Memories of Oak Grove

Part Five:
The Schools, The Stores and The Garage

by Goldman Dewitt Freeland
Reprinted with permission.

The Schools

At the very earliest days there was a school called Brown School House that was located near the present Presbyterian Church. There was a principal named Bracken. I heard my mother and daddy speak of this. I understand that before they built the Presbyterian Church, services were held in the Brown School House.

The school at Oak Grove when I grew up was a two year high school with three teachers. Children came from the surrounding communities to finish the two year high school after they finished grammar school, maybe in their own community.

I was in the first eighth grade group of Oak Grove that was required to go elsewhere for my 9th and 10th grade work. Previous to that, while I was in grades 1-7, it was a two-year high school.

Oak Grove School, as I remember it, had at least a thirty-minute chapel each morning. We took up books as we called it. We then would meet in the principal's room, the big room, and the principal would read some scripture and have a devotion. Some principals would get carried away and would talk too long. I remember some drawings sketched on the blackboard. One principal, named Mr. Hill, particularly would have a very good map of his Bible story. He would draw maps that told us how Moses brought the Israelites out of the Egyptian Bondage and all about that period of time. I still recall a great deal of that. We had a prayer. We sang songs, of course, like "America the Beautiful" but we also sang some religious songs. I remember some songs we sang like "I'll Live On". Some of the kids would change it to say "Olive Oil" - Popeye being popular at that time - "Olive oil, yes, Olive oil".

I built fires in three stoves for three teachers in their rooms. They gave me a nickel each for building fires in the morning. They also would allow me time out in the late afternoon to cut kindling for the next day. There was strict discipline in the school there. They had spankings. We also had "whuppings" by the teachers.

At school, you would drink out of a dipper which was used by others unless you brought your own collapsible tin cup or other cups.

The desks were fastened to the floor and had ink wells in the top with grooved out places for pencils. The seats folded upwards. There was a long narrow hall-like room with pegs on the wall on both sides for coats and jackets. Overshoes were on the floor. There were no lockers - no way to keep items from being stolen, yet there was no problem as I remember.

In this school as I recall there were teachers named Mr. Nemo, Miss Lallie Cline, Miss Kate Watson, Mrs. Dye, Mr. Herbert Gregory, Miss Cora Whitley, Mr. Hill and Mr. Bates Purdue. A teacher named V. G. Hawkins later became Superintendent of Schools in Sumner County and is still living today in his nineties, I believe. His wife, Mrs. Hawkins, also taught. She was a Collins out of Portland. These are the ones I remember.

The basketball court was on dirt ground just as nature leveled it (uneven). The basket was secured to homemade goal posts with plank backboards. Later, the blacksmith made iron goals with iron supports fastened to the backboard. The girls basketball team wore black bloomers with white blouses (some distinguishing colors). I recall we could play in 8th grade basketball tournaments until we were 17 years of age.

The Stores

I've told you I grew up spending part of my time in the country stores. My dad ran the country store and I may have mentioned that in the depression he went broke carrying farmers on the books. I can recall how my father suffered through that period of time.

In the country store when I grew up and particularly in the early days, it was strictly a barter system. People brought eggs, chickens and fowls of all kinds. I remember guineas. I can remember our storage room nearly knee-high with gutted rabbits. We took in cream. We bought hams or hides, possum hides - possum that had been gutted and turned wrong-side out and stretched over a board similar to a miniature ironing board.

This produce could be sold by my dad to a produce man who came by twice a week. He would buy rabbits for 12 cents that daddy had bought for 10 cents and he would hope to sell for 15 cents. The produce man would buy and take them to Nashville. He would hope to sell them and the other produce he had bought at the market place or to special customers. That's the trading situation that took place.

I remember the screened-in, built-in building attached to the store where we kept live chickens, fowls and things of that nature. I also remember the storage room where we kept the rabbits, hides, and cured hams. "Fat back" meat was in a wooden box covered with salt.

If you came into the country store from the front in the early days you would find on the right all kinds of piece goods - bolts of prints, calico, flannels, bed ticking, oil cloth and other kinds of cloth used in that day. All types of sewing thread was on the right when you came in. I remember my mother having a yardstick nailed to the counter where she measured off this material.

Further down along the right side of the wall after you moved out of all the dry goods, you found the shoes on shelves against the wall. We had shoes for children, women, and men. We had Polly Parrot, Buster Brown and Red Ball shoes and shoes we called "Brogans" for men.

If you proceeded back along the right to the storage room you might find plows, Oliver brand turning plows and other hardware - such as plow points, horseshoes, nails, bolts, and maybe ropes and chains.

On the other side of the store looking to your left side as you entered the store you would see a candy showcase with candy, mostly stick candy - peppermint, sassafras, horehound flavors, sometimes a Baby Ruth, Milky Way or Butterfinger.

Under that counter there were barrels or boxes for coffee, both ground and bean, and sugar. There were a few other staples. On the shelf behind would be baking soda, baking powder, soap, and other items of that nature.

There was a special area for tobacco products - twists of tobacco, sweet tobacco - Apple and Brown Mule brands. You could buy a nickel's worth. Sacks of smoking tobacco called Mule Durham, Dukes Mixture, Old North State RJR, and Golden Grain were sold, too.

Talcum powder, "Ponds" cold cream and face rouge were in a special glass showcase. Shaving mugs, brushes and soap were there also. I don't remember any toothpaste for sale. We usually chewed the end of a small hickory or blackgum stick until it formed a type of brush and used arm and Hammer baking soda to "shine" our teeth. This same type brush was used to dip snuff. On down further you might find wash pans, pitchers, wash tubs, and even slop jars and practical kitchenware. Now, in the middle of the store, you might find hanging up hams for harness, pads to go under collars or collars themselves for the horses, or maybe trace chains at different places.

In the middle of the store were wide table-height display counters. We had overalls, jumpers, coats, work shirts and things of that nature that people could see. Women's underwear and men's BVD's were hidden under the clotheswear counters. Much was homemade at that time.

We had Duckhead overalls that are seemingly becoming popular again today. We had O'Brian Brothers' overalls and yes, long-handles in boxes under the table type display counter. At the front center on a wide counter top were bags of flour, generally 24-pound bags, also a few small bags of meal.

In the back, we had the potbelly stove and the places to spit. The men sat around the stove on wooden chairs, nail kegs, and benches where they told their jokes, talked hunting, farming, wild experiences, and politics.

I want to mention one unusual incident of quick thinking and positive, effective action of one of our country store customers. At one time we had on the front porch of the store a container that had oil in it. You pumped oil by the quart. A longneck spout was screwed on a regular quart glass jar used for this purpose. Then you had a gasoline pump at the edge of this porch. You pumped five gallons of gasoline up by pushing a lever back and forth as it pumped gas up and filled a five-gallon glass container above. The glass container above had marked off and clearly identified one gallon, two gallons, three gallons, and so forth.

The was a release lever up just below the glass container. When you pushed this lever, gas came out and into the hose. You placed the hose with its open nozzle in the tank of a Model-T Ford which was under the front seat of the car and you pushed the lever forward to release gas and pulled it back to stop the flow at one gallon, two gallons, or more.

Now this location of the oil and gas dispensers at the area of the wooden porch and the spillage cause it to become saturated with oil and gas or at least stained enough so that there was a consistency of oil and gas in the wooden floor.

One night a gentleman brought his lantern up to the store and set it on the porch as a group sat around by its light and talked (there were no outside lights at the store, only lamps inside at that time). Someone accidentally kicked the lantern over and it caught the floor on fire.

Some real quick-thinking person, I don't remember who, but I remember what he did, stepped inside the store. Just inside the store were the counters of 24-pound bags of flour displayed. He took his hawkbill knife and slit many bags of flour and pitched them out to people and hollered "throw them on the fire". They emptied them on the fire and the flour put the fire out. That is something that will always be imprinted in my mind - the quick action and no damage except the scorched porch.

We had nail kegs and hickory-cane chairs around the pot belly stove for people to sit. One of the things I remember in one of the stores that daddy had was a spitting area. Instead of him having boxes around for people to spit in, we built a frame around the potbelly stove made out of planks about 5-6 inches wide and about 3/4 inch thick. It came out about 8-10 inches from the feet of the stove itself. We toenailed these into the floor and filled in with wood ashes. People could sit back and spit toward the stove and into the ashes.

Now one of the problem jobs I had was to occasionally raise the frame up, shovel the old, saturated ashes out with discarded chewed wads of tobacco dispersed throughout. The old was discarded and replaced with some clean wood ashes (coal clinkers would not do). That was not a desirable job.

The source of light in the country store was lamps and later Delco battery lights charged by a gasoline-powered charger. Later the REA provided electricity.

Before electricity, battery radios were owned by a few people. In the earlier days of radio, people gathered with the nearest owner of a radio and listened to the World Series, "Amos and Andy", and the "Grand Ole Opry". Charley Cook was one of the first in Oak Grove to have a radio in his house.

The country store had oil floors to keep the dust down. I remember sprinkling kerosene on the floor before sweeping to keep the dust down.

You would see sticky fly paper hanging from the ceiling to catch flies. It was about an inch wide curled or twisted as it hung.

One of the merchants of the Oak Grove store in the early days was Jeremiah Sarver. I understand he ran the store there somewhere around the very early days, maybe the early 1800's. Then, we had Elvis Freeland, my dad's great uncle, who ran the store there. He later gave it up and his son, Luther Freeland who later became Registrar of Sumner County, ran the store for a period of time. Somewhere in that period of time there was a McMicken who ran the store.

Dee Gilliam, who I've already mentioned married Dewey Brown, ran a store there in the center of Oak Grove for a long period of time. Then there were Sid, Claire, and Harris Freeland who ran stores there. Harris Freeland, my dad, ran stores at two different locations. Claire Freeland ran a store for a long time there. Charlie Anglea, who I have already mentioned, also had a store in Oak Grove for a long period in the middle thirties and forties.

The Garage

In Oak Grove, when I grew up, we had a garage for auto mechanics. The garage was a large building with a central area for cars to drive in and on each side there was room to do special work. The work that went on in the garage at that time, as I remember, was on coils, batteries, magnetos, tires, clutches and clutch bands, reverse bands, brake bands, etc., mostly for Model-T Fords.

The garage was a kind of central place. Sometimes they had horseshoes out nearby or they might be playing jokes where they put pennies in a pan of water and hooked them up to coils and got us young kids to try to pick the pennies out and get shocked. The shock was not real bad, but was enough to shake you up to the extent that you forgot the pennies.

The mechanics that I remember were John R. Sloan, Virgil Sloan, Noah Thompson and at one point, I believe Noah had his brother-in-law Joe Gilbert Holmes working with him for awhile.

Part One: Preface, Forward, Oak Grove - Incorporated, and Growing Up

Part Two: The Sherrons, The Freelands, The Angleas, and The Others

Part Three: Living and Working

Part Four: The Church and The Cemetery

Part Six: The Blacksmiths and the Grist Mill, The Carpenters,The Doctors, Roadwork, Recreation, Health, etc., The Little Book, A Special Place

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