Abiding Love . . .
By JOSETTA GRIFFITH
FNB Chronicle Editor
DRUCINDA MARCUM, daughter of WILLIAM RILEY and BURNETTA JEFFERS MARCUM, met THOMAS J. JEFFERS, son of JOHN B. and REBECCA ANN CROSS JEFFERS, at the Buffalo Baptist Church in 1908. She was 16 and he was 20 years old. After their courtship, ABRAHAM STRUNK performed the marriage ceremony and the young couple settled near TOMís parents across New River in Huntsville.TOM and CINDY lived by a simpler standard than most. TOM earned the money they needed for items they couldn't raise on their 15-acre farm by working for his father, who was Scott County Road Superintendent. TOM also worked for the Southern Railroad, as a coal miner, digging holes for gasoline tanks, as a tenant former and managed a lucrative living "moonshining." CINDY tended the garden, canned and preserved food, and raised the coupleís seven children with no modern conveniences.
When the couple died in 1978, their home was virtually the same as when they had settled in as newly-weds 70 years earlier. CINDY cooked on a wood cook stove, heat was provided by a pot-bellied stove and a fireplace, ironing was done by heating the iron on the stove, reading light was provided by oil lamps throughout the house and, except for a telephone provided by concerned neighbors, they lived the humble life that our forefathers enjoyed.
At the time TOM and CINDY settled "across the river," cabins of several families dotted the hillsides around them. BOB and PHOEBA JANE JEFFERS lived for a time across the ridge behind TOM and CINDY, TOMís parents lived below them and the SAM SEXTON family, KAYWOOD SEXTON family and the HUGHETT family lived around the mountain toward Low Gap. LUTHER JONES also lived near TOM and CINDY. It was quite a settlement in the early 1920s. My father, the late SIEGEL JEFFERS, lived with his grandparents, BOB and PHOEBA JANE JEFFERS, and loved to tell about the families gathering on Sunday afternoons at one anotherís homes for baseball games, marble competitions and horseshoe pitching. Players would cross the river from Huntsville to compete with the folk "across the river."
The two cemeteries and fallen chimneys are pretty much all that is left of this early settlement. TOM and CINDY were, of course, the last family to live there and their roof has since fallen away from the sturdy chimney that provided the family warmth and a place to gather around on cold winter evenings.
Jonquils bloom each spring as a living tribute to the loving hands that planted them many, many years ago. Although the cabin has long since fallen to the ground, and the outhouses are just barely standing, the yard still changes from season to season just as it did when it bustled with the merriment of children at play.
TOM and CINDYís children are NETTIE JONES, who is a resident at Huntsville Manor in Huntsville; MARY OLLIE TUCKER of Knoxville; LUCY CLEMURA of Detroit, Michigan; TOMMY L. JEFFERS of Goldsboro, North Carolina; FLORA SEXTON, who spends time with all her children; REBECCA REAGON (deceased); and MAUDE GANOE (deceased).
NETTIE JONES tearfully recalled recently from her bedside at Huntsville Manor the tragedy of 1917. Her father TOM had visited his in-laws, WILL and BURNETTA MARCUM on Buffalo, and WILL wanted to return home with TOM to visit with his daughter CINDY and his grandchildren. It was storming and in crossing New River at the boat landing below Huntsville, WILL somehow slipped overboard from the black gum dug-out and despite TOMís attempts to save him, WILL was carried away by the swift current past the old fish trap and beyond. And all-out search was made for WILL. The river was dragged, a reward was offered, and finally some three weeks later, a man from Low Gap found WILLís body in shallow water near the "white cliffs" between Huntsville and Low Gap.
For as long as anyone can remember, TOM was the self-appointed official boatsman who "set across the river" school children. His grandchildren were the last to cross the river in his handmade boat. Four-wheel drive vehicles, horse drawn wagons or horseback were the only means of fording the river and even this was hindered by the numerous times the river was out of its banks due to spring rains and winter thaws.
TOM was a gentle man, but he wasnít without his brushes with the law. During prohibition, there were those who enjoyed partaking and those who made a living providing "moonshine" liquor. TOM was a provider. By TOMís own account, at one time he had four stills in
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operation and had a sales network that branched through Bull Creek to Norma and Smoky and into Brimstone in the other direction. During this time, Preacher RICHARD ELLIS was persuaded by zealous prohibitionists to run for Sheriff of Scott County. His main focus was to clean up the moonshine operations in the county. Unknowingly, TOMís daughter NETTIE led Sheriff ELLIS and BEN FOWLER to TOMís still as she tried to warn TOM that the sheriff was on his way.
BONNIE SEXTON, FLORAís daughter, who was raised in the home of TOM and CINDY, began school in 1953 at Huntsville. Remember, the only way across the river for BONNIE and TOM was by boat or horseback, and in all kinds of weather; even so, BONNIE graduated from Huntsville High School in 1964 with several years of perfect attendance! She might have been late, chilled to the bone and dripping wet from snow and rain, but she rarely missed a day. BONNIE and I went all 12 years of school together at Huntsville. Tom was 79 years old the year BONNIE graduated from high school. BONNIE was an avid reader. She checked out armloads of books from the Scott County Library in the Courthouse at Huntsville. Iíd venture to say that she read every book in that library. After graduation from high school, BONNIE enlisted in the military and traveled a lot of the world while getting her nursing degree. She and her husband, CHARLES VICTORY, retired from the military to Farmerville, Louisiana with their son and daughter.
In a telephone interview with BONNIE, she recalled her grandfather telling about the time his "moonshine" still blew up. TOM wasnít hurt but the dog that was with him at the still wouldnít go back after the explosion. TOM said, "If that old dog had enough sense not to go back, youíd think I would!"
BONNIE and KEN were occasionally caught on the Huntsville side of the river by high waters and would spend the night with my family, the WALKERs or other town families. They were welcomed in our homes just as we were welcomed in theirs. My brothers squirrel hunted across the river and would stay the night or eat meals with TOM and CINDY. My brother, JOHN, picked up the style of drinking coffee called "saucering" while visiting TOM and CINDY. If you have ever drunk coffee perked on a wood cook stove, you know why it was "saucered." Itís boiling as it comes out of the spout of the coffee pot. You have never had such hot, black coffee! It was poured into the saucer so it would cool quicker.
We "town kids" who grew up in Huntsville during the 1950s and Ď60s remember TOM JEFFERS very well. My fondest memories are pestering TOM, as he was leading his horse through town from tenant-farming the DAN WALKER fields, to let me ride the horse. TOM would hoist me and a couple more kids up on the horse for the "thrilling-to-us" ride down the river hill. He could have said, "You kids go on, Iím tired and my horse is tired. Donít bother me." But he didnít. TOM would always tip his hat as he greeted ladies. He was a gentleman.
BERT and LOUISE WALKER fondly remember TOM tenant-farming the fields around their home in Huntsville. TOM got half the corn he raised. Getting his half across the river was no easy chore. First the river had to be forded and the rocky road up to TOMís from the other side of the river was barely maneuverable, even with a Jeep. LOUISE was awakened many mornings at daybreak by Tom singing as he came leading his horse up their long driveway.Often at noon time, TOM would quit plowing, hoeing, digging or whatever he was doing and go home across the river for the midday meal that old timers called dinner. This was a strenuous trip down to the river, paddle across, then uphill for about a half mile. Then he would retrace his steps to work the rest of the afternoon and be at town in time to walk BONNIE home from school. By all accounts, CINDY was quite a good cook. She must have been for TOM to go to that length to have lunch at home!
CLYDE PARTON (husband of SHIRLEY JONES, TOM and CINDYís granddaughter), along with LEON WALKER, was delivering coal to TOM and CINDY when the truck became stuck near the Huntsville side of the ford. CLYDE waded the river and walked up to TOMís to tell them what had happened. TOM walked back down to the river and helped unload the coal. The next day, TOM, CINDY and FLORA (all of whom were up in years of age) sacked up the coal, rowed several trips across the river unloading the sacks, then skidded the coal up the one half mile hill to the house in a horse-drawn sled until all eight tons had been moved. They were not strangers to hard work.
JERRY and MABLE THOMPSON and their sons, JERRY WILLARD and TOMMY, kept close check on TOM and CINDY. They got groceries to them and, after the tele-
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phone was installed, they called every day to check on them because neither TOM nor CINDY knew how to operate the phone.
MABLE recalled TOM coming in their store soaked to the bone and shivering from his boat capsizing as he crossed the river. JERRY picked out TOM an outfit of clothes, underwear and all, from their storeís dry goods department, and as TOM warmed himself by the pot-bellied stove in the store, they all cried with him as he told them, "I knew I was gone. The boat turned over in the swift current, the water was ice cold and my heavy clothes weighed me down. The good Lord was looking after me, because as a last hope, I reached for a little limb which seemed to be bent down to me and I was able to pull myself from the current."
JERRY WILLARD checked on TOM and CINDY as soon as he could after tornadoes ripped through Huntsville years ago. Upon arrival, CINDY proclaimed to JERRY WILLARD that the tornadoes were a blessing from the Lord. She went on to say that someone had gut-shot" old Dan," their horse, and with no way to pull in logs for wood, the limbs blown down by the tornado provided easy wood for them to gather. Yes, she saw this as a blessing from God.
CINDY did the "doctoring." She even cut open a chicken once, doctored it and sewed it back up. She used the old home remedies such as coal oil for wounds. Catnip and ginger teas and herbs were used and TOM would occasionally chew pine resin balls. The remedies were effective because CINDY was never visited by a doctor until she developed "heart dropsy" late in life.
Members of the White Rock Baptist Church in Huntsville rode four-wheel drive vehicles across the river for church and "dinner on the ground" with TOM, CINDY and FLORA. Most of the pictures that accompany this story were taken on that day in 1976.
TOM and CINDY, carrying an old lantern, attended church as long as they were able, but in later years, they "held meetingsí around their battery powered radio. On Sundays, they listened to all the preaching on the Oneida radio station.
TOM, CINDY, their children and grandchildren lived a more modest life than most, but they enjoyed the riches that most long for, even today; plenty to eat, warm clothes, shelter from the weather, land to call their own and, best of all, a slower pace of life.
Most likely, there were efforts by their children to move TOM and CINDY to a more modern house in town, but I just bet TOM and CINDY rejected that idea completely.
For 70 years, TOM and CINDY shared life together. She doted over him, occasionally dabbing at the tobacco juice that trickled from the corner of his mouth with his handkerchief. Near the end, they were both in bad health and were admitted to the Scott County Hospital. TOM was in a menís ward and CINDY in a womenís ward. SHIRLEY PARTON, their granddaughter, was visiting them at the hospital when they first became able to visit with one another. The nurses wheeled TOM down to where CINDY was waiting outside her door. TOMís eyes lit up when he saw CINDY. He patted her face, took her hands in his and cried as he said, "Where have you been? I thought you had died. Old woman, are they feeding you good?" When it was time for them to go back to their rooms, TOM tenderly kissed CINDY, not minding that they had an audience of teary-eyed on-lookers. They shared a truly special love. On March 17, 1978 CINDY died at the Scott County Nursing Home. Ten days later, March 27, 1978, TOM was laid to rest beside CINDY in Scott Memorial Gardens, which is also known as the Jeffers Cemetery and is located near DEXTER LAXTONís Lake in Oneida. TOM and CINDY wanted to be buried in the family cemetery "across the river" at Huntsville, but the river was too high to ford.
..... Deep in the heart,
somewhere in the soul...
love finds a way
to be forever..
(FOOTNOTE ó Local relatives of TOM and CINDY JEFFERS include the families of NETTIE and HERMAN JONES, EMERSON JEFFERS, EDGAR EMSLEY JEFFERS and DESSIE JEFFERS, as well as, the MARCUMs from CINDYís side of the family.)
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 5, No. 2 Ė Winter 1994
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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