Tennessee Mountain Stories

A letter from "Just Mom"


You have all met my great-great grandmother here previously.  She spent the last years of her life abed and kept diaries and scrapbooks the whole time.  Today these are a wealth of information for me.  I am captivated by letters that have survived and Grandma Todd was a prolific letter-writer.  And her letters were undoubtedly a blessing to family and friends alike.  I wanted to share this one from 1946 with you.  Even if you don’t know the people – and I sure don’t know them all – I think you can still see the beauty of her story.  I’ve left her spelling as-is since that part adds color all its own!

May 6, 1946, Monday morning,

Dear Cecil, Ruth and everybody,

How are you all – well I hope.  I am as usual.  Dad grunted with his head all last week but he is o.k. now.  Delsie is all-right.  She has breakfast about ready.  Dad is eating.  We are getting on just fine.  Beula is in the hospitle.   I had a letter from Wavealen she sayd Beula had an operation, she is in Green Cross hospitle.  Wave sayd her Grandma Trout was staying with them awhile.  Beula was in hospitle but she sayd her and Dewane done most of the work as her Grandma was not very strong.  Floyd is worried, the Dr. told Floyd that Beula could go home in about 8 days.  Anyhow it is bad to be in the hospitle, don’t you imagine.  Stocia, Emma J. and Ruby are excited too?  I sent Beula a card to her home address.  I didn’t know how to address it to the hospitle.  I knew Floyd would take it to her.  Ida sent her a card too.

Did you hear about Rev. Holden’s accident?  You know there was a conference at Montrey well Friday Apr 26.  Rev. Holden and his wife came to see me in the afternoon as they were at Montrey conference.  Well Rev. Holden was promoted to be a conference preacher.  He talked church like he always did.  They were so nice and sweet, he has a darling wife and I love them.  We had a lot of fun.  He sayd he got my letter and was keeping it always.  Yes, Virgina sayd Wesley had that letter in his book and would preach from it too.  Ha.  Wasn’t that quite a compliment?  I just can’t see why people talk so about all my letters.  I don’t even write interesting or spell correct.  Well as I was saying, on their way back home Friday night a drunk man staggered in front of their car and it proved fatal.  It happened close there to Montrey  and this drunk was laoded in whiskie.  I haven’t got the full details yet.  Anyhow it is awfl for a drunk man to get killed an meet a just God.  Awfl.  Rev. Holden and his wife boath wrote me about it.  Poor kids, they knew I would understand.  So I wrote them a letter yesterdayAbout the hardest letter I ever wrote in my life.  I realy prayd for wisdom to write to them.  Keeps me worried about Donald.  He is out a lot with his car and you can never tell when a drunk man will run into you.  Well, Clyde Whiticor is home, he got a discharge so Donald took Ida and Lois to Stacie’s Saturday to see Clyde.  Dewey and family and Sam Dodson left for Dayton, Ohio Friday May 3rd.  We had a good letter from Mary, they were all well.  I got a top card from Evelyn and Hollis.  It is so cute.

Well I recon your Dad has the prize garden so far.  The salad peas are higher than the palings and blooming, the bunch peas in full bloom.  Cabbage are cupping in to head.  Tomato plants fine.  He just pats himself on the sholder.  Ha.  He tells one how fine his garden is.  I told him he was like his mother, she could just walk through a garden and it would grow, so I think he has his mother’s touch when it comes to garden work.  My mother’s day tree is growing fine.  I ask about it often.  Say Verna Whiticor, Stacie’s mother-in-law, sent me a big bunch of American Beauty roses.  They are gorgeous.  Mrs. Sam Taylor sent me a big bunch of iris and roses so I always have flowers even if I am emumed. Ha ha.  Well today is mail day again, I had a real good letter from Ova and she sent me a dollar too.  She seemed to write more like herself.  We had a letter from Beecher last week and one from Willie.  They were boath well but homesick.  Well I have some more writing to do so I will say by for now.

Just Mom to all

Can’t you envision a whole book about this woman – I think I can…

Picture Post Card

My grandmother recently shared with me a small group of pictures that came from her own grandmother.  My Great-great grandmother lived from 1886 until 1977 so these are pretty old pictures and quite a treasure.

As I looked through them I flipped each one over to see if any names or identity clues had been left.  Several of them were setup to be mailed as a post card.  One had actually been used to write a letter, although no address is included so it was clearly mailed in an envelope.  I found this little glimpse of turn-of-the-century communication to be so charming I just had to share it with you.

The note is written to Elbert and Euphemia Hixson from her sister Lizzie. I have inserted punctuation (neither period nor comma was used throughout her writing) as well as paragraph breaks in hopes it’s a little easier to read.

Dear Phemie & Elbert,

We have been looking for a letter from you ever so long, are still expecting you all up here this fall.  I am thinking of visiting Tennessee next summer if I don’t change my mind. 

I believe we’ve had the driest time I ever saw.  My well gets low when I wash but soon fills up again.  Sure have fine water and I have my winter stove wood already up too.  That is a great relief. 

Write soon.

Lizzie Hixson



There you have it.  Less than 250 words written to a sister she had not heard from.  In that she manages to share travel plans, weather report and winter preparations.  She doesn’t explain the picture on the post card – maybe this was her usual writing stock and her sister would not have wondered about the image.  With both greeting and salutation on the card, I wouldn’t expect there was anything else in the envelope. 

Don’t you just wish you could ask her a whole bunch of questions after reading this?  I sure do. 




Country Roads

Ah, the thought of a country road conjures movie scenes, old tales and song lyrics galore. 

Now I didn’t grow up on a dirt road – in fact they’re pretty hard to find these days.  Nor do my children play in a dusty path, but you couldn’t convince them that they are missing anything as they pick through gravels and find even the tiniest depression that holds water for splashing little shoes.  A trip to the mailbox is full of adventure and watching them again brings to mind fanciful memories.

A couple of weeks ago I included a picture of Ernest Hall standing no doubt along the path to his father’s  Roslin, Tennessee farm with a split rail fence on one side and a barn on the other side.  He’s probably in his early twenties but the joy in his smile makes you think that the hard work on that farm has not begun to dim his spirit.

So many of the stories I’ve heard all my life include walks along the Plateau’s country roads.  I recently drove from I-40’s Plateau Road exit across to Hwy 62.  The first novel I wrote (and have yet to release but I promise I’ll get it out one day) was largely set in the Elmore Community along Clear Creek Road.  Two characters in the book needed to travel toward that Plateau exit and I sent them along the Keye’s Road.  Today that road is a very narrow two-lane roughly paved road.  It’s bordered by over-arching trees, fence rows and homes.  I couldn’t help but imagine walking along it in the early morning hours at the beginning of a long journey.  Of course, in those no-fence-law days so many people took the nigh-way that well-worn paths crisscrossed the mountain.  We mainly have to stick to the roads these days but it’s still fun to think of the quiet of those days without motorcars.  It challenges me to think of the distances my forefathers traveled on foot.  And it thrills me that I have enough stories that I can begin to picture their steps along these same routes.

Hmm, now that I think of it country roads are almost as much fun for me as they are for my children.

Silly, Wiggly Jell-O

Is fruit flavored gelatin part of your childhood memories?  It certainly is in mine.  My Grandma always had a box on hand and she used it in all kinds of recipes.  But I find I never make it myself until the marketing department at Royal Gelatin cleverly added Spiderman’s image to the box.  You guessed it, my son spotted that right away and I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no that time.

Well as I mixed up the sweet blue stuff I remembered learning to make gelatin with Grandma and always finding a red or orange bowl in the refrigerator.  Images of the bowl of Jell-o on the table beside a plain cake and whipped topping surfaced. I never really cared for Jell-o on my cake but Grandma thought it was a great combination.

I assumed the popularity of gelatin was relatively recent since it does require refrigeration to set-up.  Imagine my surprise when Wikipedia reported that “the first use of gelatin in foods is attributed to Medevial Britains”.    It was even once considered something of a health-food for its high protein content.  Now, the box I mixed up this week shows only 1 gram of protein, but I suppose the kind they made from boiled cattle hooves would be significantly higher.

As early as 1845 dried gelatin was exported from Scotland to the United States.  Now gelatin is used to produce not just the instant dessert from my childhood but a host of other foods from marshmallows to yogurts, gummy candies and ice cream.

It didn’t take long for America’s sweet tooth to create the fruity dessert we are accustomed to.  In 1895 Pearl B. Waitand his wife May began experimenting with adding fruit juices to gelatin.  They would name it Jell-O.

The company’s slogans through the years are part of our American jargon and we all know you “can’t be a kid without it.”  Aren’t you glad “there’s always room for Jell-O!”

Drug Problem

I got a note from one of our blog readers, Mrs. Sandra Callison, who shared the following story.  I was nodding my head and ‘Amen-ing’ after about the second line and I wanted to share it here because I suspect there’s a sentiment in these lines that most folks who would care to read about Appalachian history would probably share.

I tried to research the author of this story but could only find that several other folks around the web had also shared it with no author’s name. 

The other day, someone at a store in our town read that a methamphetamine

lab had been found in an old farmhouse in the adjoining county and he asked

me a rhetorical question, "Why didn't we have a drug problem when you and I

were growing up?

  I replied, I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on

Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug

to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather

I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.

soapy mouth.jpg

  I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profanity. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds and cockle-burs out of dad's fields. I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, or chop some firewood and, if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the woodshed.

  Those drugs are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, or think, They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin; and,if today's children had this kind of drug problem America would be a better place.

 God bless the parents who drugged us.