Mrs. Thelma Dial
Let me introduce you to Ms. Thelma Dial. Ms. Dial is a fascinating lady who grew up in Hilltown, and taught school for many years at Johnson’s Chapel, Dog Creek,and Bethel. She recalls not only many fond memories of teaching school, but also tells stories of hog killing day, election day in Fly, school children fishing for catfish in the creek at the Bethel Schoolhouse, her first cold drink, washing clothes by hand down by the creek and many, many more. Here are some of her stories.
Johnson’s chapel was a one room schoolhouse when I first started. It had six grades, but they didn’t have children in all six grades. We had some of them in the fourth or one in the sixth or one in the fourth or something like that. So I combined them together so I wouldn’t have so many lessons to give. We had to have 20 pupils at school everyday. We had an old family that had about 12 or 13 young ones and they just ruined our records. So one day we all went down there to see him, and he was in the bed with his shoes on. He seen us coming and he jumped in the bed. The little boy that went with me seen his shoes and he pointed at his shoes. I said “Do you sleep with your shoes on?”. He said “oh, I was just so tired I laid down”. Skippin’ school. He was keeping his family at home. But he was supposed to be having his children in school. That was the daddy of them. He was in the bed. While we was there, the mother was churning. Now this was kind of yucky story but I’ll tell it to you anyway. She was churning, and all the while she was sitting there flies was going in that milk. And the little boy that I taught he said “before we leave I want you to give Ms. Thelma a glass of that buttermilk” . I could’ve reached over and choked him thinking I would want some of that fly buttermilk. No way.
You have to have 20 students everyday to get by. Otherwise they wouldn’t let you have a school. They finally moved us to Bethel. That was a good place too but a lot of their people worked in town to make a living. They would have a jobs in town. They didn’t have a whole a lot of people there, but they didn’t want to move. And I enjoyed it, I rode a horse out there. One day I was riding and there was a dark cloud coming, and this little boy, I’d have one in front of me and one on the back of me on the horse. And he said “Miss Thelma where in the world are we going?”. And I said “honey, we are going to the schoolhouse”. He says “then we was going to pray”. He just took off a praying, and he said “please Lord don’t let it rain until we get to the schoolhouse”. He just prayed the prettiest prayer you’ve ever seen. And you know it did not rain until we got to that schoolhouse. I still see him every once in a while.
They was good children. They minded. And I enjoyed teaching them. I whooped them every once in a while. Oh yes I did! I didn’t hurt them, I just let them know I meant business. And they was smart, I had some of the smartest children in my class. Now they wasn’t all smart, but you know most of them was. They had good common sense, and they was good people. Now their mothers worked in the home, wasn’t too many mothers that worked in town. The women worked in the home and took care of the children. It’s different now.
Now at Bethel that was better. They wasn’t better but they knows a little bit more. They had more than the rest of them. They all had plenty to eat. Bethel was more of an uppity town than the rest of them. I don’t mean stuck up I mean they had a better opportunity than the rest of them. We didn’t have but less than 20 and we had to move to Santa Fe, but a lot of them didn’t go.
We had a store in Fly. Mr. Gene Brady and Mrs. Beverly run that (the original dly Store once located on Hwy 7 across the road from Raleigh Elam Road). They have several children but he worked in that store. They worked in that store and tended the grandchildren. Then we had a Raleigh Elam, they lived close to Sylvan Heights (schoolhouse once located on Raleigh Elam Road and Goshen Road).
I was about 19 years old when I taught. I was young. But I always did love children, and I got along with them real good. I love old people too, and there was several there. I boarded with Ms. Kelly, and she treated me just like I was hers. If she bought her daughter anything she bought me one too. Her husband worked in town. He come home on the weekends and of course I went home on the weekends.
It was just the way they lived, and the way the children act (Johnson’s Chapel). They had good manners out there. I mean, you know, it’s just like every other place. They have some children that was really smart and they have some children kind of slow. But that’s in every place. You know all of us are not smart. We toted our water from a spring down there. There was another school before I went there but I never seen it. But we had an old pot belly stove to heat with. We would always let some of the children build us a fire and it would be warm before I got there. I would give them a little money. Of course you know back then money was kind of scarce. They was so proud to get that. You know you did not have to give them much.
We took our lunch. You know what we would do, we would put us on a pot of beans on that old potbelly stove sometimes. We would take our bread, and we would have beans and bread. It was good, and whatever else we had we done it. We had blackboards just like every other school did. And we had erasers. Now when I first went there they didn’t have much. The county helped us a lot. They would give us chalk, erasers, and things like that. They would have colored chalk, and the children would draw pictures and decorate for each holiday. We really had a good time, and we learned too. I know the superintendent came there one time, it wasn’t actually the superintendent but a woman that always goes around and sees how you’re doing. I was having a third-grade spelling lesson, and she said to me “You know your third-graders are beaten Water Valley all to pieces”. Of course I didn’t know about Water Valley very much. I just knew there was a school down there. It just made me feel so good. Now there was some smart children down there, there was some smart ones down here too.
They had church, but they didn’t have too many community events (Hilltown). They went some other place. There was a grocery store, and a lot of people down there did most of their trading in town. They went to town to get their groceries and things like that. They went to Columbia. Some of them went to Franklin too. I never will forget this woman I boarded with. She’d call Franklin, “Frank-min”. She had an old wood cookstove; it had a door on the side. The little bitty cookstove and you could put a sweet potato in there and in no time it would be done. To me it takes a long time to bake the sweet potato. She would put a sweet potato in there before breakfast and she would say “You are going to have a potato for dinner”. And I would say “those potatoes aren’t going to be done before dinner”, but it was. They were done. We would take biscuit and meat, all kinds of meat. They’d have hogs and things like that. And they raised cotton down there too for a living. They’d sell cotton. It was fun because I’ve never seen a cotton plant. It was beautiful. Now they had a store but there wasn’t but one store that I can remember. But they would come to Fly too and trade. We had several stores down there. Mr. D.A. Groves ran it, and then it changed hands a lot. They sold original things like food. He started up where you sold sandwiches and things like that (when B.G. Fly owned it).
There were no stores out there (by Johnson’s Chapel School). It had a church and Bethel had a church. Dog Creek and Elmore had a church. They all had churches. It was a good place, it had good people down there. I never will forget that. There was an old woman that churned. She said she churned every day at the same time. And that every time she get to churning a hog would come in and turn it over. This hog would turn over and drink the milk. She got tired of it coming, and one day she took a knife and stuck it in the hog’s shoulder. The next day her neighbor was in the bed and they said he had a cut on his shoulder. Now this is a high tale that they would tell, and they would believe them honey. You know it wasn’t true. They said they had a bear down there that would walk with you at night at Dog Creek. When you would go walking at night that bear would walk with you. It was tales but they believed them baby! Believed them!
There were no other buildings in Dog Creek just the school and the church. We had enough kids in Dog Creek to get 20. You had to average 20. There was no big school house. There were two rooms but we only used one. But we really didn’t use the other one except for as the play room. We’d play Blind Man Gruff. You’d blindfold somebody and you run them around the room and you would catch them, and tell who it was. Just a lot of games. We would play marbles too. Bethel was just a little bit better because it had more. It had things to play with. It had a creek beside it, and the boys went fishing. Of course, in the winter they skated on the ice in the creek there. The teacher would get down there where there was a swift place and stand there and we would get up the creek and slide down and she would catch us and not let us go off onto that swift place. We had a good time, and we learned too. There were no other buildings in Bethel besides the church and the school. It was where people lived, but nothing that you made a living by. When we would have a week long revival, we would go in the morning to that church (Bethel Church).
I grew up in Hilltown. It’s where a lot of good people lived. We did have a store in Hilltown. Christine Gibbons run the store there. It’s just a small store, she lived right down below that. Then there was a joint, and now there to eatin’ places out there. Of course the joint was eatin’ place too. There is a cajun restaurant (Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Cafe) out there now. They say they make good food, but that they say it’s real hot. But they have more churches, the Church of Christ, they didn’t have a Nazarene church but the Nazarene Church went down, and another Nazarene at Fly. In Bethel they have a church in the store.
It was a nice place to live (Hilltown). We had very little meanness going on. There wasn’t much entertainment back then. But we would have square dances in an old building close to where the train went by. We would have square dances and things like that to entertain you. And the school would have things where you sold cakes and pies and boxed suppers. The boys would buy your box suppers and then you would sit down and eat with them. You always put enough for two in them boxes. We didn’t have no place to go for entertainment, but the Bethel Store always had checkers on Saturday night. The farmers would go to the store and get their groceries and take their eggs and things like that to buy their groceries. They would sit and play checkers over there. I mean they got serious over checker games. They would kind of get hot sometimes. We didn’t have much entertainment. We had to entertain ourselves.
We played horseshoes, we played Annie-Over. You’d throw the ball over the house and then someone would catch it on the other side and see how many times you got hit with the ball. If it hit you, you were out. We’d play marbles. A lot of the things we played with were homemade. We didn’t have a lot of bought things. It was homemade things. Sometimes you’d get a bicycle. Bought balls and bats and things like that to play. When it first started, we played baseball at all 3 schools. But we didn’t have no basketball or nothing like that. They would find something to do. Them in Bethel, they were fishermen. They would catch some good fish in the creek right there. Right there by the school. I whooped about 6 or 7 of them down there one day. They would set their fishhooks at night and they caught a big fish. The one boy that rode the bus got there early. He took that fish off that and put it on his. Of course they told on him. They wouldn’t tell me the truth. I spanked them, I mean I didn’t whoop them hard. But I did spank them. They resented that. But you know I found out the day my husband died that boy that took that fish off come down to me and told me ” I’d done that”. “Now I have to apologize for causing them others to get a whoopin’”. Then I told the other boy, and he said that always worried me cause I didn’t do it. He hate I whooped him, but that was the only thing I know to do. But there wasn’t no more fish stealin’. They learned their lesson. There was all kind of fish in that creek. Catfish and everything. But some people didn’t want you to catch them, they wanted them all.
That was the first place I’d ever had a cold drink (Bethel). I swept the store for this man in Bethel. He wasn’t a married man. He asked me if I would sweep his store, and he would give me a cold drink. That was the first cold drink I ever had. It was good! Coke-a- Cola. He would lay down on the bench and put a 5 pound of sugar or meal under his head and go to sleep. We took chickens and eggs and everything up there and sold them to get money. Mother made our living by selling eggs; we bought groceries with our egg money. We would take them on Saturday night and buy the groceries with a dozen or two eggs that were laid that week. Well we eat the eggs too. But you had plenty of meat, the ones that worked on the farm. You had plenty of meat to eat and you had eggs.
I fell out the door one day with a shoebox full of eggs, and every time I hit a step with my foot those eggs would fly out. Then I had one egg left so momma had to go get a chicken and sell it. But it wasn’t much to buy like salt, tea, coffee, and things like that. We didn’t buy a whole lot. Mother canned. The women stayed home and worked the garden while the man plowed it. The women and children did most of the work. Cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and okra. Back then I think it was better than it is today. They have tested everything so much. They trying to improve it. Now we didn’t have many types of tomatoes. They have all types of tomatoes and some of them are not as good as those other ones was. Pink tomatoes was good. And we had turnips and turnip greens. Just anything you imagine, you could grow.
She (mother) canned it in a dish pan, and got to canning them in an old kettle, like a wash kettle. We didn’t have a washer, a dryer, or an ice box. It was a long time before we ever got an ice box. We got a washing machine. The first washing machine wasn’t run on electricity, it had a dasher in it. It had a long tub like this that stood up. You had a dasher that you pull backwards and forwards across this way. You put them overalls and things like that in it. We bought our clothes. We washed them first, and put them in that kettle boiling and that would get all the dirt out. Then we would wrench them, and take them and put them on the line. You’d be washing all day long. You didn’t wash every day. Now you pull your clothes off, and run and throw them in the washer. Now some people don’t do that but some people do. We would go a week before we would go down to the branch over there and tote the water. We would tote the clothes down there and tote them back. There is a branch running down through there, it like a creek close to our house. We would go down there close to the creek, and build us a fire under the kettle and heat our water. So we could be close to the water, and use all the water we wanted to use and it didn’t cost a thing. It was ages before we got an ice box. We thought we was living in seventh heaven when we had ice. We would have tea. They got ice off the bluffs and made tea out of it. Icicles. You’d eat an icicle too.
Its about the same thing you have now but electric (chores). We had marbles and balls and bicycles. Now we didn’t have bicycles for a long time. They had a pocket knife. I remember that. But everybody wasn’t able. And they didn’t let the little children play with that. We had about the same thing though it wasn’t electric. Just little things you could play with in your hands. Little children loved to play with a box. If they got a box, they wanted to play with a box instead of a toy. They still do that sometimes.
The train (Middle Tennessee Railroad) run through Fly and Bethel. I don’t know where it started. We’d come all the way up the creek and run into Bethel. I guess into Franklin. They had houses along the road, like station houses. Some of them in Fly are still there. I lived close to the McKnight Station. I have been inside, but its been a long, long time, andI don’t remember too much about it. I know its still there. Where you went you had to walk because most people didn’t have no way to go ’til we worked and finally bought a car. It was a Skeeter, and it didn’t have a top on it. I remember it had fenders. The headlights and the fenders was all together, and you come across that fender and you walk along side that car then you had a fender behind. You couldn’t very well afford tires. On the weekends we would go to grandmother’s house. She lived about 5 miles from us. We use to have to walk until we got the car. The tires were bad. Well you made 50 cents an hour so you didn’t have much money. You only got paid once a year. Not everybody but the man Daddy worked for. If you needed money they you would go and draw so much out. But we really raised and grew what we ate and what we had. Our meat and stuff. We always kept two cows, and killed 4 hogs, and we took one of them hogs and paid our doctor’s bill. Sold it and paid it. He wanted a ham. The doctor did. They was so aggravated with one another, you had to ask both of them what they wanted for it. One of them would tell you a $1.99 or a $1.00, or whatever they wanted. Whatever per pound they wanted. Then the other one would tell you what he wanted, and then half it.
We went to Santa Fe to see the doctor. There were two doctors down there. I think there finally got to be three. He would give you a little pink pill and it was supposed to cure everything! I never did find out what it was. I just took it. It worked. At least in our minds. Whatever you got there was a little pink pill. Whatever you had. But you know we didn’t go to the doctor for a splinter in your finger or your foot or something like that. Mother would heat an ol’ needle and pick it out. She didn’t take you, but now they take you to the doctor for everything. But thats how the doctors are getting rich.
Santa Fe had schools, a bank, a dancehall of course. I didn’t know about that then, but I knew about a drug store and a post office, and the rest of it was just plain houses and barns. Of course, we had a high school. And there was a college. But I don’t ever remember the college, but they had a high school, but I think it burnt. I am not for sure, but I think it burnt twice. Then they rebuilt it. I don’t think it burnt completely down. That was before my time. It was just a regular town you know. We had grocery stores. No big grocery stores. It was just like Bethel, and Hilltown had a store. But they had more than one. Now they have gas stations and post office. Well they had a post office back then. And a telephone office back then. Two women worked at the telephone office in Santa Fe.
I went to school in Bethel. There was a big crowd of us then; there was two rooms full. We had two teachers in Bethel. They had two teachers when I went there. One teacher took the first 3 grades and another had the rest of them. I dearly loved teaching them first three grades. I just love children and I love old people. I am satisfied, just give me someone to talk to. I remember something them children said to me. I never will forget, I got a birth mark right here. Its just a black place. A little girl was sitting in my lap and she looked at me and said “Miss Thelma how come you’ve got that black place on your arm?” I guess she thought it was dirt. I said “My mother dipped snuff, and she spit on my arm and she didn’t wash it off”. I never thought about that child thinking about it. Two weeks later we was sitting under the tree at Dog Creek, and she said to me ” Miss Thelma, surely your momma didn’t do that. Spit on you and not wipe it off”. I says “Honey, I told you a fib. She didn’t do that. That’s a birth mark. It’s always been there”. Now that child had worried about that that whole time about why my mother had spit on me and didn’t wash it off.
I was writing to my husband and I had took a letter to school. I didn’t put it in my mailbox. I started to the mailbox and these two little boys asked “Do you want us to take that to the mailbox?”. There was a mailbox right in front of the schoolhouse. I said “I would appreciate it if you would take it to the mailbox for me”. So they took it to the mailbox and when they came back in they were just gigglin’ and prissin’ around. They said to me “We talked over something when we was standing at the mailbox and we are going to tell you about it now. He says, “you know what”? You don’t have to write to that man no more, we will be your sweetheart!”. I had a lot of good times teaching school. They was hard times, and they was good times too. Hard times, but they was good times.
I never was balled out but one time. There was one woman in Bethel that balled we out. What I done, I told them they could take their workbook home and only work two pages in it. Because we worked them daily. Well, he took it home and he let his niece work every bit of that workbook. I got a hold of that boy. I didn’t hit him. The only thing I done to him, I said “honey, I didn’t want that girl to work the whole book. I wanted you to. I am trying to help you, and she is old enough and big enough to know not to do that. You could tell the difference between their writing. Thats how bad it was. His momma balled me out. “I paid for that book, he is going to work in it when he gets ready”. I says “Lady, I was trying to help him. I wasn’t trying to hurt him”. She absolutely called me everything. But that was the only person that ever jumped on me. Of course, I had one to cuss me out one time. That was the second one. But his step daughter had a sore foot, and where she walked was corruption. And I sent her home because I didn’t know what it was without telling the supervisor. But I wasn’t going to let them children stay there all day with corruption running down her foot. I sent her home and he come the next day and he balled me out. He cussed me, and said I am going to have you fired. I said “Pop it to me! Cause I am not going to have her coming up here with a foot like that. We are going to have to take her to the doctor and see what this is. A little boy picked up a poker, it was a older boy about the 6th grade. I seen what he was fixin’ to do, and I put my foot over on that poker and I wouldn’t let him pick it up. He just quit and he didn’t pick the poker up. When that man left he balled me out. I says “What was you going to do”. He says “If he’d a step up there one more step I would have hit him in the head”. Baby you cant do that! You cant do that!
I have only had one child who would tell me I didn’t do something good to her. But I have got one and she will tell me every time she sees me what I’ve done wrong. She says “I put a hornets nest in the schoolhouse”. “Honey, I am scared to death of a hornet”. She said it got cold, and that warm room it came out and stung her. I didn’t do that. That was the teacher before me. Because I wouldn’t fool with a hornet’s nest, but some people would. She used it as a decoration. But she didn’t think about it getting warm in there, and the eggs in there hatched out.
My favorite memories are just being with the children. Just being with them. They came together one time, and bought me one of them lamps. Each one of them didn’t all get me a little present, but a big gift. I cant remember what you called them lamps now. But it was an old timey lamp. It wasnt like a real lamp, you lit it and turned it up. But I was so proud of that. It meant a lot to me.
People back then had hard times, but it was good times too. They made their own entertainment. We would just get together and have the best time. It was a good time. We just had to walk to school, but they finally got a bus. Some people got to ride. Some were on horseback. I had an old Percheron mare that had big feet. I enjoyed that. Big horses. Everyday I rode my horse to school. I never had but one person disrespect me on that horse. He got up behind me and blowed his horn and she liked to throw me. But he had better sense than I did because if he had any respect at all he wouldn’t have done that. But I guess he wasn’t thinking. If I would have been a cussin’ woman, I would have cussed him. People don’t think, honey. They don’t think sometimes. That could have crippled me the rest of my life, thrown me off. They are still that way, they don’t think sometimes what they do. Its dangerous.
We had elections in our community. Fly, and finally it got getting to Bethel having elections up there. Fly started first. They would pick out of the communities the best and have elections. You’d have some good ol’ fights. I was grown before I got to vote. I was old enough and big enough to know who was running and everything. Election Day was a big day. That’s when they brought out the moonshine to celebrate. Of course, they wouldn’t admit that but they done it. You know I didn’t resent the way they made a living. Because if they didn’t they would have starved (the moonshiners). They had to make a little moonshine or something to make a living. You cant blame nobody for not letting their family starve. It was hard times back then. We didn’t have a lot of extra stuff, we were down to the nitty gritty like beans and taters, and things like that. Meat. We had plenty of meat. Most everybody did. Now some families didn’t have it because they didn’t have nothing to feed the stock but pretty well everyone had a cow. Milk and butter. They knew how to make a living.
I remember mother telling me when she first met daddy. I asked her one time when she first remembers seeing him. She said he climbed up in a tree and called her and told her he was fixin’ to jump out. She told him that if he didn’t have no better sense than that then just to jump. He was still wearing a dress. You know boys back then wore little aprons. You put them on and it made like a dress and a apron too. I says, “momma you surely didn’t do that”. “Yes, I did!”. He climbed down. He didn’t jump down. That’s how they met. They lived close together growing up. One living on one hill and one lived on another hill. It wasn’t thickly populated.
We had peddling trucks come through the community. They had a truck with everything you pretty well needed like `flour, mill, and anything you wanted to cook, soda, baking soda, tea, coffee, and things like that. They would stop at your house and you go out and buy what you wanted. They would have a coupon book that you would get a coupon every time you bought anything. When you got so many coupons, they would have prizes you could get like an ironing board. The first ironing board I ever owned was from a coupon. A peddling truck was just like a regular truck but it had a back on it like a house with shelves in it. People would go pick what they wanted. Whatever you needed he would sell it to you.
We even made homemade marbles. We would get the clay and we’d mash them together to make a round ball and put them in and cook them. Then we could color them. We’d have something to play with.
My grandfather made a thing that you pat with your foot. There was a thing that came down from the ceiling and it had a piece of cardboard on it. He would pat his foot and that thing would go backwards and forwards across the table to keep the flies off the food. I remember when mother would take the towel and run the flies out and shut the doors where they couldn’t get back in so we could eat. Everybody had them. But we made it.
My daddy and other community members would kill 200 hogs or more a year. They made cracklings and lard. They had them fix around the meat house or smoke house, and they would knock them in the head, scold them, hang them up by the hind legs and let them bleed. They had a track up in that house and you hook them and roll them around. Each man had a piece to take off; the ham, the shoulder, until they didn’t have nothing. The last one was the guts. They made lard and cracklings right there. That was close to where I lived. Right up by Fly, in between Fly and Hilltown. You’d come through Hilltown. They would sit there all night long with their shotguns to keep the dogs off. The dogs could smell it and wanted to come get them something to eat. We always got up early on hog killin’ morning to watch them a while. But I never could stand to watch my daddy hit that hog. I had to turn my head. But them cracklings were the best thing you ever put in your mouth. You put them in the big kettle and cook them. Then you strain that and it makes lard. The prettiest, whitest lard you’ve ever seen in your life. They boil it. They sold it to somebody in Nashville.
Life back then was hard. In a way it was and in a way it wasn’t. Thats all we knew. We didn’t know no better. You didn’t think about it much. But we loved one another. We had life hard, but we had plenty to eat, we had a warm house, and plenty of love. What else would you want? Thats true. We got whipped too. We didn’t get sit in the corner too. You have to make a child mind, and you can’t do it all by love. A child will love you better if you make him mind.
This has brought back a lot of good memories. I told it just like it was.
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