Kathleen Hastings Whitlock
January 11, 1951
This is not a historical Column, but one of another sort, dealing with more personal matters. Recently we held the funeral of Dan Moss, born in September, 1850, and dying a few weeks ago, making him slightly more than 100 years of age. He was perhaps the oldest man in Smith County at the time of the end. He had lived for many, many years in the little valley that lies west of the Wilburn Hollow in Smith County, just above Dixon Springs. The valley referred to lies north and south and in fair weather is very bright and sunny, the snow in the winter soon melting there.
Here lived more than 50 years ago a family named Grubbs, consisting of three old maids, Misses Sallie Grubbs, Eleas, or that is the way it appears on a homemade monument and one other whose name is unknown. To this home there came about 1888 our own mother, Miss Marietta Ballou, to reside with the three old maids. Our mother was then 20 years of age, having been born on February 19, 1868. she was born on Peyton’s Creek, the daughter of Margaret Ballou. She attended school at the present Kittrell’s school house where the writer taught school in 1914 and again in 1927. In 1881 she and her mother moved to a home lying east of Hartsville and across the River. Here she lived seven years, going at the close of this period to the Grubbs home, with her mother. In this home they lived frugally and with no show ostentation, our grandmother having perhaps a small inheritance from the estate of her father. Here our grandmother, Margaret Ballou, developed tuberculosis when she was nearly 50 years of age. She slowly grew worse and became convinced that death was inevitable. She lay on a bed that faced a large oak tree, a water oak, we believe, that stood in a green pasture owned by Howard Martin. In lying day after day facing that big tree and knowing death was not far off, she decided that she wished to be buried beneath this large oak tree. Permission was secured from the land owner.
If memory serves us aright, she died in June, 1889, and was laid to rest in a deep grave beneath the old oak tree. Helping to make this burial was the man whose funeral we held a few days ago, the last surviving person who assisted in the sad duty to lay in the earth the mortal remains of the mother of our own mother. Head rocks were erected by our mother’s uncle, Lon Ballou, and they reached clear down to the vault of the grave. They still stand, largely as they were placed there more than 50 years ago. But the old oak tree has been cut down and the lonely grave is still there on that hillside that faced the rising sun, just as it was when our mother, then 21 years of age, turned from the dearest friend she had ever known in the world, and with whom she had been all the years of her life. No doubt the poor, lonely girl of more than three score years ago spent sad and sorrowful hours at this grave. She had no young companions or scarcely any young people with whom to associate. In the home in which she resided there were two old maids and two old men, our mother’s uncles, Lon and William A. Ballou. She waited on and cared for these as best she could. So far as the writer has ever been able to learn, she had never had a sweetheart, even at 21. Life was so lonely that she has remarked to her first-born, the writer, that even the “hollering” of small boys on the hills helped to relieve the loneliness of her situation.
We have often wondered if her lonely years of sadness and solitude, of being alone to a certain extent have not had their influence over her off-spring, and particularly over the writer. For we have within us something of a melancholy disposition and we have engaged in much lone meditation. We have a desire to dig up sad, and tragic romances, to place ourself far back in the past and to feel at many, many times what seems to us the presence of sorrowful spirits.
Here in the old house, now gone and its location hardly discernible, lived in the late eighties this mother of ours, then a young woman of slightly more than 20 years of age. She was a low, fairly heavy-set woman, weighing then about 100 pounds, standing only about five feet two inches tall. Over in the next valley lived our own aunt, Mrs. Tisha Wilburn, the wife of Albert Wilburn. She was known as Lou Tisha Wilburn, but we suppose her name was Letitia, which in the Latin from which it comes, means “joy.” Aunt Tisha, as we always called her, was one of the most remarkable women we have ever known. She reared a large family, mostly sons, and was one of the hardest-working women we ever knew. In the spring of 1890, Aunt Tisha had a quilting, to which our mother was invited. It was decided to have a “candy-breaking” that night and to invite the young folks of the community to attend. Our father, whose name was Thomas Morgan Gregory, known as Dopher Gregory, was a musician of some note in his community, which was located about three miles away on the upper waters of Nickojack Branch. He was invited to attend the entertainment and to provide accordion music for the occasion. On that spring night almost 51 years ago our father met his future wife in the person of Miss Marietta Ballou. Both were much impressed and in a matter of a very short time, our father was riding his large and well groomed black mule, Dick, to the home of Miss Ballou. Our mother once remarked to her oldest son, the writer, that she failed to understand the name by which our father was called, which was “Dopher” Gregory, thinking his name was “Denver” Gregory, which she knew was a city in Colorado and which sounded rather fancy to her. She had something of a let down when she found he was not called “Denver” at all, but “Doper.” However, this did not alter in any way the friendship that had sprung up between a timid, bashful and retiring man of 28, and the rather talkative young woman with the grey eyes and long, dark shining hair. How different were they in their background, it would be hard to say. Our father could not read and write until he was 21 years of age when he had to go to Carthage and sign some paper, and had to place his finger on the tip of the pen while his ”X” or mark was made. This embarrassed our father so very much that he then and there resolved to learn to read and write. But he was the closest observer we ever knew in all the things of nature, having in some respects the greatest natural mind we ever saw in operation. He was not wise in the books of men, but he knew nature better than any other person we have ever known. He had a name for every plant, every shrub, every tree, every little insect. He knew the ways of the forest creatures better than many of our naturalists of today. He was from a family that had come to Tennessee in 1791, from the mountains of North Carolina. His ancestry goes back through the centuries to North Scotland, to the shores of Loch Lomond where the family had its origin in the ninth century, the founder being Gregorious III, the son of Alpine, king of Scotland from 832 to 836. In the line of descent, we learn that he was a relative of Rob Roy, the old Scotch freebooter. He also had in his veins Welsh, Irish and German blood.
At the time our mother met him for the first time, he was 28 years of age, active in mind, strong in body and an expert in some things. He was the best rifle shot in all his hills, being able to kill rabbits and squirrels as they ran or “on the wing.” He used to shoot all the squirrels he killed when hunting alone and had plenty of time right through their heads. We recall one occasion when he was trying to shoot a squirrel that had taken refuge behind a grape vine. He fired a bullet right through that vine and killed the squirrel on the other side. We remember more than one occasion when he killed two squirrels with one rifle shot. He also killed hawks now and then on the wing. All in all, he was more of a pioneer than any other man we ever knew. Had he lived a century earlier, he would no doubt have been a “scout,” or maybe another Daniel Boone. To the writer, he was the most wonderful dad a boy ever had. When it became necessary he could go into the kitchen and cook a good meal. He also was a musician of no mean ability, being the best accordionist we ever heard play.
He also knew the medicinal qualities of many plants and knew how to make a lot of home remedies prepared from plants that grew in the forests. Although Dr. S.C. Bridgewater attended our mother when the writer was born, part of our father’s children later entered the world without the presence of a physician or even a midwife, our father taking complete control of the situation and serving in the capacity of doctor and midwife.
Our father was a man of strong likes and dislikes, having virtually nothing to do with any person he did not trust or like. He was loyal to his friends, his kinfolks, his family and his home. In fact he was a great lover of the hills and valleys of Middle Tennessee and had no desire to leave them. But this might have been expected in one who had a background of ancestors who had lived among the hills and valleys for a thousand years or more. But he had his faults, for he was not a perfect man. Forgiveness came as hard with him as with any other person we ever knew. A personal wrong he had suffered was hardly forgiveable, he felt.
He was a poor man, who had to work very hard for a living for himself, his wife and later ten children. He wore himself out and died all too soon at the age of just 52 years. We still recall how we thought him to be at that age, and old, old man. Now the writer is already nearly seven years older than his “pappie” was when the tired body suffered a paralytic stroke and we had no father.
Our mother’s background of ancestry was quite different from that of our father. Her ancestors left Normandy in Northern France, the first of the number being in the Army of William the Conqueror, when he fought the battle of Hastings in the year 1066. He remained in England, and in about 1660 one of the first of the family to come to America arrived in the James River Valley of Virginia. In 1649 Marturia Ballou, an uncle of one of our mother’s early ancestors, arrived in Rhode Island and was a leader in that section. Today in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England States are many members of the Ballou family. The Southern branch of the family is traced to Rice Meredith Ballou, the ancestor of Lennard Ballou, our own great-great-grandfather. In Virginia the Ballou family became quite well off owning a lot of Negroes and becoming somewhat aristocratic. The first of the family to come to Tennessee arrived in what was then Sumner County in 1795. In Tennessee they were able to accumulate considerable property and “felt their oats” in a way. But things went rather badly with them later. One member of the family disgraced himself and others and was sent to prison for a time. Other things happened of a rather unpleasant nature that need not be here enumerated and the family pride suffered some setbacks from which it never recovered. The family is small in Middle Tennessee, several branches having become extinct. None of this is meant to “throw off” on any person or to drag down any member of the family.
Our mother was born near the present Pleasant Shade on February 19, 1868. Soon after she met our father, their friendship had ripened into love and on Sunday, October 7, 1890, our father, mounted on that big black mule, above referred to, rode to the home of his betrothed. Our mother had had the help of Miss Cora Wright, later Earps, in the making of her wedding dress. We remember having seen that wedding dress, which was of gray. She owned a bay mare, named Nell, which she rode to her own wedding, which took place near Pleasant Shade that October day more than 60 years ago, the ceremony being performed by Elder Luther Smith, a Baptist minister of that day and time. Our parents spent the first six months of their married life in the home of our father’s parents, Calvin and Sina Gregory, on Nickojack Branch. Shortly after the wedding, our father bought 50 acres of land from John Bell Winkler on the extreme upper part of the Young Branch, without any buildings except an old tobacco barn of logs. Here he went to work with a will and in April following, had his little frame and weather boarded home of three rooms ready for occupancy. The flooring and ceiling and weather boarding he had dressed by hand. Here Cal was born on July 8, 1891, and here the other nine children also were born.
In the purchase of the little hill farm of 50 acres, our father paid $400, with our mother putting in half this amount. She had furnished the mare to work with the first mule, old Dick. She also owned a large cherry bureau or dresser, or maybe it was an old “lowboy.” Anyway, it was the one fine piece of furniture in our home. It is still in existence, owned by a relative of Dixon Springs.
Our mother was of a warm, affectionate nature, but she did not always manifest that sort of disposition. The writer never saw her angry many times, but he still recalls how cutting her words were, and even sarcastic when she finally lost control of her temper. She was a very slow person, taking her time and doing her work in a very methodical way. She was not gifted in any kind of mechanical ability, our father often telling her that she “could not drive a nail into a pumpkin.” She was not a close observer of the things of nature, our father often telling her of errors she had made in some matters of nature. She reported one morning before day light that she had seen the new moon in the east. Our father rebuked her for not knowing that the moon seen in the east before sunrise is not the new moon, but the old. Her reply was that it looked just like the new moon, which was correct. On another occasion she informed our father that she had seen something that apparently floated right down the hill over the bluffs about 200 yards above our home. Our father did not believe in any kinds of “hants” or “spirits,” and informed our “mammy” that she had merely seen one of “Bushop’s old sows come down over the bluffs.” Bushop was our nearest neighbor to the east, Ensley Shoulders, familiarly known as “Bushop: Shoulders. Our mother insisted that she did not see any thing supernatural.
In matters of music, our mother had not one bit of talent whatever, so far as we could ever discover. We cannot recall one line of one song that she ever sang to her numerous children. She did often take them in her arms and make a sort of “cooing” sound over them. Our father, on the other had, was gifted in musical talent and also had an excellent singing voice.
But in one gift she excelled all other women we ever knew and perhaps any man we ever say. This was in the matter of memory. She had the most remarkable memory we ever knew any woman to possess. She could recall dates without any apparent effort. What she read, and she was quite a reader, she retained in memory long, long afterward. Cal’s memory was never as good as hers, and never will be, for the years are taking their toll and our memory is going back on us.
In another line she was also “tops,” and that was her ability as a cook. Even till today there are those who refer to her great ability along this line. Of course, the writer is partial toward his mother’s cooking, but he does not believe he ever tasted food as delicious as that cooked by his mother in the years that will come no more. Even her cornbread was delicious, and so was everything else that she cooked. The biscuits of those days were not made of the extremely while flour of today, but surely none could have been better than those she fed to her large and hungry family. Some of the brands of flour are still recalled: “Purity,” made by the Hartsville Milling Co., “Leonte,” “White Seal,” and many others.
Our first realization that our mother was wearing out her life and would not live to be very old came one morning about 45 years ago when she arose to begin her day’s work, remarking, “I feel that I am 70 years old.” About six years after this time she developed the same malady that had ended her mother’s life, tuberculosis, and lingered for a years or longer. On the night of November 24, 1912, in the 45th years of her life, she quietly closed her earthly journey, folding as it were, her weary, tired hands and drifted into eternity. She had grown gray about her temples, her face became wrinkled all too soon, and the poor, tired, worn out body that had borne 10 children, was at rest at last, and the arms in which we lay, as a babe, and in which nine other children reclined in childish prace and contentment, were empty, dead and still. And Cal forgot to tell her till it was too late that she was the dearest and sweetest and best mother any group of children ever had. When Cal has worked a little longer, grown a little more weary, and crosses to that better land, and finds his mother, he wants to tell her, rather belatedly, of his appreciation of the good, kind, wise and tender mother of the years that will never come again. God bless her dear memory.
After the death of our mother, our father seemed as if he were in a daze. For 21 years they had walked together, and now their union was broken and our father seemed to lose his grasp on life. We saw him fading at the age of 50 years, with scarcely ever a smile again on his face, and with a sort of woe-begone expression on his countenance. Grief is a terrible thing, but one needs to resist it, fight against it, refuse to yield to overmuch sorrow, and to remember that there are those who will need our aid and which will be denied to them if we fold our weary hands, give ourselves over to unassuaged grief and drift down the valley of death. This very thing our father did, and on the morning of November 19, 1914, he left us, his ten children, the oldest 23 and the youngest only five, without father or mother. We had to break up the old home, sell everything our parents owned, including the little hill farm on which today there are a thousand loved spots and where memory turns back the pages of time and Cal sees himself again a little, bashful and somewhat rebellious boy starting to school on Tuesday after the second Monday in August, 1898. Our father, who was sometime very strict with his children, pulled out one or two of our baby teeth that very morning and we went to school our first day with part of our teeth missing. Our mother combed Cal’s hair, talked kindly and soothingly to him and urged him to do his best in school.
So ends the romance of more than 60 years ago that involved the old house near which the writer conducted the funeral services for Uncle Dan Moss some days ago. We say it ends. This is true so far as the two characters, our father and mother, were directly concerned. But Cal and his brother and six sisters are still striving to carry on, even though we pause as it were, to drop a tear of sympathy and sorrow upon the lonely graves of our “pappie and mammy.”