Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tracing Roots (Tennessee Backroads)

On my most recent trip to middle Tennessee, I rode along with my cousin Glenda, who shared with me some stories of her growing up atop the mountain....
Glenda was born in atop Lookout Mountain. When Glenda was age two years of age her family drove through the valley and relocated to another mountain top in Skyline, Tennessee. Her family was one of a very underprivileged household, monetarily speaking. With Glenda's three older brothers in the war, she was raised an only child. She had never even seen one of her brothers until was the age of a preteen, she recalls being shy of meeting the adult male. Glenda hid behind the sofa, unsure of the stranger.
As a youngster, Glenda's father was gone much of the time, leaving her mother, Vicey, home to raise Glenda, as well as tend to the homestead, the farm animals, crop and other household duties. Glenda's house was small, consisting of three rooms: the kitchen, a living room and one bedroom. She slept with her parents in their bed. Bathroom facilities were in the form of an outhouse. There was no electricity, which meant no air conditioning or heat, of course, except that which was provided by the fireplace. It was also where her mother would sometimes rake off coals onto the heath and prepare hoecakes for supper, which was served with milk. Hoecakes and milk. Nothing else. Although her mother did have a stove, it was less work for her to prepare on the hearth which was already hot, rather than firing up the stove for a meal.
Glenda rose with her parents at 4 AM every morning. This was well before she was enrolled into the first grade. They had a farm to work and children of those days worked for their family. They knew hard labor and responsibility and they knew what it was like to be without. Working afforded luxuries sometimes, like new shoes twice a year, extra canning jars for the winter. Glenda's jobs consisted of assisting her mother milk the cows. She would then take the pail of milk to the well, which was drilled into the earth. Glenda would tie a rope to the pail and lower into the well for the milk to remain cool. Her father would often warn her, "Don't spill the milk! It is all we have!". It would be a word of caution from a father, but to such a young child, it was a threat. She worried herself sick, often times that she might spill some. At night, when supper was served, often from panic and worry, young Glenda would spill her glass of milk on the table and would feel terrible guilt at the loss. Clothes were washed in the creek, as were bodies. The creek was a mountain spring, so clean water. It was also a water source for the farm animals, as well as the summer crops.

Another job Glenda had would be to assist her mother in caring for the farm animals. One very cold winter, with snow deep on the ground, a female calf was expected to deliver her calf. Glenda's mother rose awoke during the night to check on the cow. She found that the female had delivered during the night. Glenda's mother Vicey, searched in the knee deep snow to find the calf frozen from the cold. She called to Glenda to bring out a heavy blanket, they moved the heavy calf onto the blanket. They then took each end and carried the frozen calf into the house, as if it were in a harness. Her mother placed it by the fireplace, hoping to resuscitate the young calf. Sadly, it was a loss for the entire family, to lose a working animal. Vicey carried the dead calf back out into the snow and began to shovel a grave for the calf. The ground was frozen solid. It was difficult labor.

Glenda would find herself bored in the house during winter, with snow on the ground she still ventured outside to play. She would play underneath the house, where the snow couldn't touch the earth. She would make her way under the house to below the fireplace where she could feel the warmth of the fireplace above and play here there for hours.
Vicey shoveled snow many mornings on the mountain during the winter to make her way into the barn for work. Glenda recalled her mother saying, "I'll be so glad when the wheels are rolling under me". Vicey dreamt of the day they would move from the mountain and live in the city.
Finally, spring began to be evident. Crops were planted. Soon the peddler would begin his once weekly visits to the farm. The peddler traded and sold with the family. Early spring brought Glenda her own set of animals to tend to in the form of Bennie Chickens. They were her very own animals. Glenda would collect the eggs from the chickens. When the peddler came he would pay her for the eggs. Sometimes she would be lucky and the peddler would have candy bars on his peddler cart. She would trade him eggs for a candy bar. This was a treat for Glenda. The peddler would also purchase milk from the family, which was one way the family would earn income.
Summer brought producing crops. Glenda and her mother would work together to can the bounty for winter's meals. They stored some of the 500 cans under the bed to last through winter. A farm animal was also harvested for food. The meat would be stored in salt at the smokehouse on the property.
In the fall Glenda was six years old, now of school age. Her family went into town to purchase Glenda a new pair of shoes at the general store(one pair of shoes was purchased each fall and spring).

(The original general store.)

(general store)

(General store)
It would be the first time she would attend a school.

(This is the original school, made of rock. Still much like it was long ago, with the addition of a new tin roof)

Grades one through six were all held at the school. No further grades were available. Many of the children in the sixth grade were as old as 15 and 16 years old, because the school children would have to leave school to work on the farm.

(The principal lived next door to the school in this limestone house)

The family home was three miles from the school, down a dirt road. Glenda would walk to school alone every day. The road was very hard to maneuver for such small feet, for it was very narrow and full of large tree roots, rocks, ditches, etc. When Glenda told the story of her home, we began at the school and drove the three miles to her home, still in the woods. I couldn't help but think that I couldn't imagine allowing my eight year old to walk three miles alone. But as Glenda explained, this was nothing to them. No one worried about pedophiles, kidnapping, etc. Her mother would sometimes have to walk the unlit road in the fall and winter because by the time Glenda would get home from school it would be dark outside. Glenda would stop to play at the churt rock mines on the route. Her mother would come walking down the road to find her and scold her. Glenda also used her walks to school to fashion her own toys. The sides of the "roadway" in some places rose to form clay walls. Glenda would scoop out the clay with her tiny hands and make "dolls" which she would play with. She enjoyed those "toys" as any store bought toy today.
Activity soon began to flurry around their 68 acre farm. For all of Glenda's life, she would not know neighbors until now. The government purchased some acreage close to their farm and would sell 60 pieces of land as 40 acre plots. These sold for $2,300.00. A Single house was built on each plot, with the same plan as the home Glenda lived in, a single bedroom, living room and kitchen. The neighbor's homes were wired for electricity, though there was no electric on the mountain. They were sold for Finally Glenda would have a few children to play with that lived fairly close by. One summer night, Vicey was fetched during the night by a father of one of the children she knew. The young boy was near death with pneumonia. With no doctor nearby, Glenda's mother began to have a reputation for caring for the sick, be it humans or animals. After a touch and go illness, The young boy soon recovered, thanks in part to Vicey.
Cotton fields were located across the family farm, the school children would miss a week of school to harvest the cotton

The cotton was then brought to the small gin located directly behind the general store.

Vicey finally got her wish. At the age of 12, Glenda and her family moved to where Glenda would be able to attend high school. It was a difficult adjustment for Glenda, who was branded "a illiterate mountain kid" by teachers. Though Glenda could read, she was behind her age group in her schooling.
After graduating highschool, Glenda became a nurse and cared for a particular young male patient, who had a nice car. The young man asked Glenda out. This young man, Johnny, would become her husband. They would make a nice life for themselves, having two children and now 2 grandchildren.

It is Glenda's hope to one day write the story of her days on the mountain for her families younger generations, and to show them the mountain where she grew up. The home Glenda was raised is belongs to her brothers, who use it as a hunting cabin. It is a bittersweet place for Glenda to return to.


Kirby3131 said...

An incredible story. I loved every word. Every word. Thank you.

Leigh said...

Thank you "Kirby"! You are so kind.

Keetha said...

Going back to roots is special. I know how much I thoroughly enjoyed doing it with my dad and sister earlier this fall.

Jerri junque said...

I have enjoyed your trip,

Charnita's Xpressions said...

A wonderful story to share. And great writing style, too my friend.
LOVED IT and loved my Crow Mt. Orchard cider and my baby girl ate all the fruit already! She is my fruit crzay kid and snatched it up straight from the bag where you left it for us. The cider is AMAZINGLY FRESH!!!! Thank you for the wonderful birthday gift and for reminding me of my sweet grandparents and falls at Crow Mt.Orchard.!!! All these tales of yours run so close to my home as well.

kathy said...

Wow, what a story! I'd love to meet her.