Alene Gabbard Savage

Years ago, Alene's parents, Henry Boman Gabbard and Leemit Gabbard, pose for a picture at their home on Heard Ridge.

  My husband grew up in the Taylor's Crossroads Community, and when he and I married, that community became my home as well ­ the place where we raised our family. Our home was very near the Pickett County line, and in all the years we lived there, I never realized that not all that long ago, black families lived in that area also.
When I was growing up in Livingston, most of the black families I knew about lived on Spring Street, or in that neighborhood, with the exception of the Springs family, who lived on Rock Crusher Mountain. But as I have recently learned, many of those folks have roots out in this and the surrounding counties.

Such is the case with a lively, little petite lady who was born on May 21, 1932, in the Heard Ridge Community of Pickett County, not too far from Taylor's Crossroads.

I visited in her home recently, seeking information on John Daughtery (last name pronounced "Darty"), someone I was trying to piece together a story on, and when I realized I was not going to be able to get enough information for a story about Mr. Daughtery, I quickly took advantage of the opportunity to look back on the life of Alene Gabbard Savage.

Alene was one of five girls born to Henry Boman Gabbard and Leemit Gabbard. Alene and all four of her sisters were born in the home they grew up in on Heard Ridge. Their home had a large fireplace where their mother cooked beans in a black pot that hung in the fireplace. Sweet potatoes were baked in the ashes of the fire. A school was near their home, but Alene tells me that she and her sisters were not allowed to attend because of their color.

The school building on Heard Ridge was also a place where a lady named Miss Lilly Dale came once a month with clothes for sale. It was probably a very early version of what we call thrift stores today. Getting "new" clothes from the selection Miss Lilly Dale brought each month was an event the whole community always looked forward to. Chopping out corn for Mr. Tom Harvey was something the whole Gabbard family did. Alene said the rows of corn were quite long, and they worked from sunrise to sunset chopping out the many long rows of corn.

Their dinner was always put in a bucket and hung in a tree until time to eat. Alene said she can remember one time when they didnąt get to eat dinner because the flies got to the dinner bucket first. That day, their mother fixed cooked cabbage, cornbread, and boiled corn, but the flies "blowed" the corn before they stopped to eat that day, so they went home very hungry late that evening. 

Tying up large corn shalks in corn fields was another thing they did by using honeysuckle to tie them with.
Alene has many memories of how it was to grow up in a very rural area, and related to me how many times that food was scarce in spite of the fact that the family raised a large garden.  She can remember how on snowy winter nights when the moon was bright and full, rabbits would come around the house they lived in, and her father used his shotgun to kill them so they would have something to eat for breakfast the next morning. She can remember how good they tasted on those occasions.

Other times, the only thing they had to eat was milk and cornbread. Alene said that sometimes the cow they had ate wild onions, which would "flavor" the milk, but her mother had a remedy for getting rid of the taste. She gave them a slice of onion to eat with the milk and that disguised the onion taste of the milk.

When Dale Hollow Dam was constructed, the lake wasn't too far from the Gabbard home. Alene told me the family would "walk over the hill" to the lake to fish, and this was another way food was provided for their table. She said they really loved having the lake that close to their home. Churning milk to make butter was another job Alene remembers how to do right down to the last detail. She told me the temperature of the milk is one of the most important things a person needs to know about making butter. If it was too warm, ice would need to be added, and if it was too cold, it needed to be placed somewhere so the milk could warm to just the right stage. She included the other necessary steps to complete the tasks of making butter, a chore she said she did many, many times.

Alene's mother had an old peddle-type Singer sewing machine, and dresses for herself and her daughters were made on this sewing machine. Flour sacks were always saved for making their dresses. Alene said she worked the button holes out by hand.

Another thing the ladies in the neighborhood did was make quilts. Some of the neighbor ladies who came to the Gabbard home to quilt included Stella Taylor, Lula Taylor, Mag Taylor, and Lou Verna Conner.
Alene told me how when the ladies finished a quilt and it was ready to be taken out of the quilting frames, a young, unmarried person was picked to stand at each corner of the quilt. A cat was then brought and placed on the quilt, and whichever corner the cat ran to in order to jump off the quilt, that was the next person who would get married.

Cutting firewood is another chore Alene told me about. She said that in the winter months when snow was on the ground, before going out to the woods, she and her sisters would take grass sacks and tie them around their legs to keep the cold away  as much as possible. If there was a big snow on, the girls would go in at dinnertime and take the sacks off, which would be weighed down with snow, shake out the snow, and put them in front of the fireplace to dry. When the sacks had time to dry, they would tie them on again, and go back to the woods to finish cutting wood for the rest of the day. Keeping the saws sharp was one job Alene said she did, and described how the saws were tested to see if they were "set" after being sharpened. She said if they made a certain sound, she knew they were just right. What I would consider a very unusual remedy for getting something out of someone's eye was another thing Alene passed on to me. She said that if somebody got something in an eye and it couldn't be gotten out, the seed from wheat (flax seed) was put in that eye and left for a day or two. She said whatever was in the eye would be worked out by the flax seed, and it was a much-used remedy.

On one occasion, Alene and her mother were going to Esco Harvey's to get corn, and on the way, they stopped at Mag Taylor's house so Alene's mother could get a dip of snuff. While they were there, Alene sat down on the porch with her legs hanging off the edge of the porch. Mag Taylor had a dog tied up under the porch, and even though the dog was tied, it was able to get to where Alene was sitting and it bit her. She still has scars on her leg from the bite.

For some reason, it was feared that the dog could have rabies, so the sheriff of Pickett County, Otis Taylor, came and got the dog. It was disposed of and sent to be tested for rabies. Sure enough, the dog had the dreaded disease. Alene had to have a series of 14 shots, one a day for 14 days, and was taken into town to Dr. A.B. Qualls' office every day by their neighbor, Esco Harvey, who owned the car.

Crip Smith owned a store at what was called Roadside, and Alene's family walked the three miles or so from their house to trade at this store. Her family had an ice box and bought ice at Taylor's Crossroads. Her father borrowed a horse and wagon and, in a cardboard box, brought a large chunk of ice home that would last about three days.

Alene's family moved to Livingston when she was 11 years-old. She had never been to school until the family moved to town, but she only went for a couple of years because she was ridiculed and made fun of by other children because she had not had the opportunity to attend school before that age. Because of this mistreatment, she became discouraged and quit school.

At the age of 13, she began staying with Mrs. Elma Lee Bussell as her housekeeper. She lived in her home and worked for the Bussells until she married at the age of 17. During this period of time, she also helped her mother, who worked for several families such as the Mofields, Dr. and Mrs. A.B. Qualls, and also for Harlan and Ethel Lewis.

She and her mother walked everywhere they went. Alene told me some of the chores they did included washing clothes on a rub board, ironing, and preparing meals. At the home of Dr. and Mrs. Qualls, they did the washing and ironing on the screened in back porch, which was quite cold work in the winter months. After preparing a meal at the Quallsą home, they were allowed to eat, too, but did so only after the family had eaten first.

Alene was the very first black person to be employed in the strawberry plant that once operated on Oakland Park Drive in Livingston. Alene married Walter Floyd Savage Jr. when she was 17 years-old. After they married, she and Walter moved to Free Hills in Clay County, where they lived with his parents, Walter Savage Sr. and Sarah Ruth Savage, who once ran the Black and White Café in Livingston for a period of time before Alene and Junior were married. Sometime later, Junior got a job working for the Harrisons at Sunset Dock on Dale Hollow Lake near Byrdstown as their cook. He and Alene lived in one of the cabins while he worked there, and she did ironing for the Harrisons.  A little later, they moved to Franklin, KY, and lived on a farm. Two of their children had come along by this time, and a third one was born while they lived in Kentucky. They returned to Livingston, and as the years went by, their family grew to include a total of eight children, five boys, and three girls.

As of this writing, Alene is the grandmother of 20 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. One story she told me about her children was that on the occasion of the birth of her daughter, Ann, at the old Lady Ann Hospital, Dr. Nevans and some of the nursing staff were all with her, giving her encouragement, telling her to "push", etc. She said she was really getting very tired of all their help, and finally told them, "If you all will just get out of my way, I'll have this baby!"...which she did. She said Dr. Nevans told her, "Wish we had more like you!"

Alene and Junior, who passed away in 1992, both worked for Odell Key a number of years at the box factory in Livingston, and Alene has also been employed at Jerry's Shop Rite, where she did the preparation of the barbecue that was sold there that included chicken, pork chops, pork roasts, and barbecue sandwiches that could be bought 5 for $1.

Alene's most recent place of employment has been Central Vending, where she has worked for the past 30 years. She told me she has no plans for retiring.  I asked what secret she has for the slim, trim figure she maintains, and she told me she hasn't been to a doctor for 21 years, that really she doesn't even have a doctor. She said that her church is very important to her, that "church is what keeps her here." One of the things she really enjoys is playing horseshoes. Also, her home includes some beautiful antique furnishings, which she has collected over the years.

On one occasion, she went into an antique shop in Livingston where she found one very old lady's shoe that was in excellent condition. She inquired of one of the owners about where the other shoe was, and was told there wasn't another one. In the world of antiques, old shoes are often used for display purposes only, and since there was just one of this particular pair, that was about all that could be done with them; however, as much as Alene wanted to buy the shoe, she had no intention of buying it just to display; she intended to wear the shoes if the mate could be located. She left the store unhappy with one of the owners for not having the shoe, and to this day, when she happens to run into that lady, she never fails to ask about the missing shoe.

With her upcoming birthday May 21, she will reach the age of 70 years, but she has certainly aged well. No one would believe she's nearly 70. She has lived in a time of hardship, growing up in a rural area, always doing very hard work, then raising a very large family, but she survived it all amazingly well. Those hard times arenąt reflected in her smile and laughter that are always present.

She summed up her life when she said to me, "I came up the hard way, not the high way."

Thank you, Alene, for the chance to pass along just a little about the life you'd had not so very far away from the place where I spent part of mine.

Pictured are the Gabbard sisters. They are, from left, Henrietta, Juanita, Georgia Lee, Alene, and Ella Joyce. Alene was 11 years-old at the time of the photograph. Her half-sister, Christine Hayes, is not pictured.

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