First Memories

The following in just as the title says, “Memories.” It will take me where it leads me with no particular organization but I hope will lead to some understanding of who and what I am. I recall my parents having fond and interesting stories of their early experiences and wish I had them in written form to help my recollections of their past. Perhaps this will provide some insight to my children and grandchildren as to what my life has been and who I am.

 

Firm early memories are hard to dig up, but the two earliest I can recall are:

1) Falling and busting my lip on a concrete walk way across from

the farm at Verona, Ky. where I was born,

2) Sitting on my mother’s lap while she read “The Little Train That Could.”

 

The first probably occurred at age two because at about age three we moved to the farm at Crittenden. The second I do not know but I associate it with a fireplace in the house at Crittenden so it must have after 1929.

 

My earliest memory of my father is riding on his foot with his legs crossed. This was a play session of “Riding Horse.” I relate it to him riding a Tennessee walking horse, Applejack, almost daily in making the rounds on the farm. Horses are prevalent in my early memories since there were so many of them. I recall that at one time we had fourteen horses and that may not have included the pony, “Lightning”, that my bother and I had. Today in 2019, it is difficult to imagine that practically all of the motive power to farm 600 acres of Ky. farmland hills came from horses and human energy.

 

I have many early memories of Kurt and Alice, a black couple on the farm at Crittenden. Kurt was blind and did major babysitting duty with me in my early years. I can still hear him say, “Jack, where are you?” while I played under their porch. He was firm in his commands for me to return if I strayed too far from him and would call Alice if I did not answer. Alice had a heart as big as her lap which as I recall was monstrous and soft. She was probably over two hundred pounds. She could put most chefs to shame with her garden vegetables and fried

chicken. Living with them was Dick, a black man that worked the farm. I do not remember him well but I recall a story about him that my father told. Dick and a mountaineer from the other farm at Verona were talking about a wild cat that could be heard at night on the farm. Mr. Brewster said to Dick, “We should go hunting for that cat.” Dick replied that from the sound of it he did not want to get near it. Mr. Brewster replied, “Dick, it won’t hurt you unless it is mad or hungry.” Dick then said, “How do I know whether it is mad or hungry?”

 

Although these early memories are from what is known as “The depression years," I have no recollection of being deprived of anything. I know that my father had difficulty paying for the farm that he bought in 1929 before the bust but farmers had the advantage of having acres of gardens and the bank did not want to foreclose on the mortgage. If anything, we were rich compared to my parent’s friends who worked or did not have work in town. Consequently, visitors to our home were frequent and many. All of my parent’s friends were called “uncle and aunt” whether they were related or not. When they arrived for the weekend, it was an easy matter to kill an extra chicken, get a ham out of the smoke house or pick some more vegetables from the garden. I suspect that the best meals they had were in our home.

 

I often look at our modern housing and marvel at the change that has happened in one lifetime. The heating in our house was completely handled by fireplaces that burned mostly coal and a large “Heatrola," cast iron stove in the front hall. The kitchen was heated by the stove on which we cooked in the winter time. In summer we cooked on a kerosene stove. The room in which I slept had no direct heat at all but with enough blankets and comforters I only recall the chill while getting up and dressing. More memorable is the unheated toilet 20 yards out the back door on cold morning with snow on the ground. Our kitchen had an appliance that was not in most of the neighbors' homes. It was a manual pump that pumped water from a cistern outside by pushing its handle. Our bath room had no commode but it did have a bath tub. It had drain plumbing but no working facets. A bath involved heating water on the kitchen stove and carrying it in a bucket to the bathroom. I remember bathes as being much less deep and certainly less frequent than today. I recall the luxury of going to my grandmother Meneffee’s house and having deep bathes with boats and toys.

 

I have many memories of my grandparents. My grandfather, Bartlett Kniffin Meneffee, was a doctor that had started practice within a few miles of my birthplace. As with most grandparents, he and my grandmother, Emma Claycamp, kept my brother and me well supplied with toys and affection. I particularly recall a large wooden box that my grandfather always brought to the farm on July 4th full of fireworks. There were sparklers, firecrackers, snakes and roman candles in it. He made a ritual of lighting them off in the appropriate order. I do not recall every seeing him without a necktie that contained a stick pin made with the diamonds that were inherited by my father, me and Bart.

 

Grandma was a big woman who gives me fond memories. For her time she was an explorer. I recall her going on a vacation by herself (probably in 33 or 34) to Mexico. She brought me a very large Mexican hat. I also recall going with her to Lunkin airport to take an airplane trip to Chicago. I can still see the Ford tri-motor American Airlines plane take-off. My grandfather died in 1935 and my grandmother maintained their home at 2120 Glenway in Covington until she had stroke about 1942. She lived with us on the farm after that until she died in 1943 at the home of aunt Cecil. I often visited with her during the period 1935-1942. Strong memories of trips to the Zoo, Coney Island and “Over the river” (what Kentuckians called Cincinnati) are still in my mind. The trip to the zoo consisted of three different trolley cars and the Mt. Adams incline with waits at each connection. It was an all day trip with hot dogs, ice cream, and peanuts shared with the monkeys. Suzie, the gorilla, was a must for me as much as elephants were to Katarina. Grandma had a tricycle and a scooter for me when I visited. I loved them because we had no sidewalk in the country upon which to ride. She probably influenced my career choice by giving me a radio kit to be built in about 38. After her stoke, she lived with us on the farm until she died. Unfortunately, she was almost totally disabled during that period and was cared for by Bulla Robertson who lived with us during most of that.

 

I never knew my other grandmother. She died when my father was quite young (six years old). My other grandfather, Robert Owen Hughes, lived no more than fifteen miles from us. He had remarried and his second wife and my father did not get along well. Visits with them were much less frequent than with my mothers' parents. I recall going there on Thanksgiving for the usual turkey dinner. He had a big box of blocks with which I played. I was intrigued by his basket of Indian artifacts that he had picked up on the farm at Richwood.

 

Life on the farm provides many fond memories and probably had major influence on what I am. There were many life lessons to be learned in farming. Plans for the future were imperative, hard work was a daily event and sometimes the outcome of both were unpredictable. One learned at a very early age that there were shores to be done and schedules to maintain. My earliest recollection of shores is churning. Even at preschool age, one could crank a churn for the better part of an hour to make butter. At school age all kids had jobs including feeding animals, getting the cows in the barn for milking and helping in the fields. Children did lawn mowing by manual labor. Sometimes my father would graze sheep on the lawn for both mowing and fertilizer. My father was very generous with my brother and me. At very early ages he would give us calves or lambs to be raised. When they matured, we in turn could sell their calves and lambs and the income was ours. Later in teenage years, he gave us a portion of land to grow tobacco and we could keep whatever income it provided. The last summer before graduating from high school, I made $1000 that went into my college fund. I have not since felt as wealthy as I did at that time.

 

Another black couple that lived on the farm provides many fond memories. Alameda and John Jones came to the farm after Kurt and Alice. Alameda’s brother, Lee Duval, and his two children, Joe and Sissy, also lived with them. They were a remarkable family. Alameda and Lee were very literate and read every book and magazine that was in our house. I am not sure if John could read. Lee wrote poetry and I still remember his opening lines of one of them:

It was the night before Christmas and I gave a to do,

There weren’t very many -- just only a few.

 

John was a very quite man and was partially disabled. I recall that he had a deformed hand and elbow but he worked the fields every day.

Alameda had few teeth but always smiled and was always busy with the cleaning and cooking. Laundry was a weekly affair that involved boiling work clothes outside over an open fire and rinsing with water pumped from the cistern. Irons were heated on the stove and all clothes were “ironed”. Al had two bad habits, smoking a corn cob pipe and drinking. Fortunately, there was not enough money to provide alcohol but tobacco was plentiful. If the visiting friends brought beer for the weekend, Al always got the leftovers.

 

Lee was a very patient man. He worked slowly but hard. I remember him showing me how to hoe a tomato crop that my brother and I raised one summer. He would hoe a fixed number of rows and then insist that we set down and drink lots of water. A lesson that I learned from him was that the first ten rows were the hardest. No matter how big the field, things got better after the first ten rows. It’s “starting” that is the hard part and counts as much as “finishing”.

 

Other than the heating and plumbing characteristics or out home mentioned above, our home at Crittenden was quite comfortable. My memories of it are tainted from a small child’s viewpoint. I remember the rooms of the house as being much larger than they appeared when my mother and I visited them a few years before she passed away in 1988. There were five bedrooms plus a hall on the second floor. The first floor had two living rooms, a bed room, dining room, hall, kitchen and bath. A basement under the whole house provided for storage of fuel and food as well as holding the light plant and batteries for 32 volt electricity. In later years a water pump was installed to avoid pumping and carrying water by hand. None of the water was heated however. Furnishings were a rich mixture of antiques and appliances of the day. Many of the furnishings are still in our home, the homes of our children and the children’s home of my brother. Appliances were crude by today’s standards. I recall crystal sets with earphones before we got a real radio. As I child I was a radio fan of Jack Armstrong, “All American Boy”. Amos and Andy was the evening entertainment along with Lowell Thomas for the news. I do not recall anyone having air conditioning. We did not have public utilities of any kind but quite different from our neighbors we had a 32 colt “light plant” which was used for lighting and a few alliances like an electric fan and a vacuum cleaner. I recall having an icebox that was used for refrigeration. Every few days a man delivered 50 pounds of ice on a truck and placed it in the icebox. Later in my time on the farm we had a kerosene refrigerator and finally, we obtained electricity from the REA, Rural Electrification Association.

 

I will return later for more details and stories derived from farm life and events.