Pilgrammage to Campbell Mountain

by Kim on March 26, 2010

My Mother told some stories that were just a bit difficult to believe. Now, I’m not saying that she was fibbing or anything. They are, certainly, her stories and her history. I’m just saying that they seemed a bit far-fetched. Several years before my mother died, my sisters and I persuaded our mother to travel with us to Tennessee. We wanted to hear the stories that she told in the environment that she grew up in. We wanted her to point out where her houses used to be, where her father’s schoolhouse was located, and mostly we wanted to re-live her childhood years with her. What an adventure for us all.

The Creek

The House by the Creek

We had always heard about the creek that ran behind my mother’s house when she was growing up. We knew my Mom was terrified of  bodies of  water. She reasoned to us that when she was 4-5 years old, the creek behind her house flooded.   Her Dad couldn’t swim and her brothers Warren and Bill had to break the pigs out of their pen.   The next morning, the water ran very swift between their house and their neighbor Nan’s.   Warren swam across the swift water, got Nan’s horse, and rode everyone across to eat. It was necessary to get to Nan’s house since she fed the family after my Mom’s mother took off with another man and robbed a train (See: Living on the Edge ). They would have a big breakfast at Nan’s and then she would pack their lunches — sandwich of cold biscuit and cold meat or pinto beans and cornbread.

When we traveled to the site of this infamous story with my mother, my 3 sisters and I could see where her house had stood and couldn’t see a creek or river of any sort. We questioned our mother about her version of the story and perhaps the creek was only a few inches deep (but probably seemed deep to a 4 year old), it started to rain. The rain  flashed off the mountain and filled the ditch behind the homestead in a hurry. Perhaps there was merit to her story after all.

Rufus

The SchoolHouse

While we were standing there at her old home site, she pointed up the road where the one-room schoolhouse used to be where her father taught (See: Campbell Mountain). It was a gravel road and the road was named “Campbell Road” after her father in honor of  his years of teaching at this school. My mother started relaying the story about going to school with her father when she was four years old. There wasn’t any childcare at her home since her mother moved out. The desks in the schoolhouse were 2-person desks but she had her own desk and her own schoolwork to do. That is, unless one of the older students misbehaved. In that case, the misbehaving student was moved to the empty seat at my mother’s desk. Rufus, it seemed, occupied her desk as often as he did his own. And when Rufus was at my mother’s desk, he tormented her relentlessly. My mother got in trouble then for the commotion that was caused.

She told us this story and she was getting intense in the re-telling. Her arms were flailing as she was standing on the side of the road with us. And as she spoke, an old model Ford – perhaps a 1955 – drove slowly down the mountain on the stone road. This car slowed down and peered cautiously at this group of women  – my sisters, Mom, and I – by the side of the road. He said, “Mary?”. My mother remarked back, “Rufus?”. We couldn’t believe that Rufus, the tormentor was there in person. It must have been a set-up, we thought. Again, she proved that this story indeed was historically correct.

Wearing Bibbed Overalls

Mary Jean in a Skirt

My mother was the youngest child in her family, with 4 older brothers. During the Depression, she told the story about never having a dress to wear. Instead, she wore hand-me-down bibbed overalls from her 4 older brothers. According to her tales, she was 13 before she owned a dress. The week that mother died, her older brother came to spend some time with her and with us. As my mother slept, I asked my Uncle about this particular story. He said that it wasn’t the same memory that he had. My mother had twin cousins who were 2 years older than she was and they had some money in their family. They donated their dresses to my mother throughout her childhood. He said that my mother was a tomboy and that she refused to wear the dresses that were given to her. I later found a photo of my mother when she was 8 years old. And she was wearing a dress and leggings.

As Frank Delaney says in Tipperary “Memory is a canvas – stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the ’story’ part of the word ‘history,’ and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons, and bows. We always decorate our essence.” My Mom was entitled to the ‘story’ part her family ‘history’.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

valentinoswife April 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I absolutely love your stories! You have been awarded the ANCESTOR APPROVED AWARD – stop by at Amore e Sapore di Famiglia to accept!
Bonnie(valentinoswife)

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jo April 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Your stories are fascinating.

I like the bib overall one too. I hated them as I got older, but they had their merits. Especially to the one who had to do laundry.

Reply

Tim Campbell January 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I enjoy your stories. I am from the Texas branch of your Fentress County Campbells. We made the pilgrimmage to the mountain a few years back. Tim Campbell

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