I was born in Madera and have lived here nearly all my life. When I was in the seventh grade, my father received a phone call from his younger brother, Joe Warren Hill. He lived in Nashville. Uncle Joe’s purpose for the call he said was that he had hit it rich selling insurance for a company called Pioneer America. Joe’s plan was to get his two older brothers my dad Oliver Ralph from California and their oldest brother Claude Conley from Florida to move to Nashville and work with him.
Leaving my mother, my brother Brian and I in Madera, dad and my oldest brother Rocky drove cross-country to Tennessee. This was the fall of 1967.
One thing I need to explain about my dad is he was a terrific salesman. Daddy worked for Clark Ferguson at Quality Dairy Farms on Howard Road where Price’s Plaza sits today. He was the champion when the milkmen had sales contests. For example at Christmas time, the dairy sold those fruitcakes in the round cans. The top sales person won a prize. I have had his former colleagues say it had gotten to the point where everyone would say, “So what is Ralph going to win this year?”
My father reasoned selling milk, orange juice or insurance, sales are sales. If you enjoy the work and have the right mindset the product is secondary to the technique.
Mom and I arrived in Nashville shortly before Thanksgiving. Brian stayed behind in Madera so he could graduate with his high school class. In June, the four of us drove dad’s nearly new station wagon back to Madera for Brian’s graduation and then returned to Murfreesboro.
By the time Mom and I got to Tennessee, Daddy had discovered there was a very good reason he had left home to join the Navy after high school and had never been back. His baby brother Joe and his ego had a hard time fitting in the same phone booth. He had been nursing an old grudge because my father hadn’t rush back to Tennessee to attend his mother’s funeral. My father’s perspective was he hadn’t made an effort to see his mother before she died so why would he attend her funeral. He took us to the cemetery in Mount Pleasant to visit her grave and he freaked-out when I stepped on it.
Joe had picked out three identical houses on Edge O’ Lake Drive at that time a new toney section of the city. Remembering those split-level houses, I would today call them McMansions. My aunt Bette, Joe’s wife, had a formal living room with white carpet and fancy objects de art’.
By the time my mother and I got there, Dad realized he didn’t want to spend all day in the office with his brothers and all night living next door to them. The insurance office sat in Murfreesboro a smaller town about 25 miles from Nashville.
He and Mom bought a smaller house about 10 minutes from their downtown office to give himself some elbowroom from his dysfunctional family.
In the fall of 1968, Ferguson called my father and offered him a milk distributorship and we moved back to Madera.
When we lived in Tennessee, the people I missed the most were my often referred to aunt and uncle Nada and Pete Kirk and their daughters Kary and Lori. In what I find as a weird twist of fortune about 10 years ago, they all settled in the Nashville area.
I often wonder about the road not travelled. Had we stayed in Tennessee what would our lives have been? The insurance company closed and Joe divorced his wife Bette and was married and divorced again from her. He ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. His older brother Claud and his wife Helen moved back to Florida and he went back to teaching.
The great experiment of living amongst my Hill relatives was something of a failure. It did give me a bit of perspective on the outside world and introduced me to all dad’s siblings and their families.
Have a great weekend.
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