yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

I Remember

H. J. Bolen

The Big 10

Henderson County Times
March 4, 1981

Lexington had a druggist for many years who concocted a patent medicine and called it "Big Ten" or perhaps it was labeled this way: "Big 10". Its label had a picture on it with ten of Lexington's largest men, and he promoted the medicine by running ads and testimonials over a large area. Henderson County people worked hard and many of them quite skinny who read the free almanacs given out by the drugstores. I used to read them myself and by the time I finished with them I was convinced I had every ache and pain described in them. In fact, I was through college before I quit taking medicine. I must have started off disliking taking medicine for I remember the doctor coming so see me when I was sick with chills and fever, they called it back then, and when I was well my mother discovered I had spit out every one of the pink pills I had taken right in back of the bed near the wall. She reprimanded me for doing this and used a switch to make me remember better nest time. I did not tell my mother, but I thought it did not make any difference whether I took the pills or not. I was now well without swallowing them. But not so with druggist W. A. Lawler's medicine, one had to swallow it all if he wanted to get some flesh on his skinny frame. I was slim, and all that held me back was the three dollars it took to get jug of "Big Ten". I know druggist Lawler quite well, and I thought afterwards he might have given me a jug free if I would have given his a testimonial and a 'before and after" picture as one of his ads. The Waller drugstore, the Stewart drugstore, and the Watson pharmacy were the most popular one in my day at Lexington.

After seeing a testimonial and a "before and after" picture in the Lexington Republican, a paper then published in Henderson County with Fleix Creasy as editor and publisher, I told him (Mr. Lawler) the woman was a relative of mine and she appeared to have gained in weight since I last saw her. Lawler then told me about running an ad in a paper published in Miss., from which started a correspondence romance between the ad subject and a man in Tennessee. The couple was not so far apart after all, she living in Myrtle and he in Selmer. When I talked with Mr. Ex Pearson about being on every bottle of Big 10's labels, he jokingly remarked this might be his only way to fame. Mr. Pearson was at one time a member of the Tennessee Legislature, and he was without doubt one of the, most learned men in Henderson County. He knew the history of Russia from its beginning as a national entity, and he could predict all that has ever happened there during the past fifty years. He did his own pronunciations, and he always spoke of Russia as Roosaia with that vibrant voice of his. He had a brother named Peter, and both were large men, and it was most interesting to hear them converse with one another.

Druggist Lawler was a unique man in many ways. He was not only an outstanding druggist, but he was also a successful business man. He was a prolific write, and I feel he would approve someone giving a little profile of him and his life in Lexington and Henderson County. He probably came from around Juno, but of this I do not remember.

Photographs: Original Big 10, Big 10 of 1922, Big 10 of 1995


Henderson County Times
March 11, 1981

The barbering trade has always interested me, and there was always something about the barbers themselves that attracted even more interest. There was Algie Webb of Wildersville, who ran a shop for many years, along with Mack Rosser, who at one time was a banker, postmaster, merchant, and continued to barber when he could schedule it in.

Algie carried on a farmer operation, and he always found time to philosphy about life in general. He was married to May Roberts; and they had five children who were always a part of the downtown area. In fact, they lived downtown, and although well behaved, they became the object of much "kidding" by all. Mack also had two children who stayed up town much of the time, too.

Then there was a barber at Lexington, 'Red" Oliver, who was a nice fellow and who made friends with all of his customers. In fact, Mr. Oliver became quite an institution in Lexington, and was known all over the county. The barbering trade seems to have existed for many centuries, and foe a long time was the official "bleeder" when this was part of the requirement of the medical profession. The red-striped barber pole is a relic of those ancient days when people sought out a place to be bled as well as a place to have one's locks cut off. Of course, shaving and shampooing were also a part of the services rendered, with a good-smelling tonic thrown in for good measure. It has been said that Cicero always got all the works before appearing on the floor of the Roman Senate.

I went to one barber for some forty years with a change and I had noted that he seemed to have accumulated quite a bit for a barber to possess. I then observed that the same situation prevailed for most of the barbers I ever knew who had followed barbering as a full-time trade. So I asked my barber of long-standing why this was so. He stated you did not have to make much money if you worked long hours and did not have time to spend it. Then there is another point he may have overlooked, barbers usually possess certain technical skills which make them very observant and imitative. They become intimate with their customers, and learn how to be creative. We must remember that both the small and the great become a part of their clientele. I remember once when Henry Ford came to town, he refused an interview with a reporter. Yet, when he sat down in the barber chair, he talked freely with his barber.

When Algie and Mack had their barber shops in Wildersville, there was not always hot water to shave with nor any electric clippers. About the only thing that looked "barberlike" was the chair itself. There was no bleeding, no shampooing, and little clipping. Mostly just cutting and trimming hair. Yet, one should have seen Algie's face when an old customer came in just before Easter he had not seen since before Christmas, with his hair hanging over his ears and asking Algie if haircuts were still a quarter.

Algie, Mack and "Red" were barbers, and in that capacity rendered a great service. Algie educated his children and always had the love and devotion of his wife. Mack became a town builder by having the largest business operation in the county.

Yet, "Red" Oliver made barbering a profession, and through it made many friends all over the county. Someone once accused Algie of being a "complainer" at times, but if his thoughts could have been translated into reality the world would have been better. Mack Rosser was also labeled as the "jack of all trades." Yet, he was so skillful, he could add two columns of figures at the time. He could do anything, and he was ambitious. He was truly a genius for achieving.


Henderson County Times
March 18, 1981

I am reminded that my column brings back many memories and events which have long been forgotten. Perhaps I should have explained in the beginning that the purpose of these writings was to stir old memories and allow people to relive not only themselves but a chance to see again some friend or acquaintance long forgotten. I talked with a psychiatrist some years ago, who told me some interesting things about the great storehouse of memory, and what a blessing it is to all of us. I remember calling upon a friend who had been widowed after fifty years of married life, in expressing my condolences to her she reminded me that she had so many pleasant memories about their life together, and that she could draw upon them for the remainder of her days. Perhaps it is for this reason that we should try to build a house of memories that will reflect the beauty of love and harmony in our lives.

It is my opinion that men spend too much time thinking about life after death, and too little time thinking about life before death. Regardless of our religious persuasion, we have to admit any kind of life after death is at best a speculative adventure of the mind, while thinking about the kind of life we live here in this life or real existence is an opportunity to contribute something to the whole of humanity. I would hope that a column like this one would not only honor the memories of the people we recall, but that they will live again in those memories. The poet has said most beautifully that "we shall rise again on our dead selves." Nothing in life is so beautiful than to see a man trying to raise himself to a higher plane of existence. Those we write about, whether living or dead, seem to have felt the impulse to leave the world a little better than they found it.

We have no quarrel with those who wish to "lay up treasures in heaven," but we wish they would leave some treasures here for those who may come after them, In our writings in this column, we are trying hard to find those who left some good in deed or work that will help others find life easier and better.

I have often thought of the pioneer Henderson Countian, who left home and friends, penetrated the wilderness, experienced the dangers and hardships, to make a new home in what was then a strange land. Now the new land claims the bodies of him and his family, while his posterity lives on with the courage he left it. So when we write about you, we are not disappointed with you if you, are living, nor do we disparage the dead, But we hunt for virtues that make heroes out of cowards, and we trust that we shall find only the honor and the integrity of greatness.

In Sir Thomas Gray's elegy, we see a picture of those Henderson County folk who were seeking a better life for themselves while trying to remember the rich heritage of their fathers. They seemed to know that they possessed the genes of greatness and were able to exploit it for the common good. Yet, it is so much like the poet said in this verse:

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

So who knows but what many a son or daughter of genius may have found a grave upon the fruited plains of their new found land. Yet, the Father of us all devised a plan that seems to perpetuate our posterity and build a new generation out of the remnants left behind.

A Wildersville citizen, Claude Roberts, has a list of the old cemeteries of Henderson County which attests to this fact. And it has been estimated that more than five thousand unmarked graves exist in Henderson County, Tennessee, with more than eighty percent having been made prior to 1900. So while many a gem of youth have been known to be born to flower and blush unseen, many more lived to bless this grand old county today, And they continue to do to!

Preacher Melton and Preacher Birdwell

Henderson County Times
March 25, 1981

I appreciated the comment made by Ms. Roma Roberts, and she suggested another story I remember she might recall, too.

"Preacher" Melton, as he was known during his lifetime, was afflicted with his head shaking all the time, which must have been quite irksome to bear. The only time he could get' relief would be to fill himself with liquor, which he did quite often. Yet, almost invariably when he got drunk he began to preach and often cried when he could not get the kind of response he thought his efforts deserved. He was well known in Wildersville and Lexington, and the people who knew him were tolerant and sympathetic and refused to bother him. On one occasion in Lexington, he was arrested and lodged in jail. He was taken before Judge Barham (N. R. Barham was judge of that circuit for some twenty years), who remembered the "Preacher" from past charges and was lenient toward him. Judge Barham is always remembered as the Shakespearan model for the Merchant of Venice quote, "When mercy seasons justice."

Rev. Sammy Birdwell, a Baptist preacher, with a prominent goatee, wearing on Sunday his cutaway coat which came to his knees and gave him a distinguished look, was on Monday a farmer, carpenter, bricklayer, and a regular attendant at his Farmville Masonic Lodge. Mr. Birdwell had two sons, James and Priestly, and Priestly and Dr. M. P. Boyd were brother-in-law. Jim's youngest was named Warren, who was reputedly a precocious child, having memorized the Bible at the age of 13. I went to school with him, his older brother, and his only sister. Many felt he would sure follow in his grandfather's footsteps and make a preacher, but this did not happen. He grew to manhood and continued to live with the environs of his birth. He was a good looking man, with, a perfect physique, and possessing all the normal virtues most men have.'

Brother Sammy, as he was called by most of the people he preached to during his lifetime, filled pulpits in both Carroll and Henderson Counties, but living in the Farmville community throughout his life. The goatee he wore so long looked so much like a billygoat, we children often referred to him as "the old goat." I remember, though, that the elders seemed to have great respect for him and felt that his life had been a blessing to them. Not many preachers, though, could live off the offerings of their churches and had to seek a livelihood in doing other things to earn an income. I recall one man say he would not go hear a man preach unless he worked just like he had to do. Perhaps this is one reason the members did not give any more to "pay the preacher" and get him out of their class.

I have written about two "preachers" this week who had two different objectives for their preachments. "Preacher" Melton was trying to relieve a malady he had suffered from birth and became an alcoholic. While Preacher Bridwell felt the call to' the ministry for the saving of souls and to serving the spiritual needs of mankind. They both became noble men and served well.

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