History and Description of My Grandmother’s
Old Smith Home Place at Select, Ohio County, Kentucky
Over a 17-year period, I interviewed my grandmother, Eva Caroline (Smith) Cox for her memories as a girl when she was growing up, and in fact, for her entire life history. She lived to be 99.9 years old and I was still interviewing her and capturing her stories on audio tape six months before her death on December 4, 1988.
One day I decided to pick out all the references and stories she told about what their house and home place looked like. And I also chose some excerpts from the taped transcriptions of interviews with my dad, Gilbert O. Cox, Sr., who was a retired rail road engineer at the time in the 1970s. On Saturday or Sunday afternoons, we sometimes gathered around my grandmother’s dining table, and sat and visited with each other, usually telling what had been going on in our lives during the week. I always tried to steer at least some of the conversation to the “olden days in Kentucky.”
These pages are just in rough draft which I will be adding to as I find appropriate mentions and more stories that my grandmother described about their home and farm place. My daughter is now taking my type-written pages and retyping them into a computer, which will enable me to move paragraphs around as I write my book on my grandmother’s life and that of her parents and grandparents – the James Thomas Smith and Charles Sanders families of Select, Ohio County, Kentucky.
On one visit when I interviewed my grandmother, I asked her to pretend we were sitting out on her screened-in back porch on her family’s old home place where she grew up. I asked her to tell me what she could see in her mind’s eye in the back yard, looking out back from left to right.
She told me about the garden walk that stair-stepped down to the grape arbor and the privy, and then the smokehouse, the well with the old dinner bell beside it, (which I now have beside my front door) and the new two-story barn that her daddy built of logs, and the wood shed and other outbuildings farther back out from the house. The sheds and barns were a good place for the children to play, or hide in the hay loft. The lower part had storage space for feed, saddles, bridles, and farm plows and equipment. The buggy was also parked under a shed near the barn.
My grandmother also told this story about their dinner bell, which was pretty large, made in Ohio in the 1880’s (according to my research). (I have had it mounted on a wrought iron stand). She said they rang the dinner bell when they wanted to signal to the men and boys plowing in the fields that dinner was ready. She said that when the horses and mules heard it ring, they stopped in their tracks because they knew they were going to get to come to the house, get a drink of water, get their harnesses off, and rest awhile, while the men ate their dinner. Then the men filled up their burlap-covered jugs with cool well water, went back to plowing, and wouldn't be returning to the house till the sun started going down.
She said they had a screened-in back porch, with a long table and benches on both sides out on the porch. Their large family often ate out there, where there was a summer breeze most of the time and it was much cooler than eating inside. I think she said the porch had wood half way up the walls. It had the prettiest blue morning glories planted that ran up wires beside the back door…that grew on both sides. Sometimes she said they would sit out there with bowls or pans in their laps and shell peas and butter beans and talk. Sometimes they shucked corn for canning. The porch and its table and benches were well used almost all year long.
In the winter though, they moved their dining table and the long benches inside and set it in front of the fire-place.
In one corner of the kitchen near the black iron cook stove, they had a hand-cranked coffee grinder that was mounted on the wall to grind the coffee beans, and that made grinding easier. It was the only way they had to grind the coffee beans and produced good and flavorful cups of coffee for breakfast every morning. The beans were ground slowly with a manual burr grinder, and was somewhat time-consuming. Grinding coffee beans also took some energy if you were grinding coffee for more than a couple of cups. The children were enlisted to do this work and took turns…an early morning ritual.
She said those were good times, a simple way of life even though they worked hard. Eight children grew up in their new house, and as they married, they brought their children to visit their grandparents in that old fashioned log house. It was their home place where later, all the family gathered together when they could, for special occasions, holidays, and birthdays.
When I asked my grandmother what was the earliest thing she could recall in her childhood, my aunt Eula Mae, quickly asked before grandmother could answer: “When you built this new home. Did you say you remember that?”
GRANDMOTHER: Yes, uh-hum, I don’t think I was over three years old. Mother told me I wasn’t over four, if I remember. But I remember carrying things up the hill from the old house to the new house. Little things, you know. Everybody had to help. It was about as far as from here to Gilbert’s, not very much further. (My parents lived across the highway from my grandparents which would be about a block from one door to the other, maybe a little bit further, JB). Grandmother said she was four years old when the new house was built on the hill, about a block from where their old house was – in 1892.
GRANDMOTHER: The old house had logs in it, and our new house did too. Oh, yes. It was built out of logs, but the logs were wide, and you would think they was round, wouldn’t you? On each side, they was shaved down and they fit them logs. Square. You just can’t imagine. They planed them. They had the lumber off our place. And then they weather-boarded it. They sealed it. It was weather-boarded on the outside. And they sealed it inside and papered it. Yes, it was a log house, there was no cracks. And then it was weather-boarded and painted. And ceiled inside and papered. And you couldn’t hear anything or see anything through cracks.
And the chimney was right in the center between these two rooms. It wasn’t at the end of the house. And it heated both rooms. And you couldn’t hear people talk too much when you were in the other part of the house. Because the logs were so thick, you see. And my daddy painted the house every year.
Well, the stairs come down in the room where we mostly stayed. But I can remember having to come downstairs, when I was cutting up and making a lot of noise, and they would tell me to come down. They never did get after us, except at night, you know, if we were scuffling. They would make us take our seat right down on those steps, and Mother would say, “Now stay there until I tell you to go to bed.” And that was the end of it. And sometimes they went off to sleep and left us sitting. And I would hear that old clock strike, but I wouldn’t get up and slip back in there to sleep. And I would sit there a little longer. (Chuckling.) It was me and Ella or one of the boys. Ella and me, mostly. I think when they woke up…I know they went to sleep. They would call you and say, “Now you can go back to bed if you think you can behave.” And I was ready to behave. I can remember that.
We didn’t have a grandfather’s clock, but we had one just as good. And it chimed. Sat on the mantle. It was really good. And that clock…from the time I can remember until I was married, they never had no trouble with it. It was a clock that chimed, with weights. Yes. Had a heavy weight on each side. They called it an 8-day clock. They had to wind it every eight days. But the chimes were loud, and you could hear it all over the house.
No, it didn’t get cold. It was always warm in there. There was always a big log burning in the fireplace. I think there was a closet under the stairway where they put wood in. Oh, it’s been so many years ago, I have almost forgot. We always had lots of wood stacked up for wintertime. The boys cut the wood, but the girls brought it in, the same as the boys.”
(Describing the Upstairs). “The girl’s bedroom had a pole or rod, and our clothes were hung. And we could just walk down through there and there’s where Ma put all of our clothes. Dresses and slips and everything.”
The new home was originally constructed as a two-story structure, as shown in a picture of the old house that Auntie gave me once, which shows my daddy squatting down holding a little rabbit which he had trapped that day.
GRANDMOTHER: Oh those maple trees, there at home? We went and dug them up in the woods and brought them to the house and set them out across the front of the yard. Four I believe it was…or five. Each one of us claimed these trees. And oh, they growed and was so pretty. And each one took care of their own tree, watering it, and then they grew to be big trees. I think they are all gone now…the house and everything is gone. (Nov 1976 tape). Mother did all the sewing. On a sewing machine. She loved to sew. She bought the material. She had a spinning wheel too. And she would weave, and card. But she made our gloves and caps to wear…she knitted those. That was the only way you had. You had to be self-sufficient in those days.
On our farm, we had most everything. Cattle, horses, sheep, hogs. Geese. We always had to help pick them. We had to hold them when they picked them…laughing…I can remember that! And we made feather pillows and feather beds out of them. They were white geese, if I am not mistaken. Maybe blue geese. But I never did have to help.
Mother canned everything in jars. Dried apples and peaches, and everything. She put the apples and peaches upon the house…on the smokehouse, so nothing could get to them while they were drying.
It had a very pretty old-fashioned garden walk that led down to large grape arbor at the end of the garden walk (that I thought must have added a lot of charm to the back yard when the young people had their friends over. I could just see it as she described it. The blossoming grape arbor must have been a delightful place with benches along the inside where the children used to play and elders could sit in the shadow of the grape leaves on hot afternoons, listen to the birds singing, watch the butterflies in residence, and visit a while).
GRANDMOTHER…telling about gardening: All of us worked in the garden. I’ve worked a many…I worked anywhere and everywhere. Us girls knew how to work. We could hitch up a team to the wagon or to the buggy. Yes, we could do anything we wanted to do. And worked in the garden too.
A cherry tree grew by the back door. And my mother, Sarah (Sanders) Smith, made delicious cherry cobblers.
My Dad told about the cherry tree: They had a big cherry tree. “Had black cherries on it, growing right by the kitchen door. And my grandmother made her own soap and it was lye soap, and she would throw that dishwater out on that old cherry tree. Every time she finished washing the dishes, she would throw the dish water up on the body of that tree, and it would run down to the bottom of it. And that was the biggest, healthiest cherry tree I have ever seen in my life. It got up so high, that the limbs would grow out over the roof of the house, and the shingles. And boy, those were the best cherries you have ever eat. She would make those cherry cobblers out of them. And I would get up there and fill my stomach up with ripe cherries right off that tree and then pick enough cherries to make a cobbler, and fight the jay birds. Because they were all in there after them.”
My grandmother described how there was a long dirt walk, rock hard from so many people using it every day. It was swept clean daily by one of the children, using a broom made of twigs. The landscaped walk, with red and white peonies planted on both sides, stair-stepped down with one path leading to the fragrant grape arbor, and another path that forked off to the privy, hidden from the house by the limbertwig tree, grandmother said. Her daddy kept the grape vines pruned and trained to grow up wire trellises to avoid a tangled mass of twining vines.
A quiet lane about a block or so long ran from the main road up to the house, and her dad always had a tobacco field off to one side of the house. And they worked in it until harvest time. It was their cash crop, and her daddy took it to
GRANDMOTHER: We had a happy home when we were kids…at home. I don’t know…it was just a happy home. In that time, we sat around the fireplace and popped corn, and made candy, and eat apples. Just had a good time. Yes, and we were all close too. Because we stayed at home, and all the family was together.”
“Auntie,” (Mary Elizabeth (Smith) Sandefur) told me a number of stories about growing up that I wish I had recorded but did not. However I did make notes later about some of the things she told me:
Auntie said their house was a big two-story house, painted white, with pretty wall paper. The bedrooms were all upstairs and they had one bedroom downstairs. They had a lot of flowers and the prettiest garden walk with peonies that looked like wax - red and white. At the end of the garden walk, the landscape stair-stepped, and they had a grape arbor with a slatted roof-top.
Auntie said that Grandma Sanders' house had a summer kitchen where they cooked and canned.
She also said they had a dog, named Old Sport that slept by the chimney and he bit Grandmother once. He was a good guard dog.
They had a smoke house out behind the house. She could remember that her father killed 16 hogs one cold winter day, and there were lots of people there. They let her walk to Grandma Sanders' house to get a knife to use in the hog-killing.
Lilacs arrived in the early spring and those hardy shrubs filled spring with its delicate scent and profusion of blooms - white and purple.”
More than two decades have passed since my grandmother’s health began to fail, and eventually her death at the age of 99 years and 9 months. I will always have wonderful memories of sitting around her mahogany dining room table where everyone gathered and enjoyed afternoon refreshments – usually coffee and cake – and conversation that I tried to steer around to my grandmother’s home life and growing up at Select. I always took my tape recorder when I visited her.
I have carried those memories around with me ever since and transcribed them from tape to type, and now it’s time to write my book about her life so that future generations will appreciate seeing a very special ancestor and the way times were when she was growing up.
I think of her often – sometimes she and granddaddy sat in the swing on the front porch that faced the west, but most of the time they sat out on her screened-in back porch built back off the kitchen and dining room, where there were several chairs and rockers. It faced the east and there always seemed to be a breeze blowing through it. Both the front and back porch could accommodate a number of visitors, mostly family members. Often on Sunday – sometimes Saturday – Joye and Frank and Auntie would drive over from
Palestine to spend the day
and visit. Auntie was my grandmother’s
older sister – Mary Elizabeth, called “Betty” by her family, but called
“Auntie” by all of us (because she was the aunt of my dad, Retha, and Darrell –
and my great-aunt). Auntie’s husband,
Everett Sanderfur, whom we called “Uncle” died in June 1954; Auntie died in
I forgot to mention that Grandmother usually had a hanging basket or two on both the front and back porches of her home, and a bed of old fashioned petunias that didn’t require too much fuss planted in front of both porches. They always remember how pretty they were and how good they smelled.
G.O. (My dad was called G.O. by his grandchildren because my children had all of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers living when they were born – six all together).
G. O.: - telling about Grandpa Smith and then about his barn:
“When we were back in Kentucky, we always went to my grandfather Smith’s house. Jim Smith. His name was James, but everybody called him Jim.
And he kept everything up. If it was raining, he still kept you busy. You would go to the barn and shell corn, or you would work on the harness or you would clean the stalls. There was something to do all the time. If nothing else, they had a big old keg of rusty nails. I never have forgot, a lot of them were square nails. And you would take a hammer and straighten them out. There was never a minute that you was there that you didn’t have to get up of a morning and…except Sunday, that was a day of rest…you were going to work all day. By the time you got through with one thing, he would have something else figured out. He had that going all the time. And there wasn’t much you could do about it…because he kept his eye on you and you didn’t hide out on him. If you did, he would soon find you. He would know right where you was. He knew!
Oh yes, I will tell you something else we had to do. Those horses had to be curried and brushed, and their collars cleaned off…because the sweat would build up on the leather collars, and when you brought a horse in of a night, and put him up and feed him, when you got through, you brushed his shoulders and curried him, and rubbed him down with a big old stiff brush. And fed him, and then you went and got that collar and cleaned all that caked dirt and sweat off of it. And he had a collar pad that went on the horse, and you had to clean that too.
My Grandfather Smith…like I told Conrad (my husband)…there was something to do from the time you got up in the morning until the time you went to bed at night. And when night come, you was ready to go to bed. You were give out because you had done worked. You can’t believe how primitive they lived, compared to the way we live now. If we want some beans, we run to the store and buy a little sack of beans. But you raised your own beans then. Planted them in the corn when you were planting the corn rows. And then you had to take meal sacks, and flour sacks, and go down there and pick them beans off of those corn stalks when they got dry. And you took a stick and beat that sack and knocked all the beans out of the hulls. And then you held them up and let the wind blow the trash out of them, and let the beans fall on a sheet. Sometimes I stood on the barn roof, and the wind blew the trash away. And they had something to put in them to keep the weevils from getting in them, but I forget what it was.
But there was something to do all the time. Just like when the peaches and apples was getting ripe. You were either canning them or you was cutting them up to dry. And Grandma had a lot of oil cloth, and you would get up on that smokehouse, and that was my job because I was a little boy and could get up there real easy, spread that oil cloth out, and they would hand me up those peaches and apples and I would spread them out on top of that oil cloth and have the whole top of that smokehouse covered with apples and peaches, drying. Drying in the sun for food that winter.”
And I said: “ I guess all the girls kept busy the same way. What did grandmother do when you were there visiting?”
G.O.: “Cooking, sewing, washing dishes. Washing clothes by hand. Yes. You had better believe it. Hanging them on bushes to dry…there would be so many clothes washed and didn’t have enough lines and fences to hang them on. Feed the chickens, gather up the eggs. Build hen nests. I could just sit here and tell you…there was something all the time. For everybody.
Or work in the garden. Hoeing weeds. Everybody had a hoe. Suckering tobacco…that was the money crop. Boy, you really worked in that tobacco. When he sold that tobacco in the fall, he carried it down to Cromwell, and put it on the boat and carried it to Owensboro and sold it, and when he come back, we met the boat that he come back on, and he brought everything with him that he was going to use the next year…two barrels of brown sugar. I never will forget that. The stuff we were going to have for Christmas. Coffee, pepper, salt, stuff like that. Flour. Bought flour by the barrel, because they didn’t grow much wheat there. Bought it by the barrel. Knocked the lid out of it, and it set over in the corner of the kitchen. Had a cloth over the top of it, and a sifter in it, and you went over there and got what flour you wanted, and sifted it right there on the side of that…and about that much of the flour would still be left in there.
Had a coffee mill mounted on the wall, and you roasted the coffee beans in the oven on the stove. Then take it out and grind it. And you roasted the coffee beans, and stirred them all the time they were roasting. And a wood stove to do it on. And you can imagine how hot it got. And the stove had a warmer on top that went up, and you kept that full of food up there. Stuff that was left from dinner, and you warmed it for supper. You couldn’t believe what it was like. You had to live it to really know.
But we had good times too. Sometimes we would go squirrel hunting and sometimes we would go rabbit hunting. And I did love to squirrel hunt. And we would get on a horse and ride down through the woods and there were so many squirrels that you could hunt off your horse. Grandpa even had one horse that he could shoot a squirrel off of…and the horse wouldn’t jump.
But that tobacco was something. You had to worm it. Pick the worms off. With your hands. Little old speckled worms, and you stepped on them. And they had a big old horn. When I was a little bitty baby, my mother gimme a tobacco worm to play with…put it in a pasteboard box and I would sit and look at it in that box, crawling around, and the box would keep it from getting away, too.
And you had to go pick them peaches. And boy, I ate enough of them. They had one tree that I just loved. It was a little bitty one, and when they were ripe, you could just break them open with one hand and eat a half would just make a good bite. It was an Indian Cling peach and it didn’t get very ripe until way up in the fall. And they had pear trees.
All the hay had to be put up in the loft of the barn. It was a two-story barn. And it had a hole cut at each manger in the stalls where you put the hay down through that hole into the hayrack down in the stall. And it was my job to go up there every night and feed them horses hay. I had to fill up that manger down through that hole. The ladder went up beside the runways that went through the barn, with stables on both sides. It had two big doors that stayed open nearly all the time…swinging doors that you could throw back and put the hay up there, and then in the wintertime, you closed it up…to keep the rain out.”
G.O.: “And then that smokehouse I’m telling you about. He had great big 5 and 10 gallon crocks filled with kraut, with big old wooden lids. And it would be foaming and you could smell it when you went down in that smoke house. But there would be 6 or 8 or 10 of them big old crocks all across the backside of it there…setting on boards, filled with kraut.”
G.O.: “We ground the corn into meal. I rode Old Barney, an old horse that was gentle, and my grandfather would pick me up and put a sack in front of me and one behind me, and I rode it about six miles down to my Uncle Letcher’s grist mill and saw mill, and he ground it up into meal and I brought it back.”
GRANDMOTHER: (telling about cutting the boy’s hair): The neighbors cut each other’s hair most of the time. But I don’t know…I don’t think they had any barber shop close. Course they did at Cromwell and Beaver Dam. Daddy cut a lot of their hair. They would come to the house and go out in the yard under a shade tree.
G. O.: And Grandpa Smith was a fox hunter. My grandmother would make a great big pan of bread…that big a square (measuring) for them dogs. Every evening. And if he told her not to feed the dogs, I knew we were going to go hunting that night. So they would run real good. And he would put me up in front of him in the saddle and away we would go. And we would meet four or five other fellows and they would all have their dogs, and boy, I’m telling you, the fox chase took place. And we would stop and listen to them dogs, and they could tell which dog was in the lead…and where the fox was going to cross. And we would get on those horses, and race to get there in the moonlight and watch the dogs cross with that fox. It was thrilling…to a little boy!
Yes, it was a pastime to them. He had the best dog there was in that country…my grandfather. His name was
Pullman. I don’t know where he got that name for him,
but I never will forget it. Pullman…like
the Pullman car on the back of a passenger train. And he had the best nose, and
one of the fastest dogs. I know one
night, we had started across a bridge over there at the Chancellor Creek over a
foot log when he was just a puppy, when my grandfather was training him, and it
was a coon he was after instead of a fox, and when we got up there, that coon
had a hold of that puppy on that log and pulled him off in that water. And it was icy, mind you. And Grandpa went right in that icy water and
grabbed that pup by the leg and that coon was still holding on to him, setting
right on top of his head. And he would
have drowned him, too, if Grandpa hadn’t of got him out. They will do that, a coon will.
GRANDMOTHER - telling about her dad, the fox hunter: “My daddy was a great fox hunter. He had fox dogs, and he went with all of them. All of them hunted. But daddy liked to go with Roy Stewart’s daddy. John Henry Stewart. Those two really loved to hunt together. Yes…they went fox hunting all the time! And then got up early of a morning and go to the field and work hard all day, and then his health give away. And Roy Stewart would come by to go fox hunting, and he would help him finish his work so he could go fox hunting with them. Roy Stewart’s daddy was a farmer too. And him and my daddy was as close as brothers. They sure was. (laughing)…he was a fine man.” (Roy Thompson Stewart married Aunt Ella Smith, grandmother’s younger sister next to her in age. Roy Stewart’s father was John Henry Stewart who married Susannah Miranda Cox (daughter of James William Cox and Mary Elizabeth Mitchell – Granddaddy’s parents). Grandmother also told this: “Some of the fox hunter’s families would come and spend the night and they rode in the wagon, and they would spend the night because it was too far to go back home at night. I don’t know...(she was trying to remember…) -- some of them that fox-hunted and the family would come and spend the night.”
GRANDMOTHER: No, we never did give any parties at home hardly. But we went to parties. No dancing. Just played games and made candy, and that was about all you had to do. Go to church, go to Sunday school. And school. (and she told about going to the county fair with her father). (Nov 7, 1976 tape)
GRANDMOTHER: Mother had a big old trunk and she always kept a little bottle of whiskey in there in case of sickness, and locked it. Cause if it was needed, doctors weren’t close by and it taken a while for someone to get there. And Mother would make a little toddy and give it until the doctor could get there,
(GRANDMOTHER -- describing her mother): My mother had light brown hair and blue eyes. And I guess Grandma Sanders did too.
“Charlie always had a fast horse. It was a traveling horse. We always liked to get on that old horse and go to Select and get the mail. And get the paper. About two miles. (Charlie was my grandmother’s oldest brother).
I saved these pictures Lynne Miller sent me because I heard my grandmother mention her church and the family cemetery where all the Smiths and Sanders are buried (her parents and grandparents – and some of her brothers and sisters. I visited it back in 1973.
Bald Knob Church is where Grandmother went to church. Next to it is the Brick House Burying Grounds, where Smith and Sanders families are buried. It is about four miles east of Beaver Dam, according to an obituary.
My grandmother mentioned their limbertwig tree with branches that drooped down, willow-like” that hid their privy, located out a ways from their grape arbor and garden. It produced medium to large apples, greenish or light yellow with light red stripes, and was usually harvested in late fall. It was an excellent keeper. Her mother made delicious cider from those apples, as well as apple butter, jelly, and wonderful apple cobblers and fried pies. It was also good for just eating out of hand. Grandmother described how they buried their apples in a bed of straw under a cone-shaped mound of dirt, for eating in the wintertime. To keep them from freezing. They could just open up a hole, reach their hand in there, and pull out an apple to eat – or to take a bucketful to the house for cooking something.
In Kentucky the limbertwig tree is noted for its “weeping growth” due to its thick and “limber” twigs, but are probably most prized for their distinct and unique flavor. Some old varieties came from the Cumberland mountains. It is a very special apple.
Tape recording dated March 7, 1977:
GRANDMOTHER - describing their smoke house:
“It was pretty wide, you know, that you could walk around; that’s where my daddy smoked the meat, dig a hole right down in that dirt, and smoke the hams and shoulders and meat. Then we had syrup, molasses, they called it – it was ribbon cane syrup, and then we would put that molasses, I’ll say, some called it syrup, in barrels. And Charlie went out there…it was so cold…he went out there to get some in a bucket, and it was so cold, it wouldn’t run…you know was just running slow into the bucket, and he forgot about it, and when he thought of it, the ground was just covered. He opened the spigot and forgot all about it, and boy, he had molasses everywhere. Well, I think they carried dirt and covered it up, and cleaned it up. I don’t remember exactly.”
“We had about a one acre orchard. The first barn was great big, and was pretty old. When it fell in, they built a new barn with a driveway through it for the wagons, and it had stalls on both sides and troughs fixed for each stall, and a gate to go in and out and around the barn, and you open it and throw in the corn in and it was fixed that way so the horses couldn’t kick you with their heels when you went around to feed them.
The barn had a loft without a banister, and Ellis walked off it one time. He and our cousin, George Taylor, had gone to church and had come back by the barn. The loft just had a ladder, and Ellis thought he was stepping down where the ladder was, but in place of that, he just stepped off the loft into air.
It knocked him unconscious, but George didn’t bring him to the house until he revived. And it left a gray spot on his head where his hair just turned grey. They were young men at the time, old enough to be going with the girls.”
I read about the Ohio County fairs in the Ohio County News, which reminded me of another story, and will mention it here because my grandmother told a story about going to the fair with her daddy.
Fairs bring out the best in everybody. The annual county fair was a respite from hard, hot work of summer, when everyone gathered for a few days of fun and to show their prized projects and animals...even coon dogs. Those who took part in the friendly competitions proudly brought handpicked, polished produce…their tastiest jams and jellies…their creative crafts…and well-groomed animals.
I wish I had asked my grandmother whether or not they ever entered animals or food in the fair competitions, but I didn’t. Those folks who came just to look around at the local fair were rewarded with sights, sounds and scents that couldn’t be found anywhere else…while enjoying some great outdoor eating, and meeting and seeing relatives and friends from all over. Everyone loved the horse races there. Men had fox hounds and all kinds of homemade inventions for sale.
Rural folks gathered from all nearby counties to celebrate the end of summer at the Ohio County fair. Grandmother told me a neat story which I have on tape about riding to the county fair with her father in the buggy. She really wanted to go with her boyfriend, but she said her daddy begged her to go with him, and she just hated to turn him down. She thought they would be eating his dust on the way to the fair. As it turned out, her daddy got ahead and her boyfriend rode his horse behind them. He had to eat all the dust their buggy stirred up behind them.
Class in front of Bunker Hill School in Ohio County, November 5, 1909. Photo by Schroeter,
contributed to An Ohio River Portrait Collection by Carmen Kittinger. KHS Collections.
Bunker Hill School where I think my grandmother said the Smith children went to school. One of my Grandmother’s teachers was Birch Shields, who later married my granddaddy Cox’s sister, Martha Evelyn Cox. She told several stories about attending school and walking home from it with all their friends until they came to a fork in the road and it was there they had “the battle of Bunker Hill” as they called it, with all the boys trying to get the girl’s bonnets or fascinators and throwing them up in the trees.
Tape Recording: Oct 10 1977 – Grandmother: “I remember my grandmother’s good cooking better than anything. One time I spent the night. I stayed…and then I got to crying and I wanted to go home. And I could hear them all hollering over there at home and having a good time, and it was dark. I stayed one night and all day, and I was so lonesome…and homesick. And there was a big snow that night…up to your knees. And I said I wanted to go home, and grandma said, “No, you can’t go tonight…cause we have no phone, and you might fall.” Well, I just set into squalling. (Laughs.) And it was after night, and she couldn’t do nothing with me. But I remember enough that she got a pair of grandpa’s wool socks and pulled up over my shoes and fixed them where they wouldn’t fall down, and she let me go.
And I come in, and Mother was so surprised. All of them. They had the lights on… lamps… and they hadn’t eaten their supper…they always ate late. And grandpa eat early…about 4:30 in the wintertime. So I had already had my supper. And I really wanted to go home, and I was so happy when I got there. There wasn’t any wind blowing.”
GRANDMOTHER: “I was just saying how close we were when we’s children, you know…at home. When the day’s work was done and supper was over, they had a table and it usually, sat, you know, right in front of the fireplace. And one sat on one side and one sat on the other. And us children all around in chairs. And we would pop corn and we’d make candy, and tell stories, and eat apples and have a good time.
We didn’t do too much reading, I guess, because we were always talking. And if we were making candy and all… Of course, we talked.”
GRANDMOTHER: “And each one knew where their plate was. My daddy and mother always sat at the ends, like me and Retha are sitting now. And Charlie would sit down at that end, I’ll say. And then Ellis sat down next to Ma. The boys sat on one side and the girls on the other. I always got in there, right close to Mother. I don’t care if they had company, and I was little, they say I would always scrooch in there somehow. Right by my mother. I’d always do that. I wanted to eat and I always got my plate and got right by her.”
My grandmother, born in March 1889, was still telling her life stories to me, even six months before her death. She had a wonderful recall and memory, and a dry wit, coupled with a soft-spoken voice that had just a hint of a
Kentucky brogue. She almost made it to her 100th birthday; she
was ill for about four months and died at the age of 99 years, eight months and
six days. She is buried in the family
plot of the Rose Hill Cemetery at Tyler, Smith County, Texas, only a few blocks
from my home.
~ Janice Cox Brown, Tyler, Texas