Updated November 30, 2010.
PEOPLE FACTS from the Knotts Island Diary written by Sue Fentress Austin
Someday in the far and distant future, someone doing family research may find a few of these facts useful. The author would have loved to have had written information to read relating to the day-to-day life of the earlier Brumley, Caffee, Ward and Fentress families. Doesn’t matter whether they were rich, poor, good or bad people, or even whether they were burdened with a large dose of the human frailties, historically speaking, people are plain and simple, interesting. Even though many of the young people of Knotts Island did appear to do a fair amount of drinking, most seemed to be made welcome at the Brumley house. The man she married did and was still allowed to court their daughter.
4/17 Clara & Bernise spent day w/us. Gladys, Illma, Edith, Frances D, Effie, Charlie, Miss Susie, Ruby & Frances N came. We went to Mamma Ruths & stayed until bedtime Edna came.
Gladys was a Waterfield whose parents were named Moody and Add. Her sisters were Ida Jean., Mary, Ruth and Agnes. They lived in the 200 block of South End Road in a very small, two-story house.
Add was the head of the Knotts Island switchboard. There were, in the 1930s, probably fewer than 20 phones on the Island. Most were available at the various hunting clubs, Knapp’s mansion at Mackay Island and Eddie Munden’s Store.
Effie and Charlie were sisters. Charlie was the wife of Herman Jones and Effie was married to Ernest Wateriield. Charlie was mother to Preston and Herman Guy. Effie had daughters named Meriam, Irma and Elsie May. Meriam, tragically, died young.
“Miss Susie” the grandmother of Adell’s friend, Vivian. Nita and Adell would take turns at spending a week during the summer visiting Vivian, an only child. Her parents ran a club across the Knotts Island Bay. Vivian was very sad at not being able to live with her parents but school had to be attended and she lived instead with her Mama Susie during much of her childhood. When the weather cooperated, she spent weekends with them. And, of course, the summers were just a joy to Vivian.
Edna was Edna White, daughter of Sidney and Lelia. Because Edna and Adell thought so much of one another, many years later Edna actually named one of her daughters "Adell."
4/18 Mr. Gordon ate dinner here. We went to see Garland & Refie & the teachers came back to the store & waited for the bus to come. Unice, Willie, Lester, Oswald, Roy W, Bill, Norwood came.
Mr. Gordon, an elderly man, lived close by and often came over to visit. He lived alone and often gave Ed Brumley a hand at hog killing time. Mr. Gordon worked right beside the Brumleys helping to set out plants/seeds or pull weeds and was especially good at repairing nets.
Garland and Refie Watertfeld were siblings and were both blind. Refie was "stone" blind, even to the whites of her eyes. They lived in a house next to Add Whites on property now claimed by the Refuge. In later years they lived at Miss Susie’s Old Folks Home in the vicinity of Snow Goose Lane. In the ‘30s Garland earned money working on the switchboard. He was very smart and managed the wires and intricacy of the switchboard quite well.
Lester Watertield was also blind. He never married but did move away and learned to write and read Braille. In the late 1950s he visited at the author’s house and brought along his Seeing Eye dog named Roger. He cared a lot for Nita Brumley and she picked up on it. However, she only like him as a friend and he accepted that. Both Adell and Nita wished he could have married because he was such a smart and wonderful person. Lester was very independent and didn’t mind letting his friends know that he wanted no special help!
Norwood was an only child. He lived in the north end of Knotts Island. His mother did seamstress work and even made men’s suits. Boob would often leave the young group, go into the sitting room with Adell’s parents, and discuss Island gossip. He especially liked to talk “politics." In later years he served a short term as Representative. At tax time he was in much demand in his community. Boob was very good with figures.
And now some tidbits about various people of yesteryear that may be true/not true:
Arsenath Jones lived alone during the ‘30s. Her husband, David, had already died. They had one son named Harold, who was often referred to as “Jonsie" in Adell’s diary. “Miss Sene" as she was called by most folks was quite the knowledgeable lady as far as gossip went. Her house was located where the Island’s first fire house was located, and she frequently could be seen sitting and rocking on her front porch. Munden’s Store, now vacant at the end of Brumley Road, was quite the hangout in her era The young boys walking up/down the dirt road which was practically alongside her dwelling must have made "listening in" the easiest thing in the world to do! She was a joy to visit because she knew all and loved to share.
Voight Jones and his sweet wife, Katherine, and their seven children, had a house at the foot of Brumley Road, on the left side (Hwy 615 would have run alongside their front yard). It was a very large, two-story farm house.
R. G. was the brother-in-law of F. A. R went home one evening late and had been, it was said, drinking. He wasn’t very old, but that particular night he was weary and didn’t feel like climbing up to the upper floor loft where he slept. He ended up heading down the road to his sister’s house which was near the community cemetery. R unfortunately was hit and killed by an unknown driver. The unknown driver was said to be F.B. He was arrested and there was a trial. The Island talk was that his parents paid out a lot of money for a good lawyer. lf that was true, it was money well spent because Mr. B. was not found guilty and did not go to prison.
Melford (Mech) Grimstead was a 1932 graduate with Nita and Adell. He drove the school bus and was very strict.
Frank and Alyda Hughes were close Brumley neighbors. The older Hughes boys - Frank, Irvin and Melvin - often walked over and played with the Brumley boys.
Ross Fentress was a good man and the father of Adell’s suitor, Willie/Bill. He attended church alongside his wife, Alice (Ward) and their seven children: Eddie, Curtis, Essie, Frances, Mamie, Christine and Willie/Bill. Ross was a little taller than average, thin and with a distinguished-looking, turned-up-mustache. His wife ruled the roost. She was a good cook and always wanted to give visitors something to take home. Alice enjoyed sharing what she had with others. All of her girls were excellent cooks. Mamie, in the‘30s, was one of several cooks employed by Mr. Knapp. She even accompanied him and his wife to their mansion in New York’s Central Park. Both Essie and Frances assisted their husbands in the running of hunting and fishing businesses on Knotts Island.
Willie/Bill Fentress (author’s father) grew up being called Willie, but alter he married, his name slowly became just Bill. He was a rather unruly child who got his way too often. According to what Mildred Strawhand in 1998 shared with the author, Bill was a royal pain in the butt to his parents and certainly to many friends of his older siblings. According to Mildred (who was a friend of Bill’s sister, Frances) once Bill climbed a tree and simply refused to come down. His father finally climbed up to entice his youngest son to come down. Bill kicked and was so ugly to his father that he caused him to fall out of the tree and really hurt himself. She remembered another time when a "Miss Lily" wanted to hitch a ride in the family cart and could not thanks to young Willie/Bill’s pathetic behavior. He was so "mean, kicking her” until the poor woman gave up and walked. And we think today’s kids are bad! The author remembers her dad’s reminiscence about his tired father lying on the porch, resting from a hard day’s labor in the field. Young Bill remembers picking up a hammer and whacking his father in the forehead. Obviously he was old enough to know better since he could remember doing it years and years later. Let us hope he received a sizeable whack on his little rear! Little Willie, family members agree, received plenty of spankings for his numerous misdeeds!
Well known siblings H, A, H, L, or at least one of them had, as we would say today, an anger-management problem. Mildred, in 1998, said she remembered once when H had her dad up a tree, she with a gun and was threatening to kill him! According to her, H had a bit of a mean streak when she was provoked and angry.
Earlie Ballance — Minnie (Ballance) Brumley’s younger brother was married to Nancy. They had two children named Earl and Joyce. Handsome, liked to drink, got his whiskey, like many others, it was said from Herman Fentress. Earlie had been up to Herman’s the night of the murder, and was among those questioned by authorities. Earlie died young. He came home late one very, very cold night. His body was found the next moming just inside the front doorway. He either just lay down in a drunken stupor or could have fallen. There was no heat in the room.
M.W. was raised by a sweet couple who lived on a hill near the present Island Grocery Store. The story was she went to Norfolk to work and was assaulted. She came back to the Island and eventually gave birth to a beautiful daughter she named M. (Another story was it was some local young man who did not have the “guts" to do the right thing.) The nice people provided a home for M, clothes and toys for the baby. M had been earlier courted by R.C., but after the Norfolk event, he had nothing more to do with her. This young mother was a very hard worker, walking a very long distance for employment at a local hunting lodge during the hunting season. Once she saw little Paul Brumley out in the yard and playfully called him "little blue boy". Paul looked forward to seeing her walking down the road. They would always exchange chit-chat.
Elvin Cromwell was a sportsman who lived in Ocean View. He often came down and used Ed Brumley as his hunting guide. Paul’s middle name was “Cromwell", named after this wonderful friend to Pau’s parents. Elvin always brought little things to the Brumley children — candy and such — when he came down to hunt. He obviously felt just a little sorry for these young children who didn’t have very much. He was a large farmer, whose father-in-law had contributed towards his prosperity. One time to the amazement of the young sisters, they were actually allowed to spend three days/nights at the Cromwells and be entertained with city fun. The Cromwells had a daughter named Lela and the family took the Brumley girls to the Ocean View Amusement Park. The girls went into the Spook House and Nita and Adell were scared to death. Later, the girls found out that Lela had been told NOT to go into that particular place! The Cromwells had indoor plumbing and a kerosene burner versus the wood stove in the Brumley household. Nita and Adell each received a silver fruit tray as a graduation gift. When Nita died in 2003 at age 89, she still had her treasured silver tray.
M. A. had a very short temper, would get angry and go out to the schoolhouse and “curse everything bald-headed" said Mildred Strawhand many years later. Her children were L, O, P, L and I. Her husband was named L. The son was very gifted playing his musical instrument and enjoyed playing for his friends on the Island.
Mackay Island workers probably received $60 to $80 a month, depending upon their jobs. Here is a fragmented listing of some employees and what the person did.
Arthur Waterman — flower gardener
"Annie" Waterman - male, in charge of the vegetable garden (Lyndell "Tommy" Waterman’s father)
Hulda/Gudrum(?) — sisters from Norway, also there were some house workers from Sweden too
Bill Stevens — kitchen
Gladys Waterfield - kitchen
Colin Doxey — took care of and raised up to 25,000 quail
Isaac Doxey — Colin’s father, in charge of marsh guards
Curtis Fentress — Bill’s brother, ran Knapp’s large boat named "Bootlegger" and also took care of the light plant located in the cellar. He kept it going, DC current, DELCO.
Mamie Fentress — cook
Russell Jones — helper, like Curtis, on boats
Mamie Waterman — cook