Connie Foster holds up her newly released book, "The Readyville Mill," outside of the Cannon County plant Dec. 15, 2012, in Woodbury, Tenn. (TMP Photo/K. Beck)
Woodbury’s Connie Foster took a small chapter from her father’s youth and put an optimistic spin to it to produce a fictional children’s book surrounding the 200-year-old Readyville Mill.
Titled “The Readyville Mill,” the 34-page book, illustrated by Carl Carbonell of historic Hatch’s Show Print fame, debuts Saturday, Dec. 22, as Foster will sign copies of the book from 9 a.m. to noon at the Readyville Mill in Readyville.
When first challenged by fellow Readyville resident Thea Prince to tackle such a project, Foster, who grew up Connie Gannon in the Eastside community of Cannon County, was not overly enthusiastic.
“I was actively writing fiction for adults, teaching kindergarten and didn’t think I wanted to write that kind of book,” said Foster, who is the supervisor of attendance and coordinator of school health in Cannon County.
“Then I started teaching at Bradley Academy (in Murfreesboro City Schools) and was exposed to this wonderful list of children’s books and really enjoying reading those aloud to third graders and thought, ‘This is the kind of children’s books I should be writing,’” she said.
Foster initially began her tale as a poem, but she then discovered that her family had a personal connection to the mill – well, almost.
“One random day, I asked my dad (Carmen Gannon), who was from the Short Mountain area, if he ever visited the mill when they were generating electricity,” Foster said. “He told me that my granddad moved their family into the Readyville community when he was a boy in the early 1930s, and they lived in a house wired for electricity but never got the power.
"He had to move back to Short Mountain without experiencing the luxury of electric light. I thought how fascinating to be so close to the mill but never getting electricity."
Foster said she took that seed and wrote the story for her father.
"I took what he told me," she said, "and created this fictional tale that would change my dad’s childhood story about his time there in Readyville.”
The storyline she said “is about a boy longing to discover the mystery of electricity who decides to sneak out one night to visit the mill and gets into some big trouble along the way.”
While the characters are fictional, Foster said she borrows from history and particularly from inventive genius Arthur “Rat” McFerrin, an owner-operator of the mill during the first half of the 20th century. He wired the houses close to the mill with electric lights in 1918, turning Readyville into one of the first rural towns in the state to have electricity.
Robert L. Mason, in his “History of Cannon County,” relates how McFerrin controlled the ebb and flow of electricity.
“He (Rat McFerrin) devised a way of converting the water power going to waste into electricity, by which many of the Readyville homes were lighted,” Mason wrote. “At dusk, it was necessary to throw the turbine into gear with the dynamo. At times, Rat found it inconvenient to be at the mill at the proper time to pull the lever down.
“So, he put a couple of hens and roosters in the room with the long lever. At roosting time, they perched on the only available place, the lever. Their weight brought the lever down and engaged the turbine with the dynamo, and Readyville was lit up by chickens until cock crow the next morning.”
McFerrin’s electrical plant ran until 1937, when Tennessee Valley Authority, through the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Coop, superseded it.
Foster and her husband, Ronnie, have three grown children: Anna, Emily and Jacob, and a grandson, Madden.
She taught kindergarten, first, fifth and sixth grades over a span of 10 years at Eastside Elementary.
“It’s been a long process," said Foster, who has had two short stories published previously. "I guess I always had been a closet writer. As a kid, I might write something and it felt so good to get my feelings on page, and then I’d tear it up before anyone could see it. This has been a great experience.”