Shotgun Houses & Other Stories
The house in which her family lived when Sue was born was on Academy Street, near the teacher’s boarding house. It was what she called a “shotgun” house in that it had a central hallway that ran from the front door to the back door, with three rooms on either side. When asked why houses like these were called “shotgun” houses, she said she was told it was because a shotgun blast fired through the front door would go through the house and out the back door. (One wonders why a shotgun would be fired through the front door.)
Bad luck, good memories
Sue remembered many good times visiting with her cousins who still lived in Cliffside. One of the best times she recalled, however, was not very pleasant for her mother. It was in the summer of 1926 or ’27, when Sue was perhaps seven or eight years old. Her father had given up farming, and had gone to work at Spinner’s Processing, moving the family to Spindale.
A neighbor was visiting her mother, Beatrice, and they were dipping their snuff while sitting in straight backed chairs on the Atkinson’s porch so they could spit out into the yard. Beatrice apparently sat too close to the edge of the porch, and one leg of her chair slipped off, dumping her out into the yard. Unhappily, her arm was badly broken right at her shoulder, and because of the location of the break, it was necessary that she be put in a body cast. The cast held her arm up in the air and away from her body, preventing her from doing much of anything. Vol had to go to work in the mill each day, and Beatrice would be in the cast for at least five or six weeks, so there was no one to care for Sue and her sister, Hazel. Vol’s sister, Mollie Atkinson Dillingham, volunteered to take them to Cliffside to stay with her and her husband, Ernest Dillingham, until Beatrice was able to care for them again. Ernest and Mollie had no children, but Ernest’s half sister, Ivy Allen, who would later marry Mollie’s brother Oliver, was living in Cliffside with them, and could help care for the girls. This summer in Cliffside was one of great adventure for the girls, and one that Sue remembers as her best summer ever.
The Milk Route
Mollie and Ernest had several cows, and the extra milk they produced was sold to regular customers both locally and as far away as Shelby. Sue recalled their huge icebox where the raw milk was kept until it was delivered. The icebox held blocks of ice so big Sue thought they must surely weigh at least 1000 pounds. Ivy drove Ernest’s open T-Model Ford to Shelby and back to deliver the milk to customers there, and would sometimes allow Sue and Hazel to ride along with her.
Revival and a new dress
During the time they were there, a revival was being held at Cliffside Baptist Church, and Sue had nothing suitable to wear. Ivy, who Sue recalls as a very sweet, kind person, cut up one of her own brown organdy dresses and sewed Sue a dress from it so she could go to revival. While brown organdy may not have been what one would have chosen to make a child’s dress, Sue thought it was beautiful because Ivy had made it especially for her. She said she wore that dress to the revival meeting every single night, because she was so proud of it.
Her Aunt Mollie dried apples during the summer to make pies during the winter, spreading the sliced apples out on a piece of tin roofing in the sun during the day. The insects that used them for a temporary landing field or snack bar were only shooed away or ignored, since nothing could be done about them. Each night the apple-laden tin was put up in the loft of the smokehouse, and on rainy days the apples were left in the loft.
One rainy day several of their Cliffside cousins, Jack, Paul, Billy, and “Sis” Atkinson, came over to visit with the girls, and the children all started nibbling on the half dried apples in the smokehouse loft. When Mollie realized what they were doing, she probably saw her hours of peeling, slicing, and moving the tin in and out of the sun all being for nothing. She ran them all out of the smokehouse to keep them from eating her total winter supply of dried apples.
Warming up the gravy
Volentine and Beatrice Atkinson were married in Cliffside in 1917, and both their daughters, Sue and Hazel, were born there. Vol worked in Cliffside Mills, and Beatrice would get up early each morning to cook his breakfast on their wood stove before he went to work. No matter what else they may have had on the table, there was always biscuits and milk gravy, which both their girls loved.
When the girls woke up, Beatrice would warm up the gravy she had cooked for Vol before he left for work. One of Sue’s earliest memories of Cliffside is seeing her mother holding her long handled pan over the fire in the fireplace grate, warming up the gravy for them.