musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Effie Pierson -- 2. A Working Family


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Childhood sweethearts, Effie Smith and Edward Pierson were married in 1918, Effie 16 years old. Ed, in an interview with John Harrod, in the early 1980s, remembered their courtship:
“Them days, we played games, you know, past times… Playing fox and the goose… we made a mark, put her foot over the mark, and the fox tried to catch it. I said if I can catch that goose, I’ll take it home with me,” he said, with laughter. “We’s just children, you know. So I run my legs off, trying to catch her but she got home before I got her…. Well, I finally got my goose, though.”
They moved to Beals Fork, in the Green Hall area of Owsley County, into the Pierson homestead. Ed’s father Samuel died a few years after their moving in; his mother Rachel was a midwife, a trade she passed on to Effie, who eventually took the practice over. Effie’s grandson-in law, Wallace Edwards wrote,  “Effie would go to an expectant mother whenever she was called, be it day or night, summer or winter. Often she would have to stay an extended period, or in the case of a ‘false alarm,’ return at a later date.  For this service she never charged a fee, but the proud parents often gave her chickens from the coop or produce from the garden as a gesture of their appreciation.”

The two lived in Owsley County most of their lives, though they moved to Ohio, and Oklahoma at different points, in search of work in factories. They were married six years before they had a child, a son, Lyndon. “He had got pneumonia and died when he was three days past a year old,” Pauline said. As the family story went, before his got sick, they “sat him on a blanket…. on the floor, and they put a dollar bill, and a bible, and a bottle, like a whiskey bottle [in front of him]. And he looked at them whatever they pick up, that’s what they’re going to be. So he looked back and forth, mom said, and he picked the bible up. And he let the leaves fall off of his thumb, you know, just fanning through it. Three days later, he died.”
It was a practice the couple never repeated, spooked. They went on to have four daughters, Lillian, Pauline, Ethel and Beulah. They went on to be musicians, hairdressers, wives, mothers.
Ed Pierson was a “good guy,” his daughter Pauline remembered. “He would help anybody out if they need help.”
“He had a temper like a wildcat,” Lillian remembered, yet he was “so tenderhearted, you couldn’t believe it. He laughed so softly you couldn’t hardly hear him laugh… but he laughed all the time.”
He was an artist; he wrote poems, and made little sculptures and knick-knacks out of wood. When I visited Pauline, she still had many of the little chairs her father had crafted. One, a chair inside a glass bottle, put together piece by painstaking piece, in the bottle. John Harrod, who visited the Pierson’s in the early 1980s, remembered:
“Ed Pierson made these little folk toys, including this contraption... that I’ve never seen before. It was… still blows my mind. One of these little balancing things… there’s a whole category of balancing toys. He had this thing that consisted of two knife blades sticking at an angle out of a little piece of wood, kind of looked like a jet plane with wings. And there was a pin stuck in the end of it, and then there was another piece consisted of a pencil coming up out of some kind of toy tire, as a stand, and it had a pin sticking out of it. And that thing would balance on those two pins, that was the only point of contact… he could set that thing on there and it would balance like that. It was so weird it was almost spooky.”
As a couple, Pauline remembered, her parents were like kids, with each other. “She’d go possum hunting with him. They’d have a torch with them, a pine torch, didn’t have no lantern. And he’d go through the thicket, like a pine thicket, where there was briars and all kinds of rubbish in there, you know, and if the dog would tree, up ahead, he’d run off and leave her, in the dark.  By the time she’d catch up with him, her dress would be tore off of her, just about.  So he was like a kid that way, he’d want to see what the dog had treed.”
Effie was a hard working woman, her daughters emphasized. I asked Pauline what she remembered most about her mother. She responded, “She was always working.” She worked out in the fields, while her mother-in-law tended to her children.  “I don’t know how she did everything she did, in a day’s time,” Pauline said. “I don’t know how she did it. It was daily routine, I guess. Everything just fell into place. She used to come out of the field and cook dinner and take it back to the work hands in a basket.” Then she’d go out and work in the fields, herself.
“She done everything in the world that she could,” Lillian said. “She was a midwife, she was a musician, she was a mother, she was a wife, and she was a workhorse. She done everything there was to be done except drive a car… She worked as much as 6 women would work.”
She was a “good country cook” who didn’t go by recipes…. “She just threw this together, and that together, and it always came out good…. She was a good hand to make pies. I’d love to have a piece of her pie right now.” Lemon, Chocolate, Butterscotch pie.
“Mother was something else,” Lillian said. “She done everything she could to help another person, to help her family.”
Effie was also quite the shot with a rifle. As the story goes, her aim was so accurate, she could shoot the eye out of an animal. Pauline said, “She could shoot a chicken, [the bullet would] go in one eye, and come out the other eye. I saw her do it.” Often, as the story goes, she hit the target the men of her family were having difficulty striking.
She was often the one to kill the deer, for the family. “They ate it,” Pauline said. She didn’t kill it just for the fun of it. She used to help kill the hogs and clean them, and things like that, too. She did everything, mom did, except drive a car.” She was a tough lady, Pauline remembered, who “used to chop wood, build fires in the stove… and help dad saw the logs for the fireplace. She milked, she tended to all that stuff.”
They went to the Royal Oak Church, a Baptist congregation, where they sang popular hymns; What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Sweet By and By. “She was a religious person, mom was. She believed, and she got baptized. We all got baptized except for Beulah, the same day.  In a hole of water down the road there, down 30 toward Booneville. A little hole of water that’s not there no more.”