Memories of Susie Spell Still
(Daughter of Benjamin Martin Spell)
“I take pen in hand,” that is how many of Granny’s letters started – those from her brother written from the trenches during the siege at Vicksburg. The ink was brown, or had turned brown from age, and was on ruled blue paper. And then he hoped they were well since last he had heard, and that he was glad to report that he was. I think he talked about poor rations and bad weather.
This was published on a calendar and memorized by Papa, Martin Spell, when he was a little boy – about 1885:
This is probably one of the first tobacco commercials ever published. Papa used to quote it to me when I was very small and I don’t know if he did it with flair, drama or comedy, but it was always funny I thought.
The “L” in Elliott L. Spell’s name is an initial only. Mama named him for one of her professors at Blue Mountain College. I was name for Miss Susie V. Powell, who was once State Demonstration Agent.
I surely do not know how Granny met Grandpa. She did relate in my presence once that she was complaining about him when Aunt Fannye was a little tyke, and Aunt Fannye asked, “Well, Pa, if Ma thinks so poorly about you how come she married you?” And I asked Granny how he answered her. She just chuckled and said, “Oh, he told her that it was right after the war and good men were hard to find.” This is one of my earliest recollections.
Granny went to school at “The Seminary” at Seminary, Mississippi. One of her friends was Sophronia Long – mother or grandmother to Hughie P.
There was a Rembert Speed about Uncle Pad’s age. Granny over heard the two of them in a heated exchange of insults one day, and Uncle Pad said the reason Rembert was so mean was because of “that ole Speed blood in you.” Rembert said, “Well, you got hog blood in you!” I guess he wanted the bigger share.
I learned considerable from Granny when I enumerate it, many Civil War stories and reconstruction stories. I will write later.
Kind wishes and kind love all around,
Snooks (Susie V. Spell Still)
From Louella McLeod Sanders
(Daughter of JOAN SPELL MCLEOD)
My Grandmother’s Tunes
What Wondrous Love (Religious Ballad)
Was I Sing
I Love Little Willie
Another favorite was “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”
Here are two of my grandmother’s recipes that were handed down to her by her mother.
Memories of Juanice Thaxton Fox
(Daughter of FANNIE SPELL THAXTON)
I treasure the memories I have of the old home place as I spent a good deal of time there as a child – from 16 months of age to 8 years when I went to Florida with my mother. I came back for most of the summers – the last one when I was 17.
Uncle Tom gave me the nick name of “Dickey Bird’, which was shortened to “Dickie”, and my family still calls me by it. He said I was always hopping and skipping around like a Dickey Bird in the snow.
I picked many an apron full of pecans off the old pecan tree. The story I was told as a child was: When Granny was ten years old, her father, took her with him in an ox drawn wagon to South Carolina to see relatives, including his sister, Rachel (Craig).* Granny was given the pecan seedlings and brought them back and planted the. When the trees were good sized saplings, her brother, Ben, and another brother, cut a strip three inches wide up the trunk of the tree to the west, to make a braided whip. This stunted the tree. Granny was not told what really took place until later – as Ben was her favorite brother. We always figured the age of the tree by taking 10 from Granny’s age.
There used to be a small burial ground to the south of the old cabin. I went there with Aunt Kate, Uncle Tom, and Granny on the day they set aside for grave cleaning. There was a low picket fence around the cemetery and a small house over one grave – a roof on four posts with picket walls. There were small concrete tomb stones marking the adult graves, and “lightered knots” and “brick bats” marking the children’s graves. It was in the wooded area south of the field and we crossed a fence to get to it, so it would have been Uncle Tom’s woodland.
I have the “Granny” broach which was handed down to the youngest daughter, down the line. Great-grandmother Duckworth had it on in the picture (large one) that Granny had hanging on the wall in the old cabin. My mother, Fannye, had a safety clasp put on it before she gave it to me.
Much of the land of the old home place was once Choctaw Indian land. My brother, Preston, and I had picked up shoe boxes full of arrow heads following behind Uncle Tom as he plowed. We left them with Granny but someone took both boxes. They were gone the first time we came back for the summer from Florida. We found most of them in the field to the east of the house. This had probably been a meadow where the Indians had camped or hunted game.
Frances Juanice Thaxton Fox
Frances Juanice Thaxton Fox
*author’s note: The 1930 WPA writings relate the story, as to how Granny Keziah visited her sister, Elizabeth Speed Rawls Wood, a few miles to the south, and brought back the pecan trees in the pocket of her riding skirt. Three trees were planted. Her brothers, Bill and Ben Speed, broke one tree down. The other two lived. One grew rapidly and is one of the largest pecan trees in the area. The stock bit the top out of the other one, causing it to be a dwarf tree.
Memories of Martha Thaxton Gordon
(Daughter of Fannye Spell Thaxton)
When the Baptist Children’s Home needed room, they knew Fanny’s family and asked that we be placed with “Family”. Hilda was 14 and I was 10. Preston had been placed with Aunt Lou and Uncle Tim earlier. Hilda went with Aunt Mahalia and Uncle Mac as Marie was gone and I went to live with Aunt Joan. The boys at home were Byron, Hugh, and Clark (Peck). I stayed 2 years then went to live with mother in Jackson. She worked in a bookstore while the Masons paid her school bill to learn stenography at the Catholic night school, until she graduated. The Royal Typewriting Co. sent her to San Frisco to compete – she won the money but the newspapers listed “a woman” won that year – no name.
She came back to Jackson and went to work for Noonan Construction. When they finished paving the streets in Milton a contract came open and we went to Pensacola. Fanny went to the Salvation Army to find housing and Capt. Levi Grimshaw had an apartment in his house on Seville Square where we lived. Hilda, at 16, went to live with Granny, Uncle Tom and Juanice. She rode the school bus to Salem with Uncle Mac and all the family kids and whoever was on the route. Spells, Vaughn’s, etc.
Fanny decided she needed to be in Pensacola to finish high school in 1924, so I was elected to take her place that year with Granny. Uncle Tom, Juanice, Preston came from Aunt Lou’s to live. At 12 I was as tall as Granny, so she thought I was woman size and could do a woman’s work. She told me one time how to make biscuits in a dough tray – months later Uncle let us know “the first thousand were the hardest”. Two years later, I came back for the summer to help Uncle and I made up for all those hard biscuits – he had to promise to never tell Granny I didn’t use the dough tray, but measured everything – I had had a year of Home Ec and PHS. Rambled – didn’t I? I stayed one year with Granny – then, Fanny found a larger apartment next door and we all went to Pensacola. To be closer to schools for everyone, we moved to 411 W. Romans St. I skated 1 1/4 miles uphill to my school every morning and floated back home.
Hilda finished PHS and went to FSCW – now Florida State – on a scholarship and work. I was 4 years behind her and all moneys were to be used only for those already in the program. My salary of $3.50 a week did not go that limit. I finished HS in 1931. I got work teaching children who were being kept home due to a polio scare and eked out enough to live at home and buy my clothes. When I bought a new dress, it went to Hilda before I wore it.
This gets us up to marriages and the two older ones out.
Time flies when you come to a stopping place. I started this in June. Oh well!
Love you, Martha.
Time flies when you come to a stopping place. I started this in June. Oh well!
Love you, Martha.
Memories of Frazier Vaughn
(Son of CATHERINE "KATE" SPELL VAUGHN)
Midway was a school located about 5 miles west of Granny’s. During the War Between the States, it was used as a central location to muster boys into service. Each community had such a place, either a church, school, or just a designated spot. Parents would bring their sons on the allotted days to sign them up or to show cause why they shouldn’t be drafted. The boys were housed and fed here until they could be moved on to the assembly point.
Granny was a high-spirited young lady, full of fun. It was always told that she rode a horse to “Midway Soldier Station” and danced ’til she wore holes in the bottoms of her shoes. Some of that must have been handed down to Ma Kate. They used to tell about how she won a horse race with our daddy (Jim Vaughn) while she was courting him. But the real reason that she won the race was because she gave Dad the old horse that had arthritis, and she took the best horse on the place.
My Grandpa (Bill Spell), pulled teeth too. He had some dentist’s tools and he would pull teeth free of charge. Back then there weren’t any dentists around these parts and if a person’s teeth got to hurting, they just pulled them out. Dot’s dad, Mr. Ance McGee, used to tell about going to get Grandpa to pull a bad tooth for him. While Grandpa was pulling on it, the tooth broke. Then Grandpa took a knife and cut the gum away from it and pulled out small pieces of tooth, but never did get the root out. Mr. McGee said that he had never had anything to hurt that badly, but there was no way of deadening it. Grandpa did give him a drink of whiskey though.
Grandpa was very good at singing. He really knew music, though I don’t know how he learned it. He would go around to schools and churches and teach singing schools. He must have been hard of hearing, for I was always told that he always cupped his left hand behind his ear and sang loud. All of his children loved to sing.
They could all “carry a tune” and sing well, too. Most of the girls could play the organ. Aunt Mahala always played the organ at Union Church. Grandpa had a blacksmith shop, but as far as I know, he always, had someone else to run it.
Grandpa Bill had two cerebral hemorrhages. He is the only person that I ever heard of that survived one. He had his first one at Union Church. He got real sick but he got all right. A good while later, he was hauling lumber on a wagon and was nearly home on the road that leads by the Cole families, down behind the old house, and had a second attack He managed to get down from the wagon and slumped over something under a tree and died there.
After Grandpa died, one of us Vaughn boys would have to go down and sleep at Granny’s every night. We would take turns. We would sleep in the little room off the front porch. Uncle Tom and Granny each had a bed in the big room. Granny was really spoiled. If she wanted a drink of water during the night, she would call to us to get it. She wouldn’t drink water that was already in the bucket, she wanted fresh water drawn from the well. And we’d get it, too.
Before the revival meeting in the summer, Granny expected everybody to go with her to clean the cemetery at Union Church. We’d hoe the grass up and then sweep it off. Then when we got back home, we’d sweep off the slave graveyard. It was easy to clean since it was under big pine trees, and all we’d have to do was to sweep it.
We had lots of fun, and it was entertaining to listen to our uncles and aunts tell about things they’d done as youngsters. One story they told was about a prank that Ma Kate and Aunt Fannye pulled on Aunt Mahala. Aunt Mahala had brought her boy friend home with her from church, even though she knew that Grandpa and Granny had gone visiting. Ma and Aunt Fannye went to the kitchen to cook dinner, but instead, beat and banged pots around pretending to cook, then locked up the kitchen, rang the dinner bell, and slipped off down the road to the Cole’s house. They didn’t wait to see Aunt Mahala’s reaction when she brought her “bow” to eat!
Ma Kate and Aunt Fannye loved working also. One of their favorite chores was to help pat the mud in the molds when it was brick making time.
Memories of Joe Spell
(Son of OLIN SPELL)
Frederick William Spell: Ma called him “Fed”, neighbors called him “Fred”, negroes called him “Mr. Fed Spell”, his children and grandchildren called him “pa”. By: Joe Graves Spell – a grandson (of Fed)
Pa was a benchmark to all. Growing up during the 1930’s, I was too young to keep up with my daddy or his work crew, so I served as a water boy, and a “go-getter”. Go get a hammer and staples; go get a file; run, hurry back, don’t let your shirt touch your back!
Pa was in his late sixty’s, and often needed help doing various chores. He had rheumatism in his knees that slowed him down, so a pair of fast feet to move about came in handily. Whenever Pa needed help, I was sent – usually with plow points that needed sharpening or repairing. Each tenure would be for one or two days.
Pa usually hummed or sang Sacred Harp songs as he worked. But when the going got tough, a colorful word was usually appropriate. Most of the time it would be “Ah shit”. (This expression was the most often used curse word for the older family members.)
He took time to explain to me how the few machines we were “fixing” operated, and how he was repairing them. As he pitched hay to me up on the wagon, he would tell how he did in the days of yore.
As he plowed a single ox in the reed-break, my task was to ride the ox and use a small stick to tap the ox on the “Gee” (right) or “Haw” (left) side of his head to turn him at the end of the row.
Catching a “kid” goat, or a “weather” sheep, for slaughter was another of my jobs. Helping and watching Pa with this task as well as hog killings, and sheep shearings, gave me opportunities to listen to his wisdom and accounts of the past.
Getting old enough to drive his car (1934 Ford) to carry Pa to Sacred Harp “sangs” on Sundays was a memory not to be forgotten. He liked to go to various churches, usually within a thirty to forty mile radius of home. One Sunday, dinner on the grounds, I do remember trying to eat a “light bread” (our term for store bought bread) sandwich, only to discover the filling in it was a cold boiled chitterling.
Pa's Early Days
Upon getting grown, Pa cut down virgin pine trees with an axe, squared them, and skidded them to Leaf River. Before the spring fresh, which was more rain than usual, and the river would be up. The timbers, which measured 18 inches to 24 inches square, and 24 feet to 50 feet long, were fixed into a raft. Several rafts would be tied together. At the proper time, Pa and anyone he could get to help, would cut loose to go to market at Moss Point. The trip lasted several months. It required a man on the front raft with a pole, and a man on the last raft with a pole. On the rafts would be one oxen, a two-wheeled cart, feed for the ox, food and provisions for the two men. At night they camped on sandbars along the river. Moss Point was a market place for timber.
After selling the timber, Pa would go to Mobile to buy provisions – salt, cloth, thread, medicines, etc., and a sheet of iron. The iron was four feet by four feet by one-fourth inch. It would be placed on the floor of the cart, and the other things placed on it. Pa and his helper would walk home along beside the ox cart. The trail came through north of Lucedale, and the crossing of the Chickasashay River was several miles north of Merrill. A tavern and camp ground were on the west side of the river.
I asked Pa what the iron was for. He said that it could be cut in his blacksmith shop to patch plow points, make nails, or pegs, gate hinges, wagon wheel tires, and whatever else was needed. Pa could forge weld in his shop.
Pa built his first house out of logs with a clay and stick chimney. When mills got closer, he obtained lumber and built a double-pen house. (It was profitable around the turn of the century for saw mills to make partial payment for timber with lumber – therefore many large frame houses were built during this era.) The house had porches on two sides, a hall or “dog trot” down the center, and a separate kitchen out back. Years later, when more fire resistant roofing was available, he joined the kitchen to the house. A team of oxen pulled the kitchen close to the house, then a chain was run under the house with the oxen hitched out front, and moved the kitchen within three feet of the house, before a loud “whoa” was heard. Pa elected to build a connecting porch and roof, rather than try one more lunge of the oxen against their yokes and crash the kitchen into the house. Carbide gas lights were installed, probably in the 1920’s. Edgar Rogers and Ad Mercer traveled about selling carbide plants.
Farming was done for existence and/or survival. The Virgin forest was cleared away and burned to make way for fields to grow crops. Not much cotton was planted in earlier times because there was little need for it, and no cotton gin for miles, and no local markets. Corn was the primary crop grown. Yield was low, ten to fifteen bushels per acre. Using fertilizer was unheard of prior to 1900, for field crops. Animal manure was used in garden crops, and there was some effort to collect ashes from burned pine cones and brush heaps to use for fertilizer.
Pa had the first load of Guano shipped in to Collins to fertilize his crops. Guano was seafowl manure, sacked up and shipped from South America. It had a “foul” odor, but it made plants grow.
Daddy told me that when he was a little boy, Pa rode his horse to town and Fred Kelly and Wash Temple, his oxen drivers, had his long wagon loaded at the Depot with Guano. As they headed home, Pa gave the drivers instructions as to how they should get over the old, weak, bridge over Okatoma Creek, which flowed on the east side of Collins. They were to unhook the oxen, move them forward across the bridge, then hook a long chain to the wagon and snake it across. This would distribute the weight of the team and loaded wagon and not be so heavy in one place. After Fred and Wash got to the bridge, they decided to chance it and not separate the team from the wagon. When they reached the span over the stream, the bridge fell in, settling just above the water. The portion of the bridge under the oxen was slanted upward on the river bank. The oxen held their footing, except for the lead-off ox (right front), who fell over the edge of the bridge, hanging only by his twisted neck in the yoke. Pa heard the noise and ran full speed to the disaster. He used his pocket knife to cut the peg holding the bow in the yoke, and somehow slipped the bow out, releasing the ox. The ox fell to the river bank, and got up unhurt. Many men from town came to see what happened. The fertilizer stayed on the wagon. It was carried up the bank of the river a sack at a time, until the wagon was unloaded. The team then pulled the wagon out. It was reloaded and taken home.
Imported fertilizer was proven to be profitable in the area from this time on. Pa was also concerned about erosion – rains washing away fields. Fields were cultivated up and down hills, the custom being to let each row take care of itself in running off the water.
After a heavy rain in the early 1900’s, Pa walked over to visit his parents. At the low end of their field, he saw where a field-hand had left a plow in the ground at the end of a row when the rain had started. A vine thicket was below the plow. The rain had eroded enough soil down the slope to bury the plow, leaving only the tips of the plow handles showing. This concerned Pa. It seemed senseless to him to go to all the trouble of clearing land and then wash it off. Sometime later he read about terracing land in a magazine advertisement. He ordered a land level instrument from the advertisement. My memory tells me that it was a Bostrum Brady instrument, from Atlanta, Georgia, and cost $35. He “figured out” how to use it. His method was to start in the center of a field – just down the hill from where the erosion started, then progress each direction giving the line of decent one inch fall per 100 feet to let the water run off gently. By running the water from the center to each end of the field, it had only half the distance to travel, thus less washing. These terraces still stand today.
It is interesting to note that terraces were not accepted by the community at the time. Many came to see them, and many negative comments were made, even to the extent of almost “turning him out of the church” on the grounds that it was a sin to make those piles of dirt in a field and ruin its looks. One should let every row take care of itself, like God intended when he made the hills! Pa figured God didn’t cut the trees and plow the ground.
Another point of interest, oxen were worked single or double. Mules became of common use as work animals and were worked single or double. Horses were not worked in pairs, only single. The thinking was that horses plowing double would get to fighting and bite each other. Pa started working horses double out of necessity, and had no trouble, except from opinionated neighbors, who criticized the practice. Pa figured that if you worked horses long and hard, they would be too tired to fight, and he proved his point.
Pa continued to improve his crops and animals by selecting seed and improved breeding practices. His mother-in-law, Granny Nellie Reddoch, passed on a story about being at Pa’s when a jackass colt was born. When Pa found it, the jenny had just foaled it and lay on it, mashing the breath out of it. Pa massaged it back to life and got it up and going. At breakfast that morning, he told that his “ass was as flat as his hand.” When the jack matured, he was entered in the state fair at Jackson and won First Prize. He was then sold to the Penitentiary at Parchman.
In the early days, hog cholera came through, killing all the hogs in the country. Pa said that he was in trouble. Several weeks passed after all the hogs were gone. Pa was down in his corn field looking at this crop and passed by a corn crib that was used to store corn. He heard a noise. Looking around, he saw a sow under the crib. She made her way out. She had survived the cholera, but had lost all her hair. Pa drove her home, penned her, and in a few weeks, she gave birth to 13 pigs. This put him back in the hog business.
Before the 1934 Ford car, I remember that Pa had a Briscoe car. It was a large four door enclosed car, possibly a 1928 to 1930 model. It was comparable to Buick cars of the day.
Auntie Bib (Aunt Vivian Spell), usually drove the car. Coming home from Salem Church, she would scare the “daylights” out of me. She had to slow up crossing Rogers Creek bridge, then she would “gun” it to try to make it to the top of Wilson Bryant hill in high gear. Almost to the top, the car would stall and go dead. The car would then run “backards” down the hill, with her steering it from one side of the narrow dirt and gravel road to the other, all the time gaining speed up to and exceeding “the speed of sound” was too much of an impression on a preschooler, especially with Mother, Daddy, Olene, Ma, and Pa all giving her instructions on which way to turn next! The car would stop just short of the bridge. Pa and Daddy would get out, crank the car with a hand crank and then we would go up the hill in a slow grind in low gear. When I get to Heaven, I’m going to ask Auntie Bib why she didn’t put that damn thing in low gear to start with!
Pa was always known as being a good provider. He always had what was needed or could arrange to get it. He was known to dig wells at schools and churches. He shared his seed with his neighbors. Uncle Edwin told me that many times, Pa would lend out a fresh cow with a baby calf, to supply a family with milk, especially if they had a new baby and were in need. Pa also pulled teeth as the need arose.
Farm animals and other food stuffs were always in seeming abundance – pigs, cows (*Red Devon were Pa’s favorite), sheep, goals, chickens, guineas, geese, pigeons for eggs, bantams, highland rice, oats, corn, potatoes, garden vegetables, pumpkins, cane for syrup, muscadine arbor, scuppernong arbor, huckleberry patch, apple, pear, peach, mulberry, pecan, and black walnut trees, an herb patch in a corner of the garden, and flowers and flowering shrubs.
Around the turn of the century, sawmills at Ora, Collins, and Kola cut the timber in the area. Dummy Line railroads were used to haul the Virgin Pine trees to the mills. The mills were owned by northern firms. Col. Wood is the only name of a sawmill owner that I remember Pa mentioning.
After the mills “cut out”, the owners returned to their headquarters up north. The mill hands who had worked for fifteen cents per day plus commissary privileges were left unemployed. These workmen and their families had no where to go. Many drifted out to Pa’s farm and stayed until they could find somewhere to go. Pa said that sheds were added to field cribs and farm buildings, just to have a shelter over their heads. Pa did his best to feed them. They helped out with the farm work. Pa said that at one time, he had 28 plows going in the field behind the barn. On hog killing days in the winter, as many as 12 hogs were processed a day. He did not know how many people he and Ma had helped to keep from starvation during these years of readjustment. There were many people around who were living on dirt floors, with a roof, and sometimes only two or three walls.
A much talked about event happened in the 1910s. Daddy was very young at the time. Pa had a large barn, full of feed, cows, horses, mules, buggies, a surrey, wagons, and things usually stored in a barn. On a quiet night one spring, the barn burned. Pa rushed out and used a blanket to cover their heads, and got some of the mules and horses out, but most of them burned to death. People for miles around heard the bellowing of the animals as they perished. Mr. Tom Wade and his boys came to see about it while it was happening. They lived about four miles away. Pa suffered a burn on the top of his head as some burning hay fell from the loft on his black hair. The next morning at late breakfast, with all the family sitting around the table, Pa’s first cousin, “B” Speed, walked in the kitchen, stood beside Pa’s chair, put a hand full of gold coins on the table, and turned and left without saying a word. Tom Wade sent mules and plow tools that he could spare. Within a few weeks, Pa’s hair turned white.
Land with trees standing, had extra tax until a tax reform in the 1930’s. People who had timber land would cut the last tree, so they wouldn’t have to pay advalorem taxes. Pa kept about ten acres of Virgin pines across from his house. He would cut one as he needed lumber, and to give to those who needed it, especially for well curbing. He also gave some churches foundation timbers. As a child, I remember a sawmill man from Monticello spending two days with Pa, trying to buy one tree to make a boom pole for his mill. Pa finally told him to pick out a tree and set his price. The man paid $75, which was a lots at that time. Wages were only $1 per day then. When the man got to Collins with the log, he stopped in the middle of the street for people to see it – it was so big.
Pa must have been the one of whom the Psalmist was speaking when he said,”… and he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season,” and the Proverb which says, “Honor the Lord with they substance, and with the first fruits of all shine increase; so shall they barns be filled with plenty.”
Memories of Edna E. Spell Crawford
Grand-daughter of Patrick Pulaski Spell
My childhood memories are countless – so I shall relate only a few. My younger years were during the “Big Depression” of the “30’s. We were poor but we were not aware of it at the time. We raised most of our own food and made most of our clothes, but we never went hungry nor cold. We girls hoed the garden right beside Daddy and Grandpa – there were no boys to do it. And the first row or two fo that garden were always Mother’s, for her flowers. We could tend the chickens, pigs, cows and goats – and there was nothing better for those Fourth of July dinners than barbequed goat. We plowed the gardens with the old mule, picked and canned the figs, climbed the apple and peach trees, and carried water from the wells – and we had better not let that water bucket go dry! Much of the time we had more fruits and vegetables than we needed, and Grandpa would peddle them all over the community. Everybody knew “Mr. Spell” and loved him, especially the children – he always had some funny stories to tell them.
I don’t know when Grandpa “Pad” came to live with us – he was always there when I was little. It was fun walking with him to church when Daddy was working, because neither he nor Mother could drive. When it was too cold for us to walk, Grandpa went on to church anyway. Mother had been raised in the Methodist church but there was none in the area then, so we went to a little Baptist church, and most all the children and grand-children still go to church somewhere, most very active.
Most all of us were musically inclined in some way, too, like Grandpa’s daddy, “Bill” was. We sang in church and at most any kind of get-togethers. The song Doris and I sang the most often was “The Great Speckled Bird” – that was Daddy’s favorite. As the younger girls came along we sang together with Mae Alice playing the piano. We learned to play on an old upright piano. We loved for Grandpa to sing along with us. He sang all the old tunes that Aunt Joan Spell and others had loved and sung. My favorite tune of his was “Dem Golden Slippers”. The words to the chorus is all I remember for sure.
Grandpa moved back to Mississippi about 1950, living with Uncle Ledrew’s family a while, with Aunt Eva and Uncle E. B. Some, then went to live with Aunt Effie and Uncle Burly until his death on February 1, 1965, at the age of 93.
We kids never knew Grandma “Mollie”, as she was called, since she had died in 1918 at the age 38, when Daddy was just 17, but a picture I have of her shows her to be a pretty lady. I remember only one story that Daddy told of her. When he was a teen-ager he had been out one evening and was after dark walking home through the woods. Just as he had about decided that he was lost, he heard singing. He recognized it as his mother’s voice. She was sitting on the porch singing and rocking one of the babies to sleep. He said he never figured out, though, how he could have heard her voice and followed it home, because it turned out that he was a mile or more away from home. That is one you don’t explain, but WE knew how it happened!
Grandpa never remarried. He and Grandma Mollie are buried at Union Baptist Church cemetery in Collins, Mississippi.
Daddy and his brother, Bethea, or B. T. – called him Uncle Thay – were the only spells to get to Louisiana. Daddy had quit school when his mother died to help support the family. Then after he left home he would work a while and then go home to spend time with the family. He always told us that he had been in all the states in the country except four, and in four foreign countries. He came through Louisiana in the fall of 1927 on his way home to Mississippi. He stopped at the brand-new Brown Paper Mill in West Monroe with plans to make extra money for the family’s Christmas. He met Mittie Edna Roberts when he started going to country “singin’s” and parties with some of her brothers who worked at the mill. Needless to say, he didn’t make it home that Christmas, but he did send the family his money for the holidays. He and Mother were married July 26, 1928 and I was born in March, 1930.
But Daddy did get back to Mississippi a lot. We would take Grandpa and visit the folks and we loved it. We ran and played through the open halls at the old home place and listened to Uncle Tom’s funny stories. We ran up and down the hills behind Aunt Kate’s house, played the old pump organ and Aunt Mahalie’s, visited Uncle Mart and went “uptown” to visit Aunt Joan. It was interesting, too, going through the old cemetery. But we always had to come back home to Louisiana.
In December, 1935, Daddy had bought 17 acres of land a little west of West Monroe, beyond the line where the waters of the Ouachita River came during the Mississippi River floods of 1927 and 1932, before the levees were built along the Ouachita between Monroe and West Monroe. He paid $320 for the 17 acres and had a road cut out to it, which the city named Spell Street. This is where he built the first home that I remember – a little “shotgun” house. We lived there until 1954. By this time he had timber cut from the back of the place and we built a new, much larger house next to the little one. It wasn’t a mansion, but it had closets in every room, built-in kitchen cabinets and sing, indoor bathroom with tub and shower, automatic washing machine and clothes dryer and gas furnaces. Mother couldn’t have been happier! I never moved with them into this house, though. I had decided to get married, and the family moved into the “big house” while my husband and I were on our honeymoon and he and I moved into the little house when we returned. We lived there until the birth of our first child in 1955.
Daddy, who was always called “Bill”, had always sung in church and often led the singing. In the 1950’s and 1960’s he began teaching music like his grandfather Bill had done. For some years he had a children’s choir, called the Bill Spell Junior Choir, that traveled around the state singing, and went to Mississippi and Texas a few times. And Mother always toured with them. Although Daddy couldn’t play the piano himself, he knew how and could teach the kids, a number of whom have gone on to play the piano and organ for their churches. One of his students left the choir at the age of 10 for Fort Worth, Texas, after signing a recording contract with the Franz Schubert Music Company.
About Mother – She was a little woman – stood only 4′ 11″ – but she was the greatest, “…for her price is far above rubies”. She got to where she could keep up with Daddy and his joking, which he was always doing. I remember he was always telling everyone that “his ancestors came over on the Mayflower”. She finally told him, “Well, it was my ancestors that helped you land your boat”. We were told that Mother was part American Indian but we never knew of what tribe. She didn’t talk much about herself and we were young and didn’t think to ask. Aunt Effie says it’s Cherokee, from Alabama, but we aren’t really certain. Mother was born and raised in the Jonesboro/Glenmora/Pakton area of Louisiana and knew the Long families – Huey P. And Earl’s – and the Richard W. Leche family – all former governors of Louisiana.
There’s one story of Mother’s I shall always remember. She loved children, and most of her work in the church besides Women’s Missionary Union was with the nursery and the beginners classes. All the children that she taught called her Grandma. The last church that they attended was very small. One Sunday morning only one little boy had showed up for Sunday School and it was getting late. She straightened in one the room and did little things for a while, waiting for others to come, as the little fellow played quietly. After a time she felt him pulling on her dress and he asked, “Grandma, aren’t you going to teach me?” She said never again would she ever neglect “just one”. If “Mothers are Angels in Training” as is said, then she was graduated at the top of her class.
Mother and Daddy both died in 1981 and are buried at Roselawn Memorial Gardens, just off Interstate-20, in Calhoun, Louisiana.
With love to all, Edna F. Spell Crawford
With love to all, Edna F. Spell Crawford
Uncle Tom: A Memory by Emily Burge
Grand-daughter of Fannye Spell Thaxton
On July 4, 1950, my brother, my boyfriend and I came to Mississippi to visit mother’s Uncle Tom. Mother had told us that her Uncle Thomas Taylor Spell was one of the smartest men she ever knew.
Dressed in his overalls, he just looked like a farmer to us; a bit eccentric in his speech, but a farmer, still.
We, along with a duck and her ducklings, followed him around the morning of the 4th and listened as he softly celebrated the day. We could hardly credit our ears when, from memory, he recited Patrick Henry’s March 23rd, 1775 famous speech to the Virginia Convention, the entire Declaration of Independence and what sounded like The Constitution of the United States from “We the People” through the Ten Original Amendments we call the Bill of Rights!
Mother was certainly right about this man’s intelligence. Uncle Tom was, and still is, 10 feet tall in our estimation.
The boyfriend and I have been married 53 years and every Independence Day in over half a century we have celebrated the 4th by declaiming Patrick Henry’s famous words and reading the Declaration and the beginning of the our beloved Constitution aloud. Unlike Uncle Tom, we have never learned to do it from memory. Thankfully, the words are easily accessible from any almanac. Our children are scattered, but on the 4th each of their families parties and each has followed the tradition begun for us by Uncle Tom.
Now, we invite the oldest members of our church to join us for lunch that day, and after we take turns reading, they share what it was like in their childhoods. It is more fun than fireworks.
Every year, in ever-widening circles, more of us thank Uncle Tom.
By: Emily Tyler Burge, eldest daughter of Martha Merle Thaxton, middle daughter of the fanciful self-named Fannyelou Maybelle Spell, youngest daughter of William Frederick and Keziah Catherine Spell.
Uncle Tom: A Memory by Emily Burge
Son of Patrick Pulaski Spell
By his daughter – Cathey Spell Robinson
Written on June 9, 2003
By his daughter – Cathey Spell Robinson
Written on June 9, 2003
My dad was approximately 16 years of age when he left his home in Collins, MS. To make his own way in life. I can only guess that he was approximately 11 years of age when his mom died. He helped to take care of the other children until he left. I know he always talked about Aunt Kate Vaughn helping him with the younger children.
When my dad left his home in Collins he traveled to South America by boat. He stayed and worked there approximately to to four years. He came back by boat to the mouth of the Mississippi River. He then traveled up the Mississippi to the Kakotas and Montana where he worked on the first oil field lines to be laid in that country. He worked there from four to five years before traveling back down the Mississippi. He got really sick on the boat and the Captain put him off at Tallulah, LA to be taken care of. The Doyle Rogers family took him in. He got over his sickness and stayed with them and sharecropped there on their farm. He later moved to Crowville-Delhi area and sharecropped with the Crawford Poland family for a year or tow. He left there and sharecropped with the Lawrence Wright family. Aunt Effie came and lived with him a short time while he was sharecropping with the Wright family. He and my mother met while he was working there.
Approximately three years later he and my mother were married. This was in December of 1930. They moved South of Croville and lived with my mother’s sister and husband, Lula and Claude Gordy. Two years after they married they moved to the same location where my mom still lives. Her mother had given them the house and 40 acres of land to use and farm. She also gave them a mule, cow and calf and a Ford car.
My dad was a charter member for the Turkey Bluff Baptist Church, was a Masonic and a Woodman of the World member. He and Representative Iva Hair went to Baton Rouge to meet with the Department of Highway to have the ferry crossing the Bayou Macon River replaced with a bridge. He was also a charter member of the Rural Electric for our area. He traveled door to door taking $5.00 membership fees in order to have the numbers high enough for their area to pass and be able to get electricity.
In the 1930’s most all families road the woods by horseback roping and gathering cattle and wild hogs. All of this area was open range. If the cattle were not branded then they belonged to them. Most all of these wild hogs, he moved to his home and kept them on the river bank to roam the river hill behind a fence. In 1929 these wild hogs spooked my dad’s horse and he was thrown. He suffered a broken leg. The neighbor’s boys heard him and rushed to him. Since they were to young to drive, they each held his leg and he drove to the doctor. They had to cross the ferry and drive to Winnsboro approximately 20 miles away. Dr. Hollis Rogers wanted to amputate his leg, but he would not let him. For the rest of his years he walked with a limp, but he kept his leg. This was the same year that his son, Edward Bethea was born.
Between the period of time when he got off the boat at Tallulah, and 1939, he and Uncle Bill had seen each other. Uncle Bill had left home prior to my dad leaving home and I do not know how many years had lapsed before they actually met again. About four years after he and my mom married, approx. 1934, they went back to Mississippi to visit his family. His family didn’t even recognize him.
There are many tales I could tell about my dad but they are too numerous to share at this time. I do know that he was a kind, loving, and wonderful person.
Memories of Gene L. Vaughn
Fall 2011, From a World War II Turret Gunner to the Lilburn First Baptist Church Senior Choir
“My name is Gene L. Vaughn. I was born June 4, 1924 in Collins, Mississippi, Covington County. I am the next youngest of six sons. All six served overseas in World War II. All six served and returned home, but not without the following casualties. My older brother Garland was a prisoner of war in Germany for approximately one year; when he was rescued he weighed ninety-seven pounds. My oldest brother Howard was injured in one leg. Our mother Katie Vaughn was recognized as a Six Star Mother.
Military service of six Vaughn brothers:
I graduated from Salem High School in 1943. My older brother, Aubrey was a pilot in the Army Air Corps; therefore, it was my desire to become a pilot. At that time, the Air Corps offered training for aviation cadets. I took the test and was inducted into the Air Corps, February 9, 1944.
In March, 1944, I began active duty at Keesler Field, MS. During my training at Kessler Field, we were informed that the Air Corps no longer needed pilots, but needed gunners. My entire class was diverted from pilot training to various gunnery schools. Due to my small stature, I was assigned to gunnery school at Kingman Field, AZ. While at Kingman Field, some of my gunnery experiences were made flying over targets at Yucca Flats. We fired at targets along the training route. We flew so low that the propellers of the B-17 plane blew up dust and sand from the desert. We could also fire at jack rabbits on the desert floor. (Gunnery School at Kingman Field lasted twelve weeks.)
After gunnery school was completed, we were assigned to a crew. Our crew was transferred to McDill Field, Tampa, Florida for further crew training prior to going overseas.
After our training was completed, we flew to England in a B-17 by way of Grenier Field, NJ, Iceland, Greenland and then to England.
The Sperry Ball Turret is located underneath the bottom of the plane. The turret operated at 360° azimuth and 180 degrees in elevation. The ball turret is designed to be dropped from the plane in an emergency landing. The sighting system in the ball turret consisted of a K-4 computing sight. It had two 50 caliber machine guns and held 1175 rounds of 50 caliber shells. Gunners were taught to limit their rounds per burst in order to eliminate overheating their machine gun barrels. I filed claim for hitting enemy air craft, but was not credited any hits. The reason being in a squadron of thirty-six air craft with ten guns per craft, it was hard to single out which air craft hit the target. Cameras were installed on each gun. The decision was made from pictures taken during flight. A review panel made the decision after each mission.
The gunner wore a heated jacket under a fleece lined leather jacket. On occasions, the electrical system would go out, and you were left with only heat from leather jacket and underclothing. We wore an oxygen mask all the time the plane was airborne. We used a small oxygen tank to move about in the plane. At times there would be icicles on my eyelashes due to severe cold temperature. One of the ball gunner’s duties was to pull the arming pins from bombs that were dropped. This was to be done after the plane became airborne over England. Normally after the fire pins have been removed, the gunner gets into the ball turret. You do not get into the turret on take-off or landing. When bombs were dropped, the ball turret gunner would follow the paths of the bombs all the way down to the target and see them explode. All the while, on the look out for enemy aircraft. Our targets included demolition depots, marshaling yards, gun emplacements, air fields, submarine berths, etc.
The average life expectancy of a bomber crew was fifteen missions. I flew twenty-three missions with our pilot, Jack Wintersteen. I flew two more missions with another crew for a total of twenty-five missions. There were not enough bombardiers or navigators for every plane; therefore, a navigator and bombardier flew in the lead plane. A targetier (gunner) was used to drop the bombs following the lead plane.
The Germans used two types of anti aircraft formations. One was the box type which was fixed in a box type pattern. The other was a tracking formation, the tracking formation was observing were the anti aircraft bursts exploded in relation to our plane. In order for a B-17 to hit its target in enemy territory, it was necessary for the bomber to fly directly over the target. Very little evasive action could be taken as the bomber must fly through the box type formation to drop their bombs. On most missions we flew, it was not unusual to see several B-17’s hit with anti aircraft or enemy fighter planes, we could see crew members bailing out in colored parachutes. The common term for this was “hit the silk”. Our missions were flown at an altitude approximately five miles. Some of our missions lasted eleven hours. Our restroom accommodations included a petcock and portable potties. Our meals consisted of K-rations and candy bars. One of the saddest things upon returning from a mission was to find the next door crew members missing. Our crew was assigned to the 602nd Squadron 398th Bomb Group, located near North Hampstead, England. We lived in Nissan huts scattered at various locations in wheat fields. The huts were scattered part to eliminate the Germans from destroying the entire Squadron in one attack. The mess hall was located about one half mile from our hut. Being born and raised on a farm, the wheat stacks made me feel at home. While in England, our crew attended Cambridge University on Ditching a Plane at Sea.
My first mission was made into the heart of Germany. Our group was shot at by German anti aircraft on our way to the assigned target. Once over the target area, the German Luftwaffe attacked our bomber formation. After the completion of the bomb runs we started on our return routes back to England. As we were crossing the Siegfried line, a fortification on the border of Germany and France, the German anti aircraft started firing again. This time our plane was hit with flak and the shrapnel knocked out two engines. I was able to follow the anti aircraft burst at great distance way up until the time a burst hit our plane. In the ball turret, I was surrounded by a plexi-glass window in front and steel plates on each side and also the back door. As the burst came closer, I turned to the back of the turret to face the oncoming bursts. The hydraulic system in my turret was knocked out; therefore, the only way out was by manual control. I could not wear my parachute while in the ball turret. The parachute was stored in the fuselage of the plane. We were ordered to prepare for bail our. I had to crank the turret into the stow position. I exited from the turret into the fuselage, put on my chute and prepared for bail out. With two engines running, our pilot Jack Wintersteen came over the intercom saying ‘we are not going to bail out, we are going to set this baby down.’ We landed in an abandoned field near Verdum, France. Upon landing, inspection revealed the plane was hit by thirteen pieces of shrapnel. One piece of shrapnel three inches long, went through the top turret and hit the top turret gunner, Don W. Jillie. The shrapnel penetrated his helmet and lodged in his head. We were rescued by American and French soldiers. Jillie was taken to a hospital in England. As a result of the injury, one half of his body was permanently paralyzed. The reminder of our crew was carried to the nearest landing strip in France. From there we were flown back to England in a C-47 Transport. Upon our arrival at the air base, we were briefed about our missions. Our turret gunner was replaced. The story was told that on the day we were hit, German women were operating the anti aircraft guns. Supposedly, they were more accurate than German men.
Two of my missions were flown over targets in France. They were Fort Royale on the coast line of France. On this day, we were dropping bombs on Fort Royale, and the American warships were bombarding from the sea. I could see red flames coming from the cannon barrels as they were fired. After we completed a certain number of missions, we were issued a leave pass to see the sights of London, all doors and windows were completely blacked out at night. We had a wonderful meal of fish and chips (French fries) and visited the Piccadilly Circus.
Upon completion of twenty-five missions, we returned to the United States, I was transferred to Stuttgart, AR for training as a gunner on A-26 attack bomber. The A-26 was manned with a central fire control system. One gunner operated all guns on the plane. Total crew for the A-26 was the pilot, copilot and gunner. Upon completion of training at Stuttgart, our crew was scheduled for duty in the South Pacific. One day there was a notice posted on the bulletin board recruiting football players for the Barksdale Field Sky Raiders. Three of my fellow service men and myself decided to sign up for try-outs. We were accepted and transferred to Barksdale Field, Shreveport, LA. I played the entire season with the Sky Raiders. On one occasion, we flew to Selma Field, AL and played against Charlie Trippi. After the football season was over, I was sent to San Antonio, TX Army Air Force Distribution Center for my discharge under the point system. From there I returned to my home in Mississippi. My citations included the following: American Theater Ribbon, E.A.M.E., W/3 Battle Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Air Medal W/2 Bronze Clusters, Victory Medal.
After military service, I attended Mississippi State College in Starkville, MS under the G.I. Bill of Rights. I majored in Engineering. As a result of my previous military service, I qualified for advanced R.O.T.C. I completed two years of R.O.T.C. and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. I served six months on active duty at Lowery Field in Denver, CO. Upon graduation from college, I went to work for Plantation Pipe Line Company where I worked for the next forty years. My duties included, engineer, right of way engineer, constructions supt., supervising engineer, etc. I retired as a supervising engineer of civil and mechanical engineering sections in the Atlanta office. After retirement, I performed additional temporary work under contract with my company.
I was ordained as a deacon on January 4, 1959 at First Baptist church, Bremen, Georgia. I am now 87 years old. I previously served on the board of deacons at Lilburn Baptist Church. Over the years and in various churches, I have served as youth Sunday School teacher, young adult Sunday School teacher, young married couples Sunday School teacher, senior men adult Sunday School teacher, Sunday School superintendent, minister to shut ins, visitation programs, building committees, interim pastor search committee, etc. In addition, I also sing in the Lilburn First Baptist Church Senior Adult Choir (Lilburn, Georgia).
My wife Faye and I have been married for 62 years. We have two adult children. In conclusion, I know that God has truly blessed my life. I know that He has a purpose for my life. God spared my life as a ball turret gunner and numerous times in my civilian life. I will strive to continue to serve Him for the remainder of my life.”