How a sailor’s trip to the dry goods store led to a lifelong love — and an Alabama storyteller

It’s winter. Late 1940’s. The war is over. The good guys won.

Seaman First Class Tirres Fredrick Hunter had left home as a teenager, too young for the fight unless someone signed for him to enlist. His uncle Emerald drove him to Chattanooga and did just that. Tirres’ father, Alvis Aaron, had fought in the Argonne Forest in the Great War. He knew what it was all about, so he refused to sign. Alvis’ only other son, N.L., had been wounded at Omaha Beach, and he didn’t want to risk his baby son becoming a casualty.

So T.F. Hunter joined the Navy, sailing across the Pacific on the USS Yosemite all the way into Tokyo Bay. And then he came home. T.F. rode the troop train as far as Lexington, then took a bus to Chattanooga. He hitched from there the last 60 miles back to the Sand Mountain community of Chavies in Northeast Alabama.

But there was a problem. None of his clothes fit, and all he had were his Navy uniforms. So his brother-in-law, Vernon (the only one in the family with a car), drove him to “town” — Fort Payne. It was the county seat with one of the few dry goods stores in the area, V.I. Pruitts.

Fred Hunter as a baby

Baby Fred Hunter with his young father T.F. Hunter

Dorothy Dean Chitwood was an orphan, living with three siblings: Martha Jane, the oldest, and The Twins, Ted and Ned. Dean, as she was called, was the editor of the Aurora, the first yearbook published after the war. She was also the reigning Miss Dekalb. Tall, slender, red hair — and working as a clerk at Pruitts’ when the sailor walked in.

Trousers had to be measured and tailored in those days, so she took his measurements and said his new pants would be ready by 5 p.m.  when the store closed. But now T. F. Hunter had something besides new clothes on his mind.

He asked her for a date that night. She accepted. He went back to the waiting car and told his brother-in-law, “I just met the woman I’m going to marry.” Vernon expressed his doubts in the most basic way, adding, “That’s a town girl. She’s not marrying a boy from the mountain.”

Tirres F. Hunter married Dorothy Dean Chitwood on February 22nd of that year. The couple would suffer a miscarriage of their first baby, then they were expecting again in the summer of 1952. Fredrick Anthony Hunter was born on April 3, 1953.

Even the man driving the car isn’t always right.