1930s-1940s Growing Up in Eton.
James R. "Footsie" Pierce.
GROWING UP IN ETON
James R. "Footsie" Pierce
I was born and "raised" in the Pierce house, also known in those early years as the Pierce Hotel, which was along side the railroad tracks, just below the L & N Depot and a couple of hundred feet from the back door of Mr. Will (W.W.) Keith's store, (the house still stands there today in terrible condition). As I reflect on my growing up in Eton there seems to be three distinct phases in those twenty years. First was my early childhood and grammar school days, which was spent almost entirely in Eton. Then came graduation from grammar school and the expansion of my world to high school (MCHS), including Chatsworth, Dalton and points elsewhere, such as occasional trips to Atlanta or Chattanooga. I also spent a summer during WW II living in Pontiac, Michigan, which was today's equivalent of going to, and living on the moon. The third phase was graduation from MCHS, and a life of both working and attending college with frequent returns to my hometown.
My childhood, the early years, is remembered as being a child with great freedom to go and to do all the fun things that I wanted to do, but certainly not lacking adult supervision. As the only child in the house where I lived, I received supervision from my mother and daddy, who lived there with my grandparents Mr. & Mrs. R. A, Pierce who operated the hotel / boarding house, along with my two aunts, Johnnie Hartley and Mamie Pierce also living in the house, and a sister Helen, who was seven years older than I, and even now at age 82, still "bosses me around". Also living with us as boarders was the grammar school principal, Earl Foster and his school teacher wife, "Miss Lucy".
When outside the house and roaming around town, which was virtually every day, I was also under the watchful eyes of my other set of grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. H. R. James, who each worked in Eton and lived only a block away, and another aunt Dennie Sue James who was a teacher at Eton Grammar School, and I cannot overlook Mr. Will Keith who owned and operated the W. W. Keith grocery store next door and who actually knew more about what I was "getting into" than any of the others.
A typical day began by waking up to the whistling of Mr. Keith as he parked his car, one of only about ten cars in Eton, and opened the back door to his store. He always whistled when outside the store, no particular tune, just whistling, which combined well with the roosters crowing all over town, and the occasional sound of a train whistle drifting in from Chatsworth or Dalton. I would jump out of a big featherbed mattress and put on my overalls, nothing else in warm weather, no shirt, underwear or socks and shoes, just a pair of bib overalls. In cold weather, however, it was longjohn underwear, a heavy shirt, most likely made by Aunt Mamie, socks and Brogan shoes, and you guessed it - overalls!
Days were spent with my friends, Judy Poag, Harold Winkler, Joe Hall, Will and S.L. Hogan, Junior Mantooth, and others, as we made our rounds of both stores in town, Keith's and Richardson's, to see and hear what was going on; to the railroad depot when the "short dog", a freight train which also had a single passenger car and which carried freight and passengers to the towns between Cartersville and Etowah, Tennessee, stopped every morning to unload; to both "filling stations", now called service stations, over on the highway; and back to Dave Gee's blacksmith shop, which was in the middle of town. There was frequent action at the blacksmith shop as Mr. Gee would fit and put horseshoes on the sometimes wild and rowdy logging and farming horses and mules, which were commonly used all over the county. When things got dull, Judy and I would crawl through the high weeds in the field behind Keith's store, to spy on Billy Keith as he held hands with pretty Nadine Wilbanks under the trees which lined the dirt sidewalk to the depot, hoping to see him steal a kiss, but we never saw that!
In the afternoon, during the six months of warm weather, we were swimming in Mill Creek, where most of the young people between the age of nine to fifteen gathered. We were lucky to have three good swimming "holes"; Love's pasture, the most popular; James' pasture; and the always exciting railroad bridge, with trains passing over it every half hour. No bathing suits or towels were needed. Most of the time it was an all male swim, and remember, we only wore overalls-nothing else -just drop'em and dive in! In the cooler weather we would play football or kick the cans in the field next to Keith's store, or just sit around the large woodburning stove in either of the stores and listen to old folks tell stories usually about hunting, war or disaster, or supernatural happenings. Our families were seldom concerned about our whereabouts or our safety. We were sure to return home for the noon meal, which was called dinner, and for the evening meal, which was supper, which everyone ate before dark. After supper there would be some time for catching "lightening bugs" or 'jar flies" or playing hide and seek, or just hang out at the town pump before being called in to wash my feet before going to bed.
The second phase of my "growing up" was a different environment. World War II had ended and the men who had been away for years were returning home. Many of the food items which had been scarce due to unavailability or rationed, now were plentiful. Clothes, gasoline, tobacco, chocolate candy, chewing gum, sugar, colas and other drinks, oranges and bananas were just a few of the items which now were found in stores. The few cars in town were being driven again, and I was finally a teenager, no longer wearing overalls, but now wearing overall pants, known today as blue jeans, and riding Bill Freeland's school bus to high school.
High school meant that, among other things, I could hitch-hike to Chatsworth on Saturday and stay for the "midnight movie" which wasn't over until 12 p.m.; could go to basketball games on a school night by riding with Charlie Pannell who was the game's only referee; could carry cigarettes in my shirt pocket and smoke openly, but only when outside; would be invited to boy/girl parties in Eton, and if you were really popular, would be invited to parties in Chatsworth where there were many more girls. Entering high school meant that as a freshman you had to be "initiated" with such rituals as running the belt line, where the juniors and seniors would form a double line and their belts in hand and give each freshman runner a swat as they ran by, and it also meant making new friends, brought together from other parts of the county, many of which like Bobby Mosteller, Bill Ensley, and Carlton McDaniel remain close friends today. Going to high school also opened a whole new world of girl friends (not to be confused with the romantic girlfriend), which includes meeting and dating Jeannene Rymer, who later, would become my wife of now over fifty-one years.
Summers during the high school years saw fun filled swimming trips to Holly Creek at the CCC camp and the blue hole, and an occasional trip to Head's Mountain View Swimming Pool, a few miles north of Dalton on Highway 41. It was here that I first saw a swimming pool made by man and it was completely surrounded by people all wearing bathing suits!! But summers were no longer free lime to do as I wanted. I now had reached the age where I must have a job in order to help support myself. I found plenty of work each summer with good jobs sometimes paying as much as .50 cents an hour. Those jobs included unloading coal from railroad cars, by shovel, for Fred Brown Coal Co., and trucking it to homes that used coal stoves for heat, which was most homes in the county; stacking lumber to dry in the lumberyard along the railroad tracks in Eton and loading the cured lumber into railroad cars for shipment; off bearing strips and slabs at Sam Stafford's sawmill up Holly Creek; and one summers work as a "gofer" for the carpenters building Brown's, now Peeples' funeral home in Chatsworth.
Throughout all of these busy high school days and weekends, Aunt Johnnie Hartley now my primary provider, required, regardless of the weeks work or play, that I be at Sunday School and Church at Eton Methodist Church each Sunday morning. I was, and my life has been better as a result.
After graduating from MCHS in May 1949,1, along with a fellow graduate and good friend. Fred Bedelle, left home to find work in the new world which we had just entered. We got a job at a large sawmill in Beersheba Springs, Tennessee, getting room and meals in the company's boarding house for $12.00 a week. It didn't take but a couple of months of working there: however, to realize that life in Murray County was more to my liking, and I returned to the good life in Eton.
The summer of ‘49 saw a new activity come to Chatsworth, and it replaced sitting on the courthouse lawn as the most popular pastime for young folks. It was a roller skating rink under a large tent located just off the main street, behind Brown's furniture store and across the street form Westfields Department Store, it was there that young people from all over the county gathered nightly, and the outdoor music could be heard all over town. It was there too, that I broke my ankle for a second time, which slowed my activities, but because my best friend Jack Keith had a car, I went to all of the ball games and parties and really missed nothing.
Since my injured ankle prevented me from working at the better paying construction and saw milling jobs. I worked for the next ten months at Fincher Drug Store in Chatworth. In those days the drug store soda fountain, with its big double door always open to the sidewalk, was where everybody gathered, young and old, gathered at some time during the day. In the morning it was Dr, R. H. Bradley, whose office was upstairs, who came in for a cup of coffee and a cigarette, soon followed by Mrs. Maude Gudger, Ruth DeLay, Baron Brooks, "Red" Vining, Mack Jackson, Richard Kendrick and J. Roy McGinty just to name a few. It seemed as if everyone in town came in for a '"fountain" coke. In the late afternoon it was the pretty girls who worked in the office jobs at the bank, courthouse, and offices who dropped in for a coke and provided the high point of the work day for several of us guys.
As much fun as it was working in the drug store, my frequent mentor and advisor, Mr. Will Keith called me into the store to tell me that he had found me a good paying job at over seventy-five cents per hour with the large construction company which was setting up operations in Eton to widen and resurface Highway 411. This job, which I couldn't afford to turn down for financial reasons, also paid a very special dividend–for as I spent the summer working very hard for very long hours, it caused me to listen to my family, especially my "bossy" sister, who were encouraging me to consider going to college.
In September 1950 1 enrolled in North Georgia College, and for the next four years the time spent in Eton consisted of those weekends and holidays which I was able to ''come home" from college. The trip from Dahlonega to Eton would begin after class at noon on a Saturday. Tom Moreland, also a NGC student and good friend, and I would frequently hitch-hike home together. The trip would entail catching a ride from Dahlonega to Dawsonville on US 19. This was the road to Atlanta and often used by whiskey runners carrying moonshine to Atlanta. A college student in an army uniform in the front seat helped the "shine runner" look like a parent taking his son home from college and reduced his chances of being stopped by the law. For us it was just a fast ride home. From Dawsonvitle, we hitched a ride to Fairmount going thru Tate and Jasper. From Fairmount we could hitch a ride to Chatsworth or if you hadn't had good luck by 4:30, we would flag down the Greyhound bus, if we had the fifteen cents fare to Chatsworth. It was usually near dark when we got home, but not too late to change clothes and go to the Saturday night square dance at the Legion Hall in Chatsworth. The return trip of Sunday would be just as long and difficult, but often I would get a ride with a family returning students to either Dahlonega or the University in Athens. One important remembrance about the weekend trips from college which Judy Poag and I would often share, was, that before leaving the college dorm at noon on Saturday, we would be sure to take a shower, because neither of our families had running water in our homes and a Saturday night bath in the washtub was now in the past.
College attendance did not remove the requirement for a job in the summer, so catching and hauling chickens for Amos Keith, and working in the bedspread plants in Dalton provided good spending money and allowed some to be put toward college expenses. Despite some family hardships as my father was accidently burned and subsequently died, and the Korean War erupted and took away my brother-in-law who, along with my sister, were my biggest supporters both financially and emotionally, I graduated from college in 1954 and left Eton, all my family and friends for a career in the Army.
Although I left my hometown and began my travels to see the world, my hometown memories have never left me. Still vivid in my mind is my first day of school in the Eton gymnasium (yes, the city had a gym complete with stage, basketball court and an outside tennis court); watching the CCC boys unload road gravel from the railroad cars in front of our house and hauling it to gravel the road to Grassy Mountain Lake; drawing up water in a bucket from the big spring in my grandfather James' backyard which now is capped with a large dome and supplies a very large amount of water to the city of Chatsworth and local industry; playing baseball each weekend at baseball fields all over the county to large and sometimes rowdy crowds; camping trips, hiking up the Tibbs Trail to Grassy Mountain Lake with our Sunday School class, and I will never forget seeing Eton from the cockpit of my helicopter in the warm Sunday evening twilight as both Methodist and Baptist churches emptied their pews through both the doors and the open windows as I landed my large and very loud Army helicopter in a cloud of dust in the street to the front of our house, with my Aunt Mamie Pierce waving an aluminum dishpan in one hand and a white towel in the other, guiding me safely down!!!! I think I had better stop here ...
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