MY LIFE ON SHADES MOUNTAIN, 1931 - 1933. By F. M. Perry
Our family life in Birmingham seems to have been divided into chapters according to our movesto new locations and periods of time living in each location within the city. During the firstchapter of our family life in Birmingham, which I have already described above, we lived at 2812Pike Avenue. Next we lived at 1651 50th Street, also described above. In the summer of 1931 wemoved again, this time to a rural setting nine miles out of town on the crest of Shades Mountain.
The community on top of the mountain was called Bluff Park. The house, with five acres of landaround it, was located on a side road just off Shades Crest Road. The main house was on a slightrise in the middle of the property with a block long driveway leading from the front gate up to thehouse. A small "branch" ran across the property in the front of the house and the drivewaycrossed the stream on a wooden bridge. Alongside the long driveway were tall stately Elm treeswith additional Elm trees on each side of the house. The first thing I noticed when we arrived atthis house was the soothing sound of the wind in those huge stately Elm trees.
Driveway To House In 2007. (The Bridge Is Gone. Pavement Has Been Added. The Land Was Meadow In 1933.)
The main house was quite old but the sturdiest house I had ever seen. It was a one-story housewith a very high vaulted roof. The exterior siding of the house was thick vertical boards andbattens. The interior walls were covered with horizontal planks resulting in a house that wasvirtually soundproof. From the inside one could hardly hear a storm that might be raging outside.The house had screened in porches on three sides. There were three or four bedrooms, a largeliving room, and a single bathroom. Strangely, the bathroom could only be reached from the backporch making it necessary for one to brave the outside weather when going to and from thebathroom. The kitchen with dining space was in a separate one-room house attached to the backporch thus making it necessary to cross the open porch to reach the kitchen for meals. Wequickly became adjusted to this arrangement and came to think of it as quite normal.
There was no central heating in the house. We had a large coal burning radiant heating stove inthe living room that could also heat the bedrooms depending upon the severity of the cold andwhether or not the doors were left open. But during the night the fire in the living room stove wasalmost always allowed to go out. Consequently we learned to sleep in very cold rooms andeventually grew to enjoy it. Papa usually got up first and started a fire in the living room stove.We children would jump out of bed and rush to the living room to get dressed beside the stove.The only heat we had in the bathroom was a kerosene heater which was fired up at bath time. The kitchen had a wood/coal burning cook stove as well as anelectric stove. In winter the kitchen was always comfortable when there was a fire in the coalcook stove. This coal fired stove also had an oven and a water reservoir that provided hot water.
Our water supply was from a 125 foot deep well with an automatic electrically motorized pump.The pump cycled on and off as we used water and we could hear it in operation from almostanywhere in the house. But, the water from this well was slightly red from the iron ore of themountain and it tasted strongly like iron. We tried using it to wash clothes until we found that thewhite clothes were turning red. There was a large cast iron cistern at the back of the house intowhich the rain gutters from the roof were channeled. We used rainwater from this cistern to washclothes. Each year in late August when rains ceased the well usually dried up and the cistern randry. Then Papa hauled water from town in large five-gallon containers to tide us over until rainsstarted again.
Beside and slightly behind the main house was a small two-room house that had been used forservant's quarters at an earlier time. It was then being used only for storage. In addition, there wasa smoke house, chicken houses, and a large barn on the property. The 5-acre tract was almostsurrounded by woods and no other houses could be seen from the main house. The nearestneighbor was almost a quarter mile away.
Papa's income being only about $200 per month, we were very pleased to have the opportunity tolive in this 5 acre "estate". It was depression time and we were feeling the pinch. But Papa's boss,Mr. B. H. Cooper who owned the place, knew that Papa had a large family who might enjoy theadvantages of living in the country. He rented the place to Papa for only $25 per month.
After we had been living there a short time, Mr. B. H. Cooper again showed his kindness byselling us, for a mere $25, a Shetland pony (named Bobo) and a small three-quarter size buggysuitable to be pulled by the pony. The pony, saddle, and buggy, with all necessary hitch rigging,was worth far more than $25. However, Mr. Cooper said that we might have the pony and buggy if we would agree not ever to sell to anyone else, but to sell it all back to himwhen we could no longer keep it. Thus, my dream of someday becoming a cowboy or horsemanmaterialized.
Care for the pony fell primarily to me. The pony was allowed to graze over the entire 5 acres buthe had to be fed additional food such as oats and cottonseed hulls each day. It was my daily choreto feed and water the pony when I came home from school each day. I learned to saddle Boboand to hitch him to the buggy. I used to ride him far and wide in the woods around the house.Sometimes we used the buggy to travel down Shades Crest road to the store or to the schoollibrary. The only negative memory I have of Bobo, the pony is the few occasions when I hadretired at night having forgotten to feed or water him. Mama made me get up, get dressed andlight the kerosene lantern and go out to the barn to feed and water Bobo.
Also soon after moving to our country place. Papa purchased a Holstein cow named Sukey. Shetoo was allowed to graze throughout the five acres. Papa attended to the milking of the cow mostof the time both morning and night and, of course the cow was fed special feed at the times ofmilking. When Papa became too busy with his License Inspector work to attend to the milking,he hired a young man, Andrew (Ookey) Reynolds, who lived about a quarter mile away, to do themilking. Papa never mentioned to me that I ought to learn to milk the cow. I was grateful. I neverhad to milk a cow. But I was called upon from time to time to "stake out" the cow, tethered on achain, in special grassy feeding places. And, if the cow escaped from our five-acre plot, whichshe did on several occasions, I was sent out to find and retrieve her. I took along a chain and a halter that I had to attach when I found her. ThenI would lead, or more accurately, "pull" the cow back home.
Quickly our menagerie of animals grew. Someone gave us a one-month-old kid, a mere baby,which we named Billy. We brought a cat with us when we moved in and soon we acquiredanother "elderly" tomcat that just happened by. Then we acquired a German shepherd dog. Latera Boston bull terrier just showed up and began to make his home with us. We searched for thedog's owner but did not find him until a couple of years had passed. And then there were the chickens!
Papa, ever ready with moneymaking ideas, decided that we should raise chickens for profit. Hegathered together such things as "brooders" (to keep baby chicks warm), and feeding andwatering equipment. Then he came home one night with five hundred day old chicks. It was thefall of the year and the weather was quite cool so he bedded them down in the little two-roomhouse (ex-servant's quarters) under the brooders. The next morning some 20 or 30 of the chickswere dead, having been smothered by all the other chicks pushing in under the warm brooder.The following night a few more of the chicks died. But there were so many chicks we still hadplenty. The baby chicks soon became strong enough to withstand the crush ders.
As the chickens grew Papa cut a small door in the side of the house so they could range outsidethe house. With the chickens came the chore of cleaning out the house, a share of which fell tome. I came to abhor that chore but continued to execute it for a number of years. When thechickens began to grow feathers we transferred them from the ex-servant's house to the regularchicken houses. It turned out that the chickens were all good stock Rhode Island Reds. Therewere a few roosters among the 450 or so that we had. We fed them well and, beginning at aboutsix weeks of age, they were ready to be sold as fryers. However. Papa had not pre-arranged tomarket the chickens. In the depression conditions that existed at that time Papa could find nowholesale buyers. We began to sell a few from time to time to surrounding families, but, inactuality, we became "chicken poor." We had far more chickens than we needed. Needless to say,we ate southern fried chicken several times a week. And the hens became pretty good "layers" sowe had all the eggs we needed.
More than two years later, when we moved back into the edge of the city, we still had about 200Rhode Island Red chickens to take with us.
Our cow. Sukey, gave us gallons of high butter fat milk every day. At the proper time Papa tookher down the road to a farmer's bull to have her "bred" so she would have a calf and "come infresh. In due time Sukey "dropped" a beautiful red colored heifer calf. We named the calf "May"because she was born in the month of May. It was a really exciting time for us children.
Sukey was a rather "low slung" cow and the calf had rather long legs. In fact, May had to kneeldown to get down low enough to suck milk from Sukey's utter. May did not get the hang of thisfor several days and we had to keep guiding the calfs head down so she could find the place tofeed. Eventually May became a good producer of milk also. During the years that we had thesecows we "drank milk instead of water." Sukey and May gave us lots of chores but also lots ofpleasure. We enjoyed watching their antics in the field. Sometimes in the evening at milking timeSukey came up to stick her head right in the back porch door.
Billy, the little one month old kid, had to be fed from a bottle at first to keep him from "crying"for his mother goat at night. But he was also eating grass already. He chose only the most tendersucculent grass shoots to eat. He was soft and cuddly and liked to be held in one's lap. Wheneverhe found someone sitting on the bench in the yard, he would jump into their lap. This was cutefor a while, but within a few months Billy grew larger and harder and his hoofs became quitesharp. I remember peacefully sitting on the bench one day when Billy suddenly sailed through theair and landed on my lap almost knocking the wind out of me. We started a concerted campaignto break him of that habit.
For almost a full year of Billy's life he was very timid. He always wanted to be near one of uschildren. If he could not be near us, he stayed right next to the main house. He kept the lawnmowed smooth and close for about a three-foot radius around the house. But the grass shotstraight up beyond that radius and Billy would not go outside that radius without someone toaccompany him. We children took pity on him and used to walk with him to other areas of theyard where the grass was more plentiful. But Billy always grazed with one eye on the person whoaccompanied him and would not remain in the midst of the yard alone. One day I took Billydown to the bridge that spanned the "branch" so he could eat the tender grass under the bridge. Inoticed that Billy grew a little careless that day and walked quite a distance under the bridge withhis back towards me. So I quietly walked away back to the house several hundred feet away. Billy continued to graze for a couple of minutesbefore he turned around to check on my presence. When he found I was gone, he gave a pitifullysounding bleat and came running to the house as fast as he could.
Billy grew up to be a normal smelly goat with a hard head and horns. He became a bit of a bullytowards anyone smaller than him. In fact we had to discipline him with a stick when we caughthim coming up in the yard behind little brother Dick and butting him down. In spite of the factthat Billy became somewhat of a bully, we considered him normal and loved him very much.
We also enjoyed our dogs, the young German Shepherd (I can't remember his name), the BostonBull named "Fellar," and a little Fox Terrier named "Tommy." Of course the dogs shifted for themselves when we were not at home. I think that we kept Tommy inside the housemuch or the time, but the other two dogs were outside most or the time.
One Sunday when we came home from church we noticed that the young German Shepherd dogwas acting rather strangely, cowering before us with his tail between his legs. We thought thisindicated that the poor dog had done something naughty and his conscience was hurting him.Then we found a bundle of bloody chicken feathers on the lawn. This was an almost certainindication that our dog had killed and, eaten a chicken. However, we were reluctant to believe it.But, lo, the next Sunday when we were away at church, it happened again and this time we foundblood and feathers around the mouth of the dog. In spite of our dogs conduct, we loved him andwished that we could keep him. I had just recently read the book, "The Little Shepherd ofKingdom Come," which was about a dog that killed sheep. The book had indicated, and otherpeople told us that once a dog starts killing, no one could break him of the habit. In the book theguilty dog had to be put to death. We had hundreds or chickens and did not want to keep losingthem to the dog. It was impossible to keep the dog out of the chicken yard for he could easily getthrough or over the fence. What were we to do?
Luckily we found another family who lived in the city who wanted the dog in spite of the fact thathe was a "chicken killer." They said that they did not have any chickens. So the young GermanShepherd was given to his new masters.
The little black and white Boston Bull Terrier just appeared at our house one day. He was veryfriendly and we all fell in love with him. We enquired far and wide to try to determine where hehad come from, but no one knew him. So, or course, we kept him and named him "Fellar."
Fellar liked to chase a stick or anything else that we might throw, and bring them back to us.Actually, he seemed to prefer that we throw rocks for him to retrieve. Every time one of us cameout in the yard he would bring up a rock and drop it in front of us to be thrown. Strangely, therocks that he picked up to bring to us came to be bigger and bigger until he was dragging rocksaround which he could not even pick up! In fact, he dragged big rocks into the house so as tohave them ready top play "fetch" at any time. Then we noticed that Fellar's habit or carrying anddragging rocks around in his mouth was wearing his teeth down almost to the gums. At that pointwe started trying to break him of the habit and were successful to a certain extent.
After we had kept Fellar as our own for almost two years a family from the City happened todrove in their car into our driveway. I don't remember why this family happened to come our way,but they were soon telling us about their Boston Bull Terrier which had wandered away fromtheir car on an earlier trip to our Shades Mountain community. We called Fellar out of the houseto meet them and it quickly became clear that Fellar was their dog. He answered to another namethat they called him and seemed overjoyed to have found his original owners. We had fullyadopted Fellar into our family and loved him very much, but we could not deny his originalowners from taking him back home with them that day.
For a long time Mama had said that she wanted a little housedog. In fact, she had decided thatshe would like to have one of the so-called "toy" breeds that are like "midget" dogs. So.Somehow Mama got a female "Toy Fox Terrier" puppy that she named "Tommy." Little Tommybecame a fearless protector of our household and we all agreed that she was the smartest dog wehad ever known. She seemed to understand everything we said and she could execute verycomplicated directions that Mama gave her. Tommy remained in our household for several years.
Concerning the cats in our household as we lived on Shades Mountain, I remember just oneanecdote. We had acquired an aged Tomcat that came in out of the woods to our house. At first the cat was afraid to come into the house, but after being fed and petted for a while, itstarted coming into the kitchen. In order to warm the kitchen on cold winter mornings, Mamabuilt small fires in the wood/coal-burning cook stove. Then she would leave the oven door opento allow the heat around the oven to radiate out to the kitchen. The fire in the stove was usuallynot actually built around the oven and the oven only got toasty warm. So, the Tomcat got into thehabit of jumping into the open oven and going to sleep there. Of course, the inevitable thingfinally happened. One day about noon Mama asked if we had seen the cat recently. She said heseemed to have disappeared. We began to look around for him. On a hunch, noticing that theoven door was closed, I went over and opened it. Out jumped the cat! He seemed not to be hurt.He had been locked in the oven for hours.
On August 31, 1931, shortly after we had moved to our 5-acre place on Shades Mountain, it wastime to start to school again. I was ready for the sixth grade. My bother Bert was ready for thefourth grade, and my little sister Betty Jo was ready to start the second grade. We were allaccommodated in the little one room Bluff Park School with Mrs. V. J. Hale as teacher for allgrades. Actually, the school building had two rooms. But, there was only one teacher and there were only enough students to occupy one room. Five different grades sat andrecited lessons in the single classroom, listening in on each other's recitations. (There would havebeen six grades in the room except that there was no pupil in the fifth grade that year.)
My little sister, Isabel, was only five years old at this time. But she was very close to her sister,Betty Jo, and felt that she should go to school also. The teacher, Mrs. Hale, told us that it wouldbe all right for Betty Jo to bring her little sister, Isabel, to school sometime as a visitor as long asshe didn't do anything to disrupt the classroom. At that point there was no thought of actuallyenrolling Isabel in school. But Isabel began going to school. She sat with the first graders andbegan to excel. She even listened to the second graders as they rehearsed their lessons and tookpart in them as well. She became an outstanding pupil and Mrs. Hale allowed her to officiallyenroll in the first grade. We Perry kids bragged far and wide about our little Isabel and heraccomplishments in the first grade.
I remember this year of schooling as being quite a happy one. I thought it no disadvantage tohave to sit in the classroom with the lower grades. Mrs. Hale gave the sixth grade (three or fourstudents) things to read or problems to solve while she heard the lessons of the other grades. Observing Mrs. Hale teach all the grades together was a good educational experience initself! As I remember, Bert, Betty Jo, and Isabel did quite well that year also.
The Bluff Park School was one mile in distance from our house. Sometimes Papa drove us to school in the car, but more often we walked on a path through the woods. Apparently we did not all go to school and return at the same time because I seldom walked on the woodspath with the other children. I remember walking the path to and from school alone most of thetime and in all kinds of weather. The winters in Alabama were not very long but were sometimesquite severe.
I remember that the water fountain for getting a drink of water at the Bluff Park School was anoutdoor pipe with holes connected to the picket of a hand pump. The pump had to be primed andthen operated vigorously to get water to flow in the pipe. When the water became plentifulenough it would spurt out of the holes in the pipe like little fountains. One person would pumpwhile all the children got drinks of water. The toilet facilities were simply separate outhouses.There was one outhouse for the boys and one for the girls. We thought these facilities to be fullysatisfactory and did not feel that we needed anything more sophisticated.
One recess activity of the boys was to walk into the nearby pine forest and play in the pineneedles on the ground. One favorite pass time was building Indian type wigwams of stickscovered with pine needles. Another was to pile up pine needles like a haystack and then dive intothe air letting the pine needle stacks break our falls.
Across the road from the school was a pond that was a never-ending source of curiosity for us. Itwas the only such pond so near the crest of Shades Mountain. We wanted very much to goswimming in the pond. There was a flat-bottomed boat which someone sometimes used to polehimself across the pond. Very likely we were forbidden to go near the pond for I don't rememberthat we ever did.
On a couple of occasions I rode our pony, Bobo, to school and tied him to a tree outside theschool during the school day. But I felt sorry for him having to stand outside alone all day anddecided not to ride him to school again.
The road, which was used by cars to drive from our house to the school, was a part of ShadesCrest Road that ran along the crest of the mountain beside the bluffs that dropped almost straightdown into Shades Valley. Sometimes we walked to school along this road. On the side of theroad opposite the bluffs were a number of houses. Some of our classmates lived in these houses.There was one house built on the bluff side of the road. It was a masonry house built out of rocks.One wall of the house seemed to form part of the bluff. At one point the road went between twoenormous boulders that we sometimes climbed for the view from the top.
From the bluffs beside Shades Crest road we could look almost straight down into the valley farbelow and imagine that we were observing the view from an airplane. The buffs were so steepand precipitous that it could have been quite dangerous to try to descend the steep mountain ifone did not know exactly where he was going. At the top of one prominent bluff was a plack naming the spot "Lovers Leap" and reciting the story of a young Indian couple who, having beenforbidden to wed, had flung themselves to their deaths from the bluff. But our house and its 5 acres were a good quarter mile back from the bluffs on the plateau of themountaintop.
In May of 1932 at the end of the school year, the whole school performed a play. As I remember,everyone in school had a part. Some of the small pupils performed as trees or "flowers" and someperformed as people with speaking parts. I think I had the longest speaking part of all. I had tomemorize such a long part that I was quite nervous about being able to remember it all. But mystage fright seemed to disappear as the play progressed and I felt exhilarated by it all. After thatperformance I have never experienced stage fright when speaking before an audience; that is. Ihave never been frightened when I have been confident that I was well prepared. I am reluctant tostand before an audience however, if I must speak "off the cuff" and am not well prepared. Theart of my exhilaration at that time was probably due to the fact that I was graduating fromelementary school and was receiving my "diploma" at the end of the performance. I was to startthe seventh grade in "Junior High School" the next year.
My grades for the year at Bluff Park School were mixed. I received A's and B's in subjects suchas reading, writing, arithmetic, language and geography. I received mostly C's in spelling andhistory. My report card shows that I received an all around grade of 90% on the countywideexamination given to all Jefferson County sixth graders.
After my experience with sixth grade history, I began to feel dislike for history courses. I suspectthat this dislike was due to the uninteresting way in which the subject of history was taught inthose days. I felt that I had simply to learn by rote the titles of events and the years in which theyoccurred. The events themselves seemed to be very dry and unrealistic. I had difficulty keepingmy mind on the subject. After that, throughout my high school and college career I avoidedhistory courses if I could. In my grown-up years I have regretted not getting a good schoolfoundation in history. My later reading has ushered me into some understanding of the passionand excitement involved in many great historical events.
We got acquainted with a number of other children on Shades Mountain and, at times, had somegreat times together. I remember a watermelon party we had at our house one summer's day. Wehad invited all our friends a week or so in advance. Papa had come home from the city with theback seat of the car loaded with watermelons. We did not have enough ice to make them all coldbut we put them in the cool water of the branch that ran across our yard. I guess we had otherrefreshments, such as cake and ice cream but we all liked watermelon and we ate the lot of them.It was traditional for watermelon parties to end in "water melon fights" when we all squirted eachother with watermelon juice and "washed faces" with watermelon rines.
At other times we got together for afternoon hikes along Shades Crest Road or for dancing theVirginia Reel at the school. During the hot days or summer, I sometimes went with several otherboys down the steep side of the mountain to go swimming in Shades Creek in the valley. It wasvery steep going down the mountain and we had to hold ourselves back by grasping trees andsaplings on the way. The creek, fed by innumerable cold springs, had some good swimmingholes. The water was almost too cold to enjoy but it certainly relieved us from being too hot. Orcourse. We swam in the buff in a secluded spot on the creek.
After swimming and getting fully refreshed from the hot weather, we had to return home byclimbing back up the mountain. By the time we reached the top on the way back we would bepuffing heavily and soaking wet from perspiration. At that point we usually remarked to eachother that the swim in the cool water had hardly been worth the trouble.
At other times we went to a branch, called Huckleberry Branch. It was much closer to our house,to swim. Actually, Huckleberry Branch was so shallow we could do nothing but wade and splashin it. But we got cooled off in the water. Mama did not like the idea of our swimming in the buffand told us that we should not do it. But the temptation to do it on a hot day got the better ofMama's argument. Mama always knew that we had been swimming because we returned to thehouse so clean! But most of the time our lives were somewhat lonely as far as association with other kids wasconcerned.
One crude attempt to bring excitement to the Bluff Park community was the staging of prizefights on certain Saturday nights. There was a wooden platform-boxing ring constructed next tothe community store at the corner of Shades Crest Road and our side road. With the promise of"a purse," some black men were enticed to come to our community, "put on the boxing gloves,"and "fight" each other. The "purse" consisted of money tossed into the ring after the fight orreceived from "passing the hat" among those who watched the fight. Although these fights werenot staged for children to see, I managed to view them from the edge of the woods on a couple ofoccasions.
The fights were really quite degrading to the black men who took part. No black people lived inour mountain top community so these men had to be persuaded to come up from Birmingham totake part. They were not trained boxers. In fact, many of them had probably never boxed in theirlives. Apparently they took part simply because of their need for the small sums of money theywere promised. The economic conditions in which many people (especially black people) lived atthat time of the great depression were very poor indeed.
If the "knock down, drag out" encounters these men had with each other had not been so tragic,they might have been funny. Judging by the loud laughter and yelling, they were funny to manywho watched. The men fought hard, swinging "knock out haymakers" at each other. Luckily, fewof those erratic swing connected. At the end of the matches one last "free for all" was staged withseveral men in the ring at once, swinging at each other indiscriminately. I only remember feelingsorry for the pitiful combatants.
It was during this first year at our family's life on Shades Mountain that I have my firstrecollections of Papa's problem with alcoholism. Often when he came home from work he wouldbe drunk. These were the years of prohibition. The only alcoholic drink generally available in thetaverns of Birmingham was a drink called "near beer." Its alcoholic content was low enough toescape the "prohibition" laws. In late afternoons after work Papa often met with his cronies for abeer or two before coming home. Apparently drinking this beer easily intoxicated Papa. Thisbegan to happen so often that Mama began to believe that Papa was purposely trying to get drunkin order to "forget" his imagined troubles. Mama often said that Papa was a dreamer who feltfrustrated because he could not fulfill his great dream.
There was a time as we lived on Shades Mountain that we lived in dread that Papa might comehome drunk. If he came home early or at a reasonable time he was always sober and we heaved asigh of relief. He was a very lovable person when he was sober and we enjoyed being with him.But, if the evening grew late and he wasn't home yet, we knew he would probably be drunk whenhe got home. On winter evenings I used to station myself at a front room window to watch theheadlights of cars coming along Shades Crest Road. I could not see the cars themselves for therewere woods between our house and the main road. But, in winter when the trees were mostlybear we could see the headlights of cars proceeding along Shades Crest Road. If the headlightsturned down our side road, then there was a good chance that the car was that of Papa cominghome. Then the lights would pause at our front gate while Papa got out to open the gate, movethe car inside our property and close the gate again so our livestock could not get out. WouldPapa be drunk or sober? It only took us a few seconds to answer that question after he reachedthe house. We learned to recognize all the signs of inebriation at a glance. We loved him so, buthow disappointed and disgusted we were when he came home drunk.
One winter's night Papa arrived home in an inebriated state. Mama got him into bed and all of uschildren went to bed as well. Sometime in the night Papa awoke, still drunk, saying that he hadheard a prowler outside our house. He jumped out of bed, got his handgun from it's storage placein a bureau drawer, and went out on the back porch to see who might be outside threatening hisfamily. I also awoke at the commotion. Mama followed Papa out to the back porch but told me tojust remain in bed. On the porch both Mama, and Papa saw something white moving in thedistance. As Papa aimed the pistol at the white thing, I heard Mama say to him. "Don't shoot, Ithink that is the goat!" Nevertheless. I heard three or four pistol shots.
Then I heard the pitiful bleating of our dear Billy. Then I heard Mama say. "You have shot thegoat!" I wanted to get up and go immediately to see what could be done for Billy. But Mama toldme to go back to bed and that she would go herself to see what could be done for him. Papa,somewhat sobered by then and feeling remorse for what he had done, went with Mama into thepitch dark back yard to see if he could help the goat. After some time they came back in thehouse saying that we would just have to wait until morning to see how badly Billy was hurt.
The next morning I awoke with but one thing in mind. That was to see how badly Billy had beenhurt by the shot. Mama and Papa were both up already, wearing serious looks on their faces. I feltsuch resentment at Papa I was unable to talk to him at all. Mama gave me breakfast and told menot to see Billy but to go on to school. She said that she and Papa would take care of Billy. Atschool I was able to get my mind off of Billy for a while, thinking that his wound might havebeen superficial and that he would be "on the mend" when I got home.
When I got home that afternoon Papa was gone to work and Mama was working quietly in thekitchen. She told me as gently as possible that Billy had died and Papa had already buried him.All that was evident of our beloved Billy, whom we had raised from a small kid, was a mound ofdirt near the fence in our side yard. What a black and sorrowful day that was. Papa told me thatnight that he was ashamed and sorry that he had killed Billy. I forgave him. I loved him deeply.But I retain a degree of hurt in my soul to this day more than 60 years later.
I knew that Papa did not shoot Billy on purpose. I knew that the dulling of his senses by alcoholicdrink had caused the problem. But I had to hold him responsible for his drinking and the miseryit brought to him and his family. I have never been afraid of him, yet I have always had such aninnate sense of respect for him as my father that I have never been able to reprimand him. Anyreprimanding should have proceeded from him to me, not from me to him. From that timeonward I have had resentment and a bias against alcoholic drinks that at times have been almostfanatical.
Mama hoped that the loss of the goat and Papa's sense of shame at what he had done might bringhim to his senses so that he might quit drinking. Papa did lay off the drinking for some time afterthat, but in the long term he could not leave it alone. Papa did a lot of struggling with histemptation to drink. Sometimes he stayed "on the wagon" for long periods or time only to fallagain. He almost always tried to take us to Sunday school and church on Sundays. But sometimeshe had such a "hangover" that he did not go into the church building with us. His boss at theLicense Inspector's Office, Mr. B. H. Cooper, tried to help him overcome his bad habit. Andothers of Papa's acquaintances used to try to help him by congratulating him on being such alucky man with a beautiful wife, many fine children, and a good job during such hard times. Butstill others of his acquaintances regularly enticed him to go into the taverns with them just tohave one drink before going home. With Papa, there was no stopping with just one drink. Papabattled with his problem for more than 20 years before he finally got control of himself enough torefrain from drinking. There were to be many more times or misery for himself and his familyduring the period of about 20 years.
About once a month on Saturday, My brother, Bert, and I would ride into town with Papa to go tothe moving picture show. Although Saturday was not a regular working day, Papa often had extrawork to do at his office on Saturday. Admission to the movies for children was usually just tencents. Sometimes we would see two feature movies, going first to one theater, then to another.Other times we would go to a single theater and see the same movie twice. When we went onsuch an excursion into town, we always wanted to make sure we got in about four hours ofviewing. The movies we picked to view were usually cowboy films staring such actors as TomMix or Buck Jones. Papa would drop us off at the theater and then pick us up on a certain cornerat a prearranged time.
Sometimes these excursions went well. We got our fill of cowboy movies and Papa picked us upright at the appointed time. But often Papa would be late in meeting us after the movie.Sometimes we stood on the corner for hours before he arrived. When this happened he wasusually intoxicated when he finally arrived. Needless to say we were exasperated when thishappened, and sometimes we were quite afraid of riding home with him for his driving was hisdriving was erratic. But once we got into town we had no choice but to wait for him no matterhow long it took, and no choice but to ride with him in order to get home.
Obviously Papa did not know or think much about the intense frustration and feeling ofhelplessness that he caused us to have by leaving us for those hours on a street corner and thenfinally appearing in a drunken condition. We complained and he always apologized. But then itwould happen again the next time we went in to town with him. After this had happened a fewtimes I began to consider in advance the possibilities of what would happen should I go into townwith him again. The desire to see the movies was great. But the pain I might have to endure bybeing abandoned for hours in front of the theater dulled my desire to see the movies. I tried to getPapa's solemn promise in advance to pick us up on time. However, even when he promised, hesometimes did not fulfill his promise.
One Saturday Papa and Mama went in to town together to go shopping. They took little Dickwith them but left the other four children (me, Bert, Betty Jo, and Isabel) at home. I, being tenyears old, was to look after the younger three. During the afternoon the telephone rang. Ianswered. A voice on the line said that Mr. Perry had just been killed in an automobile accidenton the road up Shades Mountain! I was stunned, and could only say "What?" Then the line wentdead. I hung up the receiver. What was I to do? I had no details of the accident I had no telephonenumber to call.
My only thought was to contact a grown-up person, a neighbor. I told the three children what Ihad heard on the telephone. They began to cry and look scared. I had them join hands and I ledthem outside and across our yard in the direction of our neighbor's farm next to our property. Wehad to crawl through a fence and then walk along the rows of a cornfield until we came insight ofthe farmhouse of the Williams' family. Mr. and Mrs. Williams saw us coming across the fieldand came out to meet us.
When I told Mr. and Mrs. Williams about the telephone report of my father's death, Mr. Williamsimmediately picked up the telephone and began calling to check on the accident. As Mrs.Williams tried to comfort us, Mr. Williams made several telephone calls. After a while he calledme over and handed the telephone to me. I said, "Hello, and then Papa was talking to me alive,on the line. Papa was not dead! There had been no automobile accident! He and Mama and Dickwere all O. K.!
Papa had many friends in the city of Birmingham. As a law enforcement officer he was known tobe fair and even merciful to those who had inadvertently broken licensing laws. But he had alsoacquired a few enemies. Some enemy had perpetrated the cruel hoax of telephoning the falsereport. And, on at least one occasion, Papa came home with bullet holes in his car. Someone shotat him as he drove through a certain neighborhood. Papa knew that someone was shooting, but hecould not determine exactly where the bullets originated.
The second year we lived on Shades Mountain I was in the seventh grade that was the first yearof Junior High School. I had to ride the school bus seven miles into the village of Homewood toattend Shades Cahaba Junior High School. Each morning at seven AM I had to catch the schoolbus at the community store on Shades Crest Road about a quarter mile from our house. The rideto school proceeded along Shades Crest Road as the bus picked up other high school students.Then the bus plunged down the mountain on a steep side road that dropped in to the ShadesValley community of Edgewood. The community was identified by Edgewood Lake that wecrossed on the bus route. We then proceeded on a road along the valley floor to the village ofHomewood where the High School was located.
The method of teaching in junior high school was drastically different from that used inelementary school. Instead of spending the day in one room with one teacher teaching us allsubjects, we began to change classrooms each hour and have different teachers. Also I rememberthat the teachers no longer seemed to pay close attention to each student's performance. In fact, Iremember one teacher's statement to the class that she did not care whether we passed or flunkedthe course. Our grade for the course would be entirely up to us.
I knew, of course, that my performance was up to me. I did not expect it to be otherwise. But Iremember that I thought the teachers were unduly harsh in making such statements and that theytaught in an unusually detached way. They seemed not to be very much interested in the subjectsthey taught, and did not make the subjects interesting to the students. My recollection is that theirattitude was, "Here is the information you are supposed to learn, take it or leave it!" I concludenow that my teachers for the seventh grade junior high school were trying to becomeindependent, self-starting students. But at eleven years of age, this kind of incentive did not workwith me. My grades dropped drastically.
The things that I remember most concerning my year in the seventh grade at Shades CahabaJunior High School are waiting for the bus rides in to school each morning, playing football orbaseball on the playground at recess, and one particular academic course in the origin of theEnglish language. In this course we studied the roots of English words, and how words wereconstructed with prefixes, roots, and suffixes. I remember being fascinated by this study that gotme interested min studying Latin later in High School.
Although we had no formal athletic teams in the 7th grade, we chose up teams and playedfootball and baseball, depending on the season, at recess and at the lunch hour. At eleven years ofage I was rather short and plump but quite strong for my age. Once during a football game Icaught the ball on the kickoff. I tucked the ball under my arm and with great determination and ayell of defiance I headed down the field. To my amazement, I ran right through the opposingteam all the way to the goal line, a touchdown on the kickoff. I guess 1 presented such aferocious appearance as I ran that everyone who stood between the goal line and me was afraid toget in my way.
Each school morning one bus was supposed to arrive at the community store to pick up riders at7 AM. The bus was not always on time so the 5 or 6 students waiting there would engage invarious games until the bus came. One cold winter morning we were throwing a football aroundto each other. I reached up to intercept the ball. The ball struck the edge of my right hand andbent my little finger backwards in a very unnatural way. It hurt terribly. The bus arrived at thatmoment and despite the pain I was experiencing, I got on the bus. My hand hurt very much allday and at times I thought I was going to be sick at my stomach. I did not tell anyone about it,thinking all along that the pain would subside and that there was probably nothing anyone coulddo to help anyway. At home that night I think I told my mother that I had hurt my hand but Ididn't think it was serious. The pain gradually subsided over a period of two or three days. Mylittle finger became stiff but I kept trying to exercise and use it. Finally after a week or so Iregained full use of the finger, but then I noticed that the little finger was no longer straight andhad become permanently crooked. Apparently the finger had been broken and it had healedcrooked instead of straight. I used to brag that I could then reach an extra note on the piano in thespan of my right hand, and it became easier for me to play octaves. On my ID identification card,the identifying feature of my body, should I be killed in an accident, became the "crooked littlefinger on my right hand."
As I was riding the bus to school, someone told me of a prank that had been played the previousyear to cause the bus to have a flat tire and for the bus to be late in delivering the kids to school.Someone had placed a board, with a nail sticking up through it, directly under the tire as the busstopped to pick up riders. The tire was then punctured when the bus pulled away from the stop.There was a rumor that the same prank would be played again soon. Sure enough, one morningas the bus got underway, word went around among the riders that the tire would go flat soon. Wewere about halfway to school, beside Edgewood lake, before a problem with the tire was noticed bythe driver. A tire was flat. The bus did not carry tools or a spare tire. So the driver had to leavethe bus parked beside the road and walk away to find a telephone to summon a maintenancetruck. We kids disembarked from the bus and began to explore the shores of Edgewood Lake.We thought it to be a great adventure. The maintenance truck did not arrive for about three hoursand we missed all morning classes. The bus driver knew that one of the kids had caused the tireto go flat. But he did not give away that secret. Back on the bus he made an announcement to thekids that he would not tolerate another prank of that nature. It did not happen again that year.
During this year a new family member arrived from California to live with us. Daisy EvelynMorris was my mother's niece, my first cousin. Daisy's mother had died, leaving her father, myuncle Charley Morris, with two daughters. The other daughter, whom I have never met wasnamed June. The younger was Daisy Evelyn. Uncle Charley was getting remarried, and Daisythen about 15 years old, was feeling unaccepted in the new family and quite uncomfortable.Mama heard about this and invited the girls to live with us. The older daughter, June declined tocome, but Daisy decided to come.
It must have been a momentous and somewhat frightening step for Daisy. A rather frail 15-year-old girl, to leave the only home she had ever known in San Jose. California and travel alone allthe way on the train to Alabama to live with relatives she really did not know. She was a ratherthin, blonde girl with lots of freckles. She was embarrassed about the freckles. All of our familymembers were rather dark brunettes. But I thought freckles were attractive. She was soon settledin as part of our family now numbering nine people. We had Mama and Papa, me my twobrothers and two sisters my cousin Morris, and now my cousin Daisy.
I was very glad to have Daisy as a member of our family. I am ashamed now to say that I couldnot bring myself to show any sign of sibling affection for her in public. (I guess I was at the agewhen boys simply do not want to associate with girls.) Immediately upon her arrival at our houseshe began to ride the school bus with me to Shades Cahaba High School. I avoided sitting next toher on the bus. Secretly however, I was very proud of her. She took everything in stride and wasimmediately popular among the bus riders and her classmates. As we rode to school on the bus,kids would beg her over and over again to say the word "chocolate." They were intrigued by herCalifornia pronunciation of that word. I remember that Daisy turned sixteen years old during thetime we were riding the bus to school together. The kids teased her about being "sweet sixteenbut an old maid." (Actually, among the backwoods people of Alabama, it was not uncommonfor girls to be married at 16.)
We always looked forward to the summer vacation from school with great anticipation. When thelast day of the 7th grade arrived we were released from classes early in ~he day. However the buswas not to leave on our homeward route until afternoon. Some boys, who lived near us on ShadesMountain, suggested that we not wait for the bus but that we just "run" on home. We set off onthe seven-mile trip home literally at a trot. I think I was able to jog along for about a mile butthen I slowed to a walk. In fact, I think I finally caught a ride for part of the way.
For some reason on that final day at school our final report cards for the year were not ready. Wewere informed that we would have to pick them up later. I was not disappointed at not getting myreport card. I was afraid, for the first time in my life, that I had "flunked" one or more courses. Inever did return to get that report card. I do not know what my final grades were for the 7thgrade. The next school year found our family moved back into the city of Birmingham where Iwas enrolled into the 8th grade without any proof that I had finished the 7th grade. Amazingly Iwas never challenged and I applied myself so totally to learning during the 8th grade that I madethe best grades of my entire school career, becoming the class valedictorian!
Mama did not enjoy our family sojourn on Shades Mountain as much as I did. She felt tooisolated and wished to have more social life with other women than was possible in that isolatedcommunity. She used to say that Papa just wanted to keep her hidden away from other people.During the two years that we lived on Shades Mountain there were occasions when we had twocars and once, for a short time, we had three cars. I guess, by this time Morris could drive a car.Mama never learned to drive. So she was confined at home until Papa took her somewhere.
Our primary car, one that Papa used in his work, was a new 1932 Chevrolet sedan. Somehow, fora few months, Papa also had ownership of a big 1929 Buick. And for a few weeks he had a 1930Model A Ford Roadster. Making three cars parked in front of our house. But Papa and Morriswere the only drivers in the family. But soon we were back to only one car. During the last yearwe lived on Shades Mountain, Morris rented a room in downtown Birmingham near his workand we saw him only on weekends.
We tried our hand at gardening during the time we lived on Shades Mountain. I used to reallyenjoy the fresh vegetables we harvested from the garden. But I hated to perform the labornecessary to plant and cultivate the garden. As the oldest boy among the children, I had toperform a lot of chores in caring for the cows, pony, and the chickens.
One day when I went out to feed the chickens a rooster who came up behind me and pressed hisspurs into the back or my leg painfully surprised me. He was only protecting his harem of hens.But 1 was so angry with him that picked up a brick and threw it at him. Of course, the brickmissed the rooster. But it hit the back wall of our nearby kitchen and knocked a board loose.After that I was always wary in the chicken yard and would not let a rooster circle around behindme.
I began to be an avid reader of books while we lived on Shades Mountain. Mrs. Hale, the teacherat the one room Bluff Park school, used to have a branch of the county library at her house. Weused to harness the pony to the buggy and go to her house to check out books in the summer timewhen we were not in school. My favorite readings were western novels. But I remember sitting inour living room on one very hot summer day actually feeling cold while I read Jack London'sstory, "To Build a Fire." It is the story or an Alaskan man who ventured out on a journey by footwhen the temperature was about 60 degrees below zero. Through a series of seemingly minoraccidents, he finally froze to death. After that I read every Jack London story and novel I couldfind, and, incidentally I began to have an interest in the polar regions of the world that has neverleft me.
On Shades Mountain we lived in the midst of a very large forest. In the forest immediatelyadjacent to our house were the remnants of wire fences that had at one time been used bysomeone to pen up pigs or other animals. The fences were made by stretching barbed wire betweenthe trees. In time the pens were abandoned but the barbed wire was left in place. As the treesgrew, the bark of the trees grew around the wire making it impossible to remove the wire exceptby cutting the strands away from the trees. No one had ever done this and the barbed wire penswere still in place and almost invisible in the dark forest. I had found one barbed wire pen nearour house and I tried to remember to stay clear of it. But one spring evening when the young wildbaby rabbits were coming out of their nests and were hopping around our yard, I decided that Imight catch one or them. Rabbits have a habit or running a short distance and then stopping. Ihad seen other boys chase them and catch them. So when I happened to "scare up" a youngrabbit, I started running at top speed after it to catch it. It was almost twilight and the daylightwas fading. The rabbit ran into the near forest adjacent to our house. I was after it at top runningspeed. Suddenly something slammed into my chest and stopped my dash. It was a couple ofstrands of old barbed Wire strung between the trees. The barbs penetrated into the skin or mychest and stomach and then pulled loose as I fell down under the wire. With my shirt in tattersand with blood streaming down the front or me, I made my way back to the house. Everyone inthe family was gathered in the kitchen waiting for me to come in to supper. When I appearedbefore them there were some screams from my sisters and my mother rushed me into thebathroom for first aid. Luckily the cuts in my chest and stomach were not very deep and Mamasoon had my wounds under control. I was lucky there were no barbed wire strands at face or necklevel that would have caused more serious wounds. For a number or years scars were clearlyvisible on my chest and stomach. However, the scars eventually disappeared.
Almost every year forest fires would occur. For some reason, some people used to rid theirproperty of underbrush by periodically setting fire to it. Many times these fires spread out ofcontrol to nearby forests. Other times I think the forest fires might have been purposely set. Oneday while we children were at Bluff Park School a forest fire spread out or control in the forestbehind our property. Luckily our 5-acre rented property had been cleared of brush and thick trees.But when the fire reached our property it caught the grass of our 5 acres on fire and rapidlyspread toward the house and barn. Only Mama, and my little brother Dick were there. Mamapicked up feed sacks, soaked them in water, and went out to meet the grass fire advancingtowards the house. After much frantic beating of the sacks on the front line of fire, they were ableto stop the fire's advance before it damaged any buildings on our property.
After school that day as we children began to walk home, we saw the smoke of the forest fire andeven saw flames as it raged in the forest we passed on our way. We passed a number of houseswhere families had had to fight the fire to save their houses. We began to be concerned about ourown house. We were relieved to find that Mama and her helper had been able to save ourproperty. The worst of the fire traveled on through the forest past our house. But the big trees ofthe forest continued to burn for several days. We could hear trees crashing down in the forestduring the night as the trunks weakened as they burned. After many trees fell, the fires continuedto burn the roots making holes deep down in the ground. I learned after that to be very careful inwalking through forests that have once burned. There were many deep holes into which onemight step and break one's leg.
Although at times my life seemed lonely at our Shades Mountain Place, I learned to enjoy eventhat loneliness. I was always influenced somewhat by music and during these years I began toenjoy listening to and singing the various "blues" tunes. We lived so far from any neighbors that Iwas not embarrassed to go into the yard and sing "The Saint Louis Blues" at the very top of myvoice.
There are many little things that I vividly remember from those years: the jonquil flowers whichsomeone had planted in the middle of our circular driveway and which blossomed out in earlyspring each year, the lovely sound of the breeze in the Elm trees, fruit from the pear, peach, andapple trees, the single holly tree that grew along our fence line but never had any red berries, the bluebirds which nested each year in a hollow fence post and would attack anyone who came nearwhen they had unhitched eggs in the nest.
When we had lived in Birmingham's Central Park area I had been given a tennis racket and hadlearned to play tennis on the courts of a nearby city park. On Shades Mountain we had noconvenient access to a tennis court so we were unable to play. We had plenty of room on our 5-acre "estate" for a tennis court so we children continually begged Papa to build a tennis court. Finally, Papa agreed that we should have a tennis court and the first stage of the building began.A contractor was hired to level a piece of ground. He brought in a team of horses and a metal"scoop" which was dragged by the horses to move dirt from the higher ground to the lowerground. Then the area was dragged smooth and a large heavy hand roller was utilized tocompress the earth. A very nice smooth area was built this way but Papa had no more money atthat time to erect the backstops or the net. We practiced hitting tennis balls to each other on thesmooth ground but had to chase the balls all over the yard because there were no backstops tokeep the balls confined. The tennis court was still uncompleted when our family moved away.
It was during my life on Shades Mountain that I received one Christmas my first real bicycle. Iwas too short legged to handle the largest size bicycle, the ones with 28-inch wheels. So I settledfor "a 26", one with 26 inch wheels. I rode it in our own yard and on our long driveway and eventook long jaunts on Shades Crest Road that was nicely paved with macadam. But the bicycle wasdifficult to ride on the side roads covered with gravel. I also rode it on footpaths through thewoods and it was on a jaunt through the woods that I wrecked the bicycle. I was going too fastand failed to make a sharp turn in the path. The front wheel rammed hard into a tree stump andthrew me off onto the ground. The front wheel fork of the bicycle was bent back against theframe and we were never again able to restore proper front wheel steering.
After two years living in the rented "estate" on Shades Mountain, Mama and Papa saved enoughmoney to make a down payment on the purchase of a house of our own. They found a house onthe edge of Birmingham in a community called Avonwood, near the Avondale section on thesouth east side of Birmingham. I was really sorry to have left our country home that I had cometo love.
Excerpt from the autobiography of Mr. Francis M. Perry, born 1921.