June 12, 2014

James Turner: Refugee from Happy Top


— In the early 1940s my family moved out of the shadow of Bald Mountain to Dalton in search of work and so that I could go to school. My daddy said that he did not move because he wanted to but that “we starved out.” He went to work in Crown Cotton Mills and we settled in Happy Top. Then my daddy had to get on a bus and go back to Blairsville to be drafted into World War II, but he soon came back and said at his age and with kids he was not taken, but they got his brother Carl, who was a year older but had no kids.

So my mother did not move back with family and we began the segment of my life at Happy Top. I do not have a lot of memories, yet have one of the worst ones that life deals out. We did have running water and no longer had to walk to a mountain spring. But our water came from a spigot in the front yard by the road. We carried our water in just like in the mountains and there was no indoor plumbing, just the outhouse and Sears Roebuck catalog.

We lived in a small house with a wooden porch that was full of splinters. I guess the wood wasn’t planed. Since in those days poor kids only got one pair of shoes in the fall, we went barefoot much of the year. We remember pain, so I remember those splinters, but there was an angel who lived across the street, a very old gentleman who took pity on me. (My brother was not yet big enough to get on the porch floor.) He would come over and sit on the porch floor, trimming off the splinters with his Barlow knife.

As I said, I do not have a book of memories ... just a few. I do remember that boy probably about 2 years old who lived down behind us. The reason that I remember him is that he played with us other urchins naked. I do not know if he did not have any clothes or was just too “muley” to wear any. But as in life, we adapt, and I, this sheltered mountain boy, got used to his dress code.

I well remember the air raid alarm practices for Dalton. Every house was supposed to turn off all lights. We only had a bare bulb that hung down in the middle of each room. My mother and others around us got tired of this darkness and would rack thick quilts over the windows so that we could have one light. Speaking of light bulbs, mother had an adapter so that she could take the bulb out and plug in her new iron. This was a great step up since in the mountains the irons were heated by the fireplace or wood-burning range.

My 18-year-old uncle came down from the mountains to live with us and work with us and work in the cotton mill. Would you believe, my mother’s new iron stopped heating? My uncle, who probably had never seen an iron before coming to Happy Top, decided to take the iron apart and fix it. I was right there with my nose stuck in the middle of things. He could not find anything wrong, so he put it back together. When done, we discovered that he had left some pieces out. But, lo, the iron now worked. I think I learned a great lesson about trying that day.

Soon my uncle was drafted and went off to the big war where he was shot, got well, was put back in battle and was shot for the second time, got well and finished out his time in the Army. He now lives in Marietta, but for a brief time was a part of Happy Top. I missed my uncle’s companionship.

I guess it is funny what we remember from our very early childhood. I remember in the vacant lot next door by the blackberry patch was a small concrete pool that had no water in it. I had never seen a pool before. Someone who had lived on the vacant lot before the house was either burned down or torn down must have made it. I thought later that someone had a dream, either of a children’s pool or a goldfish pond, which I found out later was a status symbol in those days. At least someone was thinking beyond Happy Top.

Here is the sad part of my life on Happy Top. My brother died at age 2. In the big scheme of things, Dr. Dendy of First Presbyterian Church had started a mission at the foot of Happy Top. My mother took me to church there. Dr. Dendy preached my brother’s funeral at the mission. For some reason, I stood outside beside the door. I remember the cold and the loneliness. I missed my brother Dennis a lot more than my uncle. I would crawl under the covers and pray that God would send him back. But that was not in the big plan. My daddy told me a little while before his death that he would never have become a Christian if little Dennis had not died. I told him that two people had to die for him to get to heaven (one on a hill in Dalton, and one on a hill in Jerusalem).

My brother’s dying probably had a lot to do with our leaving Happy Top. Because of memories and the fact that daddy wanted me to not have to walk through the cold and mud to go to school, around the beginning of 1945, we moved to No. 1 Main Street, diagonally across the street from Crown Point School. Thus I became a refugee from Happy Top and began my life’s career in education.

James Turner is a resident of Chatsworth.