Opal Adams, 97, holds local historical gem with her 'Yesterday's Memories' notebook
Tucked away in Opal Fugate Adam’s Pigeon Valley Rest Home room is a local historical gem — it’s a large three-ring binder notebook lovingly titled in her own handwriting, “Yesterday’s Memories.”
Adams, 97, held the notebook as carefully as she would treat a family Bible as she thumbed through its old typed pages.
“I was born in Hindman, Kentucky. My parents separated when I was 4, Vardy was 2 and Polly was 1,” Adams wrote in the book’s introduction.
Her father, Rev. Ben Fugate, remarried a woman named Emma Rhodes from Pennsylvania, and moved to Canton to work at Champion Paper Co. (currently Evergreen Packaging). They brought Adams and her brother, Vardy, with them, leaving their youngest sister Polly with her mother.
“My father was known as one of the best sawyers in the lumber business so when he was offered the job with the Broyhill Lumber Co.. He gobbled it up like a hungry man eating his potatoes and grits,” wrote Adams. “Those depression years were hard in the '20s, sending us on moving adventures from Canton, Woodrow, the Gwinn’s place in Haywood County, following the timbers all over Graham County, Robbinsville, Buffalo, Big Springs and Yellow Creek.”
Her father and his new wife had five sons, making Adams an older sister to six brothers.
“I’ll raise my own sawmill crew and a bookkeeper too,’ Daddy often said,” she wrote.
She writes much about attending Yellow Creek School in Robbinsville, a one-room schoolhouse with about 28 students in the first through eighth grades.
“It was a giant square white box, standing on scorner stones of solid rock. One could see all the way through under it and, in fact, it made a very cool place in the summertime to play marbles. The potbellied stove sat right in the center, the pipe going up through the roof, a pile of wood stacked over in one corner, rows of desks lined up under the windows, so to get all the sunlight in winter time,” she wrote.
“We carried our drinking water from a spring and carried our dinner in a pail, consisting of biscuits and molasses. My favorite place for eating dinner was on a huge flat rock behind the school. One boy rolled his hoop down an embankment, and it hit a rock and bounced right over my dinner pail, sending my molasses biscuit soaring through the air,” recalled Adams in her storybook.
She was quite a spit-fire tomboy in her young days, she said, as she often played softball with her brothers, comfortable in her overalls.
She tells the tale of two teachers — one very mean teacher named Kas Crisp, who ruled the tiny schoolhouse with a mean whip laying on his desk and an old-fashioned corner dunce stool he sat students in for punishment. She loved playing marbles and, one day, Mr. Crisp threw her marbles on the floor, and then ordered her to pick them up.
“I picked them up but I threw them toward his desk, then I headed for the door and the outhouse,” wrote Adams, noting that Mr. Crisp was soon fired after that incident for his lack of teaching plus inappropriate discipline.
“Mr. Millsaps, our new teacher, was wonderful. He did away with the switch and the dunce stool and he firmly believed in organized games like softball with the girls and boys competing with each other, and he got out there and played with us,” recalled Adams.
“For the first time in our life, we were encouraged to set goals for ourselves,” she added.
In her detailed journal, she explains that social life was much different back in the old times, consisting of apple peelings, bean stringing’s, dinners on the ground, picnics, sporting games such as jumping rope, sack racing, softball games and greasy pole climbing, plus box suppers.
To prepare for a box supper, a teenage girl carefully prepared a meal to place in her box, something like sandwiches, cookies, fruit and lemonade, and then decorated the box with colorful bows or a flower. If a young man chose her box, the two of them sat together and ate the meal.
One of her stories was titled, “The Box Supper and the Red Dress,” in which she recounts how surprised she was when a certain teenage boy named Herman chose her box.
At school, she was a feisty little 13-year-old girl, taking up for her younger brothers on the playground and had to sock 16-year-old tall and lanky Herman in the nose a time or two in defense of her brothers. When Mr. Millsaps would say, “Ladies first,” Herman would smirk at her and say, “Don’t use that word — she ain’t no lady.”
Apparently, the 16-year-old lanky teenager must have secretly liked Adams’ spunky attitude because he shocked her when he chose her box.
“I must say, Herman looked very handsome in his navy blue suit and tie and I must add, I looked rather nice in my pretty red dress too,” Adams wrote.
“I learned years later that Herman fell from a roof top he was covering, which later caused his death. We moved again soon after the box supper and never heard of him again, but the memory is buried deeply in my heart, and I’m so glad we became friends,” she continued.
Although she has now outlived two husbands, Jacob Straley Harrell in Wheelwright, Kentucky, and Al Adams in Fayetteville, and then finally made her way back to Canton, she still remembers how Herman made her feel so pretty in her red dress at the box supper and how he mischievously snuck his way into her teenage heart during his brief life.
It is those kinds of memories that make Adams want to take out the book from time to time.
“I like reading these stories because I would have forgotten a lot of these people but the stories help me keep remembering and I would like to pass it onto my grandchildren,” she said.