The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young with Introduction by James M. Young

Monette and Tom Young named me James Morgan: James, after both my uncles; and Morgan, my Mother’s maiden name. My parents and my two sisters and I grew up in Calhoun county in north central Mississippi where our ancestors have lived for almost 200 years. I went to three different high schools in the county since Mother had to move about to work as a nurse after my father died unexpectedly in 1946. After earning an engineering degree at Mississippi State and a commission through the Air Force ROTC program, I was called to active duty immediately and became a career officer, spending 28 years before retiring as a Lt. Colonel. My last active  assignment was in northwest Florida, and I have lived here ever since.

Mother was born in 1915 and was a lonely only child, her little brother having died shortly after he was born.  She grew up on her parents’ isolated small farm in the hills on the edge of the Reid Community in northeast Calhoun county. An early settlement in this area had been called Cherry Hill but it had vanished by the time Mother was born. This area included rich farmland in the Skuna River bottom area and smaller farms in the hills south of the river. The white settlers here were primarily of Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English heritage, coming mainly from Virginia and the Carolinas and traveling through Alabama and Tennessee to get here as the Chickasaw Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s.  Most of these arriving families were large, as were needed to raise the crops and cattle needed for basic living. As the number of settlers increased, churches were organized and the small amount of community social life here revolved around Rocky Mount and Poplar Springs Baptist Churches organized in the mid-1800s.  Schools were small, one-roomed, one teacher, even in the early 1900s.  Monette’s mother Eula was one such teacher at whatever school in the area needed her. During the school months she and Monette often boarded with a local family and got back to their home only on weekends.

Mother loved to read and to listen to older family and friends tell their stories about their growing up days in the 1800s.  High schools were beginning to be established and she attended one year at the county Agricultural High School at Derma and then finished her high school at Vardaman, boarding with a local family there.  Vardaman High School is where she met Tom Young and they married while both of them were still teenagers. They began their married life in Vardaman and their three children were born there.  Tom died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1946 shortly after returning from WWII service and Monette began working to support her children. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse in a small local clinic and eventually moved to Memphis to get a better position.

Her interest in the community and people of her youth continued and was intensified in her middle years. Some of her older kinfolk were also living in Memphis and she began to work with them to learn and document all that they remembered about Reid and the families there. She used the library facilities in Memphis for her research and corresponded widely by phone and mail with folks who had lived in the Reid area or who had information about that area that they would share. She, her cousin Clarence Morgan, and her grandson Jesse Yancy III walked through many of the graveyards where ancestors, kinfolk, and childhood friends were buried. She taught herself to do genealogical research and was one of the charter members of the national Murphree Genealogical Association, her mother’s family line.

Her handwriting was hard to read (she said it was because her mind was so much faster than her writing), so she bought a typewriter and taught herself to type. However, most of the letters she sent me were handwritten because she knew that I could easily read them. Over the years she had occasionally sent me information about our family history and genealogy, but in the 1980s she began to send much more. She said that I might not be all that interested in the history of our family and the community where she grew up, but that my children or grandchildren might.  I was impressed by what she was sending and, as my interest grew, I realized that, with a little editing, this material would make a great book.

I began that task as a surprise for her next birthday. It took a while for me to type all that she had sent. I used an early early form of word processor that was available in  my job and worked at this after hours and on weekends. After I got it all typed, I went through and rearranged the material into logical groupings and added a few photos and maps and a comprehensive index. I also included a census of the Poplar Springs Cemetery which had been created by her cousin Clarence and his family. She had added a significant amount of genealogical information to this census and it seemed to fit perfectly as an appendix to the book.

I put the information about the families of the Reid area, the history of the community itself, the importance of the Poplar Springs church, and her memories of the community life in the first part of the book.  In the second half, I put her detailed memories of her daily life as she was growing up on the small farm during the time of World War I and shortly afterwards.

She was delighted with the book and said that if she had known what I was going to do she would have added this or that and she would not have said this or that.  So I revised the book to make those changes and gave her the original and several copies, keeping a couple for myself.  She suggested that it be titled “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”.

Over the following years as people heard about the book, she made about 100 photocopies of it which were provided, for the cost of copying, to anyone who asked for one.

Mother died in February 2000 in Jackson, MS, where she had moved to be near her daughter Barbara. Her funeral was in Vardaman, and I was surprised at the number of people who attended. Many told me that they had not known her, but loved her book and wanted to pay their respects.

A few months later, I updated the book into a second edition to include a few additional changes and a few corrections that she had mentioned, and had 200 copies professionally printed. Copies were donated to the libraries in Calhoun County and to the Mississippi collections at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.  The other copies were sold for the cost of the printing.  When those had been sold and I found that people were still asking for copies, I made it available through Amazon.com for the price of printing plus a small royalty fee which is donated to the Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. I also made it available for download at no charge as a PDF from several places on the internet.

From reviews and comments that I’ve received from librarians and readers, this book has become a unique and well-regarded resource for information about the history of this part of north Mississippi, of the Reid and Poplar Springs area, and of the people who settled there. It turned out to unusual in the amount of detail it provided about those times and places.  One person who bought the book from Amazon wrote: “If you come from this area, it is a must have. I often use this book for reference. Many references to my ancestors among the area. The writing is very easy to read and enjoyable. It is like sitting listening to my grandmother or mom tell stories of the past.”

The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young

Magic Pie

My grandmother Monette was a woman of many parts: a wit and a wag, a poet and historian, she raised two children who became remarkable people in their own right. She belonged to a generation of women who entered the workplace in time of war, and unlike her mother or daughter she never became a good cook. She along with millions of other women relied more on any given product’s “recommended recipes” than hand-me-downs or innovation. As a result, my Southern Baby-Boomer cuisine—for which, I might add, I barely qualify—is peppered with dishes fabricated in test kitchens.

Green bean casserole is the most popular of these concoctions, but there are dozens of others, including lemon icebox pie. Many early recipes include the word “magic”, as if cooling ingredients for preparation were more metaphysical than heating. Ingredients usually include canned milk of some sort, sweetened or not, as well as meringue or whipped cream, either in the filling or lightly-baked as topping. This recipe is from The Country Gourmet, distributed by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in 1983, which includes a short forward by Eudora Welty ending with the marvelously ambiguous: “Guarding and protecting, trying to save, all life on earth is a need we all alike share.”

Beat six ounces of whipped topping with a thawed can of lemonade concentrate and a can of condensed milk. Pour into a graham cracker pie crust and chill one hour before serving.

 

Holidays in Old Calhoun

My mother Monette Morgan Young was born in 1915 on a small farm east of the village of Reid in the northeast part of Calhoun County on the old road to Houlka. She was the daughter of Hosea Morgan and Eula Murphree Morgan, and was an only child. The lack of siblings and nearby neighbor children made her childhood lonelier than most. Her mother was a teacher for many of Monette’s early years, moving around from one one-room community school to another and lodging with someone in that community during the short school term each year. She took Monette with her while Hosea stayed home to take care of the farm. When schools were not in session, all three worked hard to raise enough food and “bring in” a small cotton crop to sell for their cash needs.

Monette was a reader and a writer; she loved poetry and history. In her later years, Monette began to write of her growing-up days and her life on that farm. Like many people as they grow older, she became interested in family history and began a decades-long period of formal research and the gathering of family stories from surviving aunts, cousins and others who had lived in Reid. Her cousin Clarence Morgan was a great source of family and community information; and she and he made many trips, some with grandkids along, to old cemeteries and old communities barely recognizable by then with the changes of time.

 In the early 1980s she began sending me long letters—some she typed but most were handwritten in a hurried scrawl—letters with information she had gathered about not only our family but also about other families who lived in that area and her memories of them and her life there. As I saved her letters, I began to realize that if the material was organized, edited a bit, fleshed out with a map or two, and if I took the various bits of information about, for example, the Clark family or the community social life, and put those together and did likewise with other topics, this might make an interesting memoir as well as a useful genealogical and historical resource. I did that. It took months in those pre-computer days, but it began to come together. I finished typing it and decided I’d have a few copies made for me and my children and would give her a few copies on her 75th birthday. I called it “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”. She was delighted, but said several times, “If I had known you were going to do this, I’d have written this or that, or would have not said that, or would have added the story about….” I told her to consider it a draft and to add or subtract whatever she wanted, and I’d revise the book accordingly. She did, and I did. After Mother died in 2000, I created a second edition of the book, adding the additional material and cleaning up some typos and some errors that had been pointed out. Over 100 copies of that second edition were subsequently made and a digital version is available on the internet for free download.

Holidays
(an excerpt from The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi, by Monette Morgan Young

We did not do lavish Christmas cooking, not in our circle of acquaintances and kin, nor did we do lavish Thanksgiving cooking. We usually had fresh pork both times and often our meat would be a huge pot of backbones. If the hog killing had been in the last day or two before the holiday, we had the most prized meat of all, the loin strip. Our men did not make pork chops of any cut of hog. That long lean strip was taken out without bone and how I looked forward to it. I hated any boiled meat. Mother and all her acquaintances and kin only boiled or fried meat. One reason for that is that they did not know of roasting procedures and second that it would have required oven cooking and use of much stovewood. They could boil a piece or pieces of meat in the black iron cooking pot on the coals on the hearth by the fire which was already going for warmth. Mother would make good dressing with that water and we always had small Bermuda onions growing in the garden all winter. These grew in clusters and did not decay as the large ones did and were not hot. Mother did not have to buy sage. She grew it, dried it in a slow oven and so we had sage and onions for dressing and since I always contended for fried meat, she fried something for me. We sometimes did have a hen boiled but since I wouldn’t eat boiled meat, she had to do the frying for me and I ate dressing with that.

Usually Thanksgiving Day was just another day. Daddy was sometimes up to his ears in corn gathering and we cooked a little better dinner. Some meat as I have described, maybe a molasses cake with the dried apple filling and frosting, one or two or three of the many vegetables in storage, canned or dried, the usual dish of pickles, preserves, canned berries, or peaches, on the table. Christmas would be the same with the exception of a coconut cake. Mother always cooked a large luscious coconut cake. She used only her simple two-egg recipe for the batter (2 eggs, ¾ cup milk, 1-1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup fat, 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt), but we always got a fresh coconut and she filled and covered the cake lavishly with frosting and coconut. Then she always had Daddy to buy the cone-shaped frosted jellied candies, assorted colors. She topped the cake with those and it looked like tiny frost-covered shapes of color in a snow bank. That was her specialty. I never saw or read of a fruit cake. With all our folks, just ordinary cakes were made. A little more lavish perhaps, was a Christmas cake, or was called so.

We often saw no one but ourselves on Christmas Day. The weather would have been too bad to venture forth. My parents had bought a little fruit and a few nuts. Oranges still always smell like Christmas. We had them no other time unless someone was really sick. Those little home-grown apples smelling like all the aromas of Araby would still be crisp and we would allow ourselves a few more of those unwrapping them from the Sears Roebuck catalog pages that were used to protect them and out of their cardboard boxes from under the bed in the front room. We got a few raisins, the seeded ones still on stems, I never taste such now.

If we did not go to Mama Murphree’s on pretty Christmas days we would walk to Grandaddy Morgan’s. My parents occasionally bought a box of lemon stick candy. At Grandfather’s he would bring out his goodies. He may have sent to town for a bushel of shipped in apples, which then I preferred to our small homegrown ones, and he had oranges and several boxes of candy. He always bagged up a large paper bag for us to carry home. Uncle Alsie’s children made their home at Grandaddy’s and Grandmother’s. These were Euras, Theda, Roy and Lois. Lois was near my age, the youngest. So I would get to see the cousins there.

One favorite toy at Christmas time for parents and teachers to give children was a harmonica. At that time, all children were given gifts by teachers. A harmonica, which we called a French Harp, cost all of a nickel or a dime. A good sized professional one might cost a quarter. I invariably wanted one. Of course, I had not a musical bone in my body. I made noise on it, and that was all. Another gift that teachers most often gave was a “bought” toothbrush. Our toothbrushes were off the black gum bush or the black gum tree. They made a large tree, but the woods were full of the small ones and we got a good sized twig about as large as a small cedar pencil, peeled the bark down about an inch and a half and the whole thing was about six inches long. We chewed the peeled end into a mop shaped thing and brushed our teeth with that. We used ashes or baking soda. I recall that Daddy used ashes.

I had bountiful Christmases. I always got one special large gift and one or two small ones. Also there were the oranges and raisins which we did not get at other times, not often. There was candy too, then, but seldom at other times. My victory over my nice pretty things was a little hollow, with no one to show them to or to play with them with me. Some other children of the area did not get anything but the candy, nuts, and fruits. Christmas was a very quiet celebration then. The weather was usually bad and the roads almost impossible to travel on, so family get-togethers were never planned. We almost always got to both my grandparents during the Christmas week. At “Mama” Murphree’s sometimes we got to see other cousins, sometimes not. At the Morgan grandparents, my four cousins who made their home there were always at home and I enjoyed them. Friends and relatives did not exchange gifts. We had no church programs. We didn’t try to plan for such due to not knowing what the weather might do. Mother tried to see that I had a good Christmas. When she was a child, they had had usually nothing except a little candy and one time nothing at all. One Christmas there was a bisque doll with curls for me and one time there was a big sleeping doll and a cloth body–perhaps a paper mache head with painted-on reddish blonde hair. That day it rained all day. We never got outside.

When I was about four, Tellie Murff and Winnie Davis gave me some lovely Christmas gifts. I think Tellie gave me a beautiful ball and some of the best of candy. Winnie gave me a box of blocks, some of which were painted to form the facade of an antebellum house. They were still in the house when all of the things had to be sold and/or given away when Daddy got sick. Some winter Sundays we couldn’t go to church. We’d have Sunday school at home. My Father was well read in the Bible. He was on speaking terms with the old Bible Patriarchs. We three would read and discuss the lesson while pork backbones simmered in the kitchen, they for our Sunday dinner, and while sweet potatoes baked and while perhaps dried peas or butterbeans cooked.

Monette Morgan Young
Monette Morgan Young