Editor’s note: I would like to tell you when and where this article appeared, but I’m not sure. What I do know is that Leslie Liles Allen presented it me many months ago in hopes that we could print it, and perhaps more of the memories of those days, (and maybe some pictures as well), would surface as folks got a chance to read it. I have contacted a few of the folks who were around then to see if they have any pictures, no luck so far. What we do know about the author, Vince Matthews, is contained in his short bio that accompanied the story, and that he died several years ago.
Please enjoy this precious look back at the 60s in Kingston Springs, and if you have any tales to tell, or photographs to share from these times, please contact us a SCAdvocate@aol.com so that we can pass them along.
Vince Matthews was a songwriter and singer whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and many other country artists. His concern for Kingston Springs led him to compose an entire album, Kingston Springs Suite, about the small town. As yet. the album is not commercially available.
Before the developers moved in, it was just a little country town. It was a laid-back picker’s Paradise.
By VINCE MATTHEWS
We had become good friends with Nana and Jr. Oakley who ran the grocery store across the street, and since they wanted to move “downtown” to be closer to their store, we rented their homeplace. A neat white house a block from the grammar school with a long sloping lawn and a giant oak tree in the front yard that we promptly named Clarence. The place was, as Jr. assured us, “as quiet as a graveyard.” We settled in for the happiest and most productive years of our lives.
Our neighbors were the Jim Burroughs. the Charlie Smiths, the Sweeneys and the Linders. Kind, helpful neighbors with neat yards, prize winning flowers, muscadine wine, happy dogs and kids, and daughters so pretty they could make a songwriter lay down his guitar when the school bus came back from the Ashland City High School.
Oakley’s Grocery was more than a store. Jack Liles would tell you and where the fish were bitin’. Bobby, (the “mayor”) Benefield would hold forth on county politics, tell you where a secret patch of polk salad could be found, or give you ideas for songs like, “Run to the Roundhouse Mable, They Can’t Corner You There.” It was a community message center, rental office, employment agency and gossip circle.
Or on some given morning you might find Eddie Rabbit singing while sitting on the coke machine sign that read “Please Do Not Sit On The Coke Machine.” Or Glen Sherley or Shel Silverstein sitting on the bench out front in the sunshine swapping lies with the old timers.
Or Jack Clement, trying to relax, whittlin’ on a small piece of cedar, chopping at it with a jack knife.
One morning Nana gave Melva a recipe for corn cob wine. It was a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe handed down in her family.
First you need a five-gallon earthen crock and 15 ears of corn. Scrape the corn off and then chop up the cobs. Add water and let ferment. Strain, add sugar and grape juice to the water. Let ferment 10-12 days and bottle.
The biggest day of our lives was when John and June Carter Cash came to dinner.
I had called John and asked him to float the river with me. He didn’t have time. I held my breath and invited them to dinner.
“Why, Vince,” he said, “I’d love to eat Miss Melva’s cooking.”
After jumping up and down, I met them at Kathy Gregory’s house in Nashville. I drove us out in their big black Cadillac. We talked about the Louvin Brothers, Virginia, picking cotton and Kingston Springs. As I wheeled off the Interstate, June clapped her hands and exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve dreamed this before! I really have! But, Vince. in my dream, you were driving on the right side of the road!”
We pulled into the driveway, and John said, “I love it! I love it!”
I had to run an errand, so while Melva and June chatted, John and I got in my old hillbilly Cadillac, kicking beer cans out of the way. I was mortified.
I’ll always remember when we came back home and parked under Clarence you looked over and said, “If I hadn’t had fifteen years experience shaking hands with just about every man, woman and child in the United States, I could never have handled that T.V. show when it hit.”
We got June and I took them to see the temple mounds just north of Kingston. They’re still there like the ancient builders left them for some mysterious reason centuries ago. The Harpeth curves, making a natural ampitheater with the bluffs guarding them while the river sings.
We sat in silence for a moment in the hot Tennessee sun, hearing only the river, the breeze and the birds.
Back home now to a huge country dinner. It fell upon John to go to the front porch and make ice cream. I’d sit on the freezer and he’d crank, then I’d crank while he sat.
The little Baker girl was walking down the road, recognized him and walked over. “I’m not going to bother you,” she said. “And I won’t tell anyone you’re here. I just want to thank you for all the help you’ve given people.” John simply said, “Thank You.”
Even though he was on a diet, he did justice to Miss Melva’s cooking. “Thank you for having us”, June said. “It’s the simple things that please John and I so.” After ice cream June took off a fortune in diamonds and helped wash dishes while John and I walked outside.
I introduced him to Clarence and we walked out back. He lay down on the ground and looked up through the sun-dappled branches. “I’m at peace with the world and myself,” he said. So was I. They left then. Much too soon. As they left he leaned out and hollered, “You’ll make it, Vince!”
Recollections from Karen Baker, “the Baker girl” that Vince mentions in this week’s installment:
“I just opened my Advocate. What memories began to flow with the front page. I can remember when Vince and Melva moved here. Dad ran into him first at the river, Dad was fishing and Vince was walking. He would be at the house quite often, and seems he could “smell” when Mom would be frying fish. He and Dad would be sitting out back talking. Most do not know, that Vince wrote the Gordon Lightfoot song “On Susan’s Floor”. Mr. Cash and Mrs. June were always coming to Vince and Melva’s. When we were kids, my brothers and I would cut yards in Kingston. I would be cutting Mrs. Mildred and Terry Moore’s home, on the corner at Moore’s Circle. Here would come the black Cadillac. Mr Cash would stop and roll the window down and tell me they were going to make some homemade ice cream at Vince’s and for me to call my mom when I was finished and ask her if I could come up. Well, I would be there. Mr. Cash and I would sit under the tree and talk, while he and Vince cranked the ice cream. He would tell me he had a girl probably a little bit younger than me. I figure it was Rosanne. After the ice cream was frozen, Mr. Cash would say “We ought to be able to give ‘um a quarter and get some of these o’boys running around to sit on the top after we packed this and it will be good and packed”. As a young girl, I would look at him to try and see if he was serious. Even today, I am not sure. I can remember Dad would say “Vince must have sold a song ’cause he got a hair cut”. Vince passed way in 2003.
The link below on Gene Watson’s site, is a tribute he wrote about Vince. There is a picture of Vince when he was younger.
Hear Johnny Cash Sing Melva’s Wine, Vince Too!
Thank to local resident Craig Kitch for forwarding these links:
Johnny Cash – Melva’s Wine : This first clip is Johnny Cash singing Vince Matthew’s song “Melva’s Wine” about Kingston Springs.
This second clip is from Dec. 23, 1970 episode. Mother Maybelle Carter duets with Ike Everly on guitar – she does the chords and Ike strums; Vince Matthews sings part of “Melva’s Wine;” Johnny’s Dad, Ray Cash, talks about meeting President Nixon and his mother, Carrie Cash, plays piano while the ensemble sings “Silent Night.”