The memoir my mother wrote covers a wide range of anecdotes. She enjoys telling about how visitors were always welcome at my grandmother’s house, and no one was ever turned away. If it was mealtime, available food was shared with whatever neighbor or friend happened by, even if it meant pinching pork chops in half. Peddlers who sometimes came through the area back in that time were made welcome in traditional southern hospitality style and provided with overnight lodging, if needed – even though the bed might have to be taken apart later and scalded and cleaned to get rid of lice and fleas.
Back in the 20’s my grandfather was the only one in the rural area to own a car, a T-Model Ford. Prior to that, the family traveled in a wagon drawn by mules wherever they went. Of course, the world was very small under such circumstances. In Tennessee the cash crop of the time was tobacco, which required hard manual labor to grow in times before modern insecticides and hybrid improvement. The entire family had to work hard to assure success of the cash crop, which gave them money for bare essentials.
Even as a child, Mother could chop wood, wash clothes with a washboard and tub, and iron with flat irons heated on a wood-burning stove. My grandmother made lye soap and hominy in a big black kettle in the yard. The family worked to grow food, raise chickens and pigs, and hunt or fish. Necessities of life were homemade or bartered with only absolute essentials purchased outside the home. It was an antiquated, country lifestyle in the roaring twenties, a time when city life was becoming much faster and more sophisticated.
My grandfather knew music and taught the family to sing together in harmony while their chores were being done. The family was in harmony not only in music, however, but with the past, the land, with God, and each other. In spite of school, chores and working in the fields, there was still time available for children to play games of their own invention or wander the woods gathering herbs, mushrooms, and wild fruits, such as persimmons and mulberries. They went to school in the proverbial one room schoolhouse with a teacher so nervous she cried and had tantrums, saying the forty kids she was responsible for were driving her crazy – and they probably were.
My mother was a curious child and always stayed underfoot listening to the grown folks talk. She loved to hear my grandma discuss politics and world events during the depression years. She remembers hearing Granny Adams, my great, great grandmother, telling about her own childhood during the Civil War, how the house was ransacked and the horses taken by Yankee soldiers while the children hid in the woods with the family valuables.
Tennessee has a long and proud history, but most people will never be famous. They will live ordinary lives, die and be forgotten and their memories will die with them. But each person has a right to be remembered for the life they have lived, for what they have contributed, and for the person they are. There is a place in history for common folk. And our family, small and insignificant as we may be, is a part of Tennessee’s past, and my mother and our family heritage will continue to be remembered.
Copyright 2002 Sheila Moss
Ref: “Growing Up on PZ Ridge – The Story of a Tennessee Farm Girl” Copyright 1985 Gladys C. Crump (Adams), Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN.