Monday, August 31, 2009

My Hill Country Assurances, Part 1

by Terry Thornton

My Hill Country Assurances is a continuing series in which I will present information about self, family, and ancestors. Using the pHOGS approach (photographs, History, Observations, Genealogy, and Stories) I will attempt to explore some of my history and that of my family. Part 1 lists all I am attempting to do with the series and then proceeds to give some of my early life history from my birth to seventeen years when I left Parham for the Army and then offers a brief look at my life through the 1960s.

My Hill County Assurances
  • will take a look at events, persons, and activities which gave me the confidence, audacity, and composure to attempt such a series of articles;
  • will examine some of the individuals, institutions and experiences which shaped and influenced my beliefs and faith;
  • will attempt to present information which will serve as collateral evidence to explain my effrontery, egotism, and determination;
  • will present information to provide alibis when needed or to give credence to my life history;
  • and will collectively present information which explains why, even after seventy years of living, I still have a deep dependence upon and a huge appreciation for the Hill Country.

In this series perhaps I will find a explanation for "me" by looking at all of the assurances from my Hill Country experiences.

And I shall start by establishing the fact that I recently celebrated my 70th birthday. I suppose this event (which I celebrated with so much fun) actually means that I have now officially reached "old age." And with my advanced age I know I am required to start acting the part --- and perhaps even speaking with great authority on subjects large and small whether I have any real knowledge of them nonewithstanding.

Does being seventy mean I have to "act" seventy?

A sage I'm not --- nor am I sitting at the top of a mountain dispensing wisdom (although we do have some tall hills in Hill Country). Not yet anyways. And acting the part of a wise old sage --- no, not me.

But I am taking lessons for becoming a genuine curmudgeon and have just completed lessons one and two. One was how to spell it and two was how to pronounce it and my mentor says that lessons three and all the others to follow are things I just do naturally.

Oh joy! The prospects of doing well with something again pleases me no end.

I digress. Lets return to the beginning.

I was born in Gilmore Hospital (Gilmore Memorial Hospital). The building survives --- it is now a museum in Amory, Mississippi. I don't think the fact that I was born there had anything to do with the building becoming a museum. But it is a singular honor to walk into the room in which I first breathed the clean pure air of Hill County.

My parents at the time of my birth had one older child, my brother Sherman who is twenty-two months older than I. He and my parents lived ten miles east of Amory in the small country village of Parham where my father ran a store and a gristmill and operated several small farms and from where my mother had, on occasion, served as an elementary school teacher.

The road through Parham was a historic one --- earlier it connected the first organized place-named village in Monroe County, Cotton Gin Port, east to the small town of Millville in Alabama. The famed naturalist and man of letters from early Monroe County, Dr. Gideon Lincecum, called the road "the great thoroughfare to Tuscumbia" as indeed, it connected the wilderness settlements of the northern Tombigbee River basin with the Tennessee River ports in northwest Alabama and to the rest of the world.

Parham was about mid-point between Cotton Gin Port (which moved itself lock-stock-and-barrel to a new town called Amory) and Millville (which became known as Detroit, Alabama). The road became known as the Amory-Detroit Road. It was paved east of Amory for four miles to the little town of Hatley --- and then it was gravel surfaced most of the way to Detroit.

[On a historic note, prior to the construction of Highway 278 in the 1950s, a gravel road also went east from Hatley to Quincy and Greenwood Springs --- Old Highway Six. Portions of its graveled surface still exist in the county today --- but with the demise of Highway 6, Hatley has never since been connected to the rest of the world via a state highway. Hatley may currently be the only incorporated town in all of Mississippi not on a state highway.]

Huge clouds of dust followed the few cars and trucks that traveled Amory-Detroit Road through Parham in my childhood. About 1950, the road was upgraded and paved the six miles from Hatley to just a few yards east of Thornton's Store putting an end to the unceasing clouds of dust by our house. By the late 1950s, the road was paved the rest of the way to the Alabama line.

I grew up knowing the surnames of all of the families who lived in houses facing Amory-Detroit Road from the Alabama line to the city limits of Amory, a distance of about twenty miles. And I knew the given names of most of the heads of household, their wife's name, and often the names of their children. It was important to my father and mother that Sherman and I know our neighbors --- and as we drove pass, they would tell us who lived where and they expected us to remember. As a result, I knew the names of most folks along those twenty miles. And those I didn't know, my brother did.

Unfortunately I have forgotten in my mind's eye many of those old house places and worse, I've forgotten many family names. But I remember several times in the 1940s when authorities from various county agencies would need directions to someone's house, they would stop at Thornton Store and "borrow" me and/or my brother to direct them to the proper location. And before we left my father's presence, he would quiz us to make sure we knew the correct house.

What fun. . . me standing in the front seat of "Miss Stuckey's" new government-issue-car telling her how to get to someone's house near the Alabama line. For a five or six year old, that was some more grown-up doings.

But Miss Stuckey always made me wait in the car when she went inside for her visit. I think she was either with the county health department or with the newly formed social welfare department set up during the "New Deal" of President Roosevelt's years as president.

But back to me. I was never a lonely child --- my just-older brother was my constant companion. He was "sickly" and didn't start to school until he was nearly seven --- so even during his earliest schooling I was only home without his company for one year.

And during his first year of school I learned all of his lessons along with him. I learned to read words and to add and subtract and I learned to read music and play the piano at age five because I got to study along with him. Back in those days even first grade students had school work to do at home.

Another reason I was never lonely was both my parents were usually available --- Dad in the store just a few steps away from the house or Mom in the house or at the store. And then there were the customers, salesmen, and deliverymen who always had time to tell a tall tale to a little boy.

And perhaps another reason I have never been lonely is that from earliest childhood I was taught to find something to do to occupy my time. I grew up during the last gang of youngun's who were expected to be seen but not heard. It was expected that I find something to do and do it. For several summers my "something to do" was to read --- the bookmobile started a route through Parham and books unlimited were available.

By the time I was old enough to help, I worked in Thornton Store clerking and pumping gas. By the time I was old enough to do manual labor, my father had decreed that my brother and I would help him farm --- and he bought a tractor, cleared off some of the Thornton bottom farm land that had lain fallow for years, and put us to work.

I learned early on that I wasn't cut out to be either a storekeeper nor a farmer --- although the former was certainly more attractive as a life's work than the latter. In short, I came to the conclusion that the only escape from a life of farming or a life of store-keeping was to acquire a college degree. From about junior high school on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

And if I couldn't be a school teacher, I wanted to own and operate a bar, a tavern. And if circumstances force me back into the workforce, I just may try my hand at genuine Hill Country Honky Tonk with me operating the bar. Such is life.

I've often said that all I ever needed to know I learned at Thornton Store --- and back in those days when a country grocery store was the clearing house for all information in a community which didn't have telephones, some of the things I learned I'm still trying to figure out!

Seeing the same deliverymen week after week over the course of years also helped establish some really deep and meaningful friendships. A few months ago I was eating dinner in one of Monroe County's excellent restaurants, Bartahatachie Outback, when a gentleman approached me and stuck out his hand. He was one of the soft-drink route-men who called at Thornton's Store weekly for many years of my living in Parham --- he recognized me but he had to tell me who he was.

And so it is and was with dozens and dozens of people. From countless individuals either coming to the store to buy supplies or to the gristmill to have their corn ground, I learned names and history and tales and gossip and truths and half-truths from a very early age.

I lived in this environment until just before my 18th birthday. After my high school graduation at Hatley in 1957 I went into the U.S. Army for six months active duty. During those years in the midst of the Cold War with universal draft requirements, I thought it best to rid myself of my draft obligation as early and as painless as possible. As a seventeen year old, I joined the Army taking advantage of six-months active duty plus reserve time as an alternative to being drafted. A group of us at Hatley School discussed this deal --- and when the dust settled, eight friends left together on the same date heading to the same post for basic training.

It was my first ride on a passenger train --- and my first and only time to sleep in a Pullman car. While in service, I flew in an airplane for the first time and have loved flying ever since. And in the Army I learned quickly that I had made the right decision to take the short time and get over with it.

To my father's everlasting disappointment, I refused the Army's offer to go to Officer Candidates School. After a battery of tests during my first week as a Private US Army I was "recruited" to volunteer for OCS --- but that meant I had to add at least a couple of years more to my military obligation. So with just less than a week of full-time soldiering I knew it best for me to stick with the minimum program I'd joined up for and declined the offer to go to OCS.

When I returned to Monroe County at the end of my six months army training, I brought with me $400 of the $488 dollars paid to me while in service (lowly privates then received the princely sum of $78 per month). I combined that with some other meager savings I had and, with a scholarship I'd won in an essay writing contest, I started to junior college in January 1958. From that date, I lived only sporadically in Parham.

Very early in my collegiate career I became a student worker. I also applied for and got a band scholarship in junior college as a saxophone player (although I'd never been in a band). To finish my work at Ole Miss, the University Bursar Mr. John Faulkner, sent for me and said he wanted me to apply for one of the first student loans ever set up at the University --- the early National Defense Education Act loans.

My primary student job at junior college was cleaning one half of the Fine Arts Building on the campus of Itawamba Junior College at Fulton, Mississippi. I cleaned the classrooms, chalkboards, halls, and bathrooms on the south side of that building in return for my room and board. A band scholarship paid for the rest --- and I completed my studies at junior college in three semesters and one summer term.

My high school principal, Herbert Nix, wrote a letter on my behalf to the University of Mississippi requesting student employment for me. Thanks to his influence, a job was forthcoming in the Library. I worked for the next year and a half in the Periodicals Department of the Ole Miss Library for fifty cents per hour, usually working 20 to 30 hours per week. Back then I could buy a $15 meal ticket discounted to $13.50 which would buy my meals for a week in the University cafeteria if I were careful in my choices. But in order to finish my senior year with its requirement for student teaching and extra expenses living away from Ole Miss (including a car, apartment, food, etc), I knew I was in a major jam.

My brother Sherman came to the rescue; he gave me a car with the provision that we re-paint it. I bought the paint and tape and sanding supplies --- he borrowed a sprayer --- and in short order I had "wheels" do go do my student teaching a couple hundred miles away from home down near Jackson, Mississippi.

And then Mr. Faulkner stepped in and invited me to apply for the first batch of student loans at Ole Miss --- I was approved and with $1,100 borrowed money, I completed my undergraduate degree.

By continuing the process of going to school year-round and by always taking the maximum credit load (or more with permission from the Dean), I completed my four years of study in three calendar years and at a cost I could manage. When my transcript was submitted for a teacher's license, I was certified to teach Biology, English, and History in high school.

Working as a janitor taught me many lessons --- and working as a Periodicals library clerk opened up many avenues I never knew existed. And throughout it all, I stayed busy.

Perhaps my life is proof of the old adage that "a busy lad is a happy lad."

Little did I know when I left for basic training at Fort Jackson South Carolina in the summer of 1957 that my time in Parham was practically over. Had I known I would have taken a better look around and made sure that in my mind's eye I had looked upon all to be seen in my little corner of Hill Country.

By 1961 January I had completed my first degree; by 1961 (January) I had started my first biology teaching job on the day after I completed my final exams at Ole Miss; by the close of 1961 I was married; by the summer of 1962 I was accepted into the Summer Institute of the National Science Foundation at Ole Miss working on a masters degree; by the fall of 1962 I was the educational television studio teacher of science for the first regular scheduled ETV lessons in Mississippi; by the close of 1962 I was a father; and by 1964 I was employed to teach in the biology department of Troy State College (now Troy University); and by 1967 I was awarded an NDEA Fellowship to complete my doctorate in science education at Ole Miss.

Little did I know during this busiest of time in my life that soon the house in which I had lived, been nurtured, and knew every squeaking floorboard would be gone. Little did I know that soon the store my father built in 1950 to replace the older one would be gone. Little did I know that the barn, smokehouse, garage, garden, orchard, pecan trees, apple trees, and countless flower beds my mother had tended for years would be demolished and replaced with a voting precinct building, a volunteer fire hall, and a small walking track/park.

Had I know that the physical presence of my home would have disappeared so quickly, would l have taken a longer look about when last I was there? But when last I was there, I didn't know it was my last time.

Do we ever know when it is the last time?

The earliest photograph of me is the only picture I have of me as a baby, an informal snapshot of me sitting on a blanket in the side yard at Parham. As the second child I was rarely photographed so there is only this one view of me as a baby. I was a solemn and sad-looking child --- some say I am a solemn and sad-looking old man and that nothing is new in this world.

The most recent photograph of me is this one made on my 70th birthday holding two birthday
presents, my favorite snack food and a painting of the product label (which now hangs in my office to encourage me to eat more).

Copyright © 2009 William T. "Terry" Thornton. Fulton, Mississippi 38843. All Rights Reserved.


john r. vines said...

Terry,welcome back and it was an excellent article.I am planning a trip back home to hill country in mid-September and i hope to find the Bartahatachie outback.
My regards,
John Vines

M. Diane Rogers said...

So very glad to see you back!
Love your then and 'now' photos, Terry. And peanut butter is so healthy!

Terry Thornton said...

JOHN, Hope you enjoy your trip to HILL COUNTRY in mid-September. Let me know if you need directions to the Bartahatchie Outback (Bartahatchie), Atkinson Steak House (near Smithville), or Pickle's "On the Hill" (Amory) --- my three favorite places to eat.

DIANE, So, you like P-N-Butter too?


Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

tipper said...

Hey Terry-like the new site-and adore the pictures : ) Good to see you're doing well. Interesting post as always.

(should I leave the Hill Country link on my site-change it to this one-or keep both?)

Terry Thornton said...

Hi Tipper, I suggest you link to the HOGS WEBPRESS site as all my articles will be accessible from there --- but feel free to link to them all!

Hope the early cool fall air has found its way to your HILL COUNTRY --- it has been absolutely wonderful weather today --- sunny and in the 70s most of the day. Was perfect for a mid-afternoon picnic at the park on the Tenn-Tom Waterway in Fulton.

Good to hear from you,

Terry Thornton
Fulton, MS

Terry Thornton said...

Hi Tipper, I suggest you link to the HOGS WEBPRESS site as all my articles will be accessible from there --- but feel free to link to them all!

Hope the early cool fall air has found its way to your HILL COUNTRY --- it has been absolutely wonderful weather today --- sunny and in the 70s most of the day. Was perfect for a mid-afternoon picnic at the park on the Tenn-Tom Waterway in Fulton.

Good to hear from you,

Terry Thornton
Fulton, MS

Randy C said...

Great read, its good to see you back.
I can't wait to read next weeks issue, I have already peeked, and I think its the article I have been waiting for.

Randy C
Apple Valley, California