An Interview with Ephfraim Deveaux
(The following feature story was the result of an interview I had with a remarkable man who lived in a small town near Columbia, S.C. At the time of the interview in 1984, he was 103 years old. This was one of the last stories I wrote at a temporary newspaper job I had before embarking on the first of my journeys across the country in May, 1984)
"He's on his way," Eastover Mayor Lewis Scott beamed.
About ten minues later there was a knock on the door.
"How ya doing? How ya doing?" Scott enthusiastically called out to Ephfraim Deveaux as he entered the mayor's office in town hall.
"It's cold out there," Deveaux offered. His eyes lit up as he settled into a chair. Later, the mayor explained that the only reason Deveaux was using a walker was that he had recently sprained his ankle. Otherwise, he gets along pretty well by himself. Quite well, in fact, for a man who's 103 years old.
Deveaux not only still drives his car during the day, but he's also ready to move into a new house when construction of Eastover's federally financed housing development is completed at the end of April.
Deveaux was born in 1880, the year Eastover was chartered as a town, and about the time the railroad came through linking the community with Columbia. His father had been a slave and had 15 children. Deveaux is the only one still living.
When he was growing up there "was nothing but mules and horses." The family farmed on land near the Wateree Rvier and received "a sack of meal, a sack of flour, three pounds of bacon, and six dollars a month."
Cotton was the biggest crop, Deveaux recalls, and it took "eight and ten head of mules to do the plowing." Corn, wheat, sugar cane, and rice were also planted.
"My daddy used to buy only sugar and coffee out of the store," Deveaux said. "He raised everything else and killed his own hogs. He used to make me and my brohter haul wood and sell it to the railroad company.
"My momma was a midwife for blacks and whites. Must have delivered more than 200 babies. People hardly let her stay home. She used to get green peach leaves and make a tea that was good for fever. She could cure us."
Back in the late 1800s, Deveaux recalls that Eastover had just a train depot for awhile, then some of the "brick stores" on Main Street were built when "I was a young man." He recalls that a a grocery store, a furniture store, a whiskey store, and a post office were located on that street.
For 10 cents, he says, "You could buy five horsecakes and a box of sardines and make a day of it. Sardines don't taste like they used to. You can't half eat 'em now."
He remembers the big stores in Columbia. "My daddy used to carry me to Columbia in a one-horse wagon. People used to water their horses in the middle of the street."
It took seven or eight hours to get to Columbia, Deveaux explained, and "you had to have good horses or they'd give out." Going over the hills was sometimes difficult. "There were brakes on the wagon and you had to put them on to keep the wagon from running over the horse or mules.
"We'd go up there and buy groceries about every two months." He recalls that a special treat was eating brown sugar out of a bag. There was sarsaparilla and Coca Cola to drink and supplies to bring back, such as a hundred pound sack of rice.
There was once a dry goods store where Blk is today, Deveaux said. That's where he used to get a winter coat and shoes.
Once he went on a train to Columbia with his daddy. He was barefoot and the brick sidewalks tickled his fee. "Pa," he said, "I can't walk on those bricks.
"My daddy told me about the horses that used to pull the streecar. You could get on and off easy because it went so slow. Horses pulled the fire wagons, too. When the fire bell rang, they backed the horses up to the wagon, fastened on, and then they go. I seen that myself."
Once a year, in October, he went to the State Fair. His father set aside an acre of cotton for him to farm, and he'd use the proceeds for his day at the fair. A train came every couple of hours and took people from the rural areas into Columbia for the big attraction.
"You could get anything you wanted," Deveaux said. But, he added, "I didn't like that high wheel, and you had to pay 50 cents to see a man eat a snake. I wasn't going to pay no 50 cents to see no man eat a snake."
Deveaux used to hunt partridges and squirrels in the nearby Wateree Swamp, and when young he'd swim in Griffin Creek, but, "I was scared of the (Wateree) river," he said.
He remembers the flat-boat ferry that once transported farmers and their animals across the river. A cable system pulled the boat across the water.
Before marrying and settling down to farming, Deveaux worked for a time in a Wateree Swamp sawmill which used the ash, poplar, gum and pine trees from the thick forest.
He and his wife were married for 71 years. She died a year ago after living to be 101. "I miss that woman," he said.
Once, someone asked him how he'd lived to be 100, and Deveaux replied, "Ask the Lord."
He added, "I don't drink no liquor or smoke. Everthing I put in my mouth I eat." Deveaux sitll cooks for himself, and each day he gets a hot meal at the senior citizens center located at the town hall building.
On the difference between young people today and when he was growing up, he said, they are "as different as chalk and cheese. They don't do nothin' for you."
In his day, Deveaux was quite a dancer. "I cut the buck dance, two-step and the waltz dance. I used to go to dances and the women'd be around me like hogs around corn."
Once Deveaux visited New York City. "I don't want to go back." he said. "Them pople don't ever sleep there. it's too fast a town for me."
Now he's anxious to get settled in his new house. Also, he's ready for summer to arrive, a time of year that completely agrees with him.
I like summer because I can get in the shade," he laughed. "I don't like wintertime. I was born in June."