The good ol’ days in Hickory Flat come alive for club of fifth-graders.
“Lawwwddd, no,” he said, and sighed. “Ain’t never been to a steakhouse. Nor to a beach, neither. I wouldn’t know how to act. And we didn’t have the money. If we didn’t have the money, we didn’t do it. And that was that.”
I watched as the girls’ jaws dropped. A couple of them took sips from the bottles of water I’d passed out before we walked inside.
Farmer Vaughn eyed them mischievously. “When we were little, the dipper would freeze over in the bucket at night.”
My daughter raised her eyebrows. I could sense her brain working overtime: What was a dipper and how did it freeze when it was in the house?
The questions tumbled one after the other.
Seven fifth-grade girls, all members of the Forever We Adventure Club, gathered around the chintz-covered recliner where Eldred Quinton Vaughn sat. Vaughn and his wife Jeannie built the house together in 1950. Jeannie died in 2012. Photos and mementos of their life together covered the bookshelves that flanked the fireplace in their cozy little living room.
The original house did not have running water or electricity, but that wasn’t important. “We had each other. And that’s all that mattered.”
On Dec. 19, 1923, Eldred Quinton Vaughn was born in the house where he now held court with the girls. Located on Vaughn Road in Hickory Flat, it’s across the street from the old house he calls “The Home Place.” The land originally belonged to his father, who in 1906 purchased 120 acres in Cherokee County for just $5 per acre.
The road that cuts through the property eventually became known as Vaughn Road and it was the location of his family’s bustling country store. In business for more than 40 years, the store sold everything from metal syrup buckets to cigarettes; gas, kerosene, and feed for local farms; and even clothing and shoes for the people who lived and worked on them. Five more families built houses along Vaughn Road, where neighbors shared everything.
“You’re big enough to know right from wrong,” Farmer Vaughn said to the girls. “And treat everybody with respect.” He paused and shut his eyes. When he opened them again, they shone brightly.
The girls had lots of questions. They couldn’t wait to hear more about the “old days.”
“What did you eat?”
“What did you do for fun?”
“Did you have any chores?”
Farmer Vaughn patiently answered their questions and also gave them a little advice: “Do something kind every day. Say a kind word. Do something. One day you’ll need your friends.”
He may be 50 years my senior, but I knew what he meant. My friend, Ginny Starr, helps lead the Forever We Adventure Club. The mission of our girls’ group is to “equip young leaders and celebrate friendship.” Ginny and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate that mission than to learn from someone in our community who had lived long, and lived well, someone like Farmer Vaughn.
When Farmer Vaughn was the girls’ age, he went to Hickory Flat School, walking 2 1/2 miles each way to get there. On cold days, he’d earn a nickel for going early and starting a fire in the furnace. Our girls couldn’t imagine walking that far, lighting a furnace, or studying in a three-room schoolhouse with three grades of students in each room.
Farmer Vaughn was a member of the Hickory Flat Masonic Lodge for 50 years. And, for nearly a quarter of a century, he and Jeannie were members of the Shrine Club, riding motorcycles in local parades. After retiring, Farmer Vaughn delivered peanut butter crackers and candy to residents and friends at the Woodstock, Brookdale and Canton Nursing homes.
“I’m 95 and still alive!” he said proudly, his eyes crinkling at the edges and twinkling with excitement.
His life was very different from those of the girls who sat listening to his stories. But they were fascinated with this man who had put deep roots into both the soil on his property and the local community. It was that positive outlook that first inspired us to reach out to Farmer Vaughn.
“What did you do when you were little and you got sick?” one girl asked. “Did you have a doctor?”
“Oh, we had a doctor, but just one. He made home visits. Mostly, we made up our own home remedies using things like wild cherry bark and yellow root. Back then, you could get a baby delivered for $10,” he chuckled. I added up delivery expenses for my four kids and wondered if Vaughn knew that costs had increased a thousand-fold since his birth.
Though Farmer Vaughn and Jeannie never had children of their own, he talks fondly of the years he and his wife spent caring for their nieces and nephews, and their friends’ children.
He had found his true love in Jeannie. They had just $28 on the day they got married in 1948, and an income of $2.40 a day afterward. Farmer Vaughn never has had a credit card, and he’s never owed anybody any money.
“WHaaattt?” the girls mouthed to me when he explained his finances.
“We never had a payment,” he said. “We paid cash money for everything. Prosperity has hurt a lot of people and pulled families apart.”
“Did you grow your own food?” they asked.
“We raised cows, chickens, hogs, and had a garden. You grew it
or you didn’t eat it. We ate a lot of squirrel brain scrambled eggs
A wistful look came into his eyes. “Mmm. Cobbler pies were my favorite. We had cornbread and milk every night. And I’ve eaten enough gravy to kill everybody.”
One girl, still horrified by the prospect of brains in her eggs, brightly piped up, “But you’re 95 and still alive!”
“Ain’t that right?” he countered.
“Did you ever eat any snacks?”
“Oh, sure. We grew our own popcorn and peanuts and made our own syrup.”
Then, he passed around a bowl filled with chocolates and mints.
It was time to go, but not before we asked one final question: “Do you have any parting advice for us?”
“You should get everyone up by 6 a.m. and let them know the world ain’t free.”
Will do, Farmer Vaughn. Will do.
Before we left, he showed us some of his new power moves, exercises he does at home to stay young and spry. Then, he proudly said, “Ain’t never had a physical in my whole life. Don’t need one. Don’t want one.”
As we headed to the car, the girls discussed how happy Farmer Vaughn was when he talked about his childhood. They couldn’t believe he’d never been to the beach!
Driving down Vaughn Road, the tiny white house grew smaller while the girls’ conversation grew more reflective. The farmer had been planting seeds all afternoon. He taught us what it meant to be rooted in a place and a community, and what it felt like to be really alive. I doubted this group of girls was his final crop. He has a gift for helping people grow.
I turned to Ginny, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he outlived us all.”
– Chantel Adams