Transcribed By Elsie Sampson
July 26, 1951
* CAL’S COLUMN *
On last Friday, July 20, 1951, the writer had occasion to have the midday meal with his good friends, Mr. and Mrs Ed Smith, near Mace’s Hill church house, about three miles northeast of Dixon Springs, in Smith County. The writer lived in the same house that the Smiths now occupy, in the year 1913, moving there from a house near his father’s home, a quarter of a mile further up the Valley. In 1913, Cal was 22 years of age and was residing with his young wife, the former Miss Mae Gammon, and our one son, Lawrence Gregory, who was born about a month before we moved to the present Smith home. The house is still largely as it was when we moved there. Many, many memories cluster about the old place, which is located on part of the farm of Cullom Ballou, our mother’s uncle. Later he sold this farm to our grandfather and his sons, Calvin Gregory, and Uncles Luther and Monroe Gregory. The reader will note that Cal has his grandfather, Gregory’s name in full, Stephen Calvin Gregory. Our brother, who is only fourteen months and three weeks younger than the writer, was named for our father, Thomas Morgan Gregory.
We moved to the house above mentioned early in January, 1913, and began teaching the closing part of the school term at Mace’s Hill. We were even then thinking of entering the ministry and were deeply impressed with our obligations in this respect. We taught school as best we could and enjoyed the work immensely. We had then as now, our failings, one of which has been to talk too much. At school we would take time off from lessons almost every day long enough to tell the boys and girls a tall tale. Those were happy days back there 38 years ago. We had then not a physical pain nor ache, were swift of foot and delighted to engage in games and feats of strength But, alas, the years have taken their toll and Cal now feels the weight of three score winters and as many summers.
The old house in which we had a fine dinner on last Friday consists of two rooms down stairs, a narrow, six-foot hall, and two rooms on the second floor. In the ground floor room to the east our mother died on the night of November 24, 1912. Two days later our first born arrived on November 26, 1912.
Our moving to the new location was occasioned by having more room, etc. In the new house we soon had a “working,” to cut a lot of small trees, mostly ash and hackberry, into such lengths as would burn in our new, wood-burning range. We learned that those small round logs cut into stove wood lengths, soon became very dry and hard to “split” if allowed to remain “unshelled.” We learned then to stand such wood on one end to keep it from drying out so that it became difficult to burst or split with an axe.
The old house originally, so far as our memory serves us, nearly 60 years ago, was first occupied by Bob Banks, a colored man who had been a slave prior to the Civil War. We presume that he was owned at the time of the freeing of slaves by a man named Banks, of which family there remains not one member in Smith County. However, one of the charter members of Dixon’s Creek Baptist church about two and a half miles away, was Richard Banks, whose wife was also a charter member of the same church. Her name was Kerenhappuch Banks, the name being from the Bible. See last chapter of Job.
The old spring was originally located on the hillside about 100 yards away from the house. It is still running a small, weak stream and is rather poor water. However, in about 1899, a well was drilled near the house by Bill Garrett and his sons. The writer was present, with his father and brother, the day the well came in. Our father was sitting on part of the foundation stones on which the brick chimney to the Banks or Gregory house was located. The writer had detected nothing out of the ordinary except there was a hollow sound coming from near 100 feet beneath the surface of the earth. Suddenly our father, who was a very close observer and also a man of fine natural sense cried out, “There, they have struck water!” Sure enough the drill bit had broken through into water which had risen within 25 feet of the surface.
On last Friday we went back and sat where our father sat half a century ago or more. The soil had moved away from the foundation stones of that chimney for a depth of seven or eight inches in the 50 years since our “pappie” sat there that summer day half a century ago.
One funny thing is recalled about Mr. Garrett’s well drilling. Our father also wanted a well, but he did not have the cash ready to pay Mr. Garrett for his work. The well drilling man agreed to let our father settle for the well in 12 months. This was in June, 1899. Mr. Garrett in counting time did not take into consideration the years 1900-1999. He wrote a note for our father to sign which read, “On June 30, 2,000, I promise to pay to the order of W. W. Garrett, Fifty Dollars for drilling one water well.” Our father has been gone nearly 37 years, but the note would not be due for 49 years more, if it had been paid as its conditions had stipulated. Our father informed him that he had put things 100 years out of order and the due date on the note was set back an even century.
This is the same well now at our old home place near the foot of Mace’s Hill, which was strongly sulphur at the time it was drilled and also full of gas. William Mckinley was president at the time. We recall Kinney Kemp’s coming by and asking for some of the strong sulphur water. Our father, to whom he was related, called him “Kinney.” One of our sisters who was then about six or seven years of age and who had heard of president McKinley, on hearing our father address Kinney Kemp, as “Kinney,” rushed into the house and informed our mother in almost breathless tones that, “President McKinley is out there at the well and is drinking sulphur water. Pappie called him by name.” The writer refrains from mentioning which of our seven sisters thought Kinney Kemp was President William McKinley, as she might think Cal is trying to embarrass her.
But we now return to the Smith home. After looking over the old home and reviewing many things of 38 years ago, we decided to visit the old farm on which we worked as a small boy and a youth. This was a large farm that we have already mentioned, on which the Smith home now stands. It consisted of perhaps 180 acres of land lying, for the most part, in a hollow south of the Smith home. The remainder of this article will deal largely with events connected with the “hollow.” Our father had a very large family and an insufficient amount of land to grow needed crops for his numerous offspring. So he had to rent much land, frequently cultivating land on the farm which his father and brothers owned, and now the property of Smith’s father-in-law, Hershell Gregory. Our earliest remembrances of that hollow or valley took place more than 50 years ago. Some of them will be given here. As we took our journey into the hollow last Friday afternoon, the heat came down in waves almost. But memory was very much alive and we went first by the place where our grandfather and uncles threshed their wheat nearly every year, a place of rather thin land with not much depth of earth. Here we saw the steam engines or traction engines of the long ago and of which we had a terrible fear. This dread and horror were due to the fact that a group of threshermen, named Allen, were drinking and trying to operate a large steam engine used to pull or power a wheat thresher. The boiler ran dry of water and this was before the day of the safety valve on steam engines. When fresh water was turned into the boiler, there was a terrific explosion in which several of the Allens lost their lives. This so impressed our childish mind that for years we were afraid of a steam engine. We recall many events connected with the old threshing ground, but forbear to give them.
As we journeyed further into the valley, we noted that rocks once hidden beneath the soil and which the plow perhaps did not even touch, are now at or even above the surface. Such is the slow but certain erosion of our top soil on nearly all farms in this section. One can never understand how serious the erosion problem is until he goes back to a farm after an absence of many years, just as the writer was going back to a section he had not visited, except for passing through on muleback, in 38 years.
We saw the old field in which our father had a sorghum crop that the wet weather of about 46 years ago caused him to nearly give over to the weeds. We chopped and dug weeds in that sorghum patch, so it seems to us, for ten full days. But we saved the molasses crop and in the fall, our father made his “sweetening,” in sufficient quantity to care for his family’s needs until another crop could be grown. This usually amounted to about 25 to 40 gallons of sorghum molasses.
Next we came down to the stream that flowed down the valley or hollow. Just before we arrived at the stream bed, we passed the place where Cal planted his second onion “patch,” in the early spring of 1913. Bushes and weeds covered the spot where we planted our onions more than 38 years ago. The stream bed looked very, very natural. We could still recall how the rocks in the bed of the stream at the crossing looked after nearly half a century of time. We also found the bushes to be largely as they had been many, many years ago, mostly hackberry with a few other varieties, including some sumacs, or as we called them, “shoemakes.”
The stream bed was dry, as it had been most of the time in the long gone years. Just south of the bed of the stream is a field of practically level land. Here we plowed and harrowed, chopped and thinned corn, took up hay, cut wheat and did other farming jobs in our very early life. We found one spot on which an event of about 44 years ago occurred. We were then about 16 years of age and “beginning to assert our own self.” We were hauling up hay, clover to be exact, and had a fairly heavy load on the wagon, which was being pulled by our father’s team of mares, one of which was named Sue. Sue had the unhappy disposition to “quit pulling” when the going got just a little hard. We were getting along fine when one of the hind wheels of that wagon dropped down in a soft place in the field some six or eight inches. The old mare “flew the track,” and backed up , refusing to pull enough to remove a hat from a man’s head. After trying in vain to coax the “old gal” to pull, we stepped over to the stream bed where many slender little trees grew. We cut down one about 12 feet long and had the knots and limbs trimmed off in a matter of perhaps three or four minutes. We walked back to the “stalled” team and gave the command to “come up.” That old mare refused to move an inch. We then let her have nearly all that pole or rod as hard as we could lay it on, and we may add that we were strong for a 16-year-old farm boy. Just about the time we had that old mare dancing and prancing and we felt sure about ready to go forward, our father arrived on the scene and put an end to the whole thing by having Cal to stop the lambasting of that old mare. We regretted the interruption and did not feel that the mare had learned the lesson she deserved. Old Sue was one of those poor, old, silly animals that never had much sense and that could not be trained to overcome their many handicaps. She was the mother of Ned, the horse about which Cal wrote some time ago. Sue was also the mother of the mare named Dinah, the same animal that backed from the hedge row clear into the middle of the road and let fly with her hind foot and knocked the lamp off Taylor Gregory’s early automobile, in spite of our father’s frantic efforts to make her go forward with heels and switch. Dinah was the animal that fell over the wagon tongue in the ford at the mouth of the Young Branch of Dixon’s Creek and came near drowning, about which incident we have already written.
Our visit to the scene of our whipping old Sue recalled many, many other events connected with our father’s teams and livestock in those years that come no more and live only in memory.
In the same field in which the team “stalled” was a strawstack in the years long since gone by. At this strawstack a strange dog carrying a steel trap on one foot “took up his abode.” This animal was mortally afraid of human beings, running for life on the approach of any human. We carried food to him and he ate it after we had left. Finally we were able to catch the dog and remove the steel trap from the foot. We do not recall having even thought of this event for 45 years or more until we visited the field on last Friday. We had help in removing that steel trap.
Next we came to a place at the end of the same field at the point where the farm road led around the field. We had another wave of recollection here. For it was on this spot about 45 years ago that we had a fall that still lives in painful memory. We were engaged in hauling hay from the old tobacco barn that stood just above the end of the field already referred to several times in this article. This hay was being transferred to another barn or building something like a mile away. My brother, Tom, and the writer were on top of a very high load of hay as our uncle Monroe pulled from the tobacco barn. As we went around a wagon road at the end of the field and only a very short distance from where we had loaded the hay, our brother and the writer were engaged in a friendly scuffle. As the wagon turned up somewhat on one side because of the uneven condition of the road, Cal thought that the big wagon load of hay was overturning. So instead of trying to crawl back to a higher part of the hay on the wagon, we thought that it would be best to drop to the ground and then run out of the way of the hay we were sure was overturning. We “dropped all holds” and slid off the hay, a distance of perhaps eight or nine feet. Cal landed on his head, with Tom right on top of him. We looked up to see if the wagon was really overturning and saw that the road with a high side had been the cause of our acting as we did. We lay there for a few moments, trying to get our “rattled” senses together again, and then in a “sheepish” way arose to our feet. Luckily, Cal’s head was then very thick and still is, and no permanent damage was done. But we will never forget our sliding down the sloping side of the big load of hay, thinking that it was the high side of the hay coming to a point to turn over. In other words the hay had not moved and Cal did not know he was moving down toward a very hard fall.
Next in our Friday ramblings we came to the scene of the old tobacco barn. The building which was perhaps about 40 feet wide and about the same length, is entirely gone and there is nothing to indicate where it was except for our remembrance of the hillsides nearby and the fields that adjoined it. We found a “roasting ear and bean patch” where the old tobacco barn once stood. This old barn was erected in 1899, if memory serves us aright. The first part was a log structure, erected one hot August day 52 years ago when Cal was eight years old, We still recall that “barn raising” very vividly. It was quite a distance to where our grandfather lived, so it was deemed best to bring “dinner” to the neighbors who had gathered to raise the barn. With no women on the ground to keep men orderly and put them on good behavior, they decided to gobble down all that food and to act somewhat like a bunch of hungry hogs. Our uncle Monroe who was recovering from the effects of a broken leg was somewhat in charge of the dinner. On only one other occasion have we ever seen men act like they were as hungry as that crowd. Cal got a small amount of boiled cabbage, one piece of plain cornbread or hoecake, and a small helping of pie. Our poor uncle got nothing to eat until he reached home that night. The worst part was not having to miss the food that was needed, but to take the “razzing” of the men who claimed to be starving to death. Our uncles and grandfather were terribly embarrassed and looked back on the event with regret for years. If there had been women present, the men would not have done so “wickedly.” We still remember just where we ate that little food we managed to get. We were sitting on a pile of lumber, lathes and rafters which were to be used in the building.
This old barn later had beams and posts put in for “prizing” dark tobacco to ship it by steamboat from Wright’s Landing, about five or six miles away, to Clarksville. Cal has labored in the work of prizing tobacco many, many a day. Many memories come back to us after more than 40 years, of events connected in some way of that old barn and the work we did there. It was here that we were placed in a hogshead having a bottom, but no top heading, and we were not able to get out, although we tried manfully and perhaps cried some. Here we heard Andrew Justice offer to bet Albert Harrison, a neighbor boy some older than Cal, that he, Justice, could hold his hand only two inches from the muzzle of the rifle Harrison carried, and that he, Harrison, could not shoot Justice in the hand. Our mind was not very logical then and it may not be any better now after nearly 50 years have elapsed. We confess that we could not possibly see any way for the man to escape without a bullet through the hand. Harrison, who is now a resident of Florida, looked mightily puzzled, but refused to bet with Justice. Finally, with a laugh, Justice showed Harrison how “it could be done.” Placing his hand just behind the muzzle of the rifle, Justice asked, “Ain’t my hand two inches from the muzzle now?” Harrison flushed somewhat and confessed that Justice was correct. Cal heaved a great sigh of relief when he saw how very simple the matter was and that nobody was going to get shot through the hand.
We were pretty simple back there and we admit it. Once that uncle of ours, Luther or Lute Gregory, already mentioned as being one of the owners of the farm about which we are writing, was once engaged in digging a cellar or hole in the ground in which to place milk and other items to keep cool. Our uncle informed our brother and the writer that as he digged in the clayey, gravelly earth, he heard water “sloshing.” In our boyish simplicity, we both pictured this man as about to “strike a stream of water.” Our enthusiasm hardly knew any bounds as we asked question after question about how far the uncle thought it was to water and other questions of like nature. We had a terrific letdown when our uncle informed us that the water he heard “sloshing,” was not in the earth or ground at all but in his stomach, but he did not call it stomach. This uncle got a lot of hearty laughs out of Cal and his brother, Tom. We were very green and “bit” on nearly everything that came along. This uncle of ours was a bachelor and was one of the best men the writer ever knew, even if he did do some things to his “green” nephews. We recall his putting the writer on the back of a horse to ride the animal to water, placing Cal on the horse’s back with Cal’s face toward the horse’s tail. We complained until he “set us aright.” This uncle of ours was a firm man in many of his opinions, often affirming certain things he would do in such and such cases. We recalled his calling for a match to burn up part of a big wagon load of hay that fell from the wagon very near the Smith home. He said, “Shux on it. Give me a match and I will burn it up.” His brother refused to allow Uncle Lute, as we called him, to burn the hay, which was finally reloaded on the wagon. Uncle Lute has been gone for 16 years. Many of his words and expressions were not correct from a grammatical standpoint, but he was one of the finest uncles any boy ever had. We still feel ashamed of some of our boyish efforts to correct this good and wonderful man in some of his errors of speech. But we do not recall a single instance of his taking any exceptions to our criticism of his words, “gyard,” “murch,” “gyarden,” and some others. God bless his memory. No other man but our father was ever so gracious to help, to aid and encourage the writer.