The next year, Porter school was closed. We had to go to Bomont School, about two miles up Porters Creek from our house; and they improvised our transportation. Mr. Frank Pugh drove us to school on the back of his blue pick-up truck. It had a cattle bed to keep us from falling out, and wooden benches on each side for us to be seated. Before the school year ended, we got a new bus, #16, driven by Ken Sizemore. It was like a large van, and it seated about sixteen passengers.
My teacher was a widow lady named Goldie (Samples?). When I was in the fifth grade, she married a Thompson. She taught grades four through eight. Her sister, Glenna Kearns, taught the first three grades. There were about the 40 students in our room and 20 in Glenna’s room. Imogene Shamblin rode up front with the driver. Her parents said she was too sensitive to the cold.
Mrs. Thompson paddled me on three occasions. The first time happened when she caught me jumping from then schoolroom window. The second time some kids told on me for carving “Mrs. Goldie Thompson” on a beech tree. I was excited that I heard she was getting married. She was not impressed. She said she was paddling me for carving on trees, but her forthcoming marriage was just gossip at that time. I think she was offended about my premature announcement. I was in the seventh grade the third time I got paddled. We were taking a history test and Jimmy Bostic, sitting to my right, opened the text book to the page containing the answers. He nudged me. I looked at the page; but I didn’t see anything that helped me on the test. After the exam was over, Mrs. Thompson said “Dallas cheated.” I said, “No, I didn’t cheat.” She said, “I know you did. I saw you. I’m going to paddle you for lying.” (In retrospect, I think that was the way she had of avoiding punishment for the instigator. There were some kids she wouldn’t touch. (She resented us Porter kids more than those who had been transferred earlier from Queen Shoals.) These paddlings really hurt, but the embarrassment was the worst part of it; I was too ashamed to cry. (That made her hit harder.) They were administered at the front of the room, where all the kids in the room could watch (That encouraged the sadistic ones to tattle on other kids.) She usually gave us ten licks with her wooden paddle, about eighteen inches long, three inches wide, and a half inch thick at the working end; and she swung it about her whole arm’s length to hit our bottoms.
I made good grades in school, and I didn’t need to cheat. The only Cs on my report card were in music. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket! Every six weeks, we had to sing a solo. I always tried to sing “Billy Boy”. I knew the words, but I didn’t do well with the tune. At Bomont School, I joined the 4 H Club. I went to two sessions of summer camp at Bradley Field (near Clay—where the Clay County High School is now located) twice. One year, I won three ribbons at the county fair. As I remember, my cabbage, potatoes and cucumbers were the most attractive specimens on exhibit.
Norris and I liked to play in the woods. We had a favorite refuge up on the hill, near the old gas well, that we called the “bear rock”. It was really a tunnel between three rocks that fitted together like a cave, where a bear might hibernate. We could craw down into it and play card games. (A few years ago, I went back to see that rock; and I could hardly get my big foot into the entrance.)
In the fall of the year, when the leaves were wet, we liked to ride our sleds (homemade from oak boards that Dad stacked near the chicken house) down the hill on the slippery leaves. We used a road (above the Peck spring) that was built for equipment going to the old gas well on the hill above the rock cliff in front of our house. Many times, I rolled off the sled and banged my head (on a rock or something) following a sudden stop at the bottom of the hill. (That accounts were some of the scars on forehead.)
We made our own corncob pipes, whistles, slingshots, and acorn pipes. One Christmas, we did get a new store bought sleigh with metal runners, and we liked to ride it down a slope at the bend in the road above our house. We would stay out and play as long as we could stand the cold. Sometimes, when a car came by we would grab onto its rear bumper and ride behind it as long as we could hold on. In retrospect, we did some very dangerous things.
Whenever the census asked my mother about our politics, she replied: “My Ol’ Man is a democrat, and I’m a republican; the baby’s wet, and the cow’s dry.” (That was during prohibition—when the “drys” squared off with the “wets”.) During election years, our home was not always a peaceful atmosphere. The following story is based on a real experience. The part about my mixing up my Dad’s politics with his religion is fictitional, but that was purely intentional. Now-days, when somebody asks me what was my Dad’s religion, I answer “He was a Democrat.”
Politics & Food: One time they were discussin’ religion, Mother said she was a Methodist, and that Daddy was a hard shell Baptist. I said, “He ain’t no Baptist. He’s a Democrat.” I didn’t mean to start nothin’; but Mom said, “Fried rats and stewed cats are good enough for Democrats.” That started a rowel, and Mother wouldn’t fix Daddy’s pail. So he asked me to take his pail down to Aunt Julie’s and ask her to fix him something to take to work with him. That was embarrassing, but Aunt Julie was very understanding, and she never said anything to anybody about it. (Aunt Julia was an Angel!)
In those days, political parties spread slogans to stir up voters. One that has stuck in my mind went around during Roosevelt’s run for his third term: “If Roosevelt is reelected, we’ll have a dictator.” The answer was, “But if Dewey is elected, you won’t have a dick—or a tater.”
Dad always filled the bottom of his pail with black coffee. Then he started having stomach problems, and the doctor told him to stop drinking so much strong black coffee.
Once, in about 1945, Norris and I borrowed some of Uncle Earl’s cigarettes, and he caught us smoking them while sitting up in the hemlock tree in the lower corner of the yard, near the creek. He didn’t say anything to us, but he did tell Dad. A few days later he (Dad) bought us some cigars. He said, “If you are going to smoke, smoke a man’s smoke.” Norris smoked his and he did not get sick. But I got sick as a dog. I spent a whole afternoon lying on the bed so dizzy that I kept my feet hanging out over it trying to keep the bed from moving. The bed kept going around and around. Mother said that I turned green. But she couldn’t help me. I just had to tough it out until I felt better. From that time I could never smoke a cigarette without getting dizzy, and riding in a car with somebody smoking made me nauseous. (Norris later became a chain smoker, but he was able to "kick the habit".)
Halloween was a very special occasion for us kids. About three days before Halloween, we went out tick tacking. That meant that we took bags of shelled corn with us to people’s houses after dark and threw corn onto their roofs to make loud noises. We also hid in the bushes when a car went by threw corn at it. We also soaped windows. Soaping windows was dangerous for us; not because we were afraid of getting shot, that because when somebody challenge us we would run so hard that we wouldn’t see where we were going. Many a kid (including me) has run into a clothesline and nearly hung himself when doing Halloween tricks. On Halloween night, we went from house to house trick or treating—mostly tricking. One of our favorite tricks was pushing over out houses. Another was pushing over fodder shocks. One time Bruce and Blain were with us when we pushed over several of Uncle Charlie’s fodder shocks. The next day, Uncle Charlie confronted Bruce and Blaine about it. They admitted their role in the mischief and also told on me. Uncle Charlie confronted me about it and I lied. I broke another one of the commandments. That meant that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I had backslid.
When a couple got married, we would “bell” them. That means that we would go to their house with cowbells, pots and pans, or anything that would make noise; and march around their house ringing the bells and banging on the pots and pans. The couple would come out and acknowledge us, and then we would go home. Pie socials were an annual event at the Bomont School. Usually a small band of entertainers was invited to put on a show for us. The unmarried females in the community each baked a pie that went to the highest bidder, who got to eat the pie with her. We also had an ugly man contest, and Uncle Waitman usually won that one, with his crooked nose and his good humor.
When we went swimming in the river, we had to tell our mother a fib about where we had been. (I think that is what caused me to have dreams about coming home naked. In those dreams, I always found a towel, or something, to cover up as we passed Uncle Charlie’s house. He had seven daughters.) She was afraid for us to swim in the river. Her brother Ursel drowned in the river at the mouth a Porter. He was only eighteen years old. That was a tremendous shock to her. I was afraid that somebody would tell mother. We usually told her that we had been swimming in Peck hole. I could swim the river when I was eight years old. I learned to swim in Peckhole. I was sitting on a huge rock, afraid to go into the water. Someone pushed me off the rock. He said, “Sink or swim!” I swam! I could only swim dog fashion. I never did become comfortable with the overhand style.
One time Norris and I were walking to the river, when we saw a strange slobbering dog standing in the middle of the road. We were sure that it was a mad dog. We didn’t say anything. Both of us just took off running up the bank to climb a tree. After a-while, we went to the post office and told Aunt Julia that we had seen him mad dog. Mad dogs carry Rabies. If they bite you, you will die. Hydrophobia is another word for rabies, which means “afraid of water”.
We were also afraid of snakes. One time, Norris and I were going to Aunt Rosie’s house, running up the path through the woods. Norris yelled, “Jump! Snake!” There was a big the copperhead lying across the path. We both jumped over it. Uncle Elmer killed a lot of snakes, mostly rattlers and copperheads.
We often stayed over-night at Aunt Rena (McCune) and Uncle Albert Smith's house. They were a bigger family than ours. (Fourteen children altogether, including one that died as an infant.) Jimmy was about my age, and every time we went there, Jimmy and I had to test our wrestling skills. I didn't look forward to that contest, but it was a ritual (and I nearly always won.) Pauline, Arlene, Gail and Larry were older than me, and I don't quite remember the order of birth.
They lived on the Kanawha County side of Elk River, along State Rt.4 (at "Smith Bottom"). In the winter time, we could cross Elk River on the ice, but most-times we walked to Corton (about 2 and 1/2 miles and crossed on the Swinging Bridge then about 1 1/2 miles up Rt 4 to get to their house. We could stay overnight there because they had a bigger home than ours (It was two stories, and ours was a two bedroom bungalow.) Like us, they didn't have indoor plumbing; but we thought they were "rich". Aunt Rena was like a second Mother to us. Uncle Albert was a quiet person, but very talented. (For example, he played a Banjo and sang Happy Songs, and he handmade outdoor wicker furniture.) They had some good bottomland for a huge garden and some hill-top land for growing corn to feed their hogs, and chickens. Sometimes, we (Norris and I) would help our cousins with their farm chores. Like our family, they were almost self-sufficient. Of course, there was nearly always "behind the barn" boy-talk; but the Smith Boys were pretty civil (unlike most of our ornery Porters Creek neighborhood boys that lived in weathered grey unpainted rough lumber houses with tar paper roofs.)
One time Uncle Hence was holdin' a revival, and he said
the world was gonna end, and them that wasn't saved would go to Hell and burn in eternal damnation. But if you would come up front and pray and accept Jesus as your savior then you could be with him in Heaven.
I was bashful and scared to go up and pray in front of everybody; but I didn't want to burn in Hell, so I broke down and surrendered and went to the alter, crying all the way.
Uncle Hence said all you have to do is believe and I finally said, "I believe." Then I had to testify, and I said,
"Pray for me that I will always be faithful."
I testified again and again, every week. Then one day I slipped and broke some eggs, and I said "Oh Shit!” Daddy didn't hear me, so I didn't get my mouth washed out with soap;
but the Lord heard me and I knew I'd already backslided.
The next time something bad happened to me I said "Damned!"
Aunt Julia heard me, and she said, "It's time for another revival."
After we were transferred to Bomont School, the Porter School building became available for church services and Sunday school. I think that Uncle Charlie owned the building. Norris and I attended Sunday school and church nearly every week. Uncle Hence Estep, our preacher, belonged to the Advent Christian denomination. After services, we usually went to a movie in Clendenin. Dad did not like for us to go to the movies on the Sabbath, but he agreed to let us go we if we would first attend church. We had three gardens, the upper bottom and the lower bottom and the one across the creek.
When I was nine years old, I was old enough to hoe corn. I hoed right along with Dad and Norris. But I couldn’t always keep up with them. I think that part of my problem was that I was too thorough. Then again, I was slow. Norris and Dad nearly always finished ahead of me, and then they and would have to come back and help me finished my row. When Norris and I worked together, Norris would become very frustrated with me. Sometimes, I thought I just got a harder row to hoe. I was reminded of that yesterday when I was standing in line at Kroger’s, and my line seemed to move the slowest. It is part of my luck.
We had two cows, about 50 laying hens, and three hogs. We planted about ¼ acre of sweet corn, one-quarter acre of Irish potatoes, ten or twenty tomato plants, ten or twenty cabbage plants, a bed of lettuce, a few rows of onions, a few hills of cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin, a few rows of carrots, some bush beans and some half runners, some beets, some radishes, and about four rows of sweet potatoes. We had an acre of corn and on top of the hill. We mowed the grass between our apple trees in our orchard to make hay. The new orchard covered about two acres, and old orchard had about 1 acre. We had about two hundred-apple trees altogether, ten or twenty peach trees, a few cherry trees, and two or three plum trees.
We had about five hives of bees. We kept them across the creek against the hill facing our house and the morning sun. Dad always robbed the bees, and no one else in the family got near them. He used a face net to keep them from stinging, and a smoker to control them when he worked near the hive. But one time he got stung on the heel; and he had to walk on crutches for several days. One time Mother was picking lettuce in the garden about thirty feet from the hives, and a bee stung her. She went berserk. That started another nervous breakdown; and she didn’t get over it for several weeks.
When I was about ten years old, Dad decided to clear some new ground. Uncle Charlie had already cut most of the timber--down to mining post size. We had to clear away the waste logs and limbs, under growth, etc. We piled all of the smaller trash onto the larger chunks and let it dry well enough to burn. When the weather was right for burning the brush heaps, we would set fire to them; and we would have some great bon fires. We had to be careful to keep the fire from spreading. If of the timber was too dry and there was too much danger of the fires escaping, we would wait until another day to burn the trash. Sometimes the county would issue an order to prohibit burning because of the danger of forest fires. (Sometimes, in the fall season, a simple spark from a coal burning train would set off a forest fire.) We never let one of our fires spread. If we had, it would have cost a lot to fight the fire; and it may have destroyed some neighbor’s timber or some of his crops or even his home. We cleared about two and a half acres of new ground adjacent to our new orchard. We call this our “new ground”. The following spring, we planted corn on the new ground. First, it had to be plowed; and that was very difficult. Dad did all of the plowing. It was too dangerous for Norris and me. He had to use a root cutter plow. Sometimes the plow would hit a stump or a large root, or anything that when would stop the plow suddenly and cause it to bounce. That could cause broken bones, and it was also hard on the horse.
In about 1945, our tomato vines blighted. The vines turned yellow and dried up, and the tomatoes on the vines got dry rot. We used rotenonepowder on the plants to fight the blight. Our potatoes also blighted. Fortunately, the potatoes underground had mostly matured before the vines dried up; so the blight didn’t affect our potato yield very much. Before the blight hit us, we could grow almost perfect tomatoes and potatoes without any insecticides or powders. Pete Hall said that the blight was cause by “all that pollution in the air”. I did not pay much attention to him about that; but now that I see what’s happening to the trees in the Smokey Mountains, I wonder if he wasn’t right. I had not heard of acid rain at that time.
One spring, we ordered about one hundred baby chicks. We put them under kerosene-fired brooders to keep them warm, with little fountains for them to drink from and feeding trawls to hold their nourishments. We covered the floor with very clean and fragrant crushed corncob litter. Within about six weeks, the male chickens were big enough to fry. My mother’s fried chicken tasted a lot like our modern Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Maybe the Colonel stole my mother’s recipe!). We kept the females for layers. We usually had Leghorn hens, but occasionally we would order some Rhode Island Reds. Rhode Island Reds were good for their meat. White Leghorns made good laying hens.
Dad built three cages made with wire mesh nailed onto two by fours. They were box-like structures, on legs, about three feet off the ground. The adjoining cages measured about three by three feet, with tin roofs. Then he got us some rabbits; and he placed a little box, something like a doghouse built for a small dog, inside the cage of each female rabbit. When the female became pregnant she would start building a nest inside the box. The hair under her chin grew long and thick. She pulled her own hair from under her chin to build the soft downy nest for her babies. The tiny babies were born without any hair and with their eyes closed. We soon had rabbits running out of the ears. Within about six weeks, the babies were big enough to eat. The meat was very tinder and good for frying. It tasted a lot like chicken. Dad would hold the young rabbit by the hind legs and whack it on the back of the neck with the edge of his hand. He then decapitated the rabbit and skinned it. The rabbit was taken directly to the kitchen; cut up floured and fried. It made a very good meal. I don’t know why we stopped raising rabbits. I don’t think we had any when I started high school.