Sitting at my kitchen table and looking out at the landscape of beautiful hardwood trees covering our backyard, flittering across my line of sight another lovely gift of nature appears with the lighting of a monarch butterfly on our French doors as if to say; Good morning!
Having such a wonderful beginning to my morning is the perfect punctuation point to this blog, because of the subtle reminder that it gives, which is that even in the midst of a chaotic world, life’s gifts of wonder and beauty are all around us to experience if we only take a moment to look and be thankful.
From the Foxfire pedagogical storyteller tradition, I’d like to share with you the story of an American patriot, son, father, grandfather, good neighbor and gentleman, 91-year-old WWII veteran Marvin Anderson.
Marvin is the patriarch of his family and he and his twin sons Clark and Mark own the Lee Anderson Farm located in Dahlonega, Georgia.
Marvin’s life is quite a bit different now than in his early years growing up on the farm, but as I sat listening to him recall his experiences from his office, which is located next door to the home he was born in, I couldn’t help but wonder what created the glow that emanated from his face.
It wasn’t just his soft olive complexion and physique that resembled a man more in his 60s than the 91 years he has lived. It was his humble and gentle nature, genuine kindness and respectful love for life.
Born on March 13, 1926, to parents Joseph Lee Anderson (born 1899), and Ella Luella Head Anderson (born 1902), Marvin grew up with his three older siblings, Glad, Thelma and Estelle, who are now all deceased. His patriarchal grandparents are Allen Anderson and Sarah Barnes Anderson. She lived with Marvin’s family when he was growing up on and off for 14 years. His matriarchal grandparents were Sam Head, who lived well into his 80s and Mary Grizzle Head, who lived to be well into her 90s.
Marvin and his wife Barbara were married in 1951, and have three sons, Neil and twin boys Mark and Clark. Marvin says an interesting fact about Clark is that his wife Ronna is a twin also and they too gave birth to twins!
“We have three boys. A set of twins, and our oldest boy we lost him a few years ago. And one of the twins, he married a twin and had twins! I told him they should have had four!
Marvin recounts the 97-year old family history of Lee Anderson Farm with the purchase of 100+ acres by his father Joseph Lee Anderson, which expanded to 500+ in a few short years.
“Well dad bought the farm here in 1920, but where grandma and grandfather lived is about 2 ½ miles north of here. They had a place up there and that’s where he was born and raised up there. But, of course he bought this, got married and moved down here. Starting off with it was probably something over 100 acres, but he increased it to over 500 acres before he passed away.”
Marvin says the fields were so plentiful many in his local community help the family work the farm.
“You’d have ten acres of green beans to pick and we’d send trucks out and people would come and pick the beans and mother would fix lunch for them. They might be as many as 40 or 50 people come. They’d pick beans for ten cents a bushel. And we might pick 150-200 bushels in one day. And somebody told me they paid $40 for a bushel of beans! I think we got around $3. And we had to haul some of those beans as far as St. Louis, Missouri in order to sell and get rid of them.”
When America entered WWII, Marvin was called to serve for two years in the Army, leaving, as he says, his father one hand short.
“I pretty well have been in this area right here all of my life. I spent two years in WWII and then came back. And when we were young we truck farmed. We grew a lot of potatoes, beans, cabbage, and stuff like that. And then in the 40’s we got into the poultry business where we raised chickens and then put it out to other farmers. We furnished the baby chickens, the feed and then we would guarantee them so much a thousand for it. And in the hatchery we were hatching 200,000 a week. At that time that was pretty big, but nowadays that would be very small.”
He says the old barn, which sits adjacent to his office was once used for milking cows. And the churned butter produced from the milk would be exchanged at the local trading post for the things they didn’t have on the farm.
“The women folks, they milked the cows for us. And they would churn and make the butter. And back in those early days, a store was called a trading post. We didn’t have very much money, but if we wanted sugar or salt, or something we couldn’t raise on the farm we would take butter and trade it. And we would put out boxes to catch rabbits. A truck came to the trading post about once a week and would pick those rabbits up and go to Atlanta. I imagine it was for food. So life back then was quite a bit different than it is now.”
Growing up, some of his favorite times on the family farm were the weekends when family and friends would gather on his front porch.
“On weekends when we didn’t have to work was the best! (Laughs) But it was just a good living, your neighbors would come over and we’d have music. Some good fiddle players, guitar players. We’d just get together and have a good time.”
And loving your fellow neighbor was a principle the people in his community lived by. “If one of your neighbors got sick in the summer time and couldn’t work the fields, the neighbors came in and took care of it. There was a house about every mile and a half in those days.”
In the late 1920s, local EMCs began establishing in the area. But it wasn’t until 1930’s that Marvin’s family was able to have electricity. It was at that time when a traveling salesman came by and sold Marvin’s father a Maytag washing machine.
“When we got electricity we were still in the produce business. A salesman came by one day wanting to sell mother a washing machine, and of course at that particular day, we were washing pepper. And dad told him, ‘We can’t buy a washing machine just to wash clothes.’ But he said, ‘Will it wash pepper?’ And the salesman said, ‘Well I don’t know? But if you bring a bushel over here, we’ll find out.’ It did a terrific job! Dad bought it on the spot! So mother used the washing machine when we weren’t using it to wash squash, or pepper, or something like that in it. It was a Maytag, and it had the old rollers on it to roll the clothes through. And so that’s how mother got her first washing machine.”
But for Marvin, nothing could compare to having indoor plumbing. With roaring laughter he says that’s when he and his siblings discovered what it meant to take a bath.
“Yep! We found out what taking a bath was! Otherwise in the summer time we’d stay clean because we would go down to the creek and go swimming. We also had a washtub, but we only took a bath once a week. But the last one didn’t get too clean after everybody else got in it first.”
The winter months presented a different challenge for the Anderson family. With only a fireplace for heat, Marvin says his mother created a special way to keep their beds warm.
“In the wintertime we just had a fireplace. And mother, she would warm rocks and carry them and put them in the bed with us to keep us warm. It was just a different life, but we were happy.”
It wasn’t until the late 1940’s before households were able to have a telephone, so in emergency cases most communities in the surrounding Dahlonega area would ring a bell to inform neighbors when illness or death occurred.
“We didn’t here, but certain communities had these bells. And if you rang it three times that meant a certain thing. And if somebody died, they’d ring it so many times. They’d ring a bell because they didn’t have telephones. In other words, if they had a funeral, they would ring a bell so many times to let people around that could hear know that they would be buried at the church at a certain time. And also if they were sick or needed somebody.”
And if you didn’t have money to pay for a doctor, no problem, just give him a fresh smoked ham. “Well we live about three miles from town, and there was a doctor out there. And one of the doctor’s wives told me that they seldom got money. In other words, if they came out here, if someone got sick, if we butchered a hog, we might give them a ham of meat or a bushel of beans that’s the way you pay for it.”
But when it came to the occasional upset stomach or earache Marvin and his siblings would go to his Cherokee grandmother Sarah Barnes Anderson, who they considered to be the family doctor. His face lights up as he laughingly recounts the day he went to her with a stomach ache.
“I guess I was three or four years old, and I went in and told Grandmother, I had a stomachache and she said, ‘Okay, I’ll fix you some medicine.’ And I can remember it like it was yesterday. She took a plate and poured corn whiskey in it. Struck a match, and of course it burn a fire, burning all of the alcohol off it. Then she’d add different things she would put in it, different herbs and such, and let me have it and it was good! Tasty. Real Tasty! And best I remember I got alright.
Three or four days later I wanted a little more, so I went in and told grandma, I said, Grandma, my stomach is bothering me again, she said, ‘I’ll fix you up.’ So she went through the same procedure again. Now it worked out great for me! But the third time, she caught on and she knew why I was there, and that it wasn’t bothering me, I just wanted to drink her medicine, you know! So it was quite an experience to see her make it. And for the wintertime we’d wear certain thinks around our neck. I forget what it was, but that was supposed to keep the germs away.”
And then there was the time he had a painful earache. “I was just little, I told mother too, but grandmother, she was our doctor, and she said, ‘Well, we’ll have to go out here.’ I forget what kind of leaves she went and got, then she got some fire coals out of the fireplace, put it in a bucket, and put them leaves in there. That would create a smoke, and she said, ‘Now you’ll have to lay with your head over the bucket.’ And she put a quilt over my head so the smoke would go into my ear. Well instead of getting better, it got worse, so they had to carry me to the doctor, and he got his glasses and looked down in there and a little worm had crawled in my ear! (laughs out loud). So had she not done that, the worm would not have come out, and that’s the way she cured anybody with an earache.”
As our conversation began to wind down to a close Marvin shared the important values of integrity and a positive work ethic that his parents instilled in him growing up.
“Well, it was just hard work and being good to your neighbors and your neighbors being good to you. What I seen in dad growing up in all is that he was willing to help anybody that would help themselves. If they needed help, if he could, he would help them. But if someone wouldn’t work, he had nothing to do with them whatsoever. When I was very young I remember him telling me that, ‘Somebody might want to borrow a dollar from you or two dollars from you. They may tell you that they will pay you back Saturday.’ He said, ‘If they don’t pay you back, then don’t ask for it.’ He said, ‘If you do, next time they will want, more money, more money.’ But, he said, ‘You never ask them even if they don’t pay you. They’ll never ask you for another loan.’ And I think that’s very true.”
And my mother, she was very religious and it wasn’t uncommon for her to ask someone if they were a Christian, whether she really knew it or not. And she worked hard! I’ve seen her when I was very young working the fields up to maybe up to 9 o’clock (a.m.). Then she would come and cook lunch for all the rest of us, then by 2 o’clock (p.m.), she was back in the field again. And the girls they worked out in the field with the rest of us.”
He says most children today take for granted the everyday conveniences of simply catching a school bus in their neighborhood.
“What some of these younger children don’t know about and don’t understand is how convenient things are for them now. Like when I was in high school, I had to walk two-and-one-half miles to catch a bus every morning and every afternoon. And in the wintertime when it was raining, I wasn’t fit to go to school, but that was just something that we had to do. Where now they come right by the house and stop and pick them up. It was a different life, but a good one. It was a good one!”
As I drove home from my visit with this humble and gentle giant, I made a comparative analysis of how small town people lived almost a century ago and how we live today from the life experiences Marvin shared with me.
A CENTURY AGO
WWII brought uncertainty, monumental casualties and high death tolls.
Couples married young and stayed together until death.
Families were large and worked together.
Entertainment was having fun with family and neighbors.
Money was scarce, but communities were strong.
Communication was one-to-one and personal.
Life was hard, but integrity was greater.
People made the most of life’s journey by being happy an content.
There is an ongoing upheaval of global unrest.
70 percent of marriages end in divorce.
The average couple in the U.S. has 2.5 children that live in a single parent home.
Entertainment is primarily focused on Reality TV programs and cable networks.
Economy is global with most families living in isolated garage door communities.
Communication is transmitted alone by text or through social media outlets.
Most homes have 2 ½ baths, cable, internet and laundry rooms.
Many people dream BIG, but live small.
Herein lies the question that we all must answer, although the world has made advancements in medicine, technology, space, education and modern conveniences, the list is endless, do we truly have a “better“ life than our forefathers wanted for us a century ago?
Whatever your answer maybe, what I’ve learned from Marvin is that if you choose to have a life filled with love, integrity, hard work, contentment, respecting and helping others; no matter what circumstances in life that may come your way, you too can tell your great-grandchildren, “It was just a different life, but we were happy.”