To the Editor:
I have been wondering if there is a written history of Neon, my hometown. If there isn’t, there ought to be. I’m sure someone has written a history of Whitesburg.
My interest in history goes back many years, but not until after I retired to my bed the other night did I begin thinking about the early beginning of Neon and Whitesburg.
Last night I went on a journey in my mind of my life in this small town in Letcher County.
My name is Audrey Jewell Tolliver Thomas. I have lived in Knoxville, Tenn., since my marriage to Lawrence Thomas in April 1942. We had three children, John Lawrence, June Tolliver and Marian Frances Thomas Reese.
I am now 88 years old, but young at heart and have a zest for life. I am a child of God by faith in my Lord Jesus Christ, and because He loves people, I love people as well.
God has been good to me. Oh, I’ve had my share of trouble, sorrow and grief, but He enables me to bounce back with new strength and enthusiasm for living and serving Him.
There is no computer, not even a typewriter in my home, and even if I had one I could not use it for I have macular degeneration. However, I can still read my large-print Bible, write many letters and cards, do much of my housework, walk and visit neighbors and friends, and work in the yard. Am I not blessed?
I was born in August of 1924, a very hot summer I have been told. My precious mother, Ollie Jane Wallen, and my beloved daddy, John Wesley Tolliver, received me, their first child, with great love and care four years after their wedding.
My “little” sister, Eleanor Rae, came next and my brother, John Wesley Tolliver Jr., arrived seven years after my birth. He was J.W. to us, and a delight.
My daddy had the Nehi Bottling Plant in Neon, making and selling Nehi, R.C. Cola, Orange Crush and a chocolate drink — name not remembered, but which I did not like.
My grandfather died before I was born, but he had a business at Kona. Francis Marion Tolliver married Sara Ann Potter, and they had my daddy, John Wesley William (Bill), Aunt Dee, Troy, killed in a slate fall in the mines, Denola Tolliver Collins, who taught in Letcher County Schools until she retired.
Martha Jane Potter, my grandmother’s sister, taught school at Kona and then became superintendant of Letcher County Schools. The elementary school at Kona is named after her. Their sister, Lula, married Jess Holbrook and they had a general store at Millstone for many years. Uncle Jess was a “trader” and made good money at it. They had a son, Jess Jr., and a daughter.
Let me get back to Neon. It was a town where most people cared for one another, looked after each other’s children and shared what they had. In 1924 the town must have been somewhat prosperous with a bank, several churches and at least three restaurants, a post office, many businesses, a utilities company, an elementary school, a L&N Railroad station, a hotel, a good number of department and dry goods stores and well as a 5&10 cent store, a drugstore, a pool hall and beer parlor, a hardware store and granary, an A&P Store and other grocery stores, and later a movie theater.
My “Big Daddy,” Dr. D.V. Bentley, not only delivered me and my sister and brother, but thousands of other babies over many years. He was named Baby Doctor of the Year later for delivering the most babies. The year is unknown to me.
Cossie Quillen was my fourth- or fifth-grade teacher, a good one, but later was blinded in a hunting accident. He and his wife Hazel became County Court Clerk of Letcher County, and lived and served in Whitesburg. His brother, Sam Quillen, was Neon’s only dentist after I left Neon. Their parents were Essie and Willie Quillen, and their sister was June.
We all attended first, the Congregational Church on Main Street, and then the Church of God, after it was built.
It is said that old people ramble on and talk too much, and it sounds as though I qualify, but please do forgive me. There is so much, but I will spare you.
I stated my purpose in writing this letter in the first paragraph. Can you help me?
AUDREY J. THOMAS