For years, when I’ve told people about my life from the time I was born until about the time I divorced my first husband, for some reason, people have forever nagged me to write my stories down. Hell, I’m not sure if it’s because it’s so interesting or if it’s because my life had been so unusual and at times, so damn tragic. I’ll tell the story and leave it up to you to decide.
First, where do I start? Well, I’ll start at the earliest I can remember. Then, I’ll end when it becomes boring. That will be once I divorce my first husband, as my life became rather normal and ho-hum at that time, so I won’t go past then and bore you to tears.
So, Part I begins with me at Zero – Six years of age, and what I can first remember.
I’m not gonna say that I can remember much that far back. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember what age I was when I can first remember anything specific. But, I can remember some things before I was six years of age. Can you?
In my early years, my family lived in what was called a “shotgun” house close to downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It was called that because the house had one room in the front, with another room behind it, another room behind that one, another room behind that one and so on. In other words, the house didn’t go to the side, it went backwards. The house was only as wide as the front room.
We lived just outside of downtown Louisville. It was convenient, since my daddy worked in Louisville and it was a short commute to work for him.
I remember the kitchen was the back room of the house. The kitchen table top was red and the table and chairs were metal, with the chairs covered in red and white plastic. I remember sitting at that table one time and daddy was trying to teach me how to whistle. However, he was feeding me crackers while trying to teach me and I remember him laughing at me. It’s down right weird the things you remember as a kid.
The other thing I remember while living in this house is when my younger sister was born. Mamma never worked and always stayed home with me and my older sister. When I was three years old, and my mamma was forty years old, she got pregnant and had my younger sister. So, I was only three years old and I can remember a couple of things about when my baby sister was born.
My sister was born three months premature and only weighted 3 pounds, 4 ounces. The story is that at her birth she had no eyelashes or fingernails. Mamma had to stay at the hospital with her a little longer than normal after her birth. Then, when mamma came home, my baby sister had to stay in the hospital longer. So, mamma would go to the hospital most days to be with my baby sister. It turned out that my baby sister stayed in the hospital for twenty-eight more days because she had to weigh at least five pounds before they would let her come home. So, while mom kept going to the hospital to be with my sister, I missed my mom.
Now, back to what I remember. I remember when my daddy took me to the hospital to see my baby sister. Shortly after she was born, they were going to allow me to look through the glass and see my little sister for the first time; just a brief moment. However, I don’t remember seeing my sister. What I remember is seeing my mother on the other side of the glass. I just wanted my mamma. That’s it. That’s what I remember. To hell with my baby sister, I wanted my mamma!
Now we’ll move to when I was six to nine years of age:
I can remember quite a bit more during this time in my life. Actually, these are probably some of the happiest years of my life. I was young, innocent, didn’t have a care, no stress, and thought everyone in the whole world loved me.
Just before I was six years of age, my family moved from Louisville to the old house on our family farm in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, which was 50 miles from Louisville. However, my daddy continued to work in Louisville and commuted back and forth to work everyday.
Our farm had two houses on the land. We called one of the houses, the old house, since it had been built sometime much earlier than the other house on the land, which we called the new house, because it was built more recently. The older house had no running water to the house and no indoor plumbing. Yes, that means no bathroom. Water to the older house came from a water well that had a red pump that was about 30 paces from the back door of the old house. From that water pump, the old house would draw its drinking, cooking and bath water. The old house was heated with wood and coal burned in an old pot-belled stove in the living room. Also, there was no air conditioning in the house in the summer. To cool the house, big box fans would be placed in the windows. I might add, the windows were not storm windows and they did not have screens.
The old house sat way back off of the main highway and had a long gravel driveway. The house primarily consisted of four rooms, with a kitchen that sat separately off of one of those rooms. However, we generally just lived in three of the four main rooms of the house, as one of the rooms upstairs did not heat or cool easily. The kitchen was pretty much heated from the cooking stove. Off of the kitchen was an attached back porch. We never looked under the white wood framing of the old house, but according to family stories, the kitchen was originally a log cabin and the house was actually built onto the log cabin.
I don’t remember being too hot in the house during the summer. However, I was young then and could even play out in the blazing sun back then and not become too hot. It’s quite another story now. However, the winters were another story. The house was cold in the winter. At nighttime, daddy would take a bed blanket from each of our beds and hold it up in front of the pot-bellied stove to heat it up real good. He would then wrap each of us up in our heated blanket and carry us upstairs to our feather beds and then cover us up with layers of quilts. The only heat that we had in the one upstairs bedroom that all three of us shared (my two sisters and I), was what would naturally rise from the downstairs pot-bellied stove through a 12 inch by 12 inch vent that was cut into the floor above the stove. I can tell you that by morning it was a little crispy-cold in that upstairs bedroom. As my mother would say, “It was cold enough to freeze the boogers in your nose.” We certainly didn’t dilly-dally when dressing for school each morning.
As I said before, the windows on the house were not storm windows and if we had a particularly breezy snow that night, we would often find that some snow had accumulated on the inside pane and sill.
As you’ve probably heard tales about Kentucky people, some have household furniture or appliances on their front or back porches. Well, we weren’t too different, we had our washing machine on our back porch. However, our back porch was enclosed, so at least you couldn’t see ours and wouldn’t have known it was there. My poor mamma had to carry water from the well out in the yard to the kitchen stove to heat it up wash water. She would then carry that hot water back out onto the porch to the wringer washer. Once the wash was done, there was a hose from the washer that would then drain the water from the washer out into the yard. It was hard work, but by damn, we had clean clothes!
Also, we didn’t have a clothes dryer, so mom would hang our clothes on the clothes line outside in the summer. In the winter, she would hang the clothes up in the kitchen and back porch. My mom was a hard worker, as were most women back then.
Bathing was similar. Mamma would heat water drawn from the well and put it into a large silver tub for us to take a bath. We had a pitcher that we could use to pour water over our heads after we would shampoo our hair. Back then, I had very long hair that was almost to my waist, so I had to wash my hair often. So, yes, we took baths often…not just Saturday nights!
Are you curious about our bathroom? Well, mamma used to say we had a “bath and a path,” a pun from a bath and a half…get it? If you walked downhill from our well, another 20 feet or so, you would find our outhouse. We used to say we had a “two-holer”, meaning that there were two holes cut out for you to sit on. However, I can’t imagine that more than one would be in there at one time. My grandparents actually had a three-holer out back in their yard!
The outhouse backed up to our tobacco patch. It was a small wooden building…without the half-moon, thank you very much! I’m not good with dimensions, but if you’ve ever been in an airplane bathroom, it was twice that size. In the old days, my grandmother (grandma, as I called her) told me they did use Sears and Roebuck (what they used to be named) catalogs for tissue paper. However, we used regular toilet paper. But, you did not put paper down the hole, you put it in a garbage can. Toilet paper is not naturally biodegradable. Also, in the outhouse was a container of lime. After doing #2, it was necessary to sprinkle lime down the hole, which helps with naturally eliminating the smell and material itself.
Living in rural areas in the 1950’s and early 1960’s and not having indoor bathrooms was something that was fairly common. It was something that our generation and country-folk just took in stride. We didn’t really think too much about it. Certainly, I would have preferred an indoor bathroom, but it was just something that I didn’t worry or think that much about back then. We were able to make do with what we had. I know for generations now, it’s something they would find hard to believe and deal with.
My paternal grandparents lived in the new house that was closer to the main highway. There was a cow/tractor path that led from the old house to their house and I often walked to my grandparents house. The newer house had running water to the kitchen sink from a cistern and pump. However, as I mentioned above, the house did not have an indoor bathroom. The newer house was also much larger. It had a kitchen, downstairs bedroom, living room, parlor room and upstairs there were three more bedrooms. It also had a detached two car garage where granddaddy kept his car and tractor.
I loved being at my grandparents house. I’d help my grandma in the garden and collect eggs from the hen-house. I also loved to go to the corn crib and shuck corn in the little corn shucking machine that you had to turn the wheel in order to get the corn off of the cob. I’d then take the corn to grandma and help her feed the chickens.
Grandma would give me strawberries with fresh cream on top that she had just skimmed off of the top of the milk my granddaddy had brought in after milking the cows. You talk about good! There is nothing like fresh cream right out of a cow. People now-a-days don’t know what they are missing. Slightly chilled, it’s almost like thick, rich, whipping cream.
My granddaddy had a lot of milk cows and when we first moved to the farm he milked them by hand. However, after several years he got one of the new milking machines he could use. I would sometimes help him in the barn. My job would be to give the cows a scoop of grain and a little hay once he would put them in the milking stall. Granddaddy milked jersey cows as he considered them the best milk cows. I remember they had big brown eyes, just like me and my little sister. My granddaddy even named one cow Jennie and another Jayne. Back then I wasn’t even insulted by it!
We had a huge barn cat named, Tom, who took care of all of the mice. Tom loved it when granddaddy would spray milk at him. Old Tom would sit there and meticulously lick every bit of the sprayed milk off of him.
Once granddaddy was finished milking the cows, he’d put the big milk cans in a wagon and pull them up to the edge of the driveway to the main highway. Then, a big milk truck would come by and pick up the big milk cans and leave empty ones for the next day.
My granddaddy also raised tobacco and sold it each January or February. Granddaddy also raised corn. He also sold trees off of our land for lumber occasionally, if things were tight. He would also sell hay or allow other farmers to use one of his pastures to graze their cattle for extra money. To help out, my daddy would set traps out in our woods and trap fox, rabbit or mink for their hides. Many a time there were tanned hides hanging on the smokehouse door. These tanned hides also brought in extra money during lean times.
On Saturday mornings the whole family, grandparents too, would go into downtown Lawrenceburg. The town itself was tiny back then and only had two stop lights in the whole town. We would park behind E.A. Taylor’s general store and enter through the store’s back door. Granddaddy would stop and sit with the other farmers around the old pot-bellied stove in the back of the store to talk farming, while grandma did her shopping. Everyone else scattered to various other stores or sundries. Me, I always stopped at the general store’s candy counter where I would spend my 10 cent allowance on some sort of sweet.
Old Ben, pictured above, was an old man who lived in the poor house on the outskirts of town and walked the streets of Lawrenceburg barefooted. As you can see, Old Ben had whiskers like Santa and always wore grungy denim overalls. The bottom of his feet were like thick shoe leather. However, in the cold of the winter, he did wear some sort of combat boot looking shoes, grudgingly. The children loved Old Ben and he seemed fond of the children. However, I don’t remember, personally, ever hearing him speak. He would just wave and smile.
Mom never learned to drive, so she stayed at home during the day, unless someone offered to drive her somewhere. Daddy did buy her an old beat up Studebaker to try to learn to drive there on the farm. I remember her driving that old car all over the fields trying to learn to drive. Every now and then she’d stop and you’d see her get out and fiddle with something on the driver’s side floorboard. It turns out the gas foot-feed kept falling off and she’d have to stop and put it back on all the time.
To get out of our driveway, you had to back up toward our garden to turn around in order to point the car back up to the driveway and toward the main highway. To stop you from backing up into our garden when you were turning around, daddy had put a huge telephone pole to stop cars from rolling backward. Well, somehow my mamma got the Studebaker stuck on the telephone pole. When daddy got home, he found mamma had gotten one of the back wheels of the car on one side of the telephone pole and the other back wheel on the other side of the telephone pole. When daddy asked mamma how she’d done that, she wouldn’t tell him. She just told him to sell the car and that she wasn’t going to drive anymore…and she never did. Mamma passed away at 92 years of age in 2008 and never learned to drive.
Daddy got paid on Wednesday’s. Before he would come home, he would go and do the grocery shopping in Louisville. My little sister and I would be so excited on Wednesday’s and we called it “grocery nights.” We were excited because we were gonna eat hot dogs, pork and beans and have potato chips. This was a real treat for us.
Our normal diet consisted of living off of what we grew on the farm. We always had a large garden in the summer and mom would can beans, tomato’s, corn, etc. Granddaddy and daddy would split a beef every year and we would have a freezer full of meat for the year. Also, if we began to run out of meat, daddy would hunt rabbit and squirrel, which fried is very tasty; a bit like chicken. Plus, granddaddy and grandma raised chickens, so we always had eggs and fresh chickens, when needed. I do remember some days for lunch I’d have mayonnaise sandwiches. This would only be when we were running low on groceries. However, I loved mayonnaise sandwiches, so I didn’t mind at all.
Speaking of chickens, I remember granddaddy had a particularly mean rooster that spurred mamma on the ankle as she walked from my grandparents house to the milk barn one evening. It was a bad spur and mamma had to have stitches. Granddaddy was so mad at that rooster that he went out there and rung that rooster’s neck. We had him for dinner the following Sunday. My mamma said, “That’ll learn him, durn him!” (My mom was a comedian, one day I need to write about her!)
There are not many things I won’t eat, but brussel sprouts is one thing. Mamma was adamant that we had to eat everything that she put on our plates each night. We were made to sit at the table until we cleaned our plates. There were many a night that I’d be sitting at the table until bedtime with brussel sprouts still on my plate and mamma telling me to go ahead and go to bed. I’m still now a big fan of brussel sprouts even now.
The other food that everyone loves to hear about is pork brains, which I dearly love. (I know, you probably just threw up in your mouth, right?) If you don’t know, they can be scrambled in your eggs and you wouldn’t know you were eating them. That’s how I became a fan of them. Mamma tricked me and gave me scrambled eggs with pork brains scrambled in. It just makes the eggs taste like bacon has been added to your eggs. I did this to my children too. However, they caught on and then wouldn’t eat their eggs scrambled from then on, fearing that I’d added pork brains! If you ever get a chance, try them, you’ll like them. (People eat duck liver, fish eggs and snails…think about it!)
Right before it was time for us to go to school, daddy would take mamma and my two sisters and me to Louisville with him when he went to work. While daddy worked, mamma would take us to downtown Louisville to J. C. Penney and Sears and Roebuck to shop for school clothes. At lunchtime we would go to the lunch counter at Woolworth to eat. I’d normally get a grilled cheese with chips, a pickle and coke. I thought that was the best thing I’d ever eaten. After daddy got off work, he would meet us at a predetermined place and we would load up our purchases in the car and drive home. We couldn’t wait until next year to go back to downtown Louisville.
I went to Alton Elementary School. I ate lunch in the school lunchroom everyday and mamma would give me two cents each morning for extra milk. I remember the milk came in little glass bottles with aluminum peel-off lids. The milk was actually free, the two cents was payment because of the return on the little glass bottles.
To catch the bus to school, I had to walk from my house out the long gravel driveway to the main highway. I had a wonderful school bus driver, Mr. Cheek (I don’t remember his first name). He knew in the wintertime that I was very cold. Back then, girls were required to wear dresses to school. However, mom would put corduroy pants on me (under my dress) and tell me to go to the girls bathroom and take them off once I got to school and put them in my book satchel, which I did. But, Mr. Cheek knew that I was freezing cold from standing out there on that main highway with large 18-wheeler’s whizzing by. Mr. Cheek always saved me a seat on the bus by the bus’ heater everyday. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with a school bus heater, but it’s very small and is right next to and behind the driver’s seat. Or, at least it was back then.
When Mr. Cheek picked me up after school, before I would get off of the bus he would hand me a piece of Juicy Fruit gum. He knew that was a special treat for me, as I generally never got gum.
Several years after I graduated from high school I went to visit with Mr. Cheek, who was an elderly gentleman then. He knew exactly who I was. The first thing he did was give me a piece of Juicy Fruit gum. It’s these kind of adults in a young person’s life that make such an impact. Someone who shows just a little kindness to a child. I certainly remembered him fondly.
Now, for as long as I can remember I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. I don’t know why. I was just always drawn to be with my dad. He was more fun back then than my mom I guess. I liked to do things outside and with my hands and that’s what my daddy liked too.
Daddy didn’t get to finish school. Being a farmer’s kid back in the 20’s and 30’s and an only child, he was pulled from school to help with the farm. He only got to complete the 9th grade. However, he was the smartest man I ever knew, especially in math. I know that most people, me included, are not that great in math. However, my daddy was great at math. He was also a super carpenter, which needs great math skills. He could measure and figure angles of all kinds. Hell, even at his job they offered him an auditor’s job, so they also knew how good he was at math with only a 9th grade education!
I have a desk my dad made, which is my pride and joy. I also have a very old trunk he refurbished grandly, with a wallpapered interior and wooden veneer on the top with refinished leather straps and painted locks and latches. It’s been 43 years since his passing, so it has seen some wear, but to me it’s as beautiful as ever.
I used to go to church camp for a week every summer. I would miss my daddy, mamma and little sister. But, my daddy always wrote me at least one letter while I was at camp. It’s funny, I used to think that camp was way far away from home. As an adult I’ve found that the camp was about 25 miles from my home. Anyway, I still have one of the letters that my daddy wrote and sent me at camp. I have preserved it forever for me to keep and read over and over. It too is one of my prize possessions.
My daddy had pet names for my sister and me. My name was Buggs and my sister’s name was Buttons. I think he called us those names more than he ever called us Jennie and Jayne and that was fine with me. I miss being called Buggs.
When I was eight, my paternal grandmother got very sick. No one told me for sure what was wrong with her. My mom just said it was “female problems.” My mom took care of my grandma as best she could. However, it wasn’t too long after my grandma got sick that she passed away.
I loved my grandma. I loved watching and helping her cook. It was almost every day that you would find me on the path between the old house and the new house; going to visit and spend time with my grandma. Most times she would have to tell me to go home, as mamma would call her and tell her to send me home.
There is no one, even today, that can make rhubarb cobbler, or any cobbler for that matter, like my grandma Griffin.
I always heard my grandma had fire-engine red hair and a temper to go with it. However, I never saw it. She was always had snowy white hair and she was very kind and patient with me. Daddy was her only child and they used to say that I looked like daddy, so maybe I reminded her of daddy when he was little. It’s just sad that I only got to be with her for eight years, but I cherish my few memories.
When I was nine, my older sister, who was nine years older than me, got married to her boyfriend after she graduated high school and began to work. My older sister and her husband got a cute little duplex not far from downtown main street in Lawrenceburg after the wedding.
Soon after my older sister got married, my daddy decided that the drive back and forth from Lawrenceburg to Louisville was too hard on him and our vehicle. So, after looking at houses in the Louisville area, we found a cute little house in Jeffersontown, a suburb in Louisville. We moved from the farm the summer before I entered the 6th grade.
Part II, age 10 to 18. I plan to publish Part II on or before October 1, 2016, so stay tuned if you have enjoyed the story so far.
Hint: Although we just moved to the city, we end up moving back to the farm in the middle of Part II, so stay tuned.
Did you enjoy Part I? Was your early childhood similar? I’d love for you to comment.