Transcript of Tommie Bass
A Life in the Ridge and Valley Country
Transcription by Jere Tesser with Allen Tullos
(Cherokee County, Alabama)
(Whistling, snapping of branches. Tommie Bass walking through the woods.)
Tommie: We were created out of the earth there. Well, we're part of the earth, and that's what we've got to go back to the earth to get something to keep this body a-ticking. Just like the tree, of course, and the herbs here, they've got sap in em, and we've got blood.
Well it's like I told a young fellow the other day, he said, “Well Tommie,” he said, “I'll see you next spring.” “Well,” I said, “son, now I don't know.” I said, “A man my age.” I said, “If I make it till the leaves falls through, why I might make it til the, till the leaves puts out in the spring.” And he says, “You mean to tell me you gonna die next spring?” I said, “No, I didn't tell you that.” But I said, “According to nature.” I said, “You take an old tree, especially a pear tree, I know several of em in my time that have the awfulest crop, and next year, went graveyard dead, because it made just all it could, you know. And so therefore, that's the reason that people's a-comin back to the nature's things here in the last six years they're coming back faster than in all my whole years. When I first started into this, why, it was just the poor people, both black and white, and the uneducated, but now you can look at the letters that I've got, and by the way they're not what I mean, like myself, uneducated people, they've got letterheads, they've doctors, MDs and PhDs ,and I don't know what all, and therefore, they see that modern thing's not a-working like it should, and they're coming back to the last resort, you might say.
Well now, folks, we're gonna talk about the polk stalk here. The fact of the business is that most of people might be a-listening at us has eat poke salad some time or other. But anyway, this whole plant is medically, has medical value, but it has to be very careful, and not do according to directions if you're taking it according to a book or anything, be sure and do just like they say. But in this time of year now, if you wanna purify your blood, why just come out where the stalks is and eat, we'll say, six berries today, and then come back three or four more days and eat you five or six more, and do that for we'll say a couple of weeks and you won't have to worry about a blood purifier. It purifies your blood - now, you'll throw up your hands and say there that they're poison, but we're lucky to find this one, generally always, the birds has done eat em all up. And so I'm a professional trapper or was at one time and I always hunt the pokeberry thicket, catch possums, coons, muskrats, and everything else because a lot of em didn't eat the pokeberries but they'd come to get the birds that did eat em, and the root now has been a medicine for ever since time, to make for rheumatism and also when people used to have the itch, why they make the tea and take a bath in it, you know and it'd burn em up real but it'd kill it'd get the itch, you know, kill it right out, dead as a door nail.
But anyway, be sure now, if you're gonna make a tea, that is, if you take a notion to, why take a tablespoon full of the cut-up root to a pint of water and boil em for about twenty minutes and then strain it and don't take over a tablespoonful three times a day. But if you wanna put it in whiskey, well put the same thing in a pint of whiskey and take a tablespoon full three times a day. So, it's a real wonderful plant but you've got to be sure and take it according to directions, don't take a overdose.
* * *
(sound of mailbox)
Tommie: Feverfew is the name of it and I'm gonna write here, Feverfew, and when you go into the shop, you tell em that that's what you want. Now this right there. Feverfew.
Man: You got any boarhog root?
Tommie: I think I got about one bottle, son, left.
Man: Well give me one of them. One or two of em. Whatever you got. The ol fellows wanting it for their nature. They chews on the root and they say it helps em. So like I say, I don't know, you know, I'm younger than some of them and I know it don't help me none. (laughs)
Tommie: Now this is a part of a bottle of senna. You tell her to take two of these at night, and see what happens, and if it don't work why take three of em the next night and they'll actually do the work. That's one of the best things that's ever been known for . . .
Man: This the name of it?
Tommie: That's the name of it. Right there, yessir. Now, this is the boarhog root.
Man: How much is it?
Tommie: I'm gonna make this one to you for five dollars. We actually sell em for seven.
Man: Okay. Allright, sir.
Tommie: Whole lot of em…
Man: Wife Ebony said did I see you out here. I . . . them women had him covered up down there.
Tommie: Yeah, that's right. They cover me up every once in a while. You fellows come back now.
Men: Yeah, ok.
Tommie: Most everybody gets something like that. And, course, this one here is from the Baptist Church at Centre, their bulletin. And this one here is a-wantin . . . this here is a politician they want me to send money to help me get along, you know, I get em from the Democrats and Republicans, regardless of who they are, and I even get letters from the Catholic priests wanting me to help em, you know, along. Course this is one of them get rich letters here this make you a million dollars in just a few days, you know, send five people five dollars apiece and then when your name gets to the top, why you'll go a-getting the five dollars -- but don't try it buddy it won't work.
Course this here one, here's another politican. I get em . . . when they's running here in our state from the Democrats, I'd average two or three letters a day, and then the same way about the Republicans, you know, it just didn't make no difference just so they can get some money. (chuckles) But I didn't give em none. I figured . . the fact of the business is a fellow running for office, a man or a woman, I'm like the little boy was about the peckerwood. Peckerwood pecked a hole in a hollow tree and he went over in there, and the little boy he drove a peg in behind it. Somebody said to him, “Son,” said, “you shouldn't of done the little bird that way.” He said, “Well the son-of-a-gun pecked in, now let him peck out. And so I'm that way about a politician. If he wants to get into office, let him get in there (chuckles), but I ain't gonna try to help him. Course, if he's a good guy, I'd talk for him, but as far as paying him in there, I don't go along with that.
I've been a-working ever since I was six years old, at something. And when I had a heart attack and a seizure, why I was laid up for a whole year, and after I got on a special vitamin and got back to what I could work again I had to have something to do. Well this here junk man he commence bringing in things here, chairs need a new rocker, maybe a bed needing something done to it, well I commence buying, and now by golly I've got so much stuff I don't even know what to do with it. (chuckles) I've got a house-full up there and all these other buildings with something in there, you know. And so, of course, I gotta rid of one now and then. Somebody come along and I'll give em something, and maybe somebody buy something, you know. Anyway, I've got more now than I actually need.
There were six of us children, four boys and two girls. We were different in lots of ways to a lot of other people that lived around us. We never did depend on cotton for making a living like the other people did. We tried to make money . . . Dad always had the word, “play for what you see on the board,” and if he seen where he could make a few dollars, he didn't take a chance at something else. And so, we picked, gathered the things out of the woods and other things like that, you know, and survive on em, where other people didn't. And then, of course, we truck farmed, and done things like that, and, to make a side living, and course my dad kept buying furs. He bought furs till he went blind. He had that in his system. And so I handled em for years and years myself, but that was a sideline, always just had a sideline on that. Fact of the business is, timber in the wintertime, that was our main money-making deal. We dealed in timber. He bought timber, and I cut cross-ties and things like that. Buy a bunch of ties and hire a bunch of men to help me and we'd go in and make a nickel on the stick, what they made, and pay them just as much as I got, you know. And so that's the way . . . And folks didn't understand us. When we moved up on the mountain right up there where that gap is. They couldn't understand, you know, just how that we, and people don't understand today how I get by. You know, they don't understand it, it's kinda got em buffaloed.
* * *
Tommie: We're going to Collinsville, to the trade day there. I'd describe it as being one of the greatest thrills that you ever went to, if you like a pile of junk, just like my junkyard. I think they claim they got people there from seven or eight states, and some of them have come as far as New York. But you see all kinds of people and then you see anything in the world. I don't believe there's anything made that you won't see if you take time.
Woman: Hey Mr. Tommie.
Tommie: Hello there.
Woman: How ya doing? Haven't seen you in a long time! Good to see you. Just fine, just fine. Good. You doin' allright?
Tommie: Yes ma'am.
Woman: I saw you peddling down the road the other day. (laughs)
Tommie: Yes, you did, well good. Everything going alright?
Woman: Good to see you!
Tommie: Yes ma'am, take care now, bye!
(Man hawking: television! television!)
Tommie: These people goes there that actually don't . . . . One man come by there several years ago and this old man had an anvil, a shop anvil. Asked him what he'd take for it and he says fifty dollars, and the man says, “Well you'll never get it.” He says, “I don't give a damn if I don't.” Said, “If I sell that anvil I won't have a way to come back to Collinsville.” So that's the way a lot of em is, they just go, you know, because they like to go.
(dog barking, chickens clucking)
Tommie: Hi there little one.
Mr. Sewell: Angelico, or boil root, makes young men out of old!
Tommie: That's right.
Mr. Sewells: This quick rub right here, when you're hurting, why it stops you from hurting. When you're frowning, it makes you smile.
Tommie: That's right.
Mr. Sewell: Boy if it don't heal it, it can't be healed. Yellow root right here . . . .
Tommie: Mr. Sewells, he's been a a-working that trade day for I guess fifteen or twenty years. In fact, it's sometimes he says that there's nothing else that he sells but what he gets here from me. He buys the boarhog root, or actually it's angelico, he buys that by the dozen bottles here from me. And then he buys the yellow root, and then he buys the rub, and when I've got the cough remedy, he buys it.
Mr. Sewell: Angelico, or boarhot root, makes a young man out of old.
Woman: Which one of you is Tommie Bass?
Tommie: I'm Tommie Bass, yes ma'am.
Woman: I thought you were.
Mr. Sewell: Sell her that book, Tommie.
Tommie: Sir? That tells you how to find em in the woods. Tells you how to use em after you done find em in the woods.
Woman: This is what my husband and I've been wanting . . . . We've moved to Cherokee County. We've been meaning to come over and see you … couldn't catch you at home.
Tommie: I'm kinda hard to catch…
Woman: I imagine you are.
Tommie: But if you actually want to come by, well you call me after six o'clock tonight and I'll tell you when you can catch me.
Woman: See, we own about eleven acres up there in Cherokee County and we got all kinds of wildflowers and herbs. We need to talk with somebody like you. (laughs)
Tommie: Ok, we'll check it out.
Woman: Thanks a lot.
Tommie: Yes ma'am.
* * *
Tommie: I had a dream actually that absolutely floored me. I never had had a dream like that. Seemed like I was sleeping all right, you know. But I dreamed that I was up here on the mountain, on the old road there, course we got a good road there now, but on the old road, and I was a-doing something out there, seemed to me best way I remember I was cutting wood.
I dreamed that this road here I heared a kind of a noise and I looked over, you know, like anyone will and there come a beautiful white horse, and as one of as prettier women, girls, that I ever seen. I never have seen one on television or anywhere else that was that pretty, now this was in the dream, and she just come along by me, never said a word, I didn't say anything myself. But then just vanished, you know. And so then it wadn't no time till my family broke up. And I don't know . . . that wadn't no warning. Of course I didn't know how to take it, but I can't help but, you know, think about it and it made me feel so bad I just, like a feller in shock.
Brings back old memories. We moved in here in a two-horse wagon. 1922. Back to this place up here I'll show you where, where the house used to be, and where we got water and where my mother's wash-place was, and all that we'll see that, of course, looking at it you wouldn't even think it's there but it, it's still in your mind, you know.
There's some . . . these honeysuckle vines have done took over. Nope, that's not a chimley. But anyway, the house was right in here. And this was . . . right around in here was where the barn sit, and we had a garden right out, right out in there where the pines is. And I remember one year my mother planted English peas in December. Dad thought she was crazy. And, by the way, them things, we had a pretty cold winter, we put straw on em, and you talking about making English peas - it was this here telephone pea -- got as high as your head. Boy, we eat peas till we turned blue in the face, and then we picked a bunch of the dry ones and me and dad peddled em all next spring for people to plant, you know.
One time me and my brother was coming right along back there, and we had a two-wheel cart and, by the way, somehow or other my brother got his overalls caught in the wheel and my daddy blamed me for it. He thought that I'd pushed my brother in and I wadn't even close to him, you know. And he drawed that back, and course my brother seen what was going on, we was both just kids, and he commenced begging, you know, and so the old man, he was just like a . . . a torpedo, he'd just explode, you know, (snaps finger) just like that. And so my brother. And then he just commenced shaking all over you know making apologies. But he don't . . . He always hit before he thought, you know.
My mother and my two sisters, we never had no trouble. If we did, I don't know it. Never did have any. My mother was a wonderful woman. She was the cause of me, I reckon, living the kind of a life that I've lived. Now my daddy he knowed the Bible from top to bottom. He'd quote the scripture to you, but he didn't live it. Well now, my mother knew it but she wouldn't quote it, she actually lived it.
See I was the oldest child. And seemed like my daddy -- now my mother, every one of her children were just the same with her -- but my daddy, seemed like he didn't, you know, never did like me, and of course I had to get along with him best I could. But he was really, he didn't ever beat me up, but he just bad to bemean you, you know, and things like that, tell you he'd bind you out. Course they couldn't do that now, but back in his day you know a little boy or girl they could loan, I mean, you might say sell em to a man or a family, you know, for em to work. And he'd threaten me that way, and me a-workin so hard you know to do all I could. And so it sure did hurt, but anyway . . . .
I guess that's the reason I never did marry. For back in them days, why a boy and a girl got married, why the man was supposed to [be the] one to make the living. Course the women didn't have no way to work. Now but of course most of them, a lot of families the woman makes more money than the man. But then, I always said well, if I can't get financially able where I could keep a woman, mother, I mean wife, where she wouldn't have to work like my mother, I just not gonna get none at all.
It really makes you lonesome to come back to a place where you spent your boyhood days you know, and a part of it, and worked real hard and didn't get nothing out of it, it's still here (chuckles). But my mother and my sisters and all my folks you know and they're all gone, most of em, so . . . and a lot of my friends.
We roamed all over this whole area here many many times. But we won't never do that no more, I don't guess.
* * *
(bike rolling, whistling)
Tommie: Bought me some sweet potato slips the other day and put them out and boy the sun killed them graveyard dead.
Mr. Edge: Well the thing to do when you plant it you got to turn it over to the Lord and whatever he wants to happen with it that's what'll happen.
Tommie: Yeah I've done turned it over to him. He don't want to make anything, why that's all there is to it. (chuckles)
Mr. Edge: Did you want to leave any of it, Tommie?
Tommie: Uh, just give a trim, if you don't mind.
Mr. Edge: Ok.
Tommie: Make it easy on yourself. I'm not a-gonna go to no wedding or nothing like that noway.
Mr. Edge: The title to it is “If I.” Just two words, “If I.”
Said if I could go back and undo some wrongs I've done along the way
and know that wounds that I have caused were healed of all the scars today,
says, if someone else still wanders on who followed my unsteady track,
and lost his way for lack of light because my lantern globe was black,
says if I could gather up and bind the wasted years that I have spent
and treat them as they had never been, today I'd be much more content.
I'm pardoned from my undone past, but even though the hurt is done.
For out there somewhere in the dark, a soul is lost and I have won.
Tommie: That's a good one, boy . . . .
Mr. Edge: Well I'm glad you like it, Tommie.
Tommie: It's a good . . .
Mr. Edge: Like I said not the way I do em, just . . .
Tommie: Good, real good.
Mr. Edge: . . . the meaning of em.
* * *
Tommie: No sir, I never went to school one day in my life, course I won't go into that. Cause I don't guess anybody being arrested in it. But anyway, it wouldn't take but a minute or two to tell and I teached that day. But to answer your first question, no sir, I never did go to school. Of course, my mother . . . But the first thing I done, lived over in Trenton, Georgia, and I guess I was going on four or five years old and it was 19 and 12. And so by the way, mother had . . . I think she used it to stand on -- she was a little short woman -- and it was a shotgun shell box. I don't see one . . . well, it was about square like that board laying over there. And it had the names, you know, of the gun shells. And I remember asking mother what them things were. See I didn't know they were letters, of course I found out later, but I spelt . . . I learned how to spell shotgun and things like that on this box, you know. And then, from then on, why they got me the blue black speller, which was about many . . . . well, dad that's all he did study in school, you know. It's kind of for all grades of course. And then, of course I read everything, all kind of magazines and letter . . . I mean newspapers and everything, and the Bible, and just picked it up down the line.
But the only school I went to . . . when I was sworn in over here at Fort McClellan for the Army, the 5th day of September, 1942, the guy asked me he said what school did you go to? And I said, “Well partner, I never went to school.” Well he didn't ask me can you read and write. Well of course I done swore in the Army and they told me, said, “Don't you talk back to nobody.” Well, I didn't. I didn't say nothing.
Well got on over to Camp Lee and so we . . . I got my basic training. And that sergeant told me one morning, says, “Bass, you fall out with school detail.” Well, I could . . . I had to do it you know. Well, I went on and oh, boy, the teacher, he was about six-foot two, red-headed and freckle-faced and the finest feller. He was a master sergeant. And he called us gentlemens. We'd been called everything else in the world but that. And there were three guys bunking with me, and by the way they didn't know their ABCs and I'd been writing the letters back for em, you know. And I couldn't tell him I didn't know. Well, he carried us down where the CC camp had been and carried us in a little room kinda like this, and told us to have a seat. “You gentlemens have a seat.” Said “Now. if any of you don't the answers to these questions,” says, “don't ya tell em,” said, “You go and call me.” Well he [just went out] the side door.
Well he give us a little pamphlet just had two pages. First page there had a picture of an oak tree and he wanted to know if an oak tree was composed of wood or stone. And so I read it and a fellow Adkins over here in Georgia, he had a wife and five children, (chuckles) I don't know how he ever got in there you know. But the other two fellows, was one was from North Carolina and the other one from Virginia, and, not Virginia but Kentucky, and so it seemed like they was kinda embarrassed, but this other guy he wadn't. He said, “What in the hell do they want to ask us a word like that for?” I said, “Partner,” I said. “Do you think an oak tree's made of wood or stone?” He said, “What the dickens is a stone?” I said, “Feller, don't you know, never did see a tombstone or a grindstone or rainstone or wetstone?” And I said, “Didn't you buy your wife a stone?” “No,” says, “I didn't buy her a darn thing.” And so, anyway, it went on, and I told them, “Well I said, “fellows, the tree's made of wood.” And it had a little box down there to mark, you know.
And so, then, the next question there's a little branch here. Wanted to know if a brook was a running stream or a dry ditch. Had dry ditch there, you know. Read it and had never heered of a brook. They didn't know what in the world it was it. And I said, “Well fellows, we're here in Virginia., And I said, “If we'd call some of these guys Yankees,” I said, “we'd start the Civil War all over again.” But I says, “A brook is a stream of water. That's what we want to know.” And I said, “Now, down South, why we always just called em creeks or branches or rivers.” But I says, “In some parts of the country, they call a brook is a stream of water that's too small to be called a creek and too large to be called a branch.” I said, “It's twixt and between.” But I said, “We wanna know do you think it's a running stream?” This guy says, “I don't know what the deuce it is.” “Well,” I said , “it's a running stream. ”
And then the last one, over here, make it a long story short, pictured the soldiers laying on their stomach firing across a river, it looked like, and the sun just a-coming up. It wanted to know if the enemy attacked us at dawn, would it be a morning or evening. And when I read the word dawn, it just didn't dawn on em. They didn't know what in the world to think, you know. I said, “Well fellows dawn is just between daylight and sun-up.” I said, “Don't you see the sun a-coming up there?” And so the sergeant said, “Bass, you fall out, labor detail the next morning.”
So I just went to school one day and teached that day. Absolutely. It sounds unreasonable, but that's what I done.
* * *
Tommie: The first one there is me, of course, and next one Mr. Roy Mackey, and the other one is his sister Frankie Mackey. See I took care of them and their people for about eight or ten twelve years til they all passed away.
Mr. Mackey, their father, wanted me to live starting back in 1925, wanting me to come here and live and I . . . my home was over on the side of the mountain over there. I said “Mr. Mackey, I'll work for you and all,” but I said, “I want to stay at home.” And so, I did, till my people sold out in 1937 and then I moved in. And they was all just like my kinfolk, there wasn't no connection like man and wife or anything.
Tommie: That ought to keep her a-going a little bit.
Tommie: Can you deliver it? Well you just see, that's . . . uh-huh. Well, . . . well that's a pretty high price for . . . . Is it good lard? All right, just any time you bring it. Why, well no ma'am, I'm not but this kind of weather I'll be. If the weather stays bad I'll be around here (chuckling). But if I'm not here, I'll be at the Appalachian herb shop at Centre, so you pick me up there either place. Okay. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Tommie: This is peachtree leaves here, I'm a drying. And they're . . . you know peachtree leaves is a wonderful medicine. And it'll make a good tea for the nerves, and also good for the kidney and the liver. And take expectant mothers, where they got morning sickness, and just take a handful like that and put it in a teacup, run hot water over it and let it sit about ten minutes and drink a cup at night, one in the morning. It just kills that morning sickness graveyard dead.
And also . . . and, of course, this here is the winter huckleberry, or the mountain huckleberry some people call it, some calls it bear huckleberry. And it makes the finest tea in the world. Now none of this don't cure, it just helps the body heal itself. But anyway, make a tea out of this for sugar diabetes, also high blood pressure, and it's just wonderful what it will do. I'm a-drying this ready to sack. When I get it bone dry, like we have it here ready to put it in paper bags like this, and we tie the top like that and that keeps the fruitworms out and it'll keep that way and then you can make the tea any time you want to. Or if you don't want to do that, why, you can put it green like it is here in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator and keep it green that way and the peachtree leaves too.
* * *
Dear Mr. Bass,
I was interested when I read the article in the Birmingham News about your knowledge of herbs. Since I was young, I have been very distressed by s-i-s-i-c-a c-o-l-o-n which cause diarrhea. Would you know of a herb that would relieve this? I am sending a self-stamped, a self-addressed stamped envelope for your answer. Thank you.
Florence F-i-s-c-h-e-r, Fischer, I think, yeah.
And so I sent her some, uh, redroot and it so, it straightened her out. I remember that, yessir. Fact of the business is, the book calls it New Jersey tea or and the black people here calls it redshank. Over in Georgia they call in crookshank. But we call it New Jersey tea root. But, of course, then another name for it is wild snowball. But anyway it really . . . course, the blackberry root will do the same thing.
Dear Mr. Bass,
I saw your picture in the Birmingham News. Also read your story. My husband has rheumatism and arthritis. He has been to the doctor but they don't do him no good. Send me some bark from the wild cucumber tree. My daughter also has arthritis and . . . something else there.
So anyway, I sent her the wild cucumber bark.
I don't ever get a letter, but what I answer it. One way or the other. And generally speaking, some of them sends a self-stamped envelope, but some of, a lot of them don't. But when you answer around a hundred letters for twenty-five dollars, twenty-five cents a letter, that runs into money (chuckles). But I answer em anyway.
My daddy always told me that they was this formulae that makes the salve, came across from England. And one side of our house was Ward and the other side was Bass. And now I imagine that the Bass's must have been the one that brought it because he was the one that had the formulae. And so Mother, would make the salve, but Dad would sell it, and give a lot of it away, too. And so, it was such a famous healer that I picked it up then about sixty-five years ago and started making it myself. But I done away with the original formulae on account it was so nasty. People these days wouldn't use it. It'd do the work, but they kind of a formulae that they had had yellow sulphur and pine tar and snuff or homemade tobacco or what we call devil's snuffbox and honey and a whole mess but it'd really do the work.
Weather radio: Tuscaloosa 84 partly sunny, humidity 65%, wind south at 14, pressure 29.98 steady. Muscle Shoals 87 cloudy…
Tommie: Hello there, Judy. How you doing there, kid. Come right in this house. Doggone, we glad to see you, kid. Gentlemens, this little lady here, confidentially, saved my life. And her, course it's cooperation with the whole family. But she done come in and took over when I didn't have nowhere to go and, by Ned, I couldn't even take care of myself. And bless her little heart. She just like a little nurse. Just worked . . . . Had all of her other things to do. And why she done this for this stack of bones I can't tell. I don't understand it. I don't know.
Judy James: One of our favorite ones . . . .
Tommie: That's right, see how the stem goes through the leaf?
Well, now we lived here in Leesburg and we lived right around the corner here. And we'd be out in our garden working lot of times and people would pull over to the side and ask where Tommie Bass lived, or where did the herb man live. I said, “What is an herb man. and who are we talking about, and why are these people coming to find him?” And so, that really got my curiosity going, so in about a day or two, I came by with the kids. And I just came up and told him who I was and fell in love with him right off like everybody does. And I talked and he talked, and I don't know how long I stayed. And I'd just had my second child and I wanted to lose the excess weight that you have after a baby so, he said, “Well, drink goosegrass.” And I said, “Well,what's that?” And he pulled out a big old garbage sack of stuff that looked like hay.
Tommie: That's what it did.
Judy: And he said, “You just take this, and you make you a tea out of it and drink you three six-ounce glasses of it a day.” I said all right, so he gave me the whole sack. Wouldn't let me pay him. And after you know Tommie, you find out this is the general thing he does. He wants you to take it and then if you have results come back. So I took it and I'd mix it, you know, and I'd drink it with a little bit of apple juice cause I didn't like the taste that much. And it really started flushing the kidneys. And I gradually was losing and I had started exercising again. Well this was my first introduction to herbs, really.
* * *
Tommie: When Judy first came to this part of the country, she didn't even know one herb from another, but the thing about it was, she, God bless the Nature's Sunshine people, and now her and her husband has got an herb shop that's most successful that we know of anywhere.
This is the greatest thing. Now I've been an herbist for around seventy years and when in 1972 this company, just a man and his wife, went to putting just one herb and after they found out that it was a whole lot better to add some to it for that each one pulled together, it's the greatest thing that ever happened to the herb business. It just revolutionaired it. Because people don't have to guess about what they're taking or how much they're taking. And so they run these laboratory tests and makes it pure and there's no way in the world that we could keep it as clean because we don't have the machinery. And, of course, they've got millions of dollars tied up. But still they can do it, where guy just raising a vine or two can't get along with it, you know.
Judy: Hi, Mr. Hammett.
Mr. Hammett: Hey.
Judy: How've you been?
Mr. Hammett: Fine, fine.
Judy: Good. Get this out of the way, putting up stock, so we got a mess right here.
Mr. Hammett: You been a-fishing any, Barry?
Barry James: Yeah, I been fishing.
Mr. Hammett: Catching anything though?
Barry: Yeah, catching a bass, caught a few crappie. Caught one about two-pound yesterday.
Mr. Hammett? You get that fever again?
Barry: I know it. I just don't get enough time to go.
Judy: Twelve-eighty-eight. Twelve-eighty-eight. That's ninety, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, five's twenty. Have you signed up for our newsletter yet?
Mr. Hammett: No.
Judy: Okay. If you want to receive it, put your name and address right here, and when we send it out, we'll send you a copy.
Mr. Hammett: Right on this line, here?
Tommie: Well, I'll be, if nothing happens, I'm going this Sunday, to talk at a church out there and be there for breakfast.
Tommie: And they're coming to get me six-o-clock (chuckles) Sunday morning. And…
Judy: You're gonna go up on the mountain?
Tommie: Up on the mountain somewhere, yes ma'am.
Tommie: And let's see, we go the eleventh to Tennessee.
Judy: Yeah, we go to, let's see, Cleveland, Tennessee the eleventh, and then we go to Rainesville and Summerville the eighteenth, and that's all . . . .
Tommie: Yes ma'am.
Judy: . . . in one day, and then that night we have to be in Georgia by six o'clock.
Tommie: That's right.
Judy: To do that talk.
Tommie: Yeah, yeah.
Judy: And then that'll wind us up for a little while.
* * *
Tommie: Now the Indians used this for all kinds of ailments for temporary relief of rheumatism, colds, fever, coughs and so on. And they also used it in the place of where we use sage to flavor their cooking, meats and things. They've not got as good a flavor as sage, but they didn't have, you see, Will Rogers you know always said that his people didn't come on the Mayflower they met it. Well now this plant met the Mayflower.
There's more pretty girls than one
There's more pretty girls than one
Don't be blue, I'll tell you true
There's more pretty girls than one
* * *
Tommie: The best friend, excepting my mother and my two sisters . . . that . . . . Right there lays the best friend that I've ever had [points to Frankie Mackey's grave]. Judy James, has kindly took her place, because she's took me in and helped me when I couldn't help myself.
The first time that I ever seen the little lady was a-way back in 19, and along about 19 and 20. And she wasn't higher than that, you know. Just . . . she always was a little short thing. And had pretty hair way down here. But, of course, I didn't actually know who she were, was then. And so I went to working with the family. And one time they . . . her daddy said, “Tom,” said, “I want you to come over and help Frankie hoe peas. And I'd never hoed no peas in my whole dog-gone born days, you know. We always sewed them rascals and let em take care of theirself. So me and her hoed a whole day. She wasn't much . . . wouldn't . . . didn't talk very much. We hoed a whole day and I don't guess we said a half a dozen words. And so I just went to . . . . But I was sorry for her. She had been dropped, and poor little thing kinda had to walk kinda like that. And she thought when you took a picture . . . . She wouldn't hardly let you take her picture a-all. I'd go to take her picture and [she'd] hear that camera snap, buddy, she'd get gone. She'd thought it would show up, but it didn't show too bad.
But anyway, you talking about hard working. She didn't know how to do anything in the world but work in the kitchen and on the farm.
Her people, her brothers didn't you know have a bit of sympathy on her and that's one reason I stayed around as long as I did, I felt so sorry for her, you know. But anyway, she one of the most wonderful people. That she ever done anything that was wrong, we don't know about it.
The fact of the business is I had worked, and tried to clean off so many of the local graveyards like we used to be buried in, or cemeteries, and seen so many of em growed up and just let go and big trees, big enough to make saw-oaks grow up in em. And so I'd seem disgusted with that, and so I told Miss Frankie, I said, “Frankie I'm going over and buy me a lot at the cemetery.” And she said, “Well, Tommie, I'm going with you.” Well we came and these two here cost us around four or five hundred dollars. But that's why we gonna be buried here because they'll keep this up. It's not because they like anybody, it's because they're making money. And got it all paid for now and I've got my insurance policies at Perry Funeral Home's, got em in a safe over there. And I haven't ever went and bought me a suit of clothes yet. But all they've got to do is . . . anybody pick up the phone and tell em to come get me. And that's all, they . . . won't nobody have anything to . . . no trouble whatever, you know. The funeral home take . . . and this, these folks will have a grave dug and have me planted, so it won't bother nobody at all. I want to be just as little trouble as I could.
* * *
Poor little beans, they need a little rain, they're just so dry.
All the medicine started from these weeds out here. All the herbs a-growing out there is one kind of a vegetable or another. And that's the reason that it does us so much good. And, course, it won't cure everything, but the drugs don't cure everything. And that's where it comes in. And so, therefore, to answer your question, I think there'll be plenty of herbists in years to come, yessir.
(whistling and hoeing)
Producer: Allen Tullos
Associate Producer: Tom Rankin
Camera: Tom Rankin, Tom Davenport
Sound: Allen Tullos
Production Assistant: David Dreger
Editing Asistant: Evan Lieberman
Production Advisors: Cynthia Blakeley, Susannah Koerber
Post-Production: ASV Corporation, Atlanta, Georgia. James P. Milan, editor
Special Thanks: Ken Brockenbrough, Jon Byrd, Cedar Bluff Garden Club, John Crellin, Ed Croom, Judy and Barry James, Marilyn Morton, Daniel W. Patterson, Jane Philpott, Lisa Roach, Jack Sewell, Rebecca Sharpless, Dorothy and Rolf Tullos, Candace Waid
Alabama State Council on the Arts: Joey Brackner
Cherokee County Historical Society: Bob Minnix
Copyright 1993. Tommie Bass Documentary Project
(Video transcription by Jere Tesser and Allen Tullos)