The House next door to my grandmother's ex-house
My sister and I went to north Georgia yesterday. We went to where my mother and her siblings had their formative years – and after she moved from home and got married where we went as young kids to visit.
There were three places we wanted to go to and refresh our memories.
First we wanted to see the spring in Varnell, Georgia. Varnell is about 10 or 15 miles south of the Tennessee line at Chattanooga. When we were about four to seven years old my grandmother and our aunt lived in Varnell. A couple of years ago my sister went to Varnell and could not find the spring. About a year before that I was there and found it. We were not sure it was still there or not.
The little spring is not much to travel 90 miles to see, but it meant a lot to us in memories. When we visited our grandmother not only did we please her by visiting her but we also pleased everybody by walking to the spring to get water. She had no running water. She had the spring water about three tenths of a mile away to get for her drinking water, an outhouse in the backyard, and a rain barrel beside the back porch to wash with.
We drove to Varnell and sure enough, there was the spring. It used to be just a hole in the ground with a thick heavy board across it. You go out a little way on the board and scoop up your water. The spring was about three feet deep and had little dark shell creatures on the bottom – they were called periwinkles. They kept the water clean.
Now, the spring has a park-like settings to it. The shrubs and a couple of trails and a granite gravel parking lot. Everything thing was well manicured.
An older couple was filling up gallon jugs and putting in their car. The couple greeted us with smiles. “This spring is the best kept secret in these parts” the man said. They said they come up from Dalton to get their water.
We told them as kids we used to haul water up the road to that vacant lot there – the house my grandmother and aunt lived in is torn down now.
I went on to tell them I read one time that around 1900, give or take a few years, two Mormons came to town handing out literature. The men folk carried the two young men down here by this spring and shot them dead.
The lady looked surprised. The man said, “If these trees could talk, I bet they would have some tales to tell.” I agreed.
We parted from the smiling couple and walked up to the corner where my grandmother’s house was. We left my truck in the gravel parking lot by the spring.
Across the street from my grandmother’s lot, opposite-corner, is a old store. It was there more than 60 years ago. My sister wondered if the owners would remember Grandma. I said when I was here a few years ago they did. The husband and wife then remembered “Mrs. Petty”.
My sister said, “Well, lets go in and rake up kin.”
We went into the store. A little Far-Eastern Indian man said, “Kahn I help you?”
There was no need trying to raking up kin. We didn’t want to buy anything; we had a cooler full of water. I said, “Er-how do you get to Cohutta?”
The little Indian man looked at me suspiciously – “Come I show you!”
Before he stepped out, he hollered something in another language to his wife. When we got outside, he looked at my camera – “What is that?” he asked with a smile.
“A camera.” I said.
“It doesn’t look like a camera.” I think he thought it was a gun. Did he think we were "The Over-the-Hill Gang"?
“It is.” I retorted.
“Show me a picture.” He said.
I pressed a few buttons a few times. A picture of his store came up first – and I didn’t want him to know I photographed that. I showed him a picture of the spring.”
“Ahhh” he said. “Nice.”
He pointed to a street down the road before the railroad tracks and told us to turn left and that will take you to Cohutta.
I thanked him. He was still looking at us nervously.
“Where is your car?” He asked.
“Down by the spring.” I said.
He just looked a while as if he might want a better explanation why our car was not on his premises. I didn’t have one.
My sister and I walked down towards the tracks looking around. The house next to my grandmother’s was the preacher’s house. It was a big two story pretty white with a balcony outside overlooking the front. The balcony was no longer there. The old house’s paint had weathered away and it looked as no one occupied the house any longer. You could see day-light through the windows, like exposed ceilings and non-roofs, partially.
I remembered the railroad tracks being next door to the big preacher’s house. One time, at about age 3 or 4 the preacher’s daughter and I climbed up inside the water tank tower by the railroad. Everybody about had a fit trying to get us down. It is at least 3 or 4 yard widths of one large vacant lot between the big house and the tracks.
As we walked closer to the tracks to yard dogs from a junky house came out barking at us. We decided to go back.
We walked back to the spring, got into the truck and took the road the Indian man suggested.
Downtown Varnell, USA
The first block of so off the street was probably the poor white trash section of town. All the houses were junky looking – it looked like who ever had the most unusable junk in their yard won junkyard-of-the-month or something. One house we passed by had the back porch on the back side of the house. On the back porch were several teenage boys and girls, it looked like. One of the girls were dancing around with shorts on and holding a towel around her breast area… I think she was entertaining her company.
I wondered how many male old farts in nearby houses were looking out their windows?
The ride to Cohutta was beautiful. It was a road of rolling hills, farm country and fine big country homes with an occasional double-wide trailer.
My mother mostly grew up in Cohutta. After she left home and her mother’s house burned down they moved to Varnell. Then, in several years when my sister and I were still grammar school age they moved back and rented a house in Cohutta.
In Cohutta nothing but one thing had changed. Where they lived. We found the road but could not find the house. Either the front yard was grown up or it had a new road cut through the house. Across the road, we remembered was the Maples’ big white house. Marla Maples, one of Donald Trump’s ex-s lived in Cohutta – I think her grandparents owned the big white house. My grandmother and aunt rented their house from the Maples.
The train track is still in a field across the road, in the late 40’s I remember sitting in a tree in my grandmother’s front yard and seeing a train stop. A man with a club would check each box car. In one box car a man jumped out and the man with the club chased him out of sight. I thought that was sad.
Next, we went to West Hill Cemetery in Dalton. I think West Hill is the biggest and oldest cemetery in Dalton. A lot of old artful tombstones. After much deduction we found aunt and uncle’s graves which was my mother’s oldest sister, and also found L.N. Trammell, which would have been my great grandfather William Hunter’s first cousin.. he had a huge marker – much like the Washington Monument. He lived in Marietta at one time before 1900 and Trammell Street is named after him.
We ate lunch at a little family-own dive in downtown Dalton. It looked like to eat there it helps to be poor, elderly, and manic depressive. They had good fried chicken but the green beans were sort of over cooked.
Across the street was a chicken processing plant. We saw three large trucks full live chickens in crates back in. The chickens probably only had less than an hour left being alive on this planet – but it was just business.