Halie Forstner

Halie Forstner

The best part of writing these stories is hearing from readers. Like the lady who once told me, “I really enjoy your columns. Who writes them for you?”

I assured her they were all mine. She said, “I didn’t mean anything by that. I just know that well-known people have ghostwriters.” Well, I’m not that well-known, and so far, I have not been approached by potential ghostwriters. Or maybe I just can’t see them.

However, I am not above accepting a little help now and then. The story that follows arrived in my mailbox a few days ago. Yes, the actual mailbox, where people write a letter, put it in an envelope, and lick the stamp.

My friend Halie Forstner still writes letters. At the youthful and cheery age of 108, she is my favorite correspondent. We chat on the phone too. Of course, there is the hearing issue. After all, I wore headphones as a disc jockey for many years, so y’all need to speak up. Halie’s hearing is fine.

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Miss Halie, she lives in the Lookout Valley area of Chattanooga, and has long been active in her church and her community. I’ve known her for several years, since she was 105. How many people can you say THAT about?

I’ve written before about her amazing life. Born on Sand Mountain (the Georgia side) in 1911, when William Howard Taft was president. Her family moved to the “big city” when she was a child, and she graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1930. Worked for TVA, when it was new. Married once to Charles, widowed and on her own for more than thirty years. An avid reader, always up on the news. Gets her hair done each week, and enjoys a Wendy’s junior cheeseburger and a Coke every Sunday.

I opened her letter, and she had enclosed this hand-written story. She has given me permission to share it with you.

“It was late twilight as Mother and I sat on the side porch of our Sand Mountain house and watched the rim of the moon climbing high above Lookout Mountain. It was perfect peace and quiet in the summer of 1919. It was a time to relax, think over the day, and rest for tomorrow.

Dad was working for a timber company at an office in Chattanooga, and would be home for Saturday night and Sunday before the weekly routine would begin again.

Each weekend, he would ride the train from Chattanooga to Trenton, Georgia, walk the trail up Sand Mountain, come home and attend to numerous chores on Sunday, then head back down the trail to Trenton, hop on the train, and go back to his job of inspecting cross ties at a railroad siding.

He had been warned to be careful, because he did not approve of the moonshining which was rampant at the end of the World War. He never reported anyone, but it was well known he did not approve. Even then, guns were used quite handily.

But this is really the story of the faint sound of the rattle of an empty wagon. Just the wagon frame, four wheels, two mules, and a tired sleepy driver.

Charlie Moore had left home that morning with a load of timber. He unloaded at a railroad siding, and attended to the business connecting with selling the timber. He then bought a few necessary items such as flour and sugar, and then started the long trip back up Sand Mountain to his home.

The faint sound Mother and I heard was the clip-clop of the tired mule and the almost empty wagon. But even more faintly was another sound which became louder as the wagon approached.

It was the voice of Charlie singing “When They Ring the Golden Bells For You and Me.” It was the first time I had ever heard it, and it made such a deep impression. It has remained a favorite of mine for a hundred years. Charlie had a good, clear tenor voice.

The music, and the sounds of the mules and the wagon came, passed, and went on their way home. This has been a story from long ago by someone who is still alive to tell it.”

Isn’t that lovely? I would like for you to clip this column, or print it. Put it somewhere special, so your children and their children can read a first-hand story, written by someone in 2019, about her life in 1919. Let them experience, as you and I have, the clip-clop sounds of the wagon and the mules, and clear tenor voice of Charlie Moore. I wonder if ol’ Charlie had any idea his song would be “heard” a hundred years later. Thanks to Miss Halie, I hear it loud and clear.

David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best columns. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 37405 or 3dc@epbfi.com.