This book is the edited transcript of recordings I took with my maternal grandfather
William Carson Powell, known as Bill, in 1998 or 1999, during a vacation to
At the time, I made the recordings I was living in Coventry, England and working at
the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman there was Jerry White, the
former Chief Executive of the London Borough of Hackney and an historian of
London. At the time, he was working on the History of London in the 20th Century,
but he had already completed a book about the East End of London that was based on
a series of interviews with East End residents, in other words, oral history.
I was beginning to have an interest our own family history around this time. My
grandparents, Mirjam Stohl Koehler and Bill and Tut Powell (born Pauline Ruth
Bottoms) had done a fair bit of work on compiling family histories that provided an
excellent basis for my budding, but now dormant, curiosity. Perhaps the combination
of this interest and working with Jerry prompted me to attempt to take an oral history
A note on the recording and transcription
I used an inexpensive tape recorder and a stack of cassette tapes to take the history.
The tapes themselves are noisy and difficult to hear. I probably recorded close to
twenty hours of tape, with the majority having usable content.
I transcribed the tapes myself over 2000 and 2001. That itself was a lesson in
listening. I was amazed by the clarity and fluidity of his story telling. He rarely
digressed, and where he did, it was always interesting and relevant. Through the
process I gained a new appreciation for his ability as a storyteller and an awareness of
my own failure to listen fully. I was chilled to the bone transcribing his war stories
and his description of the constant and present danger. But I do not remember feeling
that way during the original telling.
Although I was as careful as I could be, I’m not a transcriber and I’m merely an
adequate typist. This text is no doubt full of transcription errors and misheard words.
Where I was unsure of names or whole words, I’ve usually indicated with a question
mark or some other notation.
Like many men of his generation, Bill never talked about his experiences as a soldier
during WWII. As a child, I did ask him and I’m sure his daughters, my cousins and
brother asked him as well.
I lost a single tape of recordings which contained his recollections of family history
that had been told to him by his older relatives. That tape was never transcribed and
now, I suppose, those second and third hand stories are entirely lost to history.
I very much regret that I never thought to take oral histories of any of my other
grandparents. I can’t blame myself too much for not taking Tut’s history as she died
when I was thirteen or for my paternal grandfather Wallace Conrad Koehler as he
died when I was 15. But my other grandmother had a wealth of stories that I would
have liked to have collected. My own parents probably have stories, too that I would
like to see preserved, but perhaps it’s in the nature of the relationship that I feel
unable to do this. Their memories may be mine as well, and I suppose I’d feel duty
bound to my own version of the truth.
Bill Powell was born in Wilson County, Tennessee on July 13, 1917 to Neal Powell
and Nell Carson Powell. He died in May 1993.
Bill’s family background
My mother was the oldest of six children. And her mother died when she was 12
years old, and her daddy must have also. Her daddy died before her mother did.
They all stayed real close. They were all real close. All of ‘em. They visited with
each other. I went and lived with ‘em and stayed with ‘em and their children lived
and stayed with us. We went visited with ‘em on Sundays. And they were all close
by. I guess we were sorta in the center of ‘em and I don’t guess there was a one of
‘em that lived over six miles from where we lived.
None of ‘em ever moved very far from Lebanon except my Aunt Frances who
married a Vann. They moved to Knoxville. And they were real good to me and to
Virginia while we were going to school up at Knoxville. She was the last one to die –
no Uncle Walter was the last one to die. Uncle Walter was the youngest of the boys
and Aunt Frances was the youngest of the girls.
My mother and daddy were raised not as orphans, but my daddy’s daddy died when
he was a few weeks old and he had a brother that was four years old, Uncle Ben.
They had to do lots of things to make a living, their mother did. She ran a boarding
house at Lebanon, she worked as a matron David Lipscomb College and finally she
and one of her sisters wound up with a small farm that was part of her daddy’s farm.
That’s a long story about how that was, we won’t go into that. But anyway, they were
raised pretty poor but pretty honest. My mother and daddy got married when my
daddy was, I believe seventeen and mother was fifteen. It might have been seventeen
and nineteen, I’m not sure about that. I had two brothers, one older than me and one
younger than me. The younger was called Fred. The older one died in the flu
epidemic during World War One. And the younger one was scalded in accident.
They lacked medical things. They couldn’t keep his clothes from sticking to him. He
I remember when he burned himself with scalding water though I was not quite three
years old I don’t guess, but I remember that very distinctly. He was seven months.
Both of ‘em were seven months. Clyde was seven months old when he died. ‘Course
I never saw him, ‘cause he died before I was born. So, my mother never talked about
that at all even when my sister was born, she never told her about it.
Virginia only found out about it when she accidentally found a clipping out of a
newspaper when she was – oh probably ten years old. She was so surprised that she
didn’t know what to do, so she went to our grandmother and asked her if it was so.
And she told her that it was. She just couldn’t understand why her mother had never
told her, but she hadn’t. And I never heard her say anything in my life.
This home where we lived was at one time Linwood Academy, and Mammy taught
there and her husband, James B Powell taught there and the house, the schoolhouse,
had gotten into pretty bad shape when my mother and daddy bought it. It never was
fixed up until after I left and Virgina was grown and then they fixed it up some better,
but we had a fireplace in the room where mother and daddy slept. It had a double-
stacked chimney, and on the other side was in the kitchen and we had a fireplace there
and it was a long room in the kitchen, we had a stove in the other end of the kitchen,
and in the middle we had a table that we ate from, and there were windows over this
table and in cold weather with the fire going in the fireplace in one end and the cook-
stove in the other end, at night the bucket with the dipper in it would freeze, in cold
weather. It was a pretty open house. Insulation was never heard of, and we lived like
that for a long time.
I don’t know whether I’ve told you about the deal on the fireplace, in the front or not,
but I had a brother Fred, who was two years younger than I was and he was about
seven months old, so I would have been a little over two, and we were there in the
room and in those times, you pulled fire coals out on the hearth and set a black tea
kettle on those fire coals to heat water. And for some reason, he was big enough to
crawl, he crawled over and reached out and got the handle on that tea kettle, pulled it
over, spilt water all across the hearth, and it ran down under him and scalded him
evidently something terrible. And I can remember that, I can remember seeing him
reach out. And I remember my mother coming and getting him, calling for my daddy,
who was down in the field to come to the house, and I don’t remember anything else
about that deal until I remember us being in church, and my mother having on a black
veil, and crying. And then I don’t remember any more about him for a long long
time. And my mother or daddy, either one, ever said anything to me about that, and
my sister was born twelve years later, and they never told her about that. And she
only knew about it, because she read a clipping that my mother had in a box in cedar
chest out in the hall that told about it. And she wouldn’t even ask my mother about it,
she went down to our grandmother’s, Mammy’s, and asked her if that was so. And,
of course, it was.
They didn’t know to put tea leaves on burns at that time, and ungentine had not been
invented, and they didn’t have anything to put on the flesh to keep the diapers from
sticking. And they finally ordered some ungentine from New York. I don’t know
how long it took to get there, but he must have been dead before it did get there, and it
set around out in what we called the creamery for a long time. And I think my Daddy
finally used it for axel grease, came in little pound cans.
But anyway, my mother and daddy bought a little farm, seventy acres on the credit.
They had to pay for it raising corn and turning hogs in the corn fields and let ‘em hog
it down. They sold the hogs to pay what they could on the farm and they had a rough,
rough go of it. They finally bought another little farm, pretty much on the credit.
There came a big flood, it was on a hillside, and washed all the top soil off. And the
Depression hit, and they had a hard time paying for that.
So when I was about 13 years old, I think I told you about this, my daddy decided
they had to have a cash crop of some kind, and he investigated cotton and sweet
potatoes and soy beans and he finally came to the conclusion that he’d try tobacco.
And tobacco proved quite profitable. And he finally got the place paid for after I had
already finished high school and started college. He told people he never did get out
of debt ‘til I left home.
But he was joking about that. My mother and daddy were both real good to me and
my grandmother – on my daddy’s side – I never knew my grandmother on my
mother’s side, because she died when my mother was 12 years old, the oldest of six
children. So I never did know that grandmother at all. But I knew her grandmother,
my great-grandmother called Old Mammy, but that’s off the subject.
I don’t know if you ever heard me talk about Mammy or not. She was my great
grandmother. Cassander Johnson Carson. She was the one that took the six children
and parcelled em out among her children. Said you take this one and you take that
one and you take the other one. She took my mother and her brothers and sisters and
parcelled ‘em out among her children. She was the grandmother of all of them.
We always went to my grandmother’s, Mammy’s on Christmas day and that was
about a mile from where we lived, maybe we went on Christmas Eve, I don’t know.
But anyway, they got me dressed, put on my little short pants that came down below
my knees and black stockings that pulled up under my knees, with a rubber band cut
out of an inner tube to hold them up. It was rainy and muddy and they told me not to
do anything to get dirty before we went to Mammy’s. Well, I headed for the road and
the mud puddles and ran up and down the road splashing the mud puddles all over
me. I never did do that but once. That was the end of that.
My grandmother, that I called Mammy, owned a little place on the creek, which you
all have probably seen. Or you have, Ingrid, where Uncle Ben and Mammy lived.
But at that time, Uncle Ben was married and lived in Gallatin on a farm that his wife
and his wife’s mother owned. And my mother and daddy lived with Mammy. And I
was born there. Then shortly thereafter, Uncle Ben’s wife died, and he and Robert,
his son, who was five or six years old at the time moved back there to live with
Mammy, and Mother and Daddy got out and bought the place where we lived all of
my life after we left Mammy’s, my grandmother’s.
And we moved up there when I was, I guess, two years old and I didn’t like it at all.
And I decided I would run away and go back down to Mammy’s, and I don’t know
how I got as far as I did, but I got a piece of the way from the house, and trying to get
through a barbed wire fence, and they say I still have a scar on the back of my head,
or I did for a long time, where I got hung up on that barbed wire fence. And they saw
me, or heard me, or something, but anyway they got me and brought me back home.
I remember one time when we were going down there, the creeks were up and there
were two different ways that you could go. The creek in front of Mammy’s house
was so high we knew we couldn’t go that way, so we went to the left, the other way.
And I remember going across with old Charlie and the buggy and mother and daddy
and I remember feelin’ that buggy drift down stream from the power of the water that
was in the creek, and that’s the things I remember when I was little.
My great-uncle was William Haskell Neal and he really was the only daddy that my
daddy ever knew, because my granddaddy died when my daddy was only a few
weeks old and he was the only boy in a family of seven. He came and picked up my
grandmother and her two boys in the Tucker’s Cross Road community and helped
them get started, there’s a story I’ll tell you sometime about how she inherited a small
part of her daddy’s property and lived there for a long, long time. But my daddy
helped him a lot, Uncle Haskell.
Uncle Haskell didn’t have any education, but he had a lot of common sense or
anticipation or knowledge that he didn’t really understand he just had it and at that
particular time the only corn that was raised in the whole United States was one-eared
corn. They didn’t know anything about it, except a stalk with one ear on it. He
noticed in gathering the corn out that sometimes there’d be stalks with two ears on it,
so he put a little box on the side of his wagon bed and every stalk that he found with
two ears on it, he’d put those two ears in that box. Then the next year when they
planted, he would plant seed corn from those ears that were in this box. The number
of two-eared stalks increased each year and he continued doing that for years. Finally
he selected seed corn for so long from two-eared stalks that he got to where better
than 90% of the corn would have two ears.
It was a novelty to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and it was a novelty to
everybody that he could raise two-eared corn. Nobody else could. So he or
somebody put a name on it and called it Neal’s Paymaster. And it was called
Paymaster because you could double and triple and quadruple the yield of corn in
Tennessee. My daddy helped him gather the corn, and then in the Spring of the year
all of the neigbors would gather around and the kinfolk and they would shell this corn.
It was sold as Neal’s Paymaster all over the country and was very profitable to him,
although he didn’t make a lot of money on it because he didn’t sell it very high.
People came from great distances to get it. His son Pallas Neal, which has the same
name as Uncle Haskell’s daddy, and another son Paul Neal continued to grow this
corn from the original seed after Uncle Haskell died. And then this son Pallas had a
son named Kenneth who was a farmer and farmed some of the same land in the same
neighborhood and he continued with Neal’s Paymaster and a lot of people continued
to want it for a long, long time.
Eventually the hybrids came in and that took over from the open pollinated corn –
which this was. Uncle Haskell didn’t know anything about what hybrid corn was but
he knew something and no one really knew what he knew, but he knew enough that
he was covering up some of the ears with sacks and saving that corn to see what it
would do. But that never did amount to much, because smarter people with education
took over and developed the hybrid corn.
But this one grandson of his, Kenneth, died this week and he had a funeral in
Lebanon. He had been a farmer all his life, very active in church work, very active in
the farm bureau, active in the various clubs in Lebanon. And on this casket, when
they buried him, they had a pall made out of fall colors. It was a pale green casket
and there were green flowers on there and mums and pumpkins and various fall items,
thanksgiving items I guess you would say. But then also they had stalks and ears of
Neal’s Paymaster corn. And that was the pall instead of flowers as you usually see
the palls. And he was seventy-some years old.
He has three sons that still farm. And I presume that one of them will continue to try
to hold the purity of the Neal’s Paymaster corn – though it’s an open pollinated corn
and it’s hard to maintain the purity of it. But I presume they will.
I know people here in Lawrence County, which is close to a hundred miles from
where this Neal’s Paymaster corn was grown would drive from Lawrence County up
to where this Neal farm was to buy Neal’s Paymaster corn. It was different looking,
the kernels were. If you really knew well, you could tell it. And that’s really all I
know about that story. But that line hasn’t run out. The corn hasn’t run out and the
Neals haven’t run out.
Of course, my grandmother was a Neal. The sister to Uncle Haskell Neal. He was a
great help to her and a great help to my uncle and daddy. As I say, my daddy thought
of him as the only daddy he ever had. He had three or four boys. He had James and
Pallas and Paul and Willy. And daddy liked Willy and he liked Paul and he got along
with Pallas alright. Although Pallas was a pretty hard man on his family and
everybody else. And then he had one named James, and my daddy never liked him at
all and I never knew why.
My daddy’s name was James Neal Powell and he refused to acknowledge the James
in this name. In the family bibles and anything else that he could find James Neal in
it, he scratched the James part out ‘cause he didn’t want anything to do with this
But for some reason we went to James Neal’s wedding. I remember going to it in the
dark. It was at night, and it was in a house where of course there was no electricity;
they had oil lamps and all those things. We went in a Model T Ford, and we went
down Turner Hill to get to this house where James and his bride were being married.
When we came back the car wouldn’t come up the hill because the gas tank was
located lower than the carburetor. There wasn’t enough gas in the tank to get to the
carburetor, so we had to turn around and back the Model T up the hill in order to get
on top of the hill. And that’s all I remember of that story.
Turkey Bill was my Daddy’s uncle, actually his wife was my Daddy’s aunt -- and
they lived not far from where our home was. And when was a little boy, he helped his
uncle Billy McDaniel drive turkeys. They would go up, about where Albert Gore
lives, up in Carthage, Gainsborogh, Salida, up in that area in there and start buying
turkeys and drivin’ ‘em toward Lebanon. And they would start out with a few and just
keep addin’ to ‘em, bringin’ ‘em on down the road. And when night came the turkeys
went to roost, and if the drivers didn’t have a place to stay they had to just camp out in
the open, ‘cause when a turkey goes in a tree to roost, and especially tame ones, you
can’t get ‘em out. They’re just there, that’s all there is to it. And they would have
hundreds of ‘em, and maybe thousands of ‘em by the time they got to Lebanon with
‘em and they’d put ‘em on a train then and ship ‘em to Nashville, and he did that for
so long and bought so many turkeys that they got to callin’ him Turkey Bill. He
never had heard of Chicken George of course at that time. But he was Turkey Bill.
When you went to the fair, ‘course everybody had horses then, rode buggies, you
needed a whip for your horse and for your buggy and for everything else. And I don’t
know the cost, probably fifteen, twenty cents, maybe a quarter, I don’t know what
they cost, But anyway, they were beyond my reach and I couldn’t get one. And I
surely did want one.
Some of my daddy’s cousins were plowin’ corn on the side of the road as I was going
to school, and for some reason I stopped and started talkin’ to them and one of them
had a whip. And we got to talkin’ about the whip, and I was talkin’ about how bad I
wished I had one, and this old boy that was there, one of my daddy’s cousins said,
“Well, if you won’t whip that pony, I’ll give you this whip.” No, no I wouldn’t whip
this pony at all if he’d give me the whip.
Well he gave me the whip and I rode the pony all the way to school and put him in the
stable and didn’t whip him at all, comin’ back that afternoon, coming back to where
they were plowin’ the corn on the side of the road, for some reason I decided I would
whip the pony. And I don’t guess he’d ever had a whip laid on him before, and he
jumped pretty hard and far and wide and I landed on the side of the road and the horse
went on down the road. They just laughed and laughed and laughed.
A neighbor down the road saw my horse in the creek getting’ a drink of water and he
caught him and brought him on back to me and told me to get on him and ride him
home. And I told him I was not going ride that horse any more anywhere. He said,
“Well, lead him home then. Here he is.”
So I led him a little piece, but pretty soon I got on him and rode him on home. That’s
the end of that story. I rode that pony to school every morning. I don’t know why,
but my daddy always caught that pony and brought him up close the house with the
saddle and bridle on him and I got on him and took off to school.
One day, I don’t know, we’d had a little round about something, I don’t know what it
was about, but I got on my pony and instead of headin’ for school I headed the other
way. I had forgotten all about it, it didn’t mean anything to me, but they thought I
was runnin’ off. But all I was doin’ was goin’ up to a neighbor’s house to talk to
some boys up there that had gone huntin’ and trappin’ at various times with me. We
had a bunch of possums and pole cats and what not that we had skinned and we were
This and the chalk story were ones that my grandfather told me as bedtime stories when I stayed over
with him as a child.
talkin’ about when and where and how we were gonna sell the hides. And they didn’t
know what in the world was going on, so a lot of little things happened.
I made a terrible mistake one time, I don’t know what happened, but I did something
that displeased my daddy and I had rubber boots that came up to my knees and he
picked up a switch or had a switch or something, anyway, he gave me a good
switchin’ on the legs. But, of course, he was hittin’ me on those boots, and I told him
“That didn’t hurt!”, and he said “Well, we’ll come up a little higher and see if that’ll
hurt.” And it did. And I didn’t say any more about that.
When I was a little old boy, and like lots of little boys, I was fascinated by knives.
My Uncle Ben had a real pretty little knife with a real sharp blade. He always kept a
sharp knife, and I wanted to see it. He didn’t much want me to see it and my daddy
said not to, but anyway somehow or another I finally got to see it and I took it and
stabbed it in a locus tree. I remember where we were. In our front yard there was four
locust trees that grew real close together and I was standing sort of in the middle of
them and I stabbed this knife in one of those trees. I didn’t have a good hold on the
handle and my hand slipped down the blade of the knife and sliced into my hand
down into the bone, cut the leaders in two and that’s the reason always now my little
finger is still stiff on my right hand and not as large as the little finger on my left
It hurt real bad, and my daddy said that was good enough for me. We were supposed
to go pick beans that afternoon, and I didn’t want to go ‘cause I’d hurt my hand and
he said if I hadn’t played with that knife I wasn’t supposed to I wouldn’t have hurt my
hand, so let’s go pick beans.
He gave me a big basket and we picked beans and got it full. I couldn’t carry it in my
left hand so I had to carry it in my right hand and I guess that pulled my hand a little
more. But anyways it was a long time before my finger got well and it’s always been
stiff. I would say I was about 8 or 9, pretty young.
Those locus trees stood there for a long time, til a storm came through and blew ‘em
down. The locust trees have pretty flowers on ‘em that smell good. The bees liked
‘em but they also have thorns on them and they would fall off. Little old barefooted
boys runnin around would step on these thorns and get ‘em up in their foot and then
they would start hurting and they would fester and you had to lay down and hold your
foot up and let your mother take a needle and poke around and stick and finally pick
those thorns out of there before they would get well. So I was never very fond of
We had a great big locust tree right outside the front door of our house. I remember it
was a big one. The trunk was as big around as you see on some big beech trees, big
poplar and big oak trees. It had a big holler in it, and we lived up on a hill and storms
came through an awful lot. They worried about that tree blowin over on our house for
a long time. Finally a storm blew down some other locust trees, but didn’t blow that
one down. So my daddy cut it down and cut it up into firewood. And we burned it up
a stick at a time one winter.
We had to heat our house with wood that we cut. We would cut wood in August
when the leaves were beginning to come off and the sap was going down and the
wood was pretty dry, but still enough moisture in it to where you could saw it better
than you could when it was real dry.
We had to do it with a cross cut saw. You pull the saw to me and backwards and
forwards. Backwards and forwards and we piled up the wood back in the woods and
then I think about November or the last of October we’d haul it up to the house and
ricked it up between those various locust trees right at the house. We threw some of
the wood off down in a wood pile we had and that wood had to be cut up in smaller
chunks. We’d split it and make firewood for the stove. We’d pile up a great big pile
of stovewood. Great big, I guess six feet tall.
Lot of people just cut stove wood as they needed it, but my daddy wanted to get it all
cut and piled up. Sometimes we’d rick it up and sometimes we wouldn’t, but we
always ricked up the firewood for the fireplaces. I had the job of carrying it out of the
rick and rickin’ it up on the porch. And we burned lots of wood.
We lived in a house that used to be an old schoolhouse. Somebody had bought that
property with the old schoolhouse on it and they took it and made it into a house to
live in. The man’s name was Curt North, I never did see or know Curt North. But
that was the name, and that’s who my daddy bought 70 acres of land that had this
school house that had been made into a place to live in.
We lived there for a long time, and when I lived there it never was insulated it was
just weather boarding on the outside, studding, and then some kind of planks of stuff
on the inside that we’d put this canvas on and paper it then. And the wind came in
under the doors through the cracks. In the room where we stayed all the time there
was a hole about the size of a big marble in the floor. When we’d clean the floor,
we’d pour soapy water, boiling hot water all over the floors and mop it and sweep it
out through that hole.
And we took a bath once a week, whether we needed it or not, in the room where we
stayed. Where the big fireplace was. We’d pull the shades on those windows. We
must have had 10 foot ceilings, I don’t know, they were tall. And you’d buy curtains
to put on the windows, but they never could get shades long enough to come all the
way down to the floor. So when we took a bath, we’d have to get papers and put on
the shades down to the floor, so people couldn’t see in and also to keep the cold out.
We’d put papers over the door, and heated water boiling hot and pour it in a number
two washtub. My daddy would take a bath in that number two wash tub, and put
clean clothes on, which he changed once a week whether he needed to or not and
poured the water outside. Then we’d make another washing, a tub full of water, and
they’d put me in and I’d take a bath. Then my mother would take a bath in the water
that I had just taken a bath in. And then we all put on clean clothes and that was it.
Didn’t do any more bathin’ til the next Saturday night. We all had long handle
underwear, sleeves came down to your arms, legs came down below your ankles.
That old school house had lots of cracks and crevices and loose windows and loose
doors and the wind would come through. It wasn’t very substantial or solid, and we
would paper it every once in a while. It was hard even to keep wallpaper on the walls.
As I told you, this house that we lived in was very open, no insulation. And we’d take
demaskin(?), real thin demaskin, and put it on the wall first, and then we’d put the
paper over that, because the paper wouldn’t stick to the wall, but it would stick to the
demastos (?) that you tacked onto the wall, and we would get that fixed up. And then
when the wind blew real hard you could see that paper shaking and movin’ about.
Eventually it’d crack and have to be repapered again.
People’d come over just to visit a lot. They’d come about dark, sit by the fire about
an hour and go home again. We had a friend that came to visit us at nights a lot,
Dillon Beaver?, and Mr Dillon never did wash his hair, I don’t reckon. It was greasy,
Lord, it was greasy. When he came he always set over there on the south wall in a
straight backed chair, and lean back his head onto the wall and the paper, and I don’t
reckon he ever washed his head, ever. It was just as greasy as greasy as greasy could
be. And when he would leave, there was such a big spot, that you can’t imagine,
where his head had messed up the wallpaper. It would leave a great big old greasy
place, ‘cause he’d move about this way and that about a foot and a half long and about
a half a foot deep. And my daddy wouldn’t let my mother say anything to him about
it, and he wouldn’t say anything to him about it either, but they sure didn’t like it.
My mother sure did hate to see him coming when she just papered the house, ‘cause
she knew he was gonna leave a great big greasy place on her new wallpaper.
Ingrid: Didn’t your neighbor ever notice the greasy spot he left on the wall?
Bill: Well, he had greasy spots all over the wall at his house, didn’t mean anything in
the world to him.
He had four children. Howard, Robert Hugh, Sarah, and Frances. And they were all
about my age, but all younger than me. Howard is dead. Robert Hugh was a highway
patrolman, he’s dead now. Frances married an outlaw, I thought, maybe he wadn’t, I
don’t know. He’s dead, she’s dead. And the only one living is the youngest one,
Sarah and she’s not able to take care of herself anymore, so my sister told me. But
they had a first cousin, that was named Bell, and he is one of the largest land
developers and construction people around Lebanon, building houses around
Lebanon. And Lebanon is really on the boom in market of expensive houses. She
drove me through a big golf course at a resort called Horn Springs, and on those
resorts they build homes around the fairways, tees and this, that and the other. And
that’s the kind of homes he builds, and the places he builds. So you can’t ever tell
what a little old hillbilly boy from Lebanon and Carthage might do.
I trapped and caught ‘possums and polecats and coons. Tried to catch foxes. Never
did do much good at that. But there was a black family that lived down below us.
They had good dogs and I went huntin’ with them a lot. They’d come up to the
house about 4 o’clock in the morning, knock on the porch and I’d have to get my
clothes on real fast and bounce out the door and we’d go huntin.
They had dogs that would tree animals, in holes or up in the trees, catch ‘em before
they could get in the hole or the tree. We’d catch from none to four or five animals
before daylight. Then we had to come home. And if we caught a pole cat, well, I’d
change clothes and wash a little, but had to wear the same shoes and go to school and
get in there where they had a pot belly stove. You could tell whether I’d caught a
pole cat or not.
We would skin the animals and sell the hides. We usually carried ‘em to a country
store or we carried ‘em to Lebanon. Down on the square there’s a statue standing of
General Stratton, I believe it is. It had an iron fence around it and the fur buyers
would come and stand around that fence and you would show ‘em your furs and
they’d tell you what they’d give you for it. If they bought it, they’d pay you for it and
hang it up on that fence. They’d buy fur from all over Wilson Co all day long. I
reckon they carried it to Nashville and sold it to somebody and then it wound up being
shipped to St. Louis or Chicago or New York or somewhere where they needed ‘em
for coats and hats and what have you.
We also caught rabbits. We dressed them, that was simply takin the insides out and
leaving the fur and everything on ‘em. We wouldn’t eat ‘em that way, but we’d take
those rabbits down there, too. They’d give us a dime a piece for ‘em. And they
shipped them to Nashville, I don’t know where. Somebody ate ‘em somewhere.
I ate rabbit, but I wouldn’t eat a rabbit that had been done like that, whole and all. But
now in England at one time, they dressed rabbits and hung them in the well. They’d
let ‘em hang there to where when the pulled the hair it would slip off and come off.
They also hung chickens in the well and let them hang there til where when you
pulled the feathers the feathers would come off. I never would go for that either.
We raised chickens, a lot of ‘em. The ones we were gonna eat, we took ‘em and put
‘em in a chicken coop and fed ‘em, confined ‘em pretty tight, and fed ‘em corn and
gravy, I don’t know what all. Fattened ‘em up, and they would get fat in there. Sort
of like the French do with geese. They nail their feet down to where they can’t move.
But these chickens were stuck tight in the coop and they couldn’t move much.
After they’d been in there so long, we’d take ‘em out and we’d either cut the heads off
or take ‘em and wring their heads off and then dip ‘em in hot water. You had to be
careful and not dip ‘em too long. Then you could pull the feathers out pretty easily.
Then you cut the chicken up and washed it real good and put a little salt on ‘em. We
never would eat ‘em the day we killed ‘em. We’d keep ‘em overnight and eat ‘em the
next day. But a lot of people would go out and kill ‘em and cook ‘em and eat ‘em
right then. But we would never do that, I don’t know why. We thought they were
better if you wait a day, I reckon. That’s the only reason I know.
Back in those days, we raised lots of apples and peaches and cherries, and insects
didn’t bother ‘em much. We’d take the apples and the peaches and lay ‘em up on top
of a building with a tin roof on it and let ‘em dry. They would dry out, and then we’d
take ‘em and sack ‘em up and hang the sacks up in the attic or the smokehouse or
somewhere. When winter came we’d take ‘em and soak ‘em in water to reconstitute
‘em and then boil ‘em and cook ‘em and make fried pies with apples or peaches or
what have you. Or we’d just eat ‘em stewed, either one. And we had a lot of apples
we’d keep over and eat fresh apples up until it got so cold it’d freeze ‘em. We didn’t
have a good cellar to keep ‘em in. Some people had good dry cellars and they’d keep
‘em on up to February.
The only crop that we really had when I was little growing up was corn. We raised
the corn and we took the hogs and turned the hogs in the corn and let them knock it
down and eat the corn off the ground and get fat. Those that got big enough we’d
have a truck come, I don’t know, I guess when the corn and stuff ran out, put ‘em on
this truck and take ‘em to Nashville. The ones that weren’t big enough we’d run them
over til next year. There was a joke told about a man who had a bunch of hogs and he
said he had enough hogs to sell that fall and to kill and have enough meat to last him a
year and said he had enough shoats coming on to take care of next year and he had
enough pigs coming on to take care of next year and said after that he didn’t know
what he was gonna do.
We’d take this hog check that we’d get once a year. My daddy had recently bought a
little 70 acre farm and finally got it paid for and daddy bought about 50 acres in
another place and he paid everything that he made on that place every year. The
Depression was coming on then, and all of his year’s work would go to pay on the
farm and the farm was worth about what was owed on it. And another year the same
deal, it was going down, down, down. The hog price was going down, down, down.
We owed one of daddy’s cousins, I forget whether his name was Sy Jenkins or Sy
Young. We’d go pay him once a year, and we’d pay him $700 and that was all the
money we could get together. We milked cows and raised chickens to make enough
to buy the groceries that we had to have. And all this hog money went to him. He
wouldn’t take anything but cash, he wouldn’t take a check, though he and daddy were
kin people and my daddy had as good a reputation as anybody did. But he had to go
to Lebanon and get those hog checks converted into cash and then had to drive or ride
up to see the old man and pay him that $700.
He had a great big old house and he had a dog in the house, and great big old bull
dogs, and the doors chained. He had money, but he was ornery. I never did know
why he was ornery and so hard until many years later. I knew he didn’t have any
children, but I found out later that they had four children and they all died before they
were ten days old. I often wondered if that hadn’t contributed to him being so hard
and mean. I don’t know whether it did or didn’t.
But we weren’t doing any good, and my daddy decided he had to do something else,
other than this hog business. Now, we did raise some wheat, but normally just
enough wheat to make our flour and swap some of it for meal and some of it for
chicken feed, but we never did sell any wheat that I recall. Might have sold a little.
So, Daddy thought about raising sweet potatoes, he thought about raising cotton, he
thought about raising peanuts, he thought about raising soy beans and finally for
some reason, for a cash crop, he would try tobacco. None of us had ever seen
tobacco stalk around there then. There was a man that went to church with us about
six miles from us. We were three miles one side and he was three miles the other
side. He’d been raisin’ tobacco a little. He was my mother’s first cousin, I guess,
they were some kinda kin anyway. And Daddy went to talk to him and we decided
we’d raise tobacco.
Back then you had to pile up big brush piles and burn ‘em to kill all the seed in the
ground. And then you had to break up those ashes in the ground and then you seed in
that and raise your own plants, and set ‘em out.
We raised an acre of tobacco that year. We put it on the best ground we had and put
the most cow fertilizer on it we had and grew it on richest spot there was on the farm.
It made a fine crop and we carried that stuff to Gallatin, which was about 25 miles
from our home. No, the first year he hired somebody to carry it, on a truck. They
brought it back, and it had brought four hundred and thirty somethin’ dollars. There
had never been that much money in our house at one time ever. And he took that
check from the tobacco barn and put it up on the mantle over the fireplace and let that
check set up there where we could look at it and see.
Well, the next year Uncle Ben, he decided he’d raise tobacco. We had an acre and he
and Robert put out 5 acres, but my daddy he never would expand that big. That year
the trucks were gonna charge too much to carry it to Gallatin, so they got wagons and
teams and loaded the tobacco on those wagons and took old quilts and tied over it and
tied it down, ‘cause it was rainin’ and they drove that 25 miles. They left about 4
o’clock in the morning and they got there about 8 o’clock that night. They slept on
the tobacco floor that night in what they call the bull pen. It was just a room, there
was stove in it and benches around and people could sit there and sleep and this that
and the other. And the next morning they got up and drove back home.
I don’t know when it sold, it didn’t sell then, but ‘bout a week or so later. And we
went in a car when it sold. So we began coming out of the kinks a little bit then. It
was pretty hard for me to be against tobacco. I would have never gone to college if it
hadn’t been for tobacco. I don’t guess Virginia would have either.
I remember one story about it when we were raising it. We had what they called
protracted meetings. Protracted means going on a long time at church. And then
they’d usually have church in the morning or the afternoon one and again that night.
The preacher that we had that time, he was against tobacco and he preached several
times about how nasty chewing tobacco was and how bad on you it might be, smokin,
we didn’t know. Anyway he was against it.
I remember we were down at my grandmother’s one afternoon after dinner. The
preacher always stayed with my grandmother. We were sitting out there under the
shade tree. And Uncle Ben said “Well Brother ????, I don’t guess we’ll be able to
pay you for holdin’ this meeting.” And the preacher wanted to know why. Uncle Ben
said “Well, the only money that we have comes from raising tobacco. All the people
round here raise tobacco,” and said “That’s our cash crop. You against tobacco so, we
just don’t feel like you want the money.” He didn’t preach about tobacco anymore.
Uncle Ben used to set out there under the shade tree in a swing with that sharp knife
and a cedar stick and he had a lot of ‘em, and he’d whittle and whittle and whittle,
shavings would pile up all around him. People riding up and down all around the
road would stop and say “Ben, what in the world you doing?” “Cuttin’ timber.” That
was the stock answer that he gave him. And that tree was right beside my
grandmother’s house where Uncle Ben and daddy were raised. And that’s where the
mule story came in.
Daddy had gone somewhere, I don’t know where to see a girl somewhere I guess. I
don’t know where he’d gone. But it was along in August, September. Moon was full.
And he was coming back home and it was getting late and there was a fence row that
had grown up on one side of the road. And it was on the east side, ‘cause he was
looking up at the moon, and when he looked up he saw something white floatin on top
of that fence row. Well, it scared him, he didn’t know what it was. So, he decided
that he’d kick his horse up and move a little faster on down the road. Well this thing
on top of the fence row, it moved up faster, too and kept right up with him. And he
thought, well, I’ll slow down and see what happens. So he slowed down and this ball
of a thing up on top of the fence row it continued to slow down and go right along
with him. And he decided well I’m gonna get home, so he kicked his horse and
kicked off and here that thing was floatin’ on top of the fence row right along beside
him. Finally, the fence row ran out and an old grey mule trotted out. And with its
head throwed up in the air it was just the right height for that fence row to make it
look like there was something floatin’ on top of it. And that’s the story of the old
I didn’t go to school the first six weeks or three months or whatever it was. I didn’t
go ‘til after Christmas, and I rode with a neighbor in a little buggy pulled by a pony.
And we did that that year, and the next year they bought me a great big Indian pony
and I rode that thing to school, Old Dan, for ten years.
The first day at school, I go bouncing in and Clyde Cooksey met me, he was sort of a
bully. He wanted to know if I had any chalk, and I told him, I didn’t really know
what chalk was. I said Naw, I didn't have any chalk. He said “Well, you can’t go to
school if don’t have any chalk.” He said “You’ve got to have chalk if you want to
write on the blackboard and you’ve got to write on the blackboard.”
He said “I’ve got chalk, what’ll you trade me for it?” And I didn’t have anything, but
some nice new marbles, and I showed him them and he said “Well, I give you a piece
of chalk for every marble you have.” And so then I get in the room and there’s chalk
all over the blackboards, everywhere. And that was the first time I remember bein’
lied to and suckered.
I never was particularly fond of him. But he was a couple of years older than I was
and a lot bigger than I was and I never did like him. And I don’t know… we got in a
fight one time and for some reason he had rings on his fingers that were bands that
you put around chickens’ legs, different colors so that you could identify ‘em.
Well, we were fightin’ and he had those rings on and he was literally beatin’ me black
and blue. I got a hold of his head of hair in one hand, or both hands, I don’t
remember which and I held on to that hair, so long and so hard that I pulled a great
big handful of it out of his head. The last time I saw him he still had a bald spot in
his head, because that hair never did come back. My face got well.
I went all the time to Tucker’s Cross Roads to school, except one year from Christmas
‘til school was out at May one year. At Christmas time one year, Tucker’s Cross
Roads school burnt to the ground, and we had to make arrangements to go other
places. On the back side of our place was a little one room school house with one
teacher, about twenty students, I guess, so they put me to school over there from
Christmas til school was out. And I think they sent Virginia there one year, too,
The teacher would start off with the first grade and teach them a while, then the
second, she had a long bench up front, she’d move whatever grade she was teaching
up front. The rest of us would sit in the back and study or listen or do something. I
don’t know what. But it wadn’t too bad, I learned about as much there as I did
anywhere else. And I went to school, for eighth grade, the first three grades had a
teacher and the second three grades had a teacher, and the seventh and eighth grade
had a teacher, and then you went to high school.
We had a two-year high school, we had fifteen students. Eight were freshman and
seven were sophomores. And they taught seven subjects, taught latin, algebra, and
english. And then that was to each group. Then together, for all fifteen they taught
health one year and civics the next year. They had one teacher for the whole high
school. He wasn’t a very good teacher and we weren’t very good students.
But, we had a library, ‘bout the size a broom closet that had a few books in it
inlcudin’ Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I never heard of an encyclopaedia in my life.
But I saw ‘em in that room and I knew I wasn’t doin’ in good in the classes in there
and I asked the teacher if I could go in there and read the encyclopaedias. And he let
me do that, and I read lots of different things. And one of the things that I read was
about Yosemite Valley in California and it showed a picture of that waterfall and that
rock called Captain something or another, It was my fantasy dream that someday I
might go there, never dreamin’ that I would. And then one day I did get a chance, and
I did go and I did see. That was sorta the beginning of my rambling and travelling, so
you never know what little thing, how early in life may have something to do with
other things in the future.
People were talking about the police being so cruel and being afraid of police and not
trustin’ ‘em and this that and the other and I said that I had an incident that happened
that changed my attitude towards police when I was a little boy. I really didn’t know
anything about police one way or another, ‘cause out in the country we didn’t even
have a constable. We had a Sheriff that would get out there occasionally in case of
murder or rape or something like that. But I didn’t know anything about the police. I
In the city of Lebanon that a city police department with three, four, five policemen, I
don’t know how many. I knew that they could arrest you and I knew that you had to
do whatever they said and this that and the other. One night I had my mother and
daddy’s car borrowed and went to a little restaurant to get a sandwich or whatever.
When I backed out, someone had parked beside me and I scratched their fender. They
were people from New York or New Jersey one, I have forgotten which, and they
screamed and yelled, made such a racket you never heard in your life about how bad
their car was damaged.
Somebody was there and said well, I think if I remember correctly they were wanting
me to pay ‘em for the damage to their car, and somebody, I don’t know who, said
“Let’s go get the police and see what they say.” There was always an old man
walking around the square and he was fairly close and he came over there and looked
at it and he looked around. He talked to the people who were still screaming and
yelling. He told them to calm down and let him look at it. He got his flashlight out
and looked around and he said “When you people pulled in here, you crossed the
yellow line. You didn’t park in the lines like you were supposed to. You were
illegally parked.” He said “Son, you want to bring any charges to them? Any damage
to your car?” I said “No Sir, no Sir. I don’t want to do a thing.”
They calmed down cool, ‘cause they saw that the law wasn’t on their side. and they
took off and left. So I was expecting all kinds of trouble and having to tell my daddy
what had happened. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I became a pretty good
friend of this old policeman that took care of the situation in my favor, I thought. So
I’ve always had maybe a little different attitude to police than a lot of people have.
Uncle Ben didn’t want me to go to college. And he had a pretty good sized farm, it’s
where his son lives now. But he had thirteen acres across the creek and he told me
that if I wouldn’t go to college, he’d give me that thirteen acres to start a farm with
and that I’d be better off farming than I would going to college. He mighta been
right, I don’t know. But anyway that wasn’t what I wanted, and my mother and
daddy did neither. So I managed to go to college.
My mother and daddy didn’t want me to farm, because they had such a rough go of it.
They wanted me to do something else, I don’t know if they didn’t think I could. I
don’t know what they thought. But anyway... and I wanted to go to college, too. I
went over to Murfreesboro to try to get a football scholarship. I played football in
high school. I wasn’t very good, but I didn’t know I wasn’t. But anyway the boy I
went with, that Murfreesboro did want decided he wasn’t gonna go, so they had no
more interest in me.
I had taken agriculture in high school, and the agriculture agent came by and he and
my daddy were talking about college and said that if was gonna go to school I was
just as well to go to the best one. My daddy wanted to know what that was, and he
said the University of Tennessee. I don’t think either one of us had heard of the
University of Tennessee at that particular time. So I went on up there, the only thing
is I didn’t have any money. I think I had saved thirty dollars from a black sheep that
was mine. I got the wool and I got the lambs. I accumulated thirty dollars. And I had
a pony that I had ridden to school for a long, long time, and I sold him for thirty
dollars. That made sixty. And I reckon my mother and daddy gave me forty.
Anyway I headed to UT with a 100 dollars, that had to be room and board and tuition,
books, clothes, everything. I hitchhiked up there. I hitchhiked home at Thanksgiving
and I hitch hiked back home at Christmas.
I had a hundred dollars when I started to college the first year. And that was to pay
my tuition, my books, my room and board and everything else. Well, I got a job
firing furnaces to get a place to stay free2. I got a job workin’ in a greasy spoon, a
restaurant, to get some meals. And I got a job working out at the farm for twenty-five
or thirty cents and hour, I’ve forgotten which. It was a National Youth Act, one of
Roosevelt’s government programs. And I just barely made it through, and came
home that quarter and had no money at all. And no way of getting any, ‘cause I’d
sold my pony and sheep and things I had to get the first hundred dollars together. I
didn’t have anything else left. And I didn’t know how much my daddy could or
couldn’t have given me. I don’t think he could have given me a hundred dollars.
But he and Uncle Ben talked and Uncle Ben said “Looks like he’s gonna go. So
here’s fifty dollars Neal, for him to go next quarter.” I reckon my daddy had fifty
dollars, I don’t know, anyway. I just went a quarter at a time. Just went a quarter at a
time. But then my daddy started working on the tobacco floor in Gallatin. Five
dollars a day, big money. And he stayed over there, raised tobacco in the summer
time. Eventually Virginia got in college, I was out then and he and mother moved to
Gallatin and they both lived over there. And he worked on the tobacco floors for a
long, long time. He got along real well with the man that owned the tobacco
warehouse. And when he and mother got to living over there, instead of staying on
the tobacco floor he rode the countryside asking people to bring their tobacco to John
Hancock’s warehouse to let them sell it. He did that for a long time. Then he began
raising lespidiza which was a new crop for farmers in our area then. And seed were
high for a while. I know one summer, I took the mower and mules and cut around the
ditches in the corners and did this that and the other and I’d make five dollars a day
cutting lespidiza seed. After they’d already cut the main crop.
I got a job then working at a dairy in East Tennessee in the summer. For room and
board and fifty dollars a month, I don’t know what. Then school started, I got room
and board, but no pay. But I didn’t have to work as much. That was at the East
Tennessee Tuberculosis hospital, I believe you went through Fountain City, and the
man that owns Security Feed Mills lived across from the hospital. I’m pretty sure you
went through Fountain City to get out there.
They carried me to meet a bus, because they had employees they had to pick up, it
was a big hospital, on the shift changes. And then I had to get back at a certain time
to meet the bus to get carried back out to the farm. I got tired of that, though ‘cause
you never could get enough sleep. Or I couldn’t, ‘cause you had to milk three times a
day. And you never could... It just didn’t work out. The longest period that you had
off was between the second milking and the final milking and that was when supper
was served. And if you didn’t get up you didn’t get any supper, you got awful
hungry. So I got a job working in the cafeteria over at the University, makin’ 25 cents
an hour, I believe. And a big discount on the food that we ate, plus this that and the
other that we could pick up to eat that other people didn’t eat.
I believe this to be the large brick and stone house on Laurel Avenue that was later made into
apartments. When I was at UT, it was a sought after, but expensive place. There was a large lawn and
one of the tenants planted all the borders beautifully and ocasionally gave me some cuttings, including
some stripey canna that I coveted.
When I first went to the University of Tennessee, I didn’t know how to dance and
they had mixers where they had boys and girls would come and learn to dance and
learn to meet each other. Maybe I already knew how to dance then, I don’t know.
But it was at the gymnasium – old gym – Alumni Memorial Gym at the University of
At that time nobody’d ever heard of air conditioning and they had great big fans.3
There were lots of people there dancing. Lots and lots of ‘em. There was a little short
girl, her name was Sadie something, I’ve forgotten what, from Opaloosa, Louisiana. I
was dancin’ with her, and of course I chew mints all the time now, but back then I
don’t think they had mints and I chewed gum all the time. It was hot and I danced
over and got in front of one of those fans so we could cool off. She was a little short
girl and her head came up just about under my chin and I was a-chewin’ away on the
gum and danced over there to that fan and her hair blew up in my mouth. It got
tangled up in that chewing gum and I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do.
I think I told you or some of ‘em later on that I got so hot that the gum melted but
actually what I did, I started chewing with my teeth and I chewed her hair in two that
was on the gum. I don’t know whether she ever missed the hair or not. I don’t know
whether she ever figured it out or not. Sadie, I’ve forgotten her last name. But that
was a hot night in more ways than one. It was. It was.
I took tap dancing because I was having to work when I was in college to make what
money I could. Physical ed was required then. For two or three years you did. I had
to take it. I knew absolutely nothing about tap dancing. But this was the only class
that there was available during the only period of time I had when I wadn’t working.
So I signed up for tap dancing. And I tried to tap, but I never could tap. If you
attended every class, you got a C. And I attended every class, and I got a C. But I
still couldn’t tap dance. I didn’t have any tap dancing shoes, but I bought me some
I didn’t have but one change of clothes, one change of shoes, three or four shirts and
suits of underwear. I took ROTC and, had to then, and they issued you olive drab
woollen uniforms and in real cold weather I wore those. I scrambled through every
which-a-way. I sold programs at the football games, basketball games. I just went to
school and worked. The extra curricular activities I didn’t know existed. But I made
it and it in the meantime my daddy started the tobacco business and that brought a
little more income in, and doing other things brought a little more in. I got a little
better jobs, making a little more money. Barely got by, but I got through. When I got
through why I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Some people told me
“You better put an application in, you’ll be graduating before you know it.” So I
applied to get a job teaching vocational agriculture. And I’d never heard about Farm
Security Administration, but somebody told me about that, so I applied for that, too.
And I heard from the Vo-Ag people first, and they called and said I had a place up in
West Virginia. So I went up there and taught up there a year. Good place, good
At the time I attended the University of Tennessee, starting in 1988, Alumni Gym still had no air
conditioning. They still relied on those giant, ancient fans to keep it comfortable. I don’t doubt that
those fans were the same ones my grandfather remembers.
country, good people. Could have been a bad deal, but I didn’t know. There’s little
very good, most of it’s very bad.
Early working life
My degree was in Agricultural Education. I was qualified to teach agriculture,
English, biology, and I don’t know, something else, Economics I believe. And I got a
lifetime certificate. I still have it. I still qualify to teach, because at that time when
you went and got your teaching certificate it was for life. You didn’t have to get it
renewed or anything, now you have to get it renewed every so often. But I never did
teach but for one year. I didn’t like teaching.
Well, I did like teaching. I liked to teach real smart students and I liked to teach real
dumb students and I liked to teach mediocre students, but you stir ‘em all up in the
same class... That just didn’t suit me.
I taught in Runsford, West Virginia. I didn’t even know where West Virginia was. I
didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got through college. I applied for teaching
jobs anywhere I could get one, and I applied to the government to work for the Farm
Security Administration. Well, they called and said they wanted me over at
Henderson, Kentucky. I said OK, suits me, I’m on way. I didn’t know where
Henderson, Kentucky was either, it’s right close to Paducah on the Mississippi River.
But before I left they told me they don’t want you, they’ve found an experienced
teacher, and in a day or two they said they want you in Runsford, West Virginia. OK.
I go to Runsford, West Virginia. And that could have been rough, ‘cause boy there
are some rough places in West Virginia. But Runsford’s on the Green River, and it’s
in a bluegrass area, real good farm area and real nice people in Runsford. It’s close to
White Sulphur Springs. I enjoyed teaching there, but it was a long way from home.
Especially travelling in a little old 1932 V8 Ford car.
I bought that car from Puckett Motor Company in Alexandria, Tennessee. My daddy
let me borrow the money to pay for it and I paid him back out of checks where I
taught school. So, I’d been up there about a year, and this Farm Security
Administration that I’d applied to earlier, I got a letter from them saying that they had
an opening in Nashville. And if I was interested to come interview, so when I was
home Christmas I did. I told ‘em that I’d have to give notice – I believe three months
at school or something like that. But I would start, and I started in March I believe.
I was working in Nashville with a man who’d been there a long time. He had
Davidson County and Williamson County both, where Franklin is. And the intention
was that they would split. He would have Davidson County only and I would move
to Franklin and have Williamson County only. Well, I don’t know, that didn’t work
out some way or another and they said “Well, they’re gonna put another man on down
in Lawrence County. You want to go to Lawrence County?” And I didn’t know
where Lawrence County was. I never had been down in this part of the country. I
knew Loretto was in Lawrence County, ‘cause we’d played them in basketball in a
tournament one time and that’s all I knew about Lawrence County.
I told ‘em “Yeah, I’d sooner go to Lawrence County as not.” And they said “Well
now you don’t have to go,” And that sorta threw up a flag, why they said that, but I
said “I don’t care, doesn’t make any difference to me.”
I’d as soon be there as anywhere else, so I came down, came down through here,
Maury County, Williamson County, it all looked good to me. I came up Rockdale
Hill and hit Lawrence County, and I knew why they told me you don’t have to come
down here if you don’t want to. There wasn’t a blade of green grass anywhere, there
weren’t any cows, there weren’t any chickens, there weren’t any hogs. There wasn’t
anything but shacks, cotton stalks and broom sage. That was absolutely all, and I
knew I was in a poor place then. People were ridin’ in wagons and later on, if the
weather was fair, on Sunday they’d put straight back chairs in those wagons and go to
church and go vistin’, and the people just didn’t have much money at all. people then
in 1940 were still comin’ to town in wagons pulled by mules. People would go to
church on Sunday with chairs sittin’ in the wagons. And 64 Highway was
blacktopped and 43 Highway was blacktopped and there was a road from Leoma to
Five Points blacktopped and that was the only blacktopped roads in Lawrence County
And it was a poor hard place to live right then. But it started getting’ better and
continuously has gotten better.
When we went out to work, and this was in March and there’d been a terrible cold
spell that year, the roads were in terrible, terrible shape, and we carried log chains and
boomers or stretchers to pull with and picks and shovels and all sortsa kinda stuff in
the back of our car, because you could get stuck goin’ down the roads. And if you
went to a farm early in the morning, and we moved early then, we went to work at
seven o’clock, if you stayed too long, and the ground thawed up, you might get stuck
before you got back to a chert road. In fact, I have had that to happen. Sometimes
you had to dig out and chuck up with rocks under the wheels and stuff to get out and
sometimes the people would hook up a team and pull you out. Pretty rough stuff.
People had been accustomed to borrowing about fifty dollars a year to make a crop.
[From the banks.] They would get a man who sold mules to sell ‘em a team of mules
on the credit, and they never could pay for ‘em, but the man that sold ‘em the mules
would say ‘That’s alright, you just feed ‘em on, and if you can’t pay for ‘em by
spring, I’ll bring you another pair around.’ And what he did, he constantly brought
unbroke mules for the people to work, and then they worked ‘em a year, made a crop,
and they were broke, and he took ‘em up then and brought ‘em another pair of
unbroke mules. So that was the way that part of it worked. And then they borrowed
fifty dollars for their fertilizer, and seed if they had to buy seed and a stand of lard, a
little stuff to live on. A stand a lard was literally because some people at some time
had absolutely nothing but grease gravy to eat. And that was lard with flour stirred up
The Farm Security Administration knew that they could never get ahead with that
kind of doin’s, so we had a rule that if we were gonna loan them money, they had to
borrow money to buy a team of mules with, or a horse, if they made a one-horse crop,
and they had to borrow enough money to buy a hundred quarts of fruit jars for a
hundred quarts of food for each person. And they had to buy a pressure cooker that at
that time cost fifteen dollars. And they wanted ‘em to borrow enough money to fence
in a garden. They didn’t much want to do that, because the law was that if you put
something down on a piece of property, you couldn’t take it with you when you
Most families moved every year, because they’d think they’d do better if they moved
somewhere else another year. Which they couldn’t, but they thought they could. But
they would borrow the money to get the fence with, because they figured they could
tear it down -- maybe, and get away with it. But then, they decided that they ought to
have screens on the windows to keep the flies out. Well, they absolutely wouldn't
borrow for that. They would not take the loan if you had to put money in for a screen.
‘Cause they knew that was lost. And we just either had to give in to ‘em or turn the
loan down, one. Tellin’ people they ought to buy screens to keep the flies out, wasn’t
doin’ any good at all.
The ladies, and a lot of ‘em did, had nice white counterpanes, or at least nice white
sheets on top of the bed, I think they put ‘em on when they knew somebody was
comin’. I’m not sure about that, but anyway they had this nice white sheet or
counterpane on top of the bed, and an ol’ chicken came in and got on top of the bed
and the chicken just ruined the counterpane or the sheet. And it just dawned on me all
of a sudden ‘Hey, if we can’t sell ‘em the screens to keep the flies out, maybe we can
sell it to ‘em to keep the chickens out.’ So I told folks ‘Now, if y’all had screens up,
that old chicken couldn’t have got in here and messed your bed up like that.’ And that
was the first time we made a loan to buy screens. And it worked pretty well, most of
But now Lawrence County had a lot of people that had moved here from Winston
County, Alabama. And Winston County was a county that was strictly Republican.
And during the civil war, they tried to secede from Alabama, because Alabama went
with the Confederacy, and they didn’t want any part of that. But then later on, with
cotton started up here, they thought it would be better if they moved up here and a lot
of people from Winston County moved to Lawrence County, Tennessee. And they
were Republicans when they came and their descendants are nearly all still
Republicans. That’s the reason there are as many Republicans as there are in
Lawrence County. In fact, close to a third of the people are Republicans, and about a
third are Democrats, the other third are mugwamps, or Independent or whatever you
want to call it.
We would also loan money to a man to buy a farm with. When I came back from the
war, all those people that I loaned money to buy farms, when I went in business
traded with me. I think I was prouder of that than I was of anything. Every one of
‘em. And I reckon they’re all dead now. The men are all dead and there may be one
or two women living, I’m not sure. One died this year, and I thought that was the last
of ‘em but somebody told me about another lady that was still living, but all the men
are dead. All of ‘em paid for their farms. ‘Course the war came along, land went up,
everything went up and times were booming. They paid their loans off and some of
‘em thought they never would pay ‘em off. They couldn’t imagine that they’d ever
make that much money, and we couldn’t loan over 2,500 dollars. But they couldn’t
ever see paying that much off.
And you know practically, I didn’t realise it, ‘cause I didn’t know whether people
were Republicans or Democrats, but practically no Republicans would borrow. They
didn’t want nothing to do with them Alphabet programs: FSA, Farm Security
Administration. A lot of ‘em didn’t want anything to do with the AAA, Agricultural
Adjustment Act – that was the one where they told you how many acres of stuff you
could raise and how many pounds of stuff you could raise on those acres. If you
conformed, they paid you and if you didn’t conform, well you had trouble getting
cards to sell your cotton.
When you went down the Rabbit Trail Road, and turned to the left to go from
Bonnertown to Appleton, that land was owned by the Crowders who were the
staunchest Republicans in the county, and I don’t know if they came from Winston
County or not, I don’t think they did, but I don’t know about that. And it was the
Wilsons, and the Yarboroughs and the Crowders, and they were all three families
strong Republicans. And I never made a loan from Bonnertown to Appleton, but I
didn’t understand why. I didn’t know the history of the people and things, but in
later years I found out that the people who owned the land, if they found out they
were trying to get a loan through the Farm Security Adminstration, they’d tell ‘em
they’d have to move. They weren’t gonna have ‘em farmin’ their land and fiddlin’
with one of those government loans. And I got the first inklin’ of that when I made a
man a loan and his check came in and I notified him it was there, for him to come in
and get his check. And he came in and said he didn’t want that check, he said to send
it back. The reason they had to come in on their checks was, when we set up that
they had to borrow for, that they had to have at least one cow, two hogs, fifty
chickens, fruit jars, pressure cooker, screens, this that and the other, they wouldn’t use
the money for what they agreed to use it for when they borrowed. They didn’t like it
all being told what they had to use the money for, so the money had to be put in a
joint bank account, and they couldn’t spend the money unless they signed it and I
counter-signed it. And that’s the reason they had to come in to get their checks to
deposit it in the joint account. But I didn’t know it at the time, but there were some
merchants that would let ‘em write a check for fruit jars or what not, but they would
give ‘em something else instead.
When I first started work with Farm Security, in fact as long as I worked for Farm
Security, men and women had to travel together. There had to be a home supervisor
as well as a farm supervisor. The Home Supervisor would plan with the women, how
to have better meals, and balanced meals, assure ‘em that they were getting’ enough
money that they could have better things than what they had had. Teach ‘em how to
can. I know a time or two, people would kill a beef and we’d go out and cut the beef
up and show ‘em how to can it, and literally can it. And with the county agent, we
also taught ‘em how to make mattresses.
There was plenty of cotton in the county, but people slept on old sorry mattresses,
straw ticks, everything else, with all the cotton in the world. So we taught ‘em how to
make mattresses. And one of the beating-est things that I ever got into, Mrs Graves
was the home supervisor, and we had a client, Oliver Clayton and his wife. And I
know they ran the nastiest house, and were nasty, just absolutely nasty. Now, that’s
the only way to describe it. ‘Course I guess they was eat up with worms, sick and
everything else and couldn’t do any better. Lot of little old children. She said ‘We’re
going out there today, and we’re gonna eat with those people.” And I said “No way,
absolutely no way I’m gonna eat in Oliver Clayton’s house”, and she said you come
on, and stay with me ‘til we get ready to eat, and if you can’t then, we’ll leave. I
believe you’ll stay.”
So we went, she had a big pan, and boiled water on the stove, poured soap suds in it,
scoured the old kitchen table down, dried it off, spread newspaper on it. Well, I’ve
forgotten what she cooked, corn bread, for sure, white beans, for sure, and I don’t
know what else. But she brought baskets with her, and she brought napkins with her,
and she put these napkins in these baskets and put the corn bread in that, and she
boiled the knives and forks and utensils and stuff. And it was pretty sanitary lookin’.
But she had taught them something, actually she taught me, too. But I remember that
woman, Mrs Clayton, I’ve forgotten what her first name was if I ever knew.
At that time, people came to town on Saturday, they’d come pretty early in the
morning. And they’d walk around and around the square. Around and around the
square, and stop and look in the windows, had a hard time findin’ a place that would
let you use the restroom. That’s the reason I was so positive that restrooms ought to
be provided on the public square for people. But they’d look in the windows. I
remember Mrs Graves, the home supervisor, askin’ Mrs Clayton ‘What do you look
at, whenever you walk around?” And there was a grocery store over there in the
corner where White owns now (?) -- a Peppers fellow ran it, but it wasn’t Peppers
then. And she said “I stand in that window and look at the cheese,” And I thought
that was the oddest thing that she would be lookin’ at cheese, and I asked Mrs Graves
about that, I said “Why’s she lookin’ at cheese?” And she’s said “She’s absolutely
protein starved. And she’s lookin’ at that cheese and wantin’ it, cause she’s so hungry
for protein.” ‘Course that’s the reason we forced the loan… they had to buy a cow.
The Farm Security Act was pretty good in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t too long til the
war came along, and economic conditions got better everywhere. And I guess it
would have worked out of it, some way or another. Course it was a slow thing. It
was a rare thing that a German Catholic ever took a loan from the Farm Security
Administration, cause they were good enough farmers and good enough managers and
smart enough and resourceful enough, so that they made it without having to get a
loan from anybody for anything. The Beuerleins and Niedergeses, those people.
Buying up bad loans
The Farm Security Administration got the idea, that to really help people they were
gonna have to get these debts off ‘em that they owed, where they had to borrow
money from the bank. People were good and honest and they meant to pay their
debts, wanted to pay their debts. But when the depression came and the bottom fell
out of everything they just couldn’t pay their debts, at all.
And a lot of people carried ‘em, Bert’s daddy had a store up in Ethridge, and he
carried ‘em for a long time. And there were lots of people that got in bad shape and
couldn’t pay what they owed. The Farm Security Administration, the powers that be,
thought that it would be a good thing if those people could get rid of those debts. So
they came up with the idea that they would loan the man 2% of what he owed, if the
person that he owed would accept the 2% and write the 98% off.
And they insisted that the supervisors in the County go around and see the people that
they owed that money to and see if they could buy the debts up. Well, I elected to go
see an old man Gladdish who was a ginner, who had furnished cotton seed and
fertilizer to a lot of people and they just couldn’t pay him. He was a pretty successful
ginner because he managed what money he had well, pretty tight, pretty hard. So I go
up to see the old man, and he’s sittin in an old rockin chair, like John F Kennedy sat
in, only it was a lot rougher and he was sittin’ there and I went in. I told him what my
name was and who I was workin’ with and why I was there.
And he didn’t say sit down or anything, so I set down and I told him I was up there to
see if I could buy up the debt of some of our clients owed him and wanted to pay him
2 cents on the dollar for the debt, that the government would advance two cents on the
dollar if he’d write the rest of it off. He never said a word. He was rockin’ in that
chair, and he kept on rockin’. And I told him again, what I was up there for and what
I hoped to do. And he kept on rockin’, and he never said anything. It seemed to me
like I was there for five hours, but it must have not been over five minutes. And I got
up and left and he still didn’t say anything.
And he was a real gruff lookin’ old man. And he’s the man that had the leather
pocket books made which were made out of good leather, and they were good pocket
books and they lasted for years, but they had a slogan printed on every one of them
that said “We ain’t mad at nobody.”
So the government kept on me to get somebody to agree sell up some of those debts.
I saw this wasn’t gonna work worth a dime, and I told ‘em I didn’t understand the
program. I said I wasn’t very successful at getting’ anything done, and I wished they
come down and show me what and how to do. They said ok, they’d be right down.
Two of the top bosses came down and they told me to make an appointment with Mr
Jim Stribling who was the banker who owned the biggest bank there was in Lawrence
County, lots of land, the Christinan Home, the place where they bought cross-ties for
the rail roads. He was just into everything.
And I called Mr Stribling and told him that two of the people from Farm Security
wanted to talk to him, when would be convenient. He set a time. I called back and
told them and they said they’d be there. So we went up there. I introduced them to
Mr Stribling, they exchanged pleasantries for a little while. And then they said “Mr
Stribling, what we’re here for is about this business of buyin’ up these debts.” And he
was a pretty diplomatic old man, and pretty smooth. He said “Have you boys ever
heard of my cousin, TS Stribling who lives over at Clifton, who’s written a book
about ‘My cousin Jim’. And they said, No Sir, they hadn’t heard of that. ‘Well he
won a prize for literature with that story. It’s runnin in the Saturday Evening Post
now, serially. I have some copies laying up here on my filin’ cabinet. Would y’all
like to have a copy?” And they said ‘Sure, we would Mr Stribling, we’d be glad to
read it.’ So he reached up there and got ‘em a copy, gave it to ‘em and said “Why
boys, you come back to see me some time.” And that was the end of that. And they
didn’t say anymore to me about trying to buy these debts. And I didn’t bring it up
I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy that really wrote the Farm Security Act was
named Wrexford Guy Tugwell. And Mr. Wrexford Guy Tugwell was the appointed
Governor of Puerto Rico when Roosevelt was runnin’ for president. And he was
supposed to be a friend of Mrs Roosevelt, and he was supposed, if he wasn’t a
communist, to have very strong communist leanings. Now whether that’s true or not
true, I don’t know, but he did have very liberal and far-advanced thoughts. That’s for
sure. Course at that time I was a pretty strong supporter of Mr Roosevelt, ‘cause I
knew what the farmers had gone through and what their plight was and how little they
had. He was the only person of national stature that I had ever heard of that had any
kind of a program that was supposed to be of benefit to farm people
Some of that stuff was declared unconstitutional. The National Recovery Act was
then, the NRA was declared unconstitutional. They had to change some of the other
programs to change ‘em from being unconstitutional. But there’s always been a
tendency and pushin’ for one world, for the haves to do for the have-nots. The have-
nots always seem to think that they deserve more and the Haves seem to think it’s not
their job to provide any more. I don’t know.
The Bloody Bucket
Well, the Bloody Bucket, that was in Lawrence County, it was down there on Buffalo
Road, George Stevens owned the land it was on. And it was a very rough night club.
When I came to Lawrence County, they were just eliminatin’ the sale of beer in the
county. And I assume that they were or they had sold beer in the Bloody Bucket,
anyway they fought a lot. There were a lot of fights and people got drunk, and I’m
not positive that somebody didn’t get killed in the Bloody Bucket, but they did in
some of the beer joints around. And it was just a place that had a bad name is all I
IK: Did you go in there?
BP: No. I didn’t cull many places, but I culled that one.
Early Married Life
I did that work and I met Tut along in April.
Later on I took tennis. I had never played tennis, but I learned to play tennis fairly
well. That’s where I met Tut, on the tennis courts in the city of Lawrenceburg.
Virginia Freemon Lindsey that was working for me had a tennis court and somehow
or another she found out that I played tennis and she said she wanted Tut and I to
come down and play with some of her friends and that’s where I met Tut, there on the
tennis court. Tennis court’s grown up in kudzu now. Virginia’s dead and Tut’s dead.
Ed Lindsey that married Virginia is still living. He was a pretty good tennis player.
He wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
And we decided to get married along in the Fall, sometime or another. And they were
gonna transfer me to Waverley, Tennessee. And so OK, didn’t make any difference
to me, but I later found out that it did make some difference to Tut, but she was
willing to go. So we went to Waverley, Tennessee. They were gonna fix us an
apartment over there and the place where I’d been living over there, renting. But
before they got that done the man that was in Lawrenceburg, Lawrence County, he
got a job with TVA and was leaving and they wanted to know if I wanted to come
back to Lawrenceburg. And yeah, it suits me, and boy Tut, she was all for it. She
Hadn’t been here long before I married Tut, who I later married, and then they
transferred me to Waverley. And they were getting us apartment over there to live in
Waverley and they told me that the man had been in charge in Lawrenceburg was
leaving and wanted to know if I wanted to come back. Tut surely wanted to come
back and it suited me fine, too, so we did.
We came back, and I worked in Lawrence County for the next three years making
loans to very, very, very poor people. Uh, they didn’t raise anything but cotton in
Larwrence County. Most of ‘em rode to town in wagons. A few of ‘em had Model
T’s, not many. It was a pretty rough way to go. I made loans to people to buy feed
and seed and fertilizer encouraging them to raise gardens, get a pressure cooker, buy
jars and can vegetables. Have a pig to kill and a cow to milk and so on. I made about
forty loans for people to buy farms. The most money we could loan to a man to buy a
farm and everything else was $2500. Most of these poor people we loaned $250
dollars to buy ????, they didn’t like to borrow near that much, but they did.
So I don’t guess we stayed over there after we were married, I don’t guess we stayed a
month. I’m pretty sure we didn’t, cause we married the 20th of November. I think we
came back sometime in December and rented a little old three room house that was
brand new, had a floor in it, pretty floor, hard wood – no it wasn’t – it was pine. But
it finished out real pretty, no subfloor, nothing, just pine on the sills or whatever it
was. And it had clapboard on the outside and pine on the wall on the inside and no
insulation between the walls at all, and no insulation overhead. We had a Cole
Airtight wood heater in the living room. To have hot water you had a little old coal
fired stove the size of a washtub sitting in the kitchen and you had to have a fire in
that. In the bedroom we had an electric heater. A three room apartment with a Cole
Airtight in the living room, a coal stove in the kitchen and an electric heater in the
bedroom. And it still wasn’t too hot.
Well, we had our wedding at the Downtown Church of Christ. And we had Tut’s
sister and one of her friends on the lady’s side, and we had two men that we both
knew, one of ‘em I went to school with at UT. The other one was a friend of Tiny’s,
and we were married there at the Downtown Church of Christ. Six of us.
Her parents, well, they didn’t want to come. My parents didn’t either. You didn’t
have any money to decorate a church or have a wedding much. I don’t know why,
maybe Tut didn’t want ‘em to come. Tiny4 wasn’t there, either. I don’t know why.
Alvin probably wouldn’t come. And Tut wouldn’t have wanted Tiny to be there by
herself, I don’t know. I didn’t know Alvin very well then. Weddings were different
then. And all of the people that were at the wedding except me are dead.
Tut wanted Brother Coffman5 to marry us. His daughter had been a real good friend
of hers and he had been a Church of Christ preacher for years and he taught out here
Tiny was Nadine Bottoms Brown and Alvin Brown was her husband. Tiny was Tut’s closest sister in
E.O. Coffman for whom the middle school my brother and I attended (briefly) was named.
at the high school for years. She knew that he wouldn’t marry people until he talked
to them before he married ‘em. So we went down to his house. ‘Course she knew him
and his wife and his daughter. She was as unconcerned as she could be. But I didn’t
know him, I don’t know that I’d ever met the man or not. But I remember him pullin’
the glasses down on the end of his nose, “Boy, you ever been married before?” If I
had, he wouldn’t have married us. He wouldn’t marry anybody who’d married
I stayed with the Farm Security Administration until I was drafted into the Army. I
was called up twice and I was deferred twice because I was working with these poor
farmers and they needed all the food production they could possibly get. So I was in a
deferred basis. That was about a year I guess I was deferred. And then I decided
everybody was gone but me and people were looking at me and wondering why I was
still here. It was just time to go.
To get a little symmetry, I guess you’d say, to the thing, I was actually drafted in
1943. In the late Fall I had been called by the draft board twice before but was
deferred because I was making loans to farm people and all the food production that
farmers could produce was needed for the army. So I was deferred these two times.
When I got the third call I elected not to ask for another deferment. Because by that
time there were very few young people my age left and people were beginning to look
at me and wonder “What’s he here for? What’s the matter with him?” And I just
sorta thought like “Everybody else has gone, so it’s my time to go, too.”
So I reported to the draft board, the last of October, first of November and went to
Fort Oglethorpe which was just across the line in Georgia, near Chattanooga.
There’s where I was sworn in and came back home for a while, a short while. Then I
was called back to Fort Oglethorpe and stayed there just a short time and caught a bus
and went to Camp Blandon in Florida, which was near Jacksonville, Florida.
I was assigned to the infantry and in going through the processing to get into to where
you were going to be assigned they asked questions about everything that you had
ever done in your life. And one of the things that I had done was work in the cafeteria
at the University of Tennessee as a bus boy, more or less, tearing down and setting up
steam tables. After I got to Camp Blandon one day they came by and said “Have your
gear out at five o’clock in the morning and you’re gonna be transferred.” Where I
didn’t know, but I was there and was taken to a different place for training and this
was cook and baker school. So they trained us to be cooks and to be riflemen both.
Bout half the time on one and half the time on the other.
After we finally got through with this basic training which I think was about six or
eight weeks we got to come home for a short time and then we were assigned to go to
a camp on the east coast to get shipped overseas. And I got there on June 6 which
was D-Day and unbeknownst to any of us that it was D-Day for some reason we were
told to get on a train we were gonna be transferred out west. Why we didn’t know.
We later found out that there weren’t any ships to take us across because they were all
being used on the D-Day invasion.
They transferred us to a Camp in Mississippi. I can’t think of the name of it offhand.
I guess it was Camp Van Dorn. There were lots of big mosquitoes there – I
remember that. Just before I was to get shipped overseas they examined us
physically and they found out that I had one less than the number of teeth that I was
supposed to have, so while I was on the East coast they made me a partial bridge, but
I was shipped to Van Dorn, before they got my partial bridge to me. So I go to Van
Dorn and they examine me again and the bridge doesn’t come so they fuddle around
with me and make another bridge and ship it to the East coast when we go back the
second time and neither one of the bridges caught up with me then. I thought I was
going to spend the war waiting for a bridge. But finally they shipped us out to go to
England and this was in August or September I guess it was.
We went on the Mauritania, which was a very large ship. I believe they said it had
twenty thousand people on it. We were crammed in just like sardines. We had to
take about 150 pounds of gear with us including our rifle and the bandalier,
ammunition, overcoat, extra pair of shoes, shelter half, tent pegs, mess kits, and a
whole bunch of stuff. All together it weighed about 150 pounds. You could barely
carry it. And we were assigned to a place and got very unhappy with the room that
we had. They assured us that they were going to give us more room in a little while,
but they didn’t, that’s where we stayed. We ate twice a day on the ship going over.
[The ship] was run by the British and somewhere out in the ocean we saw a bunch of
whales or porpoises or some kinda big fish and everybody started running to one side
of the ship and the blare came over the address system. “Now hear this, now hear this
Get back on other side of the ship.” Everybody had run to one side of the ship and we
were about to capsize the ship, they thought. Maybe we were, I don’t know.
We didn’t have any escort. This was a pretty fast ship and it zig zagged every seven
minutes. They said it took something over seven minutes for the Germans to site their
submarine torpedoes on a ship so we zig-zagged all across the ocean to the left and
the right every seven minutes. I think it took us about a week or ten days to get to
We got there one night and they unloaded us and walked us through the town in the
pitch dark ‘cause there were no lights in England because they were still being
bombed then. And we went somewhere and our place that we were gonna stay were
great big old tents that would sleep about 12 people to the tent. And they had straw
piled on the ground and mattresses stuffed full of straw and that’s where and what we
Well, we were supposed to still be cooks then, but they decided they’d take all the
cooks and bakers and buglers and clerk typists and support people of that various kind
and retrain us as infantrymen again. So we trained in England for I guess about six
weeks, I don’t know how long. Then they said we were infantry men again, no more
cookin’. So were then assigned to go to France and we were placed in what’s called a
I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but the war was winding down and there
had been – I guess – millions of people killed, wounded, captured and things
happened to them and all the companies were way under strength. They put as all in
these replacement depots and signed us out to the companies that were in the worst
shape. All they really wanted was just warm bodies to fill up the gaps and that’s
what we were. So we stayed in these replacement depots for a while, a pretty good
while I don’t know how long. And then they said they were going to assign us to a
So they came in and moved us up to some town – I remember we went by St Dien (?)
which had just been fought over a time before and they told us that we were going to
wait in this particular town until the General came and he was going to talk to us
before we went to the front. Well, we waited and waited and waited and waited and
waited and waited stood out in the rain. Stood there so long, some of ‘em fell out.
But finally the General came and I don’t know what he said, but I reckon he said
“Fight hard,” I don’t know what else, but they loaded us in trucks, about 10 or 12
people to a small truck and took ‘em up to the Fosgives (?) mountains with us. It was
dark then and it was really dark when we got there. ‘Course we rode three or four or
They unloaded us from those trucks and a sergeant came out with a blanket over his
head and a flashlight and called the roll. How he knew who was going to be there, I
don’t know, but he did. And didn’t take him long to call the roll and he said “OK
we’ll see you all in society in the morning.” And we said “Sergeant where we gonna
sleep tonight?” and he said “I don’t care where you sleep. I’m going to get in my
hole.” And he took off and we stood out in the middle of the woods with the rain
pouring down and the mud and the snow and the slush all around us and we didn’t
know what to do, but another old boy and I each had a shelter half and we laid one of
‘em down and pulled the other one over us. I reckon we’d been through so much that
we slept there.
Next morning we woke up and we were wet from our shoulders down. But they did
tell us that we were going to be assigned to a company now. There was two of us
and we asked ‘em how we get to the company. And they say – “You see that wire
there.” And of course we did - and they said “You pick that wire up and follow that
wire and you’ll wind up with your company.”
So we took off, we walked all day and never did get to the company. It was getting
dark and we found a hole and crawled in that hole and spent the night there. Next
morning, we got up – by the way – one shell came in. I never did know when nor
where nor why – no more – next morning we got up and got hold of that wire and
went on toward our company. We got there about– close to dark in the afternoon –
course the days were very short by then. This was in November and that far north
they were pretty short then.
When we got to the company they said get over there in that hole and we got there
and we looked up and we saw some Germans. And I thought they were Germans
fixin’ to attack us, and this boy and I – I’ve forgotten who he was, we got excited
about that. Somebody said “Oh, shut up that’s some prisoners they’ve captured and
bringing in. So get in that hole and stay there.”