Tuesday, November 30, 2010
(Grandma is the smallest girl, wearing a dark collar)
I was born Easter Sunday, April 4th 1920, in a four room log house on a farm in Union County NC, part of a very large family and my parent’s 13th child. Their first two babies, Brice and Bleeka, died when they were less than two years old with Colitis, a terrible intestinal disease. It took the lives of a large percent of children because medical knowledge and treatment were not available.
My dad, Reece Johnson Simpson, purchased the land where I was born from Mr. Milas Helms about two years prior to my birth. They had lived across the creek at the ‘Duncan Place’, where their youngest son Clyde, our brother was born. My sister, Florence, who was 2 years older than me was also born in the same log house and where our oldest sister, Bright gave birth to her daughter Ruth.
(Reece Johnson Simpson)
Clyde told me that our daddy also bought a small joining piece of land from Mr. Glice Allen for $25, using the money he got from selling a hunting dog! This plot is on Indian Trail-Fairview Road on the curve across from Simpson Road.
Our grandfather, John Culpepper Simpson and grandmother, Martha Ann Clontz Simpson, lived on the farm across the road. When they passed away our Daddy bought their property, which gave us a much larger farm for all of us children to work and play.
(John Culpepper Simpson and Martha Ann Clontz Simpson)
Our mother, Sarah Frances Rowell Simpson, passed away when I was 2 years and 8 months old. I have no memory of her, but have been told that she was very kind and sweet. Sometimes I feel I know her. She was a Christian lady that loved her children, but died at age 42, on December 1st, 1922. She was also pregnant with her 14th baby.
(Sara Frances Rowell Simpson)
The following year, Daddy married Bessie Helms, a good woman who treated all of us as we were her own children. She would take us with her to pick wild strawberries and blackberries and to the creek to go fishing! We would get canes beside the creek and make fishing poles then walk up and down the creek bank fishing. When we got home, we were so tired and hungry! She would bake a huge pan of cornbread and we would have with milk and beans that were left over from dinner or maybe kraut. Sometimes she would cook the stove full of baked sweet potatoes! Or she would bake large pan of “molasses bread” and we would have fresh green onions from the garden!!
Electricity and telephones were only available in the cities. There was no running water in the home, so we had to “run to the well” with a bucket in each hand and carry to the house. We carried water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, watering flowers, filling the T model Ford radiator or for whatever water was needed. Having large families was good when it came to chores!
(following is a postcard drawing of Monroe's Main Street in 1922, which is in the same county - Union County, NC. You can see the "city" Grandma referred to here)
When we did laundry, we had 2 or 3 large black wash pots in the yard. After we carried the water to the wash pots, we would start a fire around them to heat the water. When the water was heated, we would take some out and pour into tin tubs and scrub the clothes on a washboard, then back into the hot water, boil them, back to the washboard to scrub some more, then rinsed and hung on long clothesline to dry. On washday our house was completely surrounded with clothes drying on the line! When they were dry, it was time to iron! The iron was heated on the cooking range in the kitchen.
We used the same tin tubs, filled them with water and put them behind the cooking range to warm from the heat then Saturday nights it was bath time! There would be roll call and one at a time we took our baths!
Daddy planted several acres of cotton, cane, corn and vegetables. There was the planting, hoeing and gathering for all of us to do. Gardens were in several locations and we grew almost everything we ate. We had large patches or gardens of potatoes, onions, cabbage, turnips, greens, sweet potatoes, peas, string beans, lima beans, tomatoes and lots of okra. We all loved that okra! After planting time and all crops were cultivated, it was vacation from the crops until harvest time.
During the time before harvest, our Dad’s out of town relatives would come for a visit. Sometimes they would stay for the weekend and sometimes for a week. The boys would give up their beds and find somewhere else to sleep and the upstairs would be used for the guest room. We would have lemonade made in new tin tubs and good food! Especially the chicken and dumplings, and desserts!
When the grain was harvested, men would come with threshing machines to thresh the grain. For payment, daddy would give them a portion of the grain. When the corn was gathered, it was put in large piles and the men and children would shuck the corn. Neighbors would help neighbors, the men working in the field and the women cooking. The kitchen would be covered with great food and desserts!
Our neighbor, Mr. Dave Furr had a corn mill and daddy took our dried corn to be ground into cornmeal or grits. The wheat was ground into flour for baking and biscuits! Our step mother made big batches of dough for the many biscuits she made for our large family. These biscuits were so good with the wild strawberries we picked for jam. Those wild strawberries were much better than the ones grown now!
The cotton fields would be white for the harvest and we would have to get up very early to pick. Our brothers would then load it on a wagon and we would walk on it to pack it down. Daddy would then take to the gin to sell. If the price was not agreeable, he would bring it back home and leave it under the trees until the price rose. We all loved to play on the cotton!
Dad had a work shop that had a large pan that held coal. He would light a fire and let the coals get very hot, put the edge of a plow or other equipment into the hot coals, heat until red hot then take to the anvil and pound until they were sharp. This made the plow cut into the ground easier to work the crops. To keep the fire hot, it had a handle to turn that would blow air on the coals. I have turned the handle many times! The fire was so hot it would make my face very red and it was during the hot summertime!
There were pigs or ‘hogs’ on the farm that gave us plenty of side meat and country ham that was kept in the ‘smokehouse’. This is also where we kept our canned foods that were in half gallon jars. In the fall, before frost, we pulled green tomatoes and placed them in cotton seed then put in the smokehouse to ripen for cold weather.
We ate at a long table with a bench against the wall for the smaller children. When we had visitors, we were excited because we would have chicken, all different kinds of good food, cakes and pies! The adults all ate first and the children had to eat what was left, which did not include the best parts of the chicken!
There were cows that the ‘girls’ milked twice daily and gave us plenty of milk for cooking and drinking. We would put some of the milk in a churn and when it turned sour or ‘clabbered’, we would sit and churn until the milk turned into ‘buttermilk’. The buttermilk would separate from the butter, we would skim the butter off the top, put it in water to get the milk out, add some salt and form it into a ball or mold. We had homemade molasses and butter with homemade biscuits for breakfast. That is the only way I could eat butter, it had to be melted in molasses so I could not see it!
Daddy always woke us before daylight so we could get an early start working. One morning I slept late, so I must have been sick, because late sleeping was not allowed! I went into the kitchen for breakfast, we didn’t have anything but butter and molasses and I said that I couldn’t eat this after daylight!
The molasses came from cane stalks that we grew in a large field. Cane grows tall like corn with seeds that form on top of the stalks.
We had to strip all of the fodder or leaves off the cane, lay it in piles and cut off the seed heads with a very sharp knife. We would then tie them in bundles and load on a wagon. Our brothers would take the wagon to the ‘cane mill’ where the juice was squeezed out and boiled until it made syrup or molasses. We had a large L shaped back porch and the molasses was stored all winter in the corner where it would not get wet in a large 50 gallon barrel that had a spigot for pouring.
In a smaller barrel on the porch, we had homemade kraut that we had made from chopped cabbage. The kraut barrel wood top was covered with cloth and large clean rock sat on top of the cloth. All of us children would love to drink the kraut juice and we called it ‘Kraut Liquor’.
There was no refrigeration during those days and before daddy bought our ice box, we would put food into the well bucket and drop it down into the well until the bottom of the bucket touched the water. When we needed water, we would bring up the bucket, take out the food, let down the bucket for water, bring up the water and pour it into container, put the food back into the bucket then back down in the well again!
Our brothers loved to frog gig. The gig was made from a stick with sharp end to catch the frogs. After they gigged them, they would clean and skin them. We loved to watch the legs jump in the hot grease when they were cooking, but mostly, we loved to eat them! They would hunt birds and rabbits and they also had rabbit boxes to catch and trap them.
We never told our parents that we were bored; we always had something to do. The girls would play with dolls, which was a brick or corn cob wrapped in cloth. We also made mud pies at the branch in front of our house and decorated them with wild flowers or weeds. We played church, dodge ball or ‘Hailey Hailey over’, which is pitching a ball over the top of the kitchen and someone on the other side catching it. We also pitched horse shoes and the boys made sling shots to shoot at birds.
When we played church, Marvin and Clyde were the preachers and both grew up to become great preachers. We would cry and shout and then baptize, although we ‘pretended’ we were in water! We also cleared the woods and made houses, put moss around our pretend houses then we had a ‘brush arbor’ for our preaching! We also had pretend funerals. Just like the preachers did during burial service, we would sprinkle ashes into the grave and say “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust”.
I remember one day Marvin had a ‘Prince Albert’ tobacco can and told us that the picture on it was our daddy!
Our brother, Roy was about 20 years older than I was and the oldest living child and I was the youngest at that time. One day he told daddy that he was not able to work that day because his arm was hurt and may be broken. He put the arm in a sling, but short time later someone saw him out in the woods throwing rocks at a cat and that ended his vacation!
One day, Florence and I were peeling potatoes on the back porch when we got into a little argument. She had a potato on the end of her knife and hit me. The potato came off and the knife cut my knee, it bled and scared me and I started crying. Our daddy was going to whip her, but I told him it was an accident. He was a very stern man! He had razor strap for sharpening his straight razor and he would also use that strap on us!
I thought God was stern and got angry with us just like daddy and not until I became an adult did I understand that God was the opposite. I have always believed in prayer and remember when I was a child that I would love to pray when I was swinging!
Everyone had fenced in flower gardens to keep animals and children out. We had hollyhocks, lilacs, bridal wreath, Easter roses, zinnias, poppies, verbena and petunias. There were usually cut flowers in our home especially on weekends and when visitors came.
Since we did not have electricity, we used kerosene lamps and had one special lamp that was only used when visitors came. We called it ‘Aladdin Lamp’ and I really loved it! The kerosene lamps globes all had to be washed and we had to trim the wicks. Always chores to do!
We had to bring in firewood for the fireplaces and stove wood for cooking so we kept some of the wood stacked on the porch. The stove was large and had a compartment or reservoir on the side that was kept filled with water, which stayed warm and a large black kettle on the stove that was also kept full. We would also have to clean out the ashes!
Daddy and our brothers would cut down trees, trim them and haul them behind our house. Then someone with wood saw would come and cut them into logs the length of our stove. The logs had to be dried and then split. We all split them and I have helped many times.
In the early spring, we would get sacks of dry beans still in the hull that we had picked the summer before and we would beat them with a stick to remove the bean from the hull. Daddy would pour them out on a burlap sheet and pick out the biggest trash then pour the beans into a bucket. He would then hold the bucket high, pour them slowly on a big sheet to let the wind blow the trash out. Some were for planting and some to cook in our big black cast iron pot with ham bone! We had white beans, lima beans and peas.
We had a large pond on the farm where we would fish and swim. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned to swim, but probably about 3 or 4. In the winter we would ice skate with no supervision! I guess the older kids watched over the younger ones!
Our closest friends were the Furrs, the Hills and the Helms, our brother Randolph married the Helms daughter Faire Helms. We would take walks on the roads with all these young people and sing. Another family we loved to spend time with was Mr. George Broome’s family and our brother, Louie married their daughter Velma. Her brother and sister, Ned and Maggie were twins. We loved to go to the apple trees at night when their family would visit. Under the stars we would catch lighting bugs and listen to the screech owls while we told scary ghost stories, or just sit around on the ground laughing and talking.
Sometimes we would gather at different homes for a night of music and fun. There would be singing with piano, organ or guitar. There was also fiddling and dancing! This was during the time of the ‘Charleston’ and I really wanted to learn to dance, especially to square dance, but daddy said it was a terrible sin! I still get excited when I see dancing!
We would gather in the family room at night, tell funny stories, played checkers or tic-tac-toe and ate roasted peanuts, popcorn or sweet potatoes! When I was a teenager, our neighbors, J.B. and Rachel Deese would come over and we had so much fun together!
When our older sisters, Bright and Bettie Lee were teenagers, I was small, but remember they were lots of young people who would come over. They would all be in the parlor with the door open and I could hear the laughing and knew they were all having a great time.
Our house was on a hill and there were several trees in front, Water Oaks, Sweet Gum, Sycamore and Persimmon. When the Persimmons ripened we all loved to eat them! It was so much fun playing under those trees! We played horseshoes, which I loved, but one day I accidently hit my brother Smith’s son, Paul Simpson in the head and it poured blood, I thought I had killed him!
Those big trees also had lots of leaves that fell during the fall and we would sweep into big piles and burn them. I loved the smell of burning leaves! We swept our yard with brooms that we made from dogwood trees and we swept our house with brooms that we made from broom straw that we gathered in the fields. We made scouring brooms from corn shucks that we attached to a board with holes in it. We used these to scrub the floor using Red Devil Lye and soap.
For our social activity we went to Union Grove Methodist Church that was near our home. We were members at Benton’s Cross Roads Baptist Church and worshiped there on Sunday mornings, but Union Grove had Sunday School in the afternoons so we would also go there where we had lots of friends!
Bill Ormond, the Sunday School Superintendent at Union Grove, would have ‘Turtle Races’ on Saturday evenings. We would take turtles, mark them, and put them in center of a circle. The turtle that reached the edge of the circle first was the winner. I don’t remember the prize, but it was lots of fun.
There were revivals that were called ‘Big Meetings’. I remember one of our neighbors, Mr. Amos Haywood, who lived just beyond the creek on Lawyers Road, who was a church member at Union Grove. He was a preacher and would pray the loudest of anyone I ever heard. We could hear him praying all the way to our house and Dot Furr McGraw, who lived about a mile away, also could hear him at their house. He was Godly man whose wife always cooked their Sunday meals on Saturday so she did not have to cook on Sundays.
We went to the ‘Big Meetings’ also at Benton’s Cross Roads Baptist Church. The church yard would be full of cars. People would drive long distance to hear the visiting preacher and on Sunday that the revival started, we would have ‘dinner on the ground’. There were no fellowship buildings or tables outside, so the ladies would spread table cloths or sheets on the ground in long row and put the food there. When our brother Clyde was a small child, he saw a lady wearing a low cut dress and when she leaned over to put her food out, he said that he saw ‘dinner on the ground’ through her dress! He was really teased about that!
Revival services would last a week and sometimes two weeks. The church would be completely filled, the windows would be raised and people would sit on the windows, stand outside the windows or drive their cars close and sit in their cars. They would shout and go to the altar and repent! Also all work would be stopped for the week! There would be services in the mornings with testimonies, then services at night. The preachers would visit the people in the community and then have meals with church members.
Evangelist would come to Monroe and other areas, set up a large tent, spread sawdust on the ground and put down benches. One evangelist was ‘Cyclone Mack’ and one local minister from Monroe, Preacher Mitchum, who was great speaker and was later broadcasting on the radio.
(photo of Grandma "Blanche" with her dad, step-mom, and brothers and sisters)