Life Story of
1911 - 2006
Early Life in Arkansas
are presented here as originally written
Thank you to Nettie
Ruth Jenkins Mitchell,
I do not know when or how Grandpa and family moved to Texas or what age daddy was at that time, but he must have been pretty young - the year was probably 1889. Grandpa was an intelligent man, very well read and had fair amount of formal education for his time and had taught school in his younger days, but later on he did truck farming. He was a good man with the soil and could take a poor washed out piece of land and build it up so it would produce well. But he always had an "itching foot" and after he'd bought a place and built it up and was doing well with it, the grass seemed to be greener somewhere else and he'd move on.
Grandma may not have agreed with him on this, but never heard her complain. Come to think of it, I never heard her complain about anything. Even when she had one of her severe migraine headaches, she just went to bed in a darkened room and tied a cloth real tight around her forehead and stayed quiet until it went away. Apparently these attacks did not occur very often. Up until I was 9 years old I was fortunate to spend quite a lot of time with Grandma and we were pretty close. She told me some about her early life in Alabama. Her father and perhaps a brother fought in the Civil War, and her father was wounded, but they came back home. Her family had a very hard time during the war as many others also had. They spun and wove all their material to make clothes and bed covers. Food was scarce and they were hungry much of the time, with no money to buy the things they needed. Once they ran out of salt and couldn't get any, so they went to the old smoke house where they had hung the salt cured pork in times past to smoke. The smoke house had a dirt floor, so they dug up the dirt and boiled it in water until the water all evaporated and in the bottom of the pot was some salt mixed with the dirt. But it was clean dirt and they used it to season their food. Grandma had no formal schooling and could neither read nor write, but she had been through the "school of hard knocks" and was a hard worker. She was very intelligent and after her children were about grown she decided to learn how to read, so she studied the old blue backed speller until she could read some and could also write a little. She did most of her reading in the Bible. I believe she and Grandpa's church preference was Methodist, but there was no church close enough for them to attend in Arkansas.
Let's go back to the early days in Texas. They settled near Whitehouse, Texas, in Smith County, but I do not know the exact date they moved there. It was there they became acquainted with the Terrys. It seems the rest of the children were born in that area, so they must have spent several years there. From there they moved about 5 miles east of Cleburne on a small farm which had been neglected and was badly eroded. Grandpa started working on it and soon it was producing a lot of good fruit and vegetables. He sold his produce in Cleburne. I can remember visiting there and playing in the orchard. Nolan was born there. Their closest neighbor was the Luper family who had several children about the same age of the Jenkins children, so they grew up together. Frank was quite fond of Ava Luper or was it Alma May? Aunt Linnie and Aunt Mary met and married their husbands, the Butler boys. The Butlers were old settlers in this area.
Daddy and Mama moved to a small house near grandpa for a while - then later moved into town. The main things I remember about living in Cleburne was playing with a girl who was always "going home" because we wouldn't do just what she wanted us to. Then Nolan, Newman and I had whooping cough while we lived here, and Mama gave us doses of linseed oil to help ease the cough, and it was awful. Daddy worked in a shoe repair shop. The pay was small and we barely got by. Then Grandpa got that old itch again and started reading the real estate ads in the papers or something like that, and he read about a place in Arkansas for sale or trade and it sounded interesting. So he started investigating and found he could trade his place in Texas for the one in Arkansas. So one thing led to another and before long the family found themselves uprooted and replanted on the old place in Arkansas. Daddy inherited some of Grandpa's "itchiness" and before long he followed the folks to Arkansas, while the rest of us visited around among the relatives near Whitehouse until Daddy could send for us. The Arkansas move does not seem to be the best decision Grandpa ever made, but he worked hard and tried to make the farm pay off. But he had never worked such rocky and stumpy land, and he was not so young and strong as he once was. Then in such a small town as Wickes there was no market for what he had to sell. At that time Arkansas was a poor state with very little money in circulation in that area. The moon shiners were the only ones who seemed to have money. Some money could be made working in the timber, but farming seemed hopeless for a man trying to make a living for his family. There were many old deserted home places around, where any number of people had homesteaded on the raw land and built cabins, cleared land, put out orchards and managed to survive for a time - then couldn't make a go of it and moved on.
So it was a disappointing and grueling time for the family and Grandpa tried every way possible to hit on some way to make a go of it. But he began to lose heart. I've heard him many times come in from work and say "eh law Hannah Lize we're going to starve to death yet." I don't remember Grandma being too concerned when he talked like that. In fact, it was almost impossible for any working person to starve in Arkansas. Vegetables, fruits and berries grew well and there was fish in the streams, deer, squirrel and rabbits in the woods, and with cows, pigs and chickens at home, there was food to be had. But people no longer spun and wove their own cloth, and clothing and shoes cost money, and it took cash to buy flour, sugar and coffee. And there was seed and fertilizer to buy, and there just wasn't enough money to cover all that for the family.
Aunt Mary and Uncle Lester followed Granddad to Arkansas, and the first thing Daddy did after he got there was to help build a one room log cabin for them. They had one child at the time. Then shortly Uncle Lester became ill and finally went to a doctor and his case was diagnosed as T. B., so they started using isolation procedures as far as the family was concerned. But he got weaker and was sent to a Sanitorium in West Texas for several months. He improved and came home. While he was away Aunt Mary gave birth to their second daughter. Then he started failing again and doctor told him to move to a high and dry climate, so they moved to Colorado near Durango. He got a job selling Rawleigh's products - salve, liniment, spices, soaps, perfumes, etc., and got a buggy and horse and spent the next several years on the road, only coming home now and then. He seemed to completely recover from T. B. and was well and healthy. In the meantime 8 or 10 more children were born in their family. Later Aunt Linnie and Uncle Homer also moved to Colorado. There were jobs available there, so they wrote back to Arkansas and persuaded Frank, Emma and Nova who were grown to come on up and find work, which they did. About a year later they sent money for Grandpa and Grandma, Aunt Sallie and Reuben to come on, so they sold the place to a Danish bachelor named Pete Swanson and left Arkansas sometime in March on the train bound for Colorado. Enroute they ran into a severe snow storm in the Rockies which stalled the train in a canyon and it was 2 - 3 days before snow plows could get to them. The train was heated with wood, and fuel ran out and food and water ran low and Grandpa contracted pneumonia. He was worked down and weak to start with, and those were the days before penicillin, so he lived only a few days after arriving at their destination. One day when he appeared to be in a coma, Grandma was sitting by his bed when suddenly he roused, opened his eyes and said, "See that bright cloud, Hannah, get your things and let's go" - I believe those were his last words. The family stayed in Colorado for a few years.
In the meantime, Great Uncle Will Jenkins, a widower with 3 children, Lela, Lula and Tom, had moved to California, bought a few acres of land and was doing well, so he wrote and told the folks what a land of opportunity California was. So pretty soon Grandma, Frank, Emma, Nova, Sallie and Reuben moved on west. They did find work more plentiful and the pay better, so living got somewhat easier. They were living in Santa Barbara when a very strong earthquake hit. None of the family was hurt, but had to move out of their house and camp outside for some time. Later when I was 15 and Daddy was running a sawmill, Frank came back to Arkansas and worked at the mill. Aunt Nova, Emma, and Reuben had married in California. One summer the Graham boys decided to take Aunt Nova and Emma and go back to their old home in Wisconsin. So they, Grandma and Aunt Sallie piled into an old car and started east, stopping enroute to visit the Butlers in Colorado and then on to Arkansas. Frank had built a little 2-room sawmill shack, so Grandma and Aunt Sallie stayed in Arkansas and moved in with Frank. Grandma was quite frail but was pretty perky for her age. She had an old portable phonograph and she loved to play some good music and would get up and jig all over the house. She was good at it and it was a delight for us kids as we'd never seen her do anything like that. Then she started ailing and couldn't eat. The doctor came out and diagnosed her problem as cancer of the stomach. She failed fast, so word was sent to Aunt Nova and Emma in Wisconsin. Aunt Nova wrote she would come but Aunt Emma was about 5 months pregnant with Barbara Gene at the time and couldn't come. But when they went to pick up Aunt Nova at the station, Aunt Emma was there too. She just couldn't stand not to be with Grandma. Besides, they didn't like living in Wisconsin.
Grandma died and was buried at Oak Grove 5 miles west of Wickes in one of the most beautiful and peaceful country grave yards you can find anywhere. Grandpa was buried in Durango, Colorado, so they were far apart. But somehow I just know Granddad had no trouble finding his Hannah Lize when she got up there.
Just a few bits and pieces about our early life in Arkansas...
Our first home was in the little log cabin Daddy helped build for Aunt Mary and Uncle Lester. We were only there 2 - 3 months until spring, when Daddy rented the old Decker place just north of Jesse Sanders, and made a crop there. But true to other Arkansas farmers in that area, it didn't bring in much money, and Daddy had borrowed money to get seed, plows, etc. It was an old place and had been neglected and run down, and was grown up in briers and bushes. It was rocky and eroded. We grew a lot of vegetables and sorghum cane, and had some old fruit trees which produced some fruit. Daddy got an old syrup mill and proceeded to make syrup in the fall. He bought a lot of gallon buckets to put it in and hoped to sell it for a dollar per gallon, but there just wasn't any market for it. It was good syrup but even the moonshiners didn't buy it - that wasn't the kind of sweetening they used in their brew. So we barely survived that year. I'm not sure we even had shoes that winter. Nolan and I started to school in the fall. We walked to the Shelton School House which was just a hill and a hollow from Grandpa's house, probably about a mile's walk for us. I was 5 and Nolan was 6. Miss Georgia Hamby from Wickes was our teacher. She boarded with Grandpa and Grandma. She was so pretty and we really loved her. Hubert Lebow, Mart's oldest child, came by and walked with us every day. But I only got to go about a month, as I had a problem and kept wetting my pants in school so at that early age they thought it best to keep me home. The school lasted 3 months, best I can remember, and we probably had all of a dozen kids attending. I didn't really miss much by dropping out, as Nolan taught me all he learned, whatever that was.
Our first Christmas in Arkansas was spent at the Decker place. Daddy was a born optimist, and nothing got him down for long. so he decided we'd have a community Christmas tree at our house. We didn't know many people, just the Sanders and Lebows, but there was Grandpa Sanders and Jim Sanders families besides Jess and Lundy. There was no money for toys, but never a Christmas that we didn't have candy, nuts, apples and oranges and a lot of home cooking, homemade gifts, and some fireworks. Daddy was Santa Claus and his costume was made from old sheets and a cotton beard with a red stocking cap. That's the year Nolan and I "grew up." We didn't know who Santa was until he spoke, but ever afterward we always knew. But we didn't let on for a long time, and it didn't spoil anything for us, as Christmas was always the greatest time of the year. Newman was 3 and he was too young to recognize Santa for who he was.
We only stayed a year at the Decker place, when Daddy picked out 40 acres down on Cross Creek and decided to homestead. He got a job at a mill up the creek a ways and managed to get some green lumber cheap and started building a 2 room cabin on the 40. As soon as it would do to move in at all, we moved in. It was early spring. The house looked so new and clean, and Mama had some pretty quilts, pictures, doilies, etc. she'd brought from Texas, and she had a knack at keeping house, so it started looking real homelike. Her favorite flowers were geraniums, and she had pots of every color sitting around. Not too long after that, Aunt Nolia and Uncle Archie and two children came up and homesteaded on an adjoining 40 acres. They stayed with us until they could get their cabin built. One night a heavy spring rain set in, and did that roof leak!! We set out pots and pans, made tents of Mama's quilts, and that didn't help much. Daddy and Uncle Archie were up most of the night whittling pegs and chinking holes. We were all pretty bedraggled and didn't sleep much. The roof was made of flat boards laid side by side with some narrow boards nailed over the cracks where they were joined, and that green lumber had shrunk and warped, so what could you expect. But we were the typical "Arkansas travelers" - couldn't fix it when it was raining and when the sun was shining didn't need it. We spent a long time under that leaky roof. Daddy and Uncle Archie worked at the mill that year and cleared some land when they could.
That year Nolan and I learned how to fish. I was the best fisherman, as Nolan lost interest if the fish weren't biting and would go off to chase lizards or hunt crawdads. But I would stick with it until some old fish would come along and bite. My first real catch was pretty exciting. We'd lost all our hooks, so Mama told me to try a bent pin. The creek was low and clear, but I knew to sit way back on the bank where fish couldn't see me and be real still. Just below the crossing was an old tree stump with the roots hanging out over the water and it had washed out a little hole under the stump not much bigger than a tub and just about as deep. I really didn't expect to catch anything in such a small place, but baited my pin hook and sat back from the bank. After a few minutes something hit that hook, and I jerked mightily and brought up the biggest goggle eyed perch I've seen to this day. Just barely got it on the bank when it got off that bent pin, but I fought that fish to a "fare thee well" and finally got a good hold on it and started up the hill yelling at top of my voice. It was noon time and Daddy was home and Grandpa was there too. They came running as they thought I'd fallen in the creek. Daddy said I was white as a sheet and after the excitement my knees got weak and shaky. But I was the hero for that day, and that's glory enough for any 5 year old fisherman.
The mill moved on so Daddy
started farming on a small scale which was about the only kind of
farming that could be done in all those rocks and stumps. He grew
green beans and cucumbers for the market but not much market that
year, and what he did sell was for a very small price. So we ate what
we could and a lot went to waste. So Daddy had to make railroad ties
for a little money to buy the few necessities. Tie making was hard.
Mama helped saw down trees with a crosscut saw and then to saw them
into proper lengths. Then Daddy used a heavy broad axe to hew the log
into shape. After cutting the logs in right lengths with 2 man
crosscut saw, Daddy would take a regular double bit or blade axe and
score the log on one side from end to end and then using the broad
axe which was a very wide one bladed axe (it was quite heavy, too)
and he would square that side of the log and then turn it flat side
down so it wouldn't roll and then proceed to square it on all sides
and smooth it down to a decent looking piece of timber - all by
chopping and chipping away with the broadaxe. They were placed in
flat bed of wagon and hauled to town. It was no job to be tackled by
a boy or a weakling. Later on Daddy built a small mill across the
creek from the house and purchased a 4 horsepower gasoline engine to
pull a small circle saw, and with this he sawed the ties, which was a
much easier method. Also he sawed shingles and finally we had
"real shingles" on the roof and it didn't leak any more.
When Nolan was 13 - 14 years
old, Daddy would sometimes let him take a load of ties to town. But
Mama always worried that he'd get hurt. But he liked driving a team
and going to town was a treat.
We all had to work at
something. We milked cows, fed pigs and horses, toted wood, piled
brush, pulled weeds and cut bushes by the time we were knee high to a
duck, and we hated it all. We would rather chase through the woods,
play in the creek, hunt wild huckle berries or twist a rappit out of
a hollow tree. There was always something good to eat in those
Arkansas woods. In spring there were dewberries and huckle berries,
in the summer there were black berries and grapes, in the fall we had
persimmons and muscadines, and in winter we had winter huckle
berries, black and red haws. We sampled them all - including
sassafras leaves and tea, sheep sorrel, tender pine shoots, pine
rosin and sweet gum with stretch berries in it so could blow bubbles
(the original bubble gum). Then there were hickory nuts and black
walnuts, and we even ate a few acorns.
We didn't go to school for 2 - 3 years, as there wasn't a school to go to, but Mama taught us all she could, so when Sun Flower school opened we already could read, write and do arithmetic. We walked 3 miles to school. Miss Regina Barnes was our teacher, and for a time we had 40 pupils from 1st to 8th grade all in one small room. We had a thirst for knowledge, so we not only studied our own lessons, but listened and learned most everybody else's lessons too. Nolan was the best speller in school and we both made 2 grades in the 3 months of school. We only got to attend 2 or 3 short terms at Sun Flower, and then a small school was organized about a mile from home called Friendship. Daddy helped organize it and did much of the building and was on the school board for a few years. Newman started to school at Friendship. He was quite a character both in and out of school.
He really was intelligent and could learn anything he wanted to. The trouble was there were too many other things he'd rather do. He loved entertaining people, and would pull all sorts of monkeyshines to get attention. Once when his class was required to write a story in English class (we called it language then) he worked hard and wrote quite a long story. He handed it in for the teacher to read, and she handed it back saying she couldn't read his writing, so asked him to stand up and read it to the class. He stuttered around and then said he couldn't read it either, but he could tell it, so she gave him permission to tell it, and he started out, "Once upon a time there was a half of a bear and he was walking in the woods and met up with another half of a bear" - and it kept going on and on and getting worse by the minute until the teacher told him to sit down and write another story for the next day and she had better be able to read it, and he did and she could.
Our schooling was short and sketchy, but we learned in more ways than one. We were avid readers and read everything we could get. Aunts Nova and Emma sent us 3 of the Wizard of Oz books once for Christmas, and we literally read them to pieces. We read all the readers in school, geography, history, etc. We learned from nature, from hard work, and by good examples set before us by our parents, relatives, and friends.
When I was 9 Neal was born. We thought he was the grandest, cutest baby in the whole world, and we all spoiled him and he got to be quite a stinker, Somehow he learned a bunch of ugly words and never hesitated to use them. Of course he got into trouble about that, but he was stubborn and continued to use them for quite some time.
Neva and Nora came along in quick succession, so we had babies on our hands for a long time. I slept 3 in a bed for as long back as I can remember. We only had two beds to start with, so Nolan, Newman and I slept together in the winter time, along with 2 - 3 of Nolan's cats. It was crowded, but was the only thing that kept us from freezing in that old house with big cracks in the walls and floor and very little heat otherwise. In summer we slept on pallets on the porch or wherever. Daddy finally built on another small room which we used for a kitchen and put a bed in one end. So that started out as my bed, but as soon as one of the babies were weaned, I got another bed fellow, so there were always 3 of us and sometimes 4, and for a long time my bed always got wet for some reason.
Mama never really liked living in Arkansas. It was too "wild and uncivilized." The mountaineers who lived around us were unlearned and not very refined. They chewed their tobaccy and spit where they pleased and some of them were not against taking a drink of corn squeezins and using questionable language. She hadn't been brought up like that, and she worked hard to keep us kids from growing up like that. So we can thank her for trying. She was also handy with a keen peach limb or with some soap to wash out those dirty words.
We started having Sunday School at Friendship when I was about 10 and that was the first time we kids were exposed to religious services and we loved it. We could hardly wait for Sunday to come. Dr. Rollins helped organize the work and came out and preached once or twice a month, and he could sing and had a voice that wouldn't quit. Mama was a good alto singer so he always asked her to sing alto. She also had a very strong voice and could be heard all over the contryside (Neva was fortunate to inherit that voice). I remember once when Dr. Rollins had been out to see some sick person beyond where we lived. On the way back he stopped at our house to get Mama to help practice a new song he'd just learned. The song was, "If Jesus goes with me I'll go any where," and did they make it ring!! It was beautiful, and we kids were awed that such a grand person as Dr. Rollins would consider stopping at such a poor place as ours. But he had come out once before to deliver Neal, and he was sent for when Neva was born, but didn't make it, so Daddy and a neighbor woman had to do the delivery. After all, it was 8 miles to town and by the time someone rode a horse after the doctor and he rode a horse back the 8 miles, quite a bit of time elapsed. Anyway, everything worked out well, and Neva made it.
So when Nora decided to make her grand entrance, they decided not to bother either the doctor or the neighbors, and Daddy did it all by himself. Besides, it was dead of winter and no one to send out for help except Nolan who was not quite 14, and anyway it cost $25 for the doctor's services which we didn't have.
Neva was a real cute curly headed baby and everyone noticed her and talked about how pretty she was. So she had it made right from the start, and nobody ran over her, tho' some tried and came out the worse for it. She was always a fighter. But poor little Nora came along with a thick head of black straight hair, brown eyes and olive complexion, and would readily pass for a papoose, and she was anything but a fighter. She would never take up for herself but ran off in the corner to cry. She was afraid of everything, whereas Neva was afraid of nothing. Still Nora was a beautiful child in her way and was always strictly "my baby" (still is for that matter). I did everything for her, as Mama was not very well. I dressed and fed her, took her everywhere with me and defended her when it was needed. Of course Neva was right there too, as they were as inseparable as twins and I loved them both. After Mama died when I was 17 and the girls were 5 and 7, there was hardly any time when the 3 of us were not together until I married 3½ years later. Can you wonder why we have such a special love for one another.
The boys were very special too, and the first 10 years of my life were spent with them, and I never had any girls around to play with, so we did everything together. Nolan and I chased all over those Ozark foothills together. We dreamed together and made big plans. Newman usually tagged along, but he was the third party and "odd man out" but he made up for it by tattling on us, and he'd do it even if we threatened his life. He was past master at lying. He could tell a big one with such a straight and innocent little face until you just couldn't help believing him. Once he told a lie he never backed down. So he got us into trouble more than once, but then he had his own troubles too. If he hadn't been so cute and cunning he'd never have made it to be grown. He had a mania for hammer and nails, so all our soap was full of nail holes and most likely was then thrown in the creek. Daddy had several sacks of nails of all sizes, and when he needed them they were not to be found. After much searching they were located driven into the ground or in the trees which grew all around our place. Newman's punishment was to retrieve all those nails, but of course he never found them all. All the boys knew some very good "choice words" and used them quite often if they thought our parents were out of earshot. But strongly both Daddy and Mama had very sensitive sight and hearing and very seldom did we put anything over on them. Newman's "cussin" was soon brought to a halt after a few mouth washings with lye soap, but Nolan and Neal never gave up that easily and continued to use those forbidden words for some time to come.
Nolan had a very hot temper and when he got mad he struck out at whatever was closest, whether it was a wall or a tree, horse or cow, and they got called a bad name, but I don't remember him ever hitting one of us.
Neal was a stubborn kid and no one put anything over on him. Not even me. If he was mad at me, he'd throw salt in my eyes. Sometimes I deserved it too. For none of us were angels. On the other hand, we weren't all that bad, and in general we had a very happy childhood in spite of poverty and lack of opportunity (and straight laced parents). If I could go back, I wouldn't change a thing except the fact we never had the medical attention some of us needed and couldn't get.
Uncle George Terry (Mama's
bachelor brother) came to visit us once a year, and that was another
highlight in our young lives. Uncle George was our favorite. He
always carried a pocket full of candy, and besides he loved kids and
got along well with them. He teased a lot, but on the other hand he
would take our part if we were about to get a whipping, and mostly he
could talk our parents out of it. So we doted on Uncle George.
After quite a time elapsed, Daddy made some shingles by hand by using a maul and a froe. The maul was wooden which he had made himself. The froe was a rather dull heavy steel blade with an upright handle (blade was 10 - 12 inches long). The method of making shingles was to cut short blocks from a seasoned tree (oak or ash), set the block on end and take handle if froe in one hand and bring the maul down hard on the blade to split thin sheets of wood off the block (after the bark had been removed). This was a hard job, but Daddy was quite adept at it - tho it took several days to rive enough shingles to cover even a small cabin as ours.
Sometimes we ran out of soap and had no money, so I can remember a few times when we made some homemade soap. Daddy made a large wooden hopper and took a lot of hickory ashes and put into hopper and then poured in hot water to the top of the ashes. This water seeped through slowly and out of small opening in bottom of the hopper. The results was some strong, thick liquid, smelling of lye, which could be used in the black washpot and helped clean the clothes. We didn't like it and only used it when necessary. We made a lot of lye soap using meat scraps and old grease, with a can of store boughten lye. In fact, we used it to wash everything, including shampooing our hair. We were grown before ever seeing any real shampoo.
We used the hickory ashes to make hominy, too. We would tie up a bag of ashes and out in washpot along with corn and water, and cook until the husks slipped. We liked hominy making time, as we started eating the corn as soon as the husks were off. It took about all day to make a pot full, but we ate hominy for many a day afterward.
Our wash place was down by
the creek where there was plenty of wood and clear water. We had a
bench to set tubs on and (no battling sticks for us) by this time we
used modern wash boards, and just had to dip our water out of the
creek. It was very handy and right by the road, so if someone came by
we could pass the time of day, and in warm weather kids could play in
the water. One day when Neal was a baby Aunt Sallie was staying a few
days with us, and she and I had just finished the week's washing and
took clothes to the house and hung them on the paling fence. Suddenly
a large whirlwind came by and lifted all those clothes right off the
fence and left them hanging in tops of trees all around the house and
some of them blew across the creek. After we got over the fright, it
got to be comical. Aunt Sallie's nightgown was hanging from the tip
top of a pine tree, and she got so very tickled. I can still hear how
she laughed for days about that. Nolan was good at climbing trees, so
it was his job to retrieve all those clothes. The worst part was they
had to be washed over.
Daddy also had a grist mill and ground meal for all the neighbors in the community, taking some of the meal as payment. The best I can remember, it was customary to take ¼ of the meal ground. Then we still had the syrup mill and made syrup for everyone around, taking syrup for pay.
Syrup making time was quite a
gala time for all of us, besides being hard work. We first stripped
the cane of leaves by hand while it was standing. Then using Mama's
butcher knife we cut the heads off and piled them up to be used as
stock feed. Then using a sharp hoe we cut the stalks and piled them
in windrows to be picked up and hauled to the mill in wagons. I've
stripped and cut many a stalk of cane. It was a hot job and seemed
like Nolan always got the easiest jobs like loading and hauling the
cane. But I realize now it was certainly no easy job - just looked
When I was 8 - 9 years old,
we started having 4th of July celebrations in a nice grove of young
hickory trees close to Daddy's mill. This was a community affair. The
Lebow, Sanders, Hill, and Sargent families all took part, and it
became one of the most enjoyable days of the year. The community
bought a 5 gallon ice cream freezer. In those days ice in the summer
time was hard to come by. It had to be ordered from Texarkana 75
miles away, and brought into Wickes by train so it was left up to
Daddy to order a couple of hundred pounds of ice which I think cost
50¢ per hundred, plus train costs. The train came in at night,
so Daddy had to go out in the wagon carrying old quilts and tow sacks
to wrap the ice in, and he wouldn't get home until about 2:00 A. M.
Then he buried the ice in sawdust pile which we always had plenty of
around the mill. (There's nothing better to keep ice from melting).
Daddy also had to see about buying sugar, canned milk, flavorings,
We had no musical instruments during those years. Mama was musical, but Daddy was not. He couldn't carry a tune, tho he tried. Once Daddy found an old banjo someone had thrown away. It had no head one it, all the keys were missing, and the screws which held the head on were gone. So Daddy whittled out some keys, got hold of a goat skin somewhere and tanned it and put it on the banjo for a head, and managed some screws to hold it on. He bought some strings, strung it up and gave it to Mama. and she could play that thing like nobody's business, and she'd sing along with it. We thought it was beautiful. At one time, Mama knew the words and music of more than 200 ballads and could sing them from memory. We really liked her singing.
Our family had very few
clothes during those early years. 3 dresses were all any of the girls
had at one time - 2 for every day wear and the best one was kept for
Sunday. The boys and Daddy had 2 pair overalls of the bib style made
from blue denim. They wore blue chambray shirts for every day and
usually had a light colored shirt for Sunday, but almost every man
and boy in the country wore their overalls on Sunday too. We never
had any Sunday shoes for a long time. If we were lucky we kids got
one pair of plain high top shoes for winter. We wore long handled
underwear and had to pull our long black stockings over the long
legged underwear. We hated those union suits, but Mama made us wear
them from November to May. She was afraid we'd get T. B. from
exposure. What a treat it was to get to pull off that messy underwear
and shoes, and we certainly went barefoot all summer.
As mentioned before, it was almost impossible to starve in Arkansas. We always had some chickens and plenty of eggs during the laying season. Sometimes we had some hogs for meat, and always had a milk cow or two. We grew all kinds of vegetables, but knew no way to can vegetables so they would keep except for tomatoes, pickles and kraut. So we had dried beans and peas, popcorn and peanuts in the winter. Mama did can wild huckle berries and black berries, some apples and peaches, and also made apple butter and pear preserves and some wild grape jelly. Daddy grew buckwheat one year and put it through his grist mill and Mama made pancakes from the flour. Daddy liked them, but the rest of us didn't care much for them. We always had corn meal so we had corn bread twice a day and sometimes for breakfast too. Hot corn bread buttered and slathered over with homemade sorghum syrup is not half bad. Daddy always grew a lot of sweet potatoes and some Irish potatoes but the didn't keep well. Then we had a big turnip patch every fall. When it got too cold, we'd pull them up, dig a big hole in the ground, put the turnips in and cover with dried corn stalks, then pile the dirt on top - hilling them out like this kept them from freezing, so we had fresh turnips all winter. Along with this we had fried wild rabbit, squirrel, and fish, and occasionally some of our hunting neighbors would bring us some venison, not to mention all that baked possum and sweet potatoes Mama fixed for Daddy. He loved it, but I never did, and don't remember the other kids going for it much.
In 1918 when I was 7 years
old, we had a terrible outbreak of influenza. It was a new disease,
and no one knew any treatment for it. Almost every family in our area
came down with it. In many cases every member was sick and unable to
wait on the others. For some reason, none of our family took the flu.
This story could go on for days, as there's much more to tell, but then most of you already know these things and even remember much that I don't. Personally, I feel the hard knocks prepared us for life in the outside world which so many of the young people today do not get. So there's no regrets on my part, and I am now convinced in this year of 1979 at the age of 68 there's nothing so important in this life as to love and be loved, and walk hand in hand with our Maker.