Great Granddaddy Honeycutt and Teddy Roosevelt
Children, I haven’t ever been on what you might call speakin’ terms with any presidents. But I have seen four or five of them from pretty near, and I want to tell you that they ain’t nothing special. They have to get out of bed in the mornin’ and pull on their pants one leg at a time just like every other man in Creation. There is the story, however, about my Great Granddaddy Honeycutt looking Teddy Roosevelt straight in the eye. I know it is true because my grandmother, your great grandmother, told it, and for her lying was as big a sin as liquor or dancin’ on Sunday. I learned that lesson well with the soap.
Great Granddaddy Honeycutt went in the army in the last year of the War when he was only 16, into Hoke’s Brigade. He was in some of that fightin’ around Durham just before Joe Johnston surrendered. His brother, a year older, was killed. Great Granddaddy James carried him out of the fightin’ on his back. He found a Methodist preacher who promised to bury Great Granduncle John right and mark the place so they could come and get him later and take him home. Whether that ever happened I don’t know. Everybody lived just above starvation in those days, and Methodist ministers tend to move on pretty regular, as you no doubt are aware.
He did not wait for the Yankees to declare him officially a paroled prisoner of war, but walked home to Stanly County, which you can drive in about two hours today, with hardly anything to eat on the way. When he got there he found his other brother, age thirteen, trying to plow with one near-dead ole mule. Stoneman’s raiders had been through and taken all the stock. They were going to shoot the useless old mule, but the brother somehow talked them out of it. They also broke up the plow and the harness, but a neighbor helped put it back together. In a day or two Great Granddaddy walked into town and got a job driving wagons for an older fellow from his regiment who was setting up a freight business.
The Teddy Roosevelt business happened much later, after he had prospered a little bit and moved down east to Goldsboro. Of course nobody liked Republicans in those days. Unfortunately, the last good Democrats were Governor Wallace and Sam Ervin, but even when we went over to the Republicans with Jesse it didn’t feel too right. Anyway, Roosevelt was coming through on the train and was going to stop for an hour or two and get a friendly reception and make a little speech. I don’t know when this was. It might have been in the 1904 campaign or even the 1912 one, because Great Granddaddy lived until almost World War II.
The local big shots insisted that Great Granddaddy be on the platform with the reception committee. Neither he nor anybody else in our family has ever been a big shot, but he must have been Grand Dragon in the Masons or president of the freightman’s association, or maybe Methodist Sunday School superintendent, so they insisted on having him on the reception committee. Roosevelt was coming down the row, shaking hands with each one. Then he got to Great Granddaddy, who just kept his hand at his side. “Colonel Roosevelt,” he said, “let us spare each other, because I don’t want to shake hands with you any more than you really want to shake hands with me.” What Teddy did I was not told. If he had had any gentlemanly manners he would have said, “I understand, Sir,” and moved on. But I don’t think he had much manners, even though he had a Southern mother, and was not one to miss a challenge. However, the mayor or somebody must have moved him on along.
Aunt Veeny and the Catholics
There weren’t too many Catholics in Nor’Calina when I was a boy. Somebody said we had the least of any state. There was one big hospital in town run by the Sisters of Charity. You know, those nuns with the pretty, big white hats that look like they would fly. They were well accepted, and folks appreciated their good works. The only criticism I ever heard was from a visiting preacher from New York who said it was all a plot so they could get a foothold to take over.
Aunt Veeny, after her husband Mr. Morgan passed away and her children were almost grown, got a job as the housemother to the nursing students at the hospital, which was called St. Leo’s. How this happened I don’t know because Aunt Veeny was the most hard-core Protestant you could hope to find. But she was strong on personality, and I suppose most of the students were locals and Protestant. Anyway, she always attended the Methodist Church, and whenever the Apostles’ Creed was said she would skip the word catholic even though it did not exactly mean “Catholic.” Kind of like a lot of us Sons of Confederate Veterans leave out the word indivisible after “one nation” when we can’t avoid the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, that was the Southern Methodist Church—the real Methodist Church until they got back together with the Yankees, despite the fact that they stole our churches during the War and kept them for ten years after.
We lived not too far at all from St. Leo’s, and for a long time I sold newspapers through the hospital every morning and evening. It all went well most of the time. I marveled at the statues and the priests’ costumes at the Mass that was sometimes said at a grotto outside. Two times I saw the Mother Superior, which was quite a nerve-wracking experience, although she was nice enough if a little aloof. Once, I was called in and told politely that it was not appropriate for me to wear shorts on my rounds. (I often came direct from the tennis courts on their property, which nobody else ever used except neighborhood kids.) The other time, I made an appointment to ask permission to put in one of those racks that held newspapers. After I demonstrated the rack and how it worked, she said it was OK—in one designated location. That was a new thing in those days, and believe it or not, it was entirely honor system. You took the paper and put your nickel (dime on Sundays) in the tube on the rack. Not locked behind the plastic like these days.
Mama’s cousin Edith had a boy that everybody called Fetty. His real name was Randy. The “Fetty” had something to do with “feather,” I think, because he was born premature, and for a long time he was so little and puny that he was “light as a feather,” and it was thought probably he wouldn’t live. However, he did survive all the childhood illnesses we had in those days and grew up some. He lost his daddy early. Being fatherless and so puny for so long, of course he had to prove himself. As soon as he was 18 he joined the Marines. That was just about when the politicians were gearing us up for the Vietnam stupidity. I don’t know how long it was, but one Sunday the preacher announced that Fetty would not ever be coming home. We didn’t see much of Cousin Edith after that. She just faded out of sight.