Tennessee Mountain Stories

A Century of Memories: Willie Livesay Ward


This weekend I had the rare blessing of attending a 100th birthday party and I thought I would share this precious lady with all of you.

Willie Livesay Ward was born January 2, 1916 to a family of eight children living just north of Monterey, Tennessee.  Their father worked on swine farms in the area and Willie remembers him and the other local men herding hogs up the mountain to Monterey to be loaded on the railroad. 

They would soon move to Fentress County and Willie would eventually move to Crossville to work in Jenkin and Darwin’s store along with her sister Ruth.  There Ruth and Willie would meet brothers Leonard and Ed Ward who would become their husbands.  From meager beginnings, both Leonard and Ed were hard working and ambitious. 

Jenkin and Darwin’s moved Ed to Trenton, Tennessee to manage their store there.  Soon Ed had a chance to buy his own store in Trenton and he seized the opportunity.  For over forty years, Willie and Ed worked together in that store and built a life in Trenton and at Follis Chapel United Methodist Church.  They raised one son, Jimmy, and his own three children would continue their lives in the West Tennessee area.  Working all day in the store, Willie and Ed would come home where they always had a big garden planted.  They would work half the night breaking beans or peeling apples and canning them.  They had two huge pecan trees and would carefully collect the nuts and sit and hull them out so when they gave them away there was nothing to do but enjoy the gift. 

Early in her time in Trenton, Willie would drive by a brick rancher house sitting on a small rise.  It was not unlike most of the homes in the middle class neighborhood but it attracted her eye.  She declared she was going to have that house – which was far nicer than anything her mother had ever had.  By hard work and thrift, they were soon able to buy the house and lived there until Ed passed away; In her nineties, Willie moved closer to her grandchildren in Alamo.

The mountain is no longer the home place for the Wards, but Willie’s memory often goes back there.  As she asked about people and families she knew many are already gone and some moved away many years ago and are out of touch.  It’s an all-too-familiar story of people who left the mountain in order to make a living but it would always be home.  The sad part to me is that this next generation doesn’t know where their roots lie.  In fact, they don’t even sound like us – instead they carry that unique Mississippi delta drawl which is much more widely recognized as “southern” than our own Appalachian accent.  They don’t know the ways of the mountain and they don’t really know our history. 

Visiting with this part of my extended family reinvigorates my desire to write my stories.  I’m so thrilled that we’ve had Aunt Willie for 100 years, but every year we lose a few more of her generation – and even the generation after her.  With each loss a little more history fades away.  Willie and Ed’s lives won’t be detailed in any history books so it’s up to us to remember it in places like this.