On the outskirts of Bristol Tennessee, on a cold frosty morning, I was born at a very early age. It was February 2nd, 1911 – Groundhog Day. My family left Tennessee shortly thereafter. I don’t know for sure if one of these events caused the other. We all wound up in West Virginia, but that’s another story.
My dad was Jabus Greene Howington – folks just called him Greene. He worked for a lumber company. He drove a team of horses and snaked the logs over the flat part of the mountain. Now the logs had a J-grab driven into one end. This was designed to let the horses pull ring slide off backwards, when the logs turned over the steep grade to go on down the mountain on their own.
Dad would yell “J!” and the horses had damn well better jump. Sometimes they would fall to one side, or get broken legs or worse and then have to be shot.
Our home consisted of a one room shanty or house. It sat on stumps that had been sawed to equal height for support or footers. After the timber had been pretty well worked out in the area, all houses and all other equipment including the saw mill and grocery store were moved near the timber to be cut. The company laid their own railroads for this.
Moving time was an exciting time. A crane came alongside our house and picked it up by means of a large steel ring in the top center for that purpose. It was picked up, swung around and placed on a flat car, then moved to a deeper location near the work site. It was then placed on pre-cut stumps. This life continued until I was five years old.
One of my memories of that life was running away from home at age 3½. I don’t know why I was locked out of the house one night – probably for crying. I was real, real scared ’cause my dad and uncles would always tell me that the “Boogie Man” was going to get me – you better believe that I believed them.
There was no radio or T.V. back then. The pastime was telling ghost stories. I believed them all.
Anyhow, I was locked out. It was a moonlight night. I had on my white nightshirt, made from a flour sack. We lived on a hillside (as did everyone in West Virginia, or so I thought at that time). We had no road by our shanty but a path leading around the hillside to the store. Eventually, I calmed down and stopped crying. Dad looked outside and found me running away like a scalded dog down the hillside. He had to run hard to catch me.
A sad memory from that era was when they carried my uncle, Mom’s brother Charles Meade home. He had been hit by a log that rolled over after sawing it on a hillside. He was crushed internally. I don’t know how long he lived.
I remember him coming to the table to eat, using a kitchen chair for a crutch by putting one knee on it and scooting. He was sixteen years old. With this incident a company representative came and offered his father (my grand dad) Bob Meade a settlement. My Granddad said in no way would he take money for his son’s death.
I had many close relatives on my mother’s side and I consider them all good people – except the brother of my grandmother, Allfair Melissa Lockhart Meade. His name was Lynn Lockhart. He would come and go.
He made a career of not working; just staying with one relative as long as they could stand him. Then he would move on to another one. It seemed he would always take something when he left. He was a handsome looking, lovable guy, kind of stooped and who very much resembled Abe Lincoln. He was about six and half feet tall, and his shoes were like johnboats to me.
The Lockharts. My mother was Dora Belle Meade Howington; her mother was Melissa Allfair Lockhart. She was born in 1868, married Robert W. Meade on October 2, 1888, and had 13 children.
So these were my maternal grandparents. The Lockharts are an interesting group. I met and knew several of them briefly when I was a teenager. The men all seemed to be very tall. The women, if not beautiful, were at least good looking and very interesting.
Gaynell L. Whit was my age and her mother was my grandmother’s sister. I knew her quite well.
As for my great aunt Belle Lockhart, she married James Ball. So my Aunt Belle Ball I knew well and loved her. Aunt Laura Lockhart married Charles Stinson. I remember Uncle Charlie quite well.
He would get so frustrated with his horse, or mule, that he would throw a rope over a tree limb and try to hang the animal. He would take them down before real harm was done or before they died. I never heard of one being killed or seriously injured.
My dad had two brothers – Joe, who I loved and respected, and Lee, that I had neither of the above for. Lee had a wife that I liked very much. She died very young. I never knew of what. Uncle Lee then became a preacher for about a year or so.
He then married a 16 year old girl named Viney. He had a kid or two by her and was making moonshine. Then Viney died. Again, I never knew the cause. So Uncle Lee got himself some new clothes and went out preaching again. Less than a year later (yup, you guessed it!) he married another 16 year old girl from his followers.
At about age 5 or 6 I met an uncle of my dad’s named Noel Howington. He and my dad tell this story about their grandfather Emmitt who married a Cherokee woman.
At the time (and much later) I thought very little of this. In those days, he would have been called a Squawman – and their kids would have been called half breeds or “breeds”. Now it seems to be an important piece of one’s roots. This would make me 1/8 Cherokee.
There is a story that Great Grandfather’s wife (I’m sorry I can’t remember her name) had a brother called Joe. Joe would come visit sometimes on a Sunday. He would be sent out to catch and kill a chicken for dinner. He never ran one down. Instead, he threw his tomahawk, and cut off his head while on the run (the chicken that is).
At age 7 or so we lived in Clintwood, Virginia, on John M. Skeens farm. This was near Cranes Nest River. I would sometimes go watch my uncles seine the river. They would get a sackful of fish, and the biggest bull frog I had every seen. Also some water dogs or “grampus” we called them. The grampus had teeth and could be real mean.
My dad took me with him one morning squirrel hunting. The chestnut trees were abundant then; we sat down near a huge one. It was loaded with ripening chestnuts. A dead tree had fallen across a small ravine about 50 feet from us.
Squirrels would come across right in front of us and Dad had a single barrel shot gun. He would pop them at our end of the dead log. I would run and fetch them, making sure that they were dead. When we left we had 22 squirrels. We would eat some, and Mom would can the rest.
Canning was an important way of life: if we didn’t can anything that was available at any given time, we could not survive. Canning included all farm and garden produce, as well as berries picked in the woods in the wild, and “greens”, such as plantin, sheepshear, polkgreens, murdolk, sourgrass, and polk in the early spring.
Canning also included meats that were well cooked. The cans had to be kept in a cool place, usually a cellar.
In our garden we would have beans, peas, potatoes, lettuce, onions, radishes, carrots, corn and rhubarb which I hated because it was never sweetened enough to suit me.
My favorite was “gravel potatoes” and peas. Along about May or June the peas would be pretty much grown. Mom would pick some and together with the potatoes and creamed cooked were so delicious. What Mom called “gravel potatoes” would be that she would take a kitchen fork to the garden and dig under the potato hill. The potatoes were just starting to form and were like marbles. She would go to several “hills” so as not to damage the growth of the product and she would gently replace the dirt she had dug out.
We ate the peas and pod as well along with the potatoes. Makes me wonder how come I’ve never to this day seen peas served in the pod except in Chinese food. Methinks we have lost a wonderful food item as they were so tender and delicious.
Also we would eat polk greens in the spring. When it first comes up it is young and tender and it was about like asparagus. It was very good. It was poison but you had to know how to cook it and we knew how.
We had no horses then, but we had a cow named Rose. Once Mom was chasing Rose out of the garden, and a pitchfork that had been left lying there penetrated all the way through Rose’s leg.
We also had a yoke of oxen named Buck and Billy. They were the most contrary of animals and did not like plowing. They would somehow get turned around head to head and I was always amazed that no necks were broken.
This was the year of the big flu epidemic. Everyone I knew had become very sick except me. Granddad Bob Meade came and took Aunt Alice home, carrying her about 7 miles piggyback. None of our family died – but some neighbors lost half of their families.