MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD
by VERA CLEMENTINE ARLEDGE COPELAND of Etowah County, Alabama (1987)
(sent to Pam Wilson by her grand-niece, Ann Arledge Tilley, of Attalla, AL)
After eighty long years of ups and downs I am going to write a few lines to my grandchildren of how it was when I was a little girl.
Born on an eighty acre cotton and corn farm a mile from Crudup, Alabama and Iron Ore Mine at which my father was a boss--My mother kept house, a few boarders now and then and some of my father's nieces and nephews (Will, Addie, Fronia Arledge).
My father died with peritonitis in a Birmingham, Alabama Hospital. My mother stayed with him to the last. He took sick in his hotel room. He was attending a Red-Man Lodge Convention when he became ill. Those days you had no drugs for infection like we have today. I remember the morning the train brought him home. You could stand on our front porch and see the depot very plain, although it was most a mile away. It was a pretty clear morning. The train did not blow the whistle when it stopped or when it pulled away--so very quiet and peaceful. As I said in the beginning, I was the youngest of six children--three boys, three girls--Oscar, Lula, Bradley, Tip, Ida and I (Vera). The boys called me "Bob"; and most every one else did, also.
Mama would tell us the last time she saw her dad was on a road up near Keener, Alabama that turned off toward Sand Mountain and went to Corinth, Mississippi. He was riding a big chestnut colored horse: she was only about four years old; she waved goodbye to him and went to live with her two maiden aunts, Rhoda and Annie Rink. She never saw him again hut learned that he married another woman later in life. Her mother and infant sister, also the two aunts, are buried in the family cemetery in Bethany, Alabama near Reece City, Alabama.
Times when my daddy was living was great. We had plenty of everything. Lula was given music lessons. Oscar had a horse and buggy. We had picnic supper up the hollow where there was a spring and running water. Mama did the wash up there. We had a tub board and battling bench.
We also had pound suppers where the girls brought cakes, fruit and all good things to eat and parties in our living room which was the largest anywhere.
We had four chestnut trees, two on the way to the spring and two on the other side of the house. The two on the way to the spring was mine, at least I claimed them; and in the fall we gathered the chestnuts and sold them mostly to two young men, the Galloway brothers, who lived a mile and a half above us; and each owned a motorcycle apiece. Tom, the youngest, would let me ride on the motorcycle handlebars to school which was at Crudup, a mile down the road, He worked in Gadsden. There wasn't many cars in those days. But I remember daddy planned to buy one, and the salesman brought one for him to try. He carried Mamma and Lula and some of the boys to ride in it. It was a touring car with the top let down, But, of course, he passed away; and that was the last of the car deal.
We had no running water, just a well in the front yard and a sprinq up the hollow. We brought our water in cedar buckets which had to be scrubbed every Saturday. Our cooking stove had a small tank on the side which held water for use for baths. It was a large Home Comfort Stove with a warming oven over the top where Mamma would warm leftover food for our supper. She was a good cook as well as Lula. We had an ash hopper where we dumped our ashes from the fire place, and then you poured water into that and made lye that she used to make homemade soap and to which she would add Red Devil Lye to this when it was making. It was very hard on your hands, but made beautiful sheets and shirts that you hung out in the sun to dry.
I remember very little about what happened when I was a child, only the usual things. I played; and being the youngest, I guess I was petted a lot. I would play under the porch digging for Doodle Bugs, of which I have never seen anywhere else or since. But you could take a small stick and put in the hole and sing: "Doodle up, Doodle Up, Come to supper" and a little small grey bug would come out of the hole. It was fun on a rainy day.
We had no radio or telephone. They all came later.
As times passed the mines went out of business; times began to get hard. Mamma had a vegetable garden where we grew most of what we had to eat. We had no refrigeration of any kind, but she canned and dried apples and peaches and pickled some beans. We raised hogs for our meat, the best country hams. We always had a cow for our milk and butter. In the winter we had turnip greens, winter cabbage, and collards. We had a good life--oil lamps for light and a large wood fire in the front room, we also had a fireplace in the kitchen where Mamma would cook cornbread, bake sweet potatoes and sometimes make hominy. Also, there was a rack from which you could hang a pot to cook beans and were they ever
good! We had two mules. One a red one called Lightning, the other a black one called Kate which I rode, believe it or not without a saddle, with a dress on. You seldom wore pants, sometimes some of the boys old ones.
SUNDAY, MAY 10, 1987, MOTHER'S DAY
Scott has just called to wish me happy Mother's Day, and I am a little mixed up but so happy for his call.
My mamma loved flowers. We had a lots of large crepe myrtle trees, roses, jonquils, hyacinths, both pink and purple ones, a large pomegranite tree at the corner of the house. And in the fall when it frost the pomegranites would pop open, and the seeds were very sweet and good to eat.
We worked in the fields, both hoeing cotton and picking it in the fall. In the spring I would carry guaner to the boys--whoever was doing the planting of the cotton as well as cotton seeds far the planter. At other times I would carry a bucket or jug of water for them to drink. Tom would always fuss if I got grass seeds in the water bucket. I was too small to hold it up. There was a frog hole on the side of the road, and I remember I would stop and talk to him. Instead of calling it a toad frog, to me he was a Hoppy Toad. I believe he lived in that same hole for several years. Those days we all would have cotton picking where we would meet at each other’s farm together and pick cotton, have a big dinner with a party that night. That was all the fun we had--no radio, TV or anything--maybe a graphaphane, organ or piano. There was no drugs like today. Same of the boys would drink some whiskey. Later beer became available--but not like today.
The boys were always doing things around the house. There was a large oak tree from which they put a chain swing, and we got on that and tried to reach some of the low hanging branches. They built a what we called a "flying Jenny" (merry-go-round), which after riding on it you would be sick at your stomach. One day Bradley and Tip had the shotgun shooting at spots. Mamma told them not to do it. But they didn't listen, so as they slid the guns back on the, porch, Tip's gun went off and shot his little finger away. Dr. Gilliand came and, with oil lamp for light, operated on his hand. Delia Brock, a neighbor, held the lamp, and they operated on a table in the front room. Tip lost the use of the ring finger on that hand also, but the rest of his hand was saved.
I don't know hardly how to word this so you will understand, but doctors were not too close by and had to travel in horse and buggies most of the time. Mamma was a mid-wife (that is what they were called!. So when a baby was ready to be born, they always sent for Mamma. She was very good in helping out. She went to both black and white mothers. Sometimes they paid her in money; other times whatever they had; sometimes only milk and butter; sometimes nothing at all.
Ida and I would take dinner to the men who boarded with us. I remember one time on the way down to Crudup. Ida always went off in front of me. I was a way behind, so off to the side of the road on top of a steep bank where was this big chicken snake. We didn't try to kill it, just let it crawl on off.
We walked to school every day along with the Maise and Crump and Keener children. When it rained or some times snowed, Tip would come and get us in a two horse wagon. That was the only school we ever attended; but as our grades progressed, there was four of us--Hubble Trucker, Grace Daniel, Ida and I. So Mr. Tucker had our teacher, Venice Cooper who lived in Attalla, bring books and records from Etowah High School (Attalla) and teach us.
I always wore leftover clothes. I remember the first silk dress I ever had was made from one of Lena's old ones, a pink silk. Lula and Lena made it over for me.
We had chickens that ran out in the yard. I would gather the eggs. Sometimes they would lay up under the house floor. I would set the hen with about fifteen eggs and wait for the eggs to hatch. It was interesting to see the little chickens crack the egg shell and come from them. We would put the mother hen in a pen made out of stove wood and set in the yard. Sometimes we would have as many as four or six pens. I always had a small dog and several cats. Our house was on a hill. Not anyone lived close to us. So the dogs and chickens could run around, not bothering anyone. Sometimes all the eggs would hatch. The chickens were so pretty when you held them in your hands.
My daddy smoked a cigar and would hold me on his lap and always brought me a five cent bag of candy when he came from work. He also wore a black mustache. He had black hair and brown eyes.
One fall when we had finished picking cotton Mamma bought Lula, Ida and herself a fur coat. It wasn’t mink like the fur coats of today, but they were beautiful ones. I didn’t get one, but Oscar went and bought me one. It was so pretty and had red and green colored fur on the cuffs and collar. The coat was black.
We would hoe the cotton for our neighbors for one dollar a day, and that was from sunrise until it set in the evening—with thirty minutes for dinner. Mama and I was hoeing cotton down across the railroad one day. I was about fifteen and a half years old. Mama said to me, Vera, there will never be anything for you here, so if you want to you can go into nurse’s training with Ida." Ida was already at Ralls Sanitarium in Gadsden. Although you was to be sixteen they would take me in training as Ida was already there and they were in need of nurses. It was hard work, but I was used to working in the sun, and this was in the shade always. I graduated from nurses training after three years in 1925.
I wore black patent leather baby doll slippers in the summer. Mamma and Lula made all of my dresses which was very pretty until I got old enough to sew myself. In the winter high top lace shoes, always black ones, long black stockings and sometimes white ones. We were always in school plays. Ida could memorize long verses; but me, I was the dumb one, only in algebra of what I was really good. We had spelling bees every Friday; sometimes I would go to the head of the class but most often not.
Mamma was a pretty woman with long black hair. Lula's hair was a kind of red which she inherited from my daddy's side of the family. Ida had long curly dark hair. Of course mine was always cut short--chestnut colored.
I said earlier we had a milk cow that Lula and Ida milked and brought the milk to the house and strained it into a churn that was covered with a white cloth and placed near the fire in the fireplace where it would clabber, and then some one would churn it and make butter. Then Mamma would take a wooden paddle and work all of the milk out of it, mold it into a wooden mold, and decorate it on the top with stars.
I slept with Mamma after daddy's death. We always said our prayer and good night before we went to sleep, "Now I lay me down to sleep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen."
January 28, 1989, Transcribed; originally written in 1987
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