INTERVIEW WITH ANNA SMITH JOHNSON
Last February, I was honored to visit Mrs. Johnson and Douglas in their home. Mrs. Johnson allowed me to pick her brain concerning the Self family. Her mind is remarkably sharp, and I came away with several gold nuggets as far as family history is concerned. I want all our cousins to get acquainted with Miss Anna. The following information came from the interview.
Anna Smith married Olas Johnson on December 23, 1939. He was a native of Sevier County, TN. They had three children; Olas, Jr., born 1940, who died in 1941 at the age of 4 months; Douglas, born in 1942, and Mary Wanda, born in 1948.
Olas Johnson, Sr. died in 1990. Anna and Douglas, live together on a farm in Niota, just off I-75. The daughter, Mary, and her husband, Mark Lefler, live in Athens, TN. Anna came from a large family. She is the only survivor from her immediate family. Several siblings died in infancy. “There was ten in our family. Several died at a young age, just babies. Back then, we didn’t have doctors and wasn’t able to go to doctors like people do now every time they have a headache. I think Nellie (Nellia) was 2 years old. Seems like I heard momma say.” She does not really know the exact cause of the child’s death.
I asked Mrs. Johnson if she recalled her Self grandparents. “ I remember grandma (Mosurie Self) coming to our house and one thing I do remember she would always say over and over ‘now you kids be good to your mother’. That is one thing that I will never forget. She would say ‘you kids be good to your mother’. We lived out from Madisonville, not very far from the edge of town at that time.” I asked if she remembered Cicero Self. She said, “ I don’t remember anything about him at all.” She thinks Mosurie Self lived with uncle Luther Self after Cicero died. “ I don’t remember anything about him (Cicero Self). But I do grandma. She visited us and stayed with us awhile. You kids, you be good to your mom. She meant it. She would say it over and over. I can still hear her. That’s the most vivid thing in my mind.”
“ I do remember when she died. We lived out from Madisonville. Somebody stopped. I don’t remember who it was, and told momma. Like I said. We didn’t have no way to go but in a wagon and she, my momma, didn’t even get to go to the funeral. I can remember that day. She (momma) used to churn. I can remember her sitting there in the chair crying. I was too little, too young, to know that death was sad, you know. I can remember her not saying anything, just weeping. Of course I didn’t understand why she was sad. I was too young to understand what death was like. I think Mosurie was living with uncle Luther when she died.”
I asked Mrs. Johnson if she knew why her parents moved to Monroe County from Blount County. She replied, “my guess is, you know, since they didn’t own their home, they just, you know, I mean when a person says get out of here, we had to go to another place. We were just renters, you know. Until the very last and they got a, they owned a home. But that’s the way I remember growing up, just from one house to another.” I asked her if this was like sharecropping. Was this what her father did? She said “yes”, he sharecropped.
I asked if her family moved to Niota when they left Madisonville. “Not to Niota. We were then closer to Sweetwater and then came down here (to Niota).” Her parents last lived where John Henegar, Jr. lived in Niota she said. This is across Interstate 75, not far from where she still lives.
Mrs. Johnson remembers visiting uncle Luther Self and his second wife at their home in Greenback, TN. She remembers Luther, Emery and uncle Roley Self pretty well. “That’s all I remember. I knew uncle Roley’s family. We lived by uncle Luther for awhile. I remember Mary Alice. In later years, we got acquainted with Judy and Calberta. I remember the older ones, George, Clifford, Gillis, Mary Alice. We lived close to them. I remember uncle Harrison’s girls, Bonnie, Stella, Ruth. And Riley, uncle George’s son, and Douglas, uncle Harrison’s son. We lived near Luther, out from Madisonville. I was just small and the first time I had stayed away from home. He was the kindest person. He would want us to visit with him. I spent one night there and it was the longest night. I was just small. Uncle Harrison, at that time, lived pretty close too, out from Madisonville. My dad owned the house we lived in at that time.”
In the Sweetwater area, her parents lived near Union Grove, on the Sweetwater route, in Monroe County. They lived there a few years, before moving to Niota.
Mrs. Johnson has lived where she now lives since 1945. “We lived in Oak Ridge and got laid off. We bought this, then came here. I’ve lived here a long time. Me and my husband both worked at Oak Ridge. Our first house here was (an) old one. It burned. Then we got this mobile home. There’s been a lot of disappointments but more good than they are bad. God’s always blessed more than, so.”
I asked if she remembered going back to Citico much while growing up. She said “after I got grown, we went back to a few homecomings. That was even after we married, and got able to have a car so we could go. I know Ada and J.B. took mom every year, after dad died. We went a few times. I wasn’t there a lot of times, but I do remember a few times I went back. They went back more than I did. Growing up, we just had a wagon and horses. It took you all day to go (someplace). After they got cars and things, J.B. and Ada took mom every year. I think she was able to go maybe until she passed away. She would see her brothers, uncle Luther and uncle Emery there. I never was around uncle Simp or his people. I know Ada and J.B. took momma to see them, but I didn’t go with them much. He had a son named Douglas, didn’t he?”
“I remember when they went to the Self reunion. They had a picture and one of the men was 90 years old, at one of the reunions.”
“I knew Riley, Rosa, Stella and Ruth. Uncle George lived not too far from us near Madisonville. We were just children then.” “There’s gonna be a lot of Self’s in heaven, aint’ they?” she said with a big smile.
Mrs. Johnson remembers Lola, Luther Self’s daughter. She remembers going to one of Emery’s birthday dinners at his house. All of the family was there, Bessie, Lucy, Lola.
I asked her about Happy Top in Blount County. This is where some of the Self family once lived. She said, “that’s a place I thought I’d like to go because, you see, mom and dad’s children, the little ones, that is where they are buried. Vian, Alvin and them. We was at Happy Top when uncle Roley was buried. Aunt Vietta said ‘your mother and dad lived on up from Happy Top and that’s where their first babies were buried.”
This would be at the other church cemetery on up the road from Happy Top Primitive Baptist Church. She said, “I’m sure at that time they didn’t have money to buy rocks or anything. Graves are probably not marked.” Vian, Alvin and Nellia would be buried there. Alice and Viola are at Citico Cemetery.
“Alice had TB. I was just small, still young enough to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe about seven. Viola, she lived at Loudon. Was working someplace. I don’t remember. At Christmastime, she wanted to come home. She walked in snow, not really deep snow. But she only had slippers on. She took a bad cold and got pneumonia I think.” (She died in 1927. Anna would have been 9.) “She brought me the last doll I ever got. She brought us all a doll. That was her last Christmas.”
“All of my family’s up there but me. And why God left me here I don’t know. But, for a purpose I’d say.”
“Ruth seen over on the other side before she died… she’d call out, ‘there’s daddy’, there’s different people. And she said ‘I can’t cross. Just like they were saying come on Ruth. She said ‘I can’t find no place to cross.’ She talked a lot you know. She longed to go on for two or three years, but God left her for a reason. She told the preacher not to pray that she’d stay here, get well. People can long. They stay here and long to go on. People do get homesick to go where there’s no more sorrow. Anyway that you look at it, it’s so good to know that you’re ready to go. We have a lot of good Selfs over on the other side. I hope they all made it. I didn’t know all of them. I know part of them went.” (Ruth was Anna’s sister, who died in April 2007.)
“To know that we had good parents, know where they are and all. The little down hill places is nothing. It’s nothing. And I’m glad I was brought up the way that I was. I wouldn’t swap it for any of these high jobs. I know what work is like and I know what love in the family is like. So, these are treasures.”
Mrs. Johnson spoke of the fire that destroyed the house she and her family once lived in. She also spoke of a fire that destroyed her sister Ruth’s house, earlier than her own house burned. Ruth’s home was located out from Athens, towards Piney Grove. Ruth had three pieces of a dish set ( grape pattern). The color was a really dark green. The dishes had belonged to grandma Self (Mosurie). Mrs. Johnson said “my momma had them and she wanted Ruth to have them. They would be priceless now. They belonged to Mosurie. I reckon she’d give them to momma and momma wanted Ruth to have them. And course they got burned. That was one thing Ruth really regretted losing, because momma wanted her to have them.”
“Uncle Roley and Vietta lived in McMinn County at one time. We went to see them and spent the night. I remember in the wintertime, they had a big featherbed for cover. I slept in the middle and liked to have burned up, between two of them, in under that big featherbed. Roley lived down here when we lived near Union Grove. He went to church at Union McMinn at that time.”
“When I was young, I’d hear mom and dad, before we had television or radio or anything, at night, talk about their past. Oh, it would be a treasure now. But, back when I was young, it didn’t interest me. But now, if I knew and remembered the things that they said, what they done when they were growing up and how they were brought up and all of that, what a treasure that would be.”
February 4, 1992 was a dark day in Mrs. Johnson’s life. She, her son Douglas, her sister Ada Henegar, and Ada’s husband, J.B. started to the grocery store. They were driving from Niota to Sweetwater. They were traveling north on Hwy. 11. Douglas and J.B. were in the front. J.B. was driving. Ada and Anna were in the back. Anna was behind J.B. and Ada was on the right side, behind Douglas. They approached the intersection of Hwy. 11 and Hwy. 68 . A man in a car traveling from Madisonville ran the red light and hit their car in Ada’s door. Mrs. Johnson remembers when they were hit, she was looking at some coupons to shop with. She was in the University of Tennessee Medical Center and later Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for rehabilitation for about a month after the accident. She had several broken bones. Her hearing is impaired as a result of her injuries. Ada, her sister died at the scene. She remembers being flown to U.T. in the helicopter. “It was like a wagon with a horse pulling it over an old, rocky road.” She had many broken bones and the flight was very painful for her. She could have died then, but God blessed her to recover, and she still gets around fine today, except maybe a little slower.
I came away from the interview blessed to have had the opportunity to listen to the wisdom and wit of Mrs. Anna Johnson. She is an amazing woman. I found her to be much like her sister, Ruth Anderson, who preceded her in death not long ago. Many times during our visit, she spoke of her faith and about being the last survivor from her immediate family. I know that faith has sustained her through many trying times during her lifetime. There is one last quote from her that I want to share.
“Boy, it’s going to be interesting to get to heaven and see all that… and you know, I guess we won’t have to be introduced, because the Bible says you’ll know as you are known. So it’s gonna be wonderful.”