Little Johnny is Getting Old!

In the Beginning before my birth

Wilburn “Tennessee” Ryder was born in a mining camp near Copper Hill, Tennessee, November 19, 1906, the oldest of nine siblings. His father worked in the copper mines at Copperhill Tennessee. He helped his mother raise the other siblings while his father worked. As time went on and getting a job was hard to find during the depression Wilburn jumped on freight cars to get from place to find what ever work he could. He ended up in Jefferson City Tennessee and worked at the Zinc Mines. While there he met Mary Margaret Jones. Mary was going to college at the time and her father was a school teacher. Mary’s mother took care of the home on George Street where the Jones lived after selling the farm and moving to town.

Wilburn and Mary dated for a time and as time went on they fell in love. Wilburn gave Mary an engagement ring and soon after they decided to get married. Wilburn found a better job, paying more in Morristown so they moved. Wilburn sold Singer Sewing Machines and was quite good at it. He also sold pianos to help. Was not long that Mary was with child and her collage days came to an end. Months later a 9.3 pound baby boy came into this world. They named him John Hoyt Ryder. The John was for my grandfather in Jefferson City. The Hoyt was for my father Wilburn Hoyt Ryder. While still a baby, Wilburn went to New York City to work helping to build the subways, tunnels and bridges there. A while later he sent for Mary to come there too and bring me. While there I was in my crib drinking my milk and the bottle slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor. The bottle hit the floor with a loud crash and broke letting the milk go everywhere. Being somewhat of a little dare devil I managed to pull myself up by the bars on my crib and get my foot just over the top. Continuing to struggle I managed to get myself over the top and fell right on top of the broken glass. Then I must have screamed or cried very loud because mom and dad came running. They saw me lying in a pool of blood with my head split open. I guess it must have scared them a bit because they took me to the hospital very quick and there I received 18 stitches on the back of my head. Still have a big scare there today to prove that was a true story. My grandmother was very unhappy with the thought of us being in New York and mother brought me back to Tennessee.

On my mother’s side my grandfather was John Paul Jones and my grandmother was Maud Jones. They owned the house that I grew up in Jefferson City, Tennessee. They had a large farm about two miles from town and grandfather taught school in a one room school house for many years. He had received his education from the Carson Newman College in town. He also farmed the land with my grandmother and their two children Mary and Ralph, my mother and uncle. As things got tough in the 29 crash he sold the farm and moved to town. He bought several acres in town and built a house.

Early Years

After learning to walk As a baby and up to time for school. John and his life during these years. Don’t remember much before I started walking. Other than I didn’t like squash all mashed up. Yuggggg, I still don’t like squash even today. My grandmother “Maud” took in a 12 year old girl that her family said they couldn’t afford to keep. Her name was Sara and she was my best friend. As a matter of fact she put her life on the line for me. I crossed the street in front of our house and a car came flying down the road. Sara felt sure I was going to be killed and she ran like a flash of lightning and pushed me out of the path of the car. She was not so lucky and the car hit her and ran over her legs. The rest of her life Sara had scars and a limp to live with. What more can a friend do? Sara was a true friend until the day Jesus took her to himself.

Well you need to know and get that same warm feeling about the area around the place I had to run, play, learn and to be sure dream. I was at a wonderful age with the world for the taking. We had a big shed, barn, chicken lot and two big fields just for me. There were cherry trees, pear trees, apple trees and a big strawberry patch. Yep, we had roses and blackberry bushes with thorns that could pierce to the bone it seemed sometimes. I got to climb in the barn to the loft, in the trees and even on top of the chicken house. We hung burley tobacco in the barn and that was great, because I had tobacco sticks to use for my trusty horse as I rode all over the place. A branch that I broke and made my six shooter came in handy as I chased the bad guys away. It was hard times during the big depression and my grandmother made my shirts from sacs chicken feed came in.

Bread was nine cents a loaf and the movie cost a dime. Salmon patties were a main meal with cornbread. We didn’t have running water, electricity, an indoor bathroom, refrigerator, car or horse but we made it fine. We had a cistern on the back porch with a hand crank, a wood cook stove with a tank on the side to heat water for washing dishes and me, a path to an outhouse, an ice box to keep things cold and two strong legs to move along. We had a Warm Morning Stove in the living room that we put coal in to heat the house, ha ha heat the house. If you were not in the living room or near the wood stove in the kitchen you better have a coat on in the winter. I had the job of getting the coal to the house and the wood to the kitchen. When the big blocks of coal were getting low we would fill brown bags of coal dust to feed the stove. After filling a few dozen bags of coal dust we would be completely black with coal dust.

At three years old When I was three years old at a neighbor’s house, the Moore’s on the back porch I put a real chill in the air for everyone in the house. The men had been hunting that morning and left their shotguns on the back porch when they took the hunting clothes off. Well being a little boy with a lot of curiosity over to the shotguns as soon as I saw them. They were too heavy to pick up so I just played with them standing up and all of a sudden BAROOOOOOM and a big hole appeared now in the ceiling on the back porch. All the Moore family, mother and Sara thought the worst, that little Johnny would be in a pool of blood. As they ran to get me and stop the bleeding they heard “I just touched the gun and it went BANG and hurteee my arm when it jumped.” That back porch still has a hole in the ceiling.

Aunt Pearl worked for the WPA and helped folks during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program for young men from unemployed families, established on March 21, 1933, by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many in Jefferson City worked with the CCC. They built roads, state parks, soil erosion control, build telephone and power lines. The CCC had camps where the young men lived and worked out of. The New Deal ended with World War II. As Roosevelt himself said in December, 1943, “Dr. New Deal” had given way to “Dr. Win the War.”

My grandmother rented rooms upstairs to the workers building Cherokee Dam and made them lunches every day to take to work. She and Sara fixed sandwiches and a piece of fruit or cake and put coffee in a thermos flask in a bag for them to take. They fixed breakfast for them before going to work and had a home cooked meal for them at supper time. The workers built a bathroom on the back porch and the city had just run water down our street. Man that was wonderful. Now when it was cold and raining I didn’t have to go to the little house beside the chicken yard, about 150 feet from the back of the house. We even got a 30 gallon hot water tank and now had a shower in the bathroom on the back porch. Before that happened the men had to go to the barbershop to get a shower and it was twenty-five cents to take a shower there. I never got to do that. We had a big galvanized wash tub we put in the kitchen. We would fire up the wood cook stove to heat the water in the water tank on the side of the stove. The hot water was dipped up and put in the tub along with some water from the cistern. The curtain was pulled between the kitchen and dining room. Now it was bath time, Saturday night, to get ready for Sunday School and Church in the morning. That Saturday afternoon we would kill and pluck one or two chickens and put in the ice box for Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner was normally fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, greens, beets and biscuits and/or cornbread. Then it was pie or cake to round it off. Uncle Arch and Aunt Pearl came most Sundays for dinner and Clifford and Juanita came many times. After the dinner which would last at least an hour, everyone would go to the living room where a card table was set up and the rook, rummy, or author cards came out.

December 7, 1941 – Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor and I remember that day as if it was yesterday. It was dusk and the paperboy was walking down George Street shouting “Extra Extra Perl Harbor bombed”, “Read all about it”, “Extra Extra Perl Harbor bombed”. Such a quite surrounded me as a soft breeze touched my skin and it was a scary eerie feeling that evening. President Roosevelt came on the radio as everybody gathered and sat quietly paying intense attention to each word coming from that AM cackling sound that huge radio was making. I had a hard time trying to sleep that night and my prayer just did not seem to comfort as it normally did. My mind was running a hundred miles an hour trying to understand why someone would do such a thing to us. I was five at the time. Four days later Hitler declared war on the United States. Neighbors and my kinfolks were drafted or joined in to defend my country and me too. Every evening we would sit around that big radio and listen to the news of what was going on with the war. All gave some and some gave all. My uncle Grafton was lost at sea in the Pacific. Many of our neighbors lost loved ones and it was a very sad time.

Oak Ridge was built in 1942 northwest of Knoxville with a mission to create the Atom Bomb. Uncle Vincent was the Army photographer and assigned to Oak Ridge. He was like a Godfather to me and his wife, Aunt Alma, went to college with my mother. Aunt Alma’s family just two blocks from our house. We went to visit Uncle Vincent and Aunt Alma there several times. It took a month to get a pass to enter this super secret base and the Army ran the bus to enter the gate. Everyone was searched and men with machine guns rode the bus with you and you had to go to the address on the pass. Anytime you left the address on the pass you must have an escort by one of the people on your pass. This base had been built overnight and all the huts were plywood on a concrete pad and or tents. The roads were gravel and red mud. When the war was over Uncle Vincent gave me lots of patches and things he used when in the Army. He seemed to be as proud of me as I was of him.

Well mother had to go to work to help us get food to eat so she became a secretary at Tennessee Coal and Iron right here in Jefferson City. They mined zinc that was used to galvanize tin, buckets and the like. That would keep the iron from rusting and extend the life of many products. The comptroller at the mines would pick her up and bring her home from work every day. She had a typewriter at home and would do a lot of work at home too.

Grammar School years and the times. Grammar School Grades 1-6 We didn’t have what they call preschool today, we just started school when you were 6 years old. Neither did we have free lunches or a school bus if you were in the city limits. It didn’t take long to find out that you got two spankings if you were late getting in from recess. One from the teacher and one when I got home. Recess was 20 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon. There you got to play on the swing, jungle Jim, merry go round, shooting marbles or pal around with your buddies. We always solved the world’s problems at recess or at least thought we had the exact answer for any problem our world faced. Most of us carried our own lunch in a brown paper bag and those that had the 15 cents to buy lunch in the cafeteria ate there. We ate outside normally unless it was raining. All wax paper or wrappers were picked up on the way back to our classroom when the bell rang. Many of us wore shirts made from feed sacks and overalls or blue jeans. Blue jeans sold for about $2.00-$3.00. Soft drinks were 5 cents then and round steak (baloney) was the big deal on light bread with mustard or mayonnaise. Of course we had a piece of fruit to cap it off. That was lunch. Oh, sometimes we switched to peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana.

When the last bell rang I would walk home and try to avoid a couple of bullies that lived a couple of blocks from our house. I found out I was a good runner and for the most part did not have to confront them. When forced to sometimes it got bloody, but I got in my licks to most times. I still do not understand why some people like to take advantage of others. I guess they felt cheated or they were abused by someone else or their parents.

These were great times and after my home work was complete I would play outside until dark and then get to sit in front of a radio about five feet tall and two feet wide and deep. The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder were my programs. I rode many miles with them and took care of the bad guys for sure. The big thing adults talked about was the war, the big one WWII. In WWII, there was a rationing of just about everything. We had ration cards for each member of the family. Each was allotted so much sugar, gasoline, shoes and you name it. I was a little 6 year old boy, but I remember collecting newspaper, metal objects, aluminum foil, string, and other things. Almost everything was needed for use in making war items for the fighting men and women. We had to be very careful of what we used. If our shoes got holes in the bottoms, we put cardboard in them and when we could afford it we would have “half-soles” put on them. Folks had to limit their traveling, because you were limited to your gasoline stamps. I had to walk everywhere because we did not have a car so we didn’t have gasoline stamps. Even butter and margarine were rationed.

Sugar was almost impossible to get at that time. Many things were scarce because they were needed to supply the military – gas, oil, metal, meat and other foods, as an example Some products were scarce because they were imported from countries with whom we were at war or because they had to be brought in by ship from foreign places. Rationing made sure no one went hungry. Everyone was given a ration book. Each book had a bunch of ration stamps in it. Grocers and other business people would post what your ration stamps could buy that week. It was up to you to decide how to spend your stamps. Everybody had a Victory garden to grow their own vegetables to supplement the foods they could buy with their ration stamps. They were planted everywhere you could plant something. Some people planted things on window sills and on the roof in pots. Everything had value for the war effort. We had Junk Rallies to get flat irons, rakes, bird cages, electric irons, stoves, lamp bulbs, bed rails, pianos, washing machines, rubber goods, farm machinery, lawn mowers, etc. That junk helped make guns, tanks, ships for our fighting men. I had a little wagon that I pulled through the neighborhood getting things to take to the pickup area. Of course I wasn’t alone, many other kids my age were doing the same and that made us feel we were helping the war effort. Saccharin Tablets were used to sweeten things and used in drinks. The book is planned to be complete this year, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It will be announced on my blog.