“I can’t remember who taught me to tie my shoes, but I know who brought home the hide from which the shoe strings came — my dad.”
— Lane “Wad” Watson
Fatherhood is one of the most difficult jobs a man undertakes in his life.
The statistics alone display a seemingly increasing number of fathers who give up on their responsibilities.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States is the world’s leader in fatherless families and 24 million children live absent their biological father.
Those numbers reflect the world of today with modern conveniences.
It made one family decide to teach a lesson of sorts to the fathers or fathers-to-be of today.
William (Bill) Wheeler Watson was the father of 13 — seven boys and six girls — and according to one of his surviving sons, he was an example to all fathers.
The reason for that belief is Watson was born in 1879 and the world of that day was not so easy, especially in Sylco, Tenn., from where they would travel up the river to Caney Creek Village.
Caney Creek was considered a modern town by the day’s standards — it was one of the few towns that had electricity.
“Wad” Watson is now 82 years old and his memories inspired a resolution passed by the Tennessee State Legislature recognizing the history of Caney Creek Village and centers on William and Bertie Watson’s tenacity in raising a family during a primitive period in history.
“Wad” was only 10 years old when his father was killed when a bridge collapsed over Sylco Creek.
“He died helping others,” Watson recalled. “That was his way. If he had anything, he’d share half of it and never ask to be repaid.”
His earliest memory of his father was him coming in “with a hog on each shoulder.”
“They weighed about 50-60 pounds each,” Watson said. “He trapped them. That’s the way people lived back then. There wasn’t any game warden.”
Watson’s father also had a unique way of killing turkeys.
“He’d dig a trench and put corn in there,” he said. “He’d cover that back over with pine needles. They’d stick their heads down there. He killed seven with one shot.”
The prime thing Watson took from his father is that “he believed in taking care of you.”
His father also was a strong believer in discipline, something “Wad” says fathers of today should do more.
“It’d be 5:30 or 6 in the morning and he’d come in to the bedroom with a hickory [limb],” Watson said. “He’d jerk that cover off and look out.”
He says the discipline never made him feel abused and his father was a man of faith believeing in worship.
“He’d carry us to church,” Watson said. “We only lived about 100 yards from Clifty Creek Church. He’d sit down and put one of us on each knee.”
Despite the lack of luxuries, Watson said he never felt like they were living in “hard times.”
“I would get out there in the yard when I was 10years old and take some yellow corn meal, bread and some salt and pick grass and eat with that bread,” he said. “Many a day I did that.”
But, there was a favorite food.
“Squirrel and gravy for breakfast was just as good as squirrel and dumplings was for supper,” Watson said. “We ate possum without really caring what it was. Dad would save the grease left from cooking to preserve our shoes and keep them soft and shiny.”
“If my dad brought it home, my mother would know how to cook it,” he said. “Dad would do whatever was necessary and within the bounds of decency to feed his family.”
He said his father had two apple trees and he had never seen anything like it.
“It really had good apples,” Watson said.
An old photograph shows the young “Wad” with his classmates at Sylco School holding an apple.
“I know exactly what he’s thinking,” Watson said. “He’s wanting to eat that apple before someone else gets ahold of it. I guarantee it. That’s the way it was.”
Not having much, the family still had some sparkles of life to enjoy.
Williams’ surviving daughter, Joyce Watson Wagner said their father made sure the holiday season was festive.
“People who knew us back then would come to see our Christmas tree,” she said. “Daddy and us would make the little chains made out of popcorn.”
As another example of how their father worked, Joyce said her dad — even with all his other responsibilities — would do some housework.
“He would take clothes to the creek to wash,” she said. “My mom was never known to say anything bad about him.”
The four remaining siblings have nothing to say bad about him either.
“Wad,” Billy, Richard and Joyce all remember not only their father, but their mother, with great respect and appreciation.
“We don’t mind our parents being referred to as ‘king’ and ‘queen’ knowing that nothing can take the place of ‘father’ and ‘mother,’” a joint statement by all four sibling said to mark the occasion.