By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Clarence “Toots” Boggs has seen a lot of changes in Carter County over the course of his 99 years, “some good and some bad,” the decorated WWII veteran says. But one thing that hasn’t changed for the Lawton native is his love for the hills and hollers of home. He was stationed in the Pacific northwest after first entering the service, and served in Europe during the war, but he never considered spending his life anywhere but here in Carter County.
“This used to be a booming place around here,” Boggs said. Between the brickyards and the mining, there used to be a lot of jobs in the area, he said. “But not so much any more.”
Still, even with the boom/bust nature of industry in Carter County, Boggs said, there are some changes that have undeniably been good.
“When I was born, we didn’t even have a radio or nothing,” Boggs said, noting how much harder it was to keep up with news and the outside world. “As I got up older, we had radios, television, and it all come up then. But when I was a boy there wasn’t nothing, not even a radio.”
Olive Hill had a newspaper, he said, which served as their main source of information.
Without TV and radio, Boggs and his wife Barb said, they did a lot more front porch sitting and making their own entertainment.
“Visiting with neighbors is what you done,” Boggs said.
“Sit on your porch, talk with your neighbors, and we went to bed at six o’clock,” Bard added.
“Nowadays, they don’t visit neighbors either,” Boggs lamented.
Climate control is another of the improvements that Boggs and his wife appreciate.
“We used to sleep on the front porch,” Barb said of the hotter, summer months – noting that many older homes featured large covered porches and balconies for that reason.
Nowadays we might find such scenes charming, but life in these hills was far from easy, even when there was plenty of work. Still, Boggs said, “it was home,” and he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“I was stationed in the state of Washington when I was in the Army, and Oregon, all them out there, but it didn’t appeal to me too much. I thought it was alright then, but I didn’t want to live there,” he said. “So I come back here.”
“When I was a boy, a little boy, my job was milking the cows,” he continued. “Every morning and night. I was about six-years-old when I first started. That’s when I learned how.”
And farm work was what he did – “as I got bigger so did the cow duties,” he teased – until he joined the Army at age 19.
“I was in Fort Lewis, Washington,” he said, then he shipped out to England, eventually ending up in France.
“I went to Europe,” he said. “Everybody from the Pacific went to Europe, and everyone from (the Atlantic) went to the Pacific. That’s just the way it turned out.”
The five time bronze star recipient didn’t share a lot of particulars about his experience, but he did touch on how he saw it impact those around him, including a young man he met who went prematurely white-haired because of the stress.
“Of course, I went over to England first, but when I landed in France – I’ll tell you a tale, but it’s hard to believe – but the guys that knowed him insisted it was true,” Boggs began.
“You see, the paratroopers landed six hours before we did. Ok, now he was a young man, black-headed when he jumped. And when he landed, by six hours later (when Boggs saw him) he was white-headed.”
Boggs didn’t know the man before meeting him in France, so he couldn’t say if he truly was black-headed when he jumped, but he was absolutely white-haired when he met him later that same day, he said.
“Now they swore to it,” Boggs said. “Now, I didn’t know him before the interaction. So, I don’t know if he was before, but he was white-headed, I know, when I seen him. And they said he was black-headed when he jumped.”
“I thought that was kindly something, but I know they wasn’t lying to me about him being white-headed. But it’s kindly hard to believe in a way, but it’s possible, I know. But they said it sure happened and I guess it did.”
After returning home from service Boggs took to driving truck, which he did for 50 years. But not before trying his hand at work in the quarry that we know today as the Mushroom Mines. He worked there for about a year, he said, before discovering he was happier as a truck driver.
“I quit at 50 years. Well, 52 or 53, but I stopped counting at 50,” Boggs teased. “Three years of it, I didn’t know if I was doing it or not. I was just a boy.”
He came home from Europe when he was around 22 he said. After deciding to drive for a living, he said, he owned his own truck for 30 years, and tried to give it up after that. But, shortly after selling his truck he was approached by folks who wanted him to drive for them, so he continued to work for another 20 years driving trucks for others.
It was around this same time that he met Barb. They were both retired and widowed and they walked the same track in the mornings, he said. After walking and talking together for a while, he said, he asked her on a date.
“He’d been married before, and I’d been married before,” Barb recalls. “And he just asked me for a date.”
“We walked of a morning,” Boggs said.
“I would walk down through here, and her and her neighbor woman was walking too. So we walked together, and that was a mistake,” he said with a grin, touching Barb affectionately on the shoulder and drawing a laugh from his bride. “That’s what caused all the problems.”
They’ve been married for 25 years now, he said.
“And still together,” Barb laughed.
“About half, anyhow,” Boggs added.
It’s a connection that’s been important for both of them as their families have grown older, passed on, and moved away. Barb’s son lives in Charleston, and Boggs never had children, though he does have nephews and family has always been important to him.
Harkening back to the radio, he remembers his uncle showing up with the first one he heard – a large floor model that drew everyone to the family porch.
“My uncle lived in West Virginia, and he come down here once, I was a great big boy then, and he brought a radio down there. One of them old radios. But we would play that, the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night, and the yard would be full of people on that ridge, come to hear the Grand Ole Opry. Nobody had a radio. We was the only ones that had that radio, and we wouldn’t have had it if it hadn’t been for our uncle. And they’d all come on Saturday nights. Then, a fight night, if we had some fights, they’d come to hear that,” Boggs remembered.
A lot of the folks on the ridge worked in the quarry, he noted, recalling his year operating a drill there before he changed occupations.
But even with steady work, it was hard to get out for any real entertainment. Until the state routes came through, he noted, folks had to follow the creek to get into Olive Hill.
“I remember when there wasn’t a road through Lawton,” he said. “If you was in Lawton, you had to come down the creek most of the time. But H.W. Hillman was elected Senator, and he got a road through there to Lawton. So when I went to high school I had to walk from where I lived to Rayburn’s store there, where it was at, where I caught the bus to go to Olive Hill to school.”
But that road didn’t go all the way through. When he first started driving a truck, he said, if you wanted to go to Morehead from Lawton you had to go back into Olive Hill, then get on US 60 to head on West.
“You couldn’t get across the other way. There weren’t any roads,” he said. “They finally got a road through to Haldeman over there, and onto US 60 that-a-way. But used to everything had to come through Olive Hill.”
In that way, as valuable and useful as the roads have been, they’ve had a bit of a negative impact on the traffic – and business – that used to pass through the city, he said.
As he noted at the beginning of our conversation, the changes he’s seen have been “some good and some bad,” but no matter what, it’s always been home, and he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
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