Simmons family moves to the young Town of Andalusia in 1903

Published 12:00am Saturday, February 25, 2012

This is a continuation of the autobiographical data written by Morgan Ferdinand Simmons on his Simmons family. Appreciation is expressed to him for sharing his genealogy and history of the local area.

In 1903 the family moved into Andalusia where they occupied their newly built house at the corner of South Three Notch Street and East Watson.

This is where James Bernard (Aug. 17, 1903 – Oct. 11, 1980) and Lela Clyde (Nov. 1, 1905 – Sept. 19, 1995) were born.

After only four years the large house with a wrap-around porch (similar to the one of the current Simmons house) and many fireplaces was abandoned because the neighborhood became too crowded!

The Gunn family lived there for a time before it was expanded into the Covington County Hospital, where several members of the next generation were born and where Sister had her appendix removed and I had a tonsillectomy.

The Simmons family home at 703 South Three Notch Street was completed in the spring of 1907 and was set on 22 acres of land, which provided space for a barn, a smokehouse and quite a few acres of land for crops of cotton, corn and household vegetables.

Daughter Annalee was the first child born in this house on December 13 of that year, and it was to be her home for the next 90 years. The last of that generation, she died on July 10, 1998.

The births of Charles Ferdinand (May 17, 1910 – Nov. 3, 1990) and Jesse Donald (August 3, 1911 – August 8, 1989) brought the living children to ten. Because Charles and Donald were so close together in age, Mama Simmons held Charles back a year before starting to school, and she treated them very much like twins.

Their favorite pet was a beautiful collie named Hans.

Although Papa and Mama Simmons had almost no formal education themselves, they were determined that their children should excel in school.

At the top of their priorities was a solid education, and fortunately each of the children was intellectually gifted and could take advantage of good schooling.

By the time my father was in the eighth grade, he had taken an examination, which qualified him to teach second grade – an option, which he did not pursue.

At the time of graduation from high school in 1911, he was awarded an appointment to West Point, but Papa Simmons was opposed to his following a military career and insisted that he study law instead, a mistake of biased judgment, which I feel altered the course of Daddy’s future. A round peg, he was forced into a square hole.

Uncle Clifton, the oldest, was one of six members in the second graduating class of Andalusia High School in 1906.

The next year he began college at the University of Alabama. At the end of that year Papa asked him what he’d like to be, and Uncle Clifton replied that he didn’t know.

To that indecision Papa responded by telling him to take up a plow until he made up his mind.

In very short order he declared that he would like to be a doctor and enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans.

After Uncle Clifton graduated from medical school, Papa, who had many friends in Pensacola, set him up in practice there, a practice that would lead him to become a practitioner of great skill, President of the Florida Medical Association and one of the most beloved men in the Florida panhandle.

Following graduation from high school, Aunt Minnie May opted to stay at home to help Mama with her younger brothers and sisters.

She was the only one of the ten children who did not graduate from college. However she was an accomplished musician and taught piano in Andalusia until her marriage in 1919 to George Lindsey, a cousin of Papa Simmons.

It seemed strange to hear my aunts and uncles refer to their brother-in-law as “Cousin George.” Of course there was no blood relation.

My father graduated from high school in 1911, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, and enrolled at the University of Alabama where he graduated with a degree in law on June 2, 1915; on June 7 he was admitted to the Alabama Bar.

His distinguished college roommate was Lister Hill, later to become United States senator and one of the authors of the Hill-Burton Hospital Bill.

Another classmate of note was Julian A. Persons, the father of Truman Capote who assumed the name of his stepfather.

Daddy, who was as inventive in his cooking skills as Mama Simmons, circumvented the prohibition of hot plates in the college dorm by turning a pressing iron upside down and placing a skillet on it for cooking bacon and eggs in his room.

Uncle Eddie followed Uncle Clifton and Daddy to the University of Alabama.

Aunt Mary Alice went for a time to Flora MacDonald College in North Carolina but graduated from Women’s College (later Huntingdon) in Montgomery.

Bernard was a graduate of Auburn and Clyde and Annalee graduated from Women’s College.

Both did graduate study at Columbia University where Clyde was awarded a master’s degree. Some years later both of them spent a very memorable summer in study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Charles did undergraduate study at Southwestern College in Memphis and graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University).

He later earned a PhD in agronomy from Ohio State.

Donald took bachelors and master’s degrees from Auburn in architecture.

Because of the emphasis education and the accomplishments of her ten surviving children, Mama Simmons was named Mother-of-the-Year for the State of Alabama in 1948.

She was less than thrilled to be kissed by Governor Jim Folsom at the recognition ceremony in Montgomery.

Following graduation, Daddy opened a law practice in Elba, Ala., where he continued until the outbreak of World War I. In 1917 he entered the army and was sent to officer training school at Fort Bliss, Texas, on the edge of El Paso.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the artillery and sent to Europe where he fought in five battles.

Among other memorabilia, which I cherish is his rainbow ribbon with the five battle stars attached. At last he had found his niche.

On Aug. 25, 1918 he wrote a long letter to Judge Albritton, a close family friend in Andalusia, about some of his experiences, and it was printed in one of the local papers. Pride in his military organization is evident in the following excerpt:

My battery was cited in special orders by the commanding officer.

After praising the regiment very highly, here is what he says about “C” Battery:

“Where all, organizations and individuals, did so well, it is invidious to make comparison. Attention, however, should be invited to the fact that it fell to the lot of Battery “C” to give an example of skill, courage, and discipline worthy of emulation in the regiment through all its future. While actually engaged in firing, this bat- tery sustained a direct hit from a heavy shell that put two guns out of action and killed or wounded some 60 per cent of the gun detachment. Fire was not only NOT suspended but in about two hours the battery was ready, in a new position, to again enter the action with its remaining material. No veteran troops long war trained to losses, could possibly have done better.”

He concludes the letter by telling about the cessation of conflicts and a well-earned rest, the good French cooking which he is enjoying and the pleasures of sleeping in a big bed and “really enjoying myself.” His last sentence, “War isn’t so bad after all,” I would hope, reflects these comforts and not what had preceded them.

After the end of the war Daddy transferred his commission to the regular army and remained in Europe for a year with the occupation forces. Upon his return to Andalusia, he was employed by the Hayes Lumber Company where Mother also worked. After a couple of years at Montevallo College for Women, Mother had been employed by the Red Cross in Moss Point, Mississippi, where she boarded with the Barnett family and learned from them the secrets of seafood gumbo, a recipe that I still use and which is included in the family cookbook.

At the time of their marriage in June of 1923, Daddy was 28 (soon to be 29) and Mother was 27 (soon to be 28) – getting on toward bachelor and spinsterhood in the flapper generation.

Daddy was six feet tall with a military bearing that he was to maintain until his early death; Mother was only five-two.

His hair was already thinning, and in another three years he would be bald except for a fringe of dark brown hair.

Behind his rimless glasses were eyes that were almost black.

His deep voice leant weight to the fact that he was a person in control of himself.

Pictures from this time confirm that Mother was a beauty though she inherited the Strother and Prestwood tendency toward plumpness.

Her diminutive height in no way diminished her sense of presence.

As a youngster she had been tow headed, but I remember her with brown hair, blue eyes and fair skin.

As in everything, she had discriminating taste in clothes, and she imparted her sense of judicious selectivity to both Sister and me.

On their honeymoon they drove by car to the gulf coast of Florida.

On the way Daddy spied a six-foot rattlesnake in the road, and to prove his manhood, he stopped the car, got out, found a stick and struck the snake only to have the stick break and leave him sprawling very close to the head of the venomous creature.

Mother reported that she’d never witnessed such scrambling in her life. Knowing Mother’s twisted sense of humor, I’m sure she had an attack of uncontrolled laughter. Daddy used to say that if he fell and broke his leg gangrene would set in because Mother would be so overcome with laughter that she would be unable to call the doctor.

Whether he’d confessed his deathly fear of snakes before this, I don’t know. It was a fear that both of them shared.

Mother had a traumatic experience as a child when a black snake ran through her open hands as she was retrieving a hidden Easter egg.

The dread of snakes was something that I would inherit.

For a time the newly-weds lived in River Junction, Fla., where Daddy worked with a lumber company before returning to Andalusia to enter the family lumber business – the S. & W. Lumber Company mentioned earlier.

They boarded for a time with the Knox family who had a large two-story house at the corner of East Three Notch and Oak Streets, next door to Uncle Aus. Mrs. Knox, Augusta MacGruder Henderson before her marriage, was a formidable lady who set a lavish table – several meats at each meal (including breakfast) as well as two or three kinds of hot breads, multiple vegetables and rich desserts.

The Knox’s daughter Mary was one of Mother’s best friends, who will figure into the story a bit later. Subsequently my parents lived with my Simmons grandparents until our house was completed in 1928. It was during this time that Sister was born.

The story on the Simmons family will be continued in next week’s column.

Anyone who has any question related to this column is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or Email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.

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