Part 8: Things Boys Got In Trouble For in the Early 1900s

I found this list of habits and offenses that could categorize a kid as a delinquent back in the 1920s. The list was in a pamphlet at the Wilson Library. We'll get to that research soon. One of the most profound things that happened as a result of pitching my story to the Hidden Brain podcast last year is that I was reunited with my father's belongings. My father's friend, Ted, had stored dozens of boxes in his office, and apparently didn't realize how much personal information was mixed in with my Dad's Encyclopedia of Folk Music.

In any case, the notes for the memoir my father wrote for me back in the 1980s was in one of those boxes. It was in the last box I went through. I've organized the letters, recording contracts, sheet music, menus from the various diners my father managed, photographs, albums...I won't list everything here. Besides all the other stuff, it was the notes from his journal that have taken me months to go through, but have given me a much deeper understanding of my father's childhood and the events that shaped his life.

I haven't been able to throw anything out that belonged to my father, not his "shut off" notices from various bills, his lists of contacts, old address books...he even has Dolly Parton's P.O. Box in his notes. Am I a hoarder? I should probably see someone about this. Anyway, perhaps this blog will help me begin the processes of letting some of Riley's stuff go.

As soon as some people find out Riley wrote and sang old hillbilly songs, and that he was from North Carolina, an assumption is made that he was some kind of "hayseed" type character. When I met my newly found relatives several years ago, (one of the families my father started and abandoned) I showed them a few of Riley's books. A man who was married to my niece read over my father's writings and said, "Wow, he was kind of smart." He had a shocked look on his face. This completely annoyed me. I think I shot back something with an edge to my voice, and he could tell I was annoyed and defensive. Dad always told me that many people assume if you have a southern accent, you must be dumb and uneducated, and how hurtful that stereotype is. Early country western musicians wanted to move away from the term "hillbilly" for just that reason. My father had something to do with getting more respect for musicians who made this kind of music. I'll try to find the Billboard article that mentions him and tag it here.

Back to Riley's notes. I've curated the entries because he mentions some things in separate pages that inform and keep a better timeline. Also, his historical notes are vast so I've cut some for time's sake, and I'll make my interruptions in bold print to be clear. In the last blog entry, we discussed how things went downhill for him, and I wondered if it had anything to do with cracking his head on the pavement at around age 11.

He writes about important events (I've curated the list, it's detail and scope would keep me typing into my golden years) in history in 1927, his words in Italics and bold:

America experienced a RED SCARE-- one of many since the Russian Revolution. Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, charged with, tried for, and convicted of murder. They were sentenced to death. The radical and liberal press here and abroad denounced American justice. Gov. Fuller and a Board of Review were adamant, and both men were electrocuted on AUGUST 23. Place: Massachusetts. Crime: Murder of a South Braintree paymaster.

Dad brings up the warning signs of the economy several times in his journal:

Throughout the year, conservative economists warned against economic optimism, but their warnings fell on deaf ears.

And again:

Oct. 21, 1928. 10 years old Some memories

Conservative economists issued more warnings against the overly-optimistic economy. Nobody listened.

In Aug., Ralph Peer set up portable recording equipment in Bristol, Tenn., where he recorded for the RCA Victor company several hillbilly artists, including The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

Carter family released: WILDWOOD FLOWER


It was a very good year for Bessie Smith, both artistically and financially; it also marked the beginning of her decline, brought on by a combination of changing musical tastes, the Depression, and her heavy drinking.

I'm skipping back to his personal life here:

My mother suffered from a form of Epilepsy. My father had what they called a "leaking heart." He owned a grocery store, which he lost in the 1929 stock market crash. He then worked as a butcher, and a soft-drink driver, deliverer and salesman for the Nehi-Coca Cola plant.

Grandmother Tyndal owned grocery-meat market stores, a brickyard, and several houses.

Grandfather Tyndal worked at a lumber company as far back as I can remember, until he retired due to a fall.

Except for Louis, all their sons drank heavily. Bootleg whiskey, called "white lightning."

My brother, William, set-up a still and made the whiskey.

Dad mentions that his aunt's husband, Kirby, worked for the county as a prison guard, and that his uncle, Louis, Jr. was a deputy sheriff, ran for sheriff, and so did his uncle Lindwood Tindal (for spite), and both lost.

For a long time, a woman named Lenoir lived with us. First name forgotten, but she had a son who was a policeman in Los Angeles.

I hated school. It was boring...

Dad repeats his feelings of restlessness in school at Cornelius Hornet Grammar School, and then Hemmingway.

I was also in trouble. Wanted more attention than I got, I suppose. Stole a bicycle. Got arrested. Robbed Strawberry plant of a bag of money, all silver (nearly $100.), but never got caught. Burned school a lot. Was sent to a psychiatrist in Kingston, where father's sister lived. Then, finally, was sent to Rocky Mount, to the Eastern Carolina Training School for Boys.

I'm wondering what Psychiatry was like back then in North Carolina.

My father told me a story when I was a little girl, after I got caught stealing another kid's candy. I was in the third grade at the time. He told me that when he was twelve, he broke the windows of his grandmother's store (Martha Tindal) and handed out food to the poor people in Wilmington. It always seemed like a "Robin Hood" type of an event to me. Dad was the hero. He also said this is what made his family decide to send him to a "Boy's Home." He'd refer to the place as a "Boys Home in Rocky Mount." I was too young to imagine such a place. It didn't sound so bad when I was a kid. I understand more now.

Several years ago, I decided to begin researching this "boy's home." I registered as a researcher at the Wilson Library at UNC, and traveled to North Carolina three times starting in the Spring of 2016. In the next blog, we'll dive into this institution and what happened to my father in the Eastern Carolina Training School in Rocky Mount.

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