Courtship and marriage

If it sounds like I idealized my father, I plead guilty. I know he had his flaws and his shortcomings, but I firmly believe that his virtues so far outweighed them that they became insignificant. One of his weaknesses was a fondness for booze. From stories I heard from Mother and others, he was a pretty wild young man, drinking pretty heavily at times. After he was married, his drinking bouts became less frequent, but when he did have a drink he usually didn’t stop with just one. I remember many anxious night waiting for Daddy to come home from a golfing date, fearing that he would arrive drunk, precipitating a fierce argument with Mother and days of coolness between them afterward. I always felt that Mother’s total intolerance to drink of any kind—except for an occasional glass of wine and later on a fondness for Harvey’s Bristol Cream—led to Daddy’s infrequent binges. If he came home with alcohol on his breath, whether it was from one beer or several hours of steady drinking, she would go into orbit. So he didn’t try to moderate his intake once he started.

Despite Mother’s occasional tirades over his drinking, my parents seemed to get along very well. They argued about money and other things, but it was always in a loving way. It was always clear to me that Daddy loved Mother very much. I never had any indication that he was ever unfaithful to her, although I’m sure he had many opportunities.

Mother and Daddy had grown up together in Jellico. Early letters indicate that Daddy’s first efforts to date her got a less than enthusiastic response from her. When she did start dating him, she ran into stern opposition from her parents, particularly her father, who was afraid she would get serious and get married too young, as her sister Bertie and half sister Bessie had done. To get around this stricture, Mother worked out a deal with her first cousin, Jessie Baird, daughter of Zeb. The Baird brothers lived in similar houses just across the street from each other. Jessie was dating Ollie Newman, called “Brick” because of his flaming red hair. Uncle Zeb had the same problem with him as Grandpa Baird had with Daddy. But Brick Newman was welcomed with open arms at the C.R. Baird house as was Daddy at the Zeb Baird house.

Mother said Brick spend so much time at their house that “he felt like a brother to me.” Brick had a beautiful singing voice and he and Mother frequently sang together.

“I’d ask if I could go out with Brick Newman tonight, can I go to the show with Brick Newman,” Mother recalled. Her parents would approve. “Well, Hudson would bring the car. Uncle Zeb’s folks liked Hudson. They didn’t think Jessie was serious with him. And they liked him and they just welcomed him in with open arms. Well, Hudson would stop in front of Uncle Zeb’s house and Brick would just come on up to our house, and then he’d go down … you know where the railroad tracks are down there … we’d go get in the car and by the time we got to the railroad tracks we’d swap. That’s the way we got our dates lined out.”

The subterfuge apparently didn’t completely work because Mother was dispatched to Pineville, Kentucky, to stay with her sister Bertie and her husband, Joe D. Smith, for her last two years in high school. She graduated from Pineville High School, not Jellico. Smith was in the furniture business in Pineville. Uncle Renfro Baird, Mother’s brother, and his wife, Myrtle, also lived in Pineville where he operated first a grocery store and later a hardware business.

Things had gotten serious, according to Mother, when on a ride “out toward Sandy Beach” Daddy said, “I’m going to tell you something right now. When we get old enough I’m going to marry you.”

“Is that so?” she replied.

During her prolonged absence in Pineville, Daddy wrote her frequently and, according to letters that have survived, begged her to come back to Jellico, even though that decision likely was out of her hands. At one point, he warned her that if she didn’t come home soon “I don’t know what will happen, although I suppose it is rather hard to come back to Jellico after being in P….” He added, “Now listen, Honey Chile, hurry and come on home. If you missed me half as much as I miss you, you would be home in a week.”

In another letter, he said he was “going to bed at 7:30 every night since you left and have been losing weight, also, grieving because you left me.”

Mother apparently gave Daddy a hard time while they were dating, staying away, dating other boys.

“I had boyfriends galore,” Mother said describing those days. “One time I went without speaking to him for a year. … And then Brick Newman came to me one day and he said, ‘Hudson can’t understand why you won’t even speak to him. He can’t think of a thing that he’s done.’ And I couldn’t either. I couldn’t think of anything he’d done. I just decided not to speak to him. And he (Brick) said, ‘If he knew what it was, he wouldn’t feel so bad about it.’ And I said, ‘Well, Brick, he’s just not in my strata of society.’ And they all just died laughing. They told Hudson what I’d said. ‘You’re not in her strata of society!’

That obviously didn’t deter Daddy for long and soon they were dating again.

Unfortunately her letters back to him did not survive.

A musical education

At 19, Mother went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Daddy departed for Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Daddy’s academic career was cut short by illness and he returned to Jellico after a year or so. Mother stayed in Cincinnati for two years, until about 1924.

Richard Moore, Grandpa Baird’s business associate and father of Grace Moore, took her to Cincinnati to enroll her.

“Papa was going to take me,” Mother recalled, “but Mr. Moore was going to New York to buy goods for the wholesale house. He said, ‘Now, Dr. Baird, no use of you making that trip. I’ll go. I’m going to have to stay over in Cincinnati anyway. And I’ll take her out there.’ We stayed all night at the Gibson Hotel, and he took me out the next day. Papa had been in correspondence with the head of the conservatory. So we went out there, and they took him all around, showing him this and that. They said, ‘We have a corner room, a lovely room, but it’s more expensive than some of the others.’ Mr. Moore said, ‘We want the best.’”

The first year she roomed with a French girl, but “I didn’t see much of her. I never did know exactly what she did.”

During her time at the conservatory, Mother’s voice attracted some attention, and at one point she was offered a spot with the then famous Redpath Chautauqua, a traveling company that set up tents in small towns to offer cultural, political and religious programs. Chautauqua started as early as 1826 in New England and spread across the country. Chautauqua brought people of national importance to small towns, providing lectures, poetry readings and other cultural programs. The subjects covered the range of current political and social problems. One of the most famous lecturers on the Chautauqua circuit was William Jennings Bryan. The meetings also presented musical programs and many stars of the day got their start on the Chautauqua circuit. Mother told her father about the offer, and his reaction was to immediately yank her out of the conservatory after only two years and bring her home.

She enrolled instead in the music program at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, near the Bairds’ winter residence in Orange City, a few miles to the south. Grandpa Baird, probably in an effort to make up for jerking her out of the conservatory, bought Mother a car, a Dodge, so she could drive back and forth from Deland to Orange City. By this time, Joe D. and Bertie were living in nearby Daytona where they had bought and were operating a motel and restaurant on the beach.

At Stetson, she started dating a boy whose “daddy was a millionaire.”

“Esther came down there, and she went back and told your daddy, ‘You’d better get busy; you’d better get busy because this millionaire son’s giving her the rush down there.’ And he was.”

Daddy heeded his sister’s warning and came down at Christmas. He told her, “I’m not leaving until you marry me.”

“No,” she said, “I’ve got to finish this year of school. It’s already paid for.”

Daddy suggested that she could stay there and finish school without telling anybody they were married. They were married before a Baptist preacher in Deland. Here’s Mother account of their marriage:

We were out driving around, and we stopped at the courthouse and got the license. Then we went on to this preacher’s house and got married; we couldn’t find a Methodist preacher and this Baptist preacher married us. There were two old women there as witnesses. We didn’t say a word about it. Clifford was there. He figured it out. He walked up to me and put a dime in my hand. He said, “Here’s you a nest egg. Always keep that and you won’t be broke.” Judge Jones, a friend of Papa’s was there. So I drove Clifford and Hudson—they were going to catch the train back to Jellico—down to the train station. … Well, Judge Jones and Papa were standing behind this big old truck that had the luggage—trunks and suitcases and all—and was backed up to the baggage car, loaded way up. I was standing on one side of it and Papa and Judge Jones were on the other side. I was waving at Clifford and Hudson. Hudson jumped off the train and threw his arms around me and was kissing me, and that old cart pulled out. And we were right there in front of Papa and Judge Jones. And not a word was said. Papa’s black eyes were just sparkling fire. He didn’t say a word, though. Didn’t say a word then. Judge Jones sitting in the backseat, of course, and Papa up front with me. Finally we got a little ways out on the highway and Papa couldn’t stand it any longer and he said, “Mabel, I think that if I had to kiss a man goodbye I’d do it in the privacy of my home.” And I said, “Well, you know I’ve got a right to kiss him just anywhere I want to. I married him yesterday.” He said, “I wish you had waited to go home. … I’d always thought of a pretty church wedding for you. You could have waited until June and gone home and had a church wedding.” I said I didn’t want a church wedding. That was all that was said. I planned to stay on and finish out the year, and I got home and Bertie said—he told it, of course—and Bertie started bellowing and crying and said, “The next time you do a thing like that at least tell me.” Every time Mama looked at me she started crying so I decided I better leave so I did. In two or three days I took off back to Jellico.

No place for satin shoes

Daddy was working as an engineer for the Kitchen Lumber Company, at the time, and after a few days at the Miller home on Fifth Street, the newlyweds moved into a house on the side of a hill at Wooldridge, the site of the company’s main sawmill and headquarters of the logging operations. Mother described it as “the orneriest little old place,” admitting that “it wasn’t too bad but I’d always lived in better.”

The house had four rooms—bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. It didn’t have indoor plumbing, and to take a bath Mother had to go to the nearby clubhouse. All in all, it was quite a comedown from the rather luxurious lifestyle the Bairds led in Jellico. On the plus side, she said, there were “some mighty nice people up there.” She ate most of her meals at the clubhouse, where a Mrs. Buckingham cooked and ran things.

Daddy would leave early in the morning—around 4 or 4:30—to ride a steam engine over the mountain. That left Mother with the car, which she used to go into Jellico, four or five miles away.

“I’d leave a little note and say, ‘I’ve gone home. If you want to come, come on with your daddy.’ I’d take the car and leave.”

She spent so much time away from Wooldridge that her brothers started teasing her about it, asking “How many nights have you stayed out there?”

The house was up on a hill overlooking the clubhouse. A little creek ran down through the property. Mother, with typical good humor, liked to tell the story of how she set off for a bridge party in Jellico one day, dressed to the nines and wearing black satin high-heeled shoes.

“I was all dressed up for the party and started down the hill,” she said. “I fell and rolled into the branch. The bookkeeper saw me fall and helped me up. I said to her, ‘Why in the world would anybody put on anything decent living in a place like this?’”

The bookkeeper looked at her outfit, and said, “Well, it’s no place for satin shoes.”

That story illustrates what Mother hated most about living in the rough confines of a logging camp. She liked to dress up and go to parties. And, as the bookkeeper said, it was “no place for satin shoes.”

Mother recalled that when she would fret about what she thought were dreadful living conditions that Grandma Baird would said, “Oh, someday you’ll think about this as the happiest days of your life.” Many years later she and Daddy, along with Lillian Baird, the recent widow of her brother Clyde, drove out to Wooldridge one Sunday.

“We were driving out there and Hudson said, ‘Well, our little house is still up on the hill.’ I said, ‘Yeah, and I remember Mama telling me that I’d look back on this as the happiest days of my life, when I was complaining about living up here, and I didn’t like that little old tacky house. … You know something: I haven’t yet.’ Hudson … was all perked up with a grin on his face, thinking I was going to say ‘oh, yes.’ But no, I said, ‘I haven’t yet.’”

They were still living at Wooldridge when Mac, my brother, whose full name is Elbert McCartt Miller, was born on November 8, 1925. The labor pains started while they were spending the night at the Millers’ house, however.

“It struck me about 12:30 at night, but he didn’t come until 6 o’clock in the afternoon,” she said. “We were just down there spending the night.”

Not long after Mac’s birth, they moved into Jellico to a house on Kentucky Street, just a couple of blocks from Baird Dry Goods.

“That was a nice little place,” she said. “Papa was still in the wholesale house and a lot of times if I had something good I’d call him and say, ‘Come on up here and eat.’ He’d come. When I’d pick up his plate to take it away, there’d be a check under his plate.”

The checks, apparently, were to allow Mother to continue living in the style to which she had become accustomed. Daddy didn’t make much at the time, even though he had a job that normally would have paid well. According to Mother, his low pay was TiTi’s fear of being accused of nepotism.

“Mr. Miller paid him less than he did the other workers,” she said. “If it had been somebody else doing the job Hudson was doing, he (TiTi) would have paid him a lot more. He was in with the Kitchens, you know, Kitchen Lumber Company, and he was afraid the Kitchens would criticize him for paying Hudson a decent salary.”

Next: ‘No thanks, I’m in a hurry’

Previous: A man for all seasons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *