This Article Appeared In The Times
But Was Not Actually Titled Cal’s Column
Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
On Feb. 12, 1899, exactly 58 years ago tonight, we recall that the coldest weather we ever felt smote upon our little body, then seven years, seven months and four days old. We were the oldest child in a family that then consisted of the writer, his brother, Tom, 14 months and three weeks younger than the writer; our sister, Mary born Sept. 12, 1894; our sister Eunice, born Dec. 2, 1896; our sister, Clara born October 9, 1898. We were living then at the foot of Mace’s Hill on the Dixon Springs side of the hill by the side of the Old Fort Blount Road, the very first road ever laid out in Middle Tennessee. The house was of three weather-boarded rooms, each of them with poplar flooring not tongue and grooved. There was one fireplace in the house and one cooking stove, stepstove, “Palmetto” by name. Here we were born and here we grew and grew in our first home. Here we lived until we reached manhood. Here we lived the happy years of a carefree childhood home.
Here on Aug. 11, 1898, six months and one day before the terrible cold spell, we started to school at the little school house known as Mace’s Hill. Here our father “pulled” our two first baby teeth the same morning, by “main strength and awkwardness.” We wept over the pulling of our first baby teeth, but soon dried our tears. Here our mother, “Mammy” to us still, washed the face of a bashful, seven-year-old boy, combed his hair, as white then as it is today, after putting on him his little blue pants, blue jeans of this day and time, and a little white body with buttons all around the bottom and up the front. We doubt seriously if we had on any underwear whatever. She then kissed her first born, murmuring sweetly, “My little boy”, as she planted a kiss in the middle of his forehead. She was not given to many manifestations of affection for her children, but this somehow touched our boyish heart and has lingered with us through nearly 60 years’ time.
We recall that the day of Feb. 11, 1899, was very cold and getting colder by the hour. Our father, God bless his memory, to try to keep his children from getting cold in a house with a rather open floor, had put down what he called a “Wheat Cloth” in an effort to keep the bitter cold wind out of the one ceiled room on the place. But we can still recall, after 57 years, how the wind blew that “wheat cloth” till it billowed to a height of two feet or more. We are of the opinion that we fared fairly well when we had gone to bed on that terrible night many, many years ago. It was so cold in the kitchen that we could not remain at the table long enough to satisfy the hunger of a growing boy of seven years. We recall how that the fire did not seem “to want to burn,” just giving off some blue flames that did not warm the bodies of our father’s and mother’s four oldest children. All four of their first-born are living but “Pappy and Mammy” have gone the way of all the earth for more than 40 years. Even though our father kept wood piled high on the andirons, he could not keep out the bitter cold. The popping of that house, largely of yellow poplar lumber, can still be recalled after nearly three score years. It may be of interest to some who read these lines to know that the old house still stands, although it was constructed in the spring of 1891 by the hands of our father who was a good carpenter for that day and time.
The backwater of Dixon’s Creek, on whose waters we were born, had been high at Dixon Springs, the village nearest to our birthplace. The cold was so intense as to “freeze” the back water to such a depth that our own father reported to his first-born that the ice was three feet thick on the “pike” or highway between Dixon Springs and the outside world.
We had no thermometer, and, therefore, do not know the exact figures for the terrible cold of 58 years ago, but we would judge that it was approximately 30 degrees below zero. We have read somewhere in history that it was more than 20 degrees below zero at places along the Tennessee-Kentucky dividing line. We heard one man say that it was so cold here in Macon County that the ground froze so deeply under his house that the entire building was raised to a depth of perhaps four inches. It was so cold in the Mace’s Hill section that a grave for a Mr. Dias could not be dug until* the ground had thawed somewhat. Many things have come to us through the years relating the bitter, bitter cold of 58 years ago tonight.
Transcriber’s note. * The original text used the word “under” in the sentence, however the word “until” seems more appropriate.