Recently, while doing an inventory of the things left behind by my parents, I found a bundle of old letters. I was happy to discover that they were letters my parents exchanged during their courtship. They verified many of the stories my mother told about that era.
My father was born and raised in Talmo, in Jackson County. Mother was born in Oglethorpe County but spent most of her early years in the Neese community of Madison County. They were both the children of sharecroppers.
Dad was 21 years old when the Civilian Conservation Corps reached its peak in 1935. He signed up and was assigned to CCC Co 485 at Blue Ridge. In the spring of 1935, his unit was transferred to Athens to serve the Sandy Creek area. The camp was established in a pine grove behind Fortson’s Store off U.S. 29 in the Dogsboro community.
Mother would laugh when she told about the first time they saw each other. He was driving a truckload of men to a work area on the Neese-Commerce Road. When they passed a farmhouse he noticed a pretty girl on top of a shed spreading peach slices to dry in the sun. At his first opportunity, he came back to the area looking for her, and he found her!
When his camp moved again to Cartersville in the fall of 1936, the letters began and continued until just before their marriage on April 1, 1939.
When he finished his allowed time with the CCC, dad rejoined his family as they returned to their ancestral home in central South Carolina. There, he went to work as a field hand in order to earn enough money to start a home. There he was forced to wait until mother convinced her mother that he was the right man. It seems that grandmother had another man in mind for her. When she rejected this man, another name was put forward. Again mother refused and finally won grandmother’s approval of her choice, my father.
On April 1, 1939, they became tired of the debate over arrangements and eloped to Jefferson for the wedding. They moved into a small house across the road from my grandparents’ home near Neese. There dad set out to produce a cotton crop of his own.
Mother said she could not start a home without a family Bible. Dad insisted that he had to have a shotgun to help feed his new family. So they scratched together just enough to buy a Bible and a shotgun. I still have both items.
After making one crop on his own, and a stint in the WPA, dad landed a job helping build the Plantation Pipe Line pump station in Neese. When the job was finished, the management kept him on as a maintenance man, which led to regular promotions. By the time WWII was underway, he was a key employee at their major station in Spartinburg S.C. There he was deemed to be an essential employee and as such each draft notice he received was turned back. Once Hitler’s army was defeated, he got a new draft notice. He was preparing to leave for basic training when the Japanese surrendered.
Dad tells of how he carried mother and his kids to a movie on what was to be his last day at home when he was paged by his boss at the pipe line. Japan had signed surrender papers and his draft notice had been withdrawn.
Dad always said that the only reason Japan surrendered when they did was that they heard that Benjamin F. Gillispie was on the way!
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.