Directly underneath the front bedroom was a garage dug into the dirt of the hillside, just big enough for one vehicle, with double doors that could be locked. A shelf was dug into the walls on the three sides with additional shelving above on pegs driven into the red clay dirt walls. My grandfather used this space more as workshop than as garage, and the lockable doors permitted him to use it for storage for his many tools. I don’t know whether Grandpapa himself dug this space underneath the house or whether it was there when the family moved in.
Initially they must have rented. I have seen documents relating to purchasing the property with a date of 1920. Immediately to the north of the property was a house where lived one of Dave Turberville’s brothers. Which one? Memory fails, if it ever knew. I remember the house, and I remember that poor people lived there when I was a child, and if I can recall them as poor they really must have been poor. Not that the Turbervilles or the Mays were rich, but we didn’t have holes in our floors and we had a lot of food on the tables and wore clean clothes.
The only occupation I can recall for my grandfather is that of well-driller. After his move to Greensboro initially he dug wells. He must have had other work as well, perhaps as a carpenter or builder of houses. He built the older part of the house in which I presently live in Sawyerville and the store and post office on the west edge of the property. He also must have known something about moving houses, for when the main highway was relocated a block south of its old route by the railroad, he placed our house on rollers to move it further back from the new highway. He dug the well in our back yard, right behind the house, and I have memories of the old hand-operated iron pump we used for drawing water in my earliest years. At some point Grandpapa came into possession of a well-drilling machine, and most of his wells thereafter were drilled instead of dug.
Did he drill the first drilled well we had to replace the old dug well? Or was that done by Uncle Jimmy after his death? I think Grandpapa drilled the first one, and later on Uncle Jimmy drilled it deeper. Grandpapa did, I know, drill a well for his daughter Martha Julia and her husband in a field north of the apartment where they lived that adjoined Uncle Murray’s original store. I can recall going with Grandpapa to drill a well when I was five or six years old. The process seemed fascinating for maybe ten minutes and then got pretty repetitious. But I’m glad I have the mental picture of him at work.
My sense is that my grandfather was a hardworking man with the talent for undertaking almost any kind of work involving tools. Uncles Jimmy and Fletcher both inherited a lot of that, but somehow in my generation it missed me.
He also was, I believe, a hard-drinking man, one who indulged in the occasional binge rather than the routine social drink. Pearl, as I recall “wouldn’t let it in the house.” His drinking would be done out behind the barn or elsewhere. An exception would be made for Christmas eggnog. He was locally famous for his eggnog, no doubt because of the liberal amount of whiskey that he would add. I didn’t like it: too strong for me at the time. I still don’t like eggs in my booze or booze in my eggs, although I love the taste of plain eggnog. And of plain whiskey. Old Mr. Champion (he was probably a lot younger than I am now) who lived up the hill toward town liked his occasional drop as well, and when Grandpapa started beating up those eggs he’d be on the spot waiting. He famously (at least it is famous in my family) remarked, “Mr. Dave, I wish I had a neck as long as a giraffe so I could taste it going down for a long long time!”
Grandpapa smoked. If you were a man you did in those days. All his sons smoked. The binge drinking and the heavy smoking both must have contributed to his death in February, 1950. Liver. Cirrhosis, I believe, and/or cancer. He also suffered from skin cancers. All that work outdoors in the sun. Melanoma, possibly? I don’t know. There were surgeries that I do remember. I also remember his stated belief that his skin cancers were a result of a barber nicking his face using the same unsterilized razor that he had used shaving a distinguished gentleman in town who had skin cancer.
He was a strong man. Wiry, not muscular. I don’t remember him as tall, and that must mean that he was actually short of stature because in those days almost every adult seemed tall to me. But strong, like you got when you worked as hard as he did. Once, and this was probably about 1948, he and his sons Jimmy and Fletcher were fishing down at Lock 6. For some reason Uncle Jimmy was atop the lock wall and Grandpapa was below. Jimmy tripped and fell off the lock, and Grandpapa managed to catch him. If he had not, Jimmy would probably have been killed. Fletcher came to think that the stress of that catch contributed to his father’s death a couple of years later. I’m not so sure. But Fletcher did like to blame his brother for anything he could.
In 1989 historian Wayne Flynt published a book called Poor but Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites. He must have had in mind people just like my grandfather. He was certainly both. I would possibly characterize him as a bantam rooster, but that image has too many connotations of puffing up and showing off, and Grandpapa was not at all like that. His strength was more inward. But he did have a great stubborn streak. Possibly a mean streak.
A case in point: about a month before my mother was to graduate from high school, she misbehaved. She and a couple of boys were caught chewing gum in class, a serious no-no in 1924 or thereabouts. The punishment: they were forced to “walk the campus,” to walk along the sidewalk in front of the schoolhouse as example to others for some specified length of time set by the principal. My grandfather would have none of that. He would not have his daughter disgraced, or his family, or his good name, by having her so publicly penalized. He took her out of school and refused to let her return to graduate. She never got a high school diploma.
This story upset me as a child, and, I must confess, still does. I returned to the story many times during my earlier years, and my mother said that her father believed that if she had been the daughter of a rich citizen of the town this public punishment and humiliation would not have been administered, but since she was the daughter of a poor man it was. He could not deal with that.
Somehow my mother did not seem to blame either her father or the principal. Or if she did, she never let me know it. I do know that in later life she became good friends with that principal and much valued his respect for her.
I am not certain that I ever heard that story during my grandfather’s lifetime. To me he seemed like a quiet and good man. Easygoing. Gentle. And I think he was. Mostly.
I saw a lot of my Turberville grandparents during the 1940s, as did my sister, three years my junior, and Martha Julia’s daughter across the highway from us, a year younger still. Every Sunday the Bryan May family and the Murray Martin family from Sawyerville would drive to Greensboro for Sunday School and church, then down to Grandmama’s house for Sunday dinner. The three daughters (Aunt Louise and Uncle Durwood Robinson lived in Greensboro) would bring things to add to the dinner table, items that would be dropped off on the way to church, but most of the meal was what Grandmama cooked. Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Archie were usually there, and much more rarely Uncle King up from Mobile and Uncle Porter on his infrequent (every second year) trips from California. Fletcher, of course, for he lived with his parents.
And what might be on that table?
Fried chicken, fried catfish, roast beef, cube steak in gravy, pork chops, ham, chicken and dumplings, rice and gravy, venison and fried squirrel or squirrel and dumplings in the fall, black-eyed peas, snap beans, lima beans, English peas, mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing, turnip greens or collard greens, candied yams, sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows, sliced tomatoes, creamed corn, corn on the cob, deviled eggs, cornbread, rolls, biscuits, pickles, relishes, probably a sweet congealed salad (usually served atop a leaf of wilted iceberg lettuce), possibly a tomato aspic (ditto), apple pies, peach pies, Grandmama’s tea cakes, and banana pudding. Not all of this at every meal, but much of it at most.
We’d eat around the big kitchen table and the big dining room table. Dishes of food were placed on the table and would be passed. After dinner (that’s what you call that sort of feast midday on a Sunday, or really any day in the South) all the uneaten foods would be placed on the kitchen table and covered with a cloth, and late in the afternoon the cloth would be removed and you’d eat what you wanted for supper. For we’d stay all day, you see. A great benefit for me was that after dinner I could walk uptown, three blocks north and three blocks east, to the Strand Theater and catch a two o’clock movie. And after supper us kids would go to the Methodist Youth Fellowship and the Martin and May families to evening church service. Then home and to bed.
By today’s standards the house on Demopolis Street was small for a family of nine, but in those days families did live in much more crowded conditions than is now the norm. But there was a good-sized yard, room for a large vegetable garden, the large flower garden that my Grandmama loved, grazing land for a milk cow, a chicken coop, a pig sty, and of course the privy. Lots of outdoor room where the seven children could play when they were growing up.
My sister recently reminded me how Grandpapa would sit on the floor of the front porch that faced the street with his feet on one of the top steps or on the back porch north of the kitchen with his feet resting on the ground. I had not thought of that in years, but instantly the memory returned to me. She recalled that he would sit on a little rug or pad and that after his death Grandmama kept that rug or pad where he would sit. That detail does not come back to me. Memory is highly selective.
The third porch, the one on the south side of the kitchen, was not for visiting. If you sat out there you were probably shelling peas or churning butter or plucking a chicken. That was the work porch. It was a little bit below ground level, and a trench or ditch that ran alongside kept rainwater from running under the house.
In my lifetime, when guests, family or otherwise, arrived, they would park their cars in the large drive to the north of the house and walk up the slight hill to the visiting porch on that side of the house. Why not come up the front way? Well, for one thing, those high stairs you would have to climb. There were at least a dozen wide front steps down to the wide brick walk that west ran straight out toward the street. There was another set of stairs, much more narrow, that ran down at right angles to the front steps in a northerly direction right against the porch. (Both of those stairs were wonderful for Slinkys. Do any of you remember Slinkys? If you don’t, check it out. It’s a fascinating toy.)
On the front porch was a wonderful wood swing, big enough to sit two or three, its back toward the north. Several rocking chairs, of course. What’s a front porch without rocking chairs? I don’t recall Grandmama ever sitting in the swing, perhaps because we kids would appropriate it. She liked a rocker that faced the street, for it gave her great amusement to see the cars passing by. Sometimes she would count them and keep the rest of us apprised of the number. She’d marvel at all those people gadding about and going places.
And of course all those steps provided plenty of sitting space for others.
At the north corner of the front yard close to the driveway was small fishpond. The grandchildren all loved to play around that. We also loved to play on what we thought was a tall bank overlooking Demopolis Street on the west side of the back yard.
All in all, a fun place to be. I have fond memories of that house and yard. And I have fond memories of Pearl and Dave.
DAVE AND PEARL, 1949