. — Editor’s Note: Trish Peck wrote the story below about the memories of her mother, Charlotte Shetter of Tennessee, and Charlotte’s sister, Mary Glenn Hearne of Atlanta, during a recent trip to their hometown of Athens.
Early on the morning of Aug. 25, Charlotte Mason Shetter and Mary Glenn Mason Hearne arrived in Athens, their hometown, for a trip down memory lane. Charlotte and Mary Glenn have been away from their hometown for many years but still consider growing up in Athens as their sweetest memory and a very special time in their lives. The day was spent reliving childhood memories that stretched from Lauderdale County to the beautiful tree-lined streets of Athens.
As our day-long journey began, the “girls” were particularly delighted to find — from their childhood memories and from their last visit 40 years ago — the old “McConnell home place.”
The yellow country house set on a slight hill was selected by Bob Thompson for a painting in the 1980s entitled “Wood for the Kitchen.” The McConnell farm was where their mother, Dezzie Lee McConnell Mason, grew up. Being able to visit brought back stories that had been passed down through the years. You could almost picture the warmth of Mr. Thompson’s painting come to life as you stood and envisioned secrets that this farmland held. From the tales of Union soldiers unexpectedly dropping in for Sunday dinner down the road to the graves of family members, long forgotten, the tales unraveled to become quite a storybook.
We visited the Houston Library and Museum where Mary Glenn and Charlotte donated a gas mask used by their father, Paul Mason, during World War I and some other historic paraphernalia. As we left the library we continued to turn the clock back to the 1930s and ’40s as we drove through Athens Historic District and Forrest Street, Pryor Street, and around the town Square. The stories were endless, at every corner, the visuals painted by the girls positioned us in a cushioned seat watching a movie at the local theater, and it was a great movie.
At one point, Mary Glenn said to Charlotte: “Remember playing jump rope with three ropes and you had to run in and hold the third rope while you jumped? We always had fun playing paper dolls under the big tree in the front yard. We didn’t have any male dolls, back then. Well, come to think of it, I guess we did. We had a Charlie McCarthy doll.”
‘We were all the same’
Mary Glenn recalled: “Alabama wasn’t too large in the ’40s and we thought we knew everybody in the entire state. No one was considered rich or poor, we were all the same, or that is the way we thought about the world around us. After Daddy came home from the war he managed five gas stations in Athens. It was a lot of work but I remember everyone liked him. He would always call people by their names, which was one of the reasons he was so well liked. In 1940, he became sick and subsequently died. After his death, we had to sell most of the gas stations to pay off our debts. We did, however, manage to hold on to one. That station was called Mason’s Dixie Lee. Mother turned that gas station, which included a café, into quite an enterprise. She was a hard worker, and I think that hard work helped her deal with the grief of losing Daddy. She would get up before the sun came up to start cooking and worked to 10 or later at night. She taught us the importance of hard work, integrity, and achieving goals in life.
Off to school
Mary Glenn and Charlotte attended school in Athens. Mary Glenn graduated from Athens High School in 1945 and Charlotte in 1947. They both went to the University of Alabama where they graduated with honors.
“When we lived in the corner house on Pryor Street, I started to school. Mother would always buy us a new first-day-of-school dress from one of the dress shops in town. It was always such a good feeling to wear that special dress to school. I remember one that I got in high school that was a light blue with a few thin, white stripes on the very bottom of the skirt. I think I got that one from a catalogue.”
“I think we had Mrs. Coffman as our teacher in first and second grades,” Mary Glenn said. “Everybody had Mrs. Coffman. Then there was Bessie Smith, another one our teachers. She taught multiplication tables by letting us stand at the chalkboard until we could quote the tables in our sleep … and I can still do them today. Great teachers! Then came our high school years. Charlotte was in the band and played the clarinet and I was one of those baton twirlers. I thought I was pretty good, too, because I could do those back bends to where I thought my head would touch the ground. Wow, that was really good. Then during our lunch breaks, because the Dixie Lee was across the street from Athens Highs School, we would help Mother serve all the high school students that came to the café to eat. It never seemed to matter to us that we were serving lunch to our friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful all those memories are.”
Smell the barbecue
Mary Glenn recalled her mother’s barbecue was a favorite dish at the Dixie Lee. “Our mother would cook the pork, which she bought from Brother’s Grocery Store, all night. She cooked the meat in a pit out in the back of the station, and we would wake up smelling that delicious smoked pork smell. The customers loved the taste of her barbecue along with her hamburgers. She was quite the cook.”
The mention of food reminded us it was after two o’clock in the afternoon and no one had even thought about lunch. Finding some good barbecue became our focus. We found a restaurant, Lawler’s, that had great barbecue. We enjoyed the food there and even purchased an entire chocolate pie just to make sure we had a snack for our journey home.
Charlotte Mason Shetter now lives in Tullahoma, Tenn., and spent 40 years as a teacher and middle school guidance counselor. She continues today to teach GED classes to students on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She attended her 65th Athens High School reunion in August 2012. Mary Glenn Mason Hearne lives in Atlanta with her daughter and is retired from the Nashville Public Library, where she spent more than 35 years in the Nashville Room, concentrating on Nashville history and genealogy. Charlotte is now 82 years old and Mary Glenn is 84, and according to their point of view, Athens, Alabama, is definitely their “Sweet Home, Alabama.”