Monday, October 25, 2010


 Cousin Mickey contacted me on Face Book the other day and suddenly a host of childhood memories flooded in.  Mickey lived in Estill Springs,  my Mom's home town, in middle Tennessee, between Winchester and Tullahoma, just so you know. Jimmy and I were big time city cousins who loved to visit from Birmingham.

We had modern things in Birmingham, like TV, way before they did and stuff, but Mickey had things we had never seen up close, in Estill Springs, like salt licks in the pasture. Well, we'd never been in a pasture before either.  Mickey explained about the fun of licking the cows' salt lick, right in the middle where their tongues had worn it down. Jimmy didn't try it, but I did.

Mickey lived across the road from Grandma Cherry, whose house was the big old one she raised her 5 kids in.  Mickey had indoor plumbing and a regular kitchen and all at home, but she didn't have anything like that when we were little. We couldn't believe it. She had a big old coal fired cookstove in the kitchen.  There was no running water inside the house.  She got her water from her well, which tasted fresh and cool.  However, no inside water meant we had to take baths in a big tin pan with water warmed on the stove, and, worse,  we had to use an OUTHOUSE. I was astonished again every time I visited.  The root cellar under the house with all the stored potatoes and jams and all; the grape arbor, weighted down with  muscadines
enough to make your stomach ache for three days;  the telephone you dialed by cranking the handle--those were all neat and made you think you had stepped back in time. But I could not abide using the outhouse. 

Especially since Mickey warned me about all the snakes and black widow spiders that lived there.

When all the cousins were there, which happened now and then during winter holidays,  all the kids slept together in the attic at Grandma Cherry's. It was warm most everywhere else in her house, even in the coldest part of the winter.  She had great fireplaces in every room that kept them toasty warm.  There were quilts as well.  The attic was a different story.  There was no fireplace.  There was no insulation.  It was
one big drafty room with a host of iron frame beds lined up side by side.  I never tested it, but I am pretty sure if you licked the iron post on the bed, it would have frozen your tongue right there onto the post till spring.  For warmth we had a stack of homemade quilts to use, dozens--as many as you wanted to pile on.  Trouble was, in order to stay warm, the number of quilts required could be in double figures. So we would be warm--except for our noses sticking out from the covers to breathe-- weighted down and unable to move side to side or turn over, and reduced to hysterical giggles.  There is not much required to induce hilarity in a bunch of  6-12 year olds.

What really sent us over the top was when we had to get out from under the 12 or so quilts, make a mad dash across the icy room to visit the slop jar. In the attic, since the sleeping space was shared,  the bathroom arrangements were different from the usual slop jar under the bed.  In this case the slop jar was in a separate room at the end of the attic, set into a large throne-like chair that you sat on, much like the something you sit on in an outhouse. Mickey would help out with a running commentary about the things we might encounter while up and about, like bats and rats and such.

The first step in the march toward modern things was Grandma's spigot on the back porch.  The next year she  got indoor plumbing.  Since she no longer needed the outhouse, she sold it for the lumber.  I never knew whether that was a joke or not, but it was told for the truth.  She was mighty thrifty, so it probably is.

Mickey was a wealth of information about country things and was helpful in so many ways.  He was careful to explain how to recognize poison sumac, for example.  He just forgot to tell me about the poison ivy patch.
Uncle Brooks, Mickey's Daddy, owned the General Store in Estill.  General Store means it sells overalls, flour, kerosene, corn, chickens, and I don't know what all. Whatever you needed you could find somewhere in the General Store.

Our favorite thing was the penny candy at the front.  Uncle Brooks would let us pick out two or three pieces a day each while we were there and it was agony for me to decide between Mary Janes, Sugar Daddys, Necco Wafers, Bit of Honeys--oh my gosh, do they make that stuff any more? I was delirious during the whole vacation each year (probably on a sugar rush).  Mom was a strict nutritionist at home, so we had nothing sweet in the house except fruit. Jimmy
was not so much into candy, but Mickey and I would fight over the sack of candy all the way home.  We would make ourselves sick on Wax Bottles.  You bit off the necks, sucked out the sticky sweet syrup inside, then chewed up the wax.  Yummy. They were about as good for you as soft drinks are now.  Eating the candy cigarettes made us decide to try the real thing, and so of course we did. Or they did.

The boys didn't want to include me.  They never did. I was little.  I was a girl.  I didn't count.  Sometimes I could appeal to Mom and she would intervene on my behalf, but if it were some big, dark, secret thing or whatnot, I had to whine and wheedle my way in on my own.  I was pretty good at that.  Unceasing whining is effective. Refusing to go away is a strategy I tried often. Threats to tell was the best.

The boys sneaked a few cigarettes from each grownup's pack and some matches.  That was easy, since they all smoked several packs a day in those days and left cigarettes, ash trays and matches everywhere.  The boys had their pick--Lucky Strike, Philip 
Morris, Camel, Winston, and more.  In the field by the side of the house Jimmy and Mickey smoked their first cigarettes. As they puffed away, I ran around in circles hollering for them to give me a turn.  Pretty soon I stopped though, cause they quit puffing and sorta laid back stunned and sweaty, with greenish faces.  Mickey moaned and Jimmy kinda half-gagged and I stayed very quiet. After the vomiting was over, we swore a pact never to tell and returned to the front yard.  Well of course one look at the pale sickly faces by the grownups and the jig was up. The punishment was light and I didn't have to share, since I was not party to the crime.  We were soon ready for our next adventure.

Some of the country things that were supposed to be fun involved the farm animals.  Jimmy and I love animals. We have been involved with fish and turtles and dogs and cats and hamsters and guinea pigs, but never with farm animals.  They were foreign to us and quite interesting. Almost everything looks easier than it is.  Take milking for instance.  You just walk up to the cow, poke the bucket under the teet, grab it and start pulling and the milk streams out.  When it slows down, you go to the next cow.  Yeah, well it doesn't work that way for me.  It doesn't work at all.  The milk streaming out part.  Oh, well.  Fun to try.  The cows were gentle and let me feed them hay while Uncle Brooks milked them.

The next thing was gathering eggs.  This was an absolute nightmare and I still won't go close to a chicken.  I don't hate them like I hate cockroaches, I just keep my distance.  The first few times I helped gather the eggs I went with Aunt Pete or Grandma Cherry. 
Here's how it went.  They would pass by each brood hen, reach up under her and take an egg.  They would pass it to me and I would carefully place it in the basket.  Soon we would have visited every nest and leave the hen house with our basket brimming.

After several days of that, it was time for me to gather the eggs for the family.  Unaware of the disaster I was about to face, I stepped into the hen house tentatively 
and with great hesitation timidly approached the first hen. She grew larger before my eyes and sort of hunkered down over the nest and her eggs. Grandma explained later that she was fluffing up her feathers to make herself look bigger as a defensive tactic against foxes and other enemies, me included I guess. I was about a foot away when all of a sudden........ wooowweeee....... Such screeching and flapping I never saw.  She came at me with all she had and I dove to the other side of the hen house with my arms wrapped around my head.  It was an awful few minutes.  After awhile,  when she determined that she had me subdued,  she settled down and 
scrambled back on her nest. I unfolded from my fetal 
position and thought about what to do.  Well, I didn't want to be labeled as a scaredy cat from the city and disappoint my Aunt, Mom and Grandma and be made a laughing stock by the boys.  Maybe that was just a
specially figgity hen and if I approached the next one with more confidence and authority, things would go better.  They did not.  This time I got my hand almost up to the nest.  Two hens went nuts.  I got my hand pecked in several places and then my heels from the back as I high tailed it out the door.  So much for what the world thought of me.  I knew what the hens thought.  They had made that very clear and my egg gathering was ended.
 Jimmy and Mickey did make me a laughing stock.

The summer of the great adventure was the one after Jimmy got his Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He loved that gun. He polished it. He read all the  inserts--the 
 instructions, the safety precautions--over and over.  Mom and Dad outlined very specific limits about how he could use it.  He was pretty much confined to using it to target practice, shooting tin cans in the back yard--which backed up to the railroad tracks. He also practiced by making me dance to the tune of BBs bouncing off my tennis shoes.  That, however, was outside the limits of acceptable BB gun behavior and ceased. There was little use for a BB gun in the city.  Then we were off to Estill Springs!

In the wide open spaces of Estill, Jimmy and Mickey had great fun.  They shot lots of cans off fence posts. They shot lots of leaves off  the elm trees in Grandma Cherry's great huge front yard.  They shot the cows in the fields from the porch (a long way) to see if they would feel it enough to take off running.  It made them flick their tails, but not otherwise move.  As a previous  target of the BB shooting, I felt sorry for my fellow victims, threatened to tell on the boys and the cows were spared further torture.

They soon got bored with regular ol' targets and tried to think up new ones.  While they were thinking, they passed the time by making fun of me some more about my hen house adventures.  That's when they came up with the greatest plan of the summer!  Why not shoot all the windows out of the hen house?  Why not indeed!! It sounded delicious. There in Aunt Pete and Uncle Brooks' back yard was the long luscious hen house with its many windows, the ideal target. We waited till the grownups were all gone down to the creek to fish, and then----- the boys started shooting. All the
chickens ran out with great cackling and clucking  and the coast was clear to get serious.  Oh my gosh, it was wonderful!!  It started with little round holes in the first window pane.  Then more and more. Finally that one crashed to the ground, with a lovely sound and shattered glass all round.  Then another and another.  They got fancy and started shooting patterns in the glass--criss cross and hearts and all around the edge in a circle.  It took many BB's to finish off the first side, with Jimmy and Mickey taking turns.  As they made their way around the hen house, I could see that there were fewer and fewer panes left.  I began to
   holler for my turn.  They ignored me!  It was always the same.  I pulled on their arms! I screamed! I jumped up and down! I cried!  The last pane crashed to the ground.  They clapped each other on the back and rolled around on the grass They were high on naughtiness,  drunk on pure boy badness and I was as mad as spit.

So full of themselves they never saw the grownups coming up the road.  I did though and began to scream and point in horror at the terrible thing the boys had done.  And it was terrible.  
There were some 30 windows in shards on the grounds and many chickens desperate for a place to call home. The remainder of the summer was another kind of terrible for the boys.  They worked from dawn till dark-- milking, tossing hay, digging fence posts, hoeing weeds from the garden, doing all the farm chores needing to be done--to pay for replacing the windows in the hen house, the many windows in the hen house.

And what punishment for the one who did not do the crime, but only longed to, who only lusted in her heart? Other than spending the rest of the lonely summer in Estill without playmates, I got off SCOT- FREE. So there!

Disclaimer:  I wish to point out to Jim and Mickey that any distortion or exaggeration of fact is solely due to the tricks of mind/memory caused by the vast passage of time and is not at all intentional.  


  1. This is wonderful! I remember so many similar things - especially the good things like Mary Janes, Neccos (which I have in front of me right now), candy cigarettes, etc. - and the outhouse at my grandma's house. Our very favorite spot was up in the big magnolia tree in the front yard.

  2. Those were the good ol' days. I like your blog, which I just discovered, by the way.

  3. Aww Judy, what sweet memories - many of which I share. I never could get the hang of the utter thingy and once got chased by a pregnant cow.

    Was in an outhouse one time, sitting there and minding my own business when I spied a rattler lying across the top of the door. The toilet had some kind of spring seat (this was at camp), so when you stood, the seat automatically raised up - and not quietly. I sat there for the longest time getting ring around the rosy and praying that someone would miss me enough to come looking. They didn't. Finally let my shorts slip over my bare feet. The abject fear propelled me out the door before the toilet seat even began cranking up.

    I can't remember for sure but I'd be willing to bet we stopped at the General Store a time or two on our way to Sewanee and before the days of I-24. Besides wax bottles of sweet syrup and candy cigarettes, I remember pea shooters and long-necked bottles of RC with peanuts. Yum.

    But was that a simpler time? In many ways, yes. To be entertained children were forced to use their imaginations which your cousins obviously did with great dedication. But it took a lot of time and hard work to plant, grow and can (put up) the fruits and vegetables and make those beautiful quilts, gather the eggs out from under bitchy hens and get those utters pumping. But I seriously doubt if our aunts, uncles and grandparents would trade one minute of it for iPods, computers, cell phones and other new fangled gadgets that have robbed young people the chance to explore, use their imaginations and think for themselves. And cheated younger generations of family togetherness.

    Delightful post.

  4. Judy: This is just so good that I'm going to link to it from Parsley's Pics with the first two graphs. Hope this is okay with you. I just really love this article.

  5. Brother Jimmy will soon comment as soon as my attorney gives me the go ahead

  6. Jim,

    As Judy's husband for 47 years I have noticed and even admired her slight propensity for exaggeration and hyperbole. I am also Judy's attorney. Have your attorney get in touch with me before he files suit so we can get to the truth of the matter and reach an understanding about who was the instigator of the criminal acts described in "Cousin Mickey and the Hen House".

    How 'bout those War Eagles!!!

  7. tnlib, I am absolutely flattered that you would want to mention my post on Parsley's Pic, my favorite blog ever.

    I am struck by the fact that you list as one of your favorite types of music "old time country." That is a genre that Tennesseeans of a certain age (such as we are) would know about. Some time ago I wrote a post about old country songs Tom used to sing to me in the car. Too bad he has fallen out of the habit. I believe it was before you started reading our blog. Maybe you would like to go back and read that one
    Is that what you are talkin' 'bout?

  8. Oh, yes indeedy. Now that is real country music. The new Hollywood-style country music is a cheap, very cheap imitation. I won't even listen to it or go to the Opry. Taylor Twit? Give me a break. I enjoyed that - thanks.

  9. Judy:

    If you need a witness in the threatened lawsuit, I can vouch that every word of your story rings true. I was a “city girl” who had the good fortune of spending almost every weekend in the country.

    My butt was none the better for it, as my brother’s BB gun took aim at it on more than one occasion. Not to mention the chickens who ate the product of the outhouse and would peck me on the butt while I was seated therein.

    My aunt and uncle had the corner store with the Lance cookie jars and Eskimo Pies! You can see a photo of the store with it Coca-Cola sign at:

    And, yes, I remember the feather beds with mountains of quilts and the freezing steps to the slop jar in the middle of the night, made more frightening by the ghost stories told on the front porch before bedtime!

    And, this city cousin was teased for being scared to death of cows and having much smaller boobs than her country cousins. My sister said it was all that fresh cream they drank, LOL.

    Thanks so much to Leslie for sending me here and to you for your childhood memories.


  10. The Country Cousin has remained relatively silent during this rendition by Judy of the facts of this case which turns on the question of guilt as specifically relates to the demolition of the hen house.

    Jimmy brought the gun, supplied the ammunition, provided the core idea, fired the first shot and later went to Auburn. Prime suspect # 1

    Prime suspect # 2 is Judy herself. A Black Widow type of character manipulating the boys by jumping around in circles screaming SHOOT SHOOT! She partially redeemed her reputation years later by NOT going to Auburn.

    As to myself, it was a hot day and I thought the hen house needed more ventilation for the over heated chickens. I will be a witness for the prosecution when Jimmy goes on trial with Judy as an accomplice.

    Cousin Mickey

  11. I don't think I've ever enjoyed reading a post more than this one. This is like a chapter from To Kill A Mockingbird. I only have a moment before I have to go to work - but this is so well written I must share it with my class. Thank you for this one. You are a skilled writer. More later...

  12. Anonymous Country Cousin Mickey.

    Your Black Widow description of Judy is a bit scary to me since they get their name from doing in their mates.

    Don't be to hard on the A'Tigers. My Daddy was an Auburn grad (1927-31). So, in spite of Jimmy, I have to be for Auburn when they play any school except my Tar Heels or maybe South Carolina. I live in Columbia, SC and my nephew David was the SEC lineman of the week when he sacked their QB Eric Zier three times and the 'Cocks whupped the 'Dogs in 1993.


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