Part 21: Family Matters

Returning to a conversation I had with Brice and Nora about this general time period, Brice said, “Larry stayed for years after I left home. Him and Nora. Nora was mean and feisty.” He was teasing his baby sister who sat within retaliation distance. But she just laughed.

Nora said she was a normal teenager but “mouthy” to her straight-laced mother. “She’s been gone about 25 years now, and I still miss her. Larry would say to me ‘Nora, you better settle down. She’s going to lower the boom if you don’t watch out’.”

When Nora was thirteen, Larry had graduated high school and was working in a textile mill in Lowell, NC, near Charlotte. He came home for the weekends. At her request, Larry moved back home and got a job at Marion Mfg Company, making fabric.  He stayed at home until she graduated from high school in 1961.

Brice said he hired Larry “out from under the mill. I had trucks and I put him on one, and he worked on the truck for six or seven years. Long haul freight, running to CA or wherever.”

By that time, Brice and Iva had a child, Earl Ray, and lived in downtown Marion. Brice was understandably proud of his only child and liked to tell stories about him. “I’ll tell you a good un. My brother was drivin’ for me then. We’d been driving a week and had come back. Goin’ up Main Street in Marion in the big truck, and my brother said, ‘Ain’t that Earl Ray?’ Mid-day, and he was walking up Main Street. And I looked and said, ‘I believe it is.’ Well, I had to go up and turn around so I let Larry off. I came back, and I didn’t see them nowhere. I just lived down the lower end of Main Street so I went down and parked the truck and got my car and come back. And Larry was there on the overhead bridge, and I blowed my horn. He looked at me and pointed down. Earl Ray was on the tracks. You could see down the tracks and follow them to the school a couple miles away, and that’s how he got up there. He walked off the school grounds and followed the railroad track to town. First grade. Made my hair stand up.”

“Well, Larry went down and captured him. He didn’t get too excited to see Larry, but when he seen me… He said ‘Dad, if you want to whip me, I won’t never do that again.’ I said, ‘What would I want to whip you for? I’m just so glad to see that you’re alive.’ So I carried him back to school, and I asked the teacher why I hadn’t been notified he was missing. She said, ‘We was under the assumption that he was sick. He ain’t been here in three weeks’.”

“Iva walked him to school from our house. They’d get to the school ground and he’d send her back. He’d walk around the grounds and follow the track to town, spend the day and walk back home that evening, get there in time to get into the crowd. Smart little dude. So I told them, ‘Listen, anytime he’s not here, you call me. And anytime, I’m not gonna have him here, I’ll call you. I want to know that he’s in school.’ From then on, there were no more problems. Iva made sure he was there. But just think about a six year old going to town, and loafing all day, and no police officer saying nothing. Earl Ray said he stopped and talked to one who didn’t ask him no questions.”

(Earl Ray survived his education and went into the trucking business, too. Today he lives in Hickory.)

Larry later told me, “I decided I didn’t want to spend my life in a mill, so I went into the trucking business. My brother was hauling mica out of Spruce Pine and passed the word that Bradshaw Transfer in Hickory was for sale. The mine owner went to look at it and bought it for a good price.”

Then Brice suggested that Larry look into a job at the new company. Larry told me how he started with W&L on a little truck, going around to factories, begging for freight. “At that time they had licenses to run Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.”

I tried to learn about having permits to pick up freight even if you had a license in that state. For example if a company wanted to pick up in Lenoir, they had to apply for operation rights to pick up that freight. Until W&L got the right paperwork, they had to lease through a different trucking company and put their temporary sign on its door to run to Lenoir. They paid that company a percentage for hauling freight back to Hickory. Confusing? Guess what, it’s all about taxes. And I’m not a good student, unless you’re talking diamonds.

Larry said when he first started they picked up freight all day, and then at night “we’d load trucks ’til 11:00 to get them ready to send out. It was hard, but it paid off in the long run.” When the company started growing, they took Larry off his truck and made him the warehouse foreman for several years. Later on, he was able to buy into the business with no guarantee he was doing the smart thing. “I didn’t figure we’d ever make it but we did.” They eventually paid off all debt and owned everything, the trucks, the terminals, and the trailers. Then they sold the company. Larry retired for a couple days and went back again to help the new owners. (Until that grandson came along.)

Brother Brice proudly told me about Larry’s big career opportunity. His story came from a different perspective, the concerned older brother.  “Larry went to work for a company I used to work for. He worked for them for ten/twelve years and then they made him VP and General Manager. He stepped up in the big time. He wasn’t in my class no more. He had something like 4200 employees, and that’ll take its toll on you if you let it. He came home at night to read his paper and the phone rang. It’d be a truck out in CA that couldn’t get unloaded or one in Abilene that broke down, one down south of the border hijacked. All this stuff he had to contend with. All these long hours and putting up with all this stuff. He went along another couple years, and got so he couldn’t sleep at night, bout to have a nervous breakdown. He finally hung it up.”

Meanwhile, elder brother Brice went back to the farm when he retired from W&L after 29 years. “Dad was in his eighties. He cut his leg half off with a chain saw, and we thought we was gonna lose the leg and him.”

Small Sprouse Swimming Hole

Small Sprouse Swimming Hole

Hayfield Next to Neighbor's House

Hayfield Next to Neighbor’s House

“We had a little hayfield with a spring in the corner. My Granddaddy called it a mineral spring. That was his project, and he babied it all of his life, built a wall around it, built little huddles off it,” and put a table out there. “A big cedar tree and some grapevines growed up. Daddy was carrying on the work, fightin’ those grapevines off, and he pulled down the chain saw and just about cut his leg off. Right above the knee. We thought his workin’ days were over. But he proved us all wrong.”

Nora added details to the story. “The neighbor saw him out there working. As he watched, Daddy went down.” She thought the mailman was there also.

Brice said, “I don’t remember who it was but somebody came along, and they wrapped his leg in bed sheets and carried him to Rutherford Hospital.”

Nora remembered, “And he was in the hospital at least a month. They sutured it together but it got an infection inside. They had to open it up and let it heal from the inside out.” Mama was still alive because that was in the 1980’s. (Lela died soon afterwards in July of 1987) We girls took turns coming home and staying a week at a time. And we had to clean his wound every day and dress it and leave it open. I took my two weeks together because I was living in Utah. He sat there and watched me clean it, never made a sound as if there was no pain there at all, and there must have been. We had to get in there with Qtips and clean out of there what Mama called “proud flesh”. Never once did he wince.”

Brice commented. “I come back to help out and in less than a year’s time, he was back out doing his thing.”

Nora chimed in, “He was baling hay at 94. Brice was doing the majority of the work, but when baling time come, Daddy wanted to drive that tractor.

Brice laughed. “We had to help him on and off the tractor. When he died in 2002, that leg looked like there was a watermelon slice out of it. He was tough.”

John Henry Sprouse was a couple months shy of his 100th birthday when he was buried at Macedonia Baptist Church cemetery next to Lela. Near sister Maggie.

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