The Mahan Family of Putnam County, TN
|Ideas for stories come to me in many ways,
but this one came about when I
was introduced to Janice (Mahan) Cochran. For the past three years,
Janice and her husband, Richard Cochran, have made their home in the
Cornerstone Subdivision of Allons overlooking Mitchell Creek. After
Janice and I were introduced, and later as we were talking, I learned she
was from a family of fourteen (14) children. I immediately thought to
myself that hearing about how she and her siblings grew up would be a
wonderful story. One early summer afternoon, Janice, three of her
sisters, Reba, Ann, and Frances, and myself all sat down to look back at
their home life and their growing up years. Not only did we have a great
time sharing those memories, but at the same time, we enjoyed the
fantastic view from Janice and Richard's home high atop the hills
overlooking Mitchell Creek.
The Mahan family story begins as Hattie (maiden name Spears) of White
County, Tennessee, attends church at Ellers Ridge school house and a young
man named Clarence Mahan comes in and sits down by her. Earlier Clarence
had asked someone who she was, and that is how their friendship and later
their marriage came about. Hattie laughingly told family members she
liked how Clarence's cousin looked that sat down with him that day in
church really better than she liked Clarence's looks. She later wrote in
her family history notes that she thought Clarence looked like a freckled
face kid. Both Hattie and Clarence were quite young when they met for the
first time, but by the age of almost twenty, they were married. After
they began their married life, Clarence and Hattie lived for a while with
his parents, but when Clarence bought a saw mill, they began to move to
different locations in order for him to be near timber tracts that were
being logged. Once during the time he owned the saw mill, he built a
small home for his family to live in while sawing up a tract of timber.
But each spring, the Mahans would return to Clarence's parents' home to
help with the raising of a garden and the growing of crops. With the
beginning of World War II, Clarence had to sell the mill due to the fact
that he had no work hands since most men in the area were away in service.
Over the next eleven years, ten Mahan children came along, five boys, and
nine girls. The children's names in the order of their births are:
Lorene, Reba, Christine, Cleamon, Ruby, Jo, Alfred, Clarence Garrett, Jr.,
Keith, Robert, Ann, Frances, Janice, and Judy. After the passing of
Clarence's father in 1935, the family stayed on at the home place to take
care of Clarence's mother. In the early 1940's, Clarence took a job with Farris Lumber Company in Algood.
photograph of the Clarence and Hattie Mahan family. Back row, Ruby; Jo;
Reba; Lorene; Alfred; Christine; Clarence G., Jr.; Keith; and Robert.
Front row: Ann; Frances; Janice; Clarence; Hattie; Judy (on Hattie's
lap); and Cleamon.
|The Mahan home was in Putnam County in a
community called Twin Oak that's near the area of the Cookeville Boat
Dock. Upon entering the front door, four rooms were divided by a wide
hallway. On one side of the hall was
the room everyone called "Grandma's room," and the next to it was the room
everyone called "Mama's room." A double fireplace had been built between
these two rooms, one in Grandma's room, and the other in Mama's room. A
parlor and a kitchen was on the other side of the hallway. Later, a new
kitchen and dining room was added and ran across the entire length at the
back of the house. Upstairs, there were two large bedrooms with as many as three beds per room.
All fourteen children attended the same school their father had also gone
to. It was a two room building called Twin Oak school where grades first
through eight were taught. Like most country schools during that time
period, it had what was called a Little Room for the lower grades, and a
Big Room for the upper grades.
Washing for the family was done on a rub board with the water heated in a
large iron kettle over a fire in the yard. Lye soap was used to wash the
clothes. Reba referred to herself as an "inside person" meaning she spent
a lot of time doing chores inside while some of the other children helped
with work outside. She said she did a lot of ironing for the family using
a flat iron that was heated on the wood cook stove. Reba, along with the
rest of the older children, helped with the care of the younger children .
The Mahan home had no electricity until around the mid 1940's, and when
the day did come that electricity was hooked up in their house, the first
thing Hattie got was an electric washing machine. Next came a
refrigerator and later an electric stove. Another item that was added to
the appliances in the Mahan home was an electric churn. Water for
household came from a nearby well, but after electricity was added, water
was run from the well into the kitchen only. The luxury of an indoor
bathroom was not one the Mahan family ever experienced.
Hattie did most of the cooking for the family, but she never used a recipe
book. The girls helped out by getting the vegetables ready to be cooked.
One of Hattie's specialities was a type of sweet bread she made. This was
often used as a dessert for the family.
Having such a large family meant raising a garden was not only necessary,
but required nearly an acre for just the vegetables alone. This did not
include the place for a big potato crop, both sweet and Irish, that were
raised by the bushels. Large fields of corn were also planted. Hattie
always dried lots of apples she would later use for what one of the girls
described as the best fried apple pies in the world. The Mahan family
also had a big orchard with apple and peach trees, along with a grape
arbor and a plum thicket. Hattie always canned green beans and sour kraut
in half-gallon jars. About the only thing she used pint jars for would be
jams, jellies and preserves. Chickens and hogs were raised to supply meat
for the family, and cows provided their milk. A rolling store (or
peddler) came around a couple of times a week to sell staples, and often
Hattie would trade eggs or chickens for what she needed.
The children's Grandma Mahan did most of the sewing while they were
growing up on a treadle Singer sewing machine. She never used a pattern,
but when asked to make a dress similar to one shown in a catalogue, that
was never a problem. Dresses for the girls would sometimes be made from
feed and flour sacks. Shirts were sewn for the boys as well as pants
while they were still small. Many of the girls never owned a store bought
dress until they started high school. During the winter months, Hattie
made use of her time by quilting. She taught all the girls at a very
young age how to quilt, and it's something most of them still enjoy doing.
During the summer of 1957, some of the Mahan children attended Vacation
Bible school at the Nash Grove Baptist Church. One of the craft projects
the girls worked on during Bible school was embroidering their name on a
quilt square that was later pieced and quilted by the ladies of the
church. After it was completed, the quilt was auctioned off and Jo and
her husband ended up buying it. Later the quilt was passed on to Frances
who still has it.
Janice, Reba, Ann, and Frances all agreed that their mother was always a
very happy person. She never looked at the job of raising fourteen
children and all that it required as drudgery work. Something she always
did with whatever chore she was undertaking was to sing. This is
something she has passed on to most of her daughters as well. Many of
them sing while doing housework or when they're busy with quilting or
doing other jobs around the house.
One of the very favorite memories shared with me that afternoon was about
a time before the family had electricity. On Sunday nights, the entire
family would gather in Grandma's room. On these special nights, Grandma
would read scriptures aloud by the light from a coal oil lamp, and then
all the family would all sing together. Hattie and Clarence both had
beautiful singing voices, but their Grandma could outdo everyone by
singing anything ... bass, tenor, alto, or soprano. As the daughters
shared this memory with me, I could just visualize the entire family of
fourteen children, along with their parents and Grandma, gathered in
Grandma's bedroom all sitting around, some of the floor, some of Grandma's
bed, reading the Bible and then singing. What a wonderful memory to carry
through life! Music is something most of the family still enjoy. Alfred
ordered his first fiddle from Sears and Roebuck and taught himself how to
play. He has been a member of a band and still plays two or three times a
week. Keith plays both guitar and mandolin. The love of music continues
on in several grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
During the winter months, popping pop corn over the open fire in the
fireplace was enjoyed. Making taffy candy in the kitchen was another fun
time too. Playing jacks was one of the games the kids liked to do. Every
year when it was time for school to start, each child got a new pair of
shoes. Sunday shoes was always reserved for Sunday only and never worn
any other time. The new shoes for school would usually be bought by
Clarence at Jenkins and Darwin Department store in Cookeville.
It was in the hallway of the Mahan home that their cedar Christmas tree
stood every December. The children always selected a tree that completely
filled the space in the hall. The hallway itself would also decorated
with roping and tinsel. Small bell ornaments and later bubble lights
would be placed on the tree. Clarence always bought crates of apples,
oranges, and a whole stalk of bananas. Hattie made lots of candy, special
cakes and pies for the holiday season. Gifts the Mahan girls got would
sometimes be small porcelain dolls, tiny tea sets, or paper dolls, while
the boys gifts would include cap guns and holsters or marbles. One year,
the younger children got a tricycle that was ridden up and down the hall,
even by some of the children too big to ride other than standing on the
back of the tricycle. Stockings were hung on the mantle and each one
would contain fruit, candy, nuts and sometimes peppermint sticks.
Both Clarence and Hattie had no major illness during their lives. Even at
age 75, Clarence continued to work as a lumber grader. In her 70's,
Hattie always kept the cookie jar filled for visiting grandchildren.
Clarence died at age 89, and Hattie lived until age 92. Both had good
minds throughout their later years. Until March of 2007, there was a
total of 182 direct descendants of the Clarence and Hattie Mahan family.
The first of their children to die was Cleamon who passed away in March of
2007, and a daughter, Christine, died the following June. The Mahans have
a family reunion every other year, and usually it was held at the Twin Oak
school that is now a community center. It can no longer accommodate the
large number who attend. In spite of the fact there were fourteen
children, everyone agreed that there were never any major arguments or
disputes that took place between them while they were children. The
biggest arguments were always over was which of the kids would wash the
dishes and which ones would dry them. The family was always very close
knit and remain so even today. Ann summed up the conclusion to the Mahan
family story by saying "It was a nice time." I certainly agree, and I'm
very happy to have had the opportunity to share just a few of their