The McKenzie Banner
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2001
Willie Brown Foster turns 96 on August 29, 2001 - From
childhood pranks to bowling and Bingo at Oak Manor
Nursing Home, Brown Foster lives a live filled with fun
By Deborah Turner
"Boy, that was years ago," Brown Foster says often
as he recollects events from yesteryear as a boy
growing up in Carroll County.
Willie Brown Foster was born on August 29, 1905
about a mile from Concord Baptist Church in
McKenzie. He was the last child born to Franklin
Brown and Sara Elizabeth Belew and came along much
later than their other five children. Brown never
knew two of his sisters who passed away in the first
few years of life; one fell into the fire at around
two years of age and the other succumbed to measles.
He barely remembers his third sister who died in her
father's arms of tuberculosis when she was around 21
years old. His brothers, Otis and Winnie, fared
well, but, as they were quite a bit older than he
was, Brown grew closer to the 16 nieces and nephews
who were nearer his own age.
As a student, Brown walked to Young's School in
Christmasville along dirt roads. Even the main roads
were dirt, he says: "We didn't know nothing about
highways back then."
The school building had 3 separate rooms for
teaching and plenty of mischief among the students
who were undeterred by the fact that punishment came
in the form of a whipping in front of the entire
"I used to get several," Brown says quite proudly.
The boys often ventured into the cane thicket near
the school where Brown explains they would cut a
"great long cane" which was then used to make
popguns. Sheets of paper from school tablets were
rolled snugly around a length of the cane to form
the barrel of the gun while other pieces of paper
were chewed into wads of ammunition. The cane was
"popped" inside the barrel to shoot the wet wad at
Brown's uncle was a teacher who traveled to school
in a horse and buggy that was stored in a stable at
the school during work hours. At recess, the boys
rolled the girls down the hill in the buggy. When
Brown slipped and fell one day, the buggy ran over
him leaving tell-tale tire marks on his legs which
he then had to explain to his parents.
He used to play hookie as well, he says, but despite
his mischievous ways, he paid close attention to his
studies and found ways to make learning more fun.
"Me and Brayden Fuzzell used to get together and put
on a program at school," he recalls. "We'd get up
and sing before school. I liked to never have
learned my multiplication tables but I finally did,
and me and him got up in front of school and sang
His formal education ended after the eighth grade.
The "Doodle Hack" from Christmasville store was a
novelty to children and a convenience to rural
families who could buy grocery items right off the
"In the winter time they used to buy rabbits," he
said, recalling one "frosty morning" when he sold a
rabbit to the store for a dime that he spent to buy
a French harp. "I can play a French harp pretty
good," he says.
Living near the Turnpike River bottom meant plenty
of opportunity for fishing for Brown and his father,
who used homemade fish traps rather than hooks to
catch their quarry.
"My daddy was a great hand to fish," Brown says, "In
the spring of the year, on rainy days when we
couldn't go to the fields, he would take his pliers
out and get a big round slick wire and cut the wire
to wrap around front; he would make it plumb round."
As he describes the making of the fish trap, his
hands work imaginary wire into a circular shape with
strong wires bent inward to let fish into the barrel
of the trap from which there is no escape. Thinner
bailing wire is used to tie the pieces of the trap
Baited with a hard loaf of bread made especially for
the trap by his mother, the trap yielded a twice per
week harvest of fish. "Lord, we eat fish going and
coming," Brown recalls.
Old fashioned hog killings took place later in the
year when Brown's father and his neighbor would cook
three to five hogs at one time in a big vat.
Corn was ground in a gristmill to make cornmeal. "We
used to eat some corn bread in those days," Brown
He lived with his brother, Otis, for a few years
during which, it seems, there was never a dull
moment. "Otis was always into something," he recalls
with a gleam in his eye, "So him and another boy
killed a snake. We lived in big house with an upper
room where we slept, and me and one of boys slept
together. I went to bed early that night and they
had taken that snake and rolled it up on my side of
the bed. I laid down on that snake and jumped down
and butted my head against the door!"
He scrambling down the steps but there was no
escape, as the boys at the top of the stairwell
threw the snake on him as he ran.
Practical jokes were common amusement for Brown and
his friends. "Oscar Patterson had some boys who were
always pranking one another," he says, setting the
stage for another funny tale. Brown's father smoked
homemade tobacco that he made from the dried leaves
of tobacco plants. He describes how his father took
the "great wide tobacco leaves" and worked them
between his hands when they were dry to crumble them
into the tiny pieces that he packed into his
When he wasn't looking, the boys slipped the cap
from a 22 cartridge into the tobacco, and when it
made contact with the fire the pipe blew up, leaving
Brown's father sitting there holding the crooked
stem in his mouth.
His other brother, Winnie, was a barber in
Christmasville, charging a quarter for a haircut and
a dime for a shave. "He taught me how to cut hair; I
used to be a barber," he says.
World War I brought trains bearing soldiers through
the town of Trezevant as they made their way to
training grounds. "Boy, that's been years ago," came
the oft-repeated slogan.
"The soldier boys sat in the windows and waved at
the town," he says.
As the trains passed, the soldiers called, "We're
going after the Kaiser; we're going to get the
Kaiser," he recalls.
"They didn't get him either!" he declares, "He was
the cause of World War I but he was smart enough he
got out of it."
Kaiser Wilhelm II, the 9th King of Prussia and the
third emperor of Germany, was forced to abdicate on
the 9th of November 1918 whereupon he fled the
country with his family and lived in Holland for the
rest of his life.
The end of the Civil War was only 40 years before
Brown's birth and he grew up hearing his Uncle Jim
(Foster) tell stories of life as a soldier at
During breaks in the battle, Confederate and Union
soldiers often talked to those who were their
neighbors as well as their enemies. People came
bringing food and the soldiers also ate from the
peach orchards at Shiloh, leaving the big peach
seeds on the ground.
Brown's mother was among those who visited the
battlefields. "Anybody could go there that wanted
to," Brown explained. She took some of the seeds
home with her and planted them in the back yard
where in later years they bore fruit.
It was while sitting in a peach tree during the war
that Brown's Uncle Jim was shot "clean through the
wrist." After the battle, he drug himself to the
now-famous "Bloody Pond" to wash up. Lying at the
bottom of a slope, the pond had collected the blood
of soldiers killed along the hillside until the
water was as red as blood.
To care for the injury, Brown says, his uncle
wrapped a silk cloth over a pencil which he then
pushed through one end of the wound and out the
other to drag out the maggots that had hatched
When the war was over, Jim walked home.
One of the most exciting events as Brown grew older
was when his father ordered a 1924 Ford for $352.72
from Charles Forrest.
"I could hardly wait for it to come," he says with
still-bright eyes. "Boy that's been years ago!"
Brown had been "laying by corn" and had come to the
house for dinner when he learned the call had come
saying that the car had arrived by train.
He went to McLemoresville to pick up the car where,
he says, "Clint Montgomery learnt me to drive it and
I came back home. My brother's wife wanted to go to
McKenzie so I told her I'd carry her for the price
it cost to go by train."
His old playmate Coley Walker went with him for a
ride and on the return trip through McLemoresville
Brown let him drive.
"I thought he was going pretty fast and there was a
curve in the road, then the road came on down to
cross a little creek. At the foot of the hill he
went around and knocked the banister of the bridge
out. Boy, I sure hated to go back home." The young
men left the car parked and walked the few miles
In 1929 he worked at Trezevant's U-Tote-Em grocery
store, taking orders and filling them from the
warehouse that occupied the site where Southern
Biological (Southern Scientific Inc.) is today in
"On Saturday night we worked until 12:00," he
Mr. Curtis Newberry, who ran the store, lived with
his wife in a house not far away from the store. The
couple had a "great big dog" who was trained to jump
over Mr. Newberry's walking stick and would jump
back and forth over the stick.
His most extraordinary trick was more practical,
however. Mrs. Newberry would send the dog to the
store with a note to her husband requesting some
item she needed. Her husband would place the item
into a paper sack that he twisted closed and placed
into the dog's mouth, that would then head dutifully
up the road toward home.
Brown married Estell Myrtle Cantrell on February 12,
1933, a day chosen by his wife who had decided she
wanted to get married on Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
The couple was married in Bell Brown's house in
McLemoresville. Bell Brown and his family ran the
switchboard for the old telephone system.
For several years, the new family lived and farmed
with Brown's father. His mother had passed away
suddenly when Brown was 27, after which his father
married his Aunt Lalu (pronounced Luler), who was
his mother's sister.
Brown and Estell moved to a farm between
McLemoresville and Trezevant where they sharecropped
for two years before moving back to Christmasville
where Brown farmed with his brother for a number of
years. When they moved to the 19th District, he
continued farming and learned firsthand the value of
neighbors when he became sick in the same year that
his crop failed due to drought.
Neighbors brought their tractors and planters to
help put down a second planting of cotton to replace
that which had failed to thrive.
While farming between Trezevant and Atwood, Estell
worked at the Milan Arsenal for a time before she
was laid off during the Korean War.
Brown operated an egg route for Carroll Acres, a
farm owned by Lyndell Patterson on Hinkledale Road
In 1945 Brown and Estell joined the Republic Grove
Baptist Church where he is now the church's oldest
member and was for years the superintendent.
He became the janitor at McKenzie's Grammar School,
which was located where the Middle School is now,
during a time when a coal-burning boiler heated the
school. Brown would start work as early as 4:00 in
the morning to be sure the fire was built and the
rooms warmed before the teachers and children came
Burning coal meant that the cinders had to be
shoveled out of the furnace regularly into a bucket
that was then dumped outdoors. He revisited his own
mischievous childhood when some students took the
spent cinders and dumped them back into the furnace
after he had cleaned it out.
Brown and his wife took joined forces as janitors at
the Methodist Church until his retirement in 1973.
They spent much of their retirement years traveling
and visiting friends and family.
Brown lived alone after his wife's death in 1990
until 1993 when he moved into his daughter's home.
After a series of strokes and a heart attack which
led to surgery to insert a pace-maker, Brown moved
to Oak Manor Health Care Center where he is a
champion bowler and wins at Bingo every week, he
says. He animatedly describes how the residents at
Oak Manor bowl using 9 pins that are set up in row.
"You take the chair and go around, and you have 3
round balls with air in them and you pitch the balls
and knock them down!"
After 96 years, Brown says there is much left
untold. He and countless others of his generation
are a treasure of interesting information and
Brown has two daughters (Jane Pratt and Faye Gaskins
of McKenzie), four grandchildren and eight
Phone (731) 352-3323 or Fax (731)
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