THE WEALTH THAT DIDN'T COME
Written by Mary S. Riddle
From my sketchy knowledge or Tennessee history I have gathered that from its earliest days Kingston was expected to be one of the coming cities of east Tennessee, and I suppose it was because of this prospect that I was born there. Just why those predictions were never realized in the generation of my parents was never known, for the town seemed to have everything: two waterways, accessibility to many natural resources, good farm land, a mid-point between the growing cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga- and the railroad was coming.
The railroad! Ah, there lay the fulfillment of all our hopes! As far back as I can remember that was the topic of conversation. This was grownups' talk, but it could hardly have failed to rub off on us, children though we were. We drank it in because it meant that we were going to be rich; think of all we were going to have! At one time the plans had gone so far that surveying for the road bed had actually begun and we proudly went to see it. My father, being a thrifty German, had put his money as fast as he made it into land. By careful management he had acquired two farms, a large acreage of coal and iron ore land, and miscellaneous tracts around Kingston and other parts of Roane and Morgan counties. All that was now needed was the magic key of the railroad to open the door to our wealth. My prayer learned at my mothers knee under her instruction was for the blessing of all the members of our family. Then, unknown to her, I added a petition of my own: "Please let the railroad come."
My being a native Kingstonian goes back to the year 1848, when my grandfather, Dr. Friedrich August SIENKNECHT, came to this country from Preetz, Holstein, then in Denmark but now in Germany. He was an honors graduate in medicine and surgery from the University of Copenhagen, a venerable institution founded in 1479, and practiced in Preetz. Stories of the vast opportunities in the new country were rife throughout Europe, and especially in Schleswig-Holstein, then in the throes of revolution. It took great courage to make the drastic move across the ocean with the uncertainty of resettling in unknown surroundings, but my grandfather sold his property and brought his family on this perilous voyage. He. expected to settle in Cleveland, Ohio, then a village with a bright future. But on the boat a persuasive salesman convinced him that the coming metropolis of the new world was -- guess what!-- Wartburg, Tennessee! so thither went the SIENKNECHT family. My father, though only six years old, remembered those early days vividly, but he did not enjoy talking about them, and little wonder, for they must have been grim Indexed. My grandmother lived only a short time after her arrival. I never knew the cause of her death, but when in the 1920's I went to Preetz, a charming little town in some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, I could well believe that it was homesickness to which she had succumbed, for she had left civilization for a wilderness.
My grandfather, being the only doctor in that section of Tennessee, was greatly needed and at once had a wide practice, riding horsebaok through Morgan, Anderson, and Roane counties. His family consisted of three sons and three daughters. Of the three sons, Theodore, Henry, and Christian, my father was the youngest, and next to the youngest of all the children. Grandfather, a typical German parent, did not ask his sons what calling they wished to pursue; he announced that they were all to become doctors in the family tradition, he himself being from a long line of men in that profession. My father had a talent for art and many of his paintings for which he never had a lesson, now hang in the homes of my sister and myself and some of his nieces and have attracted the notice of some minor connoisseurs who have recognized his talent. He wanted to become an architect with painting as an avocation. But he studied medicine and opened his office in Kingston with the lure of its glowing future. Before starting his education, however, he volunteered in the Confederate Army, as did his brothers. In the Battle of Lookout Mountain Papa was captured and spent the last two years of the war in the Federal prison at Camp Douglas, Illinois, after which he entered the Medical College of the University of Tennessee, then located at Nashville.
My other grandfather, Captain Archer PETTYJOHN, returned from the war to his home in Big Lick, Virginia, defeated in body and spirit. He could see no future there, but he had heard of a town in Tennessee called Kingston which gave promise of becoming a vital part of the New South. What had he to lose, and what might he not gain, by moving there? And so he disposed of his property and with his family went by rail to Knoxville, thence by steamboat to Kingston.
Here was another family of victims of homesickness, and to the end of her life my mother never lost her nostalgia for Virginia. And by one of those ironies of fate, it was not long after the family's move that Big Lick started to grow with the advent of the Norfolk and Western Railway and became the thriving city of Roanoke, while Captain PETTYJOHN died still hoping for the El Dorado of Kingston.
One of the many war casualties of the South was education. For many years after Appomattox there were no public schools and almost no private ones. The only formal education of my mother and her sisters consisted of a few years in a small school run by Miss Fannie Hannah who was brought to Kingston from Virginia by my grandparents and a few friends to teach their children. The fact that it was a small group was all to the good for it meant that the pupils had much individual instruction. And I think that instruction must have been of a high quality, for my mother, with so limited an amount of schooling, was well educated, according to the standards of the time. She had a rudimentary knowledge of French, and a general cultural background superior to that of many of her friends. from her I learned many quotations from Shakespeare and the names of many of the characters from Scott and Dickens. Her beautiful handwriting was almost like fine engraving, and when we were caught misprounouncing or misspelling a word we had committed an unforgivable sin. She expressed herself well in words, both orally and in writing, and Mr. REED, the editor of The East Tennessean, often called on her to write obituaries and other short local items.
The three PETTYJOHN daughters, Betty, Amanda, and Archie, married, respectively, Mr. Edward MUECKE, Dr. Christian SIENKNECHT, and Judge George HENDERSON. Thus while today we hear of the Depression babies born in the 1930's, my sister and I might be said to have been children of the prospective boom.
Although the glowing hopes for Kingston continued through the years, the wealthiest and most generally prominent family of that part of the state went down with the war and never came back. This was the McEWEN family, who might have been called the Rockefellers of their time. They owned such vast acreages of land that their wealth could hardly be reckoned and was increased by marriage with the CLARK family, who owned thousands and thousands more acres in the vicinity of Greeneville. As there were few banks in the country, Mr. William McEWEN was a sort of private banker to whom the people brought their money for deposit and interest. When the war came they demanded their money, and to meet these demands at such a precarious time Mr. McEwen lost his own fortune. They were a large family and continued to live in Kingston till the daughters married. The sons, having been brought up in wealth, were not prepared for the reverses that befell them. Then, as a last cruel blow, the home burned down and the boys left Kingston to seek elsewhere the fortunes which they never found. The only one who stayed behind was Mr. John McEWEN ("Nohn" to us), who took the job of bookkeeper in Childress and Martin's store and came to live with us. He was a charming gentleman of the old school and added much to the happiness of our home. Through his wide social connections he often brought distinguished men to meet us and other interesting personalities, both men and women. He never married though he was said to have been pursued by many women, if the ladylike women of that time could have been said to do anything so forward.
My grandfather had been the McEWENS' family physician, and through that connection, I suppose, the friendship of the two families had been cemented. It would be hard to imagine two families with more totally different backgrounds, yet there was great respect between them, and the friendship of Papa and Nohn was a David-and-Jonathan one. Nohn was devoutly religious, a pillar in the Presbyterian Church, while Papa was a free-thinker; Nohn was public-spirited and Papa an individualist; yet they were completely harmonious.
An annual event in Kingston to which we all looked forward was the Roane County Fair. The fair ground, I am told, is now a residential section but was then just on the outskirts of town. At fair time the community took on a really gala atmosphere. Guests came from Harriman and Rockwood and everyone in town opened their doors to them. Our house was always filled with visitors, the more the merrier, some for only a meal, others for the duration. The exhibitions at the fair were very mouth-watering: shelves with rows of luscious cakes, jellies, preserves, and pickles, abundant displays of vegetables and fruits. These exhibits indicated that even if we were still impoverished, we were not undernourished. Mama spent days preparing for her entries and usually won several prizes. Some of her specialties were coconut cake, salt rising bread, and watermelon preserves. Among the cake competitirs there was keen rivalry, for each housewife prided herself on her skill in this confection. Some friendships even suffered by certain accusations of unfairness on the part of the judges, despite the fact that these were chosen out-of-towners and the entries were made anonymously.
While the culinary field was Mama's, Papa, who was a lover of horses, was most interested in the races and exhibitions of horsemanship. My sister eagerly watched the women riders, on side saddles, of course, and has never forgotten the picture of Ada GOODWIN, a very beautiful girl on a very beautiful horse skillfully managed, and of Miss Lula CROWDER, a much-admired equestrienne.
Ada GOODWIN became the wife of Dr. John ROBERTS and the mother of Sterling ROBERTS, Kingston's able and popular Mayor.
When I was very young the table conversation in our home was that of grownups and quite above my head, but occasionally some chance remark registered with me. And so I remember one day hearing a guest say to my father "I hear that people are now having telephones put in their houses." The two men smiled a bit cynically as if to say "What crazy thing will they do next?" I had heard the word "telephone" and had a vague idea what it was but was not interested. But some time later when something was going on in the hall I was told that we were getting a telephone. It was put on the wall near the front door and was being tested by having its bell rung and was quite exciting. Soon we were likely to hear that ring any time. Someone would rush to it and we were fascinated to hear the voice on our side talking to someone who could be neither seen nor heard by us. Then the grownups would also do the calling and it was rather an elaborate process. First one would turn the crank that rang the bell; then Central (no, she was not called the operator) would say "Number please," and being told would say "All right, ring up," you again turned the bell crank and eventually, if you were lucky, the answer would come. One day Nohn asked me if I would like to talk over the telephone and I said I would. So he called my Aunt Bet and said to her "Little Mary wants to talk to you," and lifted me up to the level of the box and held the receiver to my ear. But I said not a word. Aunt Bet spoke but I remained silent. She attempted a few questions which I answered in monosyllables but finally gave up and said good-bye, and I was lifted down. The next day I heard Aunt Bet say to Mama "She said she wanted to talk to me and then she wouldn't talk." The fact was that I was afraid. It was uncanny to hear my aunt's voice in that box and I didn't know what might happen.
But it was not long before Sister and I learned that we could have with this new gadget. A chair was kept by it which made it the right height for Sister and soon I was tall enough to reach it on a chair on tiptoe. We could call our friends and pretend to be someone else; on the first of April we could call and say "April fool!" and we could even ask Miss Daisy Rowe, the Central, to connect with two different friends at the same time and have a three-way talk. Incidentally, teen-agers of today take note: we were never accused of monopolizing the telephone. This, however, was probably not due to our consideration for our because parents nor to theirs for us, but because comparatively few of our friends had telephones. I frequently heard many of my parents' friends say "I wouldn't have one of the things. They're nothing but a nuisance."
But we gradually found more and more uses for our acquisition, and our popular guests found it most helpful in the matter of their dates. Whereas these had been made by receiving a note from a beau by messenger, who waited for a reply to be written and sent back, now the gentleman had merely to call and receive an answer then and there. In time the girls, not unlike their granddaughters of today, looked expectant when the telephone rang, and perhaps measured their social success by the number of their telephone calls.
The popular songs of that day usually told a story, and as the telephone came increasingly into use it was the inspiration of many favorites. One of these, "Telephone Song," I sang so many times that I still remember it in full:
I've got a little baby and she's mine all right,
I talk to her across the telephone-
I've never seen my honey but she's mine all right
So take this tip and leave my gal alone.
Every single morning you can hear me yell
"Hey, Central, fix me up along the line,"
He connects me with my honey and I ring the bell
And this what I shout along the line:
Hello, my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal
Send me a kiss by wire, baby my heart's on fire.
If you refuse me honey you'll lose me
Then you'll be left alone, ah baby, telephone
And tell me I'm your own.
This mornin' through the phone she said her name was Bess
And now I kinda knew where I am at-
I'm satisfied because I've got my babe's address
All pasted in the lining of my hat.
But I am mighty scared 'cause if the wires get crossed
'Twill separate me from this babe of mine,
Some other coon will win her and my game is up
So every day I shout along the line-
Another, a tear-jerker, told the story of a little girl whose mother had died, and the chorus was
Hello, Central, give me Heaven, for my mama's there,
You can find her with the angels on the golden stair.
She'll be glad it's me who's speaking, call her won't you please,
For I want to surely tell her we're so lonely here.
A part of our household that I have not mentioned but was by no means unimportant was our pets. We had many cats, and many dogs, but of the latter only one at a time. Though I never had a dog that was not a favorite, if it could be said that I cared more for one than another, I suppose I should give first place to Bijou because he was the first one, as the first-born child may be the favorite of its parents. Bijou was a white curly dog with a slightly pointed nose and of unknown origin, though we thought he must be a blue-blood because he was beautiful and intelligent and gave indication that he came from a good home. We got him fortuitously because he followed one of my Knoxville relatives home, his owner was never found, so he was given to me; so we liked to think that he had a glamorous past.
There is probably no human being who is entirely free from jealousy, and this is equally true of dogs. It is a very unpleasant affliction, and its victims are to be pitied rather than blamed. But I regret to admit that we were so sadistic as to be amused by Bijou's jealousy. Our cousins, Archie and Ella MUECKE, had a little dog named Speck and he and Bijou were fast friends. Every day Speck would appear in our front yard and be warmly welcomed by his host. When we had bones to give them we were careful to see that they were of equal quality. Yet each recipient carefully inspected the other's gift to be sure it was not better than his own, and sometimes they decided to exchange gift.. In time they would bury them, apparently forgetting them. But Bijou did not forget, for when Speck left for home and was safely out of sight Bijou would carefully disinter his bone and put it underground beside his own.
But any jealousy of Speck was as nothing compared to Bijou's resentment of the cats. On days when his bill of fare was not quite to his liking we had only to say "Kitty! Kitty!" and he would devour his food in mortal fear that the cat might get it. When in Bijou's presence we would pet one of the cats, his face was a study in sheer misery.
But I did not realize then how blissful were the lives of our dogs. Today when in zero weather I sometimes look out of my window in early morning and see people out with their dogs I think their love of animals is Indexed being put to the ultimate test. I also wonder if they are deluding themselves in thinking that the way to express that love is to keep them in city apartments. And I think with pleasure of our dogs' lives. First, the process of acquiring one consisted of simply taking him home, feeding him whatever scraps we had, giving him for a bed a box with an old blanket, and he was ours. No registration, no dog tag, no dog tax, no leash, no special diet, no visits to the vet (there were no vets and none were needed, no shots. If he didn't feel up to par he had only to go into the yard and eat some grass and that was his medicine. Moreover, he had the run of the town. When we didn't know where he was we did not worry, for he was known to everyone in town. When I was out in another part of town I would often meet Bijou. He would speak to me with a friendly wag of his tail and I would give him a friendly pat and we would go our separate ways, with no questions asked. I hope Kingston is still the Paradise for dogs and their owners that it once was.
It has often occurred to me that life in my early years was not greatly different from that of the era of the Civil War and its aftermath; for it is only since my marriage in 1920 that society's most startling changes have come. At the time of my father's death at the end of the First World War the only mechanical innovations that he had seen were the telephone and the automobile, and the latter at best was a crude piece of workmanship in comparison to the mechanical wonders that come out of Detroit today. He had never heard of radio in the home, television, aeroplane travel domestic or trans-ocean, to say nothing of moon-orbiting; there was no electric refrigeration; the only central heat came from a coal furnace that had to be stoked and ashes removed; there was no air conditioning, no frozen foods, no supermarkets and little long-distance traveling by car because there were not enough navigable roads, and such as there were so poorly marked that you could get nowhere without asking many directions along the way and then often getting the wrong information.
But perhaps more amazing than all these revolutionary things are the changes in all our social standards. Before 1914 the double standard of morality was strictly observed, with a very rigorous one for girls. Though already in the early stages of emancipation, we were still brought up to be "ladies," modesty being the prime requisite of behavior. It was still argued that higher education for women would make them lose their femininity. Once when one of our popular guests had a sprained ankle and in the presence of one of her beaux I asked about her leg, she looked embarrassed and hastened to change the subject. I was told later that I should never say the word "leg" in the presence of gentlemen. And there was the time when a friend and her escort had come to see us and Mama was shocked by her immodesty because she was sitting so that one could see halfway to her knees. When my fiance came to see me in Harriman Mama carefully hid any wines or liquors we might have lest she corrupt his morals. Even at the time when my sister and I went to college we were sent to women's colleges, because the "nicest" girls did not go to coeducational colleges. Divorce was a disgrace; no matter how innocent the injured party, society did not forget that he or she was not quite 1ike other people.
But one thing we had for which we today should feel envious was the absense of crime. As we know it today it was nonexistent in my youth. Save for an occasional brawl in which someone was shot there was no deliberate murder, rape, or robbery. My father's bicycle was once stolen, but that was our only loss from theft. We often left our door unlocked at night or in the day and never felt unsafe. One day there was much excitement when the news spread through town that the smokehouse of Mr. HARTLEY, who I believe was then Mayor, had been robbed of all its ham and bacon and he had sent for bloodhounds to find the thief. The dogs went straight to the BOLEYANS' a family of notorious poor whites consisting of a mother and ne'er-do-well sons, Frank and Henry, who made their living principally by the thieving. But I never heard of their being actually proved guilty of misdemeanors, in of all we knew about them.
Some years ago when my husband and I went to Florida, at my request we stopped over in Chattanooga for the sole Raleigh that I wanted to see Raleigh CRUMBLISS. His family and mine were old friends, but Raleigh, a few years older than I and already a man of the world while I was a timid greenhorn, was almost unknown to me. But when I read his charming reminiscences of Kingston as they appeared in The Hamilton County Herald I wanted to know him. I wish those reminiscences might be published in a book as a collection, for they are worthy of preservation. I shall always be glad that I made that stopover for Raleigh died suddenly a short time afterward and I would have missed a great pleasure. We had a strong bond in our love of Kingston and spent several hours in those recollections. We agreed that we were wrong life's most favored ones in having been born and reared in the place we would have chosen above all others had the choice been ours.
I often think of the difference between my daughter's youth and my own-- a difference that could hardly have been greater, for she has had all the so-called advantages that I did not have. But what, after all, are the real advantages? It is only after a number of years of living that we arrive at a proper appraised of values, and I wonder what (word illegible) will by my daughter's when she reaches my present age. There are many times when I have thought how differently life might have been in the growth of Kingston with its attendant prosperity had come when it was expected. Would those changes of fortune have added to my real happiness? I would doubt it.
I am glad what my parents' belief in Kingston has been justified although they did not live to see it. I wish they could know that the railroad did finally come, although it was no longer needed for the purpose we wanted- that of passenger service, which buses have made obsolete. The land that we once owned is now in other hands, but I have the treasure of memories that cannot be taken away.
In September 1908, my sister and I had gone away to school, and our first letter from home, told us of the death of Mr. John McEWEN, truly one of God's noblemen. A few [word illegible] was the additionally sad news that our house had been sold and that we [illegible] be to Harriman instead of Kingston. The first chapter of my life had been closed.