“Living By The Seat Of My Pants”
by Edmund C. Hughes
Chapter 1
Exploring My Bolton Roots
This book’s title, “Living By The Seat Of My Pants,” puts a humorous twist on an old expression I first heard while growing up on the outskirts of Atlanta. Humor remains the mainstay of my life, helping to withstand the trials and tribulations experienced during my 87 - year existence. Without the balm of humor, my survival would have been in jeopardy and my sanity in question at several critical stages.
Two catastrophic events defined my early life - the Great Depression and World War II. Yet, I derived lasting benefits from both that have helped me achieve whatever success I have had. I believe it’s called serendipity, when good results accidentally.
The depression taught me many lessons about thrifty living and gave me an appreciation of my abundant blessings, including those that resulted only from a fortunate god - given inheritance of  good genes.
The war changed and enhanced my life. Although the experiences were at times daunting and demanding, the educational value was inestimable. I realize that now more than I did at the time.
I was born on February 14, 1915, in Bolton, Georgia, a small community in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. My mother’s brother, Dr. Paul McDonald, attended the delivery. A general practitioner, he treated the ills of most of the community, the birth occurred at our home, a small, shot - gun frame house on Bolton Road.
When I was six weeks old, my family moved to a more spacious house on the same road only a quarter of a mile away. Still no indoor plumbing. For us, it was a room and a path. Believe me, it got cold going to the outhouse in that sometimes frigid weather. Our only water supply, a deep well, required each bucket - full to be cranked up on a rope coiled around a windlass. On Saturday nights, a large amount of water had to be drawn for our weekly baths - whether we needed one or not. Of course, we had no central heat. Fireplaces in the bedrooms and a coal - burning kitchen stove had to suffice. We lived in this house until I was 10 years old when my father became affluent enough to build a new brick house just a hundred yards farther up the road.
The author at an early age,
with his mother,
Annie Lee McDonald Hughes.
Several years before we moved, tragedy struck our family. It affected all of us, but especially my parents. In 1922, another son, Miles Jr., had been born. A beautiful, happy child with deep dimples in both cheeks, he contracted a not uncommon child’s disease of that day known as mastoiditis. After a brief period of suffering he passed away at the age of five months. Mother was devastated and I don’t believe she ever fully recovered. Ironically that type of severe ear infection can now be treated and cured.
I was seven years old at the time and attempted to console my mother as best I could. Our entire family, including my older siblings - sister, Hortense, age 14, and my brother, Donald, 12 - grieved for months, along with mother and daddy.
The new house was a vast improvement over the old. Built of brick, with four bedrooms, it featured that marvelous invention called indoor plumbing, even though there was only one bathroom which, it soon became evident, was a big mistake. Again, the only heat came from fireplaces. In the kitchen was one of the first electric stoves in Bolton, and I was duly proud of that and loved to show it off to my friends. The trade name imprinted on the front of the stove was “ Hotpoint Hughes,” and I told everyone that the appliance had been specially made for us.
Our home was situated just a few hops and skips from the heart of Bolton. This was at the intersection of Bolton Road and Highway 41, known as the Marietta highway. At one corner of the intersection stood my father’s general store, the only one in Bolton.
As owner and operator of that store, my father was known by everybody  - and everybody knew him to be an honest, God - loving man who lived by the Golden Rule. He was known to be kind - hearted, extending credit to many of the needy who were not credit - worthy. He visited the sick regularly, including those black families. I never heard anyone speak ill of my father. He had no enemies, to my knowledge. For awhile, he served as postmaster. The post office was in a corner section of the store. All mail was delivered to him from the train depot in sacks, which he sorted out and placed in private boxes for those who rented one. Other mail he filed alphabetically for general delivery and handed out to those who asked for their mail. He also wrote money orders and carried out the other duties of a postmaster.
At that time. I was the envy of my schoolmates. I could walk into the store and reach behind the counter for a handful of delicious candy, without charge. My father stopped this practice after awhile.
My mother’s brother, Dr. Paul, as he was called by family members, was noted for his “pink” medicine, a concoction tinged by that color that he mixed himself and dispensed seemingly to all patients, whether for a sore throat or for the whooping cough. Only he knew what the ingredients were. But it usually cured their ailments and his patients revered him, coming from miles away for treatment.
Being a generous person, he never charged us for his services, because of the family connection. I remember on one occasion he sat up half the night attending my mother who was suffering from a serious heart condition. She recovered, I am convinced, due to his devotion to her and his medical skills. Still, no bill for his services. And that certainly fit the Hughes’ budget at that time, which was in the midst of the depression.
As the official physician of Fulton County, Dr. Paul was required to visit the various prison camps and treat the inmates. He allowed me to accompany him on one of these visits, while I was still a small boy. These were the convicts who worked on the county’s roads from dawn to dusk. I still recollect the painful experience of seeing first hand the living conditions at this camp. Prisoners were penned together like animals, with some suffering from various stages of disease, one even with syphilis, a guard told me. Dr. Paul administered to them as best he could with the most advanced medical technology of the day, but no amount of “pink” medicine could have cured all of their ailments.
Dr. Paul was also versatile. I recall he played a cornet solo at several church services I attended. He also taught the men’s bible class for many years.
Edmund C. Hughes
at age eight
Bolton was unincorporated, but several prominent families comprised the civic, social and religious hierarchy of the town. Besides the various McDonald families ( including the kinfolks of my mother and Dr. Paul ), others included the Moores, the Wilsons, the Warrens, the Chambers, the Daniels, and the Gramblings.
Of these, the three Moore families stood out. One family, headed by long - time Fulton County Superior Court Judge Virlyn B. Moore Sr., was looked upon as the leader in any civic or religious endeavor and he wielded more clout and influence than anyone in the community.
His son, Virlyn Jr., was my boyhood idol. He exemplified all of the qualities I admired most and was my role model. He excelled in two major sports, baseball and basketball. I was privileged to practice with him a few times in those sports.
Members of the Moore family also engaged in other sports. I remember on one occasion his father joined us in a practice session of football. I had a new leather helmet and was eager to check out its effectiveness in protecting my skull. The judge was a rather portly gentleman ( even though he had been an outstanding football player on the University of Georgia team just before the turn of the century ), and I lined up opposite him. As the ball was snapped, I lunged forward and butted him with my new helmet in his ample stomach. He grunted and fell forward to the ground with his eyes closed. I was quite relieved when he revived and sat up. I wore that helmet for several years afterwards in neighborhood play, but never butted anyone in the midsection again.
Viryln Jr. had two younger brothers, James and Bobby, and they were good athletes, also, but they never came close to their older brother’s ability. In fact, Virlyn - a catcher - was offered a reportedly healthy contract to play baseball with the Atlanta Crackers, as well as some big league teams, which he turned down. Then, too, the famed Celtics basketball team tried to sign him after he scored so well playing against them in an exhibition game. He also refused this offer, obviously preferring to begin his legal practice, after which he entered the banking business. Of course, he was eminently successful, and served for many years as head of the Trust Department of Fulton National Bank. Later, he became president of the Woodrow Wilson Law School.
Incidentally, I heard that Virlyn, always a Bolton booster, has written a history of the town. I certainly plan to buy, beg or borrow a copy and read it.
Virlyn’s brother, James, was nearer my age and became one of my closest friends while growing up. I spent a number of nights at the Moore home as the guest of James and came to know all of the family well. Occasionally, he would stay at my home over - night, but I enjoyed being at his place more because the food was better and more plentiful. The Moore’s had two ponies, Buttons and Brownie, which James and I rode together with much pleasure. For me, it was the nearest thing to having a pony of my own - every boy’s dream. James rode fast and recklessly at times, and I admired his “ponymanship,” if I may coin such a word.
Another prominent Moore family had at its head Thomas Walter Moore, older brother of the judge. Walter held a high executive position with the General Electric Corporation, being in charge of its lighting division throughout Georgia, as I recall.
This is not a “kiss and tell” type of book, but Walter Moore’s daughter, Martha, was the first girl I dated and the first girl I kissed. This occurred about the tender age of 12 and resulted in no earth - shattering repercussions. The date was a chaperoned ride to a neighbor’s house for a prom party, an innocent type of affair popular in those days. The kiss, a hasty peck, was delivered and received a few days later, with little aplomb, while standing on a wooden bridge over a railroad track with both of us wearing roller skates. What a relief to get this confession off my conscience!
Martha and I remained friends after that and we attended the same high school in Atlanta, but we never dated again. I do remember in our senoir play, she was my romantic interest, and I sang her a love song. By then, we both had other real life romantic interests, I’m sure.
Other boyhood friends of mine included Pierce McDonald, Leon Wilson, and J. O. Chambers. Pierce, the second oldest son of Dr. Paul, was the unacknowledged leader of our group which we called “ The Fearful Four.” This name, we thought, would strike terror in the minds of our contemporaries. However, this was not the forerunner of youth gangs as they exist today. We merely were drawn together by our mutual interests, and never engaged in real devilment of any kind. Pierce went on to become a successful dentist, but, tragically, he and his wife, Adelaide, died in the Orly - Paris plane crash on June 3, 1962, which took the lives of so many prominent Atlantans.
Seventh grade class of Bolton School pictured in 1927 with Principal Mrs. Vera Wilson,  in the back row at right. I’m in the middle row at extreme left. Other members of the “ Fearful Four” - J. O. Chambers, Pierce McDonald, Leon Wilson - are to the right of me ( excluding the unidentifiable girl ).
Leon, a next door neighborhood for 20 years or so, was the son of Mrs. Vera Wilson, the highly esteemed principal of Bolton Grammar School.  J. O. Chambers lived near the church we all attended and his father, Gus, sang bass in the choir in which my father was a tenor.
Like most young boys, I was very active and took more than my share of chances. Without seeming overly dramatic, it’s a near - miracle I lived to adulthood. I had many close calls - from recklessly roller skating on roadways in heavy traffic to diving into shallow pools of water from considerable heights. Once my head landed on a tree root after being thrown from a playground swing at school and I received a deep gash in my skull. I haven’t been the same since. Guess I was a daredevil showoff.
One chilling memory stands out above all others. Today, I have as a reminder a jagged, five inch scar on the outer thigh of my left leg. It happened one balmy summer day while Leon and Pierce and I were swimming, as customary, au naturel, in the muddy waters of the Chattahoochee River near Bolton.
At that point a steel cable stretched across the swift flowing river to a small man made island, which we reached with the aid of the cable. While exploring the island, I slipped and fell on the head of a 20 penny nail sticking up about an inch from a heavy wet board. The result: I was lying on my left side with the nail deeply impaled in my outer thigh.
With all the strength and will I could muster, I was forced to rise and lift myself from the board and off the nail head. As I did so, I remember looking down and seeing flesh hanging out from both sides of the gaping wound. Oh, yes, the nail was rusty.
Then came the problem of how to negotiate the river. With the aid of Leon and Pierce, and using the cable as best I could, I was able to cross. Somehow we got dressed and walked the couple hundred yards to the City of Atlanta water pumping station where help was provided in the form of a car and driver to take me to a doctor. By then the wound was bleeding profusely and I remember feeling faint.
A trip to Dr. Paul’s home office proved futile as he was not in. So we drove a few miles west to the Riverside community where fortunately a Dr. Redd was available to care for me. Of course, he washed the wound with the best antiseptic medicine of the day, but that was before antibiotics. He then sewed up the wound, taking several stitches.
Today, I feel fortunate to have survived the ordeal that could have ended in real tragedy. The scar remains as testimony to my sometimes reckless boyhood.
About a quarter of a mile south of the main intersection at Bolton was the grammar school where Mrs. Wilson presided with quiet authority. Stern but fair, she earned the respect of everyone. My teacher in the second grade was Aunt Mayme McDonald, wife of Homer, my mother’s brother. At the end of the school year, she decreed that in view of my advanced state of learning, I should be allowed to skip the third grade and enter the fourth grade the following school year. This was done with Mrs. Wilson’s concurrence.
Thereafter, I was in a grade with older peers, and I don’t think I ever quite overcame the effects of skipping that grade - both socially and scholastically.
One incident in school resulted in my receiving a paddling, which I richly deserved; nevertheless, it was demeaning and caused me much mental anguish.
My fifth grade home room teacher was a comely young lady in her late teens named Willa Mae Carmichael. My brother, Donald, although younger than she, called and attempted to date her. I knew he didn’t succeed, but just the fact that he called her made me feel like she was part of the family.
It was in that euphoric - but dumb - state of mind that I called out as she walked ahead of me one day on the road away from the schoolhouse ; “ Goodbye, Willa Mae.” My childish reasoning was that she might not think I was addressing her, since there could possibly be another person by that name in the vicinity.
She knew I was referring to her, of course, and early the next morning I was called into the principal’s office, where Miss Carmichael administered the paddling on my backside. The blows weren’t hard. They mostly stung my pride.
There’s more to tell about Miss Carmichael. She lived with her family across the Chattahoochee River from Bolton, on Highway 41, in Cobb County. Her father was a prosperous farm supplies merchant with an excellent reputation. His home and business were at Carmichael Stop, a station on the electric rail line between Atlanta and Marietta.
A couple of years after the paddling incident, we received word at school one day that Jimmy Carmichael, younger brother of Willa Mae, had been struck by an automobile and seriously injured while walking under the rail track near where the road ran too. A car lost control, pinning him against a wall. It happened near the high school he attended.
We were stunned by the news, Jimmy was known as one of the brightest and most promising young men in our area. His legs were badly mangled. Finally he began a slow recovery, but he never walked again without the aid of crutches or a cane.
During Jimmy’s protracted convalescence, it was generally known that his sister, Willa Mae, contributed greatly to his recovery, especially to his mental and emotional well-being. Using her teaching skills, she patiently tutored him. Under her guidance he became very proficient at public speaking, which stood him in good stead in his later professional life, both as a lawyer and as a politician. In fact, he became widely recognized as one of the most accomplished speakers in Georgia politics, serving several terms in the Georgia General Assembly as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
One night in 1938, I sat at the Marietta Country Club with Jimmy Carmichael and other friends listening to the state election returns on the radio. In the gubernatorial race, Jimmy was a strong contender opposing the former governor, Eugene Talmadge, and many thought the Cobb Countain would defeat him. And Jimmy would have if it had not been for the outmoded county unit system of voting, which gave more weight to votes in the smaller counties that those in larger ones.
As we listened that night, Jimmy was leading in the popular vote by a substantial margin, but when the smaller counties reported their voting results, Jimmy lost out. He still received a majority of the popular vote, which was an outstanding accomplishment in view of Talmadge’s long entrenchment in Georgia politics.
Willa Mae married Earl Williams, owner and operator of a drug store on the city square in Marietta. Earl and I, as well as Jimmy Carmichael, were members of the Marietta Kiwanis Club. Naturally, in the few casual social contacts I had with Willa Mae, neither of us mentioned the paddling incident. And, of course, I always addressed her as Mrs. Williams, not Willa Mae, even though I called Earl by his first name.
By this time, Jimmy was married to my first cousin, Frances McDonald, daughter of Homer and Mayme McDonald, which made me feel even closer to the Carmichaels. You will read much more about my life and newspaper career in Marietta in later segments of this writing, if you are still with me.
Throughout my boyhood, Collins Memorial Methodist Church maintained its role as the heart and soul of Bolton. Constructed in the traditional architectural style of the period and situated about a half mile west of the center of town, the church was an inspiring old edifice which still exists. It was here we gathered, good weather or bad, every Sunday for worship services, as well as to socialize.
For years, Mrs. “Robb” Moore, wife of the judge, was the choir director. Among the choir members at various times were my sister, my daddy, and me. My sister sang an occasional solo, and after the untimely death of Mrs. Moore, succeeded her as director. Virlyn Jr. remained in the group. He had quite a good bass voice.
At different times, both Virlyn Jr. and Sr., taught Sunday School classes which I attended. They were great teachers and I looked forward to hearing their common sense, home-spun reflections on life and religion. The judge was especially good at this, sometimes almost profound. Once Virlyn Jr. told my mother that judging from my quick responses in class, I showed some aptitude as a Bible student. Of course, that raised my somewhat fragile ego at least one notch.
At homecoming each summer, church members gathered outdoors for a spread of food so plentiful and delicious as to make sinful gluttons of us all. This was the time when members of the Collins Memorial congregation met in Christian fellowship. We all enjoyed the occasion each year. Even former members who had moved away returned when they were able.
Both my grandfather, Alfred Turner McDonald, and his twin brother, Allen Pierce McDonald, were charter members of the church and attended services regularly. Interestingly, the brothers married sisters in ceremonies two years apart on Christmas Eve in Campbell County. Both men were carpenters and lived with their families the latter stages of their lives on Bolton Road.
For many years, the McDonalds far outnumbered any other family in Bolton. At one time, there were eight McDonald families in residence, all living within the radius of one mile. This resulted in a closeness that would be rare among families today. Many Sundays, after church, a sumptuous noonday meal would be served at grandmother’s house, with the women bringing the food. Of course, we children would eat at the “ second table,” but we never left hungry.
Collins Memorial Methodist Church on Bolton Road