Southern Voice: Patsy O’Neal Tarpley Baccus
I was born literally at home on our farm in Montezuma, TN, on January 1, 1937, where I lived until I left home after high school. I remember little prior to starting school. I remember the night my great-grandmother died in 1941. She was at home, and she called my sister and me to her bedside and talked to us about how she loved us and wanted us to live good lives. I remember not being afraid. Her casket was in her home where friends and neighbors came in to pay their respects.
I remember my mother starting to work at “public work” when I was 4. After that I followed my daddy in most everything he did. I remember hoeing and dropping fertilizer by stalks of corn in the fields, riding a horse-drawn cultivator and driving the horses while Daddy held the plows and yelled at the horses, going down the gravel road in a horse-drawn wagon, bringing in fire wood and anything else I was big enough to do. We had school during the summer in order for the farm children to pick cotton in the fall.
One of my most frightening memories was of Daddy seriously cutting his hand while chopping wood. Mama was not home, and I left on my bike thinking Daddy might be bleeding to death and it was up to me to get help. We learned courage from stories of Grandpa, the deputy sheriff, bringing in a murderer single-handedly, and Daddy losing a job he needed rather than vote the way his boss told him to.
I can remember our house being wired for electricity when I was age 7. I remember oil lamps, fireplace heat, no air conditioning, getting water from a well and outdoor toilets.
I stayed entertained playing outside as much as possible with Clayton and Billie. They would be Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry, and I was Dale Evens. We climbed trees, swung on honeysuckle vines, fished and visited around the neighborhood. We played baseball and softball in our pasture and basketball on a dirt court at school.
My first gun purchase was a set of wooden guns ordered through the mail from Sears & Roebuck. I walked every day to the post office looking for a package until they came. I was a tomboy, but I also loved playing dolls.
My sister and I usually had at least one outdoor playhouse where we “cooked” with leaves, mud and whatever we could find. We played paper dolls, with figures cut from the Sears catalog, and games like jacks, checkers and cards in the winter time. When I had no one to play with, I just made up stories and acted the parts out myself on the front porch.
We felt very close to all our neighbors and extended family. We visited often with Great-Aunt Ida. She had two sons who died very young, and she always made us feel welcome. I remember her mixing cocoa and sugar to make us dipping snuff.
In spite of a seemingly stern demeanor hidden behind his mustache and heavy eyebrows, we liked to hang out across the road at elderly Cousin Barkey’s house. We spent hours on his front porch where he talked about everything from living to please God to what it was like for him as a child during the Civil War. We didn’t have a phone, but Cousin Barkey did. As we got older our friends called us on his phone, and he would holler from across the street to let us know we had a call.
From our house we could see our grandparents’ home and walk there in a few minutes. We stayed with Grandma a lot and followed her around as she did her work. She talked about her life and growing up without her mother who died at her birth. She played a major role in instilling in us Christian virtues and a strong faith. From her I learned what absolute joy and freedom there is in forgiveness.
We looked forward to such family traditions as hog killing in the winter, making sorghum molasses in the fall, eating homemade ice cream in the summer and sitting around the radio listening to “The Lone Ranger.”
I remember going with my grandparents to their dug-out earthen storm shelter when a storm was coming. Grandpa and Grandma had their house hit twice by a tornado and once completely destroyed around them. Listening to all the adults tell stories about past storms and related events made me forget about the spiders and snakes that were lurking just past the light of the coal oil lanterns.
We had very little cash and usually charged our food and farm products at Charley’s general store until the crops were sold in the fall and my father could pay him. My uncle raised pigs, and there was always a runt, which he gave to my sister and me to raise on a bottle and sell as a way to learn responsibility and make money. Animal feed came in heavy cotton sacks with attractive designs. Two of them were enough for Mama to make us a school dress.
I walked to grade school (1st-8th), which was just over the hill from our house. There were three rooms, but we only had enough students for two teachers and used the third room for special activities, school programs and plays. I remember a Christmas play that had live toys under a tree. I was to be a doll, and Mama made me a frilly dress from pink crepe paper. I was sick when the time came, and my best friend wore the dress and was the doll. I still remember being in bed when she came to get the dress.
Miss Doris, my first grade teacher, gave me my first glimpse of romance. Her boyfriend was in the Navy, and she spent recess and lunch writing letters to him. She played the piano and taught us the Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force theme songs. Back in those days people had shared phone lines called “party lines.” In later years, Doris told about her future husband, unable to get leave from his navy port, calling and asking her to marry him over the phone. She heard a neighbor on the party line tell his wife, “Laureni bring me a chair. Willard is proposing to Doris, and I want to hear it.”
We rode a bus into Henderson to high school. My cousin, Smittie, was my best friend. She and I studied together, went on trips together and talked about boys. I did not aspire to have the highest grades in my high school graduating class of 90 students and was surprised when I did. I attended college, got married and eventually moved to Nashville, but I was really happy growing up and never remember longing to leave home.
I still own our family farm, and someday my body will rest beside my parents in the church cemetery on a hill, which overlooks that land I love.
Patsy Baccus attended the University of Tennessee in Memphis, where she was trained as a dental hygienist. She worked as the hygienist and office manager in her husband’s pediatric dental practice in Nashville for 30 years. She has two daughters and four grandchildren who live nearby.
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