Ernest and Grace Buck of Pall Mall, TN
Ernest Buck and wife Grace Buck own property in Pall Mall where the parents of Mark Twain once resided.
|The weather for the
Easter weekend this year was just about as perfect as anyone could ask
for. It was also very nice for a drive out in the countryside, something
my husband and I did on Saturday afternoon. Our destination was Pall Mall,
Tennessee, to the home of Ernest Buck and his wife, Grace. Mr. Buck, age
93, has been married to the former Grace Reed, age 88, for 57 years now.
Their home is located in one of the most picturesque areas around here,
and in fact, some of the property they own once belonged to the parentsí
of Mark Twain, John Marshal Clemens and wife Jane Lampton Clemens. The log
cabin the Clemens family lived in once stood near the barn of Mr. and Mrs.
Buck. The reason for our visit to their home came about after I read a
story about Mr. Buck written by Mark Johnson. I came across his story in
the Tennessee Cooperator, a magazine published by the Farmers coop
in this area. Mr. Johnsonís story was a heartwarming one, and with his
permission, I will be including portions of it with my story.
Writing about Mr. Buck will be a hard to do simply because it would be impossible to tell everything about him in just a few pages. I find it hard to decide what to include and what to leave out. I suppose a way to start would be to describe Ernest and Grace. No one would ever guess Ernest is 93 just by looking at him. Even though he has encountered some health problems in the past few years, it is not detectable to someone just meeting him. The same can be said about his wife, Grace. She is a tiny, petite little lady, weighing a mere 85 pounds, and she, too, looks much younger than she really is. She has the appearance and movements that remind me of a very graceful ballerina. Her warmth and friendliness was apparent the minute she opened the door of their home to us. Ernestís background includes a career as an elementary school teacher in Fentress County, and later, he served as principal of York Institute. He was involved in the school system for a total of 42 years, seven of those years he taught in a one room school.
Attaining a good education is something Ernest Buckís ancestors inspired others to do, a fact that is evident on an historical marker near Buckís Mountain in Algood. That marker gives Isaac Buck and son Jonathan Buck, from which Ernest is a descendant, credit for the first secondary school known as Buckís College established in Putnam County, an institution forced to close during the Civil War. Grace Buckís lineage also includes a well known name. Her great-grandmother, Emerline Crockett Reed, was a sister of Davy Crockett.
Ernest Buckís father died when he was only 11 years old, and life was very difficult for the Buck family following his death. The first time Ernest attended school, he was 8 years old. School was held six months out of a year, and because teachers then didnít maintain any kind of record keeping system, he went to the second grade three different years, but completed the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade all in one year. After completing high school, and with the financial help of an aunt and uncle, he went on to get a college education. It was while he was attending college that his very unique diary system came into being. Mark Johnson tells in his story that "On January 6, 1956, Mr. Buck collected three eggs from his hens on his Pall Mall farm, but on March 6, he gathered 30 eggs." Thatís just an example of the many, many recorded facts Ernest made over the years, and with just a little hint of dismay in her voice, his wife, Grace, points to the file cabinets, the ledgers, and many other notebooks stacked in one corner of the den of their home. And that was only what could be seen in one room of their home. Ernest explains that he wanted his aunt and uncle to see in black and white just exactly how he was spending the money they gave him to help pay for his education, and that is the reason his very detailed record keeping system began. He didnít want them to think he was not using their money for anything other than what it was intended for. But it was a neighbor, Mrs. Ida Wright, who actually made the suggestion that he keep a diary, and I think Grace will agree, Ernest really took that suggestion seriously, and has gone to great lengths to preserve facts and notes about day to day happenings for a great many years now.
One of the many memories Ernest Buck has about his childhood is being among the very large number present for the wedding of Alvin C. York. It was on that occasion that Ernest, at age 6 years, saw a car for the very first time. Evidently, several vehicles were driven to Pall Mall from all across the state. A. H. Roberts, who was governor of the State of Tennessee at that time, performed the ceremony, but Ernest admits he really wasnít all that interested in what was going on with the wedding, it was seeing all those cars up close that fascinated him. But it seems that cars at the wedding was not the only thing that got attention. Ernest described a fellow by the name of Giles Watson, a man he referred to as a hermit living back in the hills, as attracting about as much attention as the wedding did. Giles Watson, who made the claim as having killed 19 bears, was clad in homemade overalls, shoes he had probably made from bearskin, and homemade galluses. His presence evidently caused as much excitement as all the dignitaries who had traveled from far and wide combined. Ernest recalls a very unusual method used to place all the food prepared to feed the large number of wedding guests. Woven wire was stretched and secured between trees near the area of the wedding ceremony. A fence post was put in place if the trees didnít happen to be close enough to each other to form a suitable table. After the tables cloths were spread over the woven wire, the make shift tables held countless dishes prepared especially for the wedding feast.
The log home mentioned earlier once owned by Mark Twainís parents is believed to be the place the famous writer was conceived just prior to the Clemens family moving to Missouri. It was still standing when Ernest came into possession of the property, and later, he donated that structure to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee. It is on display to the public there. Each log was painstaking taken down, carefully marked, and then moved to its present location where it was reassembled in exactly the was it was originally built.
Among the hundreds of pages of notes Ernest has complied, as well as copies of information saved from days he was teaching, was a test given all eighth graders during the years Ernest taught. It was necessary that students make a passing grade on this test in order to go on to high school. It was made up of several pages covering major subjects, and as I sat there reading over parts of each page, I decided right then and there I would still be in the eighth grade today if I had been asked to take that test. I had to wonder how many present day eighth graders could come anywhere close to making a passing grade. Times have definitely changed! I believe education meant something different then than it does today.
Ernest told Mark Johnson and then later myself how his son, Jim, insisted he preserve in a notebook these stories and statistics he had been compiling since 1938. Jim told him there wasnít any excuse for him not doing this, since he was retired at that time. That was in 1998. Ernest told me he had never written a book and didnít have any idea how to go about it, but he did. His spiral-bound book was called "Ernest Kellen Buck, A Look Back." Written inside the bookís cover is this: "I wrote this on the insistence of Jim, for his information. I did not make an outline. I wrote on the various topics as they came to me. I never meant for it to be made into a book. Ernest Buck." The memories contained in his book will be priceless treasures forever.
Mark Johnsonís article ended with a note Ernest made when he worked helping produce B-24 bombers at Henry Fordís Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that said: "On Saturday, July 24, 1943, I saw Henry Ford pass through the plant. I was sitting in my cubbyhole working on something and I caught Fordís eye and he winked at me! Iíll never forget that."
Before our visit was over, we all loaded in the car for a drive through the Deer Creek area just a few miles up the road from the Buck home. It was down that road that Ernest pointed out an area his grandfather farmed many years ago. The scenery was simply beyond description, just as beautiful, if not more so, I think, as anything found in the Smokies. Ernest had his first encounter with an airplane down that road too. He shared that story with Mark Johnson, and told him the year was 1919, a time when he had no idea airplanes even existed. He heard the very loud noise the airplane made, but couldnít determine where it was coming from, never once considered looking up over his head. A few days later, someone stopped by their house telling about seeing something in the air around Forbus that looked like a bunch of planks nailed together, making a very loud noise, with black smoke coming out the back of it. He said it was months later before everyone realized what they had seen was an airplane.
On our way back, we dropped by the home of Jim and Sheryl Buck, son and daughter-in-law, of Ernest and Grace. Jim and Sherylís home isnít visible from Highway 127, but what a spectacular setting! The beautiful log home they live sits at the top of a hill, and has been carefully landscaped with hundreds of plants, flowers, and trees. A fish pond is near the porch that surrounds their home, and in nearby woods, they have included many places to sit and view the scenery. In addition to all the work the flower gardens and yard require, they operate an overnight lodging for guests who may choose from a two bedroom home, or a log cabin known as the Dave Greer cabin, a 175 year old landmark. The furnishings for both are filled with antiques and family heirlooms. If you are driving by and donít see the "Buckís Lodging" sign, you canít miss the bright Pepto pink house on Highway 127 available for overnight, retreats, or any kind of family gatherings. The smaller log cabin sits a bit further up their drive. A prettier setting for each of these guests homes couldnít be found.
I feel I havenít done the story of Ernest and Grace Buck justice at all in these few paragraphs. But hopefully what I have shared will provide just a glimpse into the lives of two very special people. They are a wonderful example of the very nice people weíve had the opportunity to become acquainted with as a result of writing my journal. Thank you, again, Ernest and Grace, for your hospitality and the sharing of such wonderful memories. What a nice way to spend a beautiful spring afternoon!