Bertha Lane…A Woman of Many Names

Ruberta, Rueberta, Bertha, Birdie, Robert A, Ruby … all names found in census records for my paternal grandmother Bertha Hood Lane. But I knew her as Maw.

Maw was born on October 14, 1894 in Mississippi to Aub Hood and Amanda (Mandy) Belle Pennington Hood. I suspect she was born in Itawamba County, Mississippi where Aub and Mandy were married. She was their fourth child. By today’s standards, Maw was very young when she married John Wayson on August 29, 1909. She was only fourteen years old. This marriage apparently did not last long because she was shown living again with the family in Lake County, Tennessee in the 1910 census. However Aub was no longer with the family and Mandy was widowed.

Lane Kids

Back Left, My father Talmadge, Belle, Vernon, Front Left, Pauline, Margaret, Helen

On March 12, 1913, Maw married my grandfather William Everett Lane. She was listed as Birdie in the 1920 census. Children came quickly. My father Talmadge Hollis Lane was born in 1914, Rosa Bell was born in 1917, Vernon Everett was born in 1919, Pauline was born in 1921, Helen was born in 1923, and Margaret was born in 1924. They moved to Caruthersville, Missouri sometime in 1920 where she would live for the rest of her life.

Living on a farm, particularly as tenant farmers, couldn’t have been easy in the 1920s and 1930s. Maw birthed each child at home with the help of a midwife. As the family had no electricity until the early 1930s, Maw would have cooked over a wood stove and would have washed the clothing of eight people by hand. The water for cooking and bathing probably came from a pump in the yard. Most likely she was also responsible for the henhouse and the family garden. Cotton was king in the Bootheel so the children probably were sent out to pick cotton as soon as they were able. And it is likely that Maw picked cotton some time during her life as well.

At the age of forty-four Maw’s life was to change forever. On Sunday, June 4, 1939, her husband of twenty-six years was suddenly killed in an accident with a Greyhound bus. The bus driver was found to be at fault in the accident. No doubt there was a settlement that allowed Maw to own her home and live a modest life. Six years later however tragedy was to strike her life again when her son Vernon died, the result of a kamikaze plane hitting his ship in the Pacific.

My memories of Maw are few. I can only remember visiting her perhaps a half-dozen times. She was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother. She was a large woman for her height. Maw used snuff and Sen-Sen, a breath freshener. Most likely the Sen-Sen was to cover the smell of the snuff. Her cooking was wonderful and my father bragged on her biscuits. One of my memories is walking down the dirt road that ran in front of her house to buy a chicken for our dinner from a neighbor. Much to my horror she wrung its neck when we got home. I know too well what a chicken with its head cut off looks like.

Another memory was seeing a wooden leg in someone’s bedroom. Who belonged to the wooden leg was a mystery to me for a long time. It wasn’t until recently one of my cousins said that Maw’s sister Den lived with her for awhile and Den had lost one of her legs. I believe the mystery has been solved. I don’t remember Aunt Den but I certainly remember that leg.

My cousin Donna was always in the picture. She lived with Maw while her mother Margaret and her father were away earning a living. Donna was more like a daughter to Maw than a grand-daughter. Eventually my Aunt Margaret divorced her first husband and married Walter Kulpeksa. Walter was a beautician. They set up shop in the front of my grandmother’s house. Walter gave me a perm when I was five. I looked like a poodle had settled on my head but that was the style apparently.

Amand Pennington Lane (r), Bertha Lane, Talmadge Lane

Left, Maw, Little Granny, Talmadge

 

Sometime before her death, my great-grandmother Mandy (Little Granny) went to live with Maw. Little Granny was a tiny woman and very child-like. She loved ice cream. Little Granny passed away at home at the age of ninety-eight in 1961. I was fourteen when we went to her funeral. That was the last time I saw Maw.

When my oldest son was born I received an un-expected gift from Maw. It was a yellow and white crocheted baby blanket. The gift of that blanket touched me deeply. Not but a few months later we received word that Maw had died February 3, 1969 at the age of seventy-four. She was laid to rest a few days later in Maple Cemetery in Caruthersville, Missouri.

William Everett Lane

William Everett Lane was born in Crockett County, Tennessee in 1895 to Edgar Lane and Minnie Mae Perry Lane. I have never found a document that shows his middle name but I know my brother Bill is named after him. Hopefully someday I’ll find a document that proves his middle name is Everett.

Edgar Lane died about 1898 leaving a widow and orphan. Since women did not have a means of support when their husbands died they were often left at the mercy of family for help. There probably was no question that Minnie’s family would take her in. The 1900 US census shows her living with her brother John Perry, mother Irena, younger sister Mary, also a widow, and Loyd, Mary’s son. The family lived in Gayoso Township in Pemiscot County, Missouri.

Until Grandpa Lane ventured out on his own he lived with his mother and extended family. In 1901 Minnie Mae married Sam Cosey. By 1910 Sam and Minnie added two children to their family, Gladys and Raymond. And Uncle John and Grandma Irena still lived with the family. Down the street lived their Uncle Robert Whitaker and his wife Laura Perry Whitaker. This blending of families was normal for my family and families throughout the United States.

Grandpa was a handsome boy. I recently discovered my cousin Carolyn has a picture of him hanging in a room in her home in Caruthersville. Grandpa is surrounded by a room full of dolls. I wonder what he would say. The picture, more than a hundred years old, is slightly tattered but in a beautiful frame. As an adult he was tall, of medium build, had brown eyes, and dark brown hair. During World War I men had to register for the draft. Fortunate for us genealogists these forms tell us a lot about our ancestors including their physical attributes.

Will Lane

Will Lane

On March 12, 1913, Grandpa married Ruberta Hood in Lake County, Tennessee. Lake County is east of Pemiscot County, Missouri with the Mississippi River dividing the two counties and states. The couple moved to Little Prairie township in Pemiscot County around 1919. Their first three children, Talmadge, Rosa Bell, and Vernon were born in Lake County. Pauline, Helen, and Margaret were born in Pemiscot County.

Will Lane, Date Unknown

Will Lane, Date Unknown

I don’t know much about Grandpa, only what I have gleaned from census records and what my half-sisters and cousins have told me. In fact when I inherited pictures from my parents there was a picture of a man with no name written on the back. I had never seen the picture before and it turned out to be Grandpa Lane.

School was a luxury for poor families. Grandpa didn’t attend school but he could read and write. He worked in a box factory as a laborer when he was twenty-four. By the time he was thirty-four he was a farmer on rented property. I understand he was a good father. He was also a carpenter; he helped to build the grandstand at the Caruthersville fairground. His Uncle John Perry was also carpenter. Perhaps this occupation was inherent to this family.

Grandpa Lane’s life abruptly came to an end on Sunday, June 4, 1939, around noon, when the car he was driving collided with a Greyhound bus just north of Caruthersville at the intersection of Highway 84 and Ferry Road. Much of what I know about the accident came from articles that appeared in The Republican and Democrat Argus, both newspapers in Caruthersville at the time.

Picture of Collision that took Will Lane's Life

Picture of Collision that took Will Lane’s Life

According to witnesses at the scene of the wreck, Grandpa drove onto the highway in the path of the bus apparently unaware of the approaching bus until too late. Joe Wagner, a witness and owner of the filling station who witnessed the accident, said that he was told Grandpa had driven from town to test out a leaky tire and circled around his filling station onto Ferry Road to come back into the highway. It was then the accident happened. I find it interesting the bus driver was charged with reckless driving when it appears to me, in hindsight, that the accident was caused by my grandfather. Funeral services were held the next day at H. S. Funeral Home. He is buried in Maple Cemetery in Caruthersville.

My dad Talmadge was twenty-four when his father died. His siblings ranged in age from fourteen to twenty-two. Despite the fact that these children were older at the time of their father’s death, I’m sure they were left with a great hole in their heart. I know my dad was.

Talmadge Hollis Lane…Tom to Me

Tom on left with

Back L to R Tom, Bell and Vernon Front L to R Pauline, Margaret and Helen

Growing up in a sharecropping family in southern Missouri can’t be easy. But that’s the early life of my father, Talmadge Hollis Lane. He was born on November 21, 1914 in Ridgely, Lake County, Tennessee to William Everett Lane and Ruberta Hood Lane. He was interviewed in 1991 by his grandson Brian, and much of what we know about his early childhood was taken from this interview and stories that he told me when I was growing up. Some of the information doesn’t jive with records I’ve found. Whether this is a function of a failing memory, or fudging stories, I’ll never know. He was a complicated man.

His extended family called him Talmadge. I knew him as Tom. He was the oldest of six children, with brother Vernon and sisters Bell, Pauleen, Helen, and Margaret coming after him. About 1919 dad’s parents moved from Tennessee to the Bootheel, located in the southeastern corner of Missouri. The family moved a half-dozen times from farm to farm sharecropping. Dad was seven when the family moved to Caruthersville in Pemiscot County. There the family rented land and farmed for themselves. They grew cotton, corn, and hay and raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, cows, and goats. They used mules to pull farm machinery.

The Lane’s were poor. The children were born at home with the help of a midwife. They lived in a four room house that had a kitchen and three bedrooms. Each child had their own bed, which was a luxury. There was no running water; water for cooking and bathing was gotten from a pump in the yard. At first the home was heated by wood, but when wood became scarce, the family switched to a coal burning stove. The house didn’t have electricity until dad was eighteen. The out-buildings included a barn, henhouse, and outhouse.

Like the Lane’s, most people in the area were poor. If holidays were celebrated, they were celebrated sparsely. For Christmas the children would get an apple, orange, and six walnuts. The items were usually placed at the ends of their beds or on a chair. One year my dad received a football. And the school hosted a Christmas Pageant for the families of the pupils. Mr. Clark, a wealthy cotton farmer, would have an Easter egg hunt for the kids of the community.

At a time when many children did not go to school, the Lane’s had the fore-thought to send their children to school, at least until they got older and decided on their own not to attend. The school was one room and about two miles from their home. Each child was furnished with school books, paper, and pencils. When dad was twelve he received a scholarship to attend high school; it cost money to attend the higher grades. The scholarship was in track because he was a good runner. The high school was four miles from his home, and he didn’t like running, so he dropped out of school. Despite this he was an intelligent man who always read and stayed abreast of the news.

Everyone in the family worked in the fields picking cotton, or doing whatever needed to be done. The boys helped with planting in April and helped with the harvest in August. The family had a wooden planter that was pulled by mules. The planter had a hopper that held seeds. As the mules pulled the planter, it dug two rows, and seeds dropped evenly into the furrows.

Cotton Pickers

Cotton Pickers – Picture from the US Library of Congress

For most of his teen years dad picked cotton. Cotton pickers used a bag that held about one hundred pounds of cotton. After their bag was full, they carried it to a wagon that held up to two thousand pounds of cotton. Dad picked about six hundred pounds of cotton a day. The family took their cotton to the gin where they sold it for fifteen cents a pound. If they wanted to take a chance on the price rising, they had the cotton baled. They took the bales home and stored them in the barn until later. The family ran a tab at the local store and paid it off when the cotton was harvested and sold. While the life was hard, the family was able to survive through the fruits of their labor. I remember, during the few times when we visited my grandmother, asking about the loud noise that could be heard all day. It was the sound coming from the cotton gin, an everyday sound to the people who lived close by, but alien to me who lived a few hours north.