PUBLICATION 1 - 1964
SUMMING UP AT SEVENTY
| Frankly, I don't know
begin this incoherent, rambling tale. I could begin with Frederick who,
according to the earliest records, spelled his name Froelich, and who
some tracks around Rowan County, North Carolina as early as 1720. And
appears to have been a Frederick II who settled in Castlewood and
a grant from Patrick Henry for three tracts of land on Clinch River.
Or I could start with one Frenchman by the name of De Tebuef who owned an empire stretching from St. Paul to Wise, and empire mortgaged to the State of Virginia for 600 pounds. As is well known the Frenchman got murdered, the State foreclosed, and my father acquired 65 acres of the De Tebuef real estate about three miles east of Wise. And that's where I was born in 1889.
Or we could start with the year 1875 when my great grand pa Andrew bought 399 acres on Bear Creek between Ramsey and Wise for $50.00, which comes to about 12 « cents an acre. Of course Grandpa Andrew didn't have $50.00, but, as is the fashion nowadays, he gave the Commissioner, George Kilgore, three notes for $16.66 2/3 each. Andrew must have been a very frugal and industrious man for it took him only four years to raise this $50.00. On May 26, 1879, he paid the entire amount in full. That meant a lot of "sang" and tallow and beeswax.
to that 65 acres and the year 1889. For the next three years we lived
my memory is vague and hazy. A world seen through an early morning fog.
I am not certain whether I remember dimly the events and scenes or
I remember what I have been told about them. In any case, there was my
Pa hewing cross-ties with a broadaxe for the new railroad coming into
And there was a yoke of oxen and their names were Buck and Baldy. They
It would take too long to detail the events that took us from Wise County to the lower end of Lee near the Tennessee line, and how we (that is, my grandpa, his sons and daughters, including my Pa) stepped down several rungs on the ladder, from small, subsistence land owners to tenants or sharecroppers on North Fork; that is to say, the North Fork of Clinch River.
make these notes there wasn't much I could remember about North Fork.
then the hazy past began to clear; there were the Knocking Spirits at
home of one of our neighbors. Tables would rock back and forth and move
about the room. The laws of gravitation were suspended and objects in
room would drift about through the air. There was much speculation,
not to say consternation, prevailing in the neighborhood. The man whose
home was all but knocked to pieces was Dr. Rufus Kyle for whom
And then there were the log rafts that were floated down the river to Chattanooga, I believe,when the spring tides came.
On week-ends the stillness of the night would be broken by singing and laughter and pistol shots; some of the neighbors, Pa said, going home from Bill Green's grocery down on the Tennessee line where they had gone for a charge of liquid happiness. Grocery was a euphemisms for a business conducted more or less serreptiously by Green.
I suppose people who are not handicapped by very much impediments move rather frequently, and so did we. After two or three years on North fork we moved to Blackwater looking for greener pastures and a new landlord by the name of Burdine Carter. Burdine was a rich man. It was easy to tell he was rich; his house had been painted and his wife had a cook stove.
When I was
seven years old, my Pa shelled a turn of corn, threw it up on Old
back, lifted me up on top, and told me to take it up to Joiner's mill
When I got about a mile up the road the turn fell off. I tugged at it
all of my seven year old strength, but I couldn't get it back on Old
I hitched her to the rail fence and ran back as hard as I could tear. I
told Pa what had happened and he said, "Why didn't you ride the mare
I said, "because I could run
hole under a stump in the new-ground above the house. The entrance was
worn hard from constant use. Fred and I set a trap. We were about ten
six. The next morning we hurried up the hill to investigate. There was
a polecat. The odor is gone but the memory remains. We skinned him,
his hide over a board which we hung up on the side of the smokehouse to
cure. After a few weeks we sold it to Roscoe Robinette for enough cotton
After Buck and Baldy, the next in line of succession was a mule named Beck. Beck was rebellious, temperamental, independent and obstinate. It couldn't be said that the relationship that obtained between Pa and Beck was exactly harmonious. If Pa started to ride Beck to the mill house, a sort of tacit coexistence prevailed until they got as far as a hitching post in front of the house of a neighbor where old Beck had been hitched on some previous occasion and she could see no ethical reason why she should not be hitched at the same post again. And if Pa wouldn't hitch her and fraternize with a neighbor for awhile - well, she could be just as obstinate as he was. If Pa got her by that post it was only after an effort that left them both in a state of sweaty exhaustion and a seriously strained relationship. She simply refused to work; and she could not be persuaded either by the club or carrot stratagem. Many a time I have seen her kick herself free of the singletree and make-shift harness and look at Pa, eyeball to eyeball, with a disdainful, triumphant expression on her face.
was a horse named Andy, Andy was ancient, decrepit and mangy. He was
in the knees and would fall occasionally and toss you off his back over
his head. His eyes watered, his hip bones stuck up and his lower lip
down. He had been retired and was drawing his social security int he
of fodder and a few nubbins. One day I said, "Pa, let's sell old Andy,"
and Pa said, "O. K., go ahead and sell him." I said, "How much do you
be complete if I failed to mention the grindstone to which, for some
I developed a pronounced antipathy. My antipathy for the grindstone and
my Pa's predilection for a sharp axe seemed to balance exactly. His
for a sharp axe or scythe amounted almost to an obsession. When he
"Ed, come turn the grindstone." I knew my day was ruined, for he never
knew when to quit when he started to sharpen a tool. "Pa, don't you
that's sharp enough?" He would feel the edge with his thumb, "Not
he would say,
my granny that Walt Mason had in mind when he wrote: "And my dying
made me take a vow that I'd never, never toil with the nerve destroying
soil; that I'd never risk my life behind a plow. For her uncle's
Jules, walked behind a pair of mules plowing up a fertile meadow by the
sea; and those mules reached out behind with their heels and knocked him
My Pa was
educated man. He had little time either to acquire an education or to
himself of its benefits. He could read, given sufficient time, and he
sign his name but he did it laboriously and meticulously. He was an
man, always in a good humor with a twinkle in his eye except on three
when he was mending shoes which, in the winter time, was nearly every
at molasses making time; and when he was killing hogs, which was the
of only one other artisan more skillful than himself and that was the
but that was not often. Occasionally he needed a bull-tongue plow
afalse-coulter, a clevis for the sled, a fire shovel, poker or a
set of horse shoes, and he paid for these services with something other
than money. In fact, we paid for everything we bought with something
than money. There did not appear to be any of that commodity in
cow. Of course, there were times when she was dry, and occasionally int
he spring of the year she would get on the lift on account of getting
in the hind parts. Sometimes, with the help of a neighbor, we could get
her up and to the barn. If we had some nubbins to mix with her fodder
would sometimes get well. That cow, I remember, was very vindictive; if
we didn't get her much fodder she would retaliate and not give us much
I am of the
that the grandfather of 1890 slept more soundly on his straw tick or
mattress than his grandson of 1960 does on his Beautyrest. He didn't
to worry about whether he could meet the monthly mortgage on his home,
his car, his refrigerator, his washing machine and the TV set. Strange
as it may seem, the grandfather was poorer but he had more security
the grandson who could be automated out of his job.
In the day of all days
And the righteous shall shine
And then we got down to business.
were easy to learn. H was chair; K had a broken back; and all the other
letters had distinguishing and interesting characteristics. When Miss
came to our house she always kissed me and I was very embarrassed and
In the winter we skated on the ice behind the school house and in the
we played round-town, or long cat or short cat, or dropping hat or hot
pepper. The Democrats played against the Republicans. At the end of the
school year we had an exhibition with plays and speeches. Some
across Stone Ridge to Osborne's Chapel. One time when I had a stone
Ike Carter carried me on his shoulders, my legs around his neck and my
hands holding onto his thick hair. In the fall of the year, Fred,
and I went 'possum hunting at night with Burdine Carter's boys, Allen,
Hiram and Burley. At times we would take old Lynn the Carter's dog. At
other times Fred, Elbert and I went alone and we took old Boss, our
We would often get lost and have difficulty finding our way home. On
occasion we got badly frightened when we were stalked through the woods
by a booger which kept just outside our lantern circle of light. If it
followed us home it wasn't able to keep up. My legs were badly
by briars and brambles. On one occasion we caught a possum and put him
under the wash tub for the night. When I went to get him the next
he appeared to be dead; but when I tried to pick him up
unrelated experiences that have helped fill up the years and perhaps
a little flavor. I was about thirteen when Grandpa gave Jack Fritz
to build a shack across the creek on the back side of the farm. Up to
time the lock manufacturers had done very little business in our
We never locked the crib or smokehouse, nor did our neighbors. But
Jack Fritz moved into the shack across the creek, farmers began to
and we were eating supper. Someone out at the gate said, "Hey, Ed." I
out to investigate. It was my cousin Frank. "Jack Fritz has moved out
that old shack across the creek," he said. "Let's you and me go over
and burn it up before Grandpa lets somebody else moves in." "Let's do,"
I said. We tore some paper off the wall and started a fire in a corner
of the combination living room, bedroom, dining room and kitchen. We
to make certain it did
Now there lived in the neighborhood a young man, about eighteen, whose name was Johnny Blair. Johnny was an illegitimate waif and unwanted who stayed for brief periods with whoever would tolerate him, or for as long as they could find him useful. Johnny strongly felt the need of status, approbation and approval. After listening for about two weeks to universal praise for whoever burned the shack, Johnny modestly admitted that he did it.
a horse trader. He was completely devoted to his profession. It
his principal income and was the chief source of his amusement. If
was a long interval of time between horse trades he would become
and long to get out on the road. At one such time he told Aunt Susy
he would be gone for a few days. Aunt Susy protested that she didn't
was a pretty
good doctor. The only complaint I ever heard was that he charged $3.00
a trip, and he wanted it in cash eventually instead of turnips or dried
pumpkin. Fortunately, some of the neighbors possessed certain magical
and we didn't always need a doctor. If you had the thrash my grandpa
cure it by blowing in your mother; or, you had a hemorrhage and sent
Jimmac Tomlinson, the bleeding would stop as soon as he crossed the
stream of water. My uncle Jack could take off warts by looping a cotton
string around them, and my uncle Jeff was the community barber. He did
his barbering free
We were mining some felspar and mica in North Carolina. My partner was an ex-doctor and a mineralogist who had made and lost a million dollars in Cuba. He wore a beard and a big mustache. A boyhood friend of William Howard Taft, btu that has nothing to do with the story. We were driving up narrow country roads in Avery County and came to a log house with a large grapevine around it and the vine full of grapes. I announced that I was going to see if I could buy some of those grapes for our lunch. I knocked on the door. The woman, who was canning tomatoes, asked me to wait on the porch, saying she would get them for me as soon as she got through canning. I waited for a very long time and would have left without the grapes if it had not appeared rude. My partner whose name was Mr. Heighway came and said I would have to move the car; that a man with a wagon and team wanted to get by. I told Mr. Heighway to sit on the porch and wait for the grapes and I would wait in the car. I waited and waited, to my impatience, seemed to be hours. Finally I saw Mr. Highway coming with a grin on his face. "What's so funny?" I asked. "Well," he said, "That woman who was canning tomatoes finally came around the house, looked at me in astonishment and said, "Are you the man who wanted the grapes?" "Yes," I replied. "But you have a beard," she said. "I do now," I said, "but I've been waiting here a long time."
It was a dark, rainy night. I didn't see the cow that was crossing the road until my fender hit the side of her head. She spun around like a top. Her owner heard the commotion and came running out of the house with a peremptory demand. "By God, get out of that car and pay for this cow." then he came closer. "Hello, Mr. Johnson," I said. "Why, hello there, Fraley." "Is the cow hurt?" I asked. "Why, hell no; she had no business being in the road."
I'm not going to have time to tell you about the time my Uncle Jack had been bedfast with rheumatism for many months. Then one day he looked out the window and saw the mules running away with the mowing machine. He forgot his rheumatism, jumped out of bed, ran them down, got them cornered and pacified; and that was the last of his rheumatism. My Pa had rheumatism too and was in bed for a long time. Uncle Jack couldn't give him his prescription because my Pa didn't have a pair of mules or a mowing machine.
I wish I had time to tell you about the fellow and his wife who came down off Sandy Ridge to the store at Cleveland to buy a cook stove. He was driving a pair of little mules hitched to a wagon. He and his wife and I went back into the wareroom. After I had sold him the stove and we had loaded it onto his wagon, he said, "Would you like to have a drink?" I said I would. His wife joined in with alacrity. I took him to be a moonshiner and, since he had bought some of my merchandise, I thought it only reasonable that I buy some of his. So I inquired if he would let me have a ideas. She said, "Bill, you'd better not do that; we won't have enough to get back home on."
Fred wasn't feeling well and the doctor told him he needed rest and
so I left him to mind the store and went to Europe. I ran on to an
in Moscow and we traveled together for about a month, becoming very
friends. In the next twenty-five years he visited me some three or four
times. A few yeas ago I decided I would go to England and return his
He met me at the station and we drove out to his house in the country.
We were met in the courtyard by a neatly dressed, attractive lady and
friend, Mr. Clement, said, "Ed, this is Dorothy." I put my arm around
kissed her and said I had been looking forward to meeting her for a
of a century. Mr. Clement put an end to these felicitations when he
up behind me and whispered, "Dorothy is the maid."
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