Growing Up With Vernon
Vernon & Carmel Honeycutt:
Two Brothers Growing Up
From 1923 – 1925
(Age difference 18 months)
We were born in Avondale, NC, a small mill village established in 1916 in the southeastern corner of Rutherford County, NC at the Second Broad River, near the Cleveland County line. It was like many textile mill towns of the time, built and totally owned by “The Company.” All land, houses and commercial buildings were the property of the mill owners. Although workers were not required to live in these mill houses, many did, both for convenience and for economic reasons. (House rent was in the range of 25 cents per room, per month. Imagine a four room house renting for $12.00 a year.) No dogs, chickens or farm animals were permitted in these villages for obvious reasons.
When I was about four years of age (about 1929)we moved to a small farm just outside the village so that Daddy (Edgar “Ed” Honeycutt) could have a garden, cow, pigs and chickens to help feed our family of eight(six children, four girls and two boys). Of all the things around the farm Dad seemed to like his hunting dogs the best. He hunted doves, rabbits, ‘possum, foxes and sometimes “coons.” We looked forward to the rabbit hunts because Mom could make us all happy with a big meal of fried rabbit.
My brother Vernon was only eighteen months older than me so not only was he my brother but my best friend, yet the “big brother” protection was always there whether I wanted it or not. I was always the youngest and smallest of our gang and of course the baby, but was always included and treated as one of the gang and that made me feel as if I really belonged. Everything at that age was a learning process and anything new was shared as information only and not one time was intended to frighten anyone although we delighted in pulling our silly childish pranks. More about that later.
Vernon told me not to worry about death because “only old people die”and I was most happy to accept that explanation.My very first memory goes back further than most of our family believed but my Mom told me that the things I remembered happened when I was about three years old. I remembered my brother getting a white billy goat and my Dad holding him on the goat while he rode it. Another thing was that I could remember my uncle Weldon Honeycutt playing with me with a make believe dog that I told him I had tied to a string. This uncle died when I was three and one half (3½) years old. Another thing happened when we lived in that house that is more outstanding. We had a well dug near the house and wells were dug by hand with picks and shovels leaving a pile of dirt near the house. Vernon and I would get on top of the mound of dirt and roll down to the bottom singing: “Cry baby, cry baby, roll in the dirt. / Cry baby, cry baby, how much you hurt.” Vernon originated that little ditty that shows the creative mind that he had even at that early age.
At about five years of age I was introduced to the “World of reality” and my worst disappointment. That was about death told to me by the oldest in our group. He had learned in church that people die. I asked my brother to explain this thing called DYING. When I die will I jump and kick seemed to be a concern because I remembered a chicken Daddy killed that did. Vernon told me not to worry about death because “only old people die”and I was most happy to accept that explanation.
Our family life centered around an open fire and kerosene lamps. At night we gathered around two kerosene lamps at the kitchen table. The second lamp was used by anyone that had to go into another room. While we ate, family talk took place to inform all the family of the activities of the day. There was very little time for a parent to give attention to a child one on one during the week so we looked forward to the week-ends when we all did things together. Most of our activities were spent camping and fishing along nearby streams.
We had a radio powered by an automobile battery but it was not used very often because the life of the battery was short and it had to be put back into the car for recharging. (Dad had a Model-A Ford car then but it was not driven much even though gasoline was only nineteen cents a gallon). The daily news along with a few radio programs were listened to. Some of the favorite programs at that time were “Amos and Andy”, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, the “soaps” and sports. Joe Louis was the boxing Champion and baseball was the national pastime even then. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were baseball heroes during those years.
Water was hand drawn from a well and the well was also used to keep milk cool by placing a container of milk into the main water bucket and letting it down into the cool water below until ready for use. Wood was used as fuel for the cook stove and fireplace to heat the rooms. At night we used kerosene lamps until the regular wick kerosene lamps improved to pressurized kerosene lamps called Aladdin Lamps that had to be pumped with a small built in pump. A filament mantle replaced the old wick burner which made the light much brighter, more efficient and eliminated the smell of burning kerosene. Those lamps are available even now in the form of a lantern made by Coleman and are most popular among campers and sportsmen.
Then Came Electricity
One day Dad walked in and told the family that he had a big surprise for us and we were all pleased to learn that the big surprise was getting electricity for our house. He said that the first thing to do in preparation was to put electrical wires in the attic He could lay in the bed and by pulling the string even with his toes could turn the light on and off. throughout the house so that electrical devices could be attached. We all stood in awe as we watched Dad pull wire from room to room and attach electrical fixtures. Two twisted wires were extended about three feet from a connector in the center of the room and a light bulb socket including a bulb was attached to the end. The light was controlled inside the socket with an on/off switch operated by pulling a tiny ball chain about six inches long. Vernon tied a string to the pull chain switch that controlled the light and tied the other end to the bed post and presto! He could lay in the bed and by pulling the string even with his toes could turn the light on and off. It seemed that modern day magic had come to our house.
Next we got a new electric radio and we could not wait to see how anyone could possibly connect a radio with no place to connect. Dad said, “That is easy,” and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little “Y” shaped device that he called a double socket. He took the light bulb out and screwed the double socket in its place and put the light bulb in one of the holes and plugged the radio into the other and then we played the radio without being concerned about the battery going dead or having to recharge it.
An electric iron was next and again we wanted to know how it would be connected. Again Dad said, “That will be easy” and went back to the double socket routine. We were all pleased that the electric iron would make Mom’s work easier, faster and our clothes looked much better and the girls liked that part the best and they could also iron their own clothes.
Now we were all set for an electric pump to be placed into the well that would actually pump water into the house automatically without any attention from anyone. Yep! You guessed it, back to the double socket routine. Water pipes had to be installed for the flow of water and now all was ready. When the chain was pulled to start everything, Wham! Fire flew and smoke rolled from the sockets and everything stopped working, even the lights would not light up. Now what? A device Dad called a fuse was inserted into the wiring system to protect the wires from overheating or having too many devices connected in the same line of wires.
The electricity was well liked and Dad soon found out that he could make life easier with electrical appliances and so it was decided that the next appliance would be an electric range. By now we all knew about connecting new devices with a double socket but when the electric range was delivered it had a strange looking plug with three prongs to use and then at that point we were wondering how Dad was going to make this thing work, surely it would. He ran a separate set of three wires to the range location in the kitchen and attached a different type of plug and said that the electric range required much more power and he called it a 220 volt line that has twice the power of the original lines. Things ran smooth and mostly normal on the farm and all seemed happy for a while.
Then about two years later Virl and Vernon had to start going to school. They had to walk to school which Dad did not like so we moved back to the mill village near the school so that walking to school in the winter months would not be so bad and I would be joining them in a year or two. The house was near the river and we were allowed to have a cow and a few chickens but Dad had to let one of his hunting friends keep his dogs so that he could continue to hunt.
For the next few years life seemed to be slow growing up and getting through grammar school, however we enjoyed summer vacations from school each year. The school year was only eight months leaving four for vacation. Going barefoot and having childhood diseases seemed to come and go without leaving too many bad memories except for one accident that I will never forget. Dad had bought Vernon an air rifle for some occasion that I can not remember when he was in the third grade but it was taken from him after I shot him in the head with the thing.
About a year later we moved again to “Rabbit Town” the nickname for one of the streets and in the process of moving we ran across that air rifle that had been hidden and forgotten. Our neighbors had two boys about our ages named Yates Ward and B.G. Ward. Yates, the one about Vernon’s age, was loading the BB gun while Vernon was holding it and the gun accidentally went off and shot Vernon in the eye. Vernon said, “I am shot,” and covered his eye with his hand but we thought he was kidding until he uncovered his eye to let us see that he was serious. Then we called Mom and somehow she got Dad home and he carried Vernon to the doctor.
Miraculously no vision was lost but a close watch was kept with an x-ray taken on that eye every six months because the BB shot made of lead was not removed. A Dr. Smith in Charlotte said that trying to remove that shot could cause damage to the optic nerve behind the eye. Dr. Robertson from Cliffside (a dentist) took the x-rays at no charge and the BB shot made of lead was never removed. A protective growth around the shot prevented the BB shot from moving, so it became permanent.
Then we moved again behind the Avondale Methodist Church and even there we were permitted to have a cow, a few chickens and a garden spot.
One of my cousins had some matches and we set the woods on fire and after our parents put the woods fire out we got our rear ends set on fire.Families visited one another a lot in those days and the grown-ups would sit and talk while us kids would play outside. Vernon asked me if my cousins would hug and kiss me when we visited and I told him yes and he said, “These are the ‘hugginist’ and ‘kissinist’ damn people I ever saw.” He never did like to be touched regardless of who or the circumstances. One day we went into the woods to play and one of my cousins had some matches and we set the woods on fire and after our parents put the woods fire out we got our rear ends set on fire.
One cold night in January, 1936, when Vernon and I were about eleven and nine years old respectively, we were told to sleep in a different bedroom from our regular room. We were moved to a bedroom in the back part of the house because my sister, Beatrice, had been sick and she needed our bedroom. The next morning we were allowed to sleep late and not get up and go to school and we could not figure out why. We could hear a lot of people talking and some were whispering just outside our door and we could hear a lot of footsteps also. In a short while my mother came into our room with tears in her eyes and told us that Beatrice had left us last night. I did not know what she meant until Vernon asked her if she meant that Beatrice had died, and she said yes. We were all saddened and had an extremely hard time adjusting to life without her. One bad thing about being the youngest is having this same heartache as my family gets smaller and smaller but I know where they are and I know the way.
Growing older by a couple of years made us more active and adventuresome, and as always Vernon had some sort of activity going for our age group because he was the only one that had the ability to look ahead and plan an activity or projects that we could enjoy. Not knowing at the time but it was called leadership, and without question he was our leader. He started a small boys club in a small room underneath our house where Dad had built a shower room.
The club name I can not remember but I well remember that he was a “detective” and our password was “bullet” given while winking the left eye. Things would come up “missing” and the “detective” would solve the case. One day one of the kids told his parents that things from our house would be missing and his parents stopped him from coming to our house because they thought their child was being accused of stealing (make believe objects). So our boys club came to an end. No more pretending for us!
Later Vernon organized a kids baseball team called the “Green Hill Wildcats” and luckily got some of the older kids involved who acted as managers and coaches, and we ended up with teams from neighboring villages with about five teams involved. We never ended up as champions but, boy, all the kids enjoyed playing baseball. The teams survived for several years, thanks to the foresight of one small kid who I was proud to call my brother.
Making friends with the older kids that we played baseball with turned out to be a big step in getting invited into new homes and neighborhoods where we were reluctant to go. We played new games, made kites, built tents, made homemade rope swings, went on one day camping trips and even cooked our own lunch that our mothers had helped us get together for the trip, went swimming and boating, and it seemed that we were following in the footsteps of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Vernon delivered the Spartanburg Herald newspaper to earn spending money but would save some of his money for the Christmas Holidays season. He always liked fireworks so he would order enough for the two of us to enjoy. Fireworks could be shipped by Railway Express in those days and I can still remember the company’s name that he ordered from, The Spencer Fireworks Company, Chicago, IL. Fireworks were not sold locally then. We had lots of fun shooting fireworks until I let one explode in my hand and it made blood blisters inside my hand but some were bleeding. Vernon told me not to let Daddy know because he would not let us have anymore fireworks so I kept my hand in my pocket until Dad asked me why. He must have seen the pain that showed in my face. He poured alcohol on my hand and then I really had pain. I think he let that be punishment enough because the next year Vernon ordered fireworks again.
Soon we were lucky enough to join in the good fortune that many of our friends were enjoying and to me and Vernon seemed to be just a dream. That dream was to have a bicycle. Our parents loved us more than we had thought because one day while we were playing in the yard Dad came driving up with a bicycle tied to each side of the car and we could not believe our eyes nor could we get over the excitement of having a new bike. Having a bicycle gave us more freedom to come and go more frequently and to ride without permission.
Riding without permission got to be a bad habit. We were beginning to hang around with kids that were having a bad influence on us because we would ride too far from home, even to Chimney Rock, about 25 miles away.
So back to the country we moved, to keep us from getting into trouble was our guess. We could continue to ride to the movies and short distances with permission but I continued to slip and go places without permission, but they would send Vernon to track me down, and of course I would get a thrashing. One day he asked me, “Why do you do that?” And to this day I do not know but that habit ended after a couple of years.
Mom would let us get an egg from the hen house occasionally and trade it for candy at the grocery store.One day I saw Vernon running across a small field near the ball park in Avondale with a brown paper bag in his hand and he was laughing out loud to himself. This strange behavior really puzzled me and I was so curious that I jumped on my bike and chased him until I caught up with him and he was still laughing. He said, “look in this bag.” It was full of mixed candy that he had won playing a slot machine in the local drug store (legal in those days). He said, “Get all you want.” Candy was scarce in those days along with everything else but Mom would let us get an egg from the hen house occasionally and trade it for candy at the grocery store. That would be a big joke today.
We had a mule and a wagon that we used to haul things on the farm or haul corn to the corn mill to be ground into corn meal. One day Dad sent us to one of the fields to pull a wagon load of corn for the mule to eat. We took too long to get the corn and we needed to get home faster than usual so we decided to take a short cut down a bank that we thought just a little too steep prior to that day but we took the risk anyway and turned the wagon and mule over on its side and spilled all the corn but we did not kill the mule as we had thought at first. We had to take the harness off the mule, disconnect everything from the it but the mule would not get up. It began to get dark. By now we were way past due back home.
After coaxing the mule and giving him some corn to eat it got up on its feet for more corn. We had to reload all that corn, reconnect the mule and get home before Dad came to see why we were so late. When we got home he asked why it took so long and we told him that we got an extra large load and that was the end of that problem. But later we told him what had happened and he got a big chuckle out of that.
One day we had gone somewhere without permission and Dad got a small branch from a tree to give us both a whipping and Vernon got his first. He stood and did not move a muscle while he was being whipped. When Dad got through whipping him things got quite and then Vernon asked him, “Did you get all of my ass that you want.” Dad said, “Yes, why?” “This is the last time you are going to beat my ass,” Vernon said. Dad turned and walked away without saying a word. “Why in the world did you say that,” I asked, ”you are going to get us both killed.” I guess Dad still owes me one because Vernon saved me that day. I suppose Dad figured that we were getting too big for whippings because that was our last. We all showed more respect and appreciation for each other after that experience.
We actually began to like tending the small farm because we could be our own boss while being allowed to earn money from some of the crops we grew. Vernon said that he could grow watermelons bigger than I could, so we started a watermelon growing contest. He would get a container of fertilizer to put on his plants every day and seeing him do this I would get fertilizer and put even more on my plants every day so they would grow faster and larger than his. After a few days my plants began to wilt and die yet his were strong and healthy. Later I asked him to show me how he had made healthier plants than mine. Then he began to laugh at pulling another prank on me. When he pulled a prank he would laugh at it for days. He said that he did not fertilize his plants when he pretended and caused me to put too much on mine causing them to burn up. He really enjoyed those tricks that he would pull on me and would start planning his next prank and victim. Sometimes I would get mad and hit him with my hand but he did not care because he would just laugh. He was always a jump ahead of me but it was great fun.
I would always run or jog when doing chores or errands around the house, not walking at all. Vernon was different he would run a few steps and skip, then run a few more steps and at the same time he would sling one arm around and around while making a funny noise with his mouth. This vision in my mind has no meaning except that it tells how I remember my brother as a boy, original and full of life and energy. Anyone would certainly know when he was around, coming or going.
These happenings are as close to the order in which they happened as I can place them in my mind, which brings us to the awkward age between child and adult. At this age we wanted and needed to be with our own age group, so Vernon began to have older and different friends even girls were included. Even though we were always close brothers we were not as close after this change because he taught me that I did not have to depend on him to be there for me all the time.
This was awkward for me at first—until I realized he was the greatest friend that I have ever known.
The two brothers, after graduation from Tri-High school in Avondale, joined the Navy. After a short time Vernon was given a medical discharge. He promptly joined the Marines and served three years.
Their parents were Ed and Ollie Moree Honeycutt. He was a Rutherford County native; she was born in Sevierville, Tennessee, then moved to Woodruff, S.C. Fate somehow brought them together in Chesnee, S.C.
Ed was an electrician at the Haynes Mill in Avondale. Vernon, after his stint in the Marines, attended Cecil’s Business School in Charlotte, then spent all his working life in the Supply Room at the mill. Vernon died in 1995.
Carmel, while attending ASTC in Boone, worked during the Summer months for Jim Goode in the Machine Shop at Cliffside. He graduated with a degree in mathematics and became a computer programmer. Over the years he worked for Stonecutter Mills, Deering Milliken and, for most of his career, for Grover Industries in Grover, N.C. He retired in 1990.
Carmel was married to Mary Ann Gamble for 46 years before her death. In 1996 he remarried, to Mildred Bailey, widow of Floyd Bailey since 1980.
Carmel and Mildred resettled in Cliffside, and are now living in the former Hazel Bridges house off Highway 120 in Cliffside Estates.
What are they up to these days? “As little as possible,” says Carmel. They travel some, and enjoy the good life.
Carmel wrote the essay on growing up with his brother at the request of Vernon’s daughter, Linda, who wanted to know more about her father’s early life.