By Sara Hope
A Visit with Harlan Sanders
I recently sat down with Harlan Sanders. It is safe to say he is the epitome of a “Home Town” boy. The roots of his family tree run deep in Moore County/ Lynchburg, Tennessee. To mention a few names of his family line is like reading off the who’s who of Lynchburg society. Huffman, Simpson, Sanders, Motlow, Bobo, Daniel, Tosh, and Wagoner (with 1 g), and so many more. The walls of his house on Lynchburg Highway are covered with pictures of Moore County people. It is like they have their own museum. As we walked down the hall, he told me who was in each picture. He smiled and said, “My Daddy would have a fit, if he saw how many nails, I have put in these walls, to hang all these pictures.” He showed me a picture of the house he was born in and the car he learned to drive in, both of them a source of pride for him.
We sat down at his kitchen table, and I could feel Granny Sanders’ presence all around us. Her little kitchen looked the same and she would be proud of her boy, for keeping her house straight.
Harlan was born on the Wagoner family farm, on the Booneville Rd. His family owned over 800 acres, from Buckeye to Lincoln County Line. His family donated land to the Friendship Church and Wagoner Cemetery. Doc Booher delivered him in 1943. Doc Booher’s given name was Frank Harlan Booher, Harlan’s given name is Joe Harlan Sanders, in honor of Doc Booher.
Harlan had a lot of memories of growing up on Boonville Rd. Along with his sister, Sue, and little brother, Billy, they had, what many of us, would call adventures, but really they were just growing up on the farm, in the country. Harlan said one of his favorite things to do, was to make mud pies. He laughed and said, “that might be why I love to cook, now.” He said he would make his pies and arrange them on a plate, using grass and long seed pods as green beans. He grinned his little boy grin and said, “I would pull the blossoms off of Momma’s chrysanthemums and pretend they were eggs, sitting next to my pies.” On a wash day, he recalled, “I was called away to change my clothes, and I was aggravated, I had pies to make.”
He remembered a time that sister, Sue “had gone missing. We couldn’t find her and neighbors came in to help look for her.” He laughed and said, “she had crawled out her bedroom window, onto the limb of the peach tree, and was just sitting up there eating peaches.” He remembered the only whipping he ever got, was for chasing Sue through the house. After 2 warnings, his Dad, who had a bad headache, got a LIMB off the apple tree.” I said, “Surely, Harlan, it was only a switch” and he said with a grin, “no, I remembered it was a limb and we got a whipping.” He also remembered not running through the house anymore, after that.
I asked Harlan, “Do you remember some of your teachers?” With not one moment of hesitation, he said “I sure do. Mrs. Jewel Spencer 1st grade, Lucille Gray 2nd grade, Mary Sue Evans, 3rd grade, Mrs. Cobble 4th grade, Mamie Cashion 5th grade, Maggie Haynes 6th grade, then in the 7th we moved to the new addition and Mrs. Cobble taught History and Math.” I was amazed that he remembered all of his teaches. He said he was in the first class that Miss Lila Bearden taught after she graduated from college. He remembered being impressed with the stories she told about college life in the big city.
Harland graduated from MCHS in 1961. He worked at Burtons Grocery which was next door to Farmers Bank, on the Square. After graduation, he worked at the Golf plant in Tullahoma, and soon after that, he was drafted into the Army.
He was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and said, “I had gotten all my shots and I was about to be shipped out when someone found out I could type. Those typing lessons in Miss Elton Owens class, paid off”. He said he slept in the same bunk at Fort Jackson for two years, and after discharge, he returned to civilian life and back to work at the Golf plant.
My next question was “Harlan, how and when did you become a florist”. He laughed and shook his head, and said “I don’t know how it happened. I used to pick weeds and flowers on the roadside and arrange them and take them to church. If people liked them, I was proud, but if no one said anything, I would take them home and redo them.” He said while he worked on the line at the golf plant, he would daydream about what would look good in arrangements. “I remember shopping for plastic flowers at Martin’s 5&10 on the Square, and I read some books about flower arranging and then I just did it”.
In 1969 Harlan followed his dream and opened his own flower shop. He said “I would have never made it in a big city. The support of Lynchburg made it possible for me to make a living, doing what I love, and I thank everybody, for everything this town has done for me.”
The next few minutes of our conversation would have been great material, for a situation comedy script. It was like watching the Andy Griffith show, only with a florist instead of a sheriff. Harlan remembered the first wedding he helped with. He said, “The groom forgot the ring, so we had to use my MCHS class ring as a substitute.” “Mother of the Brides, always made things complicated. My job would have been easier if they had stayed home.” “It was always hard to guess what people wanted. If I had red roses, they wanted pink.” One reason Harlan was so successful was because he learned to tell us all what kind of flowers we wanted.
There is probably not one lady here in Lynchburg who has not received a bud vase or arrangement, a wrist corsage, or mother’s day plant, from Harlan. When I asked for an estimate of how many Homecoming Mum’s he has delivered to MCHS, he just shook his head and said “there is no telling.”
He asked if I remembered the Home demonstrations, “secret pals” activities. That was where one member would send a gift or bud vase to another member without telling them who it was from. Harlan said “I committed a lot of breaking and entering during that time. I had to deliver bud vase and keep a secret as to who sent it.” He remembered a delivery to Joanne Murray’s house and no one was home. He opened the front door, to place the flowers inside, and the doorknob broke off in his hand. “I had to go to her office and confess, but I didn’t tell her who sent the flowers.” Harlan said, “There were a lot of things I had to keep to myself. I knew who was fussing and fighting and who was making up. I knew which boys liked which girls at the High School.” Harlan was the man to see on Decoration Day. He had standing orders from year to year and he knew the cemetery like the back of his hand. If you requested an arrangement, he took care of it from there. He knew what colors and where they belonged at the cemetery.
Since he has retired, we miss Harlan as our florist, but all of us are grateful for his years of dedication to his craft. Harlan has touched so many lives in this little town. If he wasn’t fixing us flowers, he was playing the piano or singing along at 5th Sunday night, all over the county. He attends funerals, and dedications and celebrations. There has not been a Birthday gone by, since we moved here in 1975, that I haven’t received a Birthday card from him. He will forever be my favorite, hometown boy…..friend.
My afternoon visit with Harlan had to come to an end. We had missed dinner and supper was approaching. As I drove back home, I was smiling and so grateful for good friends, memories, and this little town we all call HOME.