Carolina Avenue Stories
Moving Here and There
When Daddy and Mama (Ernest Edward Prewitt and Malleree Atkinson) were married, Daddy was working as a weaver at Stonecutter Mills in Spindale and was living with his family on Harrill Street (which is now Twelve Oaks Drive) in Forest City. He and Mama rented a small house on the opposite side of the same street, further down toward Oak Street. They had no car, but were close enough to “town” to walk to get groceries, and shop. After Ernest’s death in 1954, Malleree still had the bread pan that Ernest had walked to town to get while they were “setting up housekeeping” in the little house and discovered they had no pan in which to bake biscuits. We later moved to a little house on Big Springs Avenue in Forest City, where my brother, Jerry Edward Prewitt was born, and then, in the Spring of 1937, to a larger, four room white frame house on Carolina Avenue, where we lived for about three years. The house had running water in the kitchen, but no inside bathroom plumbing. I was almost 2 1/2 years old when we moved there and was only two months short of turning six when we moved away. It was while living there that I formed my most detailed, vivid memories.
In early 1940, Daddy went to work as a weaver in Florence Mills, where employees were provided housing at minimal cost when a house was available. None were available when he took the job, so we continued to live on Carolina Avenue until one became available that fall.
Struck By Lightning
Charles and Fayette Carpenter and their two babies lived next door to us. They had a large garden, and Fayette was washing vegetables from the garden under running water in the kitchen sink one day when a thunderstorm came up. She soon found herself on the floor across the room after lightning ran in through the sink, burned a strip across her stomach, and knocked her to the floor. After the doctor left, Mama and I went to see how she was, and she showed us the burn mark across her tummy. This was something frightening that a child would always remember, and I have been extremely frightened of lightning since.
Carolina Avenue came to a dead end at a granite boulder under a huge oak tree just past the residence of the Price family next door to us. To the left beyond the oak tree, a pasture sloped down to a little stream and then up to a hill perhaps a little over a half mile away. The Forest City Dump was located on top of this hill, although it was actually off an extension of Big Springs Avenue and could not be reached from Carolina Avenue. At that time, the trash picked up from town citizens’ houses was delivered to the dump and was burned, rather than being buried as it is today. I do not recall there being a problem with bad odors or smoke reaching their house, but of course Forest City was a much smaller town at that time, so there was possibly not a large amount of trash to be burned.
Forest City had no livestock law in late 1930s-early 1940s, and one kept livestock if they wanted. Daddy was partial to small Bantam and Game chickens, and had a chicken lot in the back yard. Beyond that, he also had a pig pen made of hog wire and boards that contained (when she was inside) a huge sow. The sow loved to burrow her way under the fence and browse around eating acorns or whatever in the woods, and I can remember more than once seeing Daddy and Mama, along with helpful neighbors, trying to outrun the sow to herd her back into the pen, where she plainly did not want to go.
While there were a number of houses on the West side of Carolina Avenue, there were only a couple on the East side, and these were up near the intersection with East Main Street. Past these houses on the East side of the street, a field stretched all the way down to the big oak tree at the end of the street. The Harrill family grew cotton on the lower part of this field in 1938. One day that fall, the Harrill children took me with them to pick cotton. Since the others had cotton picking sacks, they made a picking sack for me from a five pound cloth sugar sack, tying string to the corners of the sack to make a strap to go across my shoulder. I picked for only a short time before my sack was filled with fluffy cotton, and I bragged to everyone that I had picked 5 pounds of cotton. This seemed quite logical to me, since I could read and my picking sack plainly said 5 pounds and it was filled to the top with cotton I had picked.
Housekeeping & Bad Words
Ignorant of how I would someday come to intensely dislike housework, I would beg my Mother to let me help with the household chores. One day, after begging to help wash the dishes, I cut my hand on a knife under the sudsy water in the dishpan. Another day, I got into trouble while sweeping the kitchen floor after supper. I was attempting to sweep the debris out the doorway and off the tiny back porch, but was unable to hold the screen door open and sweep the debris through the doorway at the same time. When I lost my grip on the broom handle, it fell into the crack on the hinge side of the screen door, and when I released the door to reach for the broom, the spring on the door swung the door back, holding the broom handle tightly. After several tugs failed to get it out, I yelled at it, “Get out, you old devil, you!” When Mama asked where I had heard such language, I confessed that I had heard my Uncle Roy Hill say it while I was visiting them in Cliffside.
Mama was about to spank me for my language and temper tantrum when Daddy intervened, saying that I didn’t know that I shouldn’t say words like that, and took me sit on his lap while he read the newspaper. I had learned my language skills well, but had not yet learned how and when to keep my mouth shut. When Mama finished in the kitchen and walked past us, I looked up from Daddy’s lap and said “Goody, Daddy didn’t let you spank me!” whereupon Mama plucked me off Daddy’s lap and spanked my bottom good.
Reading and Writing
My brother Jerry was a sweet natured, tow-haired baby, and when he was old enough to become my playmate, he and I had many adventures together. Needless to say, being endlessly curious and adventurous, I led Jerry, who was sweet and eager to please, into many things. I had access to both my own and Jerry’s toys and belongings, since he was usually willing to give up any disputed item to his more strong-willed sister. Neither was I above placing the blame on Jerry when one of our adventures brought on our parents’ displeasure.
Once Daddy and Mama gave us each a new tablet and pencil which we proudly carried around everywhere we went, including on a trip to the Carolina Avenue bathroom facilities. These facilities consisted of a “two-seater” outhouse set over a pit a short distance from the steep back steps. On this visit, I looked down into the hole and wondered if what I saw below the outhouse seat was solid or soupy. Having nothing else at hand to drop onto the surface to observe if it would sink or lie on top, I leaned over and extended the pointed tip of my pencil in an attempt to push on the surface and satisfy my curiosity. My arm was not quite long enough to allow the pencil lead to touch the surface, and attempting to stretch further resulted in my losing my grip on the pencil. It fell from my fingers and landed on top of the contents of the outhouse pit. A hastily found stick, rather than helping me rescue the pencil, only pushed it under the surface.
While we both still owned a tablet, only one of us owned a pencil. Jerry, who was only two and a half years old and couldn’t even write, still had his pencil, while I, who was four and could print my name, didn’t have one. In my view, that was not fair or logical. When Jerry refused to give me his pencil, as he usually did when I demanded one of his possessions, I was not to be thwarted. I resorted to a lie to get the pencil. Reversing our roles, I told our parents that Jerry’s pencil was the one in the outhouse pit, with Jerry having dropped it in. Jerry usually confessed to having done whatever he was asked about or accused of doing, whether he was guilty or not. However, on one of the few occasions when he refused to be bulldozed by me, he denied this. I could not stand up to intense interrogation and confessed. I was then given a spanking, not for having lost the pencil in the outhouse, but for lying. I did not get Jerry’s pencil as I had hoped.
My Uncle Fred Atkinson, Mama’s brother, was a barber in addition to being a farmer, and apparently I was inspired to be one, also. After overhearing Mama mention to Daddy that Jerry needed a haircut, I sneaked Mama’s scissors out of the house and talked Jerry into letting me give him one. I took him out on the front porch and backed him up against wall of the house so he would stay still, and not wriggle and mess up the haircut. I then took a handful of hair from the center of his forehead, held it up, and cut it even with his scalp. I found that giving haircuts was much harder than it looked, since Mama was not pleased with the results. There was no way to comb Jerry’s hair to hide the area of stubble extending from the middle of his forehead several inches into what was supposed to be his hair, so it probably looked pretty bad until it grew back out.
Santa’s Visit in 1938
A week before Christmas in 1938, Daddy and Mama set up the Christmas tree in the front room of their Carolina Avenue house. Jerry and I had a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve, even though we were told that Santa would not come as long as we were awake. We were urged to go to sleep quickly, and were told that we could get up to see what Santa had brought them as soon as we woke up. At 3:30 AM, probably only shortly after they finished arranging our gifts and got into bed, Jerry and I awoke. We then woke Mama and Daddy, who protested that it was still night time and dark outside. We reminded them that they had told us we could get up as soon as we woke up, so Daddy added coal to the embers in the fireplace, and we discovered that Santa had indeed been there to bring us toys. Daddy and Mama nodded sleepily while we played with their Christmas toys until we grew sleepy, nodded off, and were put back into our beds.
Stealing, Not Borrowing
During the summer of 1939, when I was five and Jerry was three, I involved Jerry in a criminal conspiracy. Daddy would often take Mama to visit her family in the Cherokee Creek community on Sunday afternoons. Her father and several of her siblings lived there with their families, so they would visit a short time with each so we could get around to seeing them all. One Sunday afternoon Mama, Daddy, Jerry and I went to visit Mama’s brother, Earnest Atkinson, just before heading home. Although his daughter Frances was almost a teenager, she would still play with her younger cousins when they came to visit. We especially enjoyed having her take us to her playhouse. This was a little area in the edge of the woods that had been swept clear of leaves, pebbles placed around the cleared area to outline the room, and little things arranged as if in a real house. That Sunday, Frances had gone home with a friend from church, so was not there to play with us. Since we were not interested in adult talk, we were allowed to go out and play in the playhouse.
Time passed quickly and we were called to go home before we were ready. When they called, I was playing with a little toy iron Frances had used when she was younger to pretend she was ironing her doll’s clothing. I was halfway to the car before I realized that I still had it in my hand. I did not return it to the playhouse, but got into the car. I rationalized my crime by thinking that I would “borrow” it and would return it next time we visited them. I was not sufficiently versed in the commission of crimes since I did not realize that Frances would miss it and know that we were in her playhouse last, or how I would explain to Mama and Daddy how I happened to have an iron when they had not bought it for me. I was surely aware that my parents would not approve of what I was doing, however, since I concealed it behind my back. I had no pocket or other place to hide it, so as our parents said their goodbyes to my Uncle Earnest and Aunt Eddith, I enlisted Jerry’s help in hiding the iron under his shirt.
Jerry was not very adept in his role as accomplice, either, since we were not yet home when he took the iron from under his shirt to look at it just as Mama turned in her seat to check on us. She realized we must have taken it from Frances’ playhouse, and I stammered my explanation of having borrowed it. Daddy told me if someone took something that did not belong to them without permission it was not borrowing, but stealing. We were almost home, so could not return the iron that day, but Daddy preached us a sermon about stealing the rest of the way home.
He told me that my punishment was that they would return to Cherokee the next Sunday, when I would have to hand the iron to Frances and say, “Frances, I am sorry I stole your iron.” I could not say I borrowed the iron or had taken the iron, but must say I had stolen it. I dreaded the return visit all week long, but breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived to learn that Frances had again gone home with a friend from church. My relief was short-lived, however, since in Frances’ absence Daddy said I must make my confession to Uncle Earnest. I decided that I would never again “borrow” anything without asking.
First Hospital Experience
During the winter of 1939-40, after many bouts with tonsillitis, I was taken to Rutherford Hospital for a tonsillectomy. The pending surgery did not frighten me, and I looked upon it as an adventure since Daddy had assured me that it would not hurt. Uncle Roy and Aunt Nell Hill brought me a Shirley Temple doll when they came from Cliffside to see me and reassure me the evening before the surgery. I recall there being a black leather chair in my room, with silver upholstery nails all around the seat and back. The seat contained a very strong spring, and I jumped up and down on it, saying “I’m a bird, I’m a bird” until Nell ordered me to stop, telling me that I would find out I wasn’t a bird when I went flying off onto the floor and broke my neck.
My tonsils were removed the next morning, and when I awoke, my throat was hurting. I looked at Daddy and said, “Daddy, you lied to me! It does so hurt.” He explained that he had meant it would not hurt while they were being taken out, since I would be asleep, but if it was hurting then, he would see that I got some ice cream to make it feel better, which he did.
Unusual First Day at School
In late August of 1940, at age five, I started first grade at Forest City Elementary School in Forest City. Attempting to visit the restroom before returning to my classroom after recess, and still unfamiliar with my surroundings, I shoved open the wrong door in the basement and found myself in the boy’s bathroom, rather than the girl’s. I was greeted by the backs of several boys who were using the urinals, and who yelled at me to get out. In my hurry, I had already advanced far into the room before discovering my mistake, so when I saw the door to the outside ahead of me, I headed for that rather than turning around and retracing my steps back to the door through which I had entered. When I reached the outside door, however, I found it locked, and still had to make the trip back past the yelling boys. This was not the only bad experience I had on my first day in school.
Lost First Grader
After school that afternoon I started playing again, and my parent’s instructions for me to meet the other Carolina Avenue children in front of the school building to walk home with them went totally out of my mind until my playmates started to leave. The Carolina Avenue group had waited in front of the building for a few minutes, and when I did not appear, assumed that I had gone on ahead with some of the other Carolina Avenue children, and left. Not having been blessed with a sense of direction, and having paid no attention to the way we came to school, I had no idea how to make the return trip. I did not even know in which direction I should start.
Only a few children were still in the school yard when, to my great relief, David Harrill, who was probably in the 5th or 6th grade, came out of the school building. He lived on my street, so I reasoned that I could follow him to his house, and then run on down the street to my own. David cut across the grassy play area in front of the school and turned right on Old Caroleen Road. I walked behind him at what I felt was a discreet distance so he would not know I was following. When I reached Old Caroleen Road I breathed a sigh of relief to see him a half block ahead. Then, for no obvious reason, he stopped and leaned on a tree next to the sidewalk in someone’s yard. I had no alternative but to stop, too, since I couldn’t pass him, or I wouldn’t know which way to go. I couldn’t get too close, or he would know I was following him, and I was embarrassed for him to know that I was totally lost and didn’t know my way home.
I had been issued my Dick and Jane Primer reader day, and it seemed to offer me a possible solution to my problem. I would also stop, and would read my book until David decided to go on. David walked on another half block and then stopped to talk to a man sitting on his porch. I stopped to read again. This went on until we turned left onto Georgia Avenue and I caught sight of the corner of Carolina Avenue, which I recognized. I knew the way home then, so sprinted past David and on home. Of course, with the other children already gone, it must have been very obvious to him that I was following him, and he had done the dawdling bit either to verify this, or to aggravate me or see what I would do. In any case, I was able to reach home without having to admit that I had been lost or had disobeyed my parents..
I avoided a spanking by not admitting that I had disobeyed the order to meet the others out front, but my self-punishment was more painful than a spanking. I had begun to read my new book with “See Spot. See Spot run,” and had read the book completely through during the stops David and I made before I spied Carolina Avenue. There were no accelerated classes in those days, so I was not allowed to read ahead on other books, but had to sit in class, bored almost to tears, until the other first graders learned to read before we could all move on to a book that I had not read. In spite of the fact that my educational experience got off to such a rocky start, I loved books and going to school and discovering all the wonderful things I had never known before.
I had been spoiled by my family, and probably was a little too independent and curious for my age. I did not enjoy the restrictive and structured environment in school, but did enjoy all the new playmates I had, and all the books there were to read or look at. I was a very outgoing child, and found it hard to contain my exuberance and to sit still and not talk. I recall having to stand with my nose in the corner for infractions several times, mainly for talking in class.
We moved from Carolina Avenue to 314 Lake Street on the Florence Mill Hill a couple of months later, during September in the fall of 1940. My sister Gail was almost six months old and my brother Jerry would become four years old that month. I was still five years old when we moved to the Florence Mill Hill, but would become six on my November 5th birthday. I would have a longer walk to school from Lake Street, but would have new playmates with whom to walk, and would have more adventures, both in school and with my siblings.
- Moving here and there
- Struck by lightning
- City Dump
- Picking Cotton
- Housekeeping & Bad Words
- Reading & Writing
- Barber Experiences
- Santa’s Visit in 1938
- Stealing, Not Borrowing
- First Hospital Experience
- Unusual 1st Day at School
- Lost First Grader