Turn My Face 02
Cliffside, where we all grew up was a beautiful little village. The houses were owned by the Haynes family and the people paid twenty-five cents per room each week to live in them. The houses were painted often and kept in excellent condition and the yards were kept clean and neat. Each year Mr. Haynes, the owner of the mill, gave a nice cash prize for the prettiest yard. No dogs were allowed in town, and all cows and pigs were kept together at the edge of town.
Although a small and quiet place, life in Cliffside was never dull. Papa’s brother, Uncle Zeno, had a livery stable there in town and we often hired a horse and buggy and went to visit relatives and friends. These were great outings which we all looked forward to with excitement and anticipation. When riding in the buggy, Mama, Papa, and Dan sat up front in the seat, and sister and I sat on a plank in the back. On special occasions, we rented two big brown and white horses and a surrey with two seats. Then Papa would let Dan help him drive; and Mama, Sister, and I would sit in the back seat. Once we rented this outfit and drove all the way to Sunshine, about twenty miles, to visit Mama’s Uncle Sam. This was too much of a trip for one day so we spent the night.
At this time only five cars had been shipped into Cliffside, and we were lucky enough to get one of these first cars. Mr. Haynes had ordered five T-model sedans: two seated cars. This was a very exciting event and we were thrilled to get to ride in a car and own one! We used to take it to Charlotte. We wouldn’t think of going to Charlotte and back in one day. We’d go down one morning, and it would take us all day to get there because there weren’t any roads marked. We’d go down a dirt road and come to a fork in the road. Papa would say, “I wonder which way we go here?” He never got upset or worried. He’d say, “I believe I’ll take this one,” and we’d go down that road about three or four miles and stop at a house, and he’d ask “Is this the road to Charlotte?” They’d say “No, go back up yonder to the fork in the road and take the left road.” We’d have to go way back up there, and it would take us half a day to get to Charlotte.
The second car we called “Hulda,” and this big, black, open Buick sedan could go flying up a hill in high gear if the hill wasn’t too steep. On our trips to Grandma’s, it was often cold, and Sister, Dan, and I would sit in the floor huddled under a quilt. In the summertime, we always stirred up big clouds of dust wherever we went since the roads weren’t paved. Mama had a long, beautiful linen coat called a duster and a cap for her head that she wore when we went for rides. This coat was made especially to wear over your clothes to keep the dust off. We children took the dust, and the three of us would end up looking like little brown Indians once we reached our destination. When bad weather set in and it got too cold to ride, Papa would put Hulda in the garage and jack her up for the winter.
After Mama’s brother, Uncle Oscar, moved to Charlotte, we’d go to visit him there. He was the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. He’d just keep you laughing all the time. One time when Dan was at Wake Forest, a friend of his and he got that far and were going to stay with Uncle Oscar and come home the rest of the way the next day. They parked the friend’s old, bad-looking car out in front of the house. Uncle Oscar went out there and said, “If you boys don’t mind, put you car in the back yard. Somebody might think it’s mine!” Back then everyone had an organ and open toilet outhouses. Uncle Oscar said he could always tell when he got to a mill village because he could “hear organs and smell dung!”
Some of our most exciting times in Cliffside were the times we went to Uncle Oscar’s before he moved to Charlotte. We knew that once we got back home, there would be a surprise waiting for us. Back then, having no hospitals meant that babies were born at home. The other children were sent to the neighbor’s house while this happened. We were always sent to Uncle Oscar’s.
So on November 19, 1912, off we went. We came back, and there was Whitson, a precious baby boy. Whitson was a baby that I remember well, but in January of 1914, he developed pneumonia and died. Doctor Shull worked hard to save little Whit’s life, staying at our house both day and night. But with the lack of medical knowledge and available antibiotics, there was nothing that could be done to save him. He was buried beside George and Muriel at Providence Cemetery.
One highlight we all looked forward to was the visit from Mr. Hughes. Mr. Hughes came by our house about every two weeks bringing with him two large satchels filled with cloth and notions. In one satchel were the dress lengths in many designs and colors. In the other he carried buttons, thread, pins, needles, elastic, and many other sewing items. Mama nearly always bought three dress lengths, one for her, one for Sister, and one for me. Then we took the cloth to Teenie Reynolds, and she made the dresses for us. She was an expert seamstress, but it seemed like we had to go every day for a week to try them on. But it was worth it, for these dresses always turned out wonderfully and sister and I came to be known as the best dressed little girls in Ciffside.
It was at Cliffside that Sister and I first started school, Dan continued with the schooling he had begun in Charlotte, and we all went to a big six room building for classes. The building had an outside door to each room, and it was heated by big stoves. In the morning, we all met in one room for chapel, praying, and singing to start the day. We had class until 10:30, then recess, which meant a mad scramble for a seat in the little house at the edge of the woods. The seats were always wet, and some children never made it to the seat and just went in the floor. The odor lingers still. I always swore I could find my way to that place in the dark, it smelled so strong. The boy’s privy was about twenty feet further into the woods, and I’m sure some of them never made it to the seat either. After recess we had class again until 12:00, then home for lunch, eating in a hurry to get back in time to play with our friends. School was out at 5:30.
After school our favorite snack was good crunchy apples and peanut butter and crackers. Papa bought peanut butter by the gallon and crackers in five pound boxes. Kids from all over the neighborhood ate with us after school as Mama and Papa were always generous with what we had.
Having no high school at Cliffside, Dan went away to Boiling Springs High School which is now Gardner Web College. To us, he had gone far away when really it was about ten miles. I am sure Dan had many amusing times there. Sister also went there a couple years. I went for one.
Then we had a new high school with Mr. Clyde Ervin, principal. He later became superintendent of all schools in NC.
The years passed, and on April 12, 1913, it was time to go to Uncle Oscar’s again. When we came back, just as expected, there was a new addition to the family. Mama named him Paul, and he was the prettiest baby you’ve ever laid eyes on, He had dark ringlets all over his head and big brown eyes to charm anyone. Paul’s beautiful curly hair was to be a grievance to him for many years as he tried again and again to wet and straighten it. He spent many hours wetting it, then combing it down flat in hopes that it would one day dry straight. It never did and if you look closely you can see curls to this day. Paul also hated getting his hair cut and cried every time the barber started to cut it. Mama finally had get him to fall asleep and then call Mr. Sparks, the barber, to come to the house and cut it while Paul slept.
Although Paul was the prettiest baby with charming curls and big brown eyes, he was also the most strong-willed and rambunctious. When Paul was born, Sister and I were 8 and 10, just the right ages to care for him and this became part of our daily chores. We often carried his diapers to White Line a line of houses where the colored people lived to get them washed. I’ll not say how old Paul was before being house broke. Paul was also very stubborn and often cried to sleep with Mama, Many times Sister and I would put him in the bed with us and tell him stories until he went to sleep so Papa wouldn’t spank him.
As our little family grew and grew, life in Cliffside continued to be filled with a quiet happiness built out of love, respect, and pride in each other. We were fortunate in that we always had plenty of love and plenty of good food to eat. Mama had a big black Majestic stove from which came biscuits twice a day and loads of tea cakes. Mama’s biscuit pan measured 20 x 20 and she sometimes baked it full several times before quitting. One of our favorite treats was soft, buttery, gooey stickles. These were made with biscuit dough rolled out thin, then filled with sugar and butter and rolled up in a log.. Mama would cut them into thin slices and bake them in the oven: delicious and gooey and rightly called stickles. We often had them for breakfast!
In the summertime we always ate in the dining room. Papa never allowed any loud talk or bad manners, and one rule was that we always ate what we took out. After we sat down to eat, Mama never got up any more until we finished as Sister and I always waited on the table. Sister and I also washed up all the dishes when Mama didn’t have hired help, and we took it time about cleaning the pots and pans. We were both famous for soaking the pans, sometimes having most of them hidden and soaking.
We always had plenty of visitors, and Papa would often bring the preacher and many others home. Sometimes Aunt Kate (Grandma Mac’s sister) and her husband, Mr. Powers, would come to spend the night. Mr. Powers, being very religious, would always call for family prayer before bedtime. Thus we would all gather and kneel around the room, ready for the prayer. Paul, being still in the crawling stage, found this a perfect time to go crawling around the room from person to person, tickling our feet. It was all we could do to keep from bursting out laughing, an offense that would have taken us straight to the playhouse, visitors or no visitors.
There was no water in the house, but as far as I can remember, we always had electric lights. They turned them on every night at 5:00 and off at 8:00. Of course they were free back then and house rent, only $1.00 per week; steak, 15 cents a pound; eggs, three dozen for 25 cents; and coffee, 15 cents a pound. I can remember going to the company store, down a dark stairway into the screened-in market where all the pork chops and beef roasts were kept and where the sausages were being made. There were no chickens to be bought in the wintertime because of the cold weather and no way to keep them alive. But when Spring came, you could buy nice fat fryers, perfect for Sunday dinner. Mama always bought several and penned them up for a while, feeding them meal and corn to clean them out. Then we killed and dressed them ourselves.
Nights at home were cozy and comfortable. Papa would often half-sole our shoes while Mama looked through our hair. She couldn’t stand the thought of anything being in our hair. Sister, with long black curls was forever bringing lice home from school, It seemed like we’d be rid of them one week and the next week she’d bring them home again. Mama would often say, “If I were a louse, I’d swim the Mississippi to get to Sister’s head.” But Mama’s conclusion on the subject was, “It ain’t a shame to get ’em, but it’s a shame to keep ’em.” We all agreed and used plenty of lye soap on Sister’s head.