Earning a living
After their marriage, Earnest became a successful farmer, raising cotton in addition to the family’s food. He also supplemented his income with various other jobs. Although he did not have a great deal of formal education, he had an innate intelligence and a natural aptitude for math that he put to good use on the jobs he held. In addition to farming his own land, Earnest worked as a supervisor and paymaster of crews picking peaches for growers in the area. He recorded the number of hours the pickers worked and the wages due them; transported them to the orchards and back; either went for food or took them to the store at lunch time; kept a record of any advances made to the pickers, and “settled up” with them at the end of the day or the week.
Working at the furnace
Furnace Road, off Highway #11 between Chesnee and Gaffney, S. C. was so named because a cotton gin, a grain mill, and an iron ore works once existed there. Today, it is on the path used by an organized walking group. Only the dam, part of the stone sluice, the metal framework of the old water wheel, a historic marker, and scattered, half-smelted rocks of iron ore remain. For a number of years before the gin and mill burned, it was a beehive of activity, especially during the fall when farmers brought their cotton to be ginned and their grain to be milled. During those times, it sometimes ran 24 hours each day.
Earnest Atkinson worked there during the years it was in operation, helping to weigh the cotton and keep records of how much was owed to each farmer. He often worked far into the night, and would take a short cut through the woods to reach home more quickly. His brother-in-law, Lafar Ruppe, husband of his sister Beula, also worked there before the family moved back to Cliffside.
Driving Lafar’s car
One especially busy night, Earnest had worked late, and Lafar was to continue working through the night until someone relieved him in the morning. It was late and the night was dark, so Lafar suggested that Earnest drive his car home, since he would be back at work the next morning before Lafar left. Earnest accepted the offer, planning to be back before dawn.
The following morning he had trouble getting the car started, and asked for Eddith’s help.
He had her sit in the seat to press on the brake pedal in case the car lurched forward when it started. The plan was for him to crank the car, run around and jump in beside Eddith, and put his foot on the brake pedal as she removed hers. Eddith would get out, and he would then be on his way back to work at the Furnace.
Things did not work out quite as planned. Before Earnest could jump into the car to stop it, it had started forward, and before he could catch it, Eddith had, according to her daughter, Frances, practically cleaned out both side ditches as she swerved down the road. That was her first and last driving experience. Eddith would later laugh about their driving attempts and say that the Lord did not want them to endanger other people by driving, and saw to it that they didn’t.
No car of his own
Earnest was always quick to respond when a friend or neighbor had a problem, needed something figured for them, or needed to find out something and asked him for help in getting information. Although he never owned a car, this never prevented his getting from one place to another. The help he so freely gave to others was often repaid in the form of “lifts” from those who did own cars. Frequently he was picked up as he walked out the road toward the store, or had just arrived there when someone who was headed in the direction he needed to go stopped and offered him a ride. One has to wonder if his decision not to have a car may have been influenced in some small part by memories of past family driving experiences.
Baby’s under the mattress
When Sunday afternoon visiting was common, Earnest and Eddith’s house was often the destination of many family members. If the visitors lived some distance away, they would often come to spend the weekend. Once when Earnest and Eddith were expecting cousins to come for a weekend visit, Eddith took the feather tick from the guest bedroom and threw it across the clothesline to sun. When the guests arrived, the women became busy in the kitchen, so several of the children were sent out to bring the feather tick back inside. Impatient to get back to their play, the children jointly carried it inside, heaved it onto a bed, and ran back outside. They failed to notice the baby sleeping on the bed. Luckily, Eddith discovered that the feather tick was lying across the bed on which Baby Frances had been placed, and rescued her before she suffocated.