Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography
ALICE COBB STORIES “Visit to the Harmon Turners,1934 “
TAGS: Alice Cobb Stories Visit to Harmon Turners,1934, ; Alice Cobb; Harmon Turner; Jess Cornett; Sally Cornett; Mable Cornett; Ralph Cornett; foodways; Sunday School; Greasy Creek; Big Laurel, KY; Little Laurel, KY; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Harlan County, KY; Alabama Boggs; Chris Anderson; Jeff Nance; Johnnie Day; Aunt Louize; Oscar Begley; Renie Begley; Mary Elizabeth Begley; Denver Begley; Mallie Begley; Granny Creech; Ben Lewis; Dry Fork, KY; Jim Spradlin; Martha Spradlin; Cora Scearse; Bill Coots; Coots family; Mary Creech; Otto Nolan; Georgia Thomas
GALLERY: ALICE COBB STORIES Visit to the Harmon Turners,1934
TRANSCRIPTION: ALICE COBB STORIES Visit to the Harmon Turners,1934
[Transcription from typewritten pages. The text has been slightly edited for clarity.]
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Mrs. Baird [Lexine Baird] and I had an invitation to Harmon Turner’s place of Big Laurel for dinner. There was some delay, and we were almost afraid we’d have to give up the trip, for one of the patients in the Infirmary had a turn for the worse. However, we finally got it arranged, and were ready to start, when one of the neighbors from down the creek came in, and in the course of the conversation remarked casually that the Turners had all gone to London [KY] for the weekend. So that was that. Of course, we were sorry but not surprised, for that’s so often the way things happen. Responsibility isn’t one of the senses!
We changed our plans then and started down Greasy visiting. It was a beautiful day — blazing sun and bright blue October sky, but cold, so my boots and leather coat, not to speak of the gloves Alabama Boggs knit for me, felt good.
We passed Chris Anderson’s and Jeff Nance’s and Johnnie Day’s almost on the run. I did want to stop in and see Aunt Louize, who is passing her last days at Johnnie’s, after all the different places she has tried. But since she is hale and hearty at ninety odd, I felt there wasn’t much danger of anything happening before I should get back again, and we hurried on.
We did stop at Granny Creech’s for a few minutes. She was getting ready to move into the front room (there are two rooms in her house) for the winter, and to take the bucket out of the stovepipe. It’s kept there in summer to catch the soot. Granny had a new papering of Saturday Evening Post and Sears Roebuck leaves on the wall. I always like her choice of pages so much because she picks the colored advertisements. Granny brought us chairs, two straight cane bottom ones, and a rocker with a cushion covering the springs. We hastily insisted on taking the straight chairs!
It’s so interesting to hear Granny’s stories of the old days — I think I’ve mentioned before how she comes into the office and talks to me often of the time when she used to work here. Saturday she was asking me about her three little granddaughters who are now in Pine Mountain School. Mary Elizabeth and Reny are Oscar Begley’s children — It’s their place where I used always to go to the sorghum stir-offs. But little Mallie, Denver Begley’s child, needs a letter all to herself, and I’ll tell you about Mallie and our puppet class some other time! Grannie wanted to know about all three, but it was easy to see that Reny was the beloved one. Reny has lived with Granny the past few years more than at home, and they have quilted and spun and gossiped together like two old old ladies until Reny is rather a little old maid herself. As Granny said “Mary Lizbeth might take atter the boys, but Reny, she’d not look at ary’n!” [Handwritten notation: “Arlene?”]“Law”, she said, “I thought my heart would break in two to see her a-going but I never let her see but what I was glad to get shut of ‘er. I says, ‘Honey, go to school and stay. Don’t you come back here till you get all the larnin’ you need, which is plenty!’” From Granny’s house we hurried on to Ben Lewis’s place and went up Dry Branch, which runs alongside to Martha Spradlin’s — that makes the nicest tramp. It’s one of these disappearing trails that is always appearing up on the other side of a steep cliff or a bramble thicket. We got lost a couple of times and scrambled up two or three rocky creek beds, but…
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…finally found the place — beautiful when you once reach it, so far away, sort of wild and woody. They have a two room cabin of logs with the cracks all tidily stuffed with mud. No chinks in those walls! I’ve come to judge the shiftlessness or industry of a mountain family in terms of chinks with and without mud, for I see no reason for [no] chinks in a country where mud is so plentiful. The gate, by the way, was interesting, all made of wood, without nails, and the pivot pole went through a hole made into the gate part, and turned in that, if you can see what I mean. It’s hard to describe, but quite clever I thought. The rail fence reminded me of the one around grandfather’s farm.
Jim Spradlin was chopping wood across the ravine. Martha’s welcome was pathetically eager. She just seemed so glad to see someone. We admired the row of zinnias by the house, although it wasn’t really very pretty — the hills are too high and the foliage too heavy there to admit much sunshine, and blossoms don’t really have a chance. Then we climbed the steps and went in the house. The little grandchild stood by the door. Her job was to chase out the chickens that wandered in from time to time. There was a puncheon floor, but it was well made with only one or two large gaps between the logs. And there were openings, not windows, for glass is dear, in the walls. Round the walls hung strings of shucky beans, tobacco twists drying and flowers hanging for seed. From the rafters above us hung rows of baskets, everyone made, as Martha proudly told us, — of splits. No bark peelings in her work! The little lesson in basketry was most entertaining and enlightening, too!
Martha is an interesting little soul — fifty-eight, come November, she told us, toothless, hair pinned back in a knot, and tired sad eyes, although she herself was very brisk. The baby, she said, was her daughter’s that had died of TB. “But”, she said, “Hit warn’t inherited because they weren’t any of that in her generation!” (It’s considered a disgrace to have TB in your family.) “She tuk a cold atter the baby war borned and her breast riz — hit were a sight how hit got to be, and they was a hole big enough so’s you could look in and see her insides. And the nurse she put sumpthin’ — some med’cine — on the outside so’s that healed over, but the inside kept on bein’ sore and a-drippin’ down onto her lung, that’s how come her to have TB. And afore she died she give away her baby to me”. She told us all that and much more, drearily, bleakly — about this daughter and that one, married, dead, their men married again or two or three times again. And she talked and talked. It just seemed as though she couldn’t let us go. I forget how long it had been she told us, since the last folks had come up to that lonesome place to see her. She and the little girl walked a piece of the way with us. I said something about how sweet and pretty a child she was. “Law”, said Martha. “Hit’s stayed up here in these hills till hit’s nigh a wild thing!” And when we were far down the trail we looked back to see her still standing by the gate watching us.
We found our way back to the road quickly enough and hurried on to the Medical Settlement where considerable business was being carried on with cuts and blisters. We all hustled around and got supper, which is the kind you dream about — fried chicken and apple pie! And after supper we would like to have stayed longer, for it was to be an evening at home for the boys and girls to sit around the fire place and pop corn. Bill Coots was bringing his guitar, they said. But we had to hurry on home now, and we did meet the crowd down the road.
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-3-We did stop for a little while at Little Laurel, to visit with Rena and Ben Scearse (Rena was a Begley, daughter of Granny Creech, I believe), and their five small stairsteps. They all looked so cozy, packed around the fireplace, the carbon lamp on the stone mantlepiece lighting up the little room fitfully, and the two great bedsteads looming up close to us in the shadows. They had new papering too, and I recognized many old friends among the Sears Roebuck bargains. They had just finished supper and all the children, including baby, were dripping with cornmeal mush. One of the little boys was still enjoying his, drinking it out with appreciative noises from a tin cup. Rena was nursing the baby, to finish off the mush supper, and the two boys chewed lustily, each on an enormous red sweet potato, raw and crunchy. Rena threatened, coaxed, entreated, and called for a stick, in turn. The boys kept on chewing, and she kept on scolding kindly, and it was all very pleasant.
We hurried on home, then, getting in just before the big rain, about nine o’clock.
Church was very nice this morning. I took the sermon in shorthand. After dinner, I made a hurried and rather ashamed review of Joseph’s childhood to tell at Sunday School. Georgia Thomas and I went out together — this was the first meeting at the Divide School. It is about an hour’s walk from here — a one-room district school, not luxurious by any means, but fairly large and light and pleasant. We stopped by for Cora Scearce, and when we reached the school (it’s only a short walk from Otto Nolan’s, where Cora is staying) — we found to our amazement, and my further chagrin, that half the Sunday School was adult, and I’d prepared my story, such as it was, for the little ones!
But we herded them in — I don’t know the number — it looked larger than it was, I think, and sang some songs. Cora taught them the Lord’s Prayer. I was much impressed to see her standing there. She’s really very pretty, looks young and childlike, with all her background of suffering and tragedy, father murdered, one brother-in-law executed for murder recently, another brother-in-law and father-in-law in prison for murder, her own husband forbidden the state on a murder threat charge (he is here sub rosa) and there she stood repeating firmly, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” — head thrown back, shoulders straight, eyes wide open and just shining with life and purpose and trust. It gave me a real thrill.
My story was well received, especially by the grown ups!, and I thought as I spoke, how well suited the Bible stories are to our people, and fitted to their background. Much more pat than any of the modern stories for children, which all have to be reworded and adapted for our use.
I wish I had more time to tell you about the children who were there — little hunchback Estil, for instance, and Mary Creech, who is married, separated from her husband, has had one baby, and is still just a little girl. She walked all of five miles to come to Sunday School.
I got back to Pine Mountain just in time to meet the Faulkners [James and Barbara Faulkner] and Sam [Sam Winfrey]and we went up to Sal and Jess Cornett’s for supper. You know Sally is the school laundry head, and Jess is the nightwatchman. And what a supper! I must tell you the menu, for it’s the only one of its kind that was ever, ever will be.
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We had fried chicken, hamburger sandwiches with mustard and onions and lettuce, frankfurters, steak, white bread and cornbread and butter, tomatoes, peppers, beans, sweet potatoes roasted and chicken gravy, two kinds of cake and coffee and milk, peanut butter sandwiches, doughnuts, and lots more that I can’t remember at this minute. I never saw quite so much, except at Sally’s other times! After supper, the men sat around the table, and the women talked by the fireplace. It was all so pleasant, with lamplight. We came home in the moonlight, about nine-thirty.
See Also ALICE COBB Biography