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Dycusburg-area Anecdotes
By Mary Lou Griffin
  • Dycusburg Pace Slow, But Wonderful
  • Christmas Eve at the Dycusburg City Hall
  • Rueben the Slave Was an Important Soul
  • Uncle Tom and Maw
  • Aunt Zemrhu Was a Natural Teacher

    by Roger Linzy
  • February 1937 Flood

    Dycusburg Pace Slow, But Wonderful

    Written by Mary Lou (Ramage) Griffin, March 1969

    Dycusburg is the most colorful town one could imagine, I guess it is typical of all small towns, but I can hardly agree. It is a river town and once in a by gone era was a thriving, glamorous town typical of river towns. Once it boasted hotels, tobacco warehouses, saloons and all the colorful people that traveled by paddle wheel boats.

    As all river towns had, it gained a rough reputation because of all sorts of people landing here. Now it is a sleepy little village where a river boat coming by is a source of interest. It never fails to fascinate me when a boat as coming by and I always pause to admire it as so many other people in our little town. I find myself being amused because the reputation that still hangs on.

    These people in this town are the finest most heart warming that you could find and I know most of them like the back of my hand. I have lived in the city and those who are city dwellers miss a rich experience, when they cannot live in a small town. There are so many people I want to tell you about, maybe you would not find them interesting, but I find them completely fascinating. Dycusburg is infamous for having no law, and by that, of course, I mean no sheriff. We manage to take care of our own, in this so-called "no manís land." And never a more law-abiding bunch of citizens would you want to find.

    The pace is slow, but that is wonderful, if you just want to sit on a stump and contemplate, watch a jaybird build a nest or just look up at the sky you do not feel ridiculous. I find it a heartwarming thing to walk out in the back yard early in the morning, especially in the summer, and just look at the trees, and listen to the birds, and occasionally a rabbit comes to nibble the clover back there. A person has missed much if he or she cannot enjoy the skyline at sunset. Did you ever take a fishing pole with a cork and just sit on the bank and relax? Try it sometime. The worms are a bit squirmy, but the overall thing is worth it, and if you get a biteĖthatís an extra bonus.

    The river flows right by, and you can sit on the bank and hear the music from the restaurant, and people talking on the store porch. The town consists of one store, one post office and one restaurant and grocery combined. Excitement is a thing that is craved because of the quiet. Sometimes we have too much on a Saturday night, when some young buck is a little more under the way, the expression, meaning, he has imbibed a little too much and wants to prove he is a man, meaning of course, he is very unsure, so he picks a fight or tries to.

    You donít have to walk in a hurry in Dycusburg, you can amble along at your own pace. To be unusual, you could walk fast, that would create comment because maybe something is wrong or something has happened which needs to be made known.

    Somewhere in the vicinity, ambles an older man in high black overalls and rolling a Bull-Durham cigarette. Heís just part of the colorful scenery.

    If you need a place to get away from the hustle and bustle I strongly recommend our little town. Come and see for yourself. I like itĖyou might too.

    Christmas Eve at the Dycusburg City Hall

    Written by Mary Lou (Ramage) Griffin, March 1969

    I remember Christmas Eve at the city hall. The city hall was comprised of a two story building, long and narrow. I remember the curtain, I thought it was extraordinary. It had advertisements painted all over it and it the very center was a picture of a very beautiful lady, or so I thought. The wooden benches were all carved all over with initials because, as I guess I need not tell you, everyone wants to be recognized, even if it is only initials carved on a bench.

    It was a place of glamour, where all exciting things happened and most of all it was the Christmas tree, and what could be greater than that to a small child? Upstairs was the Masonís Lodge Hall, where mysterious, strange things went on to make you wonder. I was always told in that forbidden upstairs, was a bucking billy goat that you had to ride if you entertained ideas of climbing the stairs and investigating. The city hall was truly a place of enchantment.

    I can see it now in my mindís eye. The tall cedar tree reaching to the high ceiling, decorated with the strings of red berries and popcorn and any other thing that would ornament the tree. There it stood in all its shining glory. Santa Claus always showed up there, magnificent in his red suit, white beard, and to my child eyes strangely false. On this particular Christmas Eve, I did so hope Santa would remember me, but as I searched my heart, I just wasnít too sure I had been good enough. Had I done something wrong that I did not realize? I had been told confidentially by some others that if you were bad, Santa would only bring a bundle of switches. As I sat in the hall with Mom and Dad among all the other people, you could feel the excitement in the air, and with a program where all the children participated and being ever so nervous because you thought just maybe you would forget, and as you stood before all the people it was no small thing to hold an audience with what you said.

    The audience was comprised of friends and neighbors, kindly and well meaning and naturally they would have approved. Then at last the highest point in the evening there came Santa Claus bursting through the door with his, "Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas everyone!" All can share with me this feeling, and the magic time came when my name was called, and Santaís voice sounded so familiar. I had heard it almost every day, but I pushed the thought away, and went to receive the gift because to question at the time might meant that I would get a bundle of switches, and I wanted a present. I walked up the aisle and in my hand was a package. At last I had gotten it. It was a ball and jacks, what more could delight a small childís heart?

    After all the gifts were given out and Santa had departed in his sleigh, all went home, tired from the excitement. With a bag of candy from the church clutched in my hand, I was home again.

    As I was getting ready for bed Uncle Freeman came in and started talking and then it struck me: He was Santa Claus! I could not resist saying to him, "Your voice sounded just like Santaís and I am sure you were him." This brought a great deal of laughter from the older people, but I never questioned farther. I had no need to. Growing up is a thing we must all do, and that was part of it that fabulous night.

    Rueben the Slave Was an Important Soul

    Written by Mary Lou (Ramage) Griffin, March 1969

    This is the sketchy story of Rueben, my grandfatherís servant, faithful in all things. Rueben as a boy belonged to a doctor in another town, and as was the custom for house servants, slaves that is, Rueben was castrated to keep him at home, without manly desires. But before I go on with this story, of course, you know that, my father and uncle related these things to me.

    Grandpa bought Rueben as a young boy or contracted for him and Rueben came and stayed with him. My dad was a boy of six when his mother died and Rueben was the one who raised him, with all the kindness and wisdom of his uneducated heart. This man saw that my dad and his two brothers were in bed at night, and fed them and mothered them when they were afraid at night. As these three boys grew larger they were expected to work and expected to fall out early, and when they were called, if they didnít rise immediately, Rueben would come and say, "Boys, if you all better get up, your pappy is coming with the buggy whip," and if they didnít get up they would be soundly whipped with it. My dad said one morning his older brother rolled up in the cover and he was the one who really got it laid on him but getting back to Rueben: he had a desire occasionally to be with his own kind and would ask for a little time off to go where they lived, and that was only once.

    Grandpa bought him a new suit with spats and gold colored buttons on his coat. He had a strange aversion to paper money, and would accept only coins. Grandpa gave him a ten dollar bill and he threw it down and said it wasnít any good. You see, Rueben could not read, but he knew money when it was in coins. To pacify Rueben, they changed the bill into all silver, and he left happy as a lark to stay a week. Two days later, Rueben came walking in, clothes in disarray. He had been cleaned in a crap game, and he didnít even have money to ride the train back home.

    His usual pay every week was 50 cents in coins, that was all that was required to make him happy. Rueben had a magic touch with the violin and played for his own amusement every night and to my dad, that was the way he went to sleep every night, to the sound of Ruebenís violin.

    Rueben played an important part in the lives of three motherless boys, for without him, they would have had very little care. Besides taking care of three boys Rueben did whatever work there was to do on the farm or at the house in town. If you read this, does it make you wonder what went on in the heart of this Black man, robbed of manhood, yet walked with uprightness, with love and decency for three small boys without a mother? Incidentally, Grandpa, as I understand was a lover, and spent a great deal of time away from home.

    To me this man threw a big shadow, a humble ignoble, neglected human, most of the time, grateful for small favors. Rueben has been dead a long time, but this is my salute to "Rueben the Black."

    Uncle Tom and Maw

    Written by Mary Lou (Ramage) Griffin, March 1969

    This is a continuance of people I have known, in Dycusburg who have been gone for a long time, and itís only the recollections or impressions I had as a child. I want to tell you about Uncle Tom Hays and Maw, his wife. They came down the river, the Tennessee, I think, and meandered up the Cumberland until they landed their houseboat at this little town. Uncle Tom and Way came originally from the mountains of Tennessee and no one knows what caused them to leave the mountains, or what they left behind, and no one will ever know, because they are both dead and gone, buried in the cemetery, leaving no children. I wish I could have really known them better, but this is my impression from a childís viewpoint.

    Uncle Tom and Maw lived on their houseboat for a while, but the Cumberland is a wicked lady, unpredictable and her current is swift and unstable. Keeping a houseboat moored and out of the mud or loose in the swift water was an still would be quite a job. Anyway, Uncle Tom and Maw moved in a shack, on the back street road, as was commonly called then and still is. Uncle Tom had a great fondness for anything of alcoholic content, and he was sure to get gloriously drunk every chance he got. Maw had an aversion to drinking, so when Uncle Tom got on one and started home, two or three of us kids would follow and stay well out of range when he hit the house. This is because Maw would give him a whipping with stitches every time, and we always had a safe place to watch, somewhere away up the back street. Uncle Tom would cry and say, "Wa, wa, Maw, what you want to hit me for?" As I have stated previously, in the era I grew up in we wanted a little excitement, and the event of Uncle Tom getting a whipping was always good for a change of pace.

    Uncle Tom fished the river with nets and trapped. He was a natural when it came to knowing where to place his nets, and coming from the mountains, I always wondered how he took to the river as natural as a duck. He had the tall lean look of a mountaineer, not handsome, almost sort of nondescript, you might say, and now that I lack back, to some people an object of ridicule. The boys would torment him when he was drunk, catch him starting out on the river in his boat and throw rocks at him, and he would cuss them with a rich vocabulary that was an education in and of itself.

    I remember him in another light because right up the hill from where he lived, called Hickory Nut Hill, he gathered them and when I walked up to him once, he took of his cap and rained hickory nuts on the ground. I thought that was marvelous and I always had the impression that there were always hickory nuts under his hat.

    Now Maw was another thing, I had the distinct impression that she was a witch, and very seldom would I venture into their house, because it took all the courage I could muster. The thing that stands out in my memory about that shack was the smell, like tobacco or herbs drying. For some reason I still cannot identify it. I smile to myself sometimes now to think I thought Maw was a witch. She was just a care worn old lady, drawn over from working too hard. She was decent, kind and gentle as most people can be.

    The walls of their house were covered with newspaper and calendars and I have never seen anything quite like it. It was certainly different. It was a dark closed-in looking place with strings of pepper hanging from the ceiling. They were of little consequence in the neighborhood, and class distinction was very prevalent when I was growing up. When Uncle Tom died and they were going to have his funeral at the church, Maw was of so little consequence that the undertaker brought Uncle Tomís body but had to be sent back from the church because he had forgot Maw. I find that quite ironic in this world of human so-called-beings. We as humans are sadly lacking at times, donít you agree?

    Aunt Zemrhu Was a Natural Teacher

    Written by Mary Lou (Ramage) Griffin, March 1969

    Aunt Zemrhu was a remarkable woman, and the mother of my three cousins. Donít you think Zemhru is quite an unusual name? This womanís name fitted her exactly. She was of Indian descent, with the true facial features of her people, and from my then-childís eyes, a beautifully different person. She had a calm serenity or tranquility that most people lack. She was always looking into far horizons, and I loved her. She was a gentle loving soul, a remarkable patient and truly good person. I had a tremendous respect for her.

    I loved her blackberry cobbler dearly. In blackberry season, she would take a whole scud of younguns with her to an old farm where blackberry bushes grew in profusion. Frankly, I wasnít much of a berry picker. I got more chiggers, scratches and sunburn and the sun always made me sick, so I would wind up in the shad and everybody else filled their buckets and helped me with mine, but this is tangential.

    Aunt Zemrhu was a quaintly old fashioned lady, with very definite ideas of right and wrong. In all the years I knew her, I never heard her utter an unkind thing about anyone, and living in a town of one hundred people, they all seem like one big family, and you are more prone to be meshed with everyone elseís lives. Privacy is a thing that just couldnít be, and what was supposed to be a private person thing in any family just couldnít be either. You might say everything was one big secret, because the whole town knew any scandal or anything out of the ordinary in five minutes, because scandal, like a preacher running off with a woman or any other thing out of the ordinary spread like wild fire in five minutes, and the longer it went, the more fantastic and colorful it got. I still live hereĖand itís still the same.

    Aunt Zemrhu was unusual, a rare individual who minded her own business. She had a common love for dogs, cats and kids. Her life was not easy, as most people never worked quite as hard as she did. She had a magic quality about her, which fascinated me. She knew every wild flower, tree and wild green. I only wish I could be so knowledgeable. I remember the fascination of the sweet gum tree she pointed out to us on the trip of a blackberry pick. If I remember it right, we chewed the resin of this tree. It had a weird taste, but to me it was wonderful.

    She was a natural teacher, I guess you might say, on nature, learned the natural way. She did quilt work, with beautiful stitching, which was wonderful art. She did this with painstaking exactness, but like I said, patience was one of her virtues. When anyone disagreed with what she thought, she met this with passive resistance, and drew herself up with a lofty dignity and disdain, that you knew full well you had stuck your foot in it. She always made me envision times of the natural Indian, perhaps the Indian wedding dance, tomahawks and Indian beads, the charm of an open fire at night, tee-pees and papooses strapped to the backs of mothers. This would come as a surprise to her if she were alive that anyone thought of her in any way more than ordinary. To me she was not ordinary ó she stands out as one more different individual I have known, and to me, those who did not know her missed something.

    February 1937 Flood

    By Roger Linzy

    With the advent of the weekend Dycusburg and Crittenden County found themselves digging out of the snow and ice that marked the worst blizzard for the winter. A deluge of Thursday and until early Friday morning-hours brought in its wake cold and biting weather. Sleet fell practically all day Saturday bringing automobile traffic to a minimum and horses and mules could hardly maintain their footing.

    Highway and mail traffic was at a standstill, no mail arriving. Flood warnings were being sounded throughout the entire Ohio valley. Flood waters reached devastating proportions. Especially is this true in and around Tolu, Dycusburg and the small inland town of Tiline. Suffering materialized from Dycusburg and Tiline. In Dycusburg refugees took cover wherever the same was offered as likewise did they in Tiline, most of the residents were given shelter in the homes of relatives and friends.

    In all parts of the flood-stricken community, no communications existed between Marion and Paducah, all busses and trucks being stopped at Burna because of flooded conditions existing between there and the Cumberland river bridge. All railway traffic was paralyzed, being placed on sidings. All means of truck freight facilities were waterlocked at Paducah and Sturgis.

    Cattle and stock were drowned by the score, having no chance whatsover to reach points of safety. Mr. Gus Graves owned the ferry at Dycusburg and allowed my father and three other men he thought to be experienced river men take the ferry barge and equipment across to the Tiline area and help farmers ferry cattle and other livestock to high ground. They worked several days and nights rescuing their animals. You could take a motor boat and travel from Dycusburg to Tiline by the road.

    Marion was kept in touch with the outside world through the individual efforts of Lyle Winn, operator and owner of the radio station 9JEG and to this gentleman we cannot give too much credit ó he remained at his post of duty for many trying hours relaying telephone messages to him by broadcasting that reached their destination that would not have otherwise done so.

    The Cumberland river had surpassed by about four feet the 1913 crest ó the highest ever known for this river. On the Ohio, from Elizabethtown, Ky., downward there were reports of suffering and many driven from their home. Louisville and Paducah apparently the most severely damaged due to the fact that the flood came in mid-winter. In one particular case individual truck operators and owners made a trip to Dycusburg over the most hazardous roads to meet a boat load of refugees that failed to appear. Towns up and down stream from Dycusburg were inundated by swollen creeks and the Cumberland River.

    I was fifteen years old at this time and stayed at the river helping the merchants move their merchandise to safety and helped residents move out of floodwaters too. My cousin, Don Manus, traveled from Mexico, Ky. to Dycusburg down the road on ice skates and also helped in the evacuation from the floodwaters.