Connecting With History – Olive Grace Redd

July 2, 2008

When I moved to Roswell in 1977, both Roswell and Alpharetta were sleepy little towns sitting along a two-lane road known as U.S. Highway 19. Things have certainly changed since then, but they’ve changed even more over the last ninety-five. Just ask Olive Redd.

Olive was born on May 3, 1913 in a farmhouse about four miles north of Alpharetta. When I asked Olive for the exact address of her homestead I was informed that they didn’t worry about such things back then. Their farm was three hills, two streams, and a couple of big rocks from town.

With the help of Olive’s niece, Betsy Hopkins, the folks at the Alpharetta Welcome Center, and Ruth Wills I was able to locate what was probably the old Redd farm – just south of the Hopewell Baptist Church. Ruth Wills, by the way, is an eighty-four year old lady who still lives on the farm in Alpharetta where she was born. We’ll save her story for a future issue.

Olive was the fifth and last child born on that farm. She had three brothers and one sister. That sister was so mad when Olive was born that she packed a bag and ran away. She didn’t go far and she didn’t stay away for long. She just let people know she was displeased. Fortunately, she soon got over her anger.

The middle boy died at the age of one or two, but all the other siblings survived to adulthood. Her oldest brother, Lloyd, lived to be ninety-five.

Growing up on a working farm, all of the children were expected to help. That meant plowing the fields using two mules, planting the seeds, hoeing the weeds, and harvesting the crops. Then came the chore of canning much of the produce to help them survive the winter months.

Olive’s father grew cotton as the main cash crop but also grew a wide variety of other things to keep the family well fed. Wheat, corn, oats, peas, beans, okra, tomatoes and other vegetables were a big part of the family diet. As with most farm families, this diet was supplemented with chickens and eggs. They got milk from the two cows they always had around, and meat from the two hogs they slaughtered each year.

Other necessities – clothing, tools, and the like – could be purchased from Charlie Haygood’s store in “downtown” Alpharetta.

In many ways, the Redd family was totally self-sufficient. There are few families that could make such a claim today. With our modern conveniences, it’s easy to overlook the hardships that farm families endured during Olive’s youth.

For most of us, the idea of using an outhouse is something to be endured during a concert, camping trip, or picnic. None of us would want to use a portable toilet any more than was absolutely necessary, yet today’s portable devices are probably much more comfortable than the splintery seats of the “good old” days.

The significance of indoor plumbing of any sort can’t be underestimated. When Olive was a child, water had to be drawn from the well and carried into the house in buckets. The only hot water came as a result of heating large pots of water on the wood-burning stove.

The electrification of rural Georgia was still some years away when Olive graduated from high school in 1931. She didn’t even have a telephone for her friends and relatives to call and congratulate her for being number one in her class of eighteen.

All of the children attended school. Their elementary education was completed at the Summit School, which was within walking distance (two or three miles) of their farm. For high school, they had to hitch one of the mules to the buggy and travel to Milton County High School on Milton Avenue.

Olive’s mother died while Olive was still young, so her father had to be both mother and father to the four children. When I asked Olive if she ever got into any mischief as a child she told me that her father once almost killed a bush because he cut so many switches from it. She didn’t elaborate as to which of the children was being disciplined.

I asked Olive if they had any favorite games they played as children. The only game she could remember was “Drop the handkerchief”. Her eyes sparkled as she tried to explain the rules to me. I then asked if they had a favorite swimming hole. “Our entire farm was a swimming hole when the rains came!” was her reply. I guess there were some years when they could swim more than others.

Shortly after her high school graduation, Olive moved to Buckhead and got a job as a secretary/bookkeeper for a Mr. John R. Snelling. While she was still a very young woman she was hit by a car on Spring Street. He leg got caught in the streetcar track, which made the injury far worse. She lost the leg, but not her spirit.

She spent the next sixty years or so in Buckhead and worked as a stenographer, secretary, or bookkeeper for a number of small companies. All that time, she remained active with her church and maintained contact with her friends in Alpharetta.

Olive now lives in a group home in Roswell and is proud of the fact that she has read the Bible from cover to cover eight times. She says, “Growing up on a farm was a hard life, but I don’t regret one minute of it. I’d gladly do it again. It made me right strong!”

I’d like to thank Jackie Searl, a volunteer with Happy Tails, for telling me about this delightful woman. By the way, Happy Tails is a group that takes dogs and cats to visit elderly shut-ins.