Thursday, June 30, 2011

Post seventeen: Decoration Day: A two flower man

     My oldest brother Harry was not around much after I got old enough to remember. He worked in Chicago once, was in the army awhile, then settled in California. He did not move back to Arkansas until retirement, and then our time together was cut short by cancer. Harry died in 1997 at the age of 69.
     Harry set the family driving record early on his yearly trips back to Wing to visit. He would work a shift in California, then get in his car and drive straight through to Wing taking 36 hours. And, that was before the interstate system. I remember he always arrived at Wing in the middle of the night, and we all got up and celebrated all the rest of the night and through the next day. Harry was a very organized guy. All his tools were always clean and in the best repair, as was all his property. He was also a great mechanic. Once, while he was home, he helped me take the heads off my car and do a valve job. Years later, when my other car and truck needed that, I tackled the job from memory. Things went well on my car, so I tackled my truck. Everything went well until I started it up. Water spouted out from all four corners of the motor. I did not put the gaskets together right at the corners, and I had to start over. That was my last semi-major mechanic work, though I did later, out of necessity, work on our RV when things went wrong traveling for a year to the far flung corners of North America. In early May of 1997, Harry called
and asked me if I was coming to Decoration Day at Rover. I said “No, I've got a job to do that day.” He replied, “You've got something else more important to do, do you?” 10 days later, Harry was IN that cemetery. I haven't missed a Decoration Day at Rover since, although hitting a deer on the way there and wrecking our car delayed us a week or two this year. I always put a flower on each Gillum and Lazenby grave, and take a moment to think about each person. I am training my sensitive daughter to take over after me, and she is training her son Jordan, also very sensitive, to take over after her. That way, the old Gillums and Lazenbys will not be forgotten, for a very, very long time. The current Wing Gillums play the lead role on Decoration Day for the entire family.
     There is one man buried in the cemetery at Rover who, though he was not a Gillum or a Lazenby at all, has always commanded so much respect in me that his story must be told. R. L. Whitten. He was a friend of Elbert Lazenby, Uncle Euriel's son. He almost became a member of the family. When the war came along, Elbert was soon in action, as a radio man on a bomber. His plane was shot down, and Elbert became one of many casualties of war.
     R. L. remained a part of the Lazenby family. Elbert's sister, Delphia, had severe physical limitations. They were permanent, and her life expectations were very dim. As we all would be, she seemed to me to be deeply embittered about her lot in life.
R. L. started dating Delphia. They soon married, and R. L., a nice looking man, a preacher and a teacher, made Delphia his princess. He put her up on a pedestal, waited on her hand and foot all her life, and to my observations as a boy, was endlessly patient, and very tolerant of her mood swings. And he single handedly elevated her life to a level far above anyone's reasonable expectations.
    As a boy, I was around them a lot. This was at a time when cousins still kept close contact with cousins. I never knew what was in his heart, only what I saw, as a boy. He was my greatest example of the supreme servant nature, and I always reserve a little extra time, thinking about R. L. Whitten, on Decoration Day, along with an extra flower.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Post sixteen: Stocking up food, and robbers.

     Our cook stove was wood for many years. Mom canned hundreds of quarts of food over a hot cook stove in the summer, and when winter started we always had a good supply of food stored away. The potato house was full of potatoes, sweet potatoes were piled under the house, and gallons of molasses were stored from our one mule power mill. The smokehouse was full of pork, and the cellar had hundreds of jars of canned food. We could have lived for years on what we had in the fall. I suppose this over stocking was a throwback from the Depression, when food sometimes ran short, I hear.
     Dad had no patience with people who took a shortcut and spent too much money on store-bought food. He heard a neighbor child come in the store at Wing one day and order, “A loaf of bread and a pound of baloney.” He did not say anything at the time, but later he made it plain to us that was about the ultimate in living too high. That mindset remained up until the day he died. Once, many years later, after Barb and I married, Barb was trying to be of help while Mom prepared dinner. She was preparing potatoes. She admonished Barb, “Be sure to not mention to John that these are instant potatoes.” He also had no patience with people who built a brick house, or got a loan to build a house. “The Gillums were not like other people.” Although Dad was hard, he was a good dad. He gave me great freedom to roam the bottoms and mountains I loved at a very early age. Mom constantly worried. Her 5-year-old baby was roaming the mountains alone. I never got lost, but as Daniel Boone once said, I was sometimes bewildered for long periods of time! He always worked hard, and made sure his family was provided for. He was always totally honest and fair in his dealings with others. He had no tolerance for me going to “Honky Tonks,” but I never wanted to go there anyway. My sisters never got to date in high school, but they all turned out well. He helped instill in us a strong “do-right mechanism,” which has served us well, and kept us out of trouble.
     I was once present at the great robbery of Turner's Grocery, though sorta cluelessly. I was sitting in the back of the store with my friend Don, waiting to get his basketball patched. A strange guy came over and asked him what he was doing. Don showed him the patch. He took Don outside and expected me to follow. When I did not, he looked at me, hesitated, then, realizing I looked pretty clueless, he took Don outside and started patching his basketball. His buddy then proceeded to rob the cash register while Mrs. Turner was in the back. I continued reading the funnies. They left, and when Mrs. Turner came back, she realized she had been cleaned out. She called ahead; they were caught and got a year and a day.
     Turner's store was the center of everything in Wing. If I ever got a nickel ahead, I sat in there touching the coke to my tongue, letting the wonderful taste fade, and doing it again. You would be surprised at how long I could drag a coke out. Buell Turner fixed flats the hard way. It was lots of work in those days.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Post fifteen: Hog Killing Day

     The work slacked off some in the fall. But Hog Killing Day, after it got cold, was a really big event at our place. Before daylight, 55-gallon drums were filled with water and leaned over on a hillside, with a fire built around them. The 3 hogs were shot with a perfectly placed bullet, then they were quickly bled out. They were then loaded onto a sled, and pulled down to the barrels at the creek. They were lowered into the boiling water, and after they were pulled out the hair scraped off easily. By daylight, they were hung up and dressed. By lunch time, they were cut up and on the wagon, and pulled up to the smokehouse. Lunch that day was always the best cut, the tenderloin. Relatives and friends would be there to help, and they always got some of the fresh meat. The cuts of meat were packed in salt and left for a few days. Other meat was ground into sausage. By the next day, much of the skin with a thick layer of fat on it was cut into pieces and put into big black pots full of boiling water. The fat cooked out, and by the next morning, a thick layer of fat had formed on the water. This was skimmed off and stored for cooking or making lye soap. After a few days, the salted meat was hung in the smokehouse, and smoked with hickory smoke for several days. This meat would then keep all winter.
     I helped bring about the end of the hog killing tradition at our farm. Early one morning Dad said, “Son, my eyes are getting bad. It's time for you to shoot the hogs.” Now, I had been feeding those hogs all summer, and I just did not want to shoot them. I didn't mind hunting for food, those squirrels, etc. were strangers. But I had given these hogs names. I knew them personally. Dad did it, did not hit the right spots, and we had screaming hogs running all over the pen. That was the end of our Hog Killing Days.
     Every fall, Dad and I went down to Pine Hill and pulled out a load of old, decayed pine stumps from the virgin pine cutting a generation ago. The rich pine made a great fire starter. We used our fireplace, our only heat in our house, and we needed a fire very quickly on cold mornings. We had lots of quilts to pile on, and when it was very cold, Mom would wrap up a hot flat iron and put it at the foot of our bed. In those days, used to sleeping in a room near freezing, it didn't bother me that my head was not covered. I was used to it, although I do admit that when I woke up, I was usually rolled into a round ball in the middle of the bed, everything under covers. Now, when I go camping in winter, my head gets colder than I can stand real quick. I've turned into a softie city slicker, I guess.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Post 14: My Cowboy Days

     I did a lot of cow-wrangling. Once, an old wild cow got me cornered in the barn and just kept on working me over with her head for what seemed like forever. Fortunately, most of our cows did not have horns. Another time, I remember walking behind a steer in a stall. It kicked at me, grazed my leg, then the full force of it broke a wall plank in three places. When a government man came to vaccinate our calves, we had them penned up for him in the barn. He told me, “Son, let’s see what kind of cowboy you are. Bring that calf to me.” I grabbed that calf, and we were a pretty even match. We wallowed all over that barn. Finally, exhausted, I pulled the calf over to him. He grinned, “Well, that’s pretty good. But that method would get pretty old after awhile, before you finished this job.” He slipped his hand over a calf's lip, dug his fingernails into the underside, and the calf got real cooperative. I learned that day that pain was a good working tool.
     I often herded the cattle into the corral to spray, load them up for the sale, or whatever. I learned after awhile that cows, like people, had their own individual characteristics. I eventually was able to identify any of our fifty or so cows. I felt I had missed out, being a cowboy without a horse. But Dad had decided about the time I was born that he wanted his cows to be gentle and easier to handle, so he got rid of his horses. Also, around that time, he stopped running our cattle up in the mountains.
    While he was doing that, sometimes he would have to ride his horse for many miles to find them. He usually carried a shotgun pistol, just in case. Once, he rode up on a whisky still, with the fire burning good, but nobody was in sight. He figured the owner was hiding, with a bead on him. He pulled his pistol, backing out slowly, then clearing out quick. The Bell cow wore a bell around her neck, making the herd easier to find. Once he only ran them on our land, 250 acres or so, the horses weren't a requirement. Just my luck, that’s about the time I was born. At feeding time in the winter, he could shake range cubes in a bucket and the cows would all come running. The regular cows knew to go to their troughs in the lot, the cows with calves went into the barn hallway with a little better feed, and the bull went into another pen for the most feed. Then, Dad would shut the gates and go to the house. When the bull got through, he would push open two gates, and leave. The other cows could then go out. I once tried to separate two fighting bulls by shooting both barrels of a shotgun over their heads at once. It did not bother them but sure made an impression on me. By the time Dad got home, one bull had a broken leg.
     Sometimes I went with Dad to the Fort Smith stockyards. I once saw a man lean up against a pen, undo his belt to tuck his shirt in his pants, and a cow pooped in his pants!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Post thirteen: Katie's string of catfish turns the heads of the big time fishermen

     I'm going to interrupt my story again. Sometimes, when a good story comes around, you just naturally gotta tell it while its fresh on your mind.
     My Dad started grooming me to take over as the family fresh meat provider when I was very young. I took the place of my older brother Harold when he went off to college. Even salt pork, as bad as it was, didn't last well into the warm weather, and if the family had no fresh wild meat provider, there was no meat to eat. Period.
     My Dad never fished anymore, he was too busy working. Every hour of every day except Sunday. But he gave me the time and means to wander the creek and river and figure it out by myself. And some little tricks are just good enough to be passed down through the generations of hill folk, and those are kept in the family.
     A couple of days ago, I took my 14 year old niece Katie catfishing. She was not raised a hillbilly, but she woulda' made a good un'. She loves to fish, and bagged her full limit of deer last year.
     We went down to a very busy boat ramp on DeGray lake, just before dark, with dozens of big, fancy fishing boats loading and unloading. Now with all the water worked up from all the boats, one would have thought that this was the last place to catch catfish. However, as the water began to settle  just a little after dark, Katie used her skill and a little hillbilly trick I knew, to start just dragging them in. Didn't hurt for Katie to be privy to the trick, she was family. She was catching them so fast, I just quit fishing and put her fish on the stringer and keeping a baited rod ready. After 40 minutes or so, she trimmed her string down to the five biggest, and we were ready to go home. Five or six large boats had just loaded up to go home, and the men were just standing around talking.  Katie drug her string of cats, (they were dragging the ground) by those fishermen, and you shoulda' seen the eyes bug out! One man managed to stammer, "We been fishing in the wrong place!!"
     Word to the wise - never take on a hungry hillbilly in a catfishing derby. Fishing for sport is one thing, but meat fishing to keep a family fed is quite another!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Post twelve: I became an Indian, led the singing, then the real work started.

     At about ten years old, I was all into Indians. I decided to make myself an Indian costume. I had a belt around me, with a flap hanging down in front and one in back. I threw in a feather in my hair for effect. I had a tomahawk. Once, the girls were all on the porch, so I decided to show off my costume. I ran the length of the porch, jumped off real high, and gave a war whoop. It changed into a scream when I realized my costume had a flaw. Both flaps flew up. It seemed like I was in the air forever, then when I hit the ground, I could not get gone quick enough. The girls were rolling with laughter, and I still have to endure that story at every family reunion.
     Flossie Hull decided one Sunday at church that our youth, namely Annette Person and I, should play the piano and lead the singing. Annette had just begun to play, so she played at about half speed. I had to gear my singing back to half speed, dragging out the words as long as possible. Well, my singing was not safe at any speed, and although I supposedly was leading, I always waited for Flossie to kick in before I started. I'm sure Flossie realized her mistake quickly, but she was a good sport. We held this position for a long time. I'm sure it seemed like forever to everyone.
     Gradually, I graduated to helping Dad in the fields. Once, on Sunday, Dad decided that the corn needed to be fertilized because rains were forecast on Monday. Mom felt real bad about this, because working on Sunday was a major no-no. It was the only time I was ever asked to. She gave me money to go to the store and buy up a good supply of candy for that day. I was carrying a heavy bag of ammonium nitrate, spreading it in the middles, while Dad plowed it in behind me. Now, he was covering two rows at a time, me one. So, I had to move twice as fast as he did. It was a hard day. I figured up at the end I had walked thirteen miles that day, double time. But I sure was full of candy!
     Dad was a hard man. Remember, “The Gillums were not like other people.” But even though he pushed me hard he pushed himself even harder. And, as he was fifty-two when I was born, he was an old man by this time. I always felt deprived that he never felt like playing ball with me after work, but I now realize how I feel, at sixty-five, after a day's work, and not as hard as his days. We worked hard every day except Sunday in the summertime, but he began giving me Saturday afternoons off to go fishing.
     We would fill that barn loft full of hay, and it was as big as a basketball court, it seemed. Dad finally bought a hay stacker that hooked on the front of the tractor. We then built haystacks. I would shape the stacks and tromp it. After awhile, I got to where I could shape the stacks so that water would shed off the top. There's an art to that.
     We started growing a cucumber patch, a full acre. Barb, Jan, and I picked them every day for a month or so. Often, a “Spreaden-outer,” or bull-nosed snake would greet us when we raised up a vine. We carried each day's take to the post office. The mailman, Mr. Sims, on his way back to Ola, carried it to the Atkins pickle shed at Ola. After awhile, I would begin tearing and pulling at those vines, but they just kept producing cucumbers! The money from this crop went to buy our school clothes.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Post eleven: Sixty-seven sure is grand!

     I just turned sixty seven the day I started this blog, so to celebrate that, I want to take out from my regular story to tell you just how good it is! I will get back to my story with post twelve. I hope you don't mind.
     Finally, full social security! And medicare and all that goes with it! I can go to my doctor as often as I want, and it don't cost a penny! Those arm-and-a-leg health insurance premiums are mostly all gone! The rental property is all paid off! Just tinker around with them a little when they need it, keep them rented, and they will help support us well into old age!
     Now, I can play golf any time I want, catfish all I want, and take long walks in the woods and mountains, to recharge, just for the fun of it!
     I can go to the Recreation Center and run and walk with my friends, any time of day I want to. For as long as I want to! They say, lots of exercise gives me a good chance to live well up into my 80's.
     And travel! Barb and I can travel all we want to, and can afford to. See the world! And I can write a lot!
     Of course, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Got to look at the big picture. Both sides of the coin. Good vs. bad. be realistic.
     About those visits to the doc. Sixty -seven is the year the doc says, "Maybe we should start doing those yearly physicals every six months. And, you know those questions you have stored up to ask the doc, those little things you want to ask the doc if he can fix? Well, sixty-seven is the year when you have to start writing them down. Not on a small scrap of paper, but on a full-blown legal pad. And, it might be best if Barb went along too, to help remember his answers. Sixty-seven is the year the doc's most common answer is, "Yeah, I can fix that, but you might want to consider just letting that problem slide, and live with that small inconvenience. I can fix it, or, you can keep on having sex." My answer is, "That's not a big problem, doc. I can live with it," as I scratch it off my list.
     Those free doctor visits. The paying through the nose starts at the Pharmacy. Maybe I should have opted for a little better supplimental prescription plan to help with that. But, when I signed up, I didn't take any prescription drugs. Back in the good old days.
     Sixty-seven is the year the daughter starts mentioning things like, "You know, Dad, they have really good ways to test your memory loss nowadays. And, if they catch it in time, they can slow it."
     The rent property has a few leaky roofs. Sure, I can just climb up and smear some sealer around. I can fix that. But Barb keeps harping on me with, "Remember how many times you have fallen off that ladder, in just the last year? Let Bud Reeder get someone to fix it." And that sagging floor. I can crawl under the house and fix that. But I keep rubbing all the belly buttons off my shirt to get under, then when I'm done, I can't turn around to get out. I know it's no big deal to replace a rotted bathroom floor, I've fixed a bunch of them. But why is it that now, when I finally get up off that floor, my knees and back are in such a shape that I get around like a 90 year old for a month.
     Sixty-seven is the year one realizes, "You know, my back sure does feel better when I just don't play golf." And fishing! My knees get all cramped up so in my small boat, so that I have to put my cell phone in double zip locked bags. There's at least an even chance that I will stumble around in the boat when I finally do get up and I will find myself under water.
     Long walks in the mountains are still a viable option at sixty-seven. Better file a destination plan with Barb, though, in case I can't find my way back or fall and hurt myself.
     Sixty-seven is the year you always greet your friends at the Recreation Center with, "Hey, Man!" or Hey, girl!" Why don't those names come to me anymore? And running. Works well for a day or two, until I pull some muscle somewhere. I can still walk fast, but if I walk too long, my back will be too sore to get out of bed tomorrow.
     Traveling the world is still a viable option at sixty-seven, unless I throw my back out carrying those heavy bags. And, if I can just fight back those panic attacks, when driving on the wrong side of the road, driving a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side, and just stop wishing I was home.
      Those nice naps after lunch are great, until they start stretching out to supper time.
      Writing, at sixty-seven, is good. Does not require much physical exertion. But, I now take five pills a day to counteract the side effects of a sixth one, and if they don't quite cover them all, my thought processes just get jumbled up. Sixty-seven is a good time to record my lifetime memories, if an old memory, once in my head, would just stay around long enough for me to find a pencil, considering I may have to interrupt my search for a quick trip to the bathroom when the two minute warning sounds.
     I love those trips to the grocery for Barb. Milk and bread. Except that I have to take a list, find the list when I get there, and finding my credit card on the way out complicates matters some.
     You know, everything considered, sixty-seven can really suck!   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Post ten: My supermom and Uncle Franz the poet

     My mom's full name was Irene Cornelia Lazenby Gillum. She had a very hard life, but always made the most of it. She always had a full breakfast, and I mean full, ready before daylight. After the breakfast dishes were washed, she always swept the whole house. Then she made all the beds, worked a little in the garden, in season, then started a big dinner (lunch). She might have a few minutes to rest after the dinner dishes; then she would often head to the truck patch to hoe weeds awhile; then it was time to start supper. In between times, she was raising 6 babies. She always had time to give to us though. She made all our shirts, dresses, etc., from chicken feed or flour sacks. In the winter time, she would make quilts.
     We always were in church on Sunday, and we had a giant bible picture book. She saw to it we memorized every story. Everyone in Wing and Rover loved her. The old church at Wing once had been a school house upstairs, but the stairway had long since been removed. Sammy and I managed to climb up there one Sunday after services. We found a big rattlesnake on the way up, and when we got to the top, the chalk board still had Leta Lazenby, mom's sisters, name on it. Leta had left Wing decades before.
     Mom, and some of the girls and I, would spend all day once a week washing clothes the hard way, hung them all out to dry, and get them in by dark. On another day, all the clothes that needed it were ironed with flatirons, which had to be heated on the stove. Despite all the hard work, I could not have asked for a sweeter mother. She would always pass up buying anything for herself, choosing to spend any extra money on us. She would tell me, “Well, I'll buy this for you now, and when I'm old and you are well off, you can buy things for me.” Sadly, she passed away at sixty-eight, and that time had not arrived yet.
     Uncle Franz passed by our house nearly every day, going to check his cows. But I knew he would usually wind up at the river, fishing. He loved to fish. I often wound up down there with him, and rode out on the back of his tractor. I loved to talk to him. He was so wise. Time spent with him was never dull. This poem, by him, tells how he felt about fishing better that I ever could.

By the side of the roaring river
Up where the blue waters flow
Under the shade of the leaves that quiver
There's where I'd love to go.
With my cane, hook, and minnow to lure
I would look for the cork not to show
When I landed a big one I'd be sure ‘tis skill
That’s where I'd love to go.
Where the cares of life are smothered
By the thoughts of another to show
From out of his hiding uncovered
That's where I'd love to go.
As he flounced to shore by my tugging
‘Mid the waves where the blue waters flow
And to land him requires such tugging
That's where I'd love to go.
When the season is right for fishing
And duties are not pressing so
I'll do more about it than wishing
I'll go where I'd love to go.
I'll smile o'er the roaring blue water
At his nibble down below
Then stand up on my trotters
At the spot where I'd love to go.
But for now, I must only imagine
What a thrill to experience such show.
Maybe someday I'll crank up the wagon
And stop where I'd love to go.
By F. M. Gillum

Friday, June 17, 2011

Post nine: Wildfire, problems with wintertime baths, and skunk skinnin"

     One day, word came to us that a trash fire had gotten out of hand at a neighbor’s and was headed toward our house. We ran over with wet tow sacks to fight it, but it was wind-blown and quickly surrounded us. We had to jump over the fire to get out. You would never believe how hot a fire can be if it's right under you! Well, I saw that was not going to work, so I ran to the tractor, half a mile away, and hooked up the disk. I plowed a fire line around our house, hay stacks, propane tank, and crops. We were able to hold it there. The ranger told me, “You did a heck of a good job today.” My head swelled out of sight.
     When I was little, sister Barbara pretty well dominated me. But once, she was swinging on our tree swing and would not let me have a turn. I picked up a rock and threw it. As luck would have it, (my bad luck!) it hit her in the head. She jumped off that swing, ran at me screaming, and I don't exactly remember what happened after that. I think I've blocked it out! Barbara Lou had developed a well-earned reputation as a hot head, but settled down some when told she was going crazy like Aunt Lula. We once got to wondering about this Santa Clause thing. We decided that since he came down the chimney, maybe he was holed up in the attic. We crawled up and explored it real well. By the time we had finished, we both needed to go to the bathroom real bad. Well, it was dark up there, so we did. When we got down, there were two brown stains on the ceiling above Mom and Dad's bed. They never went away, and we never heard the last of it.
     We were going down to the creek, and Barbara wanted to change boots. She took mine, and I put on her big, loose boots. She started running down the rocky hill to the creek and I, as always, followed. Those big boots got my feet all tangled up around each other, and I sprawled out, hitting my head on a sharp rock. I thought I was never going to stop bleeding. I still have a hole there in my head. As always, I'm pretty sure Barbara managed to blame that all on me!
     Taking a bath in the winter time was a major undertaking. We had to haul the water up from the well, way down the hill, heat it on the wood cook stove and put it in a round washtub. We took turns, and being the youngest, I was just naturally last. I was nearly grown before I realized bath water was not supposed to be brown. Summer time baths were easy. We had a nice round hole in the rocks down on the creek, a natural bath tub. Once, a water moccasin took over the tub while Dad was taking a bath, and ran him plumb up the hill. I had always heard they sometimes did that, but in my many dealings with moccasins, they just never acted like that. That is until years later, Harold and I were fishing down on the river. I was sitting down by the water, minding my own business. I was making an important business phone call on my cell phone, and I noticed a moccasin fifteen feet away, just looking at me. He started swimming toward me, and, not wanting to kill him since I was in his backyard, I just pushed him back out in the river with my fishing pole. He came back, a little faster this time, and I did it again. He came back real fast this time, managing to get into my mesh gear bag lying by my side. I never missed a lick with my business call, just dumped it back out in the river. Finally, it got tangled in my hook at the end of my pole, and I had to kill it. I had to call the lady back I was talking to, and I told her that if any of the information I had given her did not make good sense to just ignore it.
     I visited Aunt Lula a lot when I was growing up. I always hollered, “Anybody home?” She always answered, “Nobody home!” She always made the best mackerel salad. Once, she found a dead Civet cat in her well and since it was trapping season she brought it over to me. Now, the Civet cat is the first cousin to a skunk, but it had a good looking fur, so I set in to skin it. When I made the first cut, it sprayed all over me. I went in the back door of the house to wash up, and everybody else went out the front door!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Post eight: Sammy Charles leads me into trouble. Again and again.

   Sammy Turner was two years older than me. We ran around together a lot. We had a call. “Whoo, Whoo, Whooie e ooo!” That call carried over the hill between our houses, and pretty soon we would be on a great adventure. He was a leader, I was a great follower, and somehow I got into a lot of trouble following Sammy. We decided to build a club house up on the hill. The small pines, chopped down, made a great frame. We went to an old barn, barely standing, and salvaged lots of planks. One day we went back to the old barn, and it was flat on the ground. When the clubhouse was just about built, we made up the club rules, wrote them down, folded up the rule sheet and stuck them in a crack. The next day, when we took out our rule sheet, another had been added. “Do not cut any more pines belonging to John Gillum.”
     Sometimes, after harvesting our peanuts, we would hang tow sacks (city people call them gunny sacks) full of peanuts up in the smokehouse. Sammy and Mack Carter, another cousin, finally got in the habit of coming by and manipulating me, two years younger, into sneaking into the smokehouse and getting them a good supply, after I made a tiny hole in the bottom of a bag. After this happened a few times, I guess Dad caught on, because one day I snuck in, and Dad was in there, sewing the hole up with a needle and thread. One good glare from Dad was all I needed, and I hauled out of there and never tried that again. Dad never cared how many I ate, because he knew how hard I worked and I deserved them. But furnishing the neighborhood boys, who he knew did not work as hard, went against his grain. “The Gillums were not like other people.”
     Once, we decided we could catch more perch in the creek by feeling under the rocks and catching them. That worked well, until we pulled out a snake! That was the end of that! Sammy had another good idea. We stuck needles in the end of our arrows, put on an extra shirt for armor, and shot them at each other. Fortunately, we were not very accurate. Another idea was to lay a .22 shell on the concrete, reach around the corner of their cellar, and hit it with a hammer. I nixed that one.
     Sammy and I spent a lot of time looking for arrowheads. One of our favorite places to look was down close to the river. There were plowed fields there then, but now they are covered with tall pines. One Sunday, as we started out, Dad said, “Don't get out of our pasture.” Well, the good hunting was well past our pasture. When we got to the river, we decided to cross it and look on the other side. After we explored awhile, we tried to return to the Hale Ford, where we had crossed. Every time we reached the river, all we could find was wide and deep water. We could not cross. Well, we could have swam, but it was a little cold to relish that. We finally headed downriver and came out at Rover Bridge, a couple of miles downriver. About sundown, we drug in home. I had cows to feed and, since Dad was waiting for me, I got right to it. Finally Dad said, “I was down in the pasture today, and I didn't see you there.” “We decided to hunt arrowheads in the woods,” I replied. “No wonder you didn't find any,” he knowingly said. I totally deserved a whipping that day, but he let me slide. A different trip to the river with Sammy earned me my only real whipping Mom ever gave me. Mom took me out under the persimmon tree. She had a big limb. I was taller than her then, and I just sorta looked at that small woman headed toward me with that limb, and I sorta smirked. She got hold of me with one arm, and we went round and round with her working on me with that big limb. You could hear my screams all over that hill. I never doubted her abilities after that. My older siblings filled me in early as to what Dad was capable of, so I never tested him much. A certain look over the top of his glasses and “putt, putt, putt!” was all I usually needed to keep me in line. I never could figure out what that meant exactly, and I never wanted to know.
     Sammy and I built us two carts that we could sit on and steer. A piece of wood for a steering wheel with wires running to the front wheel area did the trick. We had trails made through the pines on the hill, and it was great fun. One day Sammy showed up with a car steering wheel for his cart. I was jealous. Well, I went home and started going through Harold's stuff he had stored. He was a mechanic in the Air Force at that time. I found something that looked like half a car steering wheel, so I got that. It worked great. By the time I totaled my cart against a tree at the bottom of the hill, this cart thing was getting old anyway, so I left it there. Some 50 years later, Ken Gillum, Harold's son, called me up and said, “You would never believe what I found up on the hill. I can't figure it out! A B-29 steering wheel, with old rusty wires attached!” I told him, “Ken, I think I can help you out on that one.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Post 7: I strive to become a Hillbilly businessboy

     There was no spare money for me on the farm, and no way to get any. It made no difference that a coke or candy bar was 5 cents. I didn't have 5 cents. So, I started brainstorming. My first idea was to sell greeting cards for the Cheerful Card Company. After I got my selling kit and samples, I set out selling door to door. The main problem was, or one of them, in Wing it was typically a long way between doors. Maybe a mile. That was a big drawback. Plus, most of the neighbors did not have much money, either. I soon had to scrap that idea.
Robert Compton and Charley Foss raised rabbits. When a litter was about half grown, a truck came around and bought them. So, somehow I got enough money together to buy me a couple of does. I could not afford a buck, however, and I had to carry my doe to Robert's house, or to Charlie Foss to get them bred. Once I arrived at Charlie's and half a dozen of his big German shepherd dogs surrounded me and the rabbit, growling and barking. Fortunately, just before we became a meal for them, Charlie finally came out and called them off. When a doe gives birth, she pulls out white hair from her chest and lines the nest with it. I was so excited when my first litter was born! After I had sold a few, I bought a buck. The enterprise did not prosper well, though. Often, for some unknown reason, the doe would kill her young. After a year or two, I totaled up my books. I was twelve dollars and twelve cents in the hole! I dispensed with the enterprise and bought a hog. The sow was bad to roll over on her young, however, and after a year or two I totaled up my books. I was fifteen dollars and fifteen cents in the hole. Another bust!
Harold had trapped mink a lot in high school, and I knew he had sometimes sold a mink fur to Sears and Roebuck for thirty dollars, so I decided to become a trapper. I started trapping with Harold's traps. He was in the Air Force then, and I used his. I started so young that I would have to get Dad to set two traps, carry them a mile or two, and set them out. That was a learning process, however, and it took a long time to get proficient. I kept this up through high school, and a typical winter's catch would be 20 possums at 10-25 cents each, 10-12 coons at around a dollar each, and one or two mink at 12-18 dollars each. I usually began my trap line about sundown, after my chores were done, and I would walk two or three miles through the woods, mostly after dark. A flashlight was not in the budget. I began wondering recently how I did that in the dark, and then I thought back to what some of my friends in Africa had told me. They guarded the 30 acre compound housing the orphanage Barb and I worked at. They never carried a light, and moved around all night where Black Mamba's thrived. They laughed at Barbara and me, carefully lighting up our path when we walked at night. Finally, they told me that we Americans had used “torches” at night so much we had lost our night vision. I think that must be true.
During my trapping years, I prepared “stink Bait” in the summer. After cleaning a mess of fish, I put the remains in a fruit jar, sealed it up, and set it out beside the fence. By winter time, it had distilled down to a nice brown liquid. In the winter, a drop or two around the trap brought the possums right in. Somehow, I just never fully realized the impact this had on my high school social life. I just knew I sure was alone a lot. Romance did not come into my life until my possum trapping career was over.

My next post will be Wednesday. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Post 6: New Truck, Chopped Off Finger, Rustlers and TV

In 1947, we bought a brand new, one ton cattle truck. Sometimes we all loaded into the cab and went to Danville, although we were a little crowded. Once, when Dad took a curve a little too fast in Danville, the right side door swung open. Barbara, pressed against it, rode it all the way out, all the way back in! Coming back home was very scary if the dirt road was wet. I remember one time during a very muddy time, Dad had us get out at the foot of the mountain and push. When he got going, he spun as far up as he could. When it stopped, we ran along and put a chunk behind the back wheel. We pushed again, chunked it again, and repeated this until we got up the mountain. That road is paved now and not nearly as much fun – or as scary!
Uncle Arthur was always there when we needed him. On a very cold day, Dad chopped a finger off chopping stove wood. It was barely hanging on by a little skin. Dad jumped in the truck and drove to Uncle Arthur's house, and he sewed it back on. We were all surprised when it grew back. Once, we were about to have a big family dinner. I knew we would have fried chicken, pies, and all the other goodies Mom could cook at that dinner. Barbara had the measles, and Uncle Arthur came over. The big dinner was only a day or two away, and I didn't want to miss that, so I hid from him. Finally, when I came out, Uncle Arthur was still waiting for me. He took one look in my mouth, and declared that I was coming down with the measles. I was banished to bed with Barbara, and I lay there with my mouth watering while everyone else feasted. I never did get the measles. After thinking this over many times, I now believe Uncle Arthur may have fudged on me. Knowing I had been around Barbara, who had the measles, he may have decided to quarantine me, just in case, so that I could not possibly pass measles around the dinner table with the food, and only looked in my mouth to pacify me. Could that be?
Once a rustler stole some of Uncle Arthur's cattle. The rustlers were arrested, and I went with Dad to the jail. I remember when one of the rustlers was introduced to Dad, I expected Dad to kill him. Instead, they shook hands. I never did understand the ways of grownups!
Uncle Arthur's death brought about my first funeral. When we came in, I noticed two signs in the church. One side for friends, one side said “relatives.” I could not understand why we sat on the relative side. I assumed that “relative” must mean “enemies.”
When I went to town, I always did all I could do to avoid people. I would cross the street to avoid meeting someone on the sidewalk. Once, however, I saw a crowd, very large, gathered around a store window. I just had to see what they were looking at. When I finally worked my way up to the front of the group, I saw a box with fuzzy, squiggly lines moving around on it. Every now and then I could see a figure of a person on it! Some of the other people called it a television. Will wonders never cease!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Post 5: Polio Hits the Gillum Family

One afternoon when I was two, the girls came in from swimming in the creek. Jonnie (Sis) was sick. I remember Mom putting her to bed, and Uncle Arthur came over. He began to suspect polio, and he quickly got all the children out of the house. I understand the Hignights, our neighbors, drove her to Children's Hospital at Little Rock. That was a very long, hard ordeal for her. About all I remember about it was later going to Little Rock when the family went to visit and seeing trains and riding on a street car. She spent a long period of time in an iron lung, a huge contraption which all of her body was in except for her head. It “breathed”for her. It bought time while new breathing muscles regenerated. She was not expected to survive on many occasions. At long last, she was able to come home. I understand the Hignights were very helpful during this long ordeal. They refused to take pay from dad for the trips to Little Rock in their automobile. Finally, Dad had Harold and Harry cut a load of firewood for them. I'm not sure if they accepted that or not.
When Sis got home, she had lost the use of one arm completely and had only partial use of the other. She refused to let her handicap slow her down. She was a great model for all the rest of us in showing what a person can do with an iron will and steel determination. She learned to play the piano, graduated from ASTC at Conway with a teaching degree, and taught elementary students for 30 years. She married Twain Willis, raised two great girls, and did as much hard work as anyone else would, probably more that most. She always found a way to do what she was determined to do. A friend of hers told a story at her funeral about the time Jonnie was trying to carve a pumpkin and chased it all over the yard until she finally got it carved! Years later, she wrote, “I always thought I was weaker than anyone else.” When I read that, I was shocked. I had always thought of her as the strongest person I knew! I still do.
Jonnie's ASTC experience brings up a great opportunity to illustrate how a diet of salt pork, corn bread, lima beans, and the like all one's life can super-enhance one's appreciation for the finer things in life that we take for granted today. I went with Dad and some of the family to Conway to pick Sis and her things up at the end of the term. Being the youngest, I was just naturally the one pushed out of the cab on the way back, with all her stuff, in back. I opened a box, and staring me right in the face was most of a jar of MAYONAISE! (probably called Salad Dressing, in those days.) I opened the lid, tasted it. My taste buds went, absolutely, into shock! I quickly finished that jar off, right there on the spot! By the time we pulled into Wing, I had licked it clean.

I will be gone for a few days, due to my daughter's surgery. I'll have a new post when I return. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Post 4: My Memories Begin; My Life at Wing

The very first memory I have involves me sitting on a chair, a dress on, (my three siblings, just older than me were girls, so a dress was just what was available, it wasn't my choice!) and Barbara Lou was tickling me under the chin, saying “goochy-goo!” There are a few memories then at two. In one, Harry was graduating from high school. I was sitting on mom's lap, but I wanted to go to where Barbara and Jan were. I hollered “Baba-Net” again and again and again. Harry said later that was the only thing he remembered about his graduation. In another, the California cousins were visiting. Mike Ford, my cousin who was about my age but eons ahead in his development, was sitting beside me on the couch, asking, “Why can't you talk?” My thoughts ran something like, “Well, I should answer him, but I don't know the answer, and also, I can't talk!” They tell me I didn't talk until I was three! I understand that I had no teeth at two years old. My siblings decided that, since Mom and Dad had both lost their teeth before I was born, I must have inherited that condition! I also had a very bad case of whooping cough at two, and got very pale and skinny. I don't remember that.
I became very adept at playing paper dolls, using what we could cut out of the old Sears catalog. We went into the egg business big time when I was very young. One year, we put laying boxes in the hallway of the barn, and they ranged out in front of the barn and house during the day. That was quite a sight with hundreds of chickens out in front of the house! There is a picture of that in the family. Right now, I am searching for it. We built a long chicken house. One of my jobs was to help gather eggs. It was very scary to reach under an old “sitting hen” and steal her eggs. It displeased her greatly! Also, I had to watch my back. A big cranky rooster could back jump me at any time. Carrying the eggs to the house, old Jersey, one of our milk cows who was very cranky, chased me if she was around close. No wonder I was so paranoid and timid at a young age!
We had no automobile during the first three years of my life. What we had to buy usually was bought from the chicken peddler, who came around in his truck. He was called that because people traded chickens, eggs, butter, etc. to him for flour (that came in pretty sacks that were made into dresses, shirts, etc.) sugar, salt, coffee, etc. Everything else we ate we grew or hunted—or caught on a fishing line.
Jan, Barbara and I looked for grapevines over the creek that we could cut in two and swing across the creek on. Sometimes they broke, mid-creek. We got wet. We also loved catching lightning bugs to fill a fruit jar with. Made a great light! Tying a string on a June bug's leg and letting him fly around made a good substitute for a kite. We were great at making our own toys.
Early on, I became Mom's helper on clothes washing day. I would carry water from the creek to fill up the big black pot. Mom built a fire around it. When the water got hot, she put dirty clothes in it, and stirred it around with a stick. Then the clothes were rubbed on a rub board with lye soap. When they were rinsed, we hung them up on the fence and clothesline to dry.

     My next post will be posted tomorrow. POLIO HITS THE GILLUM FAMILY.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


     Lula Belle was the first Gillum born at Wing, in 1901.
      When WW1 came along, Dad went to war. He told me there was not room to lie down on the troop ship. They slept setting up. Reports indicate he was in battles in France, but he never talked about it. He told me when he went to Germany, he got close enough to hear the guns when the war ended. He served in the occupation.
     On the way back home, he once had a choice of waiting until the next day for a train, or walk 20 miles in 4 hours to catch an earlier one. He almost made it. He saw it pull out.
     Once back at Wing, he decided to go to the oil fields of Oklahoma. There was a job open in a boiler room; no one could hang with it, it was just too dang hot. He took the job, drank only warm water out of the boiler, and made it fine. Many years later, I had an experience in the hayfield that convienced me he had the right idea. I was tromping and shaping the haystack, very hot. Dad was bringing loads of hay to me. The cold, cold water where the large spring ran into the creek was nearby, so I  began running and jumping in the cold water between loads. By the time the day was over, I thought I was going to die!
     When John Wesley died in 1922, Grandma called dad back to run the farm. Dad spent more time before the Depression supervising the share croppers than actually working the land. When the Depression hit, the share croppers could not get money to put in their crops unless Dad signed the note. The crops failed, and the share croppers walked. Dad was left holding the notes. It took many years to pay them off, and I understand Dad was not an easy man to get along with during that time, but he paid them all off. A Gillum always pays his debts.
     Soon, things got tough on the farm. Dad had no money to put in his own crops. Grandma still had some money, but Dad would not ask her. He had to sell many acres of prime pine timber land to the government, for $2 per acre. Dad had to put his car up on blocks. He couldn't buy gas. When a man asked Dad, "What happened to the car?" Dad replied, "The Depression hit it." My brother Harold, a little boy, pointed to a rusty spot. "Is that where the Depression hit it?"
     Dad was a hard man. If a Hobo came by asking for food, he wasn't always successful. Dad took charity from no man, and had little patience for those who did.
     Dad was once engaged, but his future wife got a gall bladder infection and died. Dad had built a house in the meadow for her. Grandma, Hallie and the rest of the family loved her. When Dad married my Mom, Irene Lazenby, they did not live in the little house in the meadow at first. It had no electricity. My mom came from a gentle, laid back family, unlike the tough, stern Gillums. Even though she was very hard working, Grandma and sometimes Hallie, were harsh in judging her. Her life was miserable. After 3 children were born there,Harry(Named, at the insistence of Martha Jane "Tennessee" Tucker Gillum, after Harry Poynter)  Harold, and my oldest sister Jonnie, Mom wanted out of that house. They moved to the house in the meadow, even though Dad had to do without his radio. Jan was born there. Later they moved across the road to the "Other house." where Barbara, 5 years before me, was born. After Grandma and Hallie both died in 1941, they moved back up on the hill to Hallie's house, closing out the moving triangle, all within hollering distance.
     Now that you have some idea of what Mom was up against, moving in with all those dominant Gillums, I want to tell a little story that I love.  After Dad and Mom married, a picture of Dad's dead sweetheart continued to hang on the wall. After a time, a picture of Searce Pickens, Mom's old sweetheart, showed up on the wall. Well, Searce Pickens was now working for Dad. Pretty soon, both photos came down. Mom had beaten the Gillums at their own game, a very rare occurrence. 
     Many of Mom's sisters moved to California before I was born. I met none of my grandparents. So, I did not know her family well. Her sister, Ruby, stayed at Wing awhile.
     JR Turner is the only living man to know all the Wing Gillums, except Jimmy, Dad's younger brother who died in 1903. JR was sweet on Ruby. The romance dragged on. Grandpa Lazenby was not big on long romances without a wedding ring. He asked JR, "When are you getting married?" "Well, I just need to save just a little more money." Time after time that happened. JR probably did need more money, in those days. but he also had a wanderlust. He could not settle down to one place easily, and I'm sure the responsibility of a wife sat heavily on his shoulders at that time.  Finally, a California sister sent money, and Ruby went to California. She entered into a romance with Homer Greear, and marriage was looming. But before that happened, Ruby went back to Wing for a visit. Well, the old romance started heating up. Someone at Wing called Homer Greear and warned him. Homer jumped in his car, drove through to Wing, scooped up Ruby, fled to California, and married him.
     JR continued his wandering ways for many years. When he was here and he saw a Gillum, he would ask about Ruby. In recent years, he still does. But he is 101 now, and his short term memory recycles very fast. When he asks about Ruby now, we have to tell him she has been dead for decades. He starts the mourning process all over again. But it does not last long.

My next post, MY MEMORIES BEGIN; MY LIFE AT WING will be posted in a few days. Thanks for Reading! 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Introducing: the John Wesley Gillums: My grandparents.

     John Wesley Gillum was a very good man. He was strong, honest, a very hard worker. He had cleared 100 acres of land at Pontoon - with an ax! Pretty good. 5-6 acres per year was a good rate in pioneer times. He was a traveling stock trader, owned a sawmill with lifelong friend Jim McCulley, and He became interested in developing a bigger, stronger work mule. He poured a lot of money into this enterprise once he was set up at Wing,
     A mule is a hybrid cross between a male donkey, (Jack) and a mare. How, I wondered, with the size difference. So I asked. Well, its just as simple as can be. Dig a ditch, stand the mare in it, The Jack takes it from there, with a little help steering his valuable-as-gold member by hand. John Wesley bought a huge, black Jack from Kentucky, King Leo. He also bought another, Pizo, from Spain. King Leo cost $1000, Pizo, $2000. That was a princely sum at the turn of the century! A wing neighbor, Marion Turner, and others became involved in this enterprize.
      After his early death in 1922, his friend, Jim McCulley, paid to have this inscription on his tombstone: "An honest man is the noblest work of God."
      My Grandmother, Martha Jane "Tennessee" Tucker Gillum, "Mattie," came from very sturdy Tennessee stock. Her mother, while they still lived in Tennessee, had a baby brother lying on a quilt while the mother hung out clothes. A large wild hog made off with the baby, they could not chase him down, and the baby was eaten. She also had a brother killed by a runaway horse.
     Mattie had a lot of trauma in her own life. As a teenager, a man broke into her house late at night. Mattie and her sister's screams brought her father and brother who, with the neighbor's help, chased the man down. He was lynched within the hour. Mattie moved in with her older sister, and the sister's husband, Harry Poynter, and lived with them until her marriage to John Wesley.
     The Pope County Malitia war was just heating up, and Harry became a legendary figure in that war. He took Mattie and his wife up near Clarksville and hid them out in a mountain cave.
     Harry faced three tough, armed men in a shootout in downtown Dover. Harry's gun spoke first, and one of the men "Bounced from his horse like a squirrel shot from a tree." The other two men shot at Harry, missed, and ran out of Dover being shot at many times.  A 30 man posse was sent from Russelville to arrest Harry. They found him, leaning against a tree in downtown Dover, two six guns strapped on, a shotgun in his hand. They asked for Harry's guns. He replied, "I will give up my guns with my life, and the man who takes it will pay a heavy price." Apparently, no one wished to pay that price, so they went back to Russelville. The men of Dover had sworn that Harry would not be taken, and behind the scenes, the women of Dover had armed themselves, and vowed to fight for Harry to the end. I have detailed this war, in full, in my book.
     John Wesley and Mattie had nine children. Their oldest son, Harry, died as a child. Arthur, the next, became one of the last, and one of the leading, traveling country doctors. He delivered me, misspelled my name, which has given me grief, since I never got a birth certificate until I got my passport.
     Maude, the oldest daughter, Married Lee Carter, raised a large family at Wing. Lee once swam his horse across the Mississippi River, and hunted squirrels with an ax when it snowed, to save bullets. Just chop the tree down, run the squirrel down in the snow.
     Hallie, the next daughter, became a Peabody College teacher. She was once in love, John Wesley intervened, and she never married. She ordered a Sears and Roebuck kit house, had it put 20 feet in front of her parents house. I was born and raised in that house.
     Homer, the next son, became a farmer and cattleman at Wing. He kept his very large family alive during the Depression with a large garden. He drove his wagon to Plainview to get a 100 pound sack of sugar and flour on occasion.
     John, My dad, was also a farmer, cattleman, and veteran of WW1. He and Homer were close, until someone's bull got in the wrong pasture. They stayed mad about this for years. Dad was 52 when I was born, an unexpected accident. I was the tail end of the generation, and most of my dozens of cousins, and many of my siblings, were grown and scattered to the four winds as I grew up.
     Jimmy came along shortly after Dad, and he died as a boy, in 1903. Dad talked about him often, half a century later.
     Franz was just not like the other Gillum men. He was a teacher, administrator, and ran a CCC camp during the depression. He had a job, so he fared better during that hard time that his siblings. He was a dreamer, a poet, a fisherman, and a fun guy.
     Lula Belle, the first Gillum born at Wing in 1901, became somewhat of a difficult person. She married, had a child that died at two days old, and
had other stillborn babies. She began to treat her husband badly. They divorced, he remarried, and ironically, the new wife lies between Lula and her husband in the cemetery. Not her idea, I would bet. Lula belle was an accomplished piano player, and lived out her life, often at odds with her siblings, alone in a house behind our farm. But she always liked us kids. She could make the best mackerel salad! Lula Belle never had electricity, preferring the simple life.

My next post - two days. Thanks for reading!