Memoir Part 5: Verenice Cooper Hawkins

Editor's note: This is the final installment of Verenice's memoir about growing up on a mule-and horse-powered farm near Valley Head during the Great Depression. The memoir was edited, and the photos used here compiled by, her daughter, Linda Hawkins Wilson. For earlier installments, please scroll down The Planet's homepage. 


Courting, Marriage, and Starting a Family 

         While I was still in nursing school, when I would go home there were often people visiting Mama, Daddy and Foyl. Ray and Willene were married and no longer living there. One of the people who visited was E.M. “Brody” Hawkins.


(Photo: Verenice and Brody in 1953)


            One time I was going home on the Greyhound bus and Kylus Campbell was riding the bus home from work in Chattanooga. I said I was going to be on my vacation and he said he would tell his friend Brody. I asked why he would tell him. He laughed and said, “You don’t think he has been going there to see your mother and daddy, do you?”  I said, “Well, that is who he talks to.”  I had been home about an hour when Brody came. He visited several times during the two weeks that I was home, but never asked me to go anywhere. After I got back to school, he called and asked me to go to a movie.


             We went to a restaurant that he liked in Brainerd, got burgers and then went to a movie at a drive-in at what was later Eastgate Shopping Center. This was where we went on many of our dates. I was leaving for Rockville, Maryland, in just a few days for psychiatric nursing, so there were no more dates. We did write during the three months that I was there. 


          I came home the last of February and we started dating again. We were amused because Betty, Ray’s wife, was trying to matchmake, and did not know we were dating. They soon found out because he would take me home on my days off. Daddy would act like he had just come to see them like he had before. Once Daddy apologized about going to bed and leaving him talking to me. Daddy had quite a sense of humor.


(Photo: Verenice mugs with an unidentified fellow nursing student.)


           Brody was a carpenter and was building houses in the Brainerd area. He often took me to see the houses they were building. His boss was his neighbor Pat Baugh. His brother-in-law, Harold Forester, also worked with them. Ed Long and Willie Cordell worked with them, too. Willie was a distant relative but I did not know him.


         One night, about a month after I had gotten back to Erlanger, Brody told me he had never saved any money, although he had been working for some time after he had gotten out of the Army. He said he didn’t have anything but his truck and was making payments on it. I was a bit puzzled by the whole conversation. On our next date, we went to a movie at the Broad Street Drive-In. That night he asked me to marry him.


            I was shocked. It was April Fool’s Day and he was such a joker I thought it maybe it was an April Fool’s joke, but he assured me he was serious. I really enjoyed being with him, but had not thought about marriage. I wanted to get through nursing school and work and buy clothes and things I had not been able to buy. He told me he would buy me the things I wanted.

(Photo: Verenice got her pic in the Freep as a student nurse while assisting in a rare operation.)


            We were so different. He was impulsive and quick to make up his mind about things. I don’t usually rush into things and think things over. They say opposites attract. I did have to think about getting married for a few days. He said he had already decided he wanted to marry me before we started dating, but I had not. Since he had visited us often, I did know a good bit about him and he was lots of fun.


           I can’t remember how long it took me to decide, but not very long because I really enjoyed being with him. He wanted to get married right away. We had only been dating about six weeks. I had five more months of nursing school and I was determined to finish. I had put too much into it for something to happen to keep me from graduating. Pregnancy with complications was a possibility. This was before the Pill. We agreed to wait until I finished nursing school and we got married the day after I finished.


            My kids wonder if we were really married because who he got to marry us was Montford Newman, a sort of preacher who was a little strange. We were together so long I guess it would have been “common law” anyway. Kylus Campbell was a witness. He was the friend who had been the matchmaker. We got married on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend in Chattanooga. We came to his parents' home in Rising Fawn on Sunday afternoon and stayed there for about six weeks. He went to work the next day. I took a week off before I went to work in the Premature Unit at Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga.


              Brody had bought us an electric stove which had cooking utensils with it. The ladies in the Cloverdale community gave us a shower and his Aunt Lois gave us a metal cabinet we used for years. I still have the iron skillet that his mother gave us. I cooked cornbread in it for many years.


 Photo: Verenice and Brody much later.)


             We lived with his parents and younger brother, Raleigh, until the people moved out of the house he had rented. It was near the Georgia-Alabama line on Cloverdale road and later burned. It had four large rooms and a small room in the back that we used for storage. The well was in the back yard. Our rent was $15 a month. He built a big long table for the kitchen that we used for work space, to set things on and to eat on. The metal cabinet was used for our dishes. We later got a table and chairs and had a dining room. His folks let us use one of their iron beds and I made quilts with flannel material I bought at Trion for 15 cents a yard. I made them on his mother’s treadle sewing machine.


              We bought a small iron heater that burned wood for heat that winter and put it and the bed in the front room. At first, we lived in just those two rooms. Neither of us were raised with very much and we did not mind.


             What about those clothes I had wanted to buy? It would have been OK with him but old practical me decided they were not the most important thing. A house was the thing to plan for. His work was building houses and while dating we saw many of the ones he had helped build. He really liked one house and showed me the plan and I liked it, too. He also showed me a place on his family’s farm where he had always wanted to build a house. I also liked the place so we planned for that.


               My job at Children’s Hospital paid $230 a month and he was making $2.25 an hour, so we thought we were doing pretty well and began to save. I think I still had about $50 or $60  in the Valley Head bank. I bought a bedroom suit and his mother gave us a couch he had bought her when he was in the Army. We were now using all four rooms. We did not have a refrigerator that winter but bought one in the spring. We bought 23 acres, where we wanted to build our house, from his folks. We paid $500 with money from my income. I told them I wanted my name on the deed, too. At that time, they usually only put the man’s name on the deed.


             The house we were building was not located near the powerline but Tom Renfro with Georgia Power told us if we built the foundation and he was sure we were going to build the house, he would put the power line in. He did not put it in and Jenny Campbell told us to contact the Public Service Commissioner. We did that and got power and had to do that later to get phone service.


               I had to have a way to get work at Children’s Hospital and thought we could ride together since he worked in Chattanooga, too. He rode with Pat Baugh and convinced me it would save money for me to ride with my brother, Ray, for $5 a week. I then had to ride the bus from downtown to Children’s and back in the afternoon. I should not have agreed to do this, but I believed in saving when I could and did some things just to get along. He had to take me when I had to work weekends because I had never learned to drive anything but the wagon.


             We did have a garden that year and bought a pressure canner that is still in use. It was a very dry summer but I was able to can some things. When I was off during the week, I would take our clothes to his mother’s and wash. He had bought

her a wringer washer before we were married. I worked until two months before Linda was born in January 1955. After that I stayed home until Ronnie was about 2 years old. Ella Hester was the evening supervisor at Children’s and if she found there was any way I could she would beg me to work with her. I never had to go in and apply. I just filled out the paperwork when I went in to work. It was really hard to get pediatric nurses and especially one that could work in the premature unit.


(Photo: Verenice's garden much later, after the advent of color photography. She still plants to feed a family.)


             I think having the babies was harder for Brody than it was for me. When we went to the hospital when Linda was born, I had everything written down to be admitted. The night supervisor who knew me told me she had seen nervous fathers, but he was the worst. I thought it would be better when Ronnie was born, but he said it was not and he had had to go lie down on a bench after it was over. Maybe if he could have stayed with me and seen that I was OK it would have been better, but that was not how it was done at that time. Many of the hospital staff knew me and they put a bow in Linda’s hair. When they showed the babies, visitors would say, “Oh, look at that one with a bow in her hair.”  Brody said loud and clear, “That one is mine!”


              Our neighbors decided to move sometime in 1955. That house was better than the one we were living in so we decided to rent it for $21 each month. We put our bedroom suit and couch in the living room. Our neighbors, the Pitts, were moving and we bought a bedroom suit from them that we put in the bedroom. There were two rooms upstairs but we did not use them. There was no running water in the house but there was a sink in the kitchen, which was very handy. The well was in the back porch and that porch was large enough to hang clothes to dry. I had to fill the washing machine and wait several hours to get water for rinsing. I had a little heater I could put in the water, plug it in and it would heat the water. I had two babies in cloth diapers for a while.


              We were still doing our washing at Brody's mother’s when Linda was born but I sometimes had to wash diapers more often. This was before disposable diapers and it took lots of diapers for a baby. Once I was washing them on the rub board and Brody just got in the truck and left without telling where he was going. This was not something I was use to happening. When I was growing up, we went most places we wanted to go, but we told where we were going. That was so that if something happened and we were needed, we could be found. That was not the Hawkins way. The men just left and told no one where they were going.


The young Hawkins family--Brody and Verenice with Ronnie and Linda.


            I was really mad and did not suffer in silence. I was not mad about washing diapers, but that he would just leave like that. The next week he came home with a wringer washer. I don’t think, “I’m sorry" or "I was wrong,” were ever in his vocabulary, but he would do something to make up for it. That never changed. I did appreciate the washer. He bought a big black iron wash pot for me to heat water outside, or I could heat it on the stove.


              In winter it was not unusual for clothes to freeze as you were hanging them on the line if it was really cold. A lot of clothes had to be ironed and some needed to be starched. There were no steam irons and you sprinkled them with water before you ironed them. I washed the baby clothes first with Ivory flakes and added stronger washing powder and used the same water for the other things.


            Brody got laid off from his hous- building job and it took a while to get unemployment. We did have a little money in the bank and his daddy was cutting timber for someone and hired him to help. It was a pretty hard time for us and I remember that Christmas we only had $5 to spend for the kids. Brody bought Linda a tricycle and since Ronnie was only six months old, he did not know it was Christmas. Brody was feeling so down, he cried a little. I told him we were all well and healthy and that things would get better, and they did. He got a job at Combustion with pretty good pay, so we started work on the house again.


             When Brody bought the mountain property from his dad, they left enough timber for him to build a house. Mary and Harold’s house burned and he gave them that timber to build their house. There was a little left so he cut it for our house. We bought some from Foyl and Daddy practically gave us some huge pine trees for our paneling. They both helped him cut the timber. At that time Davenport Lumber Company at Valley Head would saw, plane and dry the lumber.


                We bought metal windows that had to be installed and then the glass put in. When that had to be done, Emory Hawkins did it for us. He was Brody’s cousin and his wife, Sissie, was my cousin. They came one Saturday and spent the day with us. Sissie and I cooked dinner while they put in the glass. We had help from many people while building. Daddy and Foyl helped a lot and Brody hired Charles McCarty sometimes. He was the first person to eat with us after we married.


                Brody worked really hard and knew how to build it right. We picked out the prettiest paneling for the living and dining rooms and put a clear finish on that. We used paneling in all the other rooms and painted it. We moved in in 1957 but it was not finished. We had no inside doors and only the subfloors in the bedrooms. We had some rugs we put down on those floors. I hung quilts over the doors in the winter.


                 We had the well drilled before we started the house because we knew we had to have water. Russell Crowe from Valley Head drilled our well and it is 150 feet deep. That was one of our most expensive things and we did not have money to put in a pump. We drew water out with a well bucket. After we had been living here a while, Daddy decided he would put in a pump and we could pay him later. We bought a double sink and were really glad to have the water.


                  When we decided to drill, I don’t think Brody believed in “water witching,” but I do. “Witching” for water or dowsing means locating a place to drill the well where there is a strong underground stream. To witch for water, you need a green forked limb from a tree cut a few inches from the fork and about 12 or 14 inches long on each side. You hold a limb in each hand with the fork pointing up. You hold it out away from your body and walk over the area where you want a well. When you walk over a place where there is a stream underground, the stick will turn down, with the fork pointing toward the ground. This does not work for everyone and I don’t know why. It worked for all my family.


            I don’t understand why it works, but I have seen the results too many times. Daddy and I both witched our well. Mr. Crowe said it was running about 25 gallons a minute and we should have plenty of water. We still have plenty of water over 60 years later. My mother’s daddy witched the well at Brody’s folks’ home many years before I was born and it still has water. We witched Ronnie’s, Linda’s and Ben’s. I think our neighbor, Van Wall, helped with Linda and Ronnie’s. When I was 14 and was visiting relatives in Fort Worth, Texas, they wanted me to show them how it worked. When the stick turned, they had a good laugh because they said I had found the city water line. I also found an old well they knew about on a vacant lot.


             We were so glad to get moved into our new house. We had moved while Brody was on vacation. He had to go back to work on the night shift. I was here with a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old with no phone and no close neighbors. Dade County’s most notorious prisoner had escaped and he had once lived near here. Our doors did have locks. I had never lived in a house where the doors locked. One night, I heard something on the breezeway. I got the gun and slipped through the house without turning on any light. When I turned on the breezeway light it was a big hound dog trying to get in the garbage can. Another night when I heard a “booger,” it was Brody’s dad’s mules picking grass in the back yard.


             We liked our new home and I have been living here now for 63 years and hope I never have to live anywhere else.


(Photo: Verenice as Dade's public health nurse.)


            This is the end of this part of my story. Maybe I will write more later. There is working at Children’s, substitute teaching, working at mental health and working at the Dade County Health Department. Retirement could even be a story....


The End (for now...)

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