Stories by Velma Ann Rogers Tower
Elmore City, Oklahoma
5 February 1979
To My Children, Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren
This section on Special Memories, I have written to give you a glimpse of the simplicity, beauty, and joy of growing up in the age that Ray and I were born into. It was a wonderful age. The Covered Wagon was still a common mode of travel, the Buckboard still bounced, and people still used hacks, buggies and lumber wagons. People still traveled horseback through need and common acceptance. The train was for those who had money or the need for speed, yet we saw the Automobile become the common thing, also the airplane.
Out store bought toys were few and far between, but we didn't miss them. Most everyone had built in companionship. I think the most common means of amusement was visiting. Children spent the night with other children for no reason but the joy of being together. Adults and whole families visited. They would hurry to finish the evening chores then walk over or hitch up the team to the wagon and ride over to visit a neighbor. While the grownups visited, the children played action games like "Drop the Hankerchief, or Three Deep, or Hide and Seek." The Children whooped and yelled and ran until it was too dark to see then went inside and played quite games like "Hide The Thimble", or just sat and listened to the talk.
I remember one special game that we played at Rocky Point School-"Blackman". We marked off the bases then a zone that you had to pass through to get from one base to the other. The biggest, fastest boys were put in this zone to be the catchers. They would grab the big girls around the waist and hold on for Dear Life until a helper came and patted them on the back-one, two, three, you're out. Meanwhile the girls were yelling screaming and kicking shins as they tried to get loose. While this was going on, I walked from one base to the other. I stuck out my chest (In those days I had more tummy than chest) and walked through, not just once, but twice or maybe three times. I felt so elated. I thought the object of the game was to go from one base to the other without being caught. After I had married for several years that game popped into my mind and I sat down and had a good laugh. It had finally dawned on me that I didn't have any sex appeal in those days and that was why I was able to outwit everyone. I had never seen or heard the word Sex and if I had seen it I would have thought that someone didn't know how to spell six (6).
I never knew real fear as a child. I was seldom scared of anything, except something like a centipede or a strange dog and even then my fear was never panic. My Family had a simple Faith in God. Denominations didn't play much of a part in my Religious Education until I was 13 or 14. Papa and Mamma made me very aware of God but I had no fear of Him. I heard about the Boogerman that would get me, but he was more like a myth than a reality, so grew in a simple Faith and Joy of Innocence.
If some future child can get a glimpse of the Beauty of that age, I have accomplished my purpose.
Velma Ann Rogers Tower
Special Memories by Velma Ann Rogers Tower
Our Family came to Oklahoma in September 1907. They left Taneyville, Missouri the first day of September and stopped one day at Neosho, Missouri and toured the Fish Hatchery and arrived at Prague, Oklahoma in Lincoln County the 19th day of September. They camped where the present Town Park is located. There was a Carnival in progress and Alfred Hammons and Doc Adams boys slipped under the side of the tent to see the show. Alfred made a Minister. I don't know what happened to those Adams boys.
Tradition has it that the family was on its way to Snyder, Oklahoma to pick cotton, but Mr. Heatlely, the Prague Gin owner came out and talked them into picking cotton for him in the area between Prague and Shawnee, Oklahoma. This area was mostly in Pottawatomie County but in the Prague Trade area and close to Econtuska and the Garden Grove School District.
There were, at least, five wagons in this wagon train. In our wagon were Papa, Mamma, Bethany, Bethel, and Omah Ellen who was just a babe in arms. Uncle Jake Adams had his wife, Tiny, and Norman and Opal and Etta Hammons who rode with them because she loved Tiny and there was more room in their wagon. Doc Adams had his sons, Harve, Charlie, Virgil, and Walter. Uncle Ben Hammons had his children Bill, Alfred, Lillie and Etta who rode with Uncle Jake. Aunt Mary had her daughters Linda and LouBelle whose father was Martin Ingram who died of T.B. before she married Uncle Ben. Then they had their children Rollo, Lonnie, and Chester (Now you see why Etta rode with Uncle Jake). Chester and Belva were born to Uncle Ben and Aunt Mary in Pottawatomie Co. after they settled there. They had another baby that was still born a Lambdin, Oklahoma. Somewhere in this group was Uncle Orvis Adams and other unattached young males. Names of others have been lost in memory.
So, they came, with riding horses tied to the side and colts following along, and cows tied to the tailgate and Uncle Jake's old hound dog following behind, far enough to keep from being yelled at and near enough to keep from being lost.
The cotton was ripe for harvest and the fields loaded down and they were hungry for money. They picked and earned enough to see them through the winter, then they rented farms on the Share Crop plan, which was good for them. The landlord furnished the house and barn; such as they were, and land and the farmer farmed it and gave the landlord a share of the crops produced. The pasture belonged to the farmer and he could raise as much livestock as the pasture would maintain. In good years, the farmer made a good living. In bad years, he usually had a farm sale and sold everything but the bare necessities to pay off his Bank Loan. Sharecroppers nearly always borrowed each year to finance the buying of seed and farm machinery.
Omah Ellen died from measles. She is buried in Garden Grove Cemetery. Mamma and Papa went back to Missouri in late 1909. Jobs were so few that they almost starved. In 1910 when fall harvest neared, they loaded up the covered wagon and came back to Oklahoma. They landed at Uncle Ben's place. He had a big smokehouse made from sawed, green, cottonwood lumber and it had a floor and stovepipe hole in it. Papa moved the family into that. There, I was born 23 September 1910 with the address of Belmont, Oklahoma Pottawatomie County. Dr. Brown from Belmont was the Doctor who delivered me. Etta Hammons, Uncle Ben's daughter stayed with us during the day and did the work for Mamma. It was an easy walk home at night since we lived in their yard.
Grandma Adams, Mamma's mother, must have come to Oklahoma in 1908. Uncle Jake and Tiny went back to Mo. After cotton picking was over. Tiny was expecting a baby and wanted to be near her mother when it was born. Around Christmas, her mother wanted to do some visiting and she brought her houseplants to Tiny to care for while she was gone. Tiny had made herself some new outing flannel petticoats and she had one on when she climbed up a chair to put the plants on the fireplace mantle to keep them from freezing. The fuzz on the petticoat caught fire from the open blaze and she burned to death. She was home alone with her two small children, Opal and Norman. Grandma moved in to take care of Opal and Norman. They came back to Oklahoma that same year. I don't have a definite date, since it happened before I was born.
Papa had rented a farm close to Econtuska. It had a small two-room house nestled on a small prometory that dropped on one end of the house to the pleasant valley below which in summer filled with cotton crops and a smattering of growing corn. On the back and the other end it was protected by bushy Blackjack Oaks and large Hickory Nuts and Pecan and Black Walnut trees with a few Cottonwood trees shimmering and rustling in the sun. It had a rude corncrib and drilled water well. The road ran behind the house between two small hills to the valley below. A storm cellar had been dug in the side of the prometory that faced the valley. It had stovepipe and upright door that you could stand in and face the valley below. It was more like a sod house than a cellar. It had probably been dug for that before Statehood and the land was opened for settlement.
Uncle Orvis (Grandma Adam's youngest child) and Aunt Mary moved into the Hill Cellar after they were married while waiting to get possession of a farm. One of my favorite games was to take a long running jump to the top of the Cellar then jump as high as possible, two or three times. Uncle Orvis caught me and very sternly told me to stop that. Every time I jumped the dirt sifted down on Aunt Mary's white, sheet bedspread and on the table. He spent lots of time instructing me on methods of becoming acceptable, well-behaved child. This was about 1912.
While we lived on this quiet farm in it's secluded peaceful surroundings among the tall tree, I didn't have any real fear but I did listen to the old wives takes and superstitions--One day while walking down the road behind the house, I saw a large Centipede crawling up the bank. Now I had heard that if a Centipede touched you that your flesh would rot and fall off. I yelled as loud as possible and Papa came with his hoe and killed it. A hoe, not a gun, was a farmer's weapon. He could use it to kill a snake or wild animal or to kill a man. It was always razor sharp because it was in constant use to chop weeds, grass and young sprouts also to till the soil in the vegetable garden.
One day I chanced on one in the yard that had its sharp blade turned down and embedded in the soil, so I placed my feet on the hoe's back, a foot on each side of the handle just behind the blade and tried a balancing act. The hoe turned up and the blade caught my left foot just under the two outer toes and cut to the bone. We did not go to the Doctor to get them sewed up. My mother cleaned my foot with Kerosene, made a footlet from an old worn sheet, put it on my foot and then she and papa prayed for me. Those toes healed perfectly and I still have them and I'm near eighty. What a wonderful thing Prayer was for the early settlers of Oklahoma.
Bethany had Typhoid while we lived there. She was very ill. Her hair started falling out and everyone assured her that it would probably come back in Curly. She had such pretty Auburn hair that she didn't need curls. I was told over and over, "Don't taste any of her left over food." They catered to any imaginary craving that she might have in their effort to restore her health, so I was tempted but scared too much to taste.
While she was recovering, someone brought her a baby squirrel. It scampered all over the house and up and over people and ate from our hands. It took its corn up over the door mantle and stored it there. One day someone left the door open and it was gone in an instant. We missed it but it was glad to have its freedom.
SPENDING THE DAY AT GRANDMA'S
In the early fall of 1914, before Dorothy was born, Papa had a load of cotton ready to gin and sell. Mamma wanted to go to town with him so they talked me into spending the day with Grandma. All dressed up in my red Pony Fur Coat, I climbed up to the top of the load of cotton where Mamma was already curled up and Papa sat with his feet hanging over the front of the wagon with the reins in his hands. When we got to Grandma's turn off which was about a quarter of a mile off of the road, we could see everyone picking cotton in front of the house.
The cotton rows ran toward the road but they were picking with their backs toward us. They had their shoulder strap looped over one shoulder and their long ducking sacks dragging along behind full of lumps that looked like a chicken snake that had just swallowed a nest of eggs. The field was on a bottom piece of land and the cotton grew tall in places. Papa and Mamma were afraid that I might get scared or lost in the tall cotton so they stood up and called and called but no one heard them. They finally set me off and watched me down the row until I reached Opal.
It was like going through a tall green forests, except that the plants were no more than four feet tall, though they were over my head most of the time. I sneaked up and sat on Opal's sack. When she started to pull down the row and felt that extra weight she knew something was wrong. We laughed and laughed, she would laugh then, I would laugh. The cotton smelled warm and dusty, but it smelled homey too. I had ridden the sacks ever since I was born as one adult or another picked cotton. Time and money were too scarce for anyone to stay out of the field unless they were really sick. Before the day was over Uncle Jake gave me a tow sack with a strap that went over my shoulder and I picked cotton and earned my first money.
We went to the house at noon to eat. Grandma not only didn't have a highchair; she didn't have enough chairs to go around. She put me at the corner of the table in front of a pretty little plate that had a flower in the center and told me to stand and eat (this was a common custom, but I didn't like it. I thought Uncle Jake should have taken me on his knee like Papa did at home when someone smaller needed my highchair. I didn't like her saltpork or her mustard greens either.)
Dorothy was born in the little two-room house on the secluded farm. I don't remember much about Dorothy's birth. After spending the night with Grandma and Opal she was there in bed with Mamma and wearing my gowns. I loved Opal because she always petted me. She always loved the smallest child and I was the smallest, Odessa, who was born 1913, but Odessa's Mother, Aunt Mary Adams was sickly, nicey nice, cleanly clean, and sanctimoniously Holy and good, so she had as little to do with the lusty, earthy family of Uncle Orvis as possible. In times of illness she was there like a Saint and my parents often spoke of her as a Saint, but she didn't whole heartedly approve of the Adams Clan and with good reason. Two of Mamma's brother s liked to partake of Alcoholic beverages to excess and when provoked could curse in the most colorful words ever hear by man. They had hearts of gold and reached out and cared for Mamma's family whenever there was a need. There were times when they appeared to beyond redemption.
Like I said, I loved to go see Opal because she petted me. After being together thirty minutes she might pinch me till I was back and blue or pull my hair or bite me or scratch me but somehow I knew that she loved me and I loved her. After spending the night with her and grandma, I came home and there in bed with Mamma was that itty, bitty stranger and she was wearing my gown, the one that Mamma had crocheted around the collar with pink and blue thread. I didn't think much of her but I didn't throw the fit that Opal used to tell about. I didn't really dislike her; I just didn't like for her to be wearing my gown. No one told me those gowns were mine. They were too small for Bethany or Bethel so they had to be mine. I was born with an innate love of color and the pink and blue lace satisfied that love.
I was allowed to name Dorothy, I'm sure with lots of guidance but my ego was soothed. After that I have spotty memories of her. Suddenly I was seated on the bench at the table between Bethel and Bethany but I loved that. I felt so grown up. They assured me that my highchair was too weak to hold me up and a big girl shouldn't be in a highchair. It has raised three babies besides me and made a trip back to Missouri. That was a sturdy chair. Mamma took it on the Harvest trip and after she died Grandma had it for several years.
I was aware of Dorothy when she soiled her diaper and ran for Mamma as fast as my legs would carry me and then I ran for the yard. I remember when she swallowed Mamma's thimble because everyone laughed so much about finding it. I remember borrowing the neighbors Sulky to pull her to town because I resented being the one who had to ask to borrow it. I remember that she was an Adam's child, fair, blue eyed, hot tempered, and looked like Mamma. For these reasons and because she was the baby, the Adam's clan were partial to her. She always fought Mamma right down the line on everything that Mamma undertook to make her do. I was always outraged at this. If Mamma or Papa told me to do something, I felt that I had to do it without any and, if, or buts. Maybe Mamma had taught me that a Peach Tree switch was a great persuader. I have no memory of being taught not to sass but I do remember being spanked by Mamma. She firmly believed in it. She had the efficient hand in the world. She could raise a blister on backsides before one knew what she had in mind.
Papa on the other hand invited you to the bedroom and kneeled with you while you asked God to forgive you. He would ask God to forgive you. I would have preferred the swift spank. It didn't touch the mind. A quick spurt of pain and one was cleansed of all guilt and was ready to sin again at the first whim. In spite of my firm belief in the authority of my parents, I spent a lot of time on my knees at Papa's insistence, asking God to forgive me.
I don't remember living in any other house until after Dorothy was born. Uncle Jake and Harrison Roller had moved to the Rocky Point School District in Lincoln Co. Oklahoma, so Papa moved too. He rented a farm that had a good rock house made from red sandstone. It had a good barn and a good dug well just off of the back porch. The soil was poor, thin and scraggly. I remember Papa coming from the field at first dusk. I could hear the jingle of the harness before I could see him, then I would smell the hot sweaty horses and then I'd go down the lane to meet him and he'd take my hand as we walked to the barn lot where he unharnessed the team. The horses rolled over and over in the dust then headed for the barn to be fed. After that, we headed for the kitchen light where Papa stopped on the back porch and washed in the tin washbasin. Then we went in to a supper of hot corn bread and milk and whatever was left from the noon meal, but always-hot cornbread and milk. One other dish comes to mind. Mamma had made cottage cheese and rounded it up in the bowl and liberally sprinkled it with pepper. She always put sugar in her cottage cheese and I still love cottage cheese with sugar.
It was while living in the Rock House that Bethany caught the Red Bird. She tied a string on its leg and tied it to the well post. It was a beauty but so scared that it flew frantically and beat itself on the well post until she felt sorry for it and turned it loose.
In 1916, after the crops were planted, things started shaping up for another bad year. Papa had a farm sale and sold off everything but the bare necessities. These, we loaded into a covered wagon and set out for the wheat harvest. Uncle Orville was working for the railroad in Northern Oklahoma, so we stopped with them until Papa could sign on with a harvest crew. We traveled into Kansas following the Harvest. Part of the time Mamma managed the Soup Wagon. The wagon was fitted with a stove, table, and benches and the hands came at noon to eat soup, cornbread and pie. In good weather we slept on quilts under the sky, otherwise we spread the feather bed on the floor of the wagon and slept there.
One night while sleeping out, I awakened and saw Bethany's auburn hair spread over the pillow and thought it was a strange dog. I cried out and woke everyone up. They teased me for weeks about that.
When Harvest was over, we headed for Boynton, Okla. Uncle Ben was farming there and there was quite a bit of Oil interest at that time. Uncle Orvis beat us there and Uncle Ben's daughter Lily. Papa landed a job and started hauling for the Oilfield, bought lumber and built a small house.
One day, I asked Mamma to let me go play with Belva Hammons who was my favorite cousin. We decided to take a walk down through the pasture. We walked by Aunt Mary and Uncle Orvis's house and Aunt Mary led O'dessa go with us. On our walk, we spied a huge red anthill. Now we hated red ants because we had been stung by them more than once. We decided to stomp them to death. We began stomping and the faster we stomped the faster the ants came out of that hill. Finally when we were loosing and our legs stinging like fire, we retreated and went to Aunt Mary Adams's house. When she saw us coming and heard O'dessa crying, she came out of that house as mad as a wet hen, took O'dessa up and washed her in soda water and cooed and petted her while she glared at us. She then gave us a basin of water and told us to wash. I was mad at her for years because she didn't give us some sympathy too. That is the only time that I remember her being mad at me. I even wished that I had scratched her big boo eyes out. Mamma left me with her one hot day while she worked in the field. Aunt Mary put me on the bed and lay down by me to take a nap. This was before O'dessa was born and she needed a nap, but I didn't. When she had fallen asleep, I took my fingers and pulled her eyes open and said "Aunt Mary, open you're big boo eyes." She had the most beautiful blue eyes I ever saw. I can remember pulling her eyes open. I can also remember how red and angry O'dessa's little fat legs looked after the ants stung her..
Another time Uncle Orvis bought a wagonload of fruit and selling it from the back of the wagon. He put one of the sideboards across a couple of barrels and put the prettiest fruit on them. I happened along (I was barely six) and he had an errand to do, so he said, " Velma watch this for me for a few minutes." There was a beautiful, luscious pear on that board, only one pear. I looked at it and waited for him to come back and I got hungrier and hungrier. I ATE THAT PEAR! When her got back, he had a fit. He never did succeed in making me an acceptable child. I started to school at Boynton, Oklahoma. Bethany went to school too. Bethel must have gone but I have no remembrance of him going. Bethany walked with me to school. The school was short distance from our house. We could see it from the front door but it seemed miles away to me. After Papa got sick, Bethany stayed home to help out. I recited the lessons perfectly and when I read, I read every word. I had listened to the others read and had memorized the stories. I didn't know one word from another.
The 12th of October 1916, Papa died from Pneumonia (They called it Congested Chills). In his hauling job he had to be out in all kinds of weather and one of those cold rainy fall days caught him out without rain wear. He caught cold and it developed into Pneumonia. The family and friends came to sit with him. They anointed him with oil and prayed for him, but around 8:30 or 9:00 P.M. October 16, 1916, he just quit breathing.
Mamma had put Dorothy and me to bed on the opposite side of the room and removed the oil lamp to the kitchen. Just as I was almost asleep, I seemed to see a scroll float from Papa and float over our bed and hover there for a second then float Heavenward. I listened for Papa's breathing and knew that he was gone. Uncle Orvis came in just then and told the others that he was gone. I puzzled over the vision of the scroll for years and finally concluded that it was Papa's blessing for us.
I was hurt about loosing Papa but not desolate. He was a devout man and I firmly believed that he had gone to Heaven. Mamma was still there like the Rock of Gibraltar and I felt secure. I think that I loved Papa most but Mamma was the anchor that we tied to.
Uncle Jake was called at Prague, Oklahoma. When Mamma had problems, he always came to her rescue. He came and took over and made all of the arrangements and settled plans for our future. Harrison Roller and Uncle Ben Hammons and Uncle Orvis Adams all gave moral support and probably financial support as well. I was too young to know the details.
They buried Papa in the Boynton, Oklahoma Cemetery just to the left of the gate as you go in. On that Sunny October day the wind was blowing the grass till its top bowed and touched the earth as if in Prayer. The men of the family dug the grave with a pick and shovel. The sides of the grave were rough and the grave was larger than the pine box that held his coffin and this outraged me, a six year old. I felt that the sides should be straight and even and smooth like the sides of a dug dirt cellar. It didn't occur to me that the weather was hot and dry and the soil would come up in chunks. Those rough walls of the grave seemed inexcusable to me, especially so since my beloved Papa was to be put in that grave. The men of the family put his coffin in the pine box at the house and then lifted it into the wagon that had played such a part in his life. Mamma, Dorothy and I rode in the wagon with him to the Cemetery. The others walked which was about two miles, but people walked more in those days. Uncle Orvis carved his name on big sandstone and put that at the head of his grave. That rock stood until 1973, at least. It weathered until it looked like a tree stump but part of the letters were still discernable. Dorothy, Bethel, and I bought a new stone for him and one for Mamma too.
Mamma went back to Prague with Uncle Jake. She took Dorothy with her. Bethel, Bethany and I stayed to load the household goods on the wagon and drive back to Prague. We spent the last day in Boynton with some extremely kind people. I don't remember their name but I do know that they were not family. That man helped put the tarp on the wagon and that lady baked a fifty-pound lard can full of Molasses cookies for us to eat on the way to Prague. She was so afraid that we would run out of food before we got to Prague.
I love the memory of those devout, kind people. They were poor also, but gave of their sustenance to keep from worrying about us. It took Christian love to take us in and send us on our way with enough food to see us through. The night that we spent with them I had a terrible cold and was real croopy. Before I went to bed, she mixed kerosene and lard and put it on a wool cloth and pinned it on my chest. It smelled terrible and felt worse. As soon as she blew out the Kerosene lamp Bethany whispered to me that I could take it off but not to say anything lest I hurt her feelings.
It never occurred to me to be afraid to make that trip. I was used to Bethany taking care of me. I don't remember many details of the trip, except that I got real tired of molasses cookies. We must have cooked but I don't remember it. We had harness trouble by Boley, Oklahoma, a Black Community, and Bethel was out by the horse's head crying. A colored man came along, took a piece of bailing wire and wired the harness together. This impressed us because we had built in prejudice, and had had very little contact with black people.
The homecoming was wonderful. The Adams Clan had their faults, high tempers, nasty mouths at times, and a healthy disregard for staid conventions, but they possessed double portion of warm love. We were greeted with that warm love and great rejoicing, and, if Opal and I were fighting and pulling each other's hair a day or so later, no one worried too much.
Uncle Jake rented a farm for Mamma close to him. Bethel, Bethany, and Mamma planned to farm it with Uncle Jake's help. We moved into the two-room house to await the spring planting time. I remember chills every day that winter. We all had malaria. We would shake and shiver and freeze. Soon the chill would pass and we would go about our business.
Christmas was special for me that year. We knew that we were as poor as Church Mice but we didn't expect much. After we had gone to bed, I heard Bethany and Mamma talking. They planned to make a toy horse for me out of an old Pony Fur (fake fur) coat. I felt guilty about pretending to be asleep, but I couldn't make myself tell them that my horse wouldn't be a surprise when I found it in my stocking on Christmas morning. I think that Bethel got Papa's razor. I don't remember what Dorothy got. Bethany probably received nothing but the joy of being a co-conspirator. Bethany went into the field and scrapped cotton to stuff that horse (after the cotton was picked clean, a few tufts were always left in the boll and with patience and hard work a few pounds could be scrapped. Sometimes the scrap cotton was carded and used as filler for quilts.) Mamma put sticks in its legs to make it stand up, and buttons for its eyes and yarn for its tail and mane. I didn't enjoy playing with it but I loved and cherished it.
That Christmas day, we made molasses candy (taffy). We spent hours pulling it. We made twists and braided it, and made all kind of shapes. Before the day was over, we were tired of the taste, smell, and color of taffy. I did have enough foresight to hide a piece for future eating. I hid it on the little shelf on the wall clock and I got into trouble over this. Damp weather came and that taffy melted and ran on the clock and made it sticky. It had to be washed with a damp cloth to remove the sticky feeling. I was sternly lectured.
In January Mamma took Pneumonia. Neither Papa or Mamma believed in taking medicine, but Uncle Jake who had not been converted to the Holiness Faith, was more practical. He called old Dr. Curfoot who said her recovery was doubtful. He told Uncle Jake that he might save Mamma but the medicine would probably cause a still birth for her unborn baby. Uncle Jake opted for saving Mamma. Her baby boy, Leland, was still born the 23ed or 24th of January. He was a beautiful well-formed baby. They laid him on Mamma's sewing machine and he looked like a doll lying there.
Mamma died the 26th of January. She was buried in Garden Grove Cemetery where so many of the family were buried, in Pottawatomie County Oklahoma. The day was a bitterly cold day and we drove from Prague to Garden Grove in the wagon. We heated a rock and put it below our feet and wrapped up in quilts and we were still cold. During Mamma's Funeral I felt the most excurating pain that I have ever felt I felt so alone. Into this breach, came Grandma and Uncle Jake. We moved in with them and Opal and Norman. When we got back to their home, Grandma fed everyone then took a cane back chair to the living room and sat down and cried. She wailed the most heart-rending sound I ever heard. She said not a word, just cried and wailed her Heart out. Then she left her chair and went about her household chores.
Four extra people were added to the four of Uncle Jake's responsibility, which was too much for any one man. I never felt unloved or unwanted with him. He was never begrudging.
The year after Mamma died was one of my most rewarding. Because Grandma was almost blind, her supervision was somewhat lax. I took full advantage of this to go my own way. I explored everything within walking distance. Starting with spring, we, Opal, Norman, Bethel and I picked wild onions, which we cooked with scrambled eggs. We picked Sheepshire (We said "Sheepsgower".) and made Sheepshire pie which tasted like Rhubarb. We waded, or I, waded the gullies after every rain, and stood under the eaves and took showers during the rain, sometimes fully clad, built playhouses under the apple tree when it was in bloom (I still love the smell of apple blossoms) and we robbed the birds nest of their beautiful eggs, and after those that escaped our robbing, hatched, we took the babies and tried to make pets of them. Wrong? It was. We were too young and undersupervised to know that we were interfering with nature. I put my baby mocking birds on the oven of an old iron cookstove that sat behind the smokehouse and the cats ate them. We ate green apples and plums with salt and suffered terrible tummy aches. We ate fresh roasting ears (We said roshen yers) until our appetite was sated, and nothing ever tasted so good before or after. We swam in the horse trough and muddy pond. I hated the pond because it felt rough on my feet. We made loblollies in the yard after the spring rains. We found a soft spot and worked our feet up and down till the mud looked like chocolate icing and competed to see who could make the smoothest loblolly. In between times Uncle Jake herded us to the field and tried to get the corn weeded and the cotton chopped. As he plowed out of sight, we leaned on our hoes and played games. We needed a strong hand and he was too busy plowing and planting and grandma couldn't see well enough to know that we were goofing off. Bethany carried her part of the load before she got a job and tried to earn enough money to help out.
When the Fall Season came, we were supposed to help harvest the crops, but again we played and goofed off. We skated on the pond, and on cold days built bonfires to keep warm and roasted pecans in the hot ashes while we warmed. We hunted rabbits, possums and anything that had fur because Bethel and Norman sold the pelts. We ate redhaws, blackhaws, persimmons, and wild grapes on our hunting forays and came home to eat Grandma's thick dried apple pies. We had been made to peel and slice them and place them on a sheet and put it on the porch roof while the apple dried.
Grandma was one of the poorest cooks in the world. My sister, Dorothy says she made green biscuits. She has a big round flat pan and she filled it with flour, then made a hollow place in the center and into that put her sour milk, lard and soda. She then worked this into a dough, which she rounded by the handful into a biscuit, then placed on the greased bread pan and turned each one over once and put in the hot oven to bake. She couldn't see well enough to see that the soda wasn't dissolved well and sometimes a pinch of the soda would leave a greenish spot, which I always pinched out and fed to the dog or chickens. The rest of the biscuit was good. I didn't mind the green spot one bit. She was a master at making cornmeal mush. She set her iron pot full of water on the hottest part of the cookstove and when it started to boil, she'd take a handful of cornmeal and stir the water with a big spoon as she slowly dropped the cornmeal into the boiling water with the other hand. I've always said that Grandma could work 18 hours a day on a bowl of cornmeal mush and a cup of Sassafras Tea and go out and dig the Sassafras. She loved her Sassafras Tea and Cranberries, and her cup of boiling water for breakfast. She didn't touch coffee or regular tea but firmly believed a cup of hot water every morning was good for you.
That year was a golden year for me and the other kids but a nightmare for poor overworked, big-hearted, indebted Uncle Jake. He didn't need an excuse to nip at his home-distilled whisky, but had he needed one, he had ample.
The next year, 1918, Bethel and Bethany decided to make a crop with Uncle Orvis. Aunt Mary was in poor health. Her baby, Vanite was born in January and died in May. Aunt Mary was unable to do more than the minimum of work. We lived under the same roof but she had her quarters and we had ours. Bethany was the boss and she had a much firmer hand than did Grandma. She had learned from Mamma that peach tree tea (switch) was a wonderful reformer, and if it wasn't available then ironweeds were a good substitute. We toed the mark, but it, too, was a good year for me. While Bethany, Bethel and Uncle Orvis toiled in the field, I cooked our food and cared for Dorothy. I oversupervised Dorothy and undercooked the food. The food was simple--beans and corn bread or boiled potatoes and corn bread. I cooked this and took it to the field at noon. Dorothy had boils on her thigh and had trouble walking, so I'd carry her a little way, put her down go back and get the bucket of food and repeat this until we reached the field. While we waited for them to reach the end of the row, we would build miniature cellars. We'd find a nice fresh bit of turned soil and bury our feet in it then try removing our feet without disturbing the roof part of the soil. This took practice and skill. We also cut weed and built miniature brush arbors. Real brush arbors were numerous in the summer before air-conditioning.
I must have been born with double streak of Scotch blood, anyway, nothing went to waste. One day I took the cornbread out of the oven and dropped it in the middle of the dirty floor. As it dropped, it turned upside down. I scraped it up and took it to the field. Bethel nearly raised the heavenly roof. He had never eaten bread with sand in it. Bethany looked so sad as she took her bread in her left hand and brushed it with the outstretched finger on her right hand, then she would blow on it to try to remove the sand. I'll never forget how tired and sad she looked as she tried to eat that mess, at seven and a half years, I learned to feed such messes to the chickens and start over.
That was the year that the sun eclipsed. The chickens all went to roost. They looked so silly as the sun came out, as if to say, "Short night." We had smoked pieces of glass over the lamp chimney and we all looked at the eclipse through them.
That was also the year that bethel cut my hair. I always wore short hair but had a topknot that was pulled back from my forehead and braided. On Sunday I wore a ribbon on it or for dress up too. I wanted bangs. One day when all of the grown ups were gone, Bethel agreed to cut bangs for me. He cut them too short and thin and they stood straight up. He wet them down and combed them but they still stood up. He dug out Papa's straight edge razor and shaved them off. I had two wishes granted that day, Bangs and a high forehead. When Bethany came home, she combed down my hair over my forehead and cut thick bangs.
When this year was over, Uncle Orvis went back to work for the railroad. Bethany went to town and got a job. Bethel joined the Army as soon as he could convince them that he was old enough. Dorothy and I went back to live with Grandma and Uncle Jake.
After Mamma died, I became the keeper of Dorothy. All of the family impressed on me the fact that Grandma was too blind to watch her and it was my responsibility to take care of her. The Lord knows that I tried. I washed her; I dressed her; I washed her clothes on the washboard; I ironed her clothes with Grandma's old iron handled Sad Iron that had been heated on the wood stove; Grandma threw a quilt on the cook table and put a flat pan on it with salt in it. She would say, "Velmar, rub the iron the salt and start ironing where it won't show. That way if there is smut on the iron, it won't be on top where it can be seen."
I saw that she got her share of any treat that came our way. I gave her medicine. Once when she was sick I took a pill with a glass of water and saw that she put it in her mouth and took a sip of water then made her open her mouth while I peered in. I was suspicious all of the time. Finally, I went outside and pawed through the grass under the window, and found every pill. She had punched them through a hole in the window. (Mom always said she sucked the candy coating off first)
I had never heard the word Psychology, but I could have used some of it. As we grew, we developed a Generation Gap before the world knew about generation gaps. I prodded, cajoled, and pinched and slapped and she resisted. Like the time I tried to teach her to say Red. She was seven and past the age for baby talk. I shaped my mouth and had her to look at it and red. She shaped her mouth looked at me then way up high said "Yed"! This went on for, at least, thirty minutes with each of us getting higher and louder. It finally dawned on me that she was saying ""Yed" just to aggravate me. I drew in my horns and let her say Yed until she was ready to say red.
We stayed with Uncle Jake until I was 13. Uncle Will came and got us
and took us to Missouri. He made us go to school and Church regularly and
we had plenty to eat and wear, but I wouldn't trade those Harum, Scarum days
with Grandma and Uncle Jake for the world. With them the food was sometimes
Mush and Milk or just gravy and bread, but I felt content. I had freedom to
do the childhood things and to dream and I did both. My Chinaberry beads
made by my own hand and strung on a raveling string, or my oakball beads
were as satisfying to me as the finest string of pearls.
© 2002; by Mary Patricia Ruble