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Reflections of Mr. T. Willie Halton...
In Response To: Cotton Field on Mile Lane Road ()
Reflections of T. Willie Halton on Mile Lane Road ©
Last summer I took a drive down Mile Lane Road in Ridgely, Tennessee. I got to the end of the road before I realized that all of the homes were now gone, including the house that I spent most of my younger years in and Mr. T. Willie Haltonís house, that perished in a fire a few years ago. As a child I used to think it took forever to walk from one end of the road to the other.
I first met Mr. T. Willie when I was about 4 years old. A few years ago a newspaper wrote articles on Mr. T. Willie. He was living in a rural area in an old home without inside plumbing including a bathroom. He got his water from a pump in his back yard. He had been living there for over 40 plus years. I was not pleased with the way that they portrayed him and his living conditions. He truly did not have all the immunities that most have, but his house was his home and he was truly content. He was portrayed as the old man who lived in the raggedy old house with his dogs and cats. I followed the articles that an area newspaper wrote on him and each time I wanted to let everyone know that there was another side to this wonderful man. I even wrote the newspaper to let them know that I knew another side of this man that they are not portraying. My efforts were unanswered and no one got to hear my reflections of this wonderful man.
Mr. T. Willie used to live in a duplex house that was connected to our home on Mile Lane Road. The owner of the house decided to make it all into one house and my family would have access to the whole house. Mr. T. Willie moved two houses down from us. My parents were excited about being able to have access to the whole house. Preparations had been made to purchase items for this house. I was very young, but I still can remember hearing Mr. T. Willie whistling very early in the morning and late into the evening. This was a sound that you heard every morning until he moved. Unfortunately, before we were able to move into the other portion of that house, it burned down to the ground. The cause was unknown. The babysitter was able to get my siblings and I out. No one was harmed from the fire. We were not able to save anything from our house. I remember once everything had cooled off, we went to the site and found melted glass and coins. The house was right next door to my stepdadís parentís home and was very convenient because she was our babysitter.
I can still remember seeing Mr. T. Willie standing there looking along with everyone else at the house burning. I remember seeing him with this sad look on his face holding a stick in his hand. The people of Ridgely poured out their hearts and every day people were coming down Mile Lane Road with food, clothes, toys, houseware, blankets and just about everything that we needed. I was in the first grade at the time. I missed some school because of the fire. The children were split up for a couple of weeks until we were able to move to another house that was down the road from our other home.
Mr. T. Willie had gotten settled into his other house also. I donít remember what his wifeís name was but we called her ďAntie.Ē My curiosity took me to the SSDI and was able to determine that her real name was Ovella. The most that I could remember was around what year she died and that she was a very pretty woman who was very sweet. We would spend time at Mr. T. Willieís house mostly during the summer months. He had the best garden. He grew all types of vegetables. The best thing that he grew in his garden was popcorn and tomatoes. He would always teach us about when it was time to plant and harvest different items from his garden. You could hear Mr. T. Willie in the early mornings going down the road to feed his hogs. He would always let us help him with his chickens but would never let us go to his hog pen. His journey always started with him whistling along the way. He would also sing too. He sang some church songs and he also sang some songs through his whistling.
There was this big black vehicle parked at the back part of Mr. T. Willieís house. I donít remember if it was a car or truck, I just remember that it was big and jet black. It could have been a Ford, or a Chevrolet. I donít know if it belonged to him or to the previous resident of the house. I had never seen him drive, so I donít know if he could drive. I just knew that it did not work and we never played in it because he said it probably had snakes in it. He had chickens also. There was this one chicken who would run and chase us across the dirt road home. Each time the chicken chased us we would always say that we were never going back to his yard again. Of course, that never lasted. We just couldnít stay from over there.
We always like to spend time at Mr. T. Willieís house. He used to tell us stories about when he grew up. The one thing that I will always remember about him is that he taught us how to read. When my brother and I started school at Lara Kendall Elementary in 1966 and 1967, we already knew how to read. He had these primary reading books that he would read to us. When we got to first grade we already knew the words in the primary reading books. He would also help us with our writing. I donít know how high of an education Mr. T. Willie had, but he definitely could read and write. Mr. T. Willie also kept some type of records. I donít know if they were for his hogs or for his garden. I just remember seeing books that had words and figures. It was sort of like a ledger book.
Some time along the way, Antie died and Mr. T. Willie was living alone. I remember she got sick and then later passed away. He was really sad for a while after her death. We always kept him company. A couple of summers we all went to a summer day camp. The bus would pick us up and drop us off after noon. We couldnít wait to get home to tell Mr. T. Willie about our day at camp. He always owned at least a dog and a cat. I never knew what their names were. He helped out everyone who lived on Mile Lane Road. He had a very kind heart and would give you his last dollar. He showered you with crops from his garden. Some nights we would just sit on his porch. It was pitch dark outside too. There were plenty of mosquitoes to bite us, but somehow we didnít even know they were biting us. I remember at one time there was word that a convict has escaped from prison. We refused to sit outside at night while this was going on. Mr. T. Willie would tell us every day to be careful. One day we got word that the convict had been captured. There were definitely no streetlights in the country.
Mr. T. Willie could fix anything. He would wash the clothes, clean the house, work in the garden, feed the hogs and chickens and was a very good cook. He could fry the best fish and c0ok the best creamed corn. He showed us how to shuck the popcorn and how to string up the pepper to dry. We always had popcorn to last us until the next season. He always grew the best tomatoes. I used to wonder why he always carried a stick. As I think about it now, he probably carried it to help him walk because sometimes he did appear to have a slight limp and I think maybe he used it to keep the wild dogs away.
When I read about the articles about Mr. T. Willie in an area newspaper I was sad. Not sad because of the way that he was living but because I knew the real Mr. T. Willie. That house was his home and he had lived there since about 1966 or so. It may not have been the best of the best, but it was his home. I read where people had brought him food and clothes. The gestures were warming, but Mr. T. Willie already had everything that he needed. My heart ached even more when I heard about the fire in his home that forced him to relocate. It was so strange that after all those years his house held up through rain, sleet, snow, tornadoes, etc., and then all of sudden after those newspaper articles, his house suddenly catches fire and burns to the ground. He was relocated in town to an apartment complex. He was not allowed to take any of his animals. I said in my heart that he would not survive long after leaving his haven. That house was home to him. On August 6, 2002, Mr. T. Willie went home to glory. In all of the articles that they wrote on him, they never mentioned that he had family. His family was only mentioned in the newspaper (the same one that wrote the articles) in his obituary.
I had many memories of Mile Lane Road. The summers were very hot and one most days the tar would bubble up in the road. At one time there were cows in a pasture right beside our house. It wasnít the most pleasant smell and even though they were fenced in, I still was afraid of them. I remember the burning of the wheat fields after the crop was gathered. Our house was the first and only house on Mile Lane to have an indoor plumbing and a toilet. Years later, I wondered why Mr. T. Willie did not move into our old house when we moved away. This house had indoor plumbing with a bathroom, yet he never moved into it. His house must have been more special than anyone would ever understand. His house contained so many memorable items reflecting his life including his photos and books. I can still remember reading those primary books that he had and how the teachers were surprised when we started first grade, we already knew how to read the books.
Mr. T. Willie was not just a poor, old, Black man living in an old raggedy house as the newspaper portrayed him. He was a teacher, a gardener, a farmer, a musician, a neighbor, a cook, a friend, a housekeeper and a carpenter. He wore many hats and was a great and wonderful man. Most of all, he was ďMr. T. WillieĒ who lived on Mile Lane Road. His house is gone and so is he, but his memory will live with me.
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