My grandfather Bob White worked a farm at Scribner Mill, technically owned by his brother Willis, a Columbia policeman. Bob and Willis had a gentleman’s agreement about splitting the profits and Bob’s growing ownership in the farm. This was during a time when a handshake meant something.
By the way, lawmen in the White family probably dates back to Willis’s father and my great-grandfather James Lewis White who had been a deputy sheriff and magistrate. Besides Willis, James Lewis’s grandson Chesley Cheek was a Columbia policeman. Another grandson, Lawson White, was a deputy then sheriff of Maury County, before helping to establish the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, for which he served as executive director.
For help on the farm, Willis often bailed out a prisoner to his own custody and the convict would work off his debt by labor on the farm. One really nice couple was Cecil and Luella. Cecil was the lawbreaker — he probably had committed a very petty crime — and Luella came with him to the farm to live and work alongside her spouse while he paid off his debt to society and Willis White.
They lived in a small house on the place but ate at the family table in my grandfather’s house after Bob’s family had dined. One day, Luella came to my grandmother Hattie and said, “Miss, White, please don’t put on the table no more than we can eat.”
“Why’s that, Luella?” asked Hattie.
“If there’s leftovers, Cecil will put them in his pocket, and I have to wash his clothes…” replied Luella.
My dad could attest to this, as one day he witnessed Cecil in the field, in between plowing, eating a handful of cooked sweet potatoes from his overalls pocket.
But, as I say, they were good folks with good hearts, who meant well.
One day, Bob came out to the barn and happened to miss his good buggy harness hanging in the hall. The family hadn’t had a buggy for some time but he admired the harness.
As he walked out to his hay wagon that morning, he noticed that the harness on the wagon reins were decorated with fancy leather string all along the brow band, halter and the reins. Cecil stood leaning against the wagon, smiling.
My dad said, “It did look pretty.”
Bob asked Cecil, “What in the world have you done?”
Cecil smiled and said, “I just dressed up them reins a bit.”
Bob examined the decorative string.
“Did you cut up my buggy harness to do this?” asked Bob.
“Yessir. I seen that they were no buggy so I told myself the buggy reins what wasn’t being used would dress up them that was.”
My grandfather, who was a hard man made such by his times, looked at Cecil for a long moment.
“Well, you’ll look mighty dressed up in your casket if you ever do something like that again.”
Those were the only hard words between Bob and Cecil but Bob meant it. And Cecil knew he meant it.
Cecil worked off his time and Luella and Cecil moved away with mostly good memories shared by the two families.
Another convict who worked for a time on the farm was Pug. Pug was a thief who would sneak over to some hardworking farmer’s field at night and steal corn to make moonshine — also on the farmer’s property, deep in the woods.
The farmer would awake in the morning to see a pile of naked corn cobs at the end of a row.
Well, Pug was arrested — either for stealing or bootlegging – and Willis bailed him out and sent him to the farm.
Pug worked half-heartedly and with much sloth for about a week until the day my grandfather sold his tobacco crop.
On his return from the sale barn in town, Bob walked through the backdoor into the kitchen where Pug sat at the family table. Bob’s head was bent forward counting his tobacco money as he stepped in and the wide brim of his Stetson blocked Pug from view.
Suddenly, a heavy stick of stove wood came flying by Bob’s head and hit the door frame.
Bob looked up to see Pug’s disappointed face and his right arm extended forward in perfect pitcher’s follow-through.
Pug had meant to take Bob’s money.
A loaded 16 gauge William Moore side by side shotgun hung above the doorframe in the kitchen, above Bob’s head, but he didn’t reach for it. He just looked Pug in the eyes and said, “If you don’t get off this place, I’m gonna shoot you dead. Just like I was shootin’ a rabbit.”
Pug hauled out never to be seen again.
Later, when Willis came to the farm, Bob said, “You be more careful about who you send out here.”