Click this link to read an article about Dr. Kelly Smythe written by Joel Jackson and published in “Family Findings” October 2013 by Mid-West Tennessee Genealogical Society.
Joel Jackson — Memories of Dr. Kelly Smythe
Sula (Turner) Hillhouse
The day was a Sunday – it was hot and dry with hardly a leaf moving: a typical day in Decatur County, Tennessee. My Aunt and Uncle from Bemis had been visiting our family during the weekend and now were getting ready to go home. When my Aunt Ethel and Uncle Wafford (Bates) were about ready to leave, I started begging to go home with them. (They had no children and I loved being with them – most especially because they petted me to death.) My parents hesitated, but Aunt Ethel said it was okay with her – so Mom and Dad relented and allowed me to go. I was so excited.
Now, school was in session in Bemis, but in Decatur County the schools had been dismissed for a few weeks for the fall “cotton picking” season. In those days (the 1940’s) crops were harvested by hand, and families needed every school-aged child to help with the awesome task of picking acres and acres of cotton. So it was the custom in rural communities to suspend class for a few weeks so children could help their families (and sometimes their neighbors) pick cotton.
If I’d been a very good “cotton picker” Daddy might have thought more than once about allowing me to be away from home for a few days; but the fact was, I was not a very productive picker of cotton – thus permission was granted!
It was getting dark by the time we drove into my Aunt and Uncle’s driveway on Old Kentucky Street in Bemis, so I couldn’t see well enough to tell much about the neighborhood that night. You see – this was my very first visit, and I was anxious to see what all the houses and yards looked like. (Where I lived, we couldn’t even see our neighbor’s house.)
The street lights were on and reflected off the multicolored foliage on the trees that lined every street. It was a beautiful sight, and I thought Bemis must be the most beautiful place in the world.
While my Uncle unloaded the car (Mom and Dad had loaded them up with fresh fruits and fall vegetables), my Aunt fixed something for us to eat. We usually ate supper much earlier than this and we were all hungry. I’ll never forget that first meal at this house on that fall night in 1943–sandwiches made with sliced bread, bologna, cheese, sliced tomato and real mayonnaise! That was the first time I’d ever eaten store-bought loaf bread and bologna and I thought that was the best food I’d ever tasted….never mind the country ham, home-ground sausage, pork loin and chops, fresh eggs with hot biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, fresh picked vegetables and hot cornbread, fresh fruits, made-from-scratch desserts, fresh milk that had been cooled in our “spring-house”. All of this was home grown and home made, and was what we had all the time and I was used to it – so the soft, fresh loaf bread and bologna were a treat to me.
We were all pretty tired, so we got ready for bed early. I could hardly think about sleeping because I was still so excited. Soon after crawling into that fluffy feather bed I started missing Mama, Daddy and my little sister, June. They seemed so far away–60 or 70 miles to me seemed like half way across the state!
Soon, though, I feel asleep. We didn’t have to get up early because Uncle Wafford worked on the Second Shift and wouldn’t have to go to work until 2:00 o’clock Monday afternoon.
On the farm we always got up really early, and Daddy went to feed the animals and milk the cows about 4:00 o’clock. While he did that, Mama cooked a really big breakfast – every day! You see, people who worked on the farm had to work so hard they needed a big breakfast to keep them going until lunch time — there was no mid-morning snack-break in those days! At the same time Mama was cooking our breakfast, she also cooked foods to be packed for Daddy to take to the field and for us to take to school for lunch. So, since my “biological clock” was set to get up early, I woke up before my Aunt and Uncle did. I tried to be quiet and not wake them — but I just had to peek out the window to get a look at the surrounding neighborhood, at least as much as I could see from behind the pull-down window shade.
Finally, I heard them stirring and soon smelled coffee, so I knew breakfast would soon be ready. I got up, slipped into my clothes, made my bed and went into the kitchen. I offered to help but Aunt Ethel had everything under control. She was such a happy person–always smiling and I loved being with her.
We ate breakfast and pretty soon after we finished Uncle Wafford said he was going to the Post Office. I learned that everyone in town had a “box” at the Post Office and went there daily to pick up their mail. I also learned that many of the men in town would meet at the YMCA before going to work and play checkers – or just sit and talk. I also learned that the men could take a bath (shower) at the “Y” for a small fee–which many of them did. That seemed so strange to me – we took our baths at home – in a tin wash tub.
I actually don’t remember much we did during my first day in Bemis – except we walked up one side of the street and back down on the other side – stopping on occasion for Aunt Ethel to talk to neighbors who were in their yards or on their front porches. The houses were so white – like they’d just been painted, and the yards were all neat and clean. Later we sat in the swing on the front porch and watched neighbors going to and coming from work at the shift change. I remember some people passing by said they were going to the Company Store – others were on their way to the “Block” (which I later learned was “the Patton Block” where a group of stores, a cafe, a taxi stand and Pettigrew’s Drug Store were located.)
It wasn’t too long after Uncle Wafford left for work at 1:45 before the kids living on Aunt Ethel’s street began coming by on their way home from school. The wind was blowing – not really hard – but hard enough to blow some of the leaves off the trees. They floated gently down and danced their way across the sidewalks and streets. Now, living in the country, I’d never thought much about leaves falling off the trees before. There was just something kind of special about their scooting along on the sidewalks and paved streets that caught my attention.
Right away some of the kids came outside and began riding their bicycles up and down the street – and even around the block. They’d often call out to one another – and sometimes would stop and talk together for a few minutes. I thought they were the luckiest kids on earth. I don’t know if I felt jealous – or just a little bit intimidated; maybe both.
I soon learned a few of the kids by name: Barbara and Elizabeth Hinson, Georgia Pearl Kennon and her brothers Farris and Larry, and Willard Cagle, who lived next door. I can’t say I got to know any of them during that first visit, but at least knowing their names was a start.
One of my most favorite treats, during that first visit to Bemis, was going to Pettigrew’s Drug Store on the Patton Balock to get a chocolate sundae – my very first one ever! I remember it had two scoops of vanilla ice cream served in a tall, clear, footed glass dish and covered with yummy chocolate – piled high with whipped cream and a red cherry on top. That was the best thing I’d ever had to eat in my whole life….even better than bologna, cheese and tomato sandwiches!
While we were eating our chocolate sundaes, a lady came in and stopped to talk to Aunt Ethel. Her name was Miss Annie Phillips – and she talked to me, too, asked all kinds of questions. I thought she was a very nice and friendly lady. When she started to leave she told me she hoped I’d come back to visit Aunt Ethel again and come with her to Sunday School. I got the feeling she really meant it – and that made me feel real good.
All too soon my first visit in Bemis came to an end, and I had no idea when I’d ever get to come back. I remember looking longingly at kids playing on lawns, on sidewalks and a couple of boys tossing a ball as we drove slowly down the street on our way back to my home in Decatur County.
Some months later, two men I’d never seen before, came to see Daddy. They talked for a long time and after they left I learned they were from the Bemis Cotton Mill. They had come to ask Daddy to come back to Bemis to work in the Mill. Daddy had lived and worked in Bemis for several years before I was born – so he was what they called an “experienced hand”. They told Daddy that he was really needed because the “Draft” had taken several of the Bemis employees into the Army and left the Mill short of help. The material made in the Mill was in such demand because of the war, that the Bemis Bro. Bag Company needed to increase production. In order to do that they needed to hire more employees.
Daddy told the men to give him a little time to get the rest of his crop out of the field and he’d come and “help them out for a little while”. The first Sunday afternoon Daddy left to be gone for a whole week, I cried and cried. Mama, June and I were all by ourselves. We heard all kinds of noises during the night — and for the first time ever, I felt afraid. I know it must have been hard on Mama, too. She had to do most everything by herself. June and I helped as much as we could, but for the most part Mama had it all to do.
For what seemed like a very long time (it may have been only a matter of weeks) Daddy would ride the Greyhound Bus to Jackson and then catch a City Bus to Bemis on Sunday afternoons. He would work all week and then make the return trip home on the following Friday. Sometimes they had to work six days a week and he didn’t get to come home for the weekend – and that made it really seem like a long time. I can remember sitting on a stump down by the road, in front of our house, watching for Daddy to come walking up the hill on Friday afternoons.
The War just kept escalating and the Mill kept hiring more people. Before long nearly everybody in the extended Turner family, who was old enough, was working in the Bemis Cotton Mill–my Granddaddy (Ben) Turner, my uncles, aunts, cousins, my sister Opal, and Daddy.
By the spring of 1944 I suppose Daddy either decided, or was convinced by his superiors, that he was needed in Bemis long-term so he made arrangements to move his family to Bemis. I was both excited – and scared. The school year was about over and I especially dreaded changing schools. At first, we moved into the house with my Mammy and Pappy Turner – they lived on Davidson Street. Their house was near the railroad tracks and trains ran day and night. Every night I thought for sure the train was going to come right through the house! They were so loud and always blew the train whistle at every “crossing.” I think there were about four crossings in Bemis, so the whistle blew continually all the way through town.
One thing we learned very quickly while living near the railroad tracks: If you had a washing on the clothes line and heard a train coming – you’d better get the clothes off the line before the train got there or the clothes would get sprinkled with tiny balls of coal soot!
Then came that faithful day – our first day to go to school in Bemis, and I was so scared. Mama walked June and me to school. Oh my! It looked so big. It was a brick, two-story building located next door to the Methodist Church. I was assigned to Miss Mildred Pearson’s fifth grade class on the second floor – at the west end of the hall. She just could not have been sweeter or nicer to me – but I felt as “lost as a goose”. I had been attending a country, one-room school (almost like the one on “Little House on the Prairie”) and our text books were altogether different from those I was given at my new school. “How in the world will I ever understand what all they’re talking about?” was the question that kept running through my mind.
First thing every morning we’d say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Every day we would sing patriotic songs. I remember that Joel Brooks got to lead the singing more than anybody else. He sat right in front of Miss Pearson’s desk and it seemed like his hand always went up first when she asked for volunteers to lead the singing. I loved singing the songs — and sometimes, even now — nearly sixty years later – I break out singing, “Over hill – over dale, we have hit the dusty trail….” Often we’d get to go outside, line up single file and practice marching like soldiers. I thought that was lots of fun, and it was — but it was much later that I realized how very much the War influenced about everything we did during those years.
Another thing I soon learned about, that the students were very excited about doing, was the buying of “stamps” for ten cents each, which they would stick into a stamp book. When a book was filled with stamps it would be exchanged for a $25.00 War Bond. People everywhere were being encouraged to buy War Bonds to help support the War effort. I begged dimes from all my relatives and before school was out I managed to accumulate enough stamps to get a War Bond.
A few year later I used that War Bond to buy a piano and Mama and Daddy let me take piano lessons from Mrs. Greer (I believe her name was Lessie Mae.) In 1958 we gave that same piano to the newly organized Northside Methodist Church – to which we moved our membership and became Charter Members.
Miracle of all miracles! I passed the 5th Grade! I may have received the first “social promotion” in the Madison County School System.
Not long after school was out, Daddy found and bought a house on Chester Levee Road. We were glad to have a house of our own again – and have more room to spread out. There was a lot to do getting everything moved and in place. Mama and Daddy planted a late garden. They always had a garden and we were expected to help with the planting, the cultivating and the harvesting – so that kept us busy during that first summer.
We moved our membership to the Bemis Methodist church and Brother L. L. Jones was the pastor. (My parents continued their active membership there until their deaths: Dad in 1993 and Mom in 1999.)
Soon fall was upon us and June and I were now starting the 2nd and 6th grades in Bemis. June still attended classes in the brick, two-story building beside the Methodist Church, but the 6th and 7th grades met in a white, clap-board building across the street, west of the brick building. To my surprise, I didn’t feel so lost any more – I suppose it was getting to start “on the same page” with everybody else. I actually started to like school for the first time ever. I made several really neat, new friends and felt so lucky to be going to school in Bemis – and really surprised myself by making good grades.
It was during the sixth grade, I believe, that World War II came to an end. We had no TV so we only saw the excitement in our neighborhoods – and heard it on the radio. The War is over! The boys will be coming home! How excited everybody was. Our family was just as happy the War was over but we couldn’t be totally excited because my very-most-favorite cousin, Ben F. Blount, who was born and grew up in Bemis, wouldn’t be coming home. He had joined the Army as soon as he was old enough and transferred into the Paratrooper’s Division soon after Basic Training. He was killed on his first “jump” into a battle zone in Sicily. We, as all families were who lost family members in the war, were devastated.
Ben F. was especially close to us because as a young boy and teenager he would come and stay with us during the summers and help Daddy on the farm. He loved working outside – and my Dad had no sons to help on the farm – so Ben F. was a great help to him. Ben F. was like a “brother” to Opal, June and me.
After his family first received word that he was “missing in action”, I remember sitting on that same stump down by the road in front of our house (where months later I waited for Daddy to come home from Bemis on Friday afternoons), and looking expectantly down the road for Ben F. to come walking up the hill. That was not to be….before too long my Aunt got another letter from the Department of Defense notifying her, with much regret, that Ben F. was now classified as “killed in action”.
After the War was over, my Dad thought the boys who had left their jobs in the Mill to go to the Army, would be coming back to their jobs and that he would no longer be needed in the Bemis Cotton Mill. But, as it turned out, the Government passed the G. I. Bill of Rights and many of the Bemis veterans took advantage of that opportunity and went back to school to continue their education. Therefore, Daddy’s job and the jobs of lots of other people in the Mill, were secure.
I was really glad because I had come to love our life in Bemis. Why, for a quarter we could go to the movies on Saturday afternoon, buy a coke and a bag of popcorn! We grew up on Roy Rogers, Red Ryder and Gene Autry.
My world continued to expand when I was allowed to go swimming in the Bemis swimming pool and learn to skate at the Bemis skating rink. Bemis kids were so blessed to grow up in such a special “village community” where everybody knew everybody else. Members from all Bemis families either worked, played, worshipped, or went to school together. There was never any fear of walking home from the movies or skating rink at night, or walking to a friend’s house after dark to spend the night.
Seventh and Eighth grades were a time of growing – physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. In those days nobody ever thought about objecting to Scripture being read daily at school, or prayers being voiced in the classroom. We had wonderful Christian teachers who not only were intent on our learning the 3-R’s but were interested in preparing us to experience well rounded, diverse and productive lives as we journeyed through the ensuing years. The teachers and Principal knew us personally – and knew most of our parents. There was an unwritten and unspoken collaboration between teachers and parents in the education of the children in Bemis, Tennessee….an arrangement that in my opinion just cannot be improved upon.
Now, in the fall of 1947 I went to J. B. Young High School — a freshman, and a “green one at that”! J. B. Young was a beautiful brick, two-story building and was not very old. Principal Alton Copeland insisted that it be kept impeccably clean, and personally saw that it was “spit and polished” at all times. He took great pride in the school’s appearance, as well as his students’ successes.
Mr. Copeland was a good man and every student who ever darkened the door of J. B. Young High School has heard him read, several times, his very favorite scripture: Ecclesiastics 3:1-12. He read that particular passage on many occasions during our four years there.
During our time at J. B. Young High School, we were exposed to different cultures through the monthly programs brought in from outside and presented to the student body in the school’s auditorium. The girls were taught to cook, sew and the art of housekeeping by Mrs. Frances Mercer and later by Mrs. Eleanor Baxter and Mrs. Bettye Neely. Several Home Economics students were chosen each year to fill the role of “Hostess-Servers” at the many business, social and professional luncheons and evening banquets held in the large Meeting/Dining Room on the second floor of the Y.W.C.A. This was an unique opportunity and we were meticulously trained in the proper method of serving at both formal and semi-formal occasions. For instance…..”always serve from the left side of the diner”, etc., etc. Not only was it good training for young high school girls – but it was a lot of fun as well.
The guys were taught by Mr. Kirby McKnight to do wood working projects, how to work with electricity, and do many other practical things in the Vocational Shop that would be of benefit to them throughout the course of their lives. Quite a number of Mr. Kirby’s students were so impacted by his teaching, and by the content of his character, that they chose their life-time careers in some phase of work they were exposed to in his Shop Class at J. B. Young High School. This stands as a testimony to Mr. Kirby McKnight’s profound influence on the lives of the young men he taught.
J. B. Young students were also taught the importance of proper nutrition, personal hygiene and physical education. Some may be surprised to learn that as far back as the 1940’s and 1950’s we received some introduction to sex education in Health and Home Economics classes – in segregated groups of course! We were taught that character was more important than popularity – not in a formal or required subject, but every teacher used the opportunities they had on a daily basis to instill in each of us the qualities necessary to become a good citizen and a good and decent person. We received all this valuable training, and more, in addition to the curriculum required by the State and by the School Board.
I’m sure every J. B. Young student could share favorite stories about one of our favorite teachers of all time — Miss Sally Sweeney. She was a tiny “bundle of dynamite” who Joe Nip McKnight swore had eyes in the back of her head. She taught all of us, all that we could absorb, in the areas of math, algebra, geometry, etc. I’m sure all of her students would agree that there will never be another “Miss Sallie”.
Sports were always of great interest to most of the residents in Bemis. Through the years there were always successful sports teams fielded through different Bemis recreational organizations. Likewise, sports were an important part of our high school experience. All J. B. Young teams were very much supported by the community. During our freshman year, while a new gymnasium was under construction, we practiced and played our basketball games in the gymnasium at the Y.M.C.A., as had the school’s teams in years past. Mr. Copeland, with the help of skilled volunteers who loved the game of basketball, coached the teams.
When we, the Class of 1951, started our sophomore year, J. B. Young High School had its very own, brand new gymnasium – what a beauty! We were so excited and so proud! Now everybody was able to enjoy the new gym because physical education classes were a vital part of the required curriculum. No longer would the basketball teams have to leave the campus to practice.
In the spring, prior to our sophomore year, Mr. Bill Leftwich joined the teaching staff as teacher and coach. And coach he did! He worked that spring and summer organizing, recruiting, preparing and training J. B. Young’s first football team to be ready to take the field that coming fall. Nobody – not even the coach – expected the team to be very successful that first year. Most of the boys who ultimately became “the team” had never played football and knew very little about the game.
They won all of their games that first season. Mr. Bill said years later, when asked how he’d been able to field such a powerhouse that first year (with only part of a season to coach and train this new team), “I guess it was because they never had time to learn how to lose.” Whatever the reason, that first successful season established J. B. Young’s football team as “the team to beat” from then on.
While successfully guiding the football team through a winning first season, Mr. Bill had to start working with the basketball teams (both boys and girls) as soon as school started in order to be ready for the season when it opened in November. He recruited a friend of his, Howard Thomas, (who loved girls’ basketball) to come as a volunteer coach and help him – at least until football season was over. Mr. Thomas was tough – boy was he tough! – but he knew basketball and was an excellent coach. He enjoyed it so much that he continued to come to our practice session (and to our games) even after football season was over.
Mr. Bill was very successful during his years at J. B. Young and produced many winning teams. Many of his student athletes went on to become very successful men and women in a wide variety of professions, businesses, the military, the clergy, in education, as well as in other types of work careers.
Suffice it to say that through the past fifty-plus years, Bill Leftwich has kept up with almost every student he ever coached and continues to be interested in their lives. He’s still a great fan of basketball and follows many local teams – being especially interested in the teams at Union University.
High School was definitely the highlight of my life, up to that point, and although more than half a century has passed since my high school days, I continue to have fond memories of my years at J. B. Young High School. My experiences as a member of the girls’ basketball team are forever indelibly imprinted in my memory. It saddened me to see, earlier in this year, our dear old J. B. Young High School building razed. I do understand the need for progress – but I also understand the need for preserving and maintaining quality structures for their utilization and for posterity.
I, for one, am grateful – and I’m quite sure that hundreds and thousands of current and former Bemisites could join me in grateful appreciation to the Judson Moss Bemis family for choosing to locate a Cotton Mill in an area south of Jackson, Tennessee, and for building a Model Village for the families of their employees. In addition to building and maintaining the homes, they built a house of worship, a Company Store that carried nearly anything anyone would need to buy, and all the recreational and entertainment facilities the community could have hoped for. All this was provided so employees and their families could live comfortable and productive lives, could raise their children to enjoy their childhood, and could prepare them to evolve as useful and productive citizens throughout the course of this lives. To this end, I believe Bemis Bro. Bag Company was more than successful.
I count myself very blessed to have had the privilege of growing up in the very unique and special place called Bemis, Tennessee.
Raymond Killion Brasher
I was born in our home on “C” Street – delivered by Dr. Smythe. My sister, Bonnie Ruth, (deceased) was born in the same house by the same doctor. My brother, Harold (deceased) was born on Massachusetts Street, delivered by Dr. Cottongim.
My father, Jessie William Brasher, was born in Chester County in 1892. He lived in Texas for a while when he was a boy and then lived in Steele, Missouri until he moved to Jackson, Tennessee around 1917. He worked at Southern Engine Boiler Works on North Royal for some time, then got a job driving street cars in Jackson. His “run” was from the court house to the end of Neely Station, which is now Hollywood Boulevard. When the street car barns burned around 1920 he went to work at Bemis. He was a loom fixer in the weave shop where he worked for about 40 years.
My mother, “Dallie”, was born Effie Elizabeth Johnson in Decatur County in 1900. Her father, John Henry Johnson, worked at the Company Store. I remember him as a slight built man with a big mustache. My grandmother on Daddy’s side was born Minerva Isabell Dillon. She died when I was three years old so I don’t remember her. Her family came from New York in the early 1800’s.
My maternal grandmother was born Sophia Emily Fisher in Decatur County. She married John Henry Johnson and they moved to Bemis around 1920 or so.
My mother had 6 sisters and 2 brothers and I think they all worked in the mill for at least part of this lives, some longer than others. My mother died in 1973 and my father died in 1982.
My daddy liked sports, hunting, music (played the guitar) and loved shooting pool at the”Y”. My brother played the banjo a little bit and I played guitar. We used to sit on the porch on Missouri Street and play and sing–lots of fun!
Momma loved to cook, wash and iron and clean house (at least that’s what I remember most about Momma). She sure liked to eat so we always had some good meals. She was also the disciplinarian in the family and I sure remember that!
My parents lived at several addresses in Bemis–Massachusetts, “C”, New Town and Missouri.
My special memories in Bemis would fill a book so I can’t list all of them. I remember playing ball in the street, “Annie Over”, hide and seek, tin can, marble, tops, pick-up-sticks, jack rocks, card games like Old Maid (someone would always mark the Old Maid), Rook (they would always mark the “Rook” too), jumping ditches, climbing trees (and all these were before I was old enough to go to the “Y”). I was more or less raised at the “Y”. I played pool, basketball, softball and a little bit of everything — so much I could fill another book.
I loved going to school. I remember all my teachers from first grade through eighth grade. High School was great! I began to see girls in a different way! I started high school in 1941 and graduated in 1945. I especially remember the rivalry in basketball between Bemis and Jackson. I was fortunate enough to be on the starting five in 1944-45 season when we beat Jackson for the district title.
The Bemis Theatre was great! Nickel movies and talent shows (I was one fourth of a quartet that won a talent content one year. Others were Kelly Harris and Freck King. Can’t recall the fourth member.) We sang barbershop quartet songs but we won our our jokes!
I remember the class day exercises at graduation time and how Mrs. Woodson smacked her lips and kept us straight, or thought she did. We graduated twenty-nine members and said goodbye to the good old days.
I went to Herron Chapel Baptist Church. I have some fond memories of some of my Sunday School teachers. I joined the church in February 1942 and was baptized in cold water. Brother Scates was pastor and I remember him saying to me, “Raymond, the water heater is out so we’re gonna make this short and sweet.”
When I was a kid Christmas was an exciting time–always looked forward to getting fruits and nuts, cap pistol, pair of roller skates (wore them out in a couple of weeks and then make a scooter out of them by pulling skates apart and using two by fours).
I remember when Christmas time at church was mostly for children. We would have little plays and every kid would get a bag of hard candy. We didn’t have nurseries at church when I was a kid; mothers sat on the back row seats and nursed their babies.
When I was growing up most mothers didn’t work at public jobs so they were there to “keep house”. I remember Monday was wash day and Tuesday was ironing day. My job was to keep the fire going around the wash pot and to punch the clothes around and to run the rinse water into two wash tubs. I can remember the blue stuff you put in the rinse water and how good it felt to place your arms in the cool water.
We had a cow in the cow pasture at the end of “C” Street next to the creek. I was about six year old then and don’t remember the cow’s name but I do remember that when I went with Daddy to milk, he would call out, “Soook Jersey”, and our cow would come running. She knew Daddy’s face or his voice (I don’t know which) and would come to get some feed and be milked. I remember Momma making butter. I helped her churn and if I caught her not looking I would slurp a little creamy milk from the churn.
We had hogs every year when I was a boy. Hog killing time was a pretty hard job but the fresh back bones and ribs and tenderloin and sausage were so good! Daddy made the sausage and Momma put it in cloth sacks and hung it in the wood shed along with a ham or shoulder and that was mighty fine eating for quite a time. Daddy had a “meat box” made of oak wood and it was about four by five feet which he used to “salt down the middlins” which was used for eating and for seasoning too. During the summer that box was empty. One day my brother and I decided it would make a good boat if we stopped up the cracks (which we did). We had a little red wagon, so one day while Momma was not looking, we hauled that meat box/boat up to the mill lakes and we got in and paddled out right in the middle of the lade. When water started coming in through the cracks I told my brother, “we’re sinking”. We swam out and I guess that old meat box is probably still in the ground where the lake used to be.
When we lived on Missouri Street we had the “slop route” for that street. Daddy cautioned us about black widow spiders and I can still see some of those little buggers down around the slop can. I loved to see the hogs eat–kind of hated to kill them in November.
We had a garden too. My brother and I furnished the fertilizer. We took our little red wagon and went to the cow pasture and collected the cow paddies and piled them up in the back yard. We had plenty to spread over the garden spot when a man would come around in the spring to “break up” gardens. Daddy was a good gardener like most folks raised on a farm. I learned a lot about it too.
We had ice brought to the house by Mr. Gaugh and his helper. We kids were always trying to reach in and get some ice shavings out of the ice wagon. We had groceries delivered too. Mr. Ivan Hampton took our orders and they were delivered right to the house. What service!
We had good toilets on Missouri Street. First, we had a two-holer. Later we had a self-flusher. Couldn’t beat that.
The Company Store, West Drug Store, Dr. Smythe, company nurse. Twas’ heaven!
Then came the war in 1941. I had just turned fourteen and how exciting it was to follow every day’s news of the war. It hurt when we heard of some of Bemis’ own being killed or wounded or captured, but it was finally over and life went on in Bemis.
I finished high school in May 1945 and married my high school sweetheart, Raymell York, in July of that year. I went to work in the mill in the spinning room as doffer right out of school in May. I still have my first paycheck stub. I was drafted into the Army and discharged in 1947. I returned to work in the mill until the strike. I went to work with the Illinois Central Railroad as Telegrapher/Agent/Operator. I quit the railroad in 1962 and went to work at the Jackson Post Office as mail carrier until I retired in 1990. We moved to the Old Malesus Road in 1962. Raymell and I will be married fifty-seven years July 14th. We have three daughters, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. My wife and I are so glad and proud to have grown up in Bemis where industry and friendliness truly described our way of life–our heritage.
(Written by Raymond Brasher in 2002)
“My Bemis Memories”
November 19, 2002
My first remembrance of Bemis was attending a silent movie. It had a farm scene; and I could relate to it, since I lived on a farm. We were visiting my Uncle Gavin and Aunt Sadie Pruitt. After the movie, we went to their house and heard songs on a “Victrola.”
My next visit, I remember, was a visit to Aunt Alice and Uncle Leland Taylor on the corner of 6th and Massachusetts Street. She had a baby boy. I had my first peanut butter and crackers. This was either 1930 or 1933. I thought people who lived in town were rich. I thought, “boy, this is the place to be.”
In 1930, our house burned; and we lost all of our furniture. The people of Bemis heard about it (probably from Uncle Bernard Babb, Uncle Gavin Pruitt or Uncle Paul Babb). Some of your parents or grandparents sent us a truck load of furniture. There were beds, a sewing machine, and many other useful items. This made a real impression on me and made me want to know these people.
I felt as if I knew many of you and many of your kin. I heard all about you when my cousins came to visit us. They spoke of Jerry Ward, Snooks Kelly, Wilma Hilliard, R.A. Webb, J.D. Carden, Wallace McKenzie; and they would tell of their school experiences and teachers.
Occasionally, we would visit in Bemis on Sunday afternoon. We would walk around, and I always admired the beautiful flowers and lawns. (I always got blistered on my feet.)
Once each year, I came to get a permanent from Mrs. Minnie Dulin at the “Y” Beauty Shop. The cost was $1.00. The machine you sat under looked like you had a head full of wires attached to the overhead frame. You started out with a short hairdo and by the end of the year you had a long hairdo.
In 1943, I finished school at Bolivar. Some of my classmates came to Bemis to work. They were hiring for each shift, so I put in my application. Many young men were going into service for World War II. On July 4, Uncle Paul and Aunt Tressie came and told me I could go to work the next day. I lived with them and reported for work on July 5th to Mr. Dan Cobb. He took me to the spinning room and introduced me to Roscoe Watson who introduced me to my teacher, Mrs. Opal Young. She was very patient and kind – a real sweet lady.
A few months later, I was trained to work in the Laboratory. Mary Frances Frye taught me. She was expecting her first child. (I worked in the Lab tile and was already married and expecting my first child, less than a year later.) My last pay was $27.67 for 48 hours of work. Annie Phillips was hired to work in the lab. The company paid over 3 billion yearly.
In January 1944, I lived with Minnie Granger for six months. On July 4, 1944, I had my first date with Robert Buckingham. We were invited to spend the day with Sue Azbill Pyles and her mother and dad. We got home in time to go to the revival in progress at the old garage building on D Street. Our courtship ended in marriage on July 22, 1944. “He was hard to get acquainted with.” We began “keeping house” at 207 C Street in two rooms. Many couples started that way. We felt we had really moved up when we moved into a three-room duplex on Allen Street. You could ask for a house, and you might or might not get it. Both of our children were born while we lived there. We also lived at 5 Roberts Street and 223 North Missouri Street. When they sold the Bemis houses, we were living at 108 Allen Street and bought it.
Robert’s family came to Bemis in the early 1900s from McLemoresville, Tennessee. Her mother died when she was a teenager. She married Robert’s dad when she was 15 years old. Mr. Buckingham came from Crockett County. He and his father farmed the land on which Kroger and Walmart are located. They would make a crop in the summer and work in the mill in the winter months. Robert’s mom worked in the Spinning Department, and his dad in the Carpenter Shop. I remember many ‘what-not’s’ made there. Robert worked with the carpenter crew for a few years. When World War II started, he worked in the Supply Room, since Gaylon Bridges and Harvey Butler went to service. He worked with Cleatus Wallace, Leo Atherton, and Don Harton. When the men returned from service, he went back to the carpenter crew and later to the air condition crew with Ray Long. When an opening came in the Supply Room, he returned and worked with Leo Atherton, Don Harton, J.B. Sanders, O.C. Azbill, Bobby Barger, and others. (Pictures and Album). He retired in 1982. Robert was so pleased that the Historical Society was formed and he was a Charter Member. He enjoyed talking about the “good old days” and about being a Caddie at the Golf Course. He said Mr. Hugh Mainord played regularly and was a good tipper. He usually gave his caddie twenty-five cents. Robert’s family was the third family to move into “New Town” when it was being built.
Robert’s uncle, Troy Buckingham, was a Barber at the “Y.” His uncle, (Pee-Wee) Ben Williamson, had a dry-cleaning business which he operated from his home. Robert was born on 2nd Street, weighing in at 12 pounds.
During World War II, people in Bemis were doing what they could on the home front to help. I remember going upstairs at the “Y” to roll bandages. We used gauze and a spatula to fold it into nice squares. People were buying war bonds, and I’m sure some of you remember the scrap metal collected by the Scouts. Many homes put emblems in their windows with a blue star on them. When a serviceman lost his life, the blue star was replaced with a gold star. I remember two gold star families – the Silers and Johnsons. James Siler and Raymond Johnson are two that I remember; there may have been more.
It always amazed me at the number of people who had nicknames: Budgie Hamilton, Snooks Kelly, Bud Kelly, Bo Templeton, Kraut Granger, Red Nesbitt, Coffee Pot Granger, Sisy Tippett, Lindberg Wheeler, Pappy Newman, Sonny Johnson, Didt Jackson, Mop Hays, Squirrel Rogers, Butch Spellings, etc.
Another incident happened for which I again thank Bemis people. In 1945, the second fall we were married, Robert was sick with asthma for six weeks. Dr. Kelly Smythe was his doctor. People in the mill gave from ten cents to five dollars each. It was a real help. I still have the list of names that gave.
Our children were both born when we lived at 111 Allen Street. They spent their early years playing “Hopscotch,” ball, play school or church with the neighborhood children. They always looked forward to the ice cream man so they could get a ‘Cho-Cho.’ We never could get much grass to grow in our yards. Each Saturday there was a ball game on the back lawn. Now, there are trees as high as the house. On Sunday after church, especially in the fall and spring, we would walk in the woods many times looking for leaves for leaf collections at school.
Through the years, we have kept busy in our church. We were and still are blessed with good neighbors – the Kolwycks and Pressons on C Street; on Allen Street, Genola Hudson and her parents, Virdie and Lathie Jackson; on Roberts Street, the Hensleys and Mrs. Gaines; others, such as the Gibbons, Myracles, Knotts, Kings, and many more.
There were many, many good times, as well as some not so good; but with the help of the Lord, good neighbors, and a wonderful family, we got through the bad. For this, I’m very grateful and thankful. As we approach the Holiday Season, I hope each of you have the best ever. Thanks for the opportunity to tell of my Bemis memories and express my Thanks.
November 19, 2002