Last week, I met Agnes Boggs. She turned 99 on April 25 and was born in 1915 in Sulphur Springs, Alabama. She lives in her home in Jasper, Tennessee, still fetches the mail, still drives herself to Ingles, still speaks with a twinkle in her eye. She told me about running a hotel where rooms cost $1.50, her grandchildren ranging from 6 months to 55 years old, and her brother's tragic death in World War II on the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Here are some excerpts from our conversation, in her own words:
On her birth: I was born Agnes Phillips in Sulphur Springs, Alabama, April the 25, 1915. I had an older sister, Connie. We're 16 months apart. We moved to Jasper when I was three years old. My daddy bought a house here and a store.
On her father's peddling wagon: My daddy was a carpenter, and he worked down at Chickamauga park, making log houses out there. In the late 1900's [late 19-aughts], his friend came over, he had just gotten out of the army, and they decided they'd start a peddling wagon. And my dad went to Chattanooga and bought a horse and a big surry. And he drove it home from Chattanooga with that horse. They fixed that surry up like a store. And they would lay up beans, and package them -- pinto beans, yellow, white beans, and sugar, tobacco and snuff, stuff like that. They'd carry it out in the country on that thing and they'd call it the peddling wagon. And people would trade their chickens and eggs for it. They were out for three days at a time, then they'd come back and restock. When my sister and I got big enough and old enough, we would sack stuff up and weigh them and put prices on it. And my mother would go down and make quilt balls to put on the peddling wagon. She would get material and pack it up and tie it and make a ball. And that continued until they could buy a truck.
On playing as a girl: My daddy was a carpenter. He was working on a barn and the lady ask him if he had any children, and he said yes, I've got two little girls. She said, bring your little girls out here to play with my little girl while you work. So, he took me out there -- I was the younger one -- and this little girl and I, we played. We were playing "church" one day, and they had a little branch that ran down through there, and so we baptized our dolls, we had us a baptizing.
On how she met her husband: My daddy built a store up there in Sequatchie. My sister and I were in business school, and one of us was going to have to come home and run the store. I told my sister, I said, you go ahead in business school, let me go home and work the store. This is when I met my husband, Virgil Boggs.
On her husband's pottery business: Virgil worked in pottery. His daddy and brothers were the turners, and he sold it. At that time, he sold churns and pitchers and crocks and stuff like that. But later, he expanded. After the war, he started Boggs Wholesale Pottery Company. He had glassware, baskets, china, any kind of cookware, and silk flowers for florists. We had customers from Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama who would come here and buy.
On running the Phllips Hotel: I ran the Phillips hotel for about three or four years. It was near the Justice Building [in downtown Jasper]. And I ran the hotel and my husband continued traveling and working in pottery. There was three hotels here at that time. And at that time, the main street from Chicago to Miami, you had to come through here. And so we had quite a bit of business. Of course, do you know how much my rooms rented for? A dollar and a half a night. A room with a bath was about two dollars. Things didn't cost as much back then. But of course we didn't have TVs…we didn't have a radio until 1928.
On her children: All my children were born in Jasper at home. Back then, you'd stay in bed for ten days. Now, they get up the same day they have a baby. Anne was my first child. She was born in '35. She'll be 79 this year. And then I had Edward. And Phil was the youngest one. Right before my youngest son was born, I told the doctor filling out the birth certificate, I said his name is Phillips Andrew. And he wasn't born at that time, but I said he's a boy, and that's his name. The doctor said, we'd better wait, but I said that's it. So that's what he was. I always knew it was a boy.
On World War II: My husband was drafted. And my brother's number hadn't come up. My brother's number never did come up. And he said, "Virgil is not going before I go. He's got three children." And he was 38 years old. So my brother volunteered. And his wife and me took them to Chattanooga to get on the train to go. They didn't want the Army, so they got in the Navy. Well, they went to boot camp and came home together. My brother was assigned to a ship. And my husband was assigned to radar school at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And he finished radar school and they retained him as a teacher. And he stayed there. But if the war hadn't ended when it did, he was due to ship out. But my brother was on the ship U.S.S. Indianapolis. that went down at the end of the war, that carried the atomic bomb to Guam. And they were supposed to leave there with escort after they dropped the atomic bomb. The Japanese submarines were following them the whole time, and they blew it up. There were over 900 men lost their lives. About 300 survived. And so…that was one of the most horrible things we ever went through.
On her parents' reaction to her brother's death: It was July in 1945. And you know, my mother, they say she just sat up in the bed at midnight, and my daddy said, "What's wrong, Mary?" and she said, "Something's happened to Alden." And the ship sunk that night at midnight. My mother, I guess she went out or something, because they got the doctor there. And he said is there any whiskey around to give her to bring her to? My daddy kept wanting to go to California to see where that ship sailed out from. But momma said, "You're not going to find what you're looking for." And he kept looking, wanting.
On visiting the U.S.S. Indianapolis memorial: In Indianapolis, they have this park that looks like a ship. I said, one day when my sister was alive and my sister-in-law, too, I said, I'm going to see that ship. And they said, we want to go, too.So we three just loaded up and went to Indianapolis. I was driving, and we go up there, and I said we don't know where it is, let's go off this exit here. And it took us directly to it. And there names is all along that ship. The ones that was deceased, everything. But later they said they formed a cemetery in the Philippines for all those boys that lost their lives. There was five in Marion County that lost their lives.
On her father's death: My dad dropped dead on the street the Friday before Christmas, 1949. He went up there to get some fruit and stuff for Christmas. He had the store, and he needed baskets of fruits and boxes, so he went up there to get some fruit and parked the car on Main Street and just dropped dead on the street. And that was the end of it. He was buried on Christmas day.
On closing the store: After my husband got sick -- he had Parkinson's Disease, little minor strokes. I took over the business. My youngest son was with me at the time, Phillip. In 1984, I decided to sell it because they were putting a Wal-Mart in. And their retail prices were our wholesale prices.
On her extended family: I had three children, nine grandchildren. I've got about 26 great-grandchildren, and I have four great-great-grandchildren. I've got them from six months to 55. I've got four that are nine years old.
On traveling: I've done a lot of traveling. I've been to the Holy Land, and I've been to Africa -- I spent a month in Africa -- Hawaii, and China and Japan, Australia. I went to Germany twice. I don't know how many places I've been.
On her ninety-ninth birthday: We had cupcakes. They put candles on them, but they didn't put ninety-nine. The Lord has been good to me. I don't know why I'm still around. I must be here for a reason.