Whoa! The mules stopped the wagon as soon as the command was given. They were grateful for a brief respite. The hill had not been particularly steep, but the uphill pull had been more than a quarter mile long. The wagon was loaded with canned vegetables, meats, and fruits packed in cottonseed to prevent their breaking. My grandfather, Roscoe Weems, who was driving the team, used the hub of the right front wheel to jump to the ground, still holding the leather lines in his hand. To show their appreciation for the rest, one of the mules snorted, and both blew hot breath into the air, which formed fog in the morning chill. The load of canned goods was being transported to the farm my parents had just bought. This is my earliest certain memory. The time was October, 1930, but I am getting ahead of the story.
The story started on November 10, 1924, when my father, Floyd Leroy Weems, borrowed a buggy and went to Oneonta and obtained a marriage license to elope and marry Lillian Opal Irene Smith. To prevent any family interference, she agreed to meet him at a neighbor’s house. He picked her up, and they went about seven miles by buggy to the home of a Justice of the Peace (a Mr. Fowler), who married them. His wife was the only witness.
My Grandfather Smith (Russel Asbury Smith) was not pleased with the elopement and got his shotgun, saying he would go and bring Lillian home. My grandmother, Dovie Lee Hill Smith, calmed him down. He finally said, “O.K., they can marry, but they will never be welcome here. They can just stay away.” A few days later, he asked my grandmother to write and invite them to visit.
My Grandfather Weems was a very small man, only around 5’4” tall and weighing at most 120 pounds. I never knew for sure how he arrived in the Friday’s Crossing area of Blount County, but I was told he had a problem with a bully in Piedmont, Alabama. To protect himself, he used a knife on the bully and fled the area.
He ended up working as a live-in farm hand for my great grandfather James H. Robertson. During this time, he and my grandmother Mary Lora Robertson fell in love. They eloped in a buggy and got married. I am not positive that it is true, but the story is that Roscoe Weems could not read or write at the time of the marriage. My grandmother taught him after they were married. He certainly learned well, since he was a Baptist preacher and was considered a Bible scholar. He never pastored a church, feeling that he wanted to be free each Sunday to go where the spirit led him. He never owned a car, so on Sunday he would walk or go by wagon to whichever church he chose. I do know that he often went to Bethsadia at Wynnville, and to New Home #1.
He was a tenant farmer, renting land on the third and fourth basis. There were three classes of tenant farmers. Those who did not have mules or horses farmed on the halves. The landlord furnished the land animals and one-half of the seed and fertilizer. The tenant furnished the labor, and they divided the crops equally. The tenant with animals, tools, and equipment gave the landlord 1/3 of the corn and ¼ of the cotton for the use of the land. The cost of the seed and fertilizer were shared in the same way. A third type of tenant farmer paid a “standing rent.” The landlord and tenant agreed on a rental charge per acre which was paid regardless of the crop that ensued. The tenant kept all the crop.
After being tenant farmers all their lives, Grandpa and Grandmother Weems took care of her mother, with the understanding they would get title to her farm at her death. They performed this chore with class and finally owned a farm in 1941. My grandfather was in his late fifties. Into this family was born my father Floyd Leroy Weems on 3/4/04. He was the oldest of nine children. The entire family consisted of:
|Name||Date of Birth|
|Roscoe W. Weems||01/02/1884|
|Mary Lora Robertson Weems||10/17/1883|
|Floyd Leroy Weems||03/07/1904|
|Maybelle Weems Fuller||06/03/1906|
|Aubrey B. Weems||10/09/1908|
|Ruby Jim Weems Tidwell||03/06/1911|
|Bernice Idell Weems Tidwell||05/30/1913|
|A. Hermon Weems||07/03/1915|
|Craig A. Weems||09/15/1917|
|James Olive Weems||07/06/1920|
|Rossie Lorene Weems Hyatt||06/26/1922|
As the oldest child my father was needed to help work on the farm. This encouraged him to stop school at an early age. He attended only until the sixth grade. He was certainly not illiterate, but I never saw him read for pleasure, and his writing was barely legible. He knew almost nothing about geography, history, or science, but was adequate in arithmetic, in that he could add, subtract, and multiply. My mother, Lillian Opal Irene Smith Weems, was the oldest female in her family. The family consisted of:
|Name||Date of Birth|
|Russel Asbury Smith||02/08/1881|
|Dovie Lee Hill Smith||07/28/1890|
|Lonnie Dewey Smith||07/06/1906|
|Lillian Opal Irene Smith Weemsr||06/28/1908|
|Wilburn Arthur Smith||06/30/1910|
|Carl Silvanus Smith||06/18/1912|
|Nellee Ozella Smith Weaver Totten||12/08/1914v|
|Russell Vernon Smith||09/10/1917|
|Vera Catherine Smith Hudson||12/19/1919|
|Silas Richard Smith||05/16/1922|
|Marvin Cecil Smith||10/25/1924|
|Hubert Samuel Smith||05/06/1927|
|Minnie Alice Nadean Smith Watkins||02/28/1930|
|Fay Laverne Smith Kitchens||06/02/1938|
The oldest girl of twelve children, Lillian was a much needed worker in helping with family chores. Although she had to skip school on each washday, which was performed at a spring, she was able to finish the eighth grade at Rosa School in Blount County. I believe at the time Rosa School only went through the eighth grade. Any education beyond this point required going to Oneonta (about five miles away) for the next four years. Graduating from the eighth grade was quite an achievement. A teaching certificate was often obtained with an eighth grade education. Russell Asbury Smith and Dovie Lee Hill Smith were also tenant farmers. They had some success since they did own a pair of mules, the necessary farm plows, and a wagon. They also rented on the third and fourth basis. He had previously settled on forty acres of land but moved away and rented the same farm for many years.
In questioning my mother about her childhood, she stated that there were seven of the family sleeping in the same room. To go to school, she had to cross the Little Warrior River on a foot log. When the river was flooding, her father had to meet them at the river to insure that they crossed safely.
Water for the family came from a spring. This was the farm her father had filed on, and he was deeded the property by the government. Its location was not good since the river had to be forded to gain entrance or exit. I think there were only forty acres which, unless all of it was cleared, would not be enough to support the family.
Floyd and Lillian were married in November of 1923. Except for about three months when he worked at Cheny’s Lime Quarry, they were tenant farmers working on the halves, since they didn’t have farm animals. For most of this time, they lived in the Mt. Ebell area of Blount County near Lillian’s family. One event of catastrophic importance occurred in December, 1925. Prior to this event, their first child, Curtis Arvel Weems, was born on April 3.
At this time they lived less than ¼ mile from Lillian’s parents. In late December, just a few days before Christmas, Lillian finished her Christmas baking. Taking her son Arvel, she walked the short distance to visit her mother. When she arrived, she looked back at her house and saw that it was on fire. The fire totally destroyed the house and its contents. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends (there was no insurance), gifts were provided, and they were able to set up housekeeping again.
At this time in 1925, insurance in rural areas of Alabama was virtually unknown. There was no surplus cash and most of the houses and barns would have been uninsurable. Since every one was at the mercy of fire and wind damage, voluntary sharing of the loss existed. When a fire occurred, generous contributions were given to the injured, primarily in the form of canned goods, quilts, corn, etc. I can recall in the thirties friends going house to house collecting gifts to help the family survive and start anew. Continuing the custom, I recall my mother donating new sheets to a family whose house had burned in the late eighties.
In about 1929, they rented a crop on the halves from Cliff King. The farm was located about two miles west of Friday’s Crossing. Good fortune smiled on them here, and for two crop seasons they had excellent harvests. This enabled them to buy a horse and a T-Model Ford. Then they heard of a farm for sale and were able to buy it on 08/16/1930. Economically, this farm purchase was very significant. Probably for the first time in family history, a Weems owned land. This is somewhat conjectural but is a logical assumption. Roscoe Weems was a tenant farmer and his father was, I believe, a cotton mill employee. Certainly the family did not emigrate from owned land in Scotland. The ownership of land meant he no longer had to share his harvests with a landlord. It also meant that the family could have a permanent domicile.