In the 1930’s, our community, called Standing Rock Creek, TN, consisted of twenty-five or thirty families living in very modest farm houses scattered along a nine-mile stretch of country road which followed the shallow, clear, and rocky creek. The community of Standing Rock was named for the large rock which stood by the road near the head of the creek. Homes had been built on whichever side of the creek had a few acres of flat land for farming.
The terrain of our neighborhood was hills and hollows, which we called “hollers”. Spring fed creeks flowed between the ridges toward the Tennessee River. Our nine miles of dirt road crossed Standing Rock Creek in four places – once at “the rock”, again at our house (the Stanley Martin house), at the concrete bridge near Van Jobe’s house, and once again at Rob Scarborough’s. Our house, the Stanley Martin house, was nicely positioned between Standing Rock Creek and its small tributary, Ribbon Branch. There was a time when we called them the “big” creek and the “little” creek”.
I remember an incident before there was a bridge when a car got stuck trying to ford the “big” creek. Several men were in the shallow water, lifting the car (probably an A-Model Ford or a ’33 Chevy) forward across the creek. It was not unusual for our neighbor, Mr. Crockett Parker, to hitch up his team of mules to pull a stuck car out of Ribbon Branch.
After the first wooden bridges were built in 1936, we could hear the rattle of boards as a car came over the Standing Rock Creek bridge, then traveled a short stretch of dirt road in front of our house, then across the rattling boards of the Ribbon Branch bridge, or vice versa.
One source of Sunday afternoon entertainment was to drive to “the rock” and climb up the steep hillside from which the rock jutted. Standing Rock protruded from the hillside and stood about fifty feet high from the roadway. From the hill behind the rock you could walk out onto the relatively flat top. Warsaw Limestone is common in middle Tennessee. It is various shades of gray, often wet with moss, and slippery.
On the eastern edge of the rock there was a narrow ledge on which a daring, show-off person could walk precariously toward the front. Years later, our son Casey, at age seventeen, slipped and fell from that ledge grabbing sapling tree branches on the way down to break his fall. When he finally hit the ground, he yelled up to his Dad saying that he didn’t recommend coming down that way.
Sunday afternoon drives were common, driving around the neighborhood, stopping to visit with neighbors who might be sitting on their front porch. Visiting Mammie and Aunt Katie in Murray, KY was an all-day event because it was twenty-five miles away and they would serve us a noon meal. While there, we liked to drive around the Murray State College campus. Occasionally an all day trip to Paris, TN was planned to shop in the ten-cent stores or just walk around the court square looking in store windows. We had to be home before dark so all the cows, mules, pigs, ducks, and chickens could be fed.
After we got a battery operated radio, we could listen to comedians Fibber McGee and Molly, or Amos and Andy. Afternoon soap operas at the time were Ma Perkins and The Guiding Light. On Saturday nights we would listen to The Grand Ole Opry. Daddy liked to listen to prize fights. We would all gather around the radio to hear FDR’s fireside chats. He, Roosevelt, was the first president to do that. We thought that was a marvelous thing, to actually hear the president’s voice while he was talking. Sometimes we heard First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, in her distinctive high pitched voice.
When I was very young, maybe four or five, Christmas Eve was a time for gathering at Parker Brothers General Store for fireworks. The locals would contribute pocket change to cover the cost. Several bundles of Zebra brand firecrackers were tied together and hung from the branch of a small tree in front of the general store. Each bundle, with fuses interlaced, contained about twenty-five firecrackers. Tied together, the string of firecrackers was maybe five or six feet long. Uncle Jack Parker would light the bottommost firecracker, which would set off a chain reaction of popping that lasted two or three minutes until all the firecrackers were spent. There was also a Roman candle or two shot off. I recall being very worried because it was after dark and I thought I should be home asleep in bed in case Santa Claus came early. The adults were amused by my worry and ignored me.
Recently, an article from The Stewart County Times social page surfaced, dated April 1933. Since I was three at the time, I have no memory of this event. The hosts, Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Martin as mentioned in the article, are my parents. My oldest sister, Dot, would have been sixteen at the time and in high school. I am sure she was sorry she missed all the fun. It was a common occurrence back then to invite relatives and neighbors to come armed with their clubs and dogs. They surrounded a rat infested building, in this case my parents’ barn. Some person started digging a hole in the ground next to the barn near the rat nest, which got the dogs interested in digging, and then the rats started running out to certain death by club or dog. Here is the article:
A pile of 112 dead rodents was the result of a rat killing party given by Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Martin, of Standing Rock Creek, last Tuesday morning. The rats were killed at the barn on their premises, the slaying being done with sticks and dogs. The party had a jolly day, and at noon a big dinner was served by Mr. and Mrs. Martin to the attendees, who were as follows: Misses Imogene Martin, Leita Martin, Pattie Mae Martin, Lorene Russell, Reba McHood and Rebecca McHood, Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Russell, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Russell, Mrs. Irma McHood, Dale Martin, Bobbie Russell, Hoover Russell, all of Standing Rock, Miss Thelma Douglas of Murray, Ky., and Eldon Cherry of Dover.
Most all these attendees are relatives of mine. I don’t know whether to be horrified, embarrassed, or amused, so I feel all those feelings at once. Also, I am proud of them for enjoying the day.
Because of my three older sisters, our home was frequented by young men. Our parents had the rule that if one daughter went on a date, another sister had to go along. So, the boys came in twos. I learned a lot by eavesdropping on my three older sisters who were always talking and giggling about dates with their boyfriends. I also learned to embroider because my sisters were embroidering pillow cases and table scarves for their hope chests. Of my sisters, Imogene was the best at needle work and cooking.
Men went ‘coon hunting with their dogs at night. The goal was to get the dogs to tree a raccoon. In older days, a coon skin could be sold, but in the thirties it just for the sport. Squirrel hunting was done by day. Young men would proudly bring several cleaned squirrels to our house for Mama to batter and fry, telling her she was the best cook, but the draw was really my three older sisters.
For young adults, there were Sunday night meetings of “The League” later known as Methodist Youth Fellowship. Courting couples might walk to the church together, or go by car. There were square dances in nearby communities, but not on Standing Rock Creek as there was no facility for holding such an event.
Occasionally a struggling country singer would come and perform, for donations of a dollar, in our one room country school building at Mulberry Hill. The instruments were guitar and voice. Lighting was by kerosene lamp. Eddie Arnold, Ernest Tubb and others were enjoyed by my Dad who happily tapped his foot to the music.
Some neighbors made popcorn balls. The popping corn was grown in our fields, harvested, dried, and shelled, then popped in a long handled wire basket shaken over a fire in the fireplace. Popcorn balls were made by drizzling homemade molasses over the popped corn to make it sticky, then forming baseball sized balls for eating or for trimming a Christmas tree. The molasses was made by growing our own sorghum cane, then hauling the fresh cut stalks to Billy Red McGee. Billy Red had the equipment for squeezing the juice from the cane using mules going in a circle as power to rotate the press drums. The extracted juice was then cooked down in Billy Red’s large, flat copper pans until it became a syrup which we called sorghum molasses. It was actually sorghum syrup, not molasses. The day when Billy Red made “molasses” was a big social event.
The farm wives had Home Demonstration Club monthly meetings, which were sponsored by the Dept. of Agriculture’s County Extension Agent. “Miss Elam” was responsible for the women’s programs. A different program each month taught the women more up-to-date ways of doing things. I still have a stenciled and etched sheet metal tray decorated with my initial “P” made by my mother at one of these meetings. There is also a photo of the women members dressed in styles representing different time periods.
Used books were provided by Mr. Arch Trawick who would bring boxes of them down from Nashville. The books were kept in what was known as Carter’s little house in the corner of the Parker’s backyard. The little house served as the neighborhood library, more or less, but I was too little for those paperback novels. Once, while in Carter’s little house with Mama and “Miss Ethel”, I latched on to a ragged children’s book titled, Pansy Eyes, and was overjoyed when “Miss Ethel” told me I could have it.
There was croquet. On Sunday afternoons, some of the men in the neighborhood might get together on the school playground and play croquet. They had pooled enough money to buy a croquet set which was kept at T’s and Ben’s Store, just down the hill from the school. I remember playing croquet a few times. Also, the men might play horseshoes in their yards on Sunday afternoons. No purchase was necessary for that, as there were plenty of worn out horseshoes around this farming community.
Bachelor brothers, T. and Ben Moore ran this tiny store across the road from their house. It had one rusty old Esso gas pump where cars could be filled up for sixteen cents per gallon. Bottled drinks like Coca-Cola or RC Cola or Dr. Pepper were kept cold in a large chest with blocks of ice. T’s and Ben’s was a gathering place. People could sit around on empty nail kegs and share news or gossip. Now and then word would go out that they were having a “musical” on Saturday night, and a few people might show up with a guitar, banjo, or harmonica and take turns performing.
Roy and Lorene Wofford hosted a “musical” at their house when I was too little to be included. There was music by local talent, parlor games like Post Office or Spin the Bottle (both were kissing games) or the Telephone Game which shows how rumor travels and the story changes with each telling. Refreshment consisted of a galvanized two-gallon bucket of moonshine liquor on the back porch with a shared dipper for all guests to drink from. The contents were most likely distilled in the adjacent hollow (we said “holler”) by Roy, who was married to my cousin, Lorene.
Standing Rock Creek flowed into the Tennessee River (now Kentucky Lake) at McGee’s Landing. I am told a steamboat, complete with a calliope and carrying carnival-type entertainment docked there. Their attraction, a tent show, was set up in the field next to T’s and Ben’s store for a period of time. I was too young to remember this.
There were money raising pie suppers, or box suppers, at the Mulberry “school house”, our one-room country school. Each woman brought food in a box which was auctioned off. Her husband or wannabe boyfriend bid on the box and then sat with her to eat the food. My older cousin, Howard Russell, won the bidding on my box of food. I’m sure he didn’t know who or what he was getting. I was a young awkward teenager, painfully shy, and not at all comfortable in the situation.
Another money raising effort was for the women to pool their resources, make a quilt and sell $1.00 chances at winning it in a drawing. Women made quilts as a hobby, but also because they were needed as warm bedding. Fabric scraps were plentiful as the women sewed all their own dresses. Quilting frames hung from the ceiling and quilts were stretched on the frames. Four or five women might work on the same quilt, working from the outside edges in. As the work progressed, the finished part of the quilt would be rolled up onto the quilting frame so the center could be easily reached by fingers holding needle and thread. When several women worked together like this, it was called a “quilting bee”. They didn’t realize they were creating folk art which would be highly prized later.
Mama enjoyed walking through the woods searching for ginseng. She would dig up the plant and save the roots. When enough ginseng roots were collected, she and Daddy would drive to Clarksville and sell it by the pound. Ginseng was considered by Asians to be an aphrodisiac, especially so if the root was a certain suggestive masculine shape.
In the summer, there were some Sunday afternoon baseball games between competing communities. In our hilly, farming community, a spot of flat uncultivated ground for playing ball was hard to find. Such a spot was made available on old Route 76 between Bill Gardner’s and Rob Scarborough’s stores. To some religious folks, like Baptists and Pentecostals, playing baseball on Sunday was a sin, but most of us were Methodists and went and enjoyed it and made jokes about sinning. Howard Jobe was the player who acted as manager. Other players were Carter Parker, Benny Jobe, Groover Parker, Edward Parker, Dossie Lee, Dalton Lee, and Oscar Lynn. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed the lives of these young men forever, as they were soon drafted into military service. My brother, Dale, was a bit too young for this ball team, but within three years was drafted and gone to war with the others.
So, we managed to entertain ourselves. Hog killings, school, and school-related activities kept us occupied in the winter. Revival meetings, Bible School, and a week of community wheat threshing, moving farm to farm along the creek, kept us entertained in the summer. There were “all day singings and dinner on the ground” at church. Somebody would make homemade ice cream by chipping a block of ice bought off the Saturday ice truck from Dover, and hand cranking the ice cream maker. We cut watermelons from our own watermelon patches. The women all brought homemade dishes for others to taste and compare.
Typically at these events, a man would take a small, cloth Country Gentleman tobacco sack from his front pocket, open it using the yellow drawstring, shake loose tobacco into a folded TipTop cigarette paper, which he then rolled, and moistened with his tongue to glue it together. Next, lifting his right leg, he struck a wooden Diamond Strike-a-Fire match on his pant leg, lit the cigarette and smoked it, while talking with his men friends. It was, after all, a social event.
Standing Rock Creek was a well-regarded community, made up of decent, honest, hardworking families. The children did well in school and succeeded in careers around the country. Without exception, we still return for reunions and funerals, to visit our old stomping grounds and maintain our connections with each other. Each year I send a check to a former elementary school classmate, Charles Henry McGee. He is in his eighties and still mows the Methodist church cemetery. Charles Henry’s grandfather was Billy Red McGee, who made our molasses. He is buried there, along with my grandfather, J. R. McHood, who regularly rafted down the Tennessee River, dismantled his log raft, sold the logs, bought merchandise and brought it back up river by steamboat. With pride, I can say my roots are there, in that reliable, dependable “salt of the earth” community of Standing Rock Creek.