A strong and independent woman, Mrs. Era Warf Humphrey of Fly, Tennessee, raised a large family and had many grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Mrs. Joann Humphrey Pullum, tells stories of her grandmother and father, Thomas E. Humphrey, Jr., and some of their adventures occurring in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. From the tough game of Billy Goat to hanging unmentionables out the car window, Mrs. Pullum recalls a fun and blessed childhood with her grandmother.
My grandmother, Era Warf Humphrey, was a woman with nerves of steel. She was likely born that way to some degree. She was the descendent of strong Scotch-Irish pioneers. But what she was not born with she earned as the wife of a Maury County farmer and grocer (Water Valley) and as the mother of ten children, eight boy and two girls.
By the time her grandchildren came along nothing seemed to upset her. I and my thirty first cousins enjoyed going to her house. The way her home was constructed we could run into the front door, slamming the screen door behind us. Cross a small hall, run out another door and slam that screen door too. What a wonderful sound that was to our youthful ears. Our parents did not have the same appreciation for our homemade music, but Grandma never complained. She had a stuffed rattlesnake (didn’t all grandmothers have one of those?) that was great for scaring the younger ones of us. One never knew where that fellow would turn up. We were not corrected by Grandma for his wondering ways. She also owned several throw pillows with long fringe and the name of a state and some notable scenes thereof embroidered on them. It was sheer delight to see how that fringe would wave as the pillow was gently bounced off a cousins unsuspecting head. For some reason I still do not quite understand it was considered a very good thing to take the curtains down from the living room windows. Again, no chastisement from Grandma for such minor infractions. Running full speed with a dozen or so cousins around the very long outside porch, climbing any tree, “accidentally” falling in the creek on a summer day, or rearranging all the hay bales in the barn to make an elegant home with a tunneled entrance was just what was expected of happy children.
But from what I can understand whatever my generation could come up with my father and his siblings had done us one better. One example would be the game they played with their cousins called Billy Goat. They would get down on all fours in the floor and butt heads as hard as they could. The one left able to speak was declared the winner with painful but admiring groans. Grandma allowed this, I think, because she believed this would make her sweet darlings tough and able to take on the world. I do not recommend this but it may have worked. She raised a talented commercial artist, a minister, two attorneys (my father Thomas E. Humphrey, Jr was one of these) an electrician, a farmer, a successful business owner, and two daughters that raised their own families and helped their husbands to have prosperous careers.
My father did tell a tale of seeing his mother being more than a little upset once. There was a lady living in their rural community who bought a new mail order dress. She walked to the post office to pick it up. Now new dresses were not common occurrences many years ago. The lady was so anxious to see how it looked on her, rather than going farther on to her house, she stopped at my grandparent’s home to try it on. The way the story came to was that she was prancing proudly in the yard near where one of my older uncles was painting. He convinced my pre-school father that painting the back of the lady’s dress would be very amusing. My father agreed. He took the brush his brother cheerfully gave him and provided some colorful art work to the new dress. My dad knew this was the funniest thing he had ever seen until he saw his mother’s face. To protect the guilty I will not go into the grievous details here other than to say my grandparents had to buy a dress they could ill afford and that neither of them would ever wear.
When I was eleven years old my family made a trip to California (1961) to see my oldest uncle. My grandmother went with us, glad to see her first born. Grandma washed out a few of her closest personal items one morning. Because she did not have many extra clothes she held these unmentionables out the car window as we drove on our way. I was old enough to know this was a mite eccentric for laundry to be flying in the breeze in this manner but not old enough to be embarrassed by it. It certainly caused my grandma no concern.
My grandmother may not have been so unusual for her day. My maternal grandmother, Mary Emily Mayberry Cooper, was raising eight fine children in Hickman County at this same time with a steady, kind, and gentle spirit. All I know for sure is I had a blessed childhood and I am thankful for it!
Joann Humphrey Pullum
These stories of Mrs. Era Warf Humphrey were written and submitted by Mrs. Joann Humphrey Pullum.