“I was born in 1934. I’m the ninth child of 10 children. We grew up on a small farm in Jones County, Mississippi, between Laurel and Soso.
In those days we heard about Newt Knight, a white man who lived in a mixed-race community in the swamps. They rebelled against the Civil War and would not secede from the union. They wouldn’t accept any government and wanted to be left alone. They declared the area between Laurel and above Soso as a free state and called themselves the Free State of Jones. Newt had two families, one white and one black. We lived on a dirt road, and they walked that road. They were very tall, light-skinned, and slim people. We were always sympathetic with Blacks, but they didn’t socialize with anyone outside of their community.
I remember seeing the Ku Klux Klan at gatherings outside of town. They burned houses and structures and we were afraid of them. My dad said that anyone who has to cover his head to settle a difference is not a man that you can trust.
We lived about seven miles outside of Laurel. We didn’t have money and raised everything we ate except vanilla, sugar, and flour. We bought those from a rolling store that came by once a month. We waited for that rolling store like it was Santa Claus coming. We would walk in and smell the spices. At that time, we didn’t have electricity. We had an icebox that was cooled by big blocks of ice. Our money was spent on ice first. They had drinks that were in square bottles. We put one or two teaspoons with a little sugar in a glass of water, and it was heaven.
We all worked on the farm, and the younger kids helped the older kids with chores. We had a fun family. We didn’t have a lot of toys or anything, but we had one another to play with. I was a tomboy because I didn’t have enough girls to play with. Most of our games were at night after the work was done. We played hide-and-seek and chased lightning bugs. Our yard was hard dirt, not grass. My brothers dug cups in the ground and gave each one a number. We slid washers on the dirt to see which cup you could roll it in. We peeled and sliced potatoes and put them on a frying pan in a coal bucket with two racks. My brothers put the potatoes in a frying pan and cooked them like potato chips.
We had 40 acres and mules. We raised corn, cotton, turnips, potatoes, cows, chickens, and turkeys. We used everything on the hog. We had a smokehouse with a fireplace on one side for the hickory smoke. On the other side was a bin filled with salt. We put the hams in the salt to cure them. We hung the sausage and bacon to smoke to keep it from spoiling.
After my grandmother died, my grandfather stayed with each of his children and we loved when he came to us. He sat on our front porch, dressed in a suit and a white shirt. As we came in and out through the door, he called us over, reached in his pocket, and pulled out one of those orange marshmallow peanuts for us.
After my grandfather died, we got most of his estate and used it to pay for electricity and an indoor bathroom. We bought a refrigerator and had electric lights. It was unreal. The lights were just hanging bulbs but it was still so bright that it took some getting used to. We also bought a radio. People brought food over on Sundays and listened to baseball games. Neighbors were gathered around our radio the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. My mother and the women put their hands up and cried. I asked my sister, ‘Why are they crying? She said, ‘The war has started, and our brothers will have to go.’
One of my brothers tried to dodge the draft by shooting off his big toe. He missed and shot off his second toe. He had to go anyway. Two of my brothers went to war and were stationed in the Pacific. We weren’t supposed to know the details of their location. We got one letter that sounded crazy and not like the other letters. We realized my brother wrote in code to tell us he was in Guam. We had ration stamps during the war. We didn’t need the ones for lard, butter, and milk because we made our own. We traded those stamps for shoes and things we couldn’t make.
I went to the country school in Calhoun and got the bare minimum, but I wanted to be a nurse. One of my sisters married and moved to Mobile. She suggested that I go to nursing school at the Old Mobile City Hospital in a beautiful white building on St. Anthony and Broad. This hospital was run by the Daughters of Charity. I didn’t have any money for college, but they worked with me. Dad sold a calf for $300, and that got me started. I was one of the first coeds at Springhill College. I came with very little education and was in pre-med classes including chemistry, biology, and microbiology. My vocabulary was terrible and I didn’t know half of the words. Much of my time was looking up words in the dictionary. On weekends, I worked at Dykes Drive Inn making sandwiches. I prayed my way through college, but I was determined I was going to do it.
The hospital had an isolation wing with all kinds of diseases including polio, diphtheria and tetanus. The polio patients were in iron lungs. When the electricity went off, we students had to run to those patients and pedal to keep the air going through to their lungs. We were so happy when the Salk Polio Vaccine came out.
I got my nursing license in 1955 and worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m in the emergency room. City Hospital was the trauma center for Mobile and Baldwin counties. We saw everything, and I was the only nurse there on that shift.
Things weren’t disposable like they are now. We kept glass syringes on a rack and disinfected the needles in a pan. We sharpened needles on a stone and put them in disinfectant. Gloves were rewashed and tested to make sure there were no holes. We even reused tubing and catheters.
The patients were divided by race. We had a little black boy who had been there for a long time. We asked to take him to a Mardi Gras parade, but as students we had to wear our white uniforms. We got on the bus and the driver made him go to the back of the bus. He was too young to realize what color was. I was so angry.
Nursing has changed a lot. We once gave patients backrubs as part of their nightly care. It was comforting to them. Then they changed it to where we couldn’t include this.
I married and moved to Nashville. We moved to Fairhope and I worked in the emergency room and ICU at Thomas. My five kids grew up and I got a divorce. I became a travel nurse and traveled around the south. I met and married Jim Hyde. I retired so we could travel. Jim died and I worked for Bay Eyes for 11 years. I retired a couple of years ago.
My biggest accomplishment is my five children and their families. I have two daughters, two granddaughters, and a daughter-in-law who are nurses. There were days my granddaughters and I worked in the same unit and we had many laughs.
I have gone from no electricity to cell phones. I don’t think I want to learn anymore. Out of ten children, only two of us are left. Our children, nieces, and nephews want to hear these stories, so I am trying to pass them down.”
For this interview and others, or to buy the book, click: our Southern Souls: sharing the Soul of the South one person at a time
This story reminds me of my grandmother and stories I heard growing up. She moved with her family from a farm to working in a cotton mill when a young girl. I remember the bare light bulbs hanging in her mill house and my great grandmother also traveled from one of her childrens homes to another and stayed for awhile before moving to another. The mill neighborhood was close and I think a lost way of life now. There was a church and baseball team and front porch swing on every house where people sat on Sundays and talked to those who walked by. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.
You’re welcome, Debbie. Yes, Frankie’s stories of everyday life and change over time are wonderful and sad at the same time. I loved her description of the light bulbs being too bright after living mostly in natural light.
Thank you for sharing this! ‘Sounds like a life well-lived! And I love the fireflies in Jones County!
Good to hear from you, Stephanie! I loved the details Frankie provided of everyday life, as well as her memories of the Knight family.
Thank you for this interesting and heartwarming article! She is older than I but I do recall some of these same things from when I visited my grandparents, R.W. (Bob) and Delia Tisdale (your great uncle and aunt and brother of “Wash” Tisdale your grandfather) in the Jones County, Sweetwater community. I was born out there but we moved to the big city of Ellisville when I was four years old!
I love articles and books that make me remember my childhood memories and experiences! Those were such innocent times and I loved every minute of my life!
Blessings to you and yours, cousin!
Hello, Cousin Maxine! thank you for your comment. I too enjoyed Frankie’s reminiscences.
Though 10 years younger than Frankie, her memories brought to mind my early childhood on my Grandmother Katherine Bynum Stevens’ farm in Clarke County, MS. What a strong, courageous woman you have been, Frankie. Thank you for inspiring us all and reminding us of the true spirit of an authentic Southern Renegade Woman.
We didn’t visit Jones County but every few years. When we did it was amazing…catching “minners” in the creek, sneaking fudge from the freezer that sat on the porch, feeding watermelon rinds to the hogs, searching for arrowheads on my great grandfathers farm. And visiting with the ole folk and listening to their tales. Thank you for sharing Frankie’s story.
I am one of those Southerners that can’t forget growing up there. Love your piece; it sounds just like mine with a few .exceptions.
I have been living in California 55 years. Don’t really like it here, but would be out of place if I went back to Jones County because the big fairly I come from are nearly all gone. Went to school at Shady Grove, graduated in1948. Thank you, Dorothy Johnson Ladoceour
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Incredible life story!
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“They were very tall, light-skinned, and slim people.” How could they be “black” then?
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My grandmother would tell the most interesting turn of the century and depression time stories of SoSo. She loved visiting her grandparents there. She was a Valentine. My gggrandfather was James M Valentine. ( actually I had two Valentine gg grandfathers as I had 1st cousins marry ea other. I would love to hear from anyone who visits this blog who were Welch’s Coats or Valentines.
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Nancy, thanks for visiting Renegade South! I hope you’ll share some of your family’s stories with us.