Norman Lovein was to perform the ceremony. The rehearsal dinner was Friday night, April 15, and my bachelor party was Saturday night, April 16. After the party, I drove by Catherineís home at 504 North McNeil, and we went over our escape route from the church. We did not know what would happen after the wedding. We had not planned a reception, as it would cost $40. Remember, these were still depressed times.
Sunday morning dawned, partly cloudy with a threat of rain and Catherine had said she could not stand the thought of getting married on a rainy day. I do not remember if I called her. I knew I was not supposed to see her before she came down the aisle. I went by the shoe shine parlor and spent a dime to get my shoes shined. Then I went to church at St. Lukeís. It was a good service, the music was superb, and the Easter flowers were beautiful, but I was too nervous to really enjoy it. I came back to the Morthlandsí and ate my last Sunday dinner with them. The cook, a heavyset black lady, was about as nervous as I was.
Even though the service was to be at five-thirty, I had to be back at church and meet with Reverend Lovein in his office. I drove back to church with Leland McCune, my best man. He said he was in charge. We walked into the church and I had never seen a more beautiful sight. Our flowers had been added to the Easter flowers and the floral display with candelabra. It was almost indescribable. Reverend Lovein talked to me for an hour and a half. By that time, the music had started. Bob Griffin, the church organist, played, and his sister sang two solos, one of which was "Because." Then the ceremony began.
When I first met Catherine Martin, on December 20, 1930, I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. But now, as she started down the white canvas aisle, smiling, she looked like an angel. She was holding her dadís arm and he looked a little sad. Catherineís attendants were: maid of honor, Alice McGlocklin, and bridesmaids, sisters Mary McCune and Marjorie Norwood, and close friends Virginia Curtis and Evelyn Kirk.
Reverend Lovein began the ceremony by giving the opening remarks. Then he turned to me and said, "Repeat after me." I did so without any problem. He turned to Catherine and said, "Catherine, repeat after me." I, Catherine." Well, Catherine did not say a word. She froze and could not speak. I thought she had changed her mind. Reverend Lovein said, "Catherine, repeat after me" a second time. When there was still no sound, I gently jabbed her in the side with my left elbow, and she began to speak, not much above a whisper. Later, we talked and laughed about it. Catherine always contended that she was paralyzed until I punched her with my elbow. Years later, I learned that her ex-boyfriend, the one that gave me such a difficult time, was driving back and forth in front of the church during the ceremony. Why, I do not know, he may have wanted to see her as she came out of the church, or, as I suspected, he may have prearranged to be available in case she changed her mind.
Anyway, it was a beautiful ceremony. After it was finished, we marched out of the front side door to Leland McCuneís car. I am sure her ex-boyfriend got a good view of her. Leland drove us to his home where my car was parked and ready to travel. Catherine changed to traveling clothes, and we were ready to head south. We had escaped them all! With Leland McCune leading the way, we drove through Memphis to Highway 51 and headed south. Just before we crossed the Mississippi line, south of Whitehaven, Catherine decided she wanted to call her mother. We stopped at a service station to bid goodbye to Mrs. Martin. She told Catherine to wait a few minutes; she and Mr. Martin were coming down there. In about twenty-five minutes, they arrived - with five carloads of family and friends. We were caught. They overpowered me and took my car keys; the party began. We were delayed over an hour, and nobody seemed to care. It was after eight oíclock when they gave my car keys back and said goodbye. We headed south to Jackson and Gulfport.
We arrived in Jackson at about two oíclock Monday morning. It was a long trip, as Highway 51 was a two-lane blacktop road with very little traffic on Sunday night. I often think how dangerous it would have been if my old car had broken down. On Monday morning, we looked for a paper and found a newsstand selling the Commercial Appeal. Our wedding was detailed in the society section in the same manner that all Catherineís parties were covered. I have all these in my file. Catherine wrote several cards to her family and friends.
Shortly after lunch, we headed south toward Gulfport. We were excited. We wanted to see the Gulf of Mexico. We thought there would be tropical plants, flowers, and orange groves. I think we started looking for the Gulf as soon as we left Jackson, but it was dark when we finally reached Gulfport. We could not see the Gulf. We registered at the Moody Hotel in downtown Gulfport and went to the Markham Hotel for dinner.
On Tuesday morning we went for a ride along the Gulf to the Inn by the Sea, where we took photographs. The Gulf was beautiful with its waves and breakers. It was not polluted then like it is now. People were swimming and fishing off of a pier. We ate lunch at Dinoís, a famous spaghetti house on the Gulf. It had a dirt floor covered with sawdust. A large serving of spaghetti cost only thirty-five cents and Cokes were five cents. We spent Tuesday through Thursday going along the coast, almost to New Orleans on the west and Pascagoula on the east. We visited numerous shops; they were all somewhat alike. They all sold seashells. I wondered how and where they got so many shells. In late afternoon, we would sit on the beach and watch the waves and the sailboats. We ate at a different place every night and only got stuck once.
The Gulf Coast was another world. We enjoyed every minute of it. But it had to come to an end. Early on Friday morning, we headed north to Memphis. We ate breakfast in Hattiesburg and lunch in Jackson. We arrived in Memphis at about five oíclock. I was relieved. My old car had made it. The Martinís were looking for us. Marjorie, Catherineís sister, was on the front porch. She yelled, "Here they are!" and all bedlam broke loose. Everyone was talking at the same time. It was a happy homecoming. I really felt like one of the family.
Mrs. Martin fixed a delicious dinner: fried chicken, sliced tomatoes, fresh corn, potatoes, and homemade rolls. She was a wonderful cook. I realized what a wonderful new family I had.
On Saturday, April 23, I reported back to work. To my surprise, I was paid for the entire week. I had to go in Sunday morning while the cleaning crew took care of the office. We went to church at St. Lukeís, and a lot of people welcomed us and made us glad to be back. Catherine was not due to be back at work at Sears until Monday, May 2.
Catherine had been saving a good part of her salary. She had a sizeable balance in Sears Credit Union. We decided to try to live on my salary and save hers, depositing it in the Credit Union. This would be used to buy furniture when we had our own apartment. I paid board for both of us to Mrs. Martin at $11 a week. I began keeping a small set of books for Dana Curtis, who ran a service station. I made $10 a month for this, so we managed.
Mrs. Martin decided that I needed to gain some weight. I only weighed 130 pounds at the time. We arranged for the Forest Hill Dairyman to leave one quart of milk and one pint of cream top each morning; I drank this for a year. I gained 35 pounds - much of it, unfortunately, in the wrong places. I felt better, but a new problem arose, my clothes did not fit. As time went by, I got up to 175 pounds, which was too much.
We had a lot of good friends: Dana and Virginia Curtis, Tom and Evelyn Kirk, and Gene and Erlane McCullen. Most of them are still living and are friends to this today.
In those days air conditioning did not exist, TV had not been invented, and almost everyone had iceboxes and gas stoves because electric refrigerators and electric stoves were practically unknown. Dial telephones did not exist, and I believe that all calls had to go through a central operator. In those days, it cost about $1 to repair shoes with whole soles and heels. I recently paid almost $40 for a pair I had repaired. The main programs on the radio were Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly. Also, the big bands, Guy Lombardo, Wayne King, Kay Kizer, and Jan Garber, were popular. All radio programs and movies were strictly clean.
The summer of 1938 was a fun time for us. We went swimming at Clearpool at least once a week, and a few times, we went to Maywood, a white sand resort with a large swimming area, just across the Mississippi border. Occasionally, we went to Peabody Skyway for dinner and dancing. We went to the movies quite often. Sometimes we met with friends and played bridge. We were busy almost all the time.
We drove to Waverly and Brady Branch one Sunday in August. My family fell in love with Catherine and tried to make her feel welcome. One of their neighbors, Charley Buchanan, who was at least seventy years old, also fell in love with her. Thereafter, he showed up every time we visited. I used to tease her about him. Bob was no longer alive, but they had his son, "Skippy."
Christmas day came on a Sunday, and we were closed half a day Saturday and all day Monday. This was almost like a vacation. For Christmas, Catherine bought me a nice new desk. It was a nice piece of furniture, and I still use it today, almost fifty-five years later. I was doing the books for D. C. Curtis and this new desk was wonderful. I cannot remember what I gave her. It may have been a dresser set. I sent my dad twelve bags of RJR tobacco that cost me $1 at Walgreens. This pleased my mother, as she complained constantly about the money he spent on tobacco. She always said they would be rich if he did not smoke. His tobacco probably cost fifty cents a month. I believe I gave my mother some money to buy fabric for a new dress. She had a foot pedal sewing machine and always made the familyís clothes. That sewing machine is still in the family.
January 1, 1939 came on a Sunday and most companies celebrated Monday the 2nd as the New Year holiday. At Memphis Steam it was work as usual. The weather was cold and the war news from Europe was depressing and frightening. In those days, we had no newscasts by radio. Television had not yet been perfected, thus no one has a TV set. All news came from the newspaper, The Commercial Appeal or the Press Scimitar. Once a week we watched a movie preceded by Pathe News or Fox Movie News.
Adolph Hitler was making fiery speeches in Germany and rattling his saber in all directions. His army had subdued Austria in 1938, where Vienna had received him with open arms. He was pointing now toward Poland and Czechoslovakia. His ally, Benito Mussolini, was looking toward Albania on the east and Africa in the south. These were frightening times. The newspaper headlines reported moves by Hitler, Mussolini, or the Emperor of Japan almost daily. But our country seemed determined to stay out of war.
The auditors showed up in March, on a Tuesday at 8:00 a.m., for the annual audit of Memphis Steam Laundry Company. I had dealt with them for the past several years without any trouble and expected no trouble now. When they checked my cash, it was $20 short. I was stunned, as I had been checking in the drivers and had never had a shortaage before. I had checked in more than $5000 and taken all bills and checks to the Union Planters Bank night depository on Monday. I thought the missing $20 would be in the bank funds, but they were not. I explained to Mr. Wear, the company treasurer and my boss, that I was $20 short and I would have to check all the driversí settlement slips and question the drivers as they reported in that night. I checked everything I could think of and there was no sign of the missing money. To the best of my knowledge, other than myself, the only two people who knew the combination to the safe were Mr. Wear, the treasurer, and his private secretary. We went through the audit with the $20 shortage, and it was reported as an irregularity on their final report. Since Mr. Wear and the head auditor were friends, I believed that the shortage was set up to see what I would do. I was really upset about it. I still do not know what really happened. Almost all the drivers were friendly with me, and, if I had made a mistake, I think they would have told me. Catherine was upset because she felt like they had taken advantage of me.
When April came, we celebrated our first anniversary by going out to eat with some of our close friends, the Curtisí, the Kirksí, and one other couple. At that time, there were no major restaurants in Memphis, so we probably went to the Peabody Hotel. Then we played cards until bout midnight. These couples each had a small child already, and they teased us about it.
I was still thinking about the $20 shortage in May. I felt like I had been mistreated. Catherine was still working at Sears, and she kept telling me that Sears had some good job openings, especially in the Buying Organization. She said that some of the buyers made as much as $175 a month. I had to make a decision. We knew that we would be parents by the end of the year. What could I do? I was lucky to have a job at Memphis Steam Laundry, but it was still $25 per eighty-hour week. We could not go anywhere or do very much. Catherine kept clamoring for me to try Sears.
In early June I wrote a letter to W. L. Acroyd, the general manager of Sears, and asked for an interview. A few days later, I received a reply asking me to come to his office at 2:30pm the following Friday.
Catherine was pleased but I was a little undecided. On Friday, I reported to W. L. Acroydís office in my white Palm Beach suit, white shoes, and blue tie. Promptly at 2:30pm we started the interview, which lasted for about twenty-five minutes. Then he gave me a list of people that would interview me, lastly, Mr. Caldwell, the Personnel Director. First I talked to John Landrum, Operating Superintendent, then to Frank Walker, controller. I was supposed to talk to Mr. Conway, Merchandise Superintendent, who was in charge of the buying organization, but he was out of the building. Finally, I went to the office of Mr. Caldwell, the Personnel Director, where I filled out some forms and talked to him for about twenty minutes. He offered me a job in Department 180, Inspection Division. I misunderstood. I thought it meant receiving and inspecting merchandise, which I did not want to do. My field was in accounting, or possibly, in the buying organization, so I rejected the job. If I had known that Department 180 issued all major instructions for the operating division and that promotions to better jobs came from Department 180, I would have taken the job. Catherine and I were quite disappointed.
In late June the officers of Memphis Steam Laundry had their annual stockholderís meeting and it was the same old story. It had been a good year, the company had made a good profit, and the audit report was good, so they voted themselves a substantial raise in salary retroactive to the beginning of the corporate year. Again, I had to prepare the checks. There was still no raise or word of appreciation for Leslie Smith. I was disappointed and about as low as I could get.
We had no alternative but to keep on going. We were expecting a child in the late fall and the family was excited, especially Mr. and Mrs. Martin. They had one grandchild and were ready for another. Our doctor was Cecil E. Ward and his fee was $100 in total. Catherine had to see him every two weeks at the beginning and later, once each week. She got along without any problems. Catherine resigned from her job at Sears and spent time planning for the baby.
We decided to move away from Mr. and Mrs. Martin. We found a small apartment at 1762 Lawrence Avenue that was very nice and cost $27.50 a month with heat, lights, and water included. It was amazing how well we got along. It helped that Mrs. Martin was constantly asking us over for dinner. We took $135 out of Catherineís savings and bought a 6-foot Hotpoint refrigerator which we loved. It lasted about 20 years. We did have to pay for the telephones. Catherine had her own bedroom furniture, and we got some other things and fixed up the apartment until it looked really nice. Catherine made curtains for all the windows. I do not remember about the stove. It may have been furnished.
On Tuesday, September 12th, Mr. Caldwell, the Sears Director of Personnel, called me at Memphis Steam Laundry. He said they would have an opening in the Auditing Department, and asked if I would be interested. I told him that I would. He said that I should report the following Monday and go by Dr. Jamesí office for a physical, so there would be no delay. I went by Dr. James office the next day, where he looked me over and asked a few questions. He suggested I keep my present job. It was too late. I had made my decision. I went back to Memphis Steam Laundry and resigned, they were shocked, but I told them my mind was made up.
On Monday, September 18, 1939, I reported to the Personnel Director, Mr. Caldwell, for a briefing of Searsí policies - what I could expect and what was expected of me. He sent me to the eighth floor to see Mr. Frank Walker, the Comptroller, where I would be assigned. He welcomed me to the Auditing Department and gave me an overview of its operation. I would be working in the Accounts Payable division auditing factory accounts. I have forgotten the total number of factories, but it was in the thousands, and involved about 125,000 stockkeeping units. Mr. Donnell was department head for Accounts Payable and J. D. Caruth was my instructor. I was escorted to my desk out in the middle of this big office where J. D. Caruth said, "I donít know any more about this job than you do." That was a little unsettling. He was the auditor in charge of Advance Cash, as all monies coming into the plant came in as advance cash and were later transferred by entry memo to the proper account. He decided that the first thing we should do was tour the building and see all departments.
All the divisions of Auditing were on the eighth floor, including Accounts Payable. Special Auditors, such as myself, were on the time card payroll. The bank on the second floor handled checklist payroll. Also on the eighth floor were the buyers, the Department 150 Record Office, and the Traffic Department. Then we visited the Credit Department, the bank, Order Clerical, Searsí Credit Union, and the Merchandise Receiving and Shipping. Then it was time for lunch, so we visited the employeeís cafeteria and dining room on the second floor. After lunch, we went up to the recreation room on the eleventh floor. J. D. Caruth was called away concerning a problem with advance cash, and I was left alone.
I began to go through my predecessorís files and soon determined what he had been doing. There were several claims he had filed that were pending and some that had been declined. Sears bought everything by contract; a separate contract could be issued for catalog orders, Sears Retail Stores, special catalogs, such as the "J. Flyer," and retail special sales, such as "Hardware Week" or any other special event. Sometimes a supplier would ignore special prices and bill at the regular price. This was particularly true with retail billings. Every contract had its particular discount policies and payment requirements for discount. Sometimes, these would be ignored. Then there came the matter of anticipation, which meant prepaying invoices prior to due date and changing interest at six percent for the number of days paid in advance. Then there was the matter of fake bills of lading with invoices from a dishonest supplier. I recovered over $4000 from a toy manufacturer that had used fake bills of lading.
Later, I found a list of men doing the same kind of work that I was doing, so I contacted each one and asked for any leads that developed and promised that I would return the favor. This later proved to be very valuable.
I went home that afternoon at 5:00p.m., which seemed like the middle of the afternoon to me. Catherine was real excited: "How did it go? Do you like it? Did you see anyone you know?" I told her all about it. I know we talked for two hours. I had found my spot.
One of the special joys of 1939 was the birth of my second nephew, Jack Randolph Simpson, son of Effie and Carl, on May 19.
I had a holiday on Labor Day and again on Thanksgiving. This was new to me. It seemed like I had a great deal of free time. We spent Thanksgiving with the Martin family. The conversation centered on the baby to come.
My mind drifted back to my own home, and I was a little sad, as I had not been home in almost a year. Thanksgiving was not celebrated at my home in any special way, other than a school holiday that gave us an opportunity to cut wood and catch up with general farm work. But I wanted to see my family.
Because Thanksgiving came on November 30, Christmas was only a little over three weeks away. Catherine had go to see Dr. Ward each week. He kept telling her that she was okay and time was short. She depended on her family to get Christmas things together while I took care of my own family as I usually did.
On Friday, December 22, I was up in the storage file area on the 12th floor of Sears when someone came after me, saying I had to call Mrs. Martin right away. When I called, Mrs. Martin said Catherine was in labor and her sister had taken her to the Methodist Hospital. I hurried to the hospital, where I reported to the prospective fathersí waiting room and was told by a nurse that Catherine was fine, though it would be a while before the baby came.
From here on I do not remember exactly what happened, but I believe that Dr. Ward came out at about nine oíclock and said that the baby would probably not be born until the next morning and if anything developed during the night, they would call me. There was a sign in the waiting room that read, "We havenít lost a father yet." That was a little comforting, as I was really nervous. So I went home.
I came back to the hospital the next morning and was told by the nurse, "anytime now." About ten oíclock a nurse came out with a baby wrapped in a blanket and asked for Mr. Smith. She said, "Here is your little boy!" I looked at him just as he gave a big yawn. She took him away and Dr. Ward came out. He said everything was fine, but my wife would be asleep for most of the day, as she had had a pretty rough time. He said I could see her after 8 oíclock that night.
At about 7:30 that night, Mrs. Martin and I were in the waiting room on the second floor of the hospital looking through the big glass window of the nursery trying to find our little boy. I wrote the name "Smith" on a piece of paper and held it up for the nurse to see. She found our little boy and brought him over to the window. He looked wonderful to me. Mrs. Martin smiled and said he was a pretty baby. I thanked the nurse and, promptly at 8:00 oíclock, we went to see Catherine in he room. She looked beautiful. She was rested and smiling. She asked what I thought about the baby. I just said, "He is great," and Mrs. Martin asked what we were going to name him. I suggested making him a junior, but Catherine did not approve. She said it would be nice if he had Leslie for his middle name. We stayed until the end of visitorsí hours at nine oíclock. I sure hated to leave my Catherine and the baby.
Catherine was in the hospital for ten days, and then she stayed at Mr. & Mrs. Martinís for several more days. Mrs. Martin said she could take care of Catherine and the baby. Ronald Coleman was a popular movie actor at that time and Catherine liked his name. So we named the baby Ronald Leslie, and he immediately became Ronnie. After a few days, we moved back home to 1762 Lawrence. Ronnie did not like it. When we turned off the light at night, he woke up and cried. In the daytime, he slept fine. We had a time getting him regulated, finally we determined that the nursery at the hospital was light and he must be afraid of the dark. We finally got him regulated so that all three of us could get some sleep.
I doubt that there has ever been a child loved more than Ronald Leslie Smith was. As parents, we loved him dearly. Mr. and Mrs. Martin, as grandparents, thought he hung the moon. His Aunt Mary and her husband did not have any children, so she would keep him anytime. He grew to love her just like he loved his mother.
I forgot to mention Christmas. Since he was born on December 23, Christmas almost went by unnoticed. Catherine was in the hospital and I ate Christmas dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Martin, Raymond Junior, and all the clan including Marjorie, Charlie, Gene Harwood, Mary Emma, and her husband Leland McCune.
The hospital bill was $100, and we still owed Dr. Ward $75. So I mortgaged our furniture to borrow enough money to take care of both.
Monday, January 1, 1940 was a holiday, so we moved everything from the Martinís to our place at 1762 Lawrence. Ronnie was very good and promptly went to sleep. I liked this holiday business, since I had left Memphis Steam, I had Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Yearís Day as paid holidays. On the recommendation of Mrs. Martin, we engaged this most unattractive black lady name Nattie to work one day per week to help clean our apartment and help with the baby. Ronnie and Nattie fell in love with each other, and their relationship lasted several years. Nattie was so good with him that he would sometimes go to her from Catherine. Our little family settled down.
The war news was bad. Both England and France had declared war on Germany and all of Europe was involved. It seemed that the United States could not keep out of it.
Spring of 1940 was a learning as well as a challenging time for me at Sears. Though I was classified as Factory Account Auditor, that became a minor part of my work. It seemed like I worked on that audit barely enough to make a respectable report each month. While Mr. Walker was the comptroller, his assistant, Mr. Ayo, knew much more about the work and procedures than Mr. Walker did. So I found myself working with Mr. Ayo most of the time.
Because Wednesday, January 31, was the end of the company fiscal year, there were many audits to be made. The outside auditors from Ernst and Ernst arrived about two weeks before January 31, and were there for four weeks after January 31. This meant that we were constantly working with them for about six weeks. All our area was under the supervision of Mr. Ayo. Our first audit was the Sears Bank on the second floor. Here, all incoming funds, bank deposits, the allocation from Advance Cash, Check Cashing, and Sale of Check to employees had to be accounted for. It was my job to balance two bank accounts that involved large sums of money and thousands of checks for two banks, first, the major banks for payment for merchandise, and another for payroll and expense items. On January 31, the auditors, including me, had to verify the count on either five or ten items in each merchandise department to check the quality of counting. Also, on inventory day, there were many reports to be verified by the auditor. After inventory, there was the problem of verifying the actual cost of about ten items in each of the fifty-one departments. This involved pulling the payment voucher and checking the actual billing cost. The last major project involving the outside auditors was the audit of the Credit Department and the aging of all accounts, something over 50,000. There were other minor audits. Mr. Ayo and the outside auditors supervised all this work. This was a real learning experience for me, a little farm boy that grew up on Brady Branch. I also worked a lot of overtime during this six-week period, and was paid time and a half for it. I loved it. I was really doing what I wanted to do.
On April 17, 1940, we celebrated our second anniversary. We put Ronnie in his bassinet, Catherine dressed in a white evening dress, and we took Ronnie over to Mr. and Mrs. Martinís. Her neighbor laughed at us carrying a baby in a bassinet while dressed for an evening out. We went to the Peabody Skyway for dinner, and danced to the music of Clyde McCoy with his famous Sugar Blues orchestra.
When I was with Sears for six months, I received my first raise of five cents per hour. This made my rate sixty cents per hour. But to get a raise of any kind was new to me after I had gone so long at Memphis Steam and Laundry without one. Also, at this time, I was eligible to join the Sears Federal Credit Union for employees. I deposited $1 to become a member and promptly borrowed $17.50 to purchase my car license. The Credit Union was a wonderful benefit; employees could deposit money and get interest and borrow for a worthwhile project as long as their record was good. Over the years I borrowed to buy a new car, air conditioning equipment, a television set, etc. The Credit Union operated like a good sized small town bank and was audited regularly by Federal Auditors.
Spring passed and summer arrived. I began thinking about a vacation. As of September 18, I would be entitled to a vacation! A vacation! I had never had a vacation! But complications arose. Catherineís sister Marjorie and her husband, Charlie, had rented a house in Panama City, Florida. They were going down there the second week in August since they had an empty bedroom, they asked Catherine and me to go with them. Mrs. Martin saw her chance and quickly offered to keep the baby. I had to get special permission through Mr. Walker to take my vacation prior to my first anniversary, but we worked it out.
On Friday night we took Ronnie and his baby bed over to Mrs. Martinís and left all instructions and advice with her. We had arranged for Hattie, the maid, to help Mrs. Martin until we returned. We left for Panama City early on Saturday morning with Marjorie, Charlie, and their nine-year-old son, Gene. That day we drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, where we stayed Sunday with friends of Marjorie and Charlie. Catherine and I were homesick for our little boy, but we made it all right. On Sunday, we bought five pounds of fresh shrimp for seventy-five cents. Our host boiled them and fixed a large bowl of sauce - we had a feast. We left for Panama City early on Monday.
There was a big storm out in the Gulf, the water was wild. As we came through Mobile and crossed the causeway east of there, the waves were coming over the highway. They had to close it shortly after we passed. We arrived in Panama City in the late afternoon and located the house where we were to stay. Then we decided to put on our bathing suits and go down to the beach. The waves were wild and beautiful, rolling way up on the beach. I waded out about seventy-five feet, waist deep. A big wave came in, and the undertow turned me upside down and stood me on my head. I thought I was gone. That was the end of the wading.
We inquired about a place to eat and were told about a popular place in southwest Panama City near the Gulf. So we drove around, enjoying the city, and ended up at this place. It was down wind from a paper mill about two miles away, and the smell took care of my appetite. The next day was beautiful, and the Gulf was quite calm. We walked along the beach and met a nice couple, a doctor and his wife from Birmingham, Alabama. He suggested that we get together and go deep-sea fishing the next day. We thought it would be exciting. So the next morning, we met them with quite a crowd of other people and boarded a ship to go deep-sea fishing. We did not eat any breakfast, as we understood this would keep us from getting seasick. We did take along a big box of crackers. Catherine became seasick before we were out of the harbor and she stayed sick all day. I became a little sick, but made if fairly well. We caught one fish, a grouper, weighing about twenty pounds. We got back in Panama City at about four oíclock and were a sorry looking bunch. We took the fish to a butcher shop and paid the man $1 to clean and filet it. Then we cooked it. That fish was the best I ever ate.
On Friday morning we left Panama City and headed toward Biloxi, where we were to spend the night. We stopped in Pensacola for lunch and drove through Mobile to Biloxi. We looked up a lady who was the mother of a young girl, Mary West, who had boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Martin in Memphis. She had remarried, and I do not remember her name. We asked her to go to dinner with us, and she gladly accepted. Her husband traveled and was out of town. At about 9:30, when we took her home, her husband was out in the yard, and I never saw a man so angry. If he had had a gun, I believe he would have shot her. Fortunately, she was sitting on the back seat with Catherine and Marjorie, while Charlie, Gene, and I were on the front seat. She tried desperately to explain to him that we were friends of her daughter in Memphis. It took about fifteen minutes for the man to calm down, and he was sorry he had made such a scene. It could have been tragic.
We left Biloxi in the middle of the morning on Saturday and headed toward Memphis. It was dark when we arrived at Mr. and Mrs. Martinís, and Ronnie was in his bed, sound asleep. We awakened him, but he did not recognize us and would not have anything to do with us. When he opened his mouth, there was a shiny new tooth, his first one. We wrapped him in a blanket and, while his mother held him and talked to him continuously, I disassembled his bed. We took him home to 1762 Lawrence. While a vacation is wonderful, it is more wonderful to be home again.
On Monday, when I returned to work, my desk was covered. I was glad to get back to the routine. My first anniversary came on September 18, and I was interviewed by Mr. Walker and told that I was doing a good job. He gave me my first anniversary pen. He kept telling me about the operation of Sears. I believe I was given my second raise of five cents, making my rate sixty-five cents per hour.
About the last of September, Ronnie took his first step; by his first birthday, December 23, he was walking everywhere. There was a grassy bank in our front yard, and he loved to run down this bank and fall into my arms. Sears called Catherine back to work during the Christmas season, and Ronnie was kept by his best friend, Hattie, the maid. I believe we still paid her seventy-five cents per day. She did most of the household chores and took care of Ronnie until late afternoon. Ronnie loved to go over to Mr. and Mrs. Martinís and was particularly fond of Mr. Martin, his grandfather. Mr. Martin would pretend he was playing the piano on Ronnieís stomach, and Ronnie loved it.
In 1940, my brother Hiram married Venilee Taylor from near Bruceton, Tennessee. I believe Hiram was working at a sawmill near her home. Venilee was a fine young lady and, together, they raised a fine family of three boys: Samuel, Howell, and Richard Lee. Venilee was a welcome addition to our family.
Throughout the fall season of 1940, the war situation grew worse, with Germany getting more aggressive in all directions. The British suffered a humiliating defeat at Dunkirk. There were threats from Germany, Italy, and Japan. It was truly becoming a world war. The United States was definitely on the side of the British, and it was inevitable that we would be in it. President Roosevelt called for all men from eighteen to thirty-five to register for the draft. I believe this happened right before Thanksgiving - we had to go to an U. S. Post Office to register, or it may be that we registered at the Sears personnel office. Anyway, I was classified as 1A, available to serve. They started drafting the younger boys first, eighteen to twenty-five, and, as I was twenty-nine years old, I felt that I would be drafted immediately. Like everyone else, I was very concerned about my family. Sears had set up a policy where they paid three-fourths of a manís salary to his wife and family when he was drafted. This was to continue for the duration of the war or the man returned. These were anxious times for everyone I knew.
President Roosevelt was nominated for President again and elected to his third term. This set a precedent and caused an uproar nationwide.
Business at Sears was extremely heavy because everyone felt that this Christmas would be the last for a long time. Both Catherine and I had to work overtime, and we were doing very well. Ronnie was growing so quickly, he was like a live wire. We tried to make this a joyous Christmas. My brother Hiram was nineteen and ready for the draft. This bothered my family since my dadís brother had been killed in France at the end of World War I. I believe he had just turned nineteen.
With Ronnieís birthday on December 23 and Christmas Day two days later, we had a big Christmas. Ronnie could not keep his hands off of our small tree. Mrs. Martin had her usual big tree, about eight feet tall, and it was gorgeous. Ronnie was so excited, he could hardly stand it. For his birthday or Christmas, someone gave him a brown, stuffed Panda bear. This became his pride and joy. It was eighteen inches tall and when he saw it, he made a sound that seemed like "baby." So the Panda bear became Baby.
There are many stories that could be told about Baby, but I will relate only two. In those days, there were no air-conditioned cars, so we drove with the windows partially down. Ronnie soon learned that he could throw Baby out the window, yell, "Baby gone," and we would stop to retrieve him. This always worked, as we drove by the Memphis Zoo where he loved to watch the monkeys. Then, in 1942, we went to Biloxi, Mississippi for a vacation. There was much military movement at this time, and I pulled over to let an army convoy of fifteen vehicles go by. Ronnie threw Baby out, and the army trucks ran over him, all fifteen of them. That was the end of Baby.
Another thing I remember about the Christmas of 1940 was that we came into possession of an old rocking chair. I do not know where it came from, but I still have it. It would squeak and make a noise like it had seen better days. Catherine would rock Ronnie in the chair and sing, "You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine." He would promptly go to sleep. Another song he liked was "South of the Border."
In January of 1941, the war news became more and more frightening. The Battle of Britain had started, and London was bombarded almost nightly. We began to hear the war correspondence on the radio. Edward R. Murrow was broadcasting from London. We could hear the sirens sounding and the explosions as the bombs fell. It seemed like we were already at war, as the United States supported the allies in every way except the furnishing of troops. America was organized industrially to the point that we were working almost night and day making airplanes, ships, guns, and all other war materials. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before we would send troops.
At Sears, we were working a full schedule, six days a week. Order filling would sometimes get three days behind because the orders were so heavy. People were buying staple goods in bulk, anticipating the shortages that were sure to come. Also, there was talk of rationing such things as shoes, all kinds of hardware, and guns. Tires were scarce, rubber had to be imported and, with the Japanese taking more of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, they controlled almost all of the worldís supply of rubber.
We took inventory on January 31 as usual. The outside auditors were there, and we made all the routine audits. Mr. Walker called me into his office, said they were anticipating a lot of personnel spots to be filled when the draft began, and they had decided to give me additional training. I was almost thirty years old and it would be some time before they would get to my age. Because I had prior training in supervision and had performed well in the auditing department, they were transferring me to department 150 record office. I would be in training for any lateral move that might come up.
On the following Monday morning, I reported to Mr. Boone, manager of the Department Record Office. This was a department of about 120 people, all of whom were female, except the manager and assistant manager. This department serviced the buying organization with all information for placing orders with our suppliers. Also, all purchase orders had to be typed and all merchandise invoices cleared against these orders. Record cards were kept current on buying information, purchase orders, and cleared all stock counts made on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This department was responsible for all costs to the nearest one-half cent and had to process an initial mark-up test scheduled each month. Mr. Walker had to wire the total figures to the Parent Auditing Department by four oíclock. Branch transfers to and from other controlled stores, retail requisitions from the retail stores in the south, parent storage orders, and the processing of storage invoices had to be dealt with. I was amazed to learn that there were no written instructions. All the division heads had long service and knew what to do. Each one had her own ideas.
Mr. Boone called a meeting of the division heads and department managers. After introducing me, he said I was from the auditing department and had been transferred to department 150 to learn the work. I was to spend about two weeks in each division. I was assigned to the hard line division first and was to get training in department eight: drugs, patent medicines and drug sundries. The record clerk was Mildred Golden, a woman of about twenty-six or twenty-seven, experienced and a good record clerk. She was precise and quickly corrected me if I did not do the work as I should. She explained the process and then assigned me the work to do. I noticed some of the girls watching me. The word spread that I was to learn the whole department and be a kind of troubleshooter. I quickly learned the work and made my own notes, but Mildred would give me quick questions about regular incidents, which I soon learned to analyze carefully. I believe I spent a week in department eight. I did not know what kind of report she gave Mr. Boone. Julian Curry was the buyer on department eight. He gave me a good description of his work and the use of record cards. The purchase order typing division was running about two days behind, and the buyers were complaining. Mr. Boone asked me to get with Jean Johnson, the division head, and see what we could do to keep this department on schedule. I spent my second week working on this activity. I found no output records and a lot of favoritism where certain buyers were given preference and others delayed. The first thing I did was hold a little meeting with Miss Johnson and the group. I explained that I was not there to cause trouble, but wanted to do whatever I could to improve the system. I set up record files for incoming orders to be typed. One file contained Regular Orders, one had Emergency Orders, and another had Confirming Telephone Orders. The cards were filed as received, and each typist was asked to always take the oldest card, with no favoritism to be shown unless approved by Miss Johnson and me. I set up output records so we knew what each typist did. I compiled these figures each day and complimented the group if we had a good output record. At the end of the week, we were on schedule and the buyers were pleased.
It seemed that I became a troubleshooter for the entire department, working on problems everywhere. I have given these limited details to show what a complex department it was. While the work was interesting, I worked harder to succeed now than at any other time in my life.
Around March 1, Catherine was called back to Sears. They just would not let her quit. Ronnie liked this because his best friend, Hattie, the maid, came every day. They made quite a pair. In April, we decided to buy a new car. We were still driving my old 1934 Plymouth, and there was talk that cars might not be made after 1941. We bought a dark blue, two door, 1941 Plymouth. It cost $835, and we were given $335 for our old car. It was a dream, with a radio and everything, though no air-conditioning. We began talking about making a trip to Waverly to see my family. I believe we had only been there once since Ronnieís birth. We were scared to take him up there because of the talk about polio. On the other hand, with the war coming on, we expected our trips would be few and far between. We decided to go on the Fourth of July weekend. Catherine talked to Dr. Mims, our pediatrician, about it. He advised that we boil some water and take it for Ronnie to drink, and not let him drink any water up there. Well, Ronnie fell in love with the country and was fascinated with the chickens and farm animals. He had one good time. Someone came in the house and told Catherine that Ronnie was drinking water out of the chicken trough. Catherine nearly fainted and wanted to start back to Memphis right then, but we stayed until Sunday afternoon. My family loved Catherine. She just fit right in with everything. When it came time to leave, we had to catch Ronnie and put him in the car. He did not want to leave. I do not think we were able to go back in 1941.
We took inventory again on July 31, and I learned how the Record Office suffered through it. This was a check inventory, that did not require all the audits and checks necessary at the January inventory.
On Friday afternoon, August 8, 1941 at four oíclock, I was called down to the operating general superintendentís office, where I met Mr. W. C. Mieher, the superintendent, with the doors closed. I thought I would be fired and was wondering what I had done. He said that Mr. Boone had been terminated. Mr. Harber, the assistant manager, had also been relieved of his job. Although he had not been involved with Mr. Boone, he had known what was going on and had not reported it. He was kept in some other capacity and, beginning right then, I was the new Department Manager of the Record Office in Department 150. He said I must not discuss Mr. Booneís situation with anyone; this was a difficult order. He said they were assigning me a new trainee, and I was told to push him to the limit. He was Elmer Bromfield, a nice looking young college graduate from LaFayette, Louisiana. We talked for about an hour about the actual transitions and how I should handle it. I was so nervous. I could hardly think. He said that as of February 1, 1942, I would go on check list payroll and be paid by check each four weeks, in the meantime, I was on a time card with a ten cent raise. After spending two hours with Mr. Mieher, I drove home. Catherine met me at the door. The conversation went like this:
"Why are you so late? Ronnie and I were worried that you may have had a wreck or something."
"I have been in Mr. Mieherís office for the last two hours. They fired Mr. Boone today and promoted me to Manager of Record Office 150. They did not want to announce it until after closing time. I am scared stiff!" We hugged and started crying.
"I know it will be the toughest thing I had ever tried to do."
Catherine stated, "I know you can do it. We will stand by you 100%, wonít we Ronnie?" Ronnie said, "Uh-huh," walked over, and stood right next to me.
On Monday, Catherine drove me to work at seven-thirty so she could have the car later. I walked into Department 150 and wondered what I would do that day. The secretary came in and congratulated me. I later learned that she was a good friend of Mr. Boone, but we got along fairly well. The Department 150 employees checked in at eight oíclock, and it was really buzzing. I called a meeting of the five division heads and, without any explanation of why Mr. Boone was fired, told them that they knew so much about the work, they could run the department, but I was asking for their help and cooperation. Within a few days, I would learn the hard way that two of the division heads were close friends of Mr. Boone.
After talking to the division heads for a few minutes, I asked them to bring all their people to a meeting by divisions, starting with the statistical group and ending with the hard line group. In these meetings, I explained that Mr. Boone was no longer with the company, and I was the new manager of the department. I wanted to learn all their names as soon as possible. I explained that the door to my office would always be open and I welcomed suggestions or complaints. I realized that I had much to learn, but, together, we could improve the department. All this seemed to be received very well.
Everything in Department 150 was formal. All the girls were Miss or Mrs. and were addressed that way by me. I was Mr. Smith to everyone. The dress code for the girls did not permit slacks or shorts. They were required to wear a regular dress and regular dress shoes, no loafers or sports shoes.
On my second day as manager, I learned a hard lesson. Mrs. Carey, division head for the statistical group, came to me with a problem. It seemed that Department 24 had a series of sales deductions of different amounts on a certain number of stock items. She said the amount for each deduction or omission should be the same amount as the regular selling price. I agreed that she was right; she did not sit down but went to Mr. Quinn, the merchandise manager for Department 24. He went to Mr. Conway, the merchandise superintendent for all departments. Mr. Conway went to Mr. Acroyd, the general manager for the Sears catalog order plant. I was called to come to Mr. Acroydís office, and there they were, Mr. Quinn and Mr. Conway. Common sense should have told me that we deduct sales from the actual amount submitted by the customer. I apologized to the group, saying that I should have known better and it would not happen again. I learned later that Mrs. Carey was a close friend of Mr. Booneís, and I am sure she set me up to show my inexperience. It sure taught me a lesson.
I soon learned that the two division heads I could trust were Grace Mitchell and Neva McMahon. They had long service, were experienced, and kept me up to date on all reports. Since there were no written instructions, they helped me issue instruction on each report.
After Labor Day and the release of the Christmas catalog on September 10th, the business increased almost beyond the imagination. The plant was operating at its absolute limit, including my department. I felt good to be part of such a large organization. It was wild. The feeling seemed to be that this was the last fling before war, and no one knew what was going to happen. Thanksgiving came, and we spent the day with Catherineís family at Mr. and Mrs. Martinís. All the talk was about the war and what was going to happen. Catherineís only brother was seventeen and was sure to be drafted when he turned eighteen in 1942.
Sunday, December 7, 1941 was a cold, cloudy day at 1762 Lawrence. We did not go to church. We had transferred from St. Lukeís Methodist Church to Union Avenue Methodist and were not active. Our radio had not been turned on, as there was not very much on and it was a quiet day. I took time to play with Ronnie while Catherine was fixing Sunday dinner. I helped Catherine with the dishes and, about two oíclock, we decided to drive over to the Curtis Esso station at Vance and East. I was still keeping books for him and wanted to pick up the weekly sales detail and other papers. We did not know that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii until Dana Curtis asked what I thought about it. We did not have a radio in our car, so we hurried home to hear the news. It was frightening. Everything on the radio was about Pearl Harbor. It seemed that a major portion of the United States Navy had been destroyed or severely damaged.
On Monday, December 8, President Roosevelt made his famous "A Day That Will Live in Infamy" speech to Congress and asked that a state of war be declared against Japan. We had the radio turned on in my department, as President Roosevelt spoke, everything got real quiet except for the sobbing of many of the girls that had relatives or friends in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. They did not know whether or not their loved ones had been killed. We learned later that many of them had been killed. This really brought the war home to us.
War hysteria seemed to grip the whole country. Young men began enlisting by the thousands. There were rumors that the Japanese might attack California, and we frequently saw trains with army personnel and war materials heading west.
Christmas was less than three weeks away. Many people felt that it should be skipped, but a lot of young men thought this would be their last Christmas at home for a long time. Christmas was celebrated, but with more religious emphasis than usual. The churches were jammed. Christmas day came on a Thursday and I could not go to Waverly. We did go to Mr. and Mrs. Martinís with all the rest of the Martin family as usual. Ronnie had just had his second birthday and was the center of attention.
Early in 1942 things began to happen so quickly that it was difficult to know everything that was going on. Rationing began, I believe sugar was one of the first things to be rationed, followed by shoes and tires. New automobiles were not available to civilians. All prices, including wages and rent, were frozen. At the time, I was earning about $250 a month and rent was $42.50 a month.
We had three ration books and were allowed to buy one pair of shoes each year for each member of the family. I do not believe I bought a new pair of shoes until the war ended. It took all of our shoe stamps to buy shoes for Ronnie. He was growing so quickly that he wore out his shoes in a few months. Catherine and I had to have our shoes repaired and repaired and repaired.
As the war went on, there was very little to buy in the stores, even if we had ration stamps. At the meat market on Highland, no meat was displayed and the meat that was available was wrapped and sold to special customers without the customer knowing what he or she was getting. Catherine would buy a package of fresh meat and not know what it was until she came home and unwrapped it. Most of the time it was chicken. It was never beef or bacon. The grocery store shelves were bare. If there were any canned goods or food items of any kind, ration stamps were required for everything.
Fresh fruits and vegetable brought in from the farms were not rationed, but with such a tremendous demand, they were usually scarce.
All metal goods required a priority certificate, and the only types that amounted to anything were the military, the war plants, and farmers. The certificate from the farmer was rationed last and was practically worthless. A merchant, such as Sears, could not replace his stock without submitting proper ration stamps and priority certificates received from customers.
Gasoline was rationed. First, it was five gallons per week per car. Later, it was two and one-half gallons per week. The speed limit was thirty-five miles per hour. I did not drive to Waverly but one time during the war. I did ride a train and a bus two times.
On the farm, my mother and dad had a difficult situation. My younger brother, Jesse, was seventeen when the war began. He was able to keep the farm work going. They raised all the vegetables they could use and preserved them for the winter. They raised their own hogs to kill for meat and had a cow for milk and butter. They also raised chickens for food and sale. They had a bountiful supply of food. In the orchard, they had some thirty-two apple and peach trees, which provided plenty of fruit to can and preserve. My sister, Effie, and her husband lived in Waverly and were constantly in touch with my mother and dad to make certain they were cared for. The family made it very well, except for the worry about the draft and their sons.
My brother, Jesse, who was almost eighteen years old, was still at home doing all of the farm work. He plowed the garden and looked after fifteen acres of corn.
With the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, many farms now had electricity. At this time, mother and dadís farm was not one of the fortunate ones. They still needed the kerosene lamps. My dad had a radio that required large batteries. He kept it tuned to WSM Nashville for the war news and the Grand Old Opry music. Also, since he had been a farmer all his life, he was interested in the farm news and market reports.
The war news was not good. The Philippine Islands had been captured by the Japanese, and we had the report of the famous "Bataan Death March." It seemed that Germany, Japan, and Italy were moving in all directions. We heard all this nightly by radio from London, if we went to a movie, there was always at least one newsreel about the war.
We could not hire anyone at Sears, as people were going to the war plants where salaries were much higher. Clerical employees were leaving Sears and other companies in droves to go to the war plants. The buying organization lost about one-half of the young men to the draft, and new men were not available. They had to double up with the men and draw on my departmentís women as clerical assistants to the buyers. One time, I had thirty-two resignations in the employment office. It was tough. I do not know how we made it.
In late August I had accumulated enough gasoline coupons to drive to Waverly. Ronnie was not quite three years old. He again fell in love with the farm and had the time of his life. We had to drive thirty-five miles an hour for the 140-mile trip, there and back. Catherine said, "Never again."
It was wonderful to see the old farm, and I complimented Jesse on how good everything looked. He had about fifteen acres of corn, and it really looked good. It was sad for me in one way, as my old dog Bob had died. They now had a new dog, the son of Bob, "Skippy," but it was not the same. Carl Simpson helped me with some gasoline coupons, so we made it back home.
The fall of 1942 started with a bang. On September 1, the work was so heavy, we went to a forty-eight hour week. The Christmas catalog mailed to our customers on September 1 listed no metal goods, but did list many wooden toys. One item in particular was a three and one-half foot long wooden wagon. A new company at Collierville, Tennessee manufactured it, and Sears sold several hundred. The wooden wagon had the same stock number as that of a sleeping bag in another department at a different location. A lady from New Orleans, Louisiana ordered a sleeping bag to ship to her son, who was a soldier in North Africa. By mistake, he received a wooden wagon. He wrote to his mother that he was unable to use the wagon, so he used it to build a fire to keep warm.
We spent Christmas Day with the whole Martin family. Ronnie had his third birthday and was the star of the show. He was especially fond of his Grandfather Martin, who spoiled him in every way. There was only one other grandchild in the Martin family: Gene Harwood, who was the son of Catherineís sister, Marjorie. He was eleven years old at the time.
We returned on January 4 to a backlog of work that was almost unbelievable. With inventory four weeks away and a shortage of trained personnel, the situation seemed hopeless. If we had not had such a wonderful group, we could not have made it.
The war news was on everyoneís mind, so far, our country had suffered more than sixty thousand casualties.
The year of 1943 was to be a year of meetings and planning by the leaders of the Allies: Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. They discussed ways to bring defeat to Germany and Japan. These meetings dominated the news.
We lived at 488 Ellsworth with a frozen rental charge of $42.50 a month. While my salary was frozen, we were able to get by very well. We made plans to double the size of our victory garden of 1942. On days when the weather cooperated, Ronnie and I started working the ground for the garden. We talked about planting eggplants. Ronnie thought this was wonderful - to grow eggs on a plant.
At Waverly, my mom and dad had rented all their land to their neighbor, Cheatham Brisentine. He plowed the garden, the potato patch, and the orchard. They expected Jesse to be drafted any time, and they wanted to make sure that everything was taken care of.
I do not remember what Jesse did that spring. He may have gone to a Civilian Conservation Camp while he waited for the draft.
Effie and her husband, Carl, were in constant touch with my mother and dad. Annie, who had married Harry Creighton, was living in Nashville. Hiram, who had married Venilee Taylor, had one son and was expecting another in October. Hiram and Venilee had moved to Nashville, and Hiram was working with the L & N Railroad. Joyce, who was now eight years old, lived at home. She provided a lot of help and comfort for my mother and dad.
I did manage to go home once in the summer of 1943. I believe I went by myself and rode the train. I was happy to see my family. The old farm was lush and green and beautiful.
When I came back to Memphis and arrived at Union Station, I was met by Catherine and Ronnie. He told everybody at the station that his dad was coming home. I was a little embarrassed.
The summer of 1943 was a busy one for us at 488 Ellsworth. We had a bumper garden and gave a lot of vegetables to our neighbors. Catherine canned and preserved some for our use during the winter. It was a good experience for all of us.
Ronnie was now about three and a half years old and thoroughly familiar with Ellsworth from Midland to Southern Avenue. He knew all the families, especially all the children. He particularly liked Margaret Sherrill Ruffin and her brother Johnny, as well as Joe Allen, who lived next door. Margaret was four years old, and when Ronnie got into an argument or fight with her, she would run him home.
One time Ronnie was talking to one of the neighbors, Mrs. Williams, and he told her that his daddy did not have any trouble getting gasoline coupons, as he knew where to get as many as he needed. Mrs. Williams called Catherine about it. Of course it was not true.
On another occasion, when Ronnie would not come in to the house for lunch, Catherine went after him to bring him in. He ran down Ellsworth, and she could not catch him. Every time she got close to him, he would run again. She chased him down Ellsworth to Southern Avenue and then to the ice house at Southern, where she caught him and proceeded to give him a good switching.
Another time, Catherine had gone to a shower for Earlene Threlkeld and left Ronnie with me. It was Saturday afternoon and I was working in the yard. I missed him and, after checking with the neighbors, I went around the block looking for him. I finally found him in the drug store on Highland, sitting at a table drinking a coke that he had conned someone into buying for him. He had crawled through a hole in the backyard fence.
Another time, I called him to come in, as it was getting dark. He did not come so, after I called him again, I told him to stay out all night, switched off the lights so our house was dark, and watched him through the blinds. In about five minutes, there was a little knock on our door, and I let him in.
The fall of 1943 was hectic with the war continually dominating the news. The Allies had taken North Africa and successfully landed in Sicily. Plans were being made to open a second front in Europe. Also, the fighting had been heavy with the Japanese in the Pacific, and in places we had never heard of before.
We again spent Christmas Day with Mr. and Mrs. Martin and the Martin family. Catherineís brother had turned eighteen and would be eligible for the draft. I did not get to go home to see my family.
We faced the New Year, 1944, with a deep feeling of dread. The winter weather seemed especially bad, and we anticipated that the draft would get Jesse and Hiram before the end of the year. Also, I was a possibility, as I could easily be reclassified from 2A to 1A if the war lasted a long time.
My mother and dad were worried sick. Our family had lost my dadís brother, Hiram, who was killed in World War I, two days before the war ended on November 11,1918. This was on their minds constantly, with three sons at draft age and available for service, they were terribly concerned.
The war news by radio and newspaper seemed to emphasize the enormous number of casualties with every engagement. We listened to the radio every night and heard Edward R. Murrow from London and H. B. Kaltenborn tell of the dayís events wherever battles were going on. We could actually hear the bombardment of London by German bombs. The world seemed to have gone mad.
Spring 1944 came to Brady Branch, and the old farm was beautiful, especially in late March when all the fruit trees in the orchard were in bloom. There was that enchanting smell in the air. The garden had been planted and it seemed that nature was as beautiful as ever.
I did not get to go home until April. Jesse received his draft notice to report immediately. I wanted to see and talk to him and be with my mother and dad one last time before Jesse had to leave for service in the army. It was a sad occasion. I talked to Jesse about asking for a deferrment, but he said he could not do it. All his friends were being drafted, and he felt like he could not be an exception.
Later that month, April 1944, Jesse was accepted into the army at Waverly with a group of his friends and his cousin, Hubert Smith. We did not know where he was sent, as his mail had to be cleared through an army post office, or APO, and was censored.
This is difficult for me to write, as it happened fifty years ago and my memory is gradually slipping. Jesse would never talk about his war experiences, so I will try to piece things together as best I can.
His group was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, where they trained as a single unit in heavy artillery. Then the unit, with all their equipment, was sent to a point in New Jersey to leave for England. I do not know the location, but apparently it was in southern England. Later, they were sent as a unit to Normandy, France. I believe this was shortly after D-day, where they became a part of the Ninth British Army. They were a part of the drive toward the east, possibly through Holland and Belgium.
Jesse did talk at length about the crossing of the Rhine River at Remargen. The crossing of the Rhine seemed to be one of the most important events of the war for him. He said he had always thought that heavy artillery operated from behind the front line, but at Remargen, they were the front lines, and bombardment was constant. He described it as "pure hell."
After crossing the Rhine, they continued eastward to Berlin without stopping. He said bombardment was constant until they were halted a few miles from Berlin so the Russians could take the city.
Jesse was the only casualty in his unit, as a shell was dropped on his foot. He refused to leave his unit, and was with them all the way.
At the end of the war, Jesse became a part of the occupational army and was stationed at Stuttgart and Homberg, Germany until 1947, I believe.
Letís go back to the summer of 1944. My other brother, Hiram, was living in Nashville with his wife, Venilee, and his two small children, Samuel and Howell. He received his draft notice for induction into the army on September 1. He came down to see our mother and dad, and I went to see all of them. We decided to go fishing, as we always had on Duck River at the back of the Daniel farm at the mouth of Blue Creek. Just after lunch, we took our trotlines and fishing gear down to the Binkley Crocket farm to seine crawfish for bait. This was near the lower end of Brady Branch. We had done this many times before when we were young boys. We were having good luck and siened about two gallons of crawfish. When we came out of the creek, there was Mr. Crocket with his dog, aiming a shotgun at us. We had to do some fast talking. It had never occurred to me that we were illegally trespassing. After a while, we got things straightened out and went down to Duck River, only to find that a boat was not available. There was one on the other side. Duck River was about one hundred yards wide at that point. Hiram said he would swim across and get the boat. We did not know the owner of the boat. After swimming across the river, Hiram found the boat tied up and locked. So he took a big rock and, after a few licks, broke the lock and brought the boat across the river. We extended our two lines, one with fifty hooks and one with fifty-five hooks, and baited them with the crawfish. We stayed all night and our caught an eel about thirty inches long that looked like a black snake. We took a picture of it to send to Jesse overseas, to show him how good fishing was at that time. Naturally, we got rid of the eel.
In late summer of 1944, Catherineís only brother, Raymond Martin, Jr., was drafted. He was twenty years old. He trained for the infantry and, in December, was ready to go to Europe. For some reason, he decided to change from infantry to paratrooper, and in three days, this change was made and he was placed in training. His original unit was sent to France and was in the Battle of the Bulge around Christmas time. A German general, Karl Rudolph Von Rundstadt, led his army westward toward the Ardennes Forrest, slaughtering as many people as he could. This was in late December and, through ice and snow, I believe there were over one hundred thousand casualties. That was the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans were finally stopped just before Christmas.
In January of 1945, the war was so intense, there was hardly anything else on the air. It was evident that Germany was being defeated and, as the weeks went by, it was just a matter of time. There was a meeting at Yalta for a discussion about how attention would be changed from Germany to Japan. In March, there was a massive air attack on German cities by American and British bombers. Over forty thousand bombing runs were made in four days.
On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered; all attention was centered on Japan.
President Roosevelt was serving his fourth term. He was the only president to be elected four times. He was a wonderful leader and literally gave his life for his country. Frequently, he would give the American people a report by radio. He called these "Fireside Chats." He always seemed eager to calm us with reports of war victories. He complimented all of the American people on their support. He was a great man, possibly the greatest of this century.
President Roosevelt died on April 12th at his summer home in Warm Springs, Georgia, and Harry Truman of Missouri became president.
Harry Truman was not well known. Many of us wondered if he would be tough enough to do the job. We soon learned that he was.
In the summer on 1945, all attention was turned to Japan, and there were reports of victories: the retaking of the Philippines, the capture of Guam, and Iwo Jima. It was only a matter of time until Japan would have to surrender.
In August, the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing about eighty thousand people. Three days later, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
A short time later, Japan surrendered, and World War II was over.
President Truman set aside one day for Americans to celebrate. At four oíclock in the evening, we were allowed to buy gasoline, shoes, and tires without coupons. On that day, at 4:00pm, all the church bells were ringing, all the train whistles were blowing, and all cars were blowing their horns. We drove downtown where traffic was wall to wall with horns honking and everyone shouting and laughing. It was bedlam. What a wonderful day!
We did get to go up to Waverly during the summer of 1945, since we had a set of new tires and plenty of gasoline. I wanted to see my family, especially my mother and dad and my brother, Hiram, and his family. Ronnie was five and one-half years old. When we arrived there, he got out of the car and started running. Two days later, when we were getting ready to come home, we had to catch him and force him into the car. Ronnie was in heaven, and even today, loves that old place as much as I do.
We did not get to go back to Waverly until Christmas. We were sad because Jesse was still in Germany serving in the occupational army, and we did not know when he would be back.
This slowed us down quite a bit during the fall season. With Christmas coming on, Catherine spent a lot of time making baby clothes. We began to get excited. We spent Thanksgiving Day with the Martin family. Ronnie always worshipped his granddaddy Martin, so they were a real show. Catherine, her mother, and her sisters were so excited that they could not stop talking about the little girl that was to come.
The fall season at Sears was a hectic one. Since the war had ended, rationing was coming to a close, and the demand for automobile tires, washing machines, refrigerators, and everything else, was tremendous. For example, three car loads of tires would not go to stock, orders would be filled directly from the car. Sales on Christmas items were unbelievable.
As we came to December, more and more soldiers were coming home, and there was a joyous feeling in the air everywhere. The churches were filled every Sunday. There was a warm feeling everywhere.
Christmas Day in 1945 came on a Tuesday. This presented a problem, as I wanted to go home to Waverly. Also, Catherine had talked to her doctor, Cecil Ward. He asked her not to travel. He said it would better if she stayed home in case an emergency came up. We decided that Ronnie and I would go up to Waverly on Friday night, December 21, and come on Sunday afternoon, Decemeber 23. This seemed like a good idea. Catherine would stay with her parents. Her mother was happy with this plan.
On Friday afternoon, when I got off from work, we got everything ready. Catherine and Ronnie were over at Mr. and Mrs. Martinís. I was already packed, and after picking up Ronnie and saying goodbye, Ronnie and I headed out for Waverly and Brady Branch.
Because the I-40 expressway had not been built, we had to travel on Highway 70, a two-lane black top with extremely heavy Christmas traffic. We soon learned that, with the end of the war, everyone was going all out with Christmas decorations. The first little town was Brownsville, and the decorations were beautiful. As we came to each little town, we would try to determine which one was the best. It always seemed like the last one we went through was the best. Humbolt was outstanding, but we decided that Milan was the best. Huntington was beautiful and so was Camden. We crossed the Tennessee River and came to Waverly at about ten oíclock. There was a big cedar tree on the courthouse lawn, lighted and decorated. It was the most beautiful of all. I wept, and Ronnie could not understand why. He did not know about the wonderful memories that flooded my mind. From Waverly, we went out to Brady Branch, arriving there at about ten-fifteen. My mother, my dad, and my sister Joyce were still up waiting for us. We were excited. The house was decorated with cedar and branches of a bush covered with red berries and holly just like it always had been when I was growing up. What a joy! Everyone was talking at once.
It must have been about eleven-thirty when we got settled down and went to bed. Ronnie and I slept in the back room on the same old iron bed that I had slept on when I was growing up. It had a feather bed for a mattress and two or three quilts for cover. I felt a little sad thinking about Catherine back in Memphis.
We got up early on Saturday morning. The weather was cloudy and cold. My dad said it felt like it was going to snow. After breakfast, Ronnie wanted to go outside. We went outside and stacked a lot of wood on the front porch. My mother said she had a lot of cooking to do and asked me if I would grate the coconut like I always did when I was growing up. After a while, I asked her if she needed anything from the grocery. She said that she thought she did not need anything, but if I wanted to drive to Waverly, I could get two or three things. So Ronnie and I drove over to Waverly. As we were going into the grocery store, we met this lady coming out. She was Lucille Raney Williams, my first girlfriend in high school. I was very much in love with her when I was a junior in high school. Her mother had forbidden her to date me because of some family problems that I did not know about until 1993. She was very nice to Ronnie and told me that she had two boys.
We drove back to Brady Branch, and Ronnie and I began talking about getting a Christmas tree to take back to Memphis. We looked for one, but could not find one on the old homeplace that we liked. My dad said that there were a lot of cedar trees on the Daniel farm over on Duck River. We decided to go over there on Sunday morning. We spent the rest of the day exploring the old farm, bringing in wood, grating coconut, and talking.
That night we listened to the Grand Ole Opry from WSM Nashville. My dad loved his radio and the country music on station WSM. That night there was a country music Christmas special on, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. I do not think I ever felt as close to my family as I did that night. Then I began to feel homesick for Catherine and the little baby to come.
Sunday morning came and Ronnie looked out the window and shouted, "Daddy, it snowed!" Sure enough, there was a three-inch blanket of snow on the ground. It was a wet snow, and did not seem to be slick. We were so glad we had prepared for it, but we still had to get the Christmas tree.
My dad had gotten up early and built a fire in the fireplace, so the house was warm. I looked out at the snow and thought I had never seen the old place look so beautiful. In my heart I felt that the snow was special for us. What a joy!
After breakfast we drove over to the Daniel farm. It had so many cedar trees, it was difficult to select the right one. We found one about seven feet tall with a perfect shape. I tried to pay Mr. Daniel for it, but he wanted to give it to Ronnie. I had known Mr. Daniel for many years. We attended Glenwood School together. I do not remember how we brought that tree back to Memphis, but I believe we tied it to the back of my car, part of it in the compartment and the rest sticking out.
In spite of the snow, we had the whole family there for Christmas dinner, except Jesse, who was still in Germany. My mother was so busy, always concerned that everything was going right. When it came time to eat, we gathered in the living room and held hands as my mother asked me to return thanks.
At about two oíclock, Ronnie and I headed back to Memphis with our Christmas tree and a lot of wonderful memories. What a joy! We arrived in Memphis at about seven oíclock and the Christmas traffic was very heavy. Catherine and I both cried when I got there - we were so glad.
I went back to work on Monday, Christmas Eve. I did not get much work done. There was too much confusion. Sears shut down at noon, and everyone was in a joyous mood. I had two major problems facing me: we had to decorate the Christmas tree and I had ordered a bicycle that Santa Claus was bringing Ronnie. I called Catherine and made arrangements for her to keep Ronnie out of sight so I could bring the bicycle home and leave it next door in Mrs. Wilsonís yard. It was in its original box and could not be easily identified as a bicycle.
On Christmas Eve, we went over to the Martinsí, where we exchanged gifts and had a lot of good eats. The whole Martin family was there. We came home at about ten oíclock and I had to get Ronnie to sleep, take that bicycle out of the box, and assemble it. I did not have the right tools. I only had a pair of pliers and a screwdriver - what a job. It took me until one oíclock and still wasnít exactly right.
We spent Christmas Day with the Martin family. Ronnie could hardly stand it He wanted to get back home to his bicycle. I promised him that when I came home from work the next day, I would help him learn how to ride it. He was only six years old, but by the time I got home the next day, he was on the bike, riding up and down the street like a pro.
New Yearís Day, 1946, came on a Tuesday. It was a quiet day at 488 Ellsworth. We slept late and I helped Catherine with breakfast and washed the breakfast dishes. Ronnie got his bicycle out and rode up and down the street with some of the children. Catherine and I spent most of the day talking about the baby. We were happy that the little girl would soon be here. Dr. Ward had told Catherine that he was almost sure that it was a lazy little girl. It did not really matter to me. I just wanted it to be healthy. I spent part of the day listening to a football game. I believe Tennessee was playing the University of Texas at Dallas. I believe they lost, but I am not sure. Catherine and I talked about how we were going to need more space after the baby came. I tried to get Ronnie to come in the house because it was so cold outside, but he did not want to leave his bike. He was not interested in making plans for a baby or anything else at that time.
We had several calls from the Martin family, all of which were about how Catherine was feeling. It was a good day for our family.
On Wednesday, January 2, Ronnie returned to school. He was in the first grade at Messick. We would not let him ride his bike to school because it could be stolen.
I returned to work at Sears to meet a mountain of work. It took the office a long time to settle down, as one girl had a new ring and wanted to show it to everyone. Also, some of the buyers were returning from wartime service, and everyone was so glad to see them. Almost every day there would be one or two coming back. I think about it now, and I do not know how we handled it. Our annual inventory would be on January 31, and we were expecting the outside auditors to arrive in about ten days. While we had started making plans for this just after Thanksgiving, there was still a lot of work to be done. Sales were heavy because of pent up demand. Our suppliers could not keep up. It was bedlam, but a wonderful one.
We made it through inventory and finished with the outside auditors on February 15. I do not know how we ever did it.
Before the auditors left, the head of our parent auditing department, 768 in Chicago, asked me if I would be willing to come to Chicago and work in that department. I refused because of our families, but privately I decided that I did not want to raise my children in Chicago.
Starting in January, Catherine had to start seeing Dr. Ward each week. Around February 15, he told her the time was short. He still said it was a lazy little girl. So the Martin family was ecstatically awaiting a little girl. All plans had been made accordingly.
On Wednesday, February 26, I had left my office and gone up to the 12th floor of Sears to locate some old records. Someone came up there and said I should call Mrs. Martin right away. I called Mrs. Martin immediately, and she told me that Catherine had gone into labor. Marjorie had taken her to the Methodist Hospital, and I should come right away. I checked out of my office and quickly drove to the Methodist Hospital. I learned that Catherine was already in the delivery room and doing fine. I was asked to go to the fathersí waiting room. Dr. Ward came by and said everything was fine, but it would be sometime before the baby would be born, and I should settle down and wait. I waited until eight-thirty the next morning, when a nurse came out with a little baby boy wrapped in a blanket. She said, "Mr. Smith, here is your son." Dr. Ward was with her and said that Catherine was fine, but would probably sleep for several hours. He said I should go home and come back at about four oíclock.
I said a little prayer and left the hospital to go by Mrs. Martinís. I walked in and said, "Mrs. Martin, we have another little boy." She said, "PFTTT." She could not have loved a little girl more than she loved that little boy named Larry.
I ate some breakfast and went to work. When I announced that we had a new little boy, the department went wild and within a few minutes, the news was all over the building.
That afternoon, I picked up Ronnie and told him that he had a little brother. He was excited and wanted to go straight to the hospital. At four oíclock, we had picked up Mrs. Martin and were in the waiting room where they showed the babies. I wrote on a piece of paper, "Baby Smith," and the nurse brought him to the window. Baby Smith did not seem to be excited. He yawned a couple of times and went back to sleep. Mrs. Martin told me to go up and see Catherine.
When I opened the door and went in, she was awake and looked beautiful. She said, "What do you think?" I said, "Itís wonderful." She said, "Does mother know?" I said, "Yes, and she said, "PFTTT," but when she saw that little boy downstairs, she said, "He is a beautiful baby; he is precious." I could only stay for a few minutes, so I told Catherine I would go downstairs and let Mrs. Martin come up. I kissed her gently and we both cried a little. We were happy and glad it was over.
That night, Mrs. Martin kept Ronnie, and I went back to the hospital with Mr. Martin, Catherineís sisters, and their husbands. It was a happy occasion.
Catherine was in the hospital for five days then she and Larry came home in an ambulance. We made arrangements for a lady to spend several days with us and take care of the baby, clean the house, and fix meals for us at night. The lady seemed very nervous, on the second day, she dropped two of our best china cups, so Catherine terminated her.
I do not remember exactly how we handled Ronnie going to school, but I believe he walked with the children in the neighborhood. Mrs. Martin wanted to take care of him, but he wanted to stay home with his little brother and us. They had show-and-tell at school, so Ronnie told about his little brother. The only thing that bothered Ronnie was that we would not let him ride his bike to school.
We placed a baby bed in our bedroom for Larry, and Ronnie continued to sleep on a bunk bed in the dining room. We were a happy little family. Catherineís mother and sister, Mary, helped us a lot. In a short time, we were doing fine.
I did have a little trouble with my family. My mother and dad wanted to see that baby, but could not travel to Memphis because of their ages. I believe that Larry was about nine months old when we made a quick trip to Waverly and Brady Branch to show him off.
In March of 1948, Catherineís father, Mr. Martin, had secured a job with a mill work company making fine doors, windows, and other wood products. He was a professional at this type of work, as he had spent most of his life building homes and subdivision developments. Mr. Martin had become overweight. He especially liked meat and other fatty foods. He was not in good shape physically.
On March 10, 1948, while at work, he suffered a stroke and was taken to St. Josephís hospital. Catherine called me at work, and we rushed to the hospital. He was alert and did not seem to be in bad shape. He had a blood clot in his neck, and it would not clear.
He kept begging Catherine to bring Larry to the hospital so he could see him. He became worse and died three days later.
He was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery on March 15. The Martin family was devastated. What was Mrs. Martin going to do? Catherineís brother, Ray, was out of military service and going to school in New Orleans, I believe. It was decided that Mrs. Martin would keep her house if she could. At that time, she had several girls living there.
The Martin family was a close-knit family: Mr. and Mrs. Martin, three daughters, and one son, the youngest. Mr. Martinís death was the beginning of the tragedy that was to hit the Martin family in the next few years: Mary Emma in 1950, Marjorie in 1952, and Mrs. Martin in 1954.
In late summer of 1948, it became evident that we might have a wedding in the Martin family. Catherineís brother, Raymond, was seeing a young lady by the name of Hazel Brown. We were invited to visit Mr. and Mrs. Brown and all of Hazelís family near Leland, Mississippi. So we took Mrs. Martin, Catherineís sister, Mary Emma, and her husband Leland down for a Sunday visit. It was a most enjoyable day. The Brown family, including Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Hazelís brother Maurice, and her younger sister, were all very nice to us.
Ronnie had the time of his life on the farm. Mr. Brown took him for a ride on his tractor, and Ronnie loved it. I believe Ronnie would have stayed if we had left him. It did not mean much to Larry, as he was only two and one-half years old.
Later in the fall, there was talk of a wedding. In January of 1949, plans were set for January 29, in Leland, Mississippi.
With Sears annual inventory scheduled for January 31, I could not be out. Catherine, Mary Emma, Leland, Mrs. Martin, and Larry went down, I believe on Thursday the 29, as Larry was the ring bearer, and they wanted everyone to be there for the rehearsal.
Larry, who was not quite three years old, was to carry a pillow with the rings attached. I believe he did fairly well at the rehearsal, but not quite so well at the wedding. When they were back home, I asked him about it, and he said he was not going to carry the pillow again and that the next time they would have to carry their own pillow.
I believe they came back to Memphis the night after the wedding. Ronnie and I were glad to see them, even though they were both cross and tired.
For some time, Catherine and I had known we needed more living space. We were very crowded at 488 Ellsworth. Ronnie was now nine years old, and Larry was three. We wanted to try to buy a house. They were being built by the hundreds to fill the need after World War II. Early in 1949 we began to look every weekend, trying to find one in our price range. The down payment was our problem. We were paying only $42.50 a month at 488 Ellsworth for rent.
We located a place, 3800 Oakley Avenue. It was a nice place, relatively close to East High School, and about one and one-half miles from our church, St. Lukeís Methodist. Also, it was about one half the distance from Sears and Catherineís mother. It looked like an ideal place for our family. The house was occupied by a couple who had bought it nine months earlier, just after it was built.
We drove around the neighborhood and saw new houses being built on all sides. We decided to buy it if we could swing the deal. The price was $14,500 with $1,450 as a down payment. We raised $150 as earnest money, and proceeded with financing to buy the place.
About two weeks later, we closed the purchase and moved in. The house had two bedrooms, a den, living room, dining room, kitchen, side porch, and a small front porch. There was a carport at back large enough for one car and storage space. The house was of brick veneer construction and the porches had concrete floors. There was a little grass in the front yard, and no grass in the backyard.
We began to make plans, big plans, as to what we would do with the house and yard. The boys made plans also. They wanted to build a tree house in the persimmon tree in the backyard. My first job would be to get grass in both the front and back yards. I wanted to make a small garden in back of the carport.
When moving day came, and the moving trucks came to Ellsworth, Catherine received a call from her mother to say that Mary Emma was in St. Josephís hospital, seriously ill. She was going to the hospital and wanted Catherine to go with her. I was left with the responsibility of moving, as well as looking after Ronnie and Larry during the move.
The movers loaded the moving van, and we said goodbye to the neighbors. Larry was upset because he could not find our cat, Peabody. We located him next door at Mrs. Wilsonís. Then we started to leave Ellsworth to go to 3800 Oakley. It was a little sad when all the children in the neighborhood waved goodbye to us.
It began to rain. When we arrived at Oakley, the yard was a sea of mud and the drainage ditch in the backyard was overflowing. What a mess!
The movers unloaded our furniture and placed it, knowing full well that some of it would have to be moved when Catherine came home. Peabody, the cat, seemed a little confused. He kept on trying to get out of the house. It was Larryís responsibility to take care of Peabody. He would not let him out of his sight.
Catherine came late in the afternoon and, sure enough, we had to move some of the furniture to please her. This was our new house, our home, and our little family. What a joy!
That night Peabody was a problem. It was still raining, and we knew he would run off and get lost in the new neighborhood. Catherine suggested that we take one of the moving boxes and fix Peabody a little bed in the extra bedroom. The next morning we found Peabody in bed with the boys.
That weekend we spent most of the time moving furniture, hanging pictures, and getting everything in place. We began to dream about what we could do with the place. Catherine wanted some changes inside the house, and I began to dream about the yard.
Some of the neighbors came by to welcome us, and the boys began to meet some of the children. Later we learned that there were forty-three children on that block.
That first summer on Oakley was a busy one. I talked to some of the neighbors, and we decided to appeal to the city of Memphis to help us with that drainage ditch. The city agreed to put down thirty-inch concrete tile to carry the water, but it would be our responsibility to cover it and do the landscaping. At that time, they were moving a lot of dirt from the area that became the Plaza Shopping Center and would deliver it to us for $2.50 per cubic yard. I contracted for fifty cubic yards and soon learned that it was a lot of dirt. The dump truck moved it to the backyard and dumped it. I had to spread it, with some help from the boys. Sometimes I would come home from work and spread dirt until ten oíclock.
Catherine soon decided she needed a clothesline. We had a washer, but no dryer. The clothes had to be dried outside. One Saturday, Larry and I went to Thompsonís Lumber Company to get some 4 x 4 posts that were about eight feet long. We tried to line these posts in the trunk of the car. Because of the length, they extended about four feet outside. We made it fine driving north on Highland, until we turned east on Oakley. As we turned, centrifugal force caused the posts to slide out and stop in the middle of Highland. Traffic was heavy, but we were lucky enough to avoid a real catastrophe. Larry had a real story to tell.
That was a busy summer for all of us. I planted a little garden behind the carport and managed to get a little grass growing in the yards, front and back.
I usually planned my vacations for the last two weeks of August, ending by Labor Day so Ronnie would be ready for school to start. This year created a problem, as we could not go anywhere or take a trip. There was so much work with a new house. We talked about it and decided that we would not go anywhere until Thanksgiving or Christmas, when we might make a quick run to Waverly to see my family.
Catherine talked to her mother, and they got the idea that I should stay home with Ronnie and Larry while they rode the fast train, "City of New Orleans," to New Orleans to see Ray and Hazel. Ray was in school, and I believe Hazel was teaching school. Mary Emma decided she wanted to go with them.
I agreed to stay home with Ronnie and Larry and take care of Peabody, the cat. Needless to say, this was a long time for me. Ronnie, Larry, and I spent the entire week digging out crabgrass and trying to resod the front yard while Peabody roamed the neighborhood. Catherine, her mother, and her sister had a wonderful time. The city of New Orleans train was a fast train running from Chicago to New Orleans with only a few major stops. We were a happy group when we met them at Central Station on Friday night as they returned. Larry insisted on taking Peabody along to meet them, but I vetoed that.
Ronnie still talks about that week, and we laugh about the time we had at home.
We did not go back to Waverly until Christmas weekend. I had a list of things I wanted to get, such as flower seed and some small trees to bring back and plant on our new place. My mother always had a lot of flowers: dahlias, hollyhocks, and sunflowers. I wanted to get a couple of small maple trees and a dogwood tree.
That Christmas was a particularly happy one, as we had the whole family back together again along with some of the neighbors. I do not know how my mother was able to do it, but she had a lot of help and thoroughly enjoyed it all. My dad smoked his pipe and frequently reminded us that we needed more wood on the fire.
We came back home on Christmas Day, and sure enough, Old Santa had left a lot of stuff for Ronnie and Larry. We had put Peabody in the carport and closed it while we were gone. He was one happy cat when we returned.
I look back now at that wonderful Christmas with our family and our new home. Life was exciting. We could certainly count our blessings.
As early as I could, I planted the two maple trees and the dogwood. The maple trees did not grow well in the area, but the dogwood was fine. We had already planted a small maple tree we had brought from Ellsworth, and it did fine. Today, it is a big tree with roots in all directions, including the yard next door.
Mary Emma became seriously ill again in the summer of 1950. I believe it was some kind of cancer. It became evident that she could not be cured. About September 1, 1950, she died after spending quite a long time in St. Josephís Hospital. She was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery. She had a lot of friends and had been very active in her church. I do not think I have ever seen more people at a funeral. As she and her husband did not have any children, she especially loved our children, Ronnie and Larry, and was so thoughtful to them.
Then, in the spring of 1952, Marjorie became ill. She also had cancer. She lived a few months, dying on Motherís Day, 1952. She was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in south Memphis. She had one son, Gene, who was a teenager at that time. Since the Martin family had three deaths, Mr. Martin in 1948, Mary Emma in 1950, and Marjorie in 1952, Catherine was frantic. She was to live another thirty-four years.