Growing Up On High Street in Livingston


In the late 1940's, Mr. R.J. Long, owner of the local Seven Up Bottling Company on Church Street in Livingston, constructed a row of homes on High Street that are still there. Some of the kids whose families were among the first to live in those houses have shared some memories from their childhood days on High Street. Here are their memories:

Ellen Matheny Forkum, Gainesboro, Tennessee - I remember six white houses full of neighborhood children. Summer days of hopscotch, learning to ride the bike (whoever had one) going barefoot, walking to Church Street Grocery in bare feet with about eight other kids to get a popsicle on a sweltering summer day. I remember Halloween on High Street, going next door to Mary Jean and Larry Stephens’ house and playing trick or treat – she had some kind of marshmellow treat – I had a mask – the mask had marshmellow on it the rest of the night from top to bottom. There were the Veals, the Stephens (2 families Kenny and Larry), the Greers, others, and all the kids who came to visit and play with all this bunch. There was the lady down the street that my brothers Ronnie and Mike and a host of other boys, Verlin Hyder, David Sadler, Mike McCulley, they all got into trouble some times playing baseball if the ball happened to go into her yard. Down the street lived E.B. and Lura Gray and their children. Virginia, and Slugo. Lura and Mom (Lyda Grace, no longer with us) I remember were Cub Scout leaders or helpers – I can remember some of the crafts they had to make. Mom sold Avon on that street. We had lots of Kool Aid, a few bee stings, for some reason we got into the ball of tar the neighbor had in his garage and tried chewing it. At the end of the street – there was a wooded hill – and we all played there. We had grapevines, played Tarzan and Jane, played king of the mountain, and once my brother, Mike, tried involuntary flying off the hill on his bicycle. We played lots of hide and seek. Our grandparents, Walter and Lizzie Poston, lived two streets over on North Church next to Lucien Copeland, so we would cut through Ms. Gore’s and Ms. Dillon’s yards to shortcut to Granny and Popeyes. We walked everywhere, we went by ourselves, we would walk it seems like all over Livingston with no one worrying about us.

Each house was made exactly the same. LR, kitchen combo, two small bedrooms and one bathroom. There was a bookcase divider between the LR and kitchen. That’s where Mom kept her collection of Cupi dolls and cup and saucers. There was a tiny porch on the back. Everybody had a clothesline and that’s usually where we all met up to play. My brothers had a bedroom; I slept in the roll-a-way in Mamma and Daddy’s room. These are just some of sweetest memories of my life.

Ronnie Matheny - Murfreesboro, Tennessee - My daddy, Braxton Matheny, called the houses on High Street the "Sugar Shacks" because the insulation in the houses came from sugar sacks used at the 7-Up plant Mr. R.J. Long owned. Mr. Long was also the person who had that row of houses constructed on High Street. Having moved there from a little red house that sat at the foot of Rock Crusher Mountain, we thought we had moved up town. The houses on High Street were new, free of bugs and snakes, and only a few hundred yards from our grandparents, the Postons, Walter and Elizabeth. The only negative thing about leaving the little red house was leaving the company of Wayne Sells and his family. I credit Wayne for helping to make my brother, Mike, a Tennessee All State Football candidate. However, we moved and found many new friends. The Stephens, Chipper, Suzanne, and Barbara. Kenneth Stephens was the Livingston Academy principal when we graduated from high school. His wife, Betty, was a wonderful and caring person. There was also the McAlpin family and their granddaughters, the Christian girls from Allons, Judy and Cathy. All the people who lived there still hold a special place in my heart.

Linda Gail Greer Knowles, Sparta, Tennessee: I think the R.J. Long houses were relatively new when we lived there. Bill and Dot Veal, Sandy and Freddie lived in the first one, Harlen and Sue Copeland with Ricky and maybe Tony lived in the next one, Mother and I lived in the third one, Braxton and Lyda Grace Matheny with Ronnie, Mike and Ellen lived in the fourth one, Kenneth and Betty Stephens with Suzanne, Chipper and Barbara in the fifth one and Don and Dot Smith (he was the manager of Standing Stone State Park) with their five ( I think) little boys (I can't even remember their names but they were all very small when they lived there and they lived in the sixth house. Mother and I had just moved from Jamestown and I didn't know anyone, so moving to a place with all those children was certainly a plus for me. You could not go out and sit on the front step without several children coming up within five minutes so there was always someone to play with. I think I was the oldest but there were several that were not far from my age. Mother worked so I was alone a lot of the time in the summers and after school but she never worried about it because none of the other mothers worked and they would certainly have taken care of me if I needed them. We played all the time and I can't remember getting into fusses with anyone myself but there were plenty of fights among brothers and sisters. There was woods behind Mrs. Allie Gore's house and we played in those woods a lot. We had paths all through those woods. There must have been snakes there but I never thought of that and no one was ever snake bit that I remember. We played kick the can out at night and rode our bikes in the street because there was not hardly any traffic on that street. The lady across the street had grape vines growing along her fence and I do remember us sneaking over there at night and helping ourselves to the grapes even though I don't think she liked it very much. I do remember that Mike Matheny and Chipper Stephens got into quite a bit of mischief. Mother didn't drive at that time so we walked everywhere we went. She walked to work, we walked to the First Baptist Church on Sundays when it was where the old library was, she did her grocery shopping in town at Mrs. Bussell's grocery and we carried the groceries home. I rode to grammar school with Mr. Stephens and his children and I will never forget his little two-tone Plymouth. I loved living on High Street and have wonderful memories from that time.

Mike Matheny, Nashville, Tennessee: The first thing that comes to my memory is of all the families that lived on High Street in the brand new little two bedroom houses. These people would become my life long friends. We, the Braxton and Lyda Grace Matheny family, which including myself consisted of my brother, Ronnie and sister, Ellen. We lived next door to the Stephens family, Kenny, Betty, Suzanne, Chipper, and Barbara on one side of us and the Greer Family, Bill and Linda Gail on the other side. On the South end was Larry, Mary Jean, Diane, Rita, and Mike Stephens. To the North was Boots, Virginia, and Janet Smith; and to the North of them was Bill, Dot, Sandy, and Freddy Veal. On down the street was Charlene Goolsby, Virginia and Sluggo Gray. Down the other direction was Eugene Walker. Immediately across from our houses were the McAlpins, Tom and Naomi.

So as you can see, we had a team of playmates, ready for action. We had a great "kick-the-can" game, especially at dusk or at night. It was kind of like base tag except we placed some type of can in a designated place where one of us was "It" meaning that the it person had to try to catch everyone else before they could be relieved of being it. I was very fast on my feet, and could always catch the it person looking the other way, run to the can and kick it as far as possible thus freeing the other captives up to run hide again. Of course this game could go on for quiet some time.

The skating on the side walk in front of the houses was also one of my fondest memories. The skates had a skate key which tightened the front of the skates across our feet. They were made of metal and you kind of wore them like a shoe. What quick transportation whether out for a leisurely roll or in a competitive race, did the skate bring to us.

The third and final thing that I remember were the bicycle rides. My brother, Ronnie, got a big, new bike for Christmas one year, while I had a smaller used one. Of course I was jealous in this situation.
The Allie Gore woods was a refuge for us to play in as they presented an atmosphere of escape from our parents, a type of jungle to us.

All of these people became my life long friends, as we lived in some of the newest little houses in Livingston. By the way, my Daddy, Brack, worked for R.J. Long, driving a 7Up truck. I
believe the rent on the houses was somewhere between 35 and 50 dollars a month. This was of course in 1949.


Suzanne, Chipper and Barbara Stephens are photographed with their bikes out of the yard of their home on High Street.  The home of Tom McAlpin and his sister, Naomi McAlpin White (Mrs. Allard White) is shown in the background


Suzanne Stephens Winningham, Tullahoma, Tennessee - Here are some memories I have of High Street and the different people who lived there. Across that driveway from our house was a small wooded lot we called "The Jungle." It was our hide out and our secret place. We weren't supposed to play there because of snakes and who knows what , but of course, that never stopped us. That’s where I had my first private talks with God, I loved the jungle. Across the street was a big white house with a small detached building--this was our club house and of course, the wiser and older kid of the neighborhood, Ronnie Matheny, was our leader. We made many plans in that place. Some were games we would play, and some were tricks we would play on people. I remember the first day Ronnie went to school and we were so excited to talk to him and see what he had learned at school. He was digging a large hole in the ground by a big oak tree and I asked him what he learned that day. He said they taught him how to dig a hole to China. Oh, I couldn't wait to go to school. Now Mike Matheny had different views of school, for some reason he hated it. He was my age and we were in first grade together, but different school rooms. He had run away from school, and he got home before his mother did. So to keep him in school, he was put in the same room I was in, and of course I loved that, because he was like a brother to me. We all loved to play. Our bikes were our pride and joy, but we did have a lot of injuries. I got the breath knocked out of me one day when I wrecked in gravels and the handlebar hit me in the stomach. I didn't know what was happening to me and I thought I was dying. But the worst wreck of all happened to Mike Matheny. You see, there was a steep hill going down from High Street, guess that is why they called it High Street. Well, he decided to ride his bike down the hill, none of us would ever attempt that, but he was always a dare devil and brave. Not long after the attempt, I saw him coming, pushing his bike and the handlebars were all bent. He was bleeding, and for the first time, I saw Mike cry.

Our most loved game was Kick the Can. On very special occasions Tom McAlpin, who was a lot older than us, always would come in and save us by kicking the can. Sometimes he even crawled on the roof of the houses so he could see when was the right time to come save us. We hated to have to stop and go in for supper. I remember rushing to eat as fast as I could, and all I really wanted was a big cold glass of milk. We had many injuries in that game because it was dark as could be behind our houses where we would run to hide. Some of the accidents that happened were hanging yourself on the clothes line, stepping on a rake and it would come up and hit you in the head, and at least once or twice, we would run into each other.


Left to right are Barbara, Chipper and Suzanne Stephens, ages 5, 7, and 9 years old.  Suzanne has on what she referred to as an "Indian dress" that she got as a hand-me-down from Delores Frazier Turnbull.  She is also wearing Indian moccasins.  Chipper is in his Cub Scout uniform.  This picture was made around the time Barbara came home one day to tell her mother, "I hitted Freddie Veal with a hammer, and I'm glad I did!"



Life was so easy then. I remember one day I missed school because I was sick. That day, my mother had to run an errand. Our next door neighbors were Fred and Mattie Lee White, and their daughters Faye and Freida, and a son, Freddie. Mrs. White sewed a lot, and her sewing machine was right at the window across from my bedroom. Mother told me if a needed anything to just go to the window and Mrs. White would come see what I needed. Well before long wondered if she would really be there so I peeped out the window so I could see her and before you know it she came running over to see if I was alright. I was embarrassed, but she did look out for me.

Linda Gail Greer lived a few houses down and she was in high school and boys and girls looked up to her. She was so beautiful, and was a cheerleader. But the thing I remember the most about Linda is that her mother worked and Linda stayed home and did her chores. She was very dependable and her mother was proud of her daughter.

My brother Chipper was one and half years younger than me and he was like Mike Matheny, not afraid to do anything, even if he was told not too. The big thing he did that was against the rules was to ride his bike on Main Street. We would beg to walk to Church Street Grocery so we could get a carton of cokes, but that carton would get so heavy, our hands felt like they were going to fall off. But I can say that one Coke a day was a great reward.

We were the first to get a small black and white t.v. and I remember all the kids would come over and we would all sit and watch" Lights Out" and be scared to death. Of course Hop-a-Long Cassidy and Howdy Doody were our favorite shows. One of the saddest memories was the night my mother was calling out grades to my Daddy who was a history teacher at Livingston Academy and he was recording them in his grade book when she screamed out that she was flames shooting up it the sky and it looked like it might be the high school. Turned out it was the gym that burned to the ground that night. I was sad because mother told me Elmo Swallows who was the basketball coach had all his Christmas toys in the gym I think it was bikes for his boys. That was a sad night in Livingston. Diane, Michael, and Rita Stephens, my cousins, lived there was a while too and we all had so much fun. Their mother, Mary Jean, made me and my sister, Barbara, little bloomer shorts with little ruffles on the back. She and my mother took us also on the Mother 's March of Dimes, and we got to knock on doors in the neighborhood to ask for donations to help fight polio. In that small way, we were a part of trying to find a cure, or at least I like to think so, especially since Betty Bradford lost her life to polio. She was a young girl who a lot of people knew in Livingston, her mother was a sister to Anna Eley. Well, I can say one thing about High Street, it was a wonderful life experience to live so near so many children and they do become like your family. To this day I love them all and I do think of them often. You know, if heaven is anything like High Street as a child, we are all going to have a lot fun for eternity with all our friends.


Barbara Stephens Buckner poses in her ruffled shorts made by her Aunt Mary Jean Stephens.