Last week was spring break in this area, and the Hula-gen’s spent two days cleaning out the garage and attic of the old house. It was the last moving chore we needed to check off our list, and we wanted to do it before hot weather made that attic unbearable. Most folks go to Florida for spring break. We pilfer through fifteen years of mess. Weeeeee! The fun never ends around here.
For two days we moved boxes, opened boxes and sorted through a collection of books, Christmas decorations, Teen Angel’s old baby stuff and stuff I like to call “Hubby’s s***”. While he’s technically not a hoarder, he does attach emotion to every knick-knack and what-not in our possession leading to more than one instance of me throwing something away and him digging it out of the trash. I’m all, “Purge, purge, purge!” He’s all, “Hey, that might be worth something.” It drives me crazy. By the middle of that second day he wanted to strangle me with that two foot section of rotten rope he took from his Aunt Leta’s farm when she died ten years ago.
At the end of the cleaning binge, we had a trailer full of stuff to donate to the Salvation Army, a trailer of trash bags (BIG bags), a pile of sellable items and some boxes headed to storage. We had also discovered some real gems we had forgotten we owned. It was quite the walk down memory lane. There was a journal I wrote to Teen Angel when I was pregnant, a box of keepsakes from high school including old letters and ticket stubs, pictures and Hubby’s grandma’s pistol (more on that later). One of the neatest things I discovered was a packet of family history facts put together by one of my aunt’s several years ago. It details daddy’s family and includes memories of growing up on the farm from him and his numerous brothers and sisters. It seems I got the packet at a family reunion, packed it away and promptly forgot about it. After a long shower the other night I sat down with a glass of iced tea and read it from front to back. It was wonderful, so wonderful I have to share some of it with you. There’s too much for one post. In fact, I could write a month’s worth of posts from the information in that booklet, but I will try my best to pare it down to a few posts. Before I do that though, there are some things you should know about daddy’s family.
Daddy was born in 1938, the ninth of ten children. Most of his brothers and sisters were born in the midst of the depression, the first child dying at childbirth. They grew up poor in a tiny community in southern Illinois nicknamed “Gabtown” because the community store was a good place for people to congregate and gab. They scratched out a living on a farm with rolling hills and great views. Grandpa raised all kinds of fruits and vegetables that he sold to people and used to feed his family. By all accounts, it was a hard life.
Grandpa was born in 1888 and died when I was in the fourth grade. I remember him as a kind quiet man who commanded attention when he spoke. Grandma was pretty quiet, too. She was one of fourteen children, many of whom died at childbirth or infancy. Letha Belle was her name, and I have fond memories of her biscuits and chicken and dumpling’s. By the time I was born, grandma and grandpa had sold the farm and moved to town. Daddy’s brothers and sisters had scattered across the Midwest, working and raising children of their own. It would take another thirty or so years before his siblings would start to retire and move back to their hometown. Many of them live near each other now. They are close and support each other in their advancing years. It’s amazing to me how well they’ve always gotten along and how happy they seem to have been growing up. When I look at pictures of them from their youthful farm days, I see lots of hand me downs and scuffed up shoes. They are thin and weathered looking but usually smiling. When I read their personal narratives from the family history book, I find mostly happy memories. Like people of their generation they simply made do with what they had. There were tough times. Uncle Raymond had scarlet fever. Daddy nearly died of pneumonia as a child and actually lived with the town doctor for a while because grandma and grandpa couldn’t afford his medical care. The old farm house burned when the kids were young, and they have vivid memories of that as most of them wrote about it in their narratives. But through it all they held onto each other and are still hanging on. Uncle Raymond died a few years ago of Alzheimer’s. Aunt Annabelle died of cancer in 1991. They are caring for each other in their old age, and I believe they will until the end. I marvel at their devotion to each other, and I share with you some of their memories in their own words.
From Aunt Mary, the oldest. She is 85.
I can remember Grandpa B. coming to see us and staying all night. I believe the last time before his death. He was in a buggy with big dark horses. The morning he left must have been in May or early spring. Raymond and I went out under the red plum tree across from the sweet potato house to watch them hitch up the horses. I remember how cold the dew was to our bare feet. Seems like he had on a dark suit and hat and he sat so straight with a whip in his hand for the horses. Mom said Raymond and I rode in the buggy with him out to the log house. I also remember when he died, someone sent us word and I remember Mom standing, looking out the window and crying. He died on January 18, 1929. I was four years old.
In the cellar were fruit shelves full of canned fruit for winter use and on the other side were the apple bins. Since we had an orchard the bins were always full if we had a good year. They were for our own use and to sell in the winter. It always smelled so good and lots of times at night, dad or Uncle D. would go down and bring up a pan full for snacking before bedtime. The cellar also served as a storm cellar in the summer time. Upstairs over the cellar was the smoke house where the winter’s meat was smoked and cured and put into wooden boxes. There was sometimes a stone jar of grape wine in the cellar and bottles of home brew. Since it was illegal to make, it was made at night by lantern light. This home brew was lowered down into the cistern with a dish of butter in the water bucket to get cool for dinner in the summer time, two bottles, one for dad and one for Uncle D. One time when Raymond was little he got into the brew and he wanted sideboards on his chair after he fell out. This was also the favorite stopping place for out of town relatives. Mom didn’t approve of the drinking.
In the spring, we ordered baby chickens through the mail and raised them in the brooder house. We usually had a hundred Domers, Plymouth Rocks, black and white speckled and white Leghorns. The roosters were turned into Sunday fried chicken, and the pullets were left for layers. The eggs were taken by wagon to Wilson’s Store in Karnak and sold, and the money was used to buy groceries. One time around Christmas, a red wagon was brought back and a couple of dolls. In the fall, the brooder house was cleaned out and Uncle D. always had a pile of black walnuts picked and put up in a corner of it. Lots of times at night Uncle D. and I would wrap up and go crack a pan full. We picked them out with a horse shoe nail.
There was a big blue plum tree just east of the kitchen between the house and the garden. There was a large garden with gooseberries and rhubarb in the center and grandma’s prized tiger lilies along the fence that was absolutely off limits to little feet and fingers. On the east end of the garden was an old log house where the family had lived before the new house was built. Mom said Raymond and I were born in that log house. Dad put the Model T truck there and one day when he was working on the truck, Raymond and I were playing around it and found two valentines. This was the first valentines I can remember seeing.
Grandma had a beautiful yellow rose bush. On the hillside on the north were black walnuts and locust trees where we played many days and had picnics. One day I found a little blue bird’s egg, and I picked it up to show Mom. Raymond chased me, and I ran into the barbed wire fence and split open my upper lip. I had to be taken the doctor and had two or three clamps put in it. (Days before stitches.)
When we had chairs that needed new bottoms, dad would always go into the woods somewhere and get tree bark and weave in new bottoms. I can remember the big flour barrel that stood in the southeast corner of the kitchen. It was covered with the dough board on which bread was kneaded and rolled out. The big wood cook stove with a black tea kettle and blue enamel coffee pot. No running water, no hot water, only in the iron tea kettle which was always full. A wooden box behind the stove held the wood.
I graduated from eighth grade at Gilliam School in 1939, and in the fall our house caught fire on wash day. Dad was gone, just mom and I and the little ones were there. Dwight B. and Paul A. came to help, and we carried out everything we could. I carried my hanging clothes out and put them on a stump too close to the house and they burned, but I also carried out my dresser drawer with my quilt top and other treasures. I remember Raymond and some of the boys came from school. Our barn also burned. Everything was a total loss. Paul and Dwight carried out mom’s sewing machine. (All of our clothes were made at home in those days.)
I remember a time when there was a big snow and ice and everything was at a standstill. Mr. Almus F. tied tote sacks on his boots and came across the field to see if we were alright (days before telephones). Then there was the time Raymond had scarlet fever and was really bad sick and Uncle Johnnie had a Model A car with windows skirts. He came and took him to the doctor. Dad’s truck had no windows or skirts.
Raymond and I often went to Farris’s to play, and one time we stayed a little too long and dad met us at the top of the hill. We had seen him coming and knew we were in trouble. Them limbs from the bushes sure did sting. It also taught us a lesson we didn’t soon forget.
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