The Turner County Project had the privilege of interviewing Mrs. Joyce McHugh Reed with the help of her son Wayne Reed on Saturday, July 3, 2021 over a glass of homemade sweet tea. This 102-year-old resident of Turner County shared some stories about her move to the area around age 13, her most popular cooking request, and some great stories as a daughter and a wife of a sharecropper in Turner County.
Some of this interview has been edited for clarity.
Thanks to Wayne Reed for helping flush out some of the details.
The McHugh family moves to Turner County
To here a partial clip from this section of the interview, check out the soundbite at the TCP Digital Archive Repository.
Turner County Project (TCP): How long have you lived in Turner County?
Joyce Reed (JR): Lord, I will have to think back. It was in the 30s.
Wayne Reed (WR): She was born in Pitts, Georgia in Wilcox County [in 1918]. And then her family moved down here.
JR: We came to Turner County, I think I was in the 7th grade [approximately 1931-1932].
TCP: And why did you move to Turner County?
JR: Well, my dad was a sharecropper and he moved from one landowner to another about every year or two. And so he moved here with a man named Guy Reed that he rented to. He subrented from another man and my daddy sharecropped with him. And we have been here since then.
TCP: Where did you move to in Turner County?
JR: We moved to a place called Davisville. A little community up near the hunting lodge [Red Pebble??]. It was on that farm but back a little ways. They lived and worked on that farm for a little while. From that place to a district called Amboy to the top of this hill [behind Reed Lane]. We called it the McHugh Hill because that was my daddy’s name [Joe McHugh].
TCP: How long did you live there?
JR: Til I got married. I graduated from high school in 1936 in Rebecca. We only had 11 grades. We got married in 1942.
WR: Daddy [Bobby Reed] was 17 years older than her. He was born in 1901. When World War I came along, daddy had a broke[n] leg and could not go off. When WW2 came along, he was just about too old for that war too but he broke the same leg again.
TCP: Where did y’all [Joyce and her husband] meet?
JR: Well he was in the community around here, Bobby Reed.
WR: They got married and they lived between Reed Lane and Amboy store.
TCP: [After moving from Pitts initially], have you lived here in the same area your whole life?
JR: Yes, I’ve been in this same area since 7th grade.
WR: She went to Florida to stay with some of the kinfolk that had a youngin’ and helped them out for a bit, but nothing permanent.
JR: I was always doing that. People were always wanting me to come and cook for them. Help them with the baby while they got up. [This was before she got married.]
WR: She started cooking on a wood burning stove. That was how she learned to cook.
TCP: What is your favorite thing to cook?
JR: I cooked everything – peas, corn, and chicken. But it was biscuits mostly. They always wanted my biscuits.
TCP: Tell me all about your biscuits.
WR: It’s all by hand. She ain’t got it wrote down. She taught me how to do it but I’m not real good at it but that is one thing I want to learn how to do. It’s a messy job. For her, it ain’t.
JR: I use buttermilk and lard. I don’t measure but go by feel.
WR: We never used Crisco and the lard that you buy now in those little tubs – it ain’t like the lard they used years ago. If you make biscuits with Crisco, you can’t sop them with syrup because they fall apart. When you have good, tough lard biscuits, you can. That is what we were raised on. I would like to have a penny for every biscuit she made.
TCP: Do you use cast irons or what do you use to cook it in?
JR: A long time ago a lid off of a lard can and we cooked the biscuits on that. But we use a regular metal pan now.
Joyce: Here’s an old picture of me when I was a baby. My cousin has on black cotton stockings and we would get them for Christmas. We wore bloomers then and they had elastic in the leg and that would help hold up our stockings. The little shoes I had on – those button up ones – I think that was the first pair of shoes I had. They got burnt up in the house down there. This had to be in early 20s in Wilcox County.
Life of a sharecropper family
TCP: What kind of jobs did you have throughout your life?
JR: I milked the cow, I picked cotton, and shucked peanuts. I would not kill a chicken unless I absolutely had too.
TCP: Did you pick a lot of cotton?
JR: Yea, I picked cotton from the time I was old enough and I went to these peoples house a long time ago. I was about 6 or 8 years old and they wanted someone to help them get the cotton out and I don’t know why us youngins had to go, me and my brother. I think I made $1.30 that week. And I bought a piece of material – it was little blue voile – and my aunt and my grandmother made me a dress with it. It had little ruffles around the hem. And they rode it to the house one Sunday and the church was down the hill from where we lived [in Wilcox]. My moma had gone to church. They put that dress on me and took me down there to that church and had me go and find moma to show her.
TCP: Did you have a garden growing up and when you were married?
JR: Yes, always had a garden.
WR: We had too. That was how we survived. We always have peas, butterbeans, things like that. We would can and preserve. And then many years later, they opened that canning plant in Sycamore but most of the stuff we did at home.
WR: She had a hard life. When you are born to a sharecropper and married a sharecropper, there are not a lot of great days. It’s a lot of hard days. A lot of hard work. Washing clothes, you had to draw water. When the well dried up, you had to go find a spring and haul it to the house for the livestock and to wash clothes.
JR: I always said growing up I wouldn’t marry a farmer and then I did. I remember when we could swap eggs and chickens for groceries. A grocery truck used to come by the house and he would take those chicken and eggs in payment. A man would bring ice that we would buy for our icebox. Then we began to get electricity and a telephone. All that came later in my life.
A 1950s Birthstory in Turner County
WR: I was actually born in Ashburn in the Shingler building where there used to be a doctor’s office upstairs.
JR: We went to the doctor’s and stayed down there all day. After no progress, he told us to go home. Bobby, my husband, decided he wanted to go to a drive-in movie.
TCP: Where was that?
WR: In Ashburn, between Ashburn and Sycamore. The Turner County Stockyards are there now.
JR: We went to the drive-in and I started to have real pains, then. Went back to the doctor’s office. There was nobody at the office. Dr. Goss’s wife came by when she found out I was having a baby. She put into find Dr. Goss and he finally got there and we went upstairs. I had Wayne and not long after, someone else was coming in and Dr. Goss had to get me out. So they toted me downstairs – my husband and the doctor – in a chair, placed me in the truck, and Bobby brought me home.
On being 100+ years old
TCP: What is your secret to living to 102 years old?
JR: *laughs* I don’t know.
TCP: Eating those biscuits, I bet! Did you cook anything else that you enjoyed besides biscuits?
WR: Her 10 layer chocolate cakes are good.
WR: Brooke [Wayne’s daughter] will tell you the best thing she makes is her sweet tea. Brooke won’t drink sweet tea unless it’s her grandma’s.
TCP: What makes your sweet tea so special?
JR: Lots and lots of sugar.
Nowadays, Joyce’s life is much more slow-placed that growing up a sharecropper’s daughter or being a wife of a share cropper. She still gardens although it is more of a joint family effort with her son Wayne. They have fresh veggies such as squash and okra but also gorgeous zinnias! Joyce personally picks the flowers she wants to seed from each year and marks them with a ribbon.
Joyce’s zinnia garden
About The People of Turner County Project:
This is an oral history project that works to both preserve, document, and celebrate the people of Turner County and the history through the stories of those who have experienced it.
This project collects oral histories of people who have lived or worked in Turner County, Georgia.
Linda Davis Cox
Love this story about Aunt Joyce. She is the only aunt I have left. My mother, Katie Lou Reed Davis & Aunt Joyce’s husband (Bobby) were half brothers & sisters. We go back to Rebecca each year for our Reed Family Reunion. Thanks to Sue Hasty, Glenn & Wayne Reed for putting it together. Love Aunr Joyce’s 10 layer chocolate cake made from scratch!
I would pay good money to taste her 10 layer cake!
Thanks to my Aunt for sending this to me. I was mesmerized reading the words of Joyce and Wayne Reed. This is a real “keeper” for the ages. Zinnias, properly made biscuits and ice tea have taken on a new meaning. God Bless Y’all!
Thank you so much for reading!