Life on the farm for the young Key family
by Bobbye Wilson Wade
Mar 10, 2013 | 1371 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Editor's note: Walking Back In Time is a column from the Walker County Genealogical Society, Inc. It appears each Sunday in the Lifestyles section of the Daily Mountain Eagle.


Arles and Irene Key settled down on the farm after Grandma Key died. Once Grandpa Key took Ken to steal some watermelons. He will never forget that experience.

They were in the watermelon patch picking out a couple of melons when they heard the owner coming. They picked a couple of melons and headed back through the woods.

Later the same day, Grandpa said he knew of another watermelon patch.

“We started out walking through the woods to get some more melons, but this time we got tired and returned home,” Ken said.

 Grandpa Key and Ken spent many days and evenings together sitting on the front porch talking about nature, watching the sun set in the evenings and watching the moon rise up from the east.

Ken will always remember his Grandpa Key as a very gentle and kind person:

“He always chewed tobacco and was always trying to get me to try some. Dad was very much like Grandpa Key. He was always laughing and joking with people.

Irene was always cooking Grandpa Key one of his favorite foods for breakfast, which was salmon and eggs.

Grandpa Key did not have any teeth. Irene would whip up a batch of biscuits and not even make a mess. She was very good at sewing and spent many hours making quilts and dresses.

Irene could do most anything from shooting a rifle to doing carpentry work. Since Irene was a twin at birth, she always felt that these desires may have come from the twin brother's genes. Grandpa Woods, Irene's father, always carried her with him on hunting  and fishing trips. She would scare the squirrels out of their nests so Grandpa  Woods could shoot them.

Grandpa Key moved to Kennedy to live with his daughter, Mrs. Sam (Ruth) Johnson. Arles said that they often made trips to Kennedy to visit with Grandpa Key, Ruth and Sam Johnson. He did not own a car until late 1952, so he would hire someone to drive them to Kennedy.

Ken said, “Ruth and Sam lived in an old farm house located on a narrow, rough, dirt road just south of Kennedy. On one of our visits, the car got stuck in the mud on the road between Kennedy and their house.

“Sam had to rescue us with a mule and wagon. Sam died in 1956, and Ruth married William Jones in 1961. Ruth died in 1990.

“We built our first house in the early 1940's, next to Grandpa Key's house. At first, the house only had six rooms and later two additional rooms were added.

“We had a wooden ice box on the back porch, and the ice man would deliver a block of ice on a regular basis. Irene cooked our meals on a wood burning stove, which was manufactured by Qualified Range Co., Inc. in Ohio. The house had two small coal burning fireplaces.

“Sometimes, during the winter months, the temperature inside the house would drop below freezing and the buckets in the kitchen would freeze. We would have to thaw out the frozen water on the wood burning stove while breakfast was cooking. Irene cooked on the wood burning stove until about 1955. Not having indoor plumbing was very inconvenient.

“In the winter time, our house would get very cold, and once we made a warm spot in the bed, we didn't dare move until morning. The ones who got to sleep on the feather mattress were especially lucky. The two girls shared a bed, and the two boys shared a bed. This also added extra warmth that was very much needed. Irene would heat black irons, wrap them in cloth, and put them at the children's feet on the cold winter nights.

“The house would get extremely hot in the summer. Old paper fans were used to help stay cool. The fans were made available by hardware stores, furniture stores and funeral homes. We often fell asleep with a fan in one hand. In the summer, the house was cooled by opening the doors and windows and hoping for a cool gust of wind.

“Electrical service was installed in the house on August 7, 1944. The telephone was installed November 8, 1951 at a cost of $4.75. There were no indoor bath facilities in our house until 1962.”

 Later installments of the Keys’ life will be written in Ken Key's voice as he tells the story of growing up in rural Walker County, Alabama.