yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


Mary E. Rushing

From stories she related late in her life, "Grandma Long" lived her early life on a plantation that we believe must have been Decatur or Obion County. Kizzie and her sister Augustine, (Aunt Gus), were the only daughters in a family of nine. The parents died young, victims of tuberculosis. Of the parents we know little except that the mother's name was Mary Eugenie.

Kizzie and Gustine were, as young girls before the deaths of their parents, sent to a finishing school, probably in Obion, Tennessee where Kizzie later sent Genie to school. When the girls first returned home after a few months absence, Kizzie noticed that her father and older brothers spent too much time in the slave cabins, and she also noticed that every generation of Negro babies was lighter in color than the previous one. It was then she said she realized that the world was not nearly as good a place as she had believed it to be.

Before the Civil War when Kizzie was a young girl, a Negro was required to bring a note from a family member of his owner to enter a public gathering or to go into town. Kizzie wrote a note from the Bennett plantation:


Richard Rushing remembers this story: As young girls on the Bennett plantation, each daughter was given a Negro baby to "raise" while the babies' mothers worked in the fields. It was considered disgraceful for a young lady to be seen in the fields. Gustine did not like her Negro baby. They said he was mean and troublesome. The Negro baby Kizzie was given to "raise" was named Ped, and she loved him. Some years later, after the parents had died and the sons owned the slaves and the land (daughters got the money), Kizzie was visiting a brother and his family. When meal—time came and Kizzie was called to the dining room, she asked about Ped and was told that Fed was drunk and had been locked in the smokehouse until he sobered up because he had been causing a disturbance. Kizzie announced: "I love him; I have kissed him many a time, and I will not eat one bite until Ped is free." Ped was promptly set free, and Kizzie ate.

Knowing that they had a short time to live, the Bennett parents secured homes for their children with various relatives. The daughters were probably their youngest. Gustine got a good home, but Kizzie got a bad one, for Uncle was boss there, and three old maids were dull and uninteresting. Kizzie was always lonely and sad. Winter set in dreary and gray, and the lively girl begged Uncle to allow her to go to visit Gustine. Finally, Uncle said, "You may go now, but if the Lord smiles you will not go again until the buds swell in the spring." Kizzie thought to herself, "If the Lord smiles, I'll not be back here until the buds swell in the Spring." She never returned.

When she was about 24 years of age, before her marriage, Kizzie was walking down the street in Decatursville (old spelling) and passed a photographer's shop. The owner was new in town and wanted a sample of his work to place in his window. He saw Kizzie and asked her to come inside to be photographed. She did so but was embarrassed because she was not dressed appropriately for having a picture made. (Kizzie once knew a woman who was so brazen, she grinned and showed her teeth when she had her picture made.) The Dyer sisters fell heir to the original and had it enlarged and framed. In 1986 the photographer, who made a film and the small prints, said the bow on her dress was not on the original picture but was painted on later.

When she was 25, Kizzie married Orin Calvin Milam who was 50. After she had born a daughter, Mary Eugenie, and had become pregnant with a son, Orin Calvin, (called O.C.) her husband died. She then supported herself by teaching school. One of her students needed discipline and Kizzy gave him a switching. At the age of 32 she married that same former student whom she had switched (William Long, age 18). To them were born Margaret, Jess and Ada Leantine.

Living as she did, an adult during the Civil War and Reconstruction, one wonders why she almost never mentioned them. Kizzie had a brother-in-law who was killed at Shiloh. Also, O.C. spent much of his early life living with Aunt Gus (widowed) and Cousin Florence because they were afraid to be alone when the night riders were nearby.

When the slaves were set free, several who were from the Bennett plantation were literate. Kizzie and Gustine had, years before, taught the smaller ones to read and write. It has been said that they did arithmetic with sticks, writing on the ground.

As long as an ex-slave woman was available, the Longs hired one as a cook. Kizzie never cared for cooking. When she did prepare a meal and called the family to eat, she would yell, "Done or raw, fill a craw." It was said that as often as not the food was more raw than done.

When Genie became old enough to go away to school, Kizzie sent her to a brother who lived in Obion, TN, to enroll in a finishing school there. Somehow Genie learned that her uncle and the woman in the house were not husband and wife. She became furious because it was a disgrace to live in such a place. After asking her uncle for her money to go home and being refused, she announced she was going home and was going like a lady. As a Mason herself, she planned to ask the Masons for money to go home. We have heard women in those days did not carry money and had no purses. Genie's uncle quickly gave her money, and home she went.

Kizzie seemed to be always a bundle of energy. At one time she was said to be the teacher in the local school, bookkeeper for her husband's cotton gin, keeper of their large country store and postmaster in the short-lived post office. (She could never name the post office so postal authorities named it "Long").

On the wall of the store Kizzie posted names of customers. It was customary for customers to charge their groceries and other items until the fall of the year when the cotton crops were sold. One of Kizzy's lists named the customers who paid their bills promptly and in full. The other list was titled "Sons of Bitches" and named the customers who had not or would not pay their bills.

Kizzie was so involved with her many activities that when Genie married she feared Ada would never be brought up. However, Ada did grow up and was the same as the other family members, as far as anyone could tell, except her sharp tongue might have been more like that of her mother; however, she was an active and devout Methodist.

All of them knew that Kizzie was never one to cuddle or spoil children. She said that if she ever held a baby in her arms, she did so only to rest the mother not because she enjoyed holding the child. Aunt Gus was the one who spoiled the children, and in her own way taught them whatever they needed to know. If they picked flowers in the cemetery, she warned that Old Bloody Bones would come out from under the church steps and get them.

When Mary Eugenie's daughters were in their 80's, they loved to visit together and talk of their childhood as their grandmother had done when she visited them so long ago. Sometimes the sisters would all look sad, and sometimes they would giggle as they might have done as schoolgirls. Sallie, Allie Belle, Tinie and Hattie shared those long afternoons. Often sister-in-law, Burgess a few years younger, shared with them and sometimes just listened.

They recalled their grandmother's visits with them, riding side-saddle on her horse and wearing a large bonnet. Saddle bags were stuffed with treats, usually candy or raisins. Often Sister Gustine came with her, also riding a horse. Aunt Gus would often correct what Kizzie told, but since Kizzie was hard of hearing, she never knew she was being corrected. Sitting around the enormous fireplace, she continued to relate tales of their childhood to son-in-law, Bob Dyer and the children.

Genie told her children she liked fall more than any other season, perhaps because William (her step-father 8 years older than herself) gave her a cotton patch, and she had money in the fall.

After Genie died, leaving eight children between ages of 4 and 19, the children would often walk across Cane Creek to visit relatives in the Judson and Oak Grove community. Aunt Gus' one daughter, Florence, had married Newton Ferguson and their three sons and the Dyer children were great friends. The Fergusons and Aunt Gus always lived together. In the evenings, Dyers present, there was lively play and laughter, but Aunt Gus announced bedtime earlier than the children liked. Years later they recalled that when morning came their socks were clean and if needed, mended, and placed neatly by their shoes.

After leaving the Ferguson household and Aunt Gus, the Dyers proceeded to the O.C. Milam place for more lively play. Aunt Louisa was agreeable to whatever they did, and all of them knew a lot of noisy ways to entertain themselves. The Dyers' last stop was at the Longs. Around Grandma they knew to mind their manners. Grandpa Long was much more tolerant of their pranks. The Dyer sisters in their 80's would giggle when one of them reminded the others that so far as they knew, at: the three homes everyone was always glad to have them visit.

The Jess Long family was seldom mentioned as being a part of such episodes as the Milams, Fergusons and Dyers engaged in. Uncle Jess lived in such far-off places as Scotts Hill and Beacon, too far to walk. However, the Dyer sisters did mention the luxury at Uncle Jess' home. They even had a brazier full of coals under the dining room table to keep their feet warm while they ate. But since in their later years they all felt such warm affection for each other, they had surely enjoyed each other during their childhood. Probably the Long mothers kept a close watch on activities than good-natured Louisa. The Fergusons and Dyers, also the Milams, appeared to have had a small wild streak in them.

Once walking up a crowded church steps, she smelled a woman. Kizzie went home immediately and put on another petticoat.

In those days William Long's house was the one at which the Methodist preachers, on the circuit that included Oak Grove, "stayed." The preacher brought his horse and buggy with a trunk and a "box." Other members helped with furnishing feed for the horse and would occasionally invite the preacher for a meal; otherwise, he was at the home at the Long's. The lady of the house did the preacher's laundry and his sewing. At this particular time he was in need of nightshirts. Kizzie and a neighbor cut out the material. However, Kizzie simply did not sew. A granddaughter, age 12, was visiting and helping Kizzie with household chores. Tinie's daughter, Mary Eugenic Rushing, remembers hearing her mother relate the story many times. Little Tinie was scared to death because her mother had only one machine needle and children were not allowed to sew. Grandma showed her the tricks and Tinie made the nightshirts. Then the grandmother bragged to everyone who came into the store that the nightshirts looked as though a woman had made them. Tinie grinned about the incident well into her 80's.

Billie Fayc Ferguson Reed, (great granddaughter of Augustine) tells us that the two ladies would cross Cane Creek bottom riding astride, long skirts flapping and hair flying, until they neared the Dyer house. At that time they stopped their galloping horses, combed their hair and made themselves neat and ladylike, riding up to the Dyer house "side-saddle".

Granddaughter, Tinie Dyer Rushing, remembered occasions when Kizzie would ride her horse to visit the Bob Dyer family. Bob would place all his family into his wagon and they would drive to a Primitive Baptist meeting at Barren Springs. He and Kizzie shared that belief.

Kizzie was always Baptist in belief, but Grandpa Long was Methodist and Kizzie had never been- immersed. As an old woman she asked a preacher to immerse her. Grandpa Long's argument against this was that this form of baptism showed a woman's legs and was, therefore, immoral. In order to save scandal, Ada, (the only living daughter), made a dress and with Kizzie's directions, sewed pieces of lead into the hem. Billie Faye Ferguson Reed tells us that her grandmother, Florence, (Augustine's daughter) also helped Ada make the dress.

On the day of the baptizing (perhaps there were others being baptized, too) a large crowd had gathered. When Grandma went into the water, her outfit floated. Ada giggled loudly enough that her mother heard, her. Then Kizzie said in a loud voice, "Laugh if you want to, but I am doing this for the satisfaction of my own conscience, and I never want to hear it mentioned again as long as I live." And she never did.

When Kizzie was quite elderly but still riding her horse, she visited the Dyers and attended a meeting with the Dyer children at New Hope Methodist Church. Several of the congregation had been her students in the years past. They greeted her with great joy but when she saw the Negroes sitting at the back of the church, she walked outside and sat with the black people, many of the older ones she knew. Then she told someone it was cooler outside.

The Dyer granddaughters were marrying rather late, and Kizzie told them they did not have to marry if they chose not to do so. In her day an old maid was a disgrace, and she married because she did not want to be a disgrace to Gustine, who was two years younger, and wanted to get married.

Bill was Kizzie's favorite brother. When Bill grew up, he went west into Arkansas, and she knew she would never see him again. She said that for many years she would cry every day because Bill was gone. Years passed and Kizzie and Bill were in their late seventies and in quite good health. Bill wrote to her and suggested that they meet in Memphis for a visit. Kizzie refused to go, saying she was afraid she would renew that old love.

William Long was, no doubt, a successful business man. Mary Eugenic Rushing remembers sitting on her grandfather's front porch about 1923 and hearing Bob Dyer and Bill Rogers discussing William Long. One of them made the remark that at one time Mr. Long was worth ten thousand dollars. The small child wondered what was ten thousand dollars.

In her 94th year and already quite feeble, Kizzie still enjoyed good food and in her later years was quite large. In mid-summer O.C. barbecued a hog and carried her a good portion of it. Ada, the daughter she bore when almost 50, had cooked a pot of green beans she had generously seasoned with hog fat, as everyone did in those days. When Ada carried her a small amount of each food, Kizzie refused it and ordered a full Plate. Ada followed her instructions, but said, "Ma, if you eat this, it will kill you." Kizzie said, "If it does, I will die happy." She ate it and within a week died.

William J. Long, Kiziah Long, Robert Dyer

July 21, 1922
Lexington Progress

Mrs.Keziah Donnelly Long

Mrs. Keziah Donnelly Long, wife of W.B. Long, died last Saturday, the 15th inst., at her home at Middleburg, in the old 14th district, having reached the extraordinary age of 92 years, 7 months and four days--and her taking away was not the result of the infirmities of age, notwithstanding she had reached within seven and a half years of the century mark.

Keziah Donnelly Bennett was born in Decatur County, and was first married to O. C. Milam, by whom she bore two children, one of whom survives--O.C. Milam, of the old 4th district.

To her marriage with Mr. Long three children were born, two surviving in the persons of W.J. Long of Beacon, Decatur County, and Ada, wife of W.W. Rogers, present trustee of Henderson County.

Mrs. Long leaves 17 grandchildren in the connection of her first husband and her son, W.J. Long has ten children.

Many years ago she joined the Southern Methodist Church at Oak Grove, near Middleburg and there her remains were laid to rest last Sunday, Rev. Walter Alexander of Shady Hill, officiating in the service.

Mrs. Long was a remarkable woman in many ways and as stated above, her death was not resultant from old age, but from flux and complications with which she was ill but little more than a week. She was of much help to her husband in business, her energy had no limitations and she was scrupulously honest in her dealings, expecting the same from those with whom she traded or who traded with her. At the age of ninety years and even later, she had the vigor of a well-preserved woman of seventy years. Even after her marriage to Mr. Long, she taught school and not a few in her section owed what education they had to instruction and discipline received from her. No county often produces such a woman as Mrs. Long.

May 30, 1930
Lexington Progress

Death of Aged Man

William B. Long, aged 82 years, died last Friday night in the home of son W. Jess Long, at Beacon, Decatur County, but his own was at old Middleburg, in the old 14th district of Henderson County. He had long suffered from heart trouble and on that account, as well as his extreme age, his death was not unexpected.

Mr. Long, married Mrs. Kipzie [sic.] Milam, who died a few years ago, left two children, Jesse and Ada, the latter being the widow of the late W.W. Rogers.

Mr. Long was for many years a merchant at his home place, known as both Middleburg and Long Post Office, and was always a farmer.

He was entitled to be known as one of the best citizens of the county and enjoyed an unquestionable character for honesty, honorable dealing and all other traits of character which go to make up a good man in his home, community, county and state.

The funeral was held Saturday and Mr. Long was laid to rest in the Oak Grove Cemetery, Rev. Fleetwood Ball officiating.

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