The year that we lived with Uncle Orvis I learned to appreciate a drink of water. One hot summer morning he loaded Odessa, Dorothy, and me in the flat bed of the hack and set off to see a man about something. It must have been ten or fifthteen miles away. As the sun climbed higher, I began to get thirsty. He was in a hurry and had neglected to bring along a jug of water. I begged to stop at every farmhouse that we passed. He wanted to get there on time and kept driving. I got thirstier and thirstier and finally started to cry. I cried softly at first, then I cried as loudly as possible. I really thought.that I was going to die of thirst. We finally stopped at a farmhouse and I never saw anything so pretty as that long, skinny well bucket coming out of that casing. I drank until my tummy punched out. Needless to say, I didn't get to go on any more trips with Uncle Orvis.
Winter weather hit one fall before Uncle Jake got all the cotton picked. On a cold sunshiny day, he had to go to town (Prague) for supplies. Before he left, he lined all of us kids out to pick cotton except Dorothy who was too small. We bundled up and slung our sacks over our shoulders and left for the cotton field. It was in sight of the house. We each chose a cotton row and bent our backs to pick cotton but kept our eye on the road that went to town. As soon as we saw him go out of sight, off came those sacks and off we went to the pond to skate.
That ice was as slick as glass and none of us had skates; we just skated the soles right off of our shoes. My feet flew out from under me and my head hit that ice and sounded like a ripe watermelon. I saw stars and all of the Fourth of July Colors but went on skating. I had a terrible headache but kept still about it to hide my truancy from grandma and Uncle Jake.
We went to the house at noon, but before we went, we put all of our cotton on the scales and weighed it at one time. We didn't go back in the afternoon. Too Cold! When Uncle Jake came home he asked, "Norman, how much cotton did you pick?" Norman said, "Thirty Pounds, Poppy." That was all that was said, but he must have known that that was all the whole group picked.
Grandma's Brown Leghorn Hen
Grandma's Flock of chickens was sight to behold. They were a Duke's Mixture. She traded eggs every spring with any neighbor who had a different breed of hens. Eventually, they would interbreed and her flock was a beautiful, curious, odd and unusual sight. I kept my Bantams and they did their par and worked hard at passing on their genes, and this added different sizes to the flock and did nothing to improve the flock.
She had one beautiful Brown Leghorn hen in this motley flock. Talk about flirts. If a hen could flirt, she did. If one of the other hens cackled about anything, she cackled louder than they did. When another hen laid an egg and flew off the nest cackling, she flew higher and cackled louder. She strutted and preened till she was the only hen that you saw in the barnyard.
At courting time all of the roosters fought over her. Grandma kept a good rooster so long that his spurs were inches long and he had trouble walking. Some of those battles were bloody. Old Brownie would toss her red oversized comb over her head, give them all a disdainful look, and strut as if she owned the world, everything moved out of her way. I used to slip around and try to catch her laying an egg, but I never did.
I learned two things from that hen--
1-Always put your best foot forward.
2-The Loudest Cackler isn't the best producer.
Our Little House on the Prairie
Uncle Jake moved to a Prairie Rent Farm. Its house was very similar to the House in the modern day TV program-Little House on the Prairie. Our house had a kitchen and one big room that was used as living room, and bedroom. It had a large room upstairs big enough to hold two or more beds, providing the beds had no headboards. The only place that I could stand tall was directly under the roof peak. As I remember it, we carried water from Jep and Mary Bird's house. We had a well but it was a shallow well and the water not very good. It seemed like a mile but it was more like a City block. There was a good road, but there was a path that saved a few steps and I always took the path. I was too small to do much work but I could carry water, and I was kept busy carrying water. I carried water for drinking, for washing clothes, for watering flowers and for whatever was needed.
Mary Bird's Geese
Mary had an old Goose incubating in a sort of a doghouse next to the path. This low roofed affair was on top of a pile of straw. The old goose covered the eggs and the old gander stood watch. Mary warned me to stay away from them, but I thought that I could take the short cut and sneak by them. Just as I eased past those incubating geese, the gander grabbed me between the shoulder blades and started honking and beating me with his wings. I ran for Mary's house and screamed with every step. He sailed along behind and beat and honked louder.
Now Mary stuttered and we all laughed at her but we loved her dearly. She grabbed her broom and came out of her screen door yelling, "Let go, you diruh-ty bi-rr-t-uh-d." His bill was strong and I carried him as I ran. May looked absolutely beautiful to me as she wielded that broom. I still walk widely around geese.
While we lived there, Mary took me to Shawnee, Okla. To buy myself a coat. I'd picked cotton to earn the money. Mary said that she knew a good second hand store. Early one morning, I do mean early, Jep hitched up the team to the lumber wagon and Mary and I climbed aboard. We bounced for ten or fifteen miles to Shawnee. There wasn't room for me to ride in the wagon seat, so I sat on the floor of the wagon bed. That was one rough way to ride. The floor was so rough that one was likely to get splinters in everything.
We found a royal blue, wool coat, lined in red wool with brass buttons. The sleeves came below my finger tips, and the shoulder seams half way to my elbows, and the hemline to my ankles, but Mary assured me that it was a good buy, almost new, clean, good heavy wool, and big enough to last three winters. I loved the brass buttons, and the red lapels, so I bought it for a dollar and a half, put it on and followed her around for the rest of the day in spite of the hot sunny day.
At noon, we went to the grocery store to buy something for lunch. I had a dime by this time and I debated about what to buy. I finally bought a nickel loaf of bread and nickels worth of strong cheese because I thought I'd have some left to take home to Dorothy. Mary bought baloney and crackers. We took this to the wagon yard and ate in the wagon. I had one disappointment though, when Dorothy tasted that cheese, she spit it out. She didn't share my love of strong cheese. I want to add, that it was after dark when we got home and when the sun went down the weather was cold and that coat felt good.
Visiting Uncle Jim and Aunt Ida
It was while we lived here that Grandma decided to visit Uncle Jim Hammons during the Thanksgiving season. The weather was beautiful that year. Grandma got her walking stick, called Dorothy and me and we set out. Grandma could see dim outlines and she felt ahead with that stick. Uncle Jim and Aunt Ida lived about five miles away and Grandma was old and Dorothy not yet in school. We got there after the noon meal, but Aunt Ida, Bless her, always had something in the oven to keep warm. This time she had Possum all brown and crusty and I was hungry and it tasted very, very good.
After I married, I asked her how she cooked that Possum and she said, "Well, I just parbiled it a leetle bit then put it in the oven and baked it." Well after Mike, my 3ed child, was a teen-ager, he killed one and I tried to cook it. It tasted terrible and smelled worse. I came to the conclusion that Pioneer women were better cooks than modern women.
I loved to sleep in Aunt Ida's beds. They smelled so clean. In winter she had double blankets (double in length with no seam on fold at the foot of the bed.) They were put on the bed with the opening at the pillow end. They kept in the heat in those unheated bedrooms and ones feet couldn't stray from under the cover.
We stayed overnight. The next day after dinner, Uncle Jim hitched up the team and took us home. He thought that Grandma had no business walking that far. Uncle Jake was away but I don't remember where.
I can see Grandma now in my mind as she put on her black silk bonnet that Aunt Aggie made her for visiting and her gray or black gathered skirt and waist to match, as she set her walking stick with a small thump in front of her and stepped briskly forward, ready to touch the ground again. Seemed as though she was always slightly bent forward as she strode forward. She never crept, or plodded; She always strode.
In her younger days, she loved dressing up and she had an innate touch of style about her inspite of her many hardship and lack of personal apparel. She was a fine seamstress, even after she had to sew by feel. If someone pinned the seams together, she could flat seam or French seam with her needle and thread in stitches so fine that they were almost invisible.
Fourth of July
We all looked forward to the Fourth of July. Prague always had a Parade and a big Celebration in the Park. The Merchants put a big stock tank in the Park and filled it with ice and water and along about 11:A.M. poured in sugar and lemons that had been rolled and cut. They tied tin cups all around the rim of the tank and everyone came by and drank lemonade from the tank. Families brought their pitchers and dipped them full to drink while they ate fried chicken, potato salad and cake from their picnic baskets.
We got our new dresses and summer shoes for the 4th of July. I'd walk around and visit until everyone had seen my new shoes then pull them off and set them under some convenient tree until time to go home.
Farmers tried to get their crops laid by in time for the Fourth. It was a great time for visiting and relaxing until Fall Harvest.
Along about 2:P.M. I'd sidle up to Etta Roller (she was Uncle Ben Hammon's daughter who stayed with Mamma when I was born, and she married my cousin Harrison Roller.) She'd say "Velma, would you like to have a piece of chicken?" Velma would. Then, she'd as, "Velma, would you like to have a piece of cake?" Velma never said no. Then I'd wander off and taste the lemonade again to be sure that it had become bitter, and then kill time until time to load in the wagon and go home.
In later years, after Ray and I were married, Prague always had beautiful Fire works. I think they were the most beautiful that I have ever seen.
Uncle Jake moved back into the house where Dorothy was born while waiting for possession of the house where he planned to farm the next year. While living there our little dog had puppies on one of the coldest night that I can remember. She had them under the house. The next day I raked them outs and put them in that cellar that was built in the side of the hill. A day or so later, before their eyes were open, I went to see about them and the prettiest one had crawled into a fruit jar and was as stiff as could be. I took it and threw it sown the hill. The sun came out and I went outside and heard something and that Puppy had warmed up and was crawling around, trying to find its mother. I was amazed.
We were without a cow but our neighbors across the North Canadian Bridge had more milk than they needed. People strained their milk into stoneware crocks or jars and set it aside to let the cream rise to the top. Then they took a saucer or a big spoon and skimmed the cream off and put it in the churn and churned butter. It was impossible to get all of the cream off and that made the skimmed milk good rich milk. This is what everyone drank. Most families had too much skim milk so they shared with neighbors when their cows were dry. Grandma sent me across the River Bridge to the Clinkenbeards to get milk on a gray, cloudy day. As I was coming home it began to snow. Great big, soft, flakes fell as if they had been dumped from a basket. The sky opened up and flakes fell fast and furiously everywhere. I had trouble seeing my hand in front of me. It seemed as if the whole earth had gone quiet. In fact it seemed like a Holy moment and I felt very close to God. The next morning everything was covered with snow. All of the dirt and filth and imperfections of the land was covered with a blanket of beautiful, white snow. It all looked like a Winter Wonderland. The Firmament really showed the wonder of God's hand.
Uncle Jake was sharecropping with Mr.----who raised corn, and made moonshine, and raised hogs. He had a pen of hogs that were really big and warned me not to get over the fence because he a had a huge boar who was mean and I stayed away from that fence. He had a little young sow who had pigs and died. I always thought that she was too small to get her part of the food and starved. The upshot of this was that Mr. dropped those pigs on our side of the fence for Dorothy and me. One was a little roly, poly, healthy boar pig. The other one a weasened, ugly sickly little sow. I reasoned that a sow pig would grow up and have pigs, so I chose her as mine. We let them run free and fed at night when they came home. I scraped the nubbins from the cornfield to help feed them. We had a hard, down pouring rain and my pig didn't come home. Next morning, we started looking for her and found her in a ditch at the end of the cornfield. She had drowned. We fattened Dorothy's pig and butchered him. In another version of this story Mom said: "I got even with her. I ate her pig."
Shoes for Dorothy
The winter of the SnowStorm and the year that she started to school, her shoes wore out. Uncle Jake was sharecropping with Mr. Loveland down by Econtuska. Winter closed in hard and all of the sharecrop money went to pay for things bought on credit at the Country Store. We were living on credit again and Dorothy's shoes fell apart. The little store didn't have anything that would fit her and that was where we had credit. Uncle Jake bought her a pair of overshoes and that was the happiest child I ever saw. She waded the snow and kept dry feet. As the snow melted, she waded the water and mud. When the mud dried up, she made mud and waded that. I sat in the house to keep my feet dry or I sat in the house drying my feet while she had a ball.
I always had pets of one kind or another. Bantams seemed to be my specialty. Every time a rain shower came up, Uncle Jake headed for the storm cellar and took us with him. I would sit there in the damp cellar and worry about my pets. When we moved the first thing Uncle Jake did was to get the shovel and build a cellar. He'd dig it out and leave a shelf on each side to use for benches, then, he would make a door to cover the steps and the rain would seep in and run to the bottom of the cellar.
Late one afternoon along about evening, we saw a storm coming up. I made up my mind that this was one time that I wouldn't worry about my baby chickens. When my little Bantam hen started looking for a place to hover her chicks that would be out of the rain, I opened the kitchen door and coaxed her into the house and bedded her down behind the kitchen door. The old hen would sort purr and the chicks would peep. Now Grandma couldn't see but there was nothing wrong with her ears. She kept saying, " I hear that old hen. Sounds like she is in the house. She must be under the floor." I kept silent, but next morning, I was the first one up in order to put the old hen and chicks outside before anyone discovered what I had done. As soon as Grandma got busy and out of hearing, I got a bucket of water and a broom and cleaned up that mess behind the door. I also resolved to find another place for my baby chickens.
This little old hen and I understood each other. When we move to Shawnee, I took her along. She'd find a bush to roost in and make herself right at home. When cold weather came I put her in a box and sneaked her under my bed. She would be as quiet as a mouse. When Uncle Will came and took Dorothy and me to live with them, I took my Bantys along. He finally tempted me with so much money that I sold them to him. I'm ashamed of myself. The old hen loved me and I loved her.
This was also the year that the North Canadian flooded. The water came to the foot of the hill where our house stood and surrounded the corncrib where my chickens roosted.
When my Bantam started showing signs of setting, I put seven Brown Leghorn eggs under her. She hatched all seven eggs, one rooster and six pullets. She also raised all seven chicks. She caught insects and scratched in the dirt for earthworms to feed them. I even dug in the dirt for her. When I turned up a worm, she would dart in, grab it and start calling her chicks.
Those seven Brown Leghorns were beautiful with sleek feathers and bright eyes and they were alert.
The floodwater surrounded the corncrib where they roosted and they came to the door and looked out and surveyed the situation for an hour or maybe more. Then one took courage and flew to the top of the hill, one after another they flew over the floodwater to safety.
I thought that I was in business. The money crunch hit and Uncle Jake sold them. I understood the need but I hated to give them up.
I can see Grandma now, in my mind's eye, with her Grey slat bonnet or her black silk one that Aunt Aggie made her for visiting, and her Grey or black skirt and matching blouse as she set her walking stick in front of her and stepped briskly forward, ready to touch the ground again. She never crept or plodded. She always strode.
In her younger days she loved dressing up and had an innate sense of style about her, in spite of her many hardships and lack of personal attire. She was a fine seamstress even after she was blind and had to sew by feel. If some one pinned the seams together, she could flatseam or French seam in stitches so fine that they were almost invisible.
Grandma was never much of a cook. She spent too many years on a borderline budget to take pride in her cooking. If she had bread and beans and occasionally meat, and cranberries she felt content. Cranberries were her special treat. These she cooked to a soupy state and soaked her biscuits in them. I learned to love cranberries from her.
As I have said so often, she could work eighteen hours a day on a bowl of cornmeal mush and a cup of sassafras tea and go out and dig the sassafras. She also taught me to love sassafras tea. When she could no longer find it to dig in Oklahoma, she bought it from the grocery store. Now it is seldom found and only then in small chunks of wood, not in bark from the roots she bought.
The older I get the more I see that she was remarkable. She raised her
children after grandpa let her, not in style, but raise them she did. She
worked for people, sewed for people, washed for people and helped gather
crops and took her pay in anything edible. She saw to it that her boys
worked also and made them share in the responsibility of the home. She took
great pride in her children when it was hard to find something to be proud
The words you have written have brought the pictures to my mind.
The memories you have shared have brought the pen to my hand.
The colors you have described have brought the paint to the paper.
The love you have given has been received and returned.
To you, my mother, I through this gift, hope to bring a little joy and Laughter to your "now".
For your "yesterdays" have done as much for me and mine.
From the "mean one" who was loved, no matter what!
"Little Mary Pat"
(This was what I wrote to my mother when I illustrated her stories and gave
them to her. I prefer to be called Pat so every time I was away somewhere I
would come home and the town women would say, "Oh, so your Velma's little
Mary Pat". It was a family joke that Mom got her way with my name whether I
liked it or not.)
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© 2002; by Mary Patricia Ruble