Archive image of Jean through the years, provided by Ron Hartman.Archive image of Jean through the years, provided by Ron Hartman.
The following is an excerpt from my mother’s autobiography, “A Tennessee-Floridian’s Life Story,’ a year-by-year recounting of her first 40 years in Tennessee, followed by her next 40 years in Cocoa Beach, Fla. When Ken Hartman met my mother, Jean, he had recently got home from WWII and, in his typical fashion, was in love and wanted to get married right away.
My mom, only 17 and fresh out of high school, wanted to be patient and take her time — in her typical demeanor — and even threatened to call off the wedding as my dad kept pushing the issue.
Finally, they arrived at a solution that would allow them to enjoy a two-day celebration on every anniversary.
This was in 1947, long before anyone ever thought about turning national holidays into three-day weekends for the whole country.
Ken still didn’t have a car when he came back from Ohio. I think he sold the car he had bought just before he left. We started double-dating with Dorothy (my mom’s best friend) and Lynn (who turned out to be her future husband). Lynn didn’t have a car at that time either, but he could use his family’s car most any time. We tried to go to all the basketball games and worked in the concession stands to add to our Spanish Club fund-raising.
Dorothy and I both stayed busy with schoolwork and going to work at our stores in town every Saturday. Sometimes it was almost dark when we got home on the bus, so there wasn’t much time for dating except on Sunday afternoons. Ken became friends with Jack Horner and sometimes we double-dated with him and his girlfriend. Also, Ken would get a ride into town with Jack sometimes and pick me up from work.
Ken signed up again for the VA program of taking care of his dad’s farm. They had all kinds of crops: mostly tobacco, corn and hay. They had a few cows, but the girls in the family did the milking. Farm hands came in and mowed and baled the hay. Ken’s only income was the $100 monthly check from the VA. I think they called that mustering-out pay after their discharge from the army. He had high hopes of getting a place of his own after completing the time he was committed to serve on his dad’s farm. Ken’s entire family was musical. Ken was the vocalist and the others played guitars. He liked to sing, “My Blue Heaven” and always looked at me when he was singing. He kept bringing up the subject of wanting me to marry him. I don’t remember an actual proposal, just an ongoing subject every time we were together. Finally I said yes, after deciding it must be love, because I never had the same feelings for anyone else before. Shortly after that, just two months before graduation, he brought me a diamond ring and placed it on my left finger.
I wrote J.T. a letter right away and told him we couldn’t keep up our correspondence because I had just become engaged to Ken Hartman. I must have had at least 200 letters from him, all locked away from the time he moved away to Illinois and then joined the Air Force. I told him and everyone else that I didn’t plan to get married until after I was 18, graduated, and complete a few classes at Greeneville Business College. J.T. surprised me about a week after receiving my letter by driving up behind me when I was walking along the road from school. He had taken off on a quick trip to visit his Aunt Myrtle and to check on me. I showed him the ring on my finger and told him he would always be my friend, but “goodbye.”
Final exams at school and getting ready for graduation kept us all scrambling around in all directions. We sold ads to businesses for our yearbook, selected our caps and gowns, and ordered our class rings. Our school colors were blue and gold. Our Baccalaureate and Commencement programs were held in our school auditorium on May 25. We had 25 graduates.
Ken started getting really pushy with me and applying pressure wanting to set the date and get married right away. Finally, on a Sunday afternoon double-date with Jack and Mina to Bays Mountain (Ken still didn’t have a car), I began to reconsider. We walked up one of the nature trails to a reservoir at the top of the mountain and back to Jack’s car. Jack and Mina had ventured off on another trail. Ken started pressuring me again about setting a date to get married right away. He suggested July 3 so we would always have a two-day celebration of our anniversary and the Fourth of July. I decided to go along with that after thinking it over.
I turned in my notice to Mr. Sandel that I could only work two more weeks because I was getting married. He gave me some memorable advice. He said, “Most young couples go into debt right away trying to get everything at once, but everyone should learn to crawl before they walk.” I thought of that as good advice and always remembered it. I had become good friends with all my co-workers over the two years of working every Saturday and sometimes for a full week when not in school. My friends had given me graduation gifts and brought in wedding gifts on my last day of work.
I bought myself an aqua blue dress and my family bought white accessories for my wedding. Ken bought the license and we both went for the required blood tests. My parents had to sign for me because I was only 17. I really wanted to get married in my church but none of us had very much money. Ken recruited Jack to drive him over to my house to pick me up on Thursday morning, July 3. He drove us into town to get married and also to sign in as our witness. The three of us went into Rev. J.O. Carter’s home on Main Street in downtown Greeneville. Ken had pinned a gardenia corsage on my dress. We had a small marriage ceremony in their living room. I felt like I was sinking down in their thick, plush carpet.
The Hartmans had planned an outdoor reception at their home at lunchtime with tables and chairs set up. My family, other relatives, and neighbors were invited. A table was set up for wedding gifts and others for food and a wedding cake. Shade trees kept the large group of us from sweltering in the heat. They had a big two-story brick house with all the bedrooms upstairs, except for one with a fireplace, which they had fixed up for Ken and me. It was pre-arranged that we would stay there until the end of the year when the crops were all in and the tobacco sold. My family went on home before sunset, but the very large Hartman family carried on with their regular routine of staying up until midnight picking guitars, singing and telling jokes. I had never heard such raunchy jokes before. I just sat there blushing.
Even though I had grown up in the country on a small farm, I had never been around tobacco crops before. I found out that people have to work all year before collecting any pay for their work. I soon learned the hard way, because I was expected to go out in that field with the rest of the family and work. The tobacco was green and tall. My first job was to break off the suckers. Next was to pick off the tobacco worms and put them in a bucket to destroy. If I crushed one of them with my shoe, stinky, brown tobacco juice ran out of them. I began to wonder how some men could chew tobacco.
August was time to cut down those tobacco stalks, put them on sticks, and load them on the wagon being pulled through the field by mules. Mrs. Hartman and the oldest daughter stayed in the kitchen cooking up a lot of good food while the rest of the family, plus some hired help, worked on the tobacco. My job was to climb up on the wagon load of tobacco, after the mules had pulled it into the barn, pick up a big stick of tobacco stalks, and hand it to Ken and others waiting in the loft to hang on poles. I was beginning to wonder if Ken’s reason for getting a bride was because he needed another farm helper.
My reprieve came in November, just a day or two after my 18th birthday. Mama came walking down the driveway to bring me a letter the mailman had just delivered to me, in my maiden name. She knew it was important because the return address was from the Kingsport Press. She also knew I had applied for work there when I was only 15, but never expected to hear from them again. The letter was an appointment date for me to come in for an interview. I thought, “WOW! Maybe I’ll get out of this tobacco work, make some money, and Ken and I can get that little house with a white picket fence that he kept dreaming about.” Most of all, we needed to get out on our own.
We still had no car. Mr. Hartman worked in Kingsport at Tennessee Eastman, but he rode the bus to and from work. The bus only ran three times a day for the Eastman shift changes — morning, afternoon and midnight. I had hoped that my friend Jeannette had received a call for an interview too, because we had applied together, but she hadn’t. I walked out to the main road from the Hartman homestead and caught the early-morning bus to Kingsport. The driver let me out right in front of the Kingsport Press. I read magazines in the front waiting room. There must have been about 30 people sitting and waiting. I let the receptionist know I was there for my appointment and handed her my letter. When I was called in, I discovered that the personnel manager was Mr. Hay, the same fatherly-type man who had interviewed me three years before. He knew my first cousin, Glenna Weems, quite well. “She is one of our most dedicated employees,” he said. I explained to him that I had graduated from high school and got married just in the last four months, and changed my last name from Weems to Hartman. He gave me a form to fill out for Social Security to change my name. He told me that my legal name now should be Jean W. Hartman.
They only had openings for two new employees and I happened to be one of them. The work was to sit at a table with a stack of books beside me to inspect for errors (like upside-down pages, smudges, etc.), discard the bad ones, then fold a shiny cover on the good ones. Those were stacked and counted, then placed on a skid by one of the guys. I was to report to work the following Monday and work five days a week, starting out at 38 cents per hour, with a raise after three months. My hours would be 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. with every Saturday and Sunday off. That would have been a problem because of the bus schedule, except that I was determined to figure out something.
My cousin Glenna had bought herself a nice brick, three-bedroom, two-bath home just two blocks from work, and rented out rooms to her co-workers. I walked down to see her and asked if she had a room for rent. She was delighted that I would be going to work at the Press, and yes, she did have a room for me. I could make bus connections to go home to Baileyton on weekends and then back to Kingsport every Monday morning. Glenna worked different hours from me, and even did my laundry for me while I was on those weekend trips to be with my new husband. I must have gotten pregnant around Christmas time one of those weekend trips. My clothes started fitting me too tight.