Transcribed and unedited (with misspelled, capitals and grammatical errors) excerpt from a story written by WPA (Works Projects Administration) writer Annie L. Bowman, Escambia County, Alabama, April 20, 1939
The Bachelor on the Hill
Mr. Charlie Edwards
by Annie L. Bowman, WPA author
written in 1940 after interviewing Mr. Edwards
“Sure,” said Charlie Edwards, “that’s why I’m on this ladder: I’m going home. Don’t talk to me about being too old to climb. Everybody does that! That’s what they all say: ‘Too old!’ But, see here, I can take it!”
He scampered on up the ladder, and I followed him. He reached the top, stood there – 125 pounds of him. He is tall and slender. There was a light in the warm yellow of his hair, and his blue eyes twinkled down on me as I climbed. He took out a pair of smoked glasses and put them on; he often wears them to protect his weak eyes from the sun. When he spoke to me his voice was deep and startling to come from such a lean, small man.
Why he climbed a ladder to reach his homeplace
Charlie Edwards is old; he is seventy-five. The ladder he climbed so nimbly, with such quick steps is erected against a twenty-foot embankment. The embankment is steep with no slant, but before one gets to the embankment he must walk or ride, as I did, for a quarter of a mile on a gravel road up a gentle slope.
Charlie waited for me on top of the hill. Together we entered his house, a structure of six rooms, made of wood, painted a dark red, and topped with a slate roof. The front porch, on which we mounted, is long and wide. Several rockers were placed at convenient spots.
As we walked side by side, he said in his deep voice, “The road commissioners cut the steep bank for me when they were paving the highway. They did it so that I could have a nearer-cut to my store and filling station. I have the ladder fastened securely at both top and bottom, so there’s no danger.”
“The first thing I want you to know,” he said looking down with a grin, from his smoke glasses and his baby pink, smooth complexion, “is that I’m not old.” He’s seventy-five, but it is true for a man of his age, he does look young.
“If you didn’t know me, you’d take me to be a man not over fifty, wouldn’t you?”
I agreed with him.
“Yes, the Lord has been good to me; yet I haven’t half the money or property I once had. But thanks to our President Roosevelt and the New Deal I have saved half of what I had, and I don’t have a thing to worry about except my eyes and war.”
He looked at me. “I’m afraid that a war will break out. I have quite a few nephews that I love. I’ve been a father to these nephews, and I’m afraid they’ll be called to the front in case of war that the United States is in. I’ve been through several wars and there’s a bunch that doesn’t come back. That isn’t all, mind you; the world is demoralized too. If you have lived as long as I have, you’d know the world goes to the dogs when there is a war. You see how loose people get in their morals.”
His ancestry was English and French
Charlie Edwards is the son of an Englishman, who came to Alabama from Portland, Maine, before the Civil War when he was nineteen years old.
Charlie Edward’s mother, Louise Dauon, was a French girl from Mobile. “Her father and mother,” said Charlie to me as we rocked in the front porch chairs, “came from France to Mobile in 1838. They made their homes in Mobile where my mother was born. Her mother and father made three trips across the waters to France, their homeland. On the last trip, coming home, cholera broke out on the ship. The patients were quarantined in the hold. Her mother made soup and other delicacies to be taken down to the sick, quarantined people. Finally, she got the idea these people weren’t receiving the proper care – bless her heart – she decided to go down and doctor them herself. It wasn’t but 24 hours after she went down before she was dead.”
“Her father tried to get her to Mobile to bury her, but they wouldn’t take his money, any amount of money, which he offered to the captain to get the captain to let him bring her mother back to Mobile for a decent burial. The captain wouldn’t listen. He said this Asiatic fever was fatal: the risk would be unheard of. They buried her mother in the Atlantic Ocean. . . Her father came on back to Mobile to take care of her. He never went back to France.”
“My mother married when she was sixteen years old to Dr. Knight, a railroad man, who had charge of putting up the telegraph wires when the railroad was first built through here. My mother and her new husband made their home in Pollard.”
He stopped and peered at me from his smoked glasses as his thin knee giggled nervously on the floor. “You follow me? My mother married Mr. Knight, the railroad man. He’s not my father. See?”
Father was a telegraph operator
Charlie went on: “My father came from Maine to act as the telegraph operator. He was the first telegraph operator in Pollard. He boarded with my mother and her husband.”
“In a year’s time my mother was a widow; for Mr. Knight died. My father moved out, built him a home, or had it built before he courted my mother, and he married her in his house. They raised a family of eight, and both lived here in Pollard until they died.”
Pollard School in Escambia County, Alabama ca. 1939 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
“This home is not the place my father built. This house was built before the Civil War. I bought it as a home place and remodeled it. Even as old as it is, with my remodeling, it is a comfortable place to live. The two front rooms there are all that is left of the pre-war house.”
“Out of my mother and father’s eight children, there are four living, three boys, and one girl.”
I spoke to him and he stopped.
“How have we prospered?” Charlie scratched his yellow hair, but it was still neatly combed; for Charlie is a neat person. He always wears a tie, white shirt, and a good suit.
I had a tutor from the North
“I guess I’ve prospered more than the others, perhaps it is because I never married,” he said with a twinkle in his blue eyes that I could see through the smoked glasses. “And partly because I had better advantages. I was the oldest child, you see, and my father was making good money when I was growing up. He had to hire a tutor for me from the North; for there were no schools here then. That tutor taught me, and at the age of four-and-half, you can believe it if you want to, I knew the blue-back speller perfectly to the word ‘baker’!
“During the Civil War, I was a baby in my mother’s arms. They told me that when they received the word that the Yankees were coming through and destroying everything in their way, my father got orders to hide in the swamp. My father, you see, was the only telegraph operator they had and they didn’t want to lose him. He was needed badly to help them keep in touch with the other part of the army. He hid out, but my mother had a ham on the stove baking, and she had a scuffle with the soldiers over it. The soldiers had already killed all the stock, torn down the fences; now they wanted the ham. She fought ’em, and they didn’t get but half of it. So my father, when he heard about it all, decided not to leave the house when the next squad of soldiers came through. He stayed to protect her; he was afraid the French blood in her would get riled. The soldiers came again, captured him, was carried away a prisoner. It was just as well, for the railroad was torn up, and my father was no use as a telegraph operator without it.”
Sister married later in life
Charlie was interrupted in his talk with me. We stopped our gentle rocking, as his sister Sue came in for a visit. She is a low and a fat woman. She is not a big woman, just fat. Her walk is slow and with a peculiar bounce to it. Her hair, evidently once black, is gray; her complexion is dark. Her brogue is deep like her brother Charlie’s, but it is not as plain in pronunciation. She took a seat and sat composed and with dignity. She took up the conversation, while he went to look over his morning mail that the mail has just brought.
“I come in once a week,” Charlie’s sister, Sue, said. “I come in to see how he is getting along. You see. I kept house for him until I married some years back. I lived with him until I was forty-eight; I then married an old sweetheart, with whom I had gone with thirty years.”
“Charlie never would consent to me marrying; he didn’t like the man I married. And I guess he needed me badly, as he was alone. He told me that if I’d come to his place, and bring my husband, he would will me everything he had. He said he would turn the house over to me. My husband, in a way, is an old bachelor too, and I was afraid risking them together. Charlie’s eyes are giving him trouble, and I’m afraid if he goes blind Ill have to swallow my pride and bring my husband over with me so I can take care of Charlie. Charlie had a nervous breakdown, and that’s the main trouble with his eyes. The doctors say there is no hope, that Charlie will be blind. I guess I’ll have to come over here and take care of my husband and Charlie too.”
“Charlie,” she said with a smile, “has always been the smart one of the family, but I tell him he had a whole lot better chance than the rest of us. But I know he’s smart and all that. Some people wouldn’t have taken advantage of the chance he had. Some people are not raised to work and won’t work. Take me: I never was raised to work, and its plenty hard for me since I am married. I never cooked or washed before I was married. I go dirty now because of me not ever washing. My husband is a good carpenter, but he doesn’t know how to get along. Charlie thinks I ought to be glad to come back. And I guess I will someday; for my husband is sick most of the time. I will have my hands full, but I don’t mind much,” she said with a shrug of her fat shoulders. “I’ve learned to appreciate anything I can get.”
Became County Clerk
Charlie came back from his mail. He started talking once more. He clasped his clean, will-cared for hands. His thin shoulders were bent forward, but not stooped. “I took my father’s place as head of the family after he died and I was telegraph operator for a while. After that, I was elected as county clerk when Pollard was the County seat of Escambia County. I clerked until the County seat was moved to Brewton in 1883.” Charlie brushed angerly (sic) with his gestures as he remembered: “It made me mad when they moved the County seat and I just quit as a clerk. I wouldn’t go to Brewton, even twenty years after the thing happened. I had to think of other things. And I never think of the County seat unless some bidy calls it to my attention. But the prejudice is still there.”
“I didn’t know what to do after I quit being clerk, but I wasn’t a man that they could keep down. The president of the bank called on me. The president said they needed a cashier; they had already sifted the County for a competent man, and now they were down to me. I took the job, and I kept it as long as I wanted it.”
Going to another subject, he said: seeing that I was in search of everything about him: “The most horrible experience I ever had was in the fall of 1886. Two of my younger brothers went to a swimming hole to take a dip. One of them was frisky, and got out past where he could swim back; he got sucked in a whirl pool. The other brother jumped in with a scream. But the whirlpool sucked them both in then. They screamed. The screams could be heard by the neighbors, but nothing was done. The bodies were found. . . They were locked in each other’s arms. Just an hour before, they came to me asked me for a dime to get candy. I have never got over that. . .” said Charlie quietly.
“Why have I never married? Well, in my younger days I had so much responsibility taking care of the family and trying to make a place for myself in the business world, I didn’t have time to look around. The girls I saw didn’t appeal to me as a wife; I let them,” he said softly, “I let them all pass by.”
“I will tell you something. In later life, after I made most of my money, I DID find a girl I would have married. She was 20 years younger than me. People began to gossip; people said she was marrying me for my money, and I heard it. That finished me, and I never bothered about girls again.”
He stretched out long, lean legs; there was a sharp crease down the trousers: “I became tired of staying in such close confinement as the bank. And in the year of 1895, I went in partnership with Mr. Martin Lindsey, a big sawmill operator. We purchased a large track of virgin timber in Pace, Florida. We put up a sawmill. Mr. Lindsey was an ignorant, illiterate man; he needed a partner, he told me, that was educated and quick with figures. We stayed as partners until all the good timber was cut: then we turned the land into farms; we sold it as fast as we could get buyers. We made money on this land, including the virgin timber on it. I made my money there, my fortune.”
“What church do you favor?”
“I am a strict Methodist. I try to give freely to the church and any other charitable organizations.”
Pollard Methodist Church in Escambia County, Alabama ca. 1939 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
“My nieces and nephews depend on me too much for money; I’m getting sick and tired of it. I aim to let them shift for themselves. They could get what they want if they knew what they wanted. You’ve got to ask yourself three questions:”
“Do you know what you want?”
“Are you preparing yourself for this goal?”
“And do you believe that you will get it?”
“Everybody wants something. But life isn’t kidded by what you TELL other people you are after. Life isn’t impressed by what you pretend to be doing. Life pays attention to what you are actually ready for; in most cases it delivers the goods accordingly. If you want proof,” he said to me, as if I wanted proof, “if you want proof, look at the names of people that makes news because of their accomplishment. You’ll find they got where they are because they knew what they wanted.”
“I knew that I wanted to make money. I dreamed of it way back as a child. I prepared myself to make money. After I made my fortune, I began by buying the homeplace which I had always wanted. I made a mistake there. I had to sell it for a song to get rid of it. Then the farm has cost me plenty; I tried to run the place and farm it.”
‘I bought up other property and I owned a big share in the Bank of Pollard and the Bank of Mobile. Through unwise speculation, the Bank of Pollard had to close its doors, and there I lost $10,000. I didn’t give up then. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will; so I went ahead trying to take care of my other property. I had a harder time keeping my property than getting it. I was at a standstill when the depression (Great Depression) hit. I didn’t make enough to pay my taxes, and had to draw on my reserve. The suffering people who owed me, I let go rent free; it was better than having the places vacant.”
“I kept the little store and the filling station across the road, there where I climb up and down the ladder. I hired my nephew and his family to look after the store and filling station. The business gives them a comfortable living.”
“Let me tell you, I had to do some close figuring to hold on to what was mine during the hard times. Roosevelt took office just in time to save the last of my capital. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t become President.”
His sister, Sue, and I left him, as he went into his office, where everything is in its place, where the floor and the walls are spotlessly clean. He sits at his desk, his books to the back, and a telephone before him.
Once Alabama was admitted as a state of the United States of America on December 4, 1819, a great wave of immigrants from other states and countries came by flat-boats, pack-horses, covered wagons and ships to become the first citizens of the state. ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Statehood presents the times and conditions Alabama first citizens faced in lost & forgotten stories which include:
- Who Controlled And Organized The New State of Alabama?
- Tuscaloosa Had Three Other Names
- Chandelier Falls & Capitol Burns
- Alabama Throws Parties For General LaFayette
- Francis Scott Key Was Sent to Alabama To Solve Problems
- General Jackson’s Visit to Huntsville For A Horse Race Created Discord At Constitutional Convention
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