The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Olden times…

were hard times for most families.

This is a photo of Hettie Melissa Glenn Letson Evitts Tolbert and her husband Joseph Calvin Tolbert. Miss Hettie was the stepmother of my grandmother, Betty DRUE Jane Tolbert Peebles (Mama). Mama said that Miss Hettie was always good to her. Mama lost her mother at the young age of nine years old.

The day of my mother Slena Mae Peebles’ fourth birthday in 1927, mother was in the yard when Mama came out on the porch and said, “Slena Mae, honey, today is your birthday.” All that my mother knew of birthdays was that it was likely a date on a calendar. There was always a Farmer’s Almanac calendar in their home. Mother associated the birthday with a date, and the date on the calendar. That calendar had ‘beautiful women’ on it, so Mother assumed a birthday is a beautiful girl. She asked my grandmother, “Well, Mama, can it walk?” They had a little chuckle over that over the years. The family lived in a house, likely much like the one the Letson’s lived in, except likely not as spacious. Mother would talk of the children playing under the front porch. She described the house as having cracks in the floor and you could see the chickens pecking underneath through the cracks. And, if I remember correctly, the houses had large stones underneath the foundations.

Mama told mother that she did not have any flour sacks to make her panties at another time. Mother cried. Mother was always a very modest person, even as a child. So, Miss Hettie as family called her, gave Mama flour sacks to make my Mother panties with.

I remember meeting Miss Hettie once or twice. The last time I saw her was at a funeral, or rather at the graveside. She was very tall and slender and just slightly  bent from the shoulders. Her hair still had color and her skin was what I would Photo of Hettie Glenn Letson Evitts Tolbert and Joseph Calvin Tolbertdescribe as having an olive tint. She wore her hair just as seen in the photo. She remarked to me that I was a very pretty girl; so as you can note, she was an instant hit with me. That was likely in 1960. I remember us going to the cemetery at Smyrna and seeing her grave all sunk in and that very much disturbed me; since then the grave has been maintained nicely.

Miss Hettie was a Glenn by birth. Her first husband, was Robert Green “Bob” Letson. Bob Letson served in the War Between the States and was held prisoner of war. Bob was the son of Big Mac Letson whose home is pictured below. Bob met an untimely death at the hands of his son-in-law. Miss Hettie married next an Evitts man; but little is known of him. She next married Joseph Calvin Tolbert and they had children. Both had children by their previous marriage.

Miss Hettie and my great-grandfather, Joseph Calvin Tolbert,  married. After his death, there was no marker for his grave. My grandfather, Robert Duncan Peebles, made homemade tombstones one year out of concrete and marbles for Grandpa Dick (George Henry Peebles his grandfather) and his father-in-law, Joseph Calvin Tolbert. Those homemade markers remained on those graves for years. Myself and my brothers got George Henry Peebles a proper marker from the VA that commemorated his service in the War Between the States. After Miss Hettie died, their children had a double marker placed on the grave of her and Joseph Calvin Tolbert.  When the double marker was placed, Gran took his homemade tombstone that he had made for Joseph C Tolbert and placed it at the head his mother-in-law’s grave. Myself and two of my brothers placed a gravemarker on her grave with her full name which was Elizabeth Anna Garth Rachel Matilda Terry “Lizzie” Tolbert . Lizzie Tolbert was Mama’s mother and Gran’s aunt. All these graves are at Smyrna Baptist Church Cemetery in Lawrence County, Alabama.

Hettie Letson Tolbert is an ancestor of Starla Letson Tsosie. Starla showed us what life was like where the Letson families and my Tolbert and Peebles families lived; Mama was born at Mountain Home. General Joseph Wheeler had a summer home at Mountain Home even though his plantation home was very nearby; this was partly to get out of the more sweltering heat off the mountain and as a defense to mosquitoes during the hot summers. I see chickens roaming the yard, at least four dogs, and I think I see pigs on the far left in the back. It appears from the difference in the shingles on the roof that it was a one room building that had been added onto later. This house was called a ‘shotgun’ house, or a ‘dog trot’ house and sometimes was referred to as a ‘cracker’ house. I just call it history.

Photo of the Baron McDonald Letson home at Mountain Home, Lawrence County, Alabama

This is the home of Baron McDonald “Big Mac” Letson that existed 1851-1934

3 responses

  1. Granny called those “shot gun” houses. One set of family lived on one side with the breezeway dividing the other family. She said they just went straight through – you could stand on one end and fire a shotgun all the way to the other side Haha!! I recall the stories of putting rags in the cracks to keep the cold and rain out during the winter. I loved hearing granny talk about the “old days”. And I sure wish she were still here. I have a ton of questions, so I guess I’ll be visiting my Aunt soon. 🙂 Have a great day Ms. Carolyn and thank you for this post.

    August 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

  2. Chrissy Castro

    I have that same picture (the oval one), that my grandparents gave me! I know the woman and man pictured in that picture are suppose to be my grandpas parents. His mom anyway and I was told that she remarried a few times but I know my grandpa had some 16 brothers and sisters. My grandpa’s name was R.B. Letson and he was married to Lydia Ethel Inman! That’s the two people in my picture as I just looked at it except this picture I was told was put together using two separate pictures of them as the man has his hand on a car and that looks like the same picture used as his mama! Do you have any insight, because they may have talked about shoals but I don’t recall! I was raised by R.B. and Lydia and we use to go to Alabama every year for a Letson family reunion and visit “the Letson Mountain” they called it! That’s not what it’s called of course but would love to know for certain? My name is Chrissy Letson Castro and would love info if you have it!

    December 13, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    • That is definitely Hettie Melissa Glenn Letson Tolbert. She was married first to Robert Green Letson, a confederate soldier. He seems tt me to have bee a very mean man. His son-in-law shot and killed him. I know for a fact that is Miss Hettie as we called her, because I met her before she died. She was tall and slender and was slightly bent at the shoulders. She was my grandmother’s stepmother and my grandmother always reported that Miss Hettie was good to her, but there may have been a disturbance of large proportion between Miss Hettie and one of her stepsons. And the photo was likely two pictures put together as was the other side of my family. And, that is my mother’s grandmother Tolbert. He was a quiet man.

      February 18, 2017 at 11:46 pm

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