The Story of my Life
Louise Virginia (Weir) Frasier
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hen I married in 1932, Buford, Comer, and Lillian were already married. Lillian and Riley already had Junior, Jack, and Betty Jean. We were going to live with Papa and Mama and farm. Comer and Ola were still living there. Lillian and Riley had moved back from Alabama where they almost starved and were living with Papa and Mama. So we had Papa, Mama, Lillian, Riley, Comer, Ola, Me, Daddy, Mary Will, Elizabeth, Evelyn, Dora, Nora, George William, Junior, Jack, and Betty Jean. Some crowd, Huh?
So after staying with my parents for three weeks we decided to move to Albertville, Alabama where H.N.’s family lived. We packed a trunk and two card board boxes and shipped them and a bed (complete) on the train for $3.00. We paid $1.50 each to ride the mail car from Flintville to Huntsville. Than we rode a bus from Huntsville to Albertville. There was a bridge across the Tennessee river by then. And the road from Guntersville, across Sand Mountain was paved and two-laned all the way to Anniston.
Convicts built that road. The state of Alabama leased the convicts to the contractors. I remember that in 1924 and 1925, before we moved to Tennessee, the contractors rented forty acres of land next to Uncle George’s place for the convict camp. The camp had a ten-foot fence around the whole area, and additional fences around the brush arbor where the convicts slept. The brush arbors were made by putting poles into the ground and brushes over the top for a cover. They dug a long ditch to serve as a latrine.
There were guards with double barrel shot guns stationed around the outside fence about every ten feet. They had ten blood hound dogs and the handlers kept them hungry and trained them to be mean. The convict’s food was cooked in big black pots and their tin dishes were served out of the pot. They had barrels of water for drinking and everybody used the same dipper. Naturally, a guard took care of that too.
The guards all carried black-snake whips loaded with lead. Each convict wore a ball weighing about eight pounds on his right ankle. The other ankle was chained to the ankle of the next convict in line. They worked like that and they slept like that.
Uncle George’s house was less than a half mile away and we could hear the convicts screaming, the whips beating and the dogs barking. You could hear the dogs killing a man. Most of the convicts were black. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a white person at all. They were there for about eight months in 1924 and 1925.
Pa Frasier and Paul met us at the bus stop with the wagon. We stopped at the train depot to get our stuff. We got to Pa Frasier’s house about nine o’clock at night. Pa Frasier lived about four miles from Albertville.
Frasier - about one year old
Thomas Nathaniel Frasier and Molly Bell “Veal” Frasier
Vernon had been to Tennessee to see us the week after we got married, but I met the rest of the family for the first time that night: Pa and Ma Frasier, Millard, Belle, Paul, Lee, and Willene. Lee was five years old and couldn’t see. He wanted to touch and smell me. After feeling of my face, hair, and clothes, he asked if I had black hair and wore a dress with black and white stripes. He showed me how wide the stripes were and he was correct.
I also met Grandma Stone; her son, Henry; and his sons, J.T. and Bob that night. We’d got out of the wagon and went down a trail through the woods. When we got to Grandma’s house we didn’t go in, but she brought a lamp and Henry brought one so we could see one another.
All of Daddy’s family still owned their farms. But home farm owners fared a lot worse than did share-croppers during the depression. Share croppers were different from laborers. If you were a share-cropper and didn’t have the tools or supplies needed to farm, the landlord furnished everything and you gave the landlord half of everything you grew. You were not allowed to grow a garden or chickens or keep a cow. But as I said, the farm owners fared even worse than share-croppers. In 1931 and 1932 the farm owners had to farm without fertilizer and some didn’t even have seed. At least the landlord furnished fertilizer and seed to the share-croppers.
There was a drought in Alabama in 1932, and it was bad. Nothing grew in the gardens except cabbage and tomatoes. The pastures dried up so most of the cows were dry: or if they had milk it was so thin that it was blue. You sure got fat-free milk from those cows!
All anyone had to eat was corn bread, sour kraut and just plain canned tomatoes. Mama had always made tomato soup by putting butter, herbs, and milk in the tomatoes. But Grandma Frasier had just plain tomatoes. Daddy’s grandma wanted us to spend the night and his uncles wanted us to spend the night. Everywhere we went all they had for supper was corn bread, sour kraut, and tomatoes!
Daddy’s Uncle Arlie Cobb (married to Grandpa Frasier’s baby sister, Gusta) was supposed to be well off, so when it came time to spend the night there, I was happy. I thought for sure that I’d get a glass of milk and maybe some pudding or something besides corn bread, sour kraut, and tomatoes! When we went down to eat supper and I saw that corn bread, kraut, and tomatoes, I hit the back porch where I puked my guts out! Nice language, Huh?
A week later, Liller, Henry Stone’s ex-wife who lived in Albertville with her parents, invited us over to spend the night. I don’t know what else we ate, but we had hot-dogs! Good! Good! Good! Those hot-dogs saved my life! That, and Belle, Paul and I went down on the bluff and ate winter huckleberries all day. I’ll bet we ate two gallons each.
While we were still living with Grandpa Frasier, one Sunday morning he got on the horse and rode it to Grade Veal’s house. Grade is Grandma Frasier’s baby brother and he bootlegged all his life. He never had a still, but he sold it for other people. Well anyway, Grandpa got drunk and fell off the horse into a ditch and broke his leg. Everybody was in the kitchen and I guess that he thought that I was too. He was on the bed and was talking to himself. He said, “Damn fine tale, Bud Frasier got drunk, fell off the horse and broke his leg.” He never got drunk anymore, but he would make home made wine and drink it. He had a short leg and limped after that.
Grandpa Frasier used to go fox hunting every night. There would be a dozen or two men and thirty to forty fox hounds— mostly ‘blue ticks’. The dogs bayed when they had the fox treed and everyone knew the bark and bay of their own dogs and could recognize the bark of all the other dogs. The men would pick a good spot, build a fire, drink boot-leg whiskey or home-brew beer, tell tales—generally all lies --, and listen to the dogs. Anyway, they always knew whose dog led the pack although they may be five or six miles away.
Grandpa Frasier, also, had only one eye. When he was about eleven years old, his Mom and Step-Dad had gone to town shopping and left him and the other kids home alone. It was almost Christmas and everybody liked to make loud noises at Christmas time: fireworks, etc. He took a hollow log, stopped it up tight at both ends, bored a hole in it and poured in gun powder. Then he soaked an old rag string in kerosene and let it hang out of the hole. Next, he sharpened a peg and drove it into the hole and lit the string. But he didn’t get away far enough fast enough. That gun powder went off with a bang and that sharp peg cut his eye out! He said that his eyeball was hanging down on his cheek. I liked my father-in-law!
We lived with Ma and Pa Frasier for a month and then Henry Stone said he had a three room house that we could move into and we started getting stuff together to keep house. Liller gave us dishes, pots, pans, and silverware. I still have a skillet and butcher knife that she gave us. We needed a stove and finally we heard about one in someone’s shed. Kids had been making mud pies on it and it was filthy. We gave twenty-five cents for it and me and Belle cleaned that thing. It had an oven and four eyes for cooking. It looked good when we finished with it.
Daddy worked (when he could find work) for fifty cents a day. Most of the time he was paid with a bushel of corn or a bucket of syrup or field peas. I did not know how to cook, but I made cakes with eggs, butter, syrup, and black walnuts. Good! I hated field peas, but that’s all we had to cook, so I boiled them; mashed them; added onions, eggs, and flour; and fried them in deep lard. They were really good cooked that way.
Someone gave us an old rooster to cook. I’d seen Mama clean chickens and Daddy had cleaned rabbits by skinning them. We had to kill it first. Vernon said that it was too big to wring it’s neck, so Daddy said for me to hold the rooster’s head over the chopping block and he’d cut it’s head off with the axe. So I held the rooster, he cut the head off and that rooster ran away into the weeds! When we found him, we skinned him but we didn’t have a pot big enough to cook him in and we didn’t know how to cut him up. But it was Sunday and Belle came over and showed me how.
We planted a garden and went to get some seed beans from Grandma Stone. Remember I told you that everybody did everything by moon signs. Well, Grandma Stone told us not to plant until Friday. The sign was wrong and if we planted them now they would be all plant and no beans. Of-course we didn’t believe her. That was Tuesday and we had the garden ready, so we planted two rows of beans. Then Daddy said, “Let’s just see. Let’s wait till Friday to plant the other two rows.” We never told her, but she came around and I’m sure that she saw. The first two rows had plants four feet tall and bloomed— thousands of blooms, but not a bean. The other two rows had smaller vines but we gave away beans off those two rows to everybody that wanted some.
While we lived in Henry Stone’s house, Joe Stewart and his family moved into a house across the creek from us. It wasn’t far to their house if you walked down the trail and crossed the foot-log across the creek. When I told Joe that my father’s name was Willie Weir, he said that they had been brothers-in-law. Papa had married Dora Stonicher and Joe had married her sister, Annie. Dora had died without having any kids, but Joe and Annie had one boy and three girls. The boy died when he was one year old. One of their daughters was named Janie Mae. Joe’s and Janie Mae’s birthdays were the same as mine and Papa’s, February 25th.
Hoyt Nathaniel Frasier
Daddy’s brother, Vernon, wasn’t married yet and was very shy. Janie Mae was a little older than Vernon, but he like her and got very busy courting her. No one had any money, but Janie Mae told Vernon that if he would buy her a dresser, she would think about marrying him.
Vernon and Leroy Golden set up a bootleg still in a pine thicket behind the house where we lived. They made one batch and put it in quart fruit jars. They sold it for $1.00 a jar and made some money. Then Grandma Stone told me and Daddy to tell Vernon to stay away from the still because the sheriff was watching it. While they stayed away the mash got a little too sour and they got it a little too hot and scorched it. It tasted awful! But they still sold it and Vernon bought Janie Mae a dresser and they got married.
Belle never had any time off. She had to cook, do laundry, and take care of Lee and Willene in addition to working in the fields. One day at just about dark, Belle came in from working in the field all day. Grandma met her before she got into the house and told her, “Get in there and start a fire and put on some corn bread.” Belle had started the fire and gotten the corn bread on when Vernon came in with a quart jar of that ole burnt bootleg whiskey and said, “You want to taste it?”
She said, “Yeah.” Then she grabbed it and drank about half of it. She was happy for about twelve hours, if not knowing anything makes you happy, for she sure didn’t know anything!
Once, Vernon said that he’d found a bee tree and it had so much honey that it was in a pile at the foot of the tree. Vernon, Janie Mae and the kids came. Daddy said, “Are you sure you know how to do this? Them bees are going to be awful mad.”
“Oh, Yeah!” said Vernon. “I know how. First you smoke the bees away then cut the tree and take the honey.”
They carried two wash-tubs, the saw, and a few more things. They decided they had better make a screen to put over their heads and faces—just in case. They had no trouble with the bees at all. The bees all flew away. But when they cut the tree they didn’t know one thing about bees or honey so they got two wash-tubs full of honey that no one could use. Seems there are honey combs where the baby bees are sealed in one bee to a cell and there are honey combs where the honey is and no bees. They just put it all in together so we got nothing from that but a lot of hard work and a lot of sticky stuff around!