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Remembering stuff Aunt Bonnie used to say

J. H. Osborne • Jan 6, 2019 at 3:15 PM

Mom and I celebrated New Year’s with my sister Pamela’s whole clan in Knoxville, starting with a birthday party for 2-year-old Jaxon Fletcher Harless (Pam’s first grandson and my great-nephew) and ending with a delicious dinner of homemade lasagna, the signature dish of Pam’s son-in-law Tom Langley. Tom’s lasagna is outstanding and has become a family favorite we beg him to make whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas or some other reason we’re going to break bread together for a special occasion. Italian cooking is in Tom’s blood. His paternal grandmother Helen’s maiden name was Catalano, and her father came to to America from Italy around the turn of the 20th century.

Tom doesn’t bake in a small way and doesn’t serve small portions. Most of us take seconds. As Pam and I were both finishing up our meals (we’d all dabbled at salads and garlic bread), she slid her chair away from the table, turned to me and said, “To quote Aunt Bonnie, ‘I’ve eaten more ’n Walker and I’m fuller ’n Hillman.’ ”

I laughed and replied “I’d forgotten that one, but now that you’ve said it, I need to write it down with other things she and the other aunts used to say.”

And then I thought I’d better get some facts. I’d always known the “fuller ’n Hillman” was a reference to Fuller & Hillman, a Broad Street store once among Kingsport’s toniest clothiers. But what was the “more ’n Walker” part?

Moore & Walker, Pam explained, was one of the biggest insurance and real estate outfits in Kingsport. I went looking for more information in old editions of the Kingsport Times and Kingsport News, in my 1951 Rotary Club book promoting Kingsport, and on the Kingsport Archives’ website. I learned Moore & Walker opened in Kingsport in 1930. By the time Aunt Bonnie first came to town to get work, probably around 1949, the business definitely was a household name. The Rotary’s 1951 book’s write-up on Moore and Walker, Inc. lists its address as 231 Broad St., notes it had 26 employees, and was “engaged in the general insurance, life insurance, real estate, mortgage loan, and automobile finance business.”

A photo from the city archives shows Moore & Walker’s booth at the Kingsport Rotary Club Industrial Exposition held at the Civic Auditorium in October 1948. The display promotes Moore & Walker’s role as sales agent for the Greenfields residential development. Other photos in the city archives show homes built by Moore & Walker in Fairacres and other neighborhoods. In the 1970s, the company was handling insurance for the city. After that, the track went cold in my search for more info. Fuller & Hillman, I know, ceased operation in the late 1980s and is now Blakley-Mitchell. 

Aunt Bonnie (Wallen Hurd) was our maternal aunt, one of Mom’s five sisters. She was about five years older than Mom, and when they were growing up in rural Lee County, Va., their family did  lot of mail order shopping and catalog browsing. One of the catalogs Mom remembers as a constant supplier of browsing and ordering was from the Walter Field Co. of Chicago. I’d never heard of it until recently. I can’t find much information about it and can’t help but wonder if Walter was Marshall’s brother. Those bygone days of mail order shopping may have led to another of Aunt Bonnie’s regular remarks. If a woman looked good, the best compliment she could get from Aunt Bonnie was, “She looked like she’d just stepped out of a catalog.” Aunt Bonnie always looked that way. She dressed and kept house impeccably.

If a grown man was voluntarily out of work and you happened to ask Aunt Bonnie what he was doing, you’d hear what sounded like, “Oh, he’s working at Patton and Turner.” If you prodded more, you’d get, “Pattin’ the roads and turnin’ the corners.” 

By the time I came along, Aunt Bonnie was married to Uncle Lonnie, and they lived exactly one block away with our four cousins. I’ve written before about once being caught “running away” to Aunt Bonnie’s. And I’ve written about her being the one encouraging me to drive faster to keep another car from passing us on the way home from a Christmas tree-cutting expedition to her and Mom’s homeplace when I was in my late teens.

That brings irony to what I most remember her telling me, the phrase I most connect to our treasured relationship. Pretty soon after I learned to drive and got my own car, almost without fail Aunt Bonnie’s final parting comment to me was, “Keep it in the road!” It wasn’t just an encouragement to drive safely. It was a life philosophy. Keep it in the road. Don’t get off track. Focus on your goals and don’t let anything stop you.

So these are my wishes for y’all in 2019: On occasion, eat more ’n Walker and get fuller ’n Hillman. But most of all, keep it in the road!

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]

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