Growing Up In Kentucky

Growing up in Kentucky meant a lot of things.  You were firmly rooted to the south and surrounded by good ole folks that were referred to as hillbillies.  I tell ya, I am proud to say I am a Kentucky Hillbilly.  Hillbillies are good folks who have very little material goods but hearts as big as the sky.  Most will give you the shirt off their back and will invite a complete stranger into their home for fried chicken, white beans, green beans, mashed potatoes, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers/onions in vinegar (all of the vegetables are homegrown), cornbread or biscuits and lots of sweet tea.  Note that in Kentucky, meals are referred to as breakfast, dinner and supper.  In the early days, houses were not the elaborate two- and three-story manors that one sees today.  More often than not, they were little four-room bungalows with little or no running water, some even had dirt floors.  The only paved streets were the main roads that ran through the state; the rest were one-lane gravel roads.

Marshall County hosted a fair every year.  I think the county fair probably grew into Tater Day which I will tell you about another time.  Dad’s older brothers would take him with them to the fair.  One year Grandpa gave him a quarter to spend at the fair and Dad put it in his overall pocket so he wouldn’t lose it.  Unbeknownst to him, his pocket had a hole in it and when he got to the fair, he didn’t have any money to spend.  That night when he was getting ready for bed, he took off his overalls, unfolded the cuffs and there was his quarter.  He had carried that quarter around with him all day.

As I said earlier, families had cooked meals every day and all of the vegetables were homegrown.  Grandma and Grandpa grew a huge garden that had a patch of cherry tomatoes in one of the corners. When we went to their house, Cheryl and I would go straight to that part of the garden.  After we ate our fill of the tomatoes, we would go into the house and eat saltine crackers.  Grandma kept a good supply of crackers. They also raised cattle and Grandma made butter from the milk and pulled the cream off the top of the churn to be used for other dishes. Grandpa loved baked sweet potatoes and he would put so much butter on his potato that the potato would be swimming in it.  I tend to do the same thing; guess I came by that honestly.

Grandma raised chickens; and within the chicken pen, there grew a plum tree. There were several hens in the pen and one of the meanest roosters you ever saw.  It was a major challenge to get to the plum tree and not get chased by that rooster. There was also a huge willow tree in the backyard; my cousin Angelyn and I would play house underneath the branches.

I spent lots of weekends at Grandma and Grandpa Thomasson’s house. The windows were open during the summer because the big trees surrounding the house provided shade and there was usually a nice breeze blowing.  At night, I would lie in my bed listening to the night birds and bugs singing.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those times just for one day.  Folks didn’t have much but they had each other and that was the most important thing.

See ya next Wednesday.

The Cows at the Pond

I believe I mentioned the house that our parents built in my story about the bicycles. So, today I’m going to share with you a little more about that house and the carport that Dad added.

Dad decided to build a carport on the house and he needed sand and gravel to make the concrete for the floor of the carport.  (The photo shows the house before the carport). He borrowed a tractor and trailer from our neighbor and off we went to the creek to get gravel.  Cheryl and I rode in the trailer behind the tractor.  As I said in an earlier post, we lived on a gravel road so we were safe riding in that fashion, at least in those days.  The little creek where Dad was going to get the gravel was a couple of miles from the house so we just tootled up the road enjoying the ride.  We were almost to the creek when my Dad noticed that one of the trailer tires was blowing up like a balloon.  So, we stopped just before the creek under some trees.  There was a fenced-in pasture and a pond next to the road where a herd of cattle were grazing.  It was shady there so it was a good place to stop until my Dad got back with another tire or a patch for the bad one.  It was really hot that day and the some of the cows were in the pond.  Now, if you don’t know, cows are very curious creatures so the ones out in the field sauntered up to the fence to see what was happening and some of them actually leaned over the fence. Dad told us to watch because he knew what was going to happen before it did.  Yep, the tire blew; and when it did, those cows took off running and went straight through that pond.  It looked like they were gonna run over each other trying to get away. It was one of the funniest things that I have ever seen.  It was really too bad that we didn’t have some way of catching that on film.  (The above photo is Cheryl, one of our many kitties and me in the living room).

We got our gravel but not before Cheryl and I played in the creek a little and drank some of the running water.  I tell ya, there is nothing any better to drink than cold water running over rocks.  I’m not sure folks would agree with me today about that, but in those days, it was so good.  Anyway, Dad got the gravel and he and a couple of neighbors pour the floor for the carport.

I tell ya, we had some great times at that house.  One of my sister’s and my favorite things to do during the summer was to play baseball in the backyard with a stick and walnuts. I think we even got Greg (in the photo), our cousin, to play with us some too.  One year, I hit a walnut way far and as I was sliding home, I slid on top of a walnut and skinned my knee.  I’m telling you, that was not fun and I still have that scar.  But I wouldn’t take anything for those fun summer days with my little sister.

I have more stories about Greg that I will share another time.

See ya next Wednesday.


My Sister’s Tornado

Today I want to share a different kind of story with you.

If you remember, April 27, 2011 was a day of tornadoes for the south.  Not only Alabama and Mississippi were hit, but Ringgold, Georgia was devastated by an EF-4 tornado.  And, what does this have to do with my sister?  Well, she lives in Ringgold and also is co-owner of the Sun Shop, a suntanning business in Ringgold.

I had been watching the weather channel all that day to see if we were gonna get any bad storms because if a storm, whether it’s rain or snow, comes through Atlanta, it’s likely it will come my way in South Carolina.  And that day was no different.  But as the day wore on, it seemed we might be spared anything really bad.

About 8:30 pm that night, I was all settled in my bed watching television when my phone rang.  I don’t get many calls, but I especially don’t get calls at night unless something is wrong.  I answered and it was Cheryl asking me if I could get on the internet.  I thought this was kind of odd since she has internet and is very savvy when it comes to computers.  Anyway, I jumped out of bed and went to my computer and asked what she needed. She said that she and her roommate were in the bathtub, had no power, it was storming, and she was scared.  Let me add here that my sister is not afraid of anything; so when she said that, I knew it was bad. She asked me to check the weather radar and tell her if the storm had passed or if they were going to get more.  I immediately pulled up the radar and thank goodness the worst of the storm was just passed her area.  It really scared me to know she was in the middle of a tornado and that there was nothing I could do to help her. I can tell ya I didn’t sleep very well that night.

At 6:30 the next morning, she called to tell me that they were okay, but that Ringgold was wiped out.  They were at the Sun Shop and she said the roof had been torn off but otherwise it was okay too. The auto detail shop next to the Sun Shop was a total mess and the furniture store across the street was cut in half by the tornado. McDonald’s was gone, Waffle Hut was gone and so many other businesses were completely gone.  The tornado just went right through the town and took almost everything with it, including some lives.

So now, here it is Februrary 2012 and the Sun Shop is finally open again.  I tell ya, Cheryl and Val went through some really rough times trying to get the shop back in order.  It was pretty much gutted and redone altogether. Now, the Sun Shop is bright and cheerful and they are as busy as ever.  Ringgold has recovered pretty well; several businesses that were destroyed have reopened.  But the lives that were lost can never be recovered.

As I have said before, I love my little sister and don’t know what I would do without her.  And, I know that someone was watching over her that night.

We had a bad tornado come through the south part of Marshall County when I was in high school.  I will tell you about that one in another post.

See ya next Wednesday.

Aunt Mary Clay

I want to share a little bit about one of my favorite aunts, Aunt Mary Clay Thomasson. She was dad’s sister, ten years older than he.  Aunt Mary Clay played on the 1930 girls’ basketball team at Sharpe High School.  She never married and all of the nieces and nephews were her kids.  One of her favorite sayings was, “El, I’ma tellin’ you.”  I can still hear her say that.

She lived with Grandma and Grandpa and worked at the shirt factory in Paducah until she retired.  Every afternoon when she got home from work, she would work the crossword puzzle that was in the local newspaper and could complete it in a very short time.  My sister and I both still like to work puzzles today; I guess we got that from her.  She also got McCall’s Magazine which had the Betsy McCall paper dolls and clothes inside. My cousin Angelyn and I both tried to be the first to cut those paper dolls out of the magazine. We also cut the models out of Aunt Mary Clay’s Sears & Roebuck Catalog and used them as paper dolls.  One Christmas, she bought Angelyn, Cheryl and me a Betsy McCall doll; I believe Cheryl still has hers.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, Aunt Edith and Uncle Chapel took Cheryl, Angelyn and me to the Ice Capades in Evansville, Indiana.  I believe Aunt Mary Clay and Aunt Avis came along to help with us girls, but I could be wrong about that. About the only thing that I can remember about the show was some of the skaters dressed as stewardesses and pilots, and a plane fuselage was one of the props. But, I loved watching all those people skate around the rink; they looked like they were having so much fun.

When I was five years old, I fell ill with cerebrospinal meningitis and spent several days in the hospital.  Aunt Mary Clay stayed at the hospital with me since Dad had to work and Mom had to care for my baby sister.  At one point, hope for my survival was fading so the doctor decided to give me a massive dose of penicillin and told my parents that if I survived the medication dosage, I stood a good chance to live.  Yep, I survived but I’m allergic to penicillin.

After Dad passed away, Cheryl took Mom and Aunt Mary Clay on several road trips.  One particular extraordinary trip was to Cape Kennedy where they watched a space launch.  She also took them to her home in Georgia.  When Aunt Mary Clay became ill and was in the hospital, most of us kids were there with her until the end.  While we were planning her funeral services, we discovered that her middle name was actually Isabella, not Clay.  Angelyn and I both admitted that at least one of us would have named our girls Isabella had we known.  After Aunt Mary Clay’s death, we went to her house to take the things that meant the most to us.  We all found treasures that would always remind us of our dear aunt.  Grandma made dozens of quilts and there were enough for each of us to have at least one.  I also found pictures of my dad and letters that he sent to Grandma when he was in the Navy.

Aunt Mary Clay was a special lady and I hope you enjoyed getting to know her.

See ya next Wednesday.

My Dad’s 1956 Chevy

In an earlier post, I mentioned my dad’s 1956 Chevy which he hated with a passion. It was a two-toned blue car; it was really a pretty car.  He called it a lemon because something was always going wrong with it.  Once he got rid of it, he swore he would never drive another Chevrolet; but as it turned out, he did drive Chevys again.

Part of the story about Dad’s Chevy is another story about Maple Hill Church of Christ.  One of the first preachers at Maple Hill was Donald Hall.  He and his wife, Pat lived in Graves County and drove to Maple Hill every weekend so he could preach.  Someone would take them home for Sunday dinner; they came to our house several times.  Their first baby was a little boy named Gayle.  Everybody loved Gayle and all us kids would try to sit with Pat at church so we could hold him.  I spent time at their house too because Pat had a sister named Laura who was near my age.  They were like family to all of us.

One summer, Don and Pat invited the whole congregation (approximately 25 people) to their house for a big picnic.  Grandma Thomasson rode with us.  Now, Grandma was a sassy thing and would tell you really quickly what she thought.  So, we started to Graves County and had to drive through Kaler (which is near Symsonia).  Just past Kaler are three little bridges that run through the bottoms; tree limbs and brush cover the road signs along that way.  Unbeknownst to Dad, the State Road Department had been working on the road; and since the signs announcing that there were bumps in the road were hidden behind brush and trees, Dad continued down the road at the speed limit.  Now, Dad knew where Donald and Pat lived so he led the way with all the other folks following behind him in their cars.  There was probably a one-foot gap in front of the first bridge and Dad hit that thing going full speed.  He didn’t see it, but even if he had, he wouldn’t have had time to stop before hitting it.  I’m here to tell you that ole ’56 Chevy left the ground; Grandma Thomasson bounced up and hit her hip on the arm rest and screamed, “Here, what are you doing?”  She wasn’t hurt, but I can tell ya, she was not a happy camper.  I’m sure my mother had something sarcastic to say too but Cheryl and I were in the backseat with Grandma and we were trying hard not to laugh.  She would have smacked the snot out of us if she had caught us laughing at her.  The people in the car directly behind us later said they had never seen the bottom of a car before, especially while it was on the highway.  Dad had to buy a set of new tires.

We finally made it to the Hall’s house in Graves county and had a great time with friends and family.  Of course Dad’s episode with the bridge was the talk for a couple of weeks at church.

See ya next Wednesday.

Maple Hill Church

I was about six or seven years old when we started attending the Maple Hill Church of Christ in Marshall County, Kentucky.  The building was a little one-room block building situated on top of a hill with maple trees all around it, thus the name.  There were maybe ten people who first started attending and it finally grew to the size it is today.

There was a pot-bellied stove in the center of the room; and in the winter, everybody tried to sit as close to that stove as they could.  I remember Mom bundling Cheryl and me up when it snowed to make the drive to church.  There were very few reasons to miss church and snow wasn’t one of them.  When it did snow, Dad would put the chains on the tires and off we would go.  It seemed like it took forever; and since we were on a one-lane gravel road covered in snow, it was treacherous.  And it was really tricky if you met another car.  Once we got there, Dad would leave the car at the bottom of the hill and we walked up the hill to the building.  By the time we got to the building, we were wet and cold, and Dad still had to start a fire in the stove.

I don’t remember when there were enough people attending that we started having classes. Most of the time, we sang a lot of songs and one of the men would preach.  I guess that’s where I learned to love music and singing.

My mom sat with her friend Vivian; of course they sat on the second row right up front. Vivian was the sweetest lady you could ever know.  What was so cute about her was that every Sunday, Mom would ask her how she was doing and she would always say, “Oh, I have  fresh cold.”  Her granddaughter and I were good friends and we sat on the bench in front of Mom and Vivian; and I tell ya, if we so much as moved, she would reach up and pinch a plug out of us or yank our hair.  But, she was one of the best alto singers I have ever known and I learned how to sing alto while I was sitting on that bench in front of her, even though she did pinch me alot.

Now, I have to tell you a little story about Uncle Ernest, my dad’s brother, and what he did at Community Chapel Church one time.  (He’s the fourth from the left in the photo) I think I have told you in earlier posts that Uncle Ernest was probably the most mischievous of the brothers, but this episode took the cake. Before services, the men and boys would stand outside and shoot the breeze and smoke.  On this particular day, all the guys started into the building except Uncle Ernest.  He waited until everybody got into the building and picked up a handful of little rocks and threw them way up into the air so he could get into the building before they came down.  Let me add here that he could have been a major-league baseball pitcher if he had just disciplined himself a little better. Anyway, after he threw the rocks, he ran into the building and sat down.  The church building had a tin roof so you can just imagine the noise when all those rocks hit that roof.  And you know what, Uncle Ernest was the first person outside to see if they could catch whoever did this bad deed.

I have more stories about Maple Hill Church of Christ that I think you will enjoy.

See ya next Wednesday.


Feed Sack Dresses

Did you ever wear feed sack dresses or know of someone who did?

My Grandma Thomasson was a great seamstress and she made me several dresses from feed sacks. Feed sacks were just what they sound like; they were sacks that were filled with flour, seeds for planting, corn or chicken feed.  At first, they were just plain unbleached cotton but in 1925, the sacks began to be sold in colorful prints and were soon being used not only for dresses, but aprons, shirts and children’s clothing.  Feed sacks were also made into dishrags, dish towels, and such for household use.

By the late 1930’s there was competition to see which manufacturer could produce the most attractive and desirable prints.  Artists were hired to design these prints. This ended up being a good marketing ploy because the women of the house picked out flour, sugar, beans, rice, cornmeal and even the feed and fertilizer for the family farm based on which fabrics they liked best. Some sacks even had border prints for pillowcases. Now, if you were born after 1950, you probably don’t have a clue as to what feed sack dresses are.

Until I went to high school, most of my dresses were made by either Grandma or Aunt Avis or I wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs.  One of my favorite materials was gingham and I had several outfits made from different colors of gingham.  If you remember in one of my earlier posts, Aunt Avis made a gingham dress for my doll in the Fall Festival Doll Walk.

I remember one of my favorite store-bought dresses was bought when I made my first trip to the dentist.  I was really scared but my mom promised that if I didn’t cry, she would buy me a new dress and let me pick it out.  And, boy howdy, I sat in that chair and never shed a tear – I got my new dress too.  It was a silver-blue dress with dark blue velvet dots and a blue velvet collar.  Here I am wearing my new dress with my dad and little sister.

See ya next Wednesday.



My Dog “Bugs”

Today I would like to share a story about my little cocker spaniel named Bugs.  We had pets all through our childhood, but I guess he was our favorite.  We got him from one of our neighbors when we lived in the little block house and named him Bugs after seeing him eating bugs.

Cocker spaniels have long hair and when it snowed, Bugs would have huge snowballs attached to his feet.  In the summer, we would get him sheared so he would stay cool.  Eventually, I was the one who took him to be sheared; and when I would bring him home, Doc (Dad’s bird dog) would growl at him because he didn’t recognize Bugs with his hair all gone.  Bugs would be so embarrassed; he wouldn’t want to get out of the car.

When we moved to our new house, Dad was afraid that Bugs would chase the neighbor’s chickens so he gave Bugs to one of movers.  It totally broke my heart as I stood there in the yard crying as they started to leave with my little dog; but Dad’s heart got the best of him and he took him back from the movers.  Incidentally, he never chased any of the neighborhood chickens.

Bugs was a natural retriever.  You could throw a rock anywhere in the yard or gravel driveway and he would bring back the exact rock that you threw. Now, I have to tell you what Cheryl and I would do to him every once in a while.  We had this little one-room house in the yard where the cats would keep their kittens.  In the summer, the kittens would sit in the door to enjoy the fresh air.  We would throw a rock in the little house, and in there Bugs would go to get his rock.  Let me add here that the kittens were in no danger from the rocks or Bugs.  But, they would jump around growling and hissing at him; they were so cute.  He paid no attention to them; he just wanted get his rock and bring it back so we would throw it again.  And, we would – right back into the little house.

Another cute thing he would do was howl when the car horn was blown; I guess it hurt his ears.  But, sometimes we would pretend to howl and he would throw that little head back and just howl.

I remember one time we all walked back in the fields to see an old gentleman who lived a little shack back there.  Bugs went with us; but when we got back to the house, Bugs wasn’t with us.  We called and called, but he still didn’t come to the house.  Dad decided that he had fallen into a dry well in the field.  So, he and Mom walked back to the well and sure enough, Bugs was in the well.  Dad held Mom’s legs and lowered her into the well to get a hold of him and lift him out.  She wasn’t too keen on the idea; she was afraid Bugs would bite her when she lifted him out.  Of course he didn’t and Dad once again saved my little dog.

We moved to Memphis so my dad could attend Getwell School of Preaching and we left Bugs with Mawdie.  She loved him as much as we did and took good care of him. He grew old and one day, some kids were shooting firecrackers behind her house; and since he was gun-shy, the noise scared him and he ran to a field behind her house, had a heart attack and died.  My dad couldn’t save my Bugs this time.  I loved him very much.

See ya next Wednesday.



Another Christmas Memory

As I said last week, I have more Christmas stories to tell you, especially the Christmases we spent at Grandma and Grandpa Thomasson’s house.

I remember one Christmas in particular when Jimmie Thomasson brought his new bride to Grandma’s for Christmas Eve dinner.  Jimmie was Uncle Rip’s son but; unlike Uncle Rip, he lived in Marshall County like most of the Thomassons.   Now, Jimmie and Robbie had gotten married a couple of weeks before Christmas so of course she didn’t know any of the family. She had met some of us at the wedding but that was it and I’m sure she didn’t remember any of us.  She especially had no idea what spending Christmas with the Thomasson’s was gonna be like.  So, they came to Grandma’s and we had the huge meal we always had.  After all the gifts had been opened, Gene, Gary, Dennis and Larry asked Jimmie to take a short ride with them.   And, unsuspecting Jimmie agreed to do so and told Robbie that he wouldn’t be gone very long. Well, off they went and she was left there with all these strangers. The clock showed 9 pm, then 10 pm, and still no sign of Jimmie. Since it was getting so late, everybody got ready to leave because we had to get home and into bed so Santa Claus would come and leave us all those glorious toys.  Grandma made Robbie a bed on the living room couch and she and Grandpa went to bed. Sometime around 3 am the next morning, they brought Jimmie back to Grandma’s house.  I wasn’t there, but I can tell you right now, Jimmie’s new bride was not a happy camper; and yep you guessed it, they never came back to Grandma’s for Christmas Eve.

Now, Christmas at Rose’s house was like a day in the twighlight zone.  She would always have a bad headache so she couldn’t cook or help do anything.  Mawdie would do most of the cooking; my Mom would bring a couple of dishes and Rose would lie on the couch and grunt all day.  If you think I’m kidding, just ask anyone who was there.  Sometimes she would ask me to rub her neck.  I would always do it until my fingers started getting numb.  My sister would go to Greg’s room and they would talk science and space travel.  Toni and Gina were just running around playing and all excited about opening gifts.  Then, of course, Rose couldn’t help clean the kitchen after the meal either because she still had a headache.  But, I tell ya, she was the life of the party and I always had a great time when I was around her.  One of her last Christmases was spent at my house; and even though she was ill, she still was the life of the party.  I miss her a lot.

See ya next Wednesday.

I want to wish all of you a very very Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year.

One of My Early Christmases

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year.

I don’t remember too many Christmases in our little house, but I do remember that Dad always went to the field and cut a fresh cedar tree to be decorated.  Oh how I loved, and still do, the smell of a cedar tree – it just smells like Christmas. Dad would string the lights and Mom would decorate the tree; it was always beautiful to me.   One year, Santa brought Cheryl and me Connie Lynn dolls. These dolls had human hair and were made of hard plastic. My grandmother made clothes for them.   When I was about three years old, Santa brought me a Marlins electric train.  The engine light would come on and smoke would rise from the smoke stack as the train moved along the tracks.  I spent many hours playing with that train.  After Mom’s death, my sister found the engine to my train and gave it to me for Christmas once again.

Also, at Christmastime, my favorite song was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” My mom often told me that when the song asked, “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight,” that I always answered, “eayah.”  I tell ya, I really miss those Christmases.

When we were small, the entire family would meet Grandma and Grandpa Thomasson’s house on Christmas Eve, except for Uncle Ernest (he and his family lived in Massachusetts).  My older cousins (Gary, Gene, Dennis, Larry and Jimmie) would bring fireworks which consisted mainly of firecrackers and they shoot them off in front of the house while we little ones watched.  Each family brought food and all the Moms would help finish getting the meal ready and serve it.  The kids and men would eat first and then the Moms would eat.  Once we kids were finished eating, we would start whining because we wanted to open presents.  But, the Moms would finish their meal, then wash the dishes and clean the kitchen before they would let us do that. I think they delayed letting us open presents just for meanness. They always threatened to not let us open presents at all if we didn’t stop pestering them.  Yeh, like that was gonna happen, but their point was made and we left them alone.

Finally, we would get to open presents and Uncle Chapel would film the whole process of everyone opening their gifts.  This was back in the 1950s so the camera had the big lights on it and everyone was blinded by them.  Grandpa gave all us kids a 50 cent piece for Christmas and we all would give him a great big hug because that made us rich!  Grandpa’s birthday was on December 24th and I always felt like he was cheated out of his birthday/Christmas gifts that way.  Speaking of Uncle Chapel, he was always clowning around and making everyone laugh, as you can see in the picture.

Once we left their house, we would go to Mawdie’s and open presents there.  She gave me soft flannel pajamas every year which I looked forward to getting.  On Christmas Day, we would go to Aunt Rose’s house and have Christmas dinner.  Now, Christmas at Rose’s house is a whole nother story!!

See ya next Wednesday.