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Lifestyles of the Past and Present in Bethesda
Genealogy & Local History eBook

Lifestyles Cover

Prepared by Hugh Keedy and Jessie Bennett
Co-directors: Bethesda Museum

Billy Alexander
Jessie Bennett
Franklin Bond
Leo Bond
Lola Bowersox
Cleo Grigsby
Agnes Hargrove
Hugh Keedy
Annie Lou McCord
Bessie Mosley
Lester Mosley
Jean Sanders
Joyce Smith
Ruth Taylor
James Trice
Jerry Watkins
Bill Wiley

Interview With Jerry Watkins

[Jessie: Tell about the giant.]

They found him in a well over here on Route 431. They dug a well. They started on solid rock and they hit a cave down there. That's where they found a giant. He was about nine foot tall. Just the bones. Ward Daniel and some other man dug the well. Fleming West, he owned the place. If he was living he could tell you about that giant. He never did have no whiskers. They shipped the giant's bones overseas, but the ship got sunk or something. I don't know why they were shipping the bones overseas. They might have been going to experiment.

My grandma came from West Virginia. Her name was Perry Lee Daniel and was a Cherokee Indian. She used to tell me I wouldn't live to be very old. But I'm 88. My birthday is in May. [Judy: They had so many children back then that they didn't keep up with birthdays. There were two families and a total of twenty plus children in his family. The year he was born in is known because a neighbor had a baby at the same time. He put down September 15 as his birthday when he went to sign for Social Security but it is really in May. He has two birthday parties a year that way. Ha.] I was not born in Bethesda. We lived down in what was called Callie on Route 431. We lived back over in the hollow in an old house that we had for years.

Old time medicine

I got the itch one time when I was a kid. I cured it with poke leaves. Take it and boil it to get the juice out of it and wash off in it. I went and got me a sack full. It was just as red. I got me a tub and got in the kitchen and throwed that water all over me. It killed that itch! I imagine I learned that cure from my old grandma.

[Re: old time remedies.] I bet my granny made 50 gallons of butterfly root for me. But I don't know what it was for. My grandma took the fat off a polecat and cooked it down to get the grease to put on sores. But, it didn't smell like polecat.

The frog

My grandmother stayed with us a lot. She caught her a frog in the spring down beside the road. I went down and took an old trap. I was just a little boy. I set the old trap there and I caught a frog. The old frog would holler and she thought a snake had him. She was crippled in one foot. She went down there and I had a frog in the trap. Oh, if she didn't fuss, and said, "I'm going to make daddy wear you out." But daddy was glad I caught him. Every time he would come to the spring, the old frog would jump in there and make it muddy.

Leon saw the same frog forty years later, or thought it was. He was still up there on the hill. [Judy: You told us that it was the same frog because it had a cut on its stomach where the trap had caught him. And you said that frog could jump forty feet.] I figure he could. Me and John got after him and we couldn't catch him. He was in some bushes and briars. [The same frog?] Probably was, yeah.

Childhood memories

When I was a little boy my daddy made us work. I grew up on a farm in Callie. For a vacation we would go to the Harpeth River and fish. My daddy bought an old sow from Lee West. I had to feed the hog. I had to cook a big pot of hominy every day to feed the hog. We had to cook it because the hog didn't have no teeth. To make hominy you put corn in a big kettle and cook it, and put a few ashes in it. Cook it all up for half a day. [What happened to the hog's teeth?] Well, the old hog eat walnuts and everything and broke them all out.

Susie Lee, my sister who just turned 90, and I had been to the grocery store at Callie. We saw a big pear in a pear tree and Susie Lee clumb up there to get it. I seen old Mrs. West coming around the hill, walking with a big stick. I got my groceries and took off and got off of that place, and left Susie Lee up in the tree.

I went to school at Harpeth. My teacher was Susie Scales. I didn't learn a thing. I went to school four or five years but didn't learn to read or write. I can sign my name on checks. I was one of 13 kids. Lizzie was the oldest. She married Joe Lynn Davis. Billie was next [Judy: he died at age 95 a few years ago, Luke is 93, a sister 90, then daddy is 88.]

[Judy: He was a neighbor of Virginia McGee. Daddy never did learn to read or write because he didn't get to go to school. He was about five or six years older than my mother, Johnny. Mother used to write letters for him to Virginia, and he talked to Virginia for about five years.]

I liked her; still like her.

[But her family made her dump daddy, and she was told she couldn't talk to him any more. Mother was just about 12 or 13 at the time. The day that daddy was told he couldn't talk to Virginia any more...]

I cried. I come up to Johnny's. Prentice Moppen was a buddy that I run around with. I come up crying and he said he believed I needed a drink. I went out on the porch and Johnny was sitting out on the porch. I laid my head in her lap and she asked me would I marry her.

[Daddy said one time, "I work fast; I got dumped and engaged all in about three hours." They married, lived together for 66 years, and had four children. Mother was always jealous of Virginia. Now Virginia's husband and mother have both passed away, so they visit together again. He refers to her as his woman.]

Married life

The day I got married my whiskers were about two inches long. I washed off a little the day I got married. Charlie Teasley shaved me and cut my hair, the next day. I reckon I actually started to hippie! Ha! [Judy: He said he didn't have time to take a bath and shave. Johnny was only 13 when she got married; she had two children when she was 15. She used to say her children were almost as old as she was. Her name was Johnny and his name is Jerry so their first child was John Jerry.] Judy, you get me into something all the time!

Our house when we were first married was in the middle of a corn field. When we heard a car, we climbed the peach tree in the yard to see who was coming. L.T. climbed up in that tree. We had peaches right on my porch. We cleared newground for tobacco. Take and cut it off and burn the brush. We plowed up the roots. A man over at Hillsboro made what you call a newground plow. It had a "colder" on it to cut the roots. It broke them more than cut them. [Judy: He had a tobacco crop on what they called Niggerbone Hill, because that is where they said they hung some blacks. I was five or six and don't know why daddy wanted to have tobacco on that hill, but they slid the tobacco at harvest time down the hill on a wire and someone had to catch it.] I had a couple of acre at the start but about six acres later.

I took baths in the creek. There was a big old snake lived in there. I'd plow all day--talk about dirty, you'd be dirty then. The water was cold and that big old water moccasin was there. He was as scared of me as I was of him and crawled on off.

[Judy: Daddy never did discipline; mother always disciplined.] I whipped you one time with a little old straw. [He told me not to let the hogs get around the cream can where we were milking, and I didn't pay any attention to him.]

[Jessie: Tell about how you started dancing the country two-step at age 86 and going to dance at Spring Hill wearing loud boots and loud clothes. Did you like that?] No! [Tell us about it.] I went to see my girl the other day and had to use the bathroom. That was embarrassing! What I liked best about dancing was the music and I got a lot of hugs--these women would hug me. I put on a pair of hee-haw pants and a cowboy hat.

My woman says we are too old to get married again. [Judy: I took him up to see Virginia a few days ago and she had a lift chair. She lifted him up and down in it and said he needed one.]

[Hugh: what would you say is your philosophy of life?]

I lived a pretty good life. I've done a lot of walking. Walk and don't worry too much about anything.

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