Saturday, July 30, 2011

A visit into a moment frozen in time

Note: this story is more meaningful if you have read posts 1-4 first. You need to know the old Gillums, and me, first.
     I was at my wit's end. I had been searching every nook and cranny of our house, for months on end, looking for “The Chickens” picture. Say that title to anyone in our branch of the Gillum family and they immediately know what you are talking about. I knew Ken Gillum had one, and I know daughter, Kinley, had one. So did I. But no one could find it.
     You must understand. My wife Barbara has spent a lifetime taking pictures, not just professionally, but of everyone in our families. She often said, going professional messed up a really good hobby. She has dozens upon dozens of photo albums. Plus sack after sack of just loose photos. I myself contributed to the stash considerably. I had been through it all.
One day it hit me. I remembered that years ago, I put a few boxes of stuff up in our attic, my room was just too full. The first box yielded two albums of brother Harry's photos. Harry's albums were extremely well organized. Imagine that. One was labeled “oldies but goodies.” I began to get excited. When I hit the last page, I found the mother lode! Along with The Chickens, there was a very old, very dim, nobody-has-a-clue-whom-they-are photo. I took it along, copied it anyway, enlarging it.
I sat looking at that photo that night. The faces on the original were almost blank, but now, enlarged, you could begin to see detail.
It was useless. It was just too dim; I didn't recognize the house, or any faces. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning hit me. There was something about the small kitchen chimney with its unique cover. I had seen it before. Looking back through my pile of old photos I had built up while finishing my “Gillums” book, I found it. In an old 1920s era photo of the grandpa Gillums, with the old house they had built when first moving to Wing in the background, the same chimney was sticking up behind. His old house, twenty feet behind Hallie's house! Hallie's was built later in the twenties, the one I was born and raised in. The old house was torn down before I was born. Aunt Lula Belle had come over and thrown a royal fit when she found out it was being done, but it still disappeared. I sat beside Barbara, who was reading, and slowly, piece by piece, the parts came together. The big man had Grandpa's desperado mustache. The young man, standing beside a tall horse, must be Dr. Arthur Gillum. A cute little girl, nine or so, sat in front. Her legs were hanging off the porch, ankles crossed very ladylike, a sweet smile on her tilted face. She looks like Katie Marie, Barbara's niece, I thought. Had to be Lula Belle, but something was very wrong. She was happy, I thought. I had rarely seen Lula Belle happy. Seated beside her was a young boy. He had to be Franz. Back left, Grandma stood. Hallie stood beside her. The tall young man in the back—Homer. But the young man at the front right, leaning against the post, held my attention. I began to tear up. Barbara said, “You've been dealing with this old family stuff too long. You're getting emotional about it.” He had to be Dad! I stared at that image a long time. I had never seen a picture of Dad as a boy! He was a skinny kid, just like me at that age, about sixteen. I thought, “Oh, if I could only have known him at that age!” We could have had so much fun, playing ball, fishing, just roaming the hills. All the things I wanted him to do with me, when I was sixteen. But he was sixty-eight by then, and time and a very hard life had taken its toll. We never did any playing, just work. Barbara stirred beside me. “Are you going to stare at that picture all night!? I'm going to bed. See you in the morning.”
     I sat, just staring at that image. A long time passed. I began to daze out. Suddenly, the haze disappeared. I realized with a start that I was somewhere I had never been. I was riding a horse, shorter than the one in the picture. I looked at my hands and arms. They were skinny! My left thumb was intact! I guided the horse across a creek. Looking into the water, I was amazed! I was young again! A boy, 15 or 16, looked back at me! Something very, very strange was going on!
I rode on through forested bottom land. I approached a hill with a house on it. People were on the porch. I did not recognize the house, but the hill. . . Something about the hill stirred me inside.
     The husky man on the porch was hailing me. “Howdy, stranger. Come by and sit a spell. Get a drink. Where you headed for?” “Howdy. Just passing through,” I lied. He said, “Soon's as we get a picture made, we're goin' ta' eat a bite. Hang around. You must be hungry.” “Thanks, don't mind if I do. I am a little hungry.” I got off, tied up my horse, and walked over. The man with the camera started lining them up. The bubbly little girl sat on the edge of the porch, tomboy style, swinging her legs. “I used to work with a photographer. She always had little girls cross their ankles,” I said. The little girl didn't seem to like that idea, but she smiled at me anyway. Her mother liked it, though. “Glad you mentioned that, young feller. By the way, did you say the photographer you worked for was a she!?” The younger woman seemed to like that. “I'm a teacher. It’s high time women were doing other jobs, too!”
     The camera dude was getting tired of my interrupting. He let me know by stepping in front of me, struggling with his heavy tripod. I just hushed and watched. Suddenly, an amazing realization came over me.  TO BE CONTINUED, NEXT POST. THANKS FOR READING!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Post Thirty-One: My life at Wing is ending

     Sammy Turner and I learned how to swim in stock ponds and kept our skills brushed up there regularly. The only problem was, you had to keep the top water scum beat back or it would envelop you. One day, we were working on our swimming skills in a hidden pond, strictly forbidden. Barbara Lou and Jan had followed us there once, and the rumor was getting around about what we were doing. Well, Bernice Turner, Sammy's mother, caught us. “You boys get out of that water right now!” Well, Sammy started wading out, and I, being always the good follower, started wading out. It suddenly hit me, when we were about knee deep, that I was buck naked. I fled back to deep water. Bernice was a nice lady who could appreciate my situation; she left so I could come out.
When I left Wing for college in the fall of 1962, I knew a large chunk of my life was ending. I knew I would never live there again, as much as I loved those mountains, bottoms, that river. I loved the only home I had ever known, but I knew there would never be a way for me to make a living there. I would always be back, every chance I got. And I have been.
I have never thought I had a deprived childhood, as some might think when reading this. I had very few material things, compared to children of today. But actually, I sorrow for them. I could walk out my back door, walked 40 miles south, and never see a house, maybe never see another person, and never cross a paved road. Now I ask you, what child has a back yard to compare with that? The adventures many children today can only hope to see on television were lived out daily by Tooter, Sammy, and me.
     I wanted to go to college and then see the world. Go to faraway places. I had seen that my dad, and my uncles around me, had become so attached to their spot of ground in the world that they began to believe that the farm could not continue if they were absent even for a day. “The Gillums were not like other people.” If I ever asked Dad, after I had left the farm, to come see me graduate from college – to see me get married – to come to my house and watch me coach a basketball game – to be there when my children came into this world – the answer was always the same: “I need to stay here to look after these cows.”
Years later, a month or so after Dad's death, I drove to the farm. When the farm came into sight, I guess I was surprised to see that it looked just the way it always had. I realized I had really begun to buy into the idea that the farm would totally go to hell if Dad was not there to watch over it. The land was exactly the same, the house had not changed, the cows were all grazing contentedly – nothing, nothing at all, had changed. Dad was gone, but everything there was the same as it had always been. I just sat there and looked for a long time. And I cried.
     Two years later, Barbara and I were moving to a new job in Hannibal, Missouri, on a very thin shoestring, two babies, and an old car. Dad's old truck carried our stuff. Our babies were just joining their generation, which was well in progress already. We knew Mom was not doing well alone. Barbara Lou took her to Memphis to live with her. Barbara called me one day. Mom was in the hospital there. Mom fought hard for a few days, but the end came soon after Harry's arrival from California.
I did not set out to write a sad story. But, in writing of a generation of people, the story must end, and it just sorta works out that way. We can't stop that. But we can help to write that ending. Once written, it can never be rewritten or erased.
     Dear readers, we are nearing the end of this story. My blog contains about one third of my book. Two or three more posts will finish up our story.
     My book is available only through me. Ninety-three pages, lots of pictures of the Gillum Clan. It is $17 postage paid. E-mail me if you wish to buy a copy. I hope you have enjoyed, and I thank you dearly for reading.

     My blog, of course, will not be ending. My next story, "The thing about Water," is an autobiographical story, telling of my life-long fascination with the river, and the adventures that happened along the way. I hope you will like it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post 30: Moving on up

     As I reached high school age, things on the farm began to change, somewhat. I thought we had reached the ultimate in high class living a year or so before when we cut an old rug up into strips and made a path all the way to the two-hole outhouse. I could go to the outhouse in the middle of the night, and my feet never touched the ground! Come to think of it, I never understood the logic behind having two holes. They were right side by side, and I never knew of a single time when both were used at the same time. I know for sure I never shared it!
     But now, we were digging a ditch and running water into our house, and a real bathroom was about to be in the works. It was only a one-holer, but eons ahead of the outhouse. Real toilet paper too! No more old Sears and Roebuck catalog for the Gillums – we're moving on up!
Bob Rice and Grady Hunicutt moved to Wing, a big event for one year. Nobody moves to Wing anymore. They were a year or two younger, but we had lots of good times. Bob, Grady, and I were headed to the river for a night of frog gigging, fishing, and camping. Grady had just gotten out of the hospital, having had a very serious sinus problem. He had specific strict orders from the doctor to not get any water in his head whatsoever. Grady gigged at a frog, missed, lost his balance and his head went clean under water–I've never seen anyone do that while frog gigging, before or since.
     We decided on that trip that we were all cussing too much, so we made a gentleman's agreement that if one of us cussed, the other two were obligated to hit him on the shoulder, hard. Well, poor old Grady. Just out of the hospital and everything is going to h– I mean, everything is going bad. He cussed, Bob and I fulfilled our duty. It made him mad, he cussed again. We hit him again. This time, he cussed a blue streak. Well, before this incident was over, Grady was all stove up and Bob and I were rolling on the ground, laughing.
     Later that winter, on Thanksgiving Day, Grady and I were hunting in the bottoms. Squirrels, mostly. We flushed up a couple of ducks off Lilly Pad Lake, we both shot, and they both fell, right out in the middle of the lake. Wing is not on a major duck flyway, and they were rare. Also, we both had a strong sense that if we killed it, we ate it. Well, we flipped a coin, probably a penny. I stripped off; Grady built a fire, and I swam for the ducks. It was only about 3 feet deep, but I had to swim. If I put my feet down, I just buried up. By the time I got back to the fire, I thought I was going to freeze to death! Later on that winter, the same thing happened, I won the coin flip, and I had a good laugh as Grady started to strip. Then he said, “Hey, there’s a boat on the other side!” If I had not been afraid Grady would hit me on the shoulder, I probably would have cussed.
     Harold came in on a furlough from the Air Force. I had caught some pretty nice cat down on the slough, and as is typical for Harold, he just had to give it a try. Even though it had been raining a lot and the river was coming up. The slough makes a big curve from the river, then back to it, and we would have to swim it to get to the good hole. One night Harold and I and my cousin, Jack Larry, set out. The water was over my head, but we got across OK. The fish were not in a biting mood, but the river just kept coming on up. Pretty soon, the road was about the only ground not covered on the whole island, and we decided to get out while we could. The water moccasins were all up on the high ground too, and
Jack Larry and I were barefooted, with one small light. Every few steps we spotted another one. When we got to the spot where we had to swim, there was now a rushing current. Larry and I both had to hang onto Harold on the way across to keep from being washed away. He was larger and a strong swimmer, but I still don't know how he did it. Well, the snakes were just as thick on the other side, and I've never been so happy to get home.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Post Twenty nine: Fourche Valley School - Fun times

     I played every sport Fourche Valley had - basketball and track. At the Yell County track meet, Sonny Lofland and I made up a two man team. Sonny won second in the mile, and I won the half mile, and placed in the high jump, pole vault, and discus. We won second place as a team, with seven teams entered. I had taught myself how to pole vault in my front yard, using a pine pole I stole from the chicken roost. The only trouble was, I went over the bar on the wrong side of the pole. Everyone in the stands just died laughing when they saw me vault, including my competitors. But those I beat stopped laughing then.
     We were playing basketball in the finals of the county tournament. I strutted onto the court for pre-game warm ups, and started shedding my warm up pants. I discovered, to my horror, that I had on only a jock strap underneath. I should not have been so horrified. The whole county had seen me nearly naked in the calf scramble at the fair. Anyway, I jerked my warm ups back on, ran to the coach, and he scraped up a pair of red pants from the other team. Our shorts were blue. I did no more strutting that night.
     I ended my high school basketball career on a sour note. We were playing Plainview, our arch rivals, in the district tournament. We were behind one, only seconds to go, they were shooting a free throw. He missed, and as I pulled the rebound down, I saw Butch cutting down court. I slung the ball down court as hard as I could, and Butch made a layup. We were up one, and I knew the buzzer was about to go off. I was at the center line, jumping up and down, clapping my hands and screaming, when their big man, Padgett I believe his name was, dribbled around me. I was celebrating so wildly that I could not even slow him down. He lofted one in from the top of the circle as the long-overdue buzzer went off.
     Neither my dad nor my mom ever saw me play ball or run track. Mom did not drive, and Dad just did not leave the farm. I do believe, however, that I once detected a slight hint of a smile cross Dad's face, just for a second, when I told him I had set a new county record in the half mile. Nah, surely not.                                                                                             I dearly loved Fourche Valley School. I'm sure I join many hundreds of FVHS Indians out there who can truthfully say that their years there were some of the happiest of our lives.
     FVS has a rich history. Our forefathers decided, in 1928, that we needed a high school. Then proceeded to make it happen. Hundreds of rocks were dug from the surrounding mountains, loaded onto wagons and hauled to the site. They did it the hard way. The ladies gathered at the site and cooked meals for the men as they worked. It was a community effort.
     I like to think that maybe some of those mules who hauled the rocks were some of the super mules produced by my grandfather, John Wesley Gillum. On the other hand, he died in 1922. Maybe not. Though old Murt, our last mule, managed to sidestep the glue factory until the 1940's.
     It saddened me greatly when the doors of the school were closed. However, the valiant effort of so many to keep the school alive truly showed that the spirt of the Fourche Valley Indians lives today, and will always live in the hearts of those of us who proudly called ourselves FV Indians, as long as one of us draws breath.
     I was also happy to hear that plans are in the works to house our historical material in a building on campus, and that the our reunions may be held there in the future. Thanks, guys, for your hard work!
     From the time my memories started, I was surrounded by siblings, and close neighbors like Cindy Buford, who bled blue and gold. If someone had asked me to sing the National Anthem during my formative years, (at least, after I was three, when I learned to talk,) It would probably have sounded like this:
     "Oh, when the Fourche High Indians fall in line,
       We're gonna win this game another time,
       For the dear old school we love so well," - - - - Thanks for reading!                                               

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Post twenty eight: Fourche Valley School - The calf scramble

     Mr. and Mrs. Lowe lived on the school campus. Mr. Lowe had a certain air about him that quickly let us know he was not one to be trifled with. One recess my friend Tommy Joe and I were comparing our bean-flips (some call them slingshots). As we looked for a likely target, Mr. Lowe's shed behind the house proved to be an inviting target, especially the window about half way back. I took careful aim and fired. The stone flew straight and true, and glass from the window exploded and fell to the ground. Flushed with success, I turned to Tommy to get my well-earned praise. Then a tall shadow fell across us, and my flushed face turned chalky white. It was going to be a bad day. The key phrase, as I remember it, was “I'm gonna get your pappy up here, and he's going to tear you up like a sow's bed.”                                                                        I was sitting on the gym steps, and a schoolmate was playing golf with a stick and rocks, out by the well shed. He was hitting in my general direction, and someone said, “You better stop that, you're gonna hit someone.” He hit another hard drive. I saw the rock come off the stick, but it never seemed to move, it just got bigger and bigger. I sat mesmerized by it, and it raised a big knot on my forehead. Slow reflexes can be a real headache.
     It snowed. That was rare in Fourche Valley, and us boys took advantage of it by throwing snowballs at the girls coming to and from the bathroom building. I packed one good and hard and made a long throw at the open door, but nobody was in sight. There was a small space between the top of the door and the top of the partition behind it, and the snowball arched toward the door. Just as it reached the door, I saw a head rise up over the partition, and the snowball hit her square in the eye. The next day she had a black eye, and I realized I fully deserved the rock in the head.
     In PE class, we sometimes did tumbling the hard way, on the floor. I once hurt my back. Never wanting to be a whiner, I went ahead and helped Dad unload the 100 pound bags of cotton seed meal that afternoon. I never said anything about it, and neither did Dad. Later, Mom said (Dad often funneled his comments to me through Mom), “Your dad said you are just not as strong as you should be, at your age.”  That bothered me a long time. I never realized HOW long, until Years later, my doctor x-rayed that area of my back. He said, “What happened here? You got significant damage to your spine there, a long time ago.” My first thought was, I need to go tell Dad. Then I remembered. Dad had been dead 30 years.
     Somehow, with a lot of grace, I made it to the twelfth grade. I had just decided I would go to college, and I suddenly turned from a lifelong "C" student to a straight “A” student. Nobody could believe it. Things were looking up on the political front also. I was elected class President. Actually, that was a little bit less than it appeared on the surface. There were 12 students in my grade, and my time had finally come.
     The Yell County Free Fair rolled around, and I was entered in the calf scramble. One boy from each school was entered, seven in all, and two calves were released at the other end of the Danville football field. Once a boy got his hand on it, nobody could touch it unless it got away. If you could get your lead rope on it, it was yours. Stripped down to my jeans and track shoes, I quickly shot out to the lead. When I reached the calves, I made a poor decision. One was small, the other nearly grown. Figuring bigger was better, I grabbed the tail of the big one with both hands. I had watched in the previous scramble while larger, stronger boys than me had worn themselves down trying to out-muscle smaller calves, then were too worn out to get a rope on it, eventually losing it. I reasoned that if I just held on, letting the calf pull me around, it would eventually wear itself out, and my chances were better. I was long on endurance, short on strength. So, round and round the football field we went. On about the third lap, the calf made a sharp turn, and down I went. I hung on for dear life, and the calf dragged me some more laps. Gradually, I realized to my horror, my pants were slipping lower and lower. I began to realize I would soon have to make a horrible decision between my modesty and the calf. The crowd, seemed like everyone in Yell County, began to realize the drama that was being played out before them, and the interest grew. We were reaching, rapidly, the point of no return. I made the agonizing decision that my modesty was not as valuable as that calf. Suddenly, fate stepped in. The calf stopped, allowing me to regain my feet and my pants. Then we were off again, leaving the football field far behind as we ran through back yards and into a big field. Finally, the calf could go no more. When I, at long last, led MY calf back to the fair, the lights were off and the crowd had gone home. But I had my calf! Later, I learned that a spectator, at the peak of the action, was heard to say, “That skinny kid will never hold that calf!” The person next to him said, “That kid is a Gillum, and a Gillum would give up his life before he would give up a hundred dollar calf!” “The Gillums are not like other people.” Just a chip off the old block!        My final post on Fourche Valley School will be made in a couple of days. Thanks for reading!                                                                    

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Post twenty seven: Fourche Valley School: recess

     Getting an education at Fourche Valley schools was a memorable experience. I'm sure many noteworthy events occurred during class time, but it is recess that fills my mind with memories. Some names are changed, to protect the innocent.
     One of my classmates in particular, educated me considerably. Lonnie Ray was a grade behind me, but older.  He had broad, muscular shoulders, a bull neck, and tree trunks for arms. His recesses were filled trying to think of new ways to make life miserable for the rest of us.
     My buddies and I dammed up the sewer ditch from the lunch room. This made a dandy pond. The next day we brought little fish from home that we had caught in the creek and stocked our pond. We were so proud. Each day, we slipped some bread out during lunch period and fed our fish. Things went fine for a week or so; then Lonnie Ray figured out what we were doing. He tore out our dam, stomped our fish, and, daring us to do anything about it, laughed and walked away, looking for new kids to torment.
     We hatched a plan. We agreed to circle Lonnie Ray. While those of us in front distracted him, Snake Aikman, the strongest of our group, would back jump him. Then, the rest of us would help. Things slid smoothly along according to plan until we got to the point where the rest of us were to come into action. Snake held Lonnie Ray around his arms, but as Lonnie Ray struggled, becoming redder and redder, madder and madder, we all knew Snake's moments were numbered. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I jumped in to help. Together, Snake and I pulled Lonnie Ray to the ground and held him. Long moments passed, some of the longest of my life. Lonnie Ray introduced us to several new vocabulary words, and made us a number of promises, none of which were very appealing. At long last, the bell rang. We jumped up and ran for our life. Our only saving grace was that Lonnie Ray was slow afoot. The next several days we spent hiding and running.
     A few months later, Lonnie Ray again contributed to my education, in an even more memorable manner. While my friends and I played kick ball, Lonnie Ray saw another chance to torment. He grabbed our ball and sailed it into a briar patch, across the fence. We finally fished it out and continued our game, as Lonnie Ray laughed and walked away. Later in the recess, as Lonnie Ray and his friends played kick ball nearby, an opportunity arose to return the favor. His ball rolled over toward us. Without taking time to think out my actions, I threw their ball into the same patch. Even as I released the ball, I longed to have it back, to smile and gently pitch it back to Lonnie Ray, but it was too late. My heart sank, and I well remember the contorted, red face as he strolled toward me, rolling up his sleeves. A circle of people gathered. Lonnie Ray and I stood face to face. If Mary Lou had not been in the front of the circle, I think my feet would have found wings. I just could not bring myself to do that in front of Mary Lou. Suddenly, Mary Lou stepped forward, stared Lonnie Ray in the eye, and said, “Lonnie Ray, why don't you just leave him alone! I'm not too sure about Pat, but I know Jack Larry can whip you.” I heartily agreed to let Jack Larry take my place, but as I glanced over at him, I saw him ease his cap down over his face and slip to the back of the circle.
     My mind raced as I searched for a way out. Suddenly, I remembered. A few months ago, Lonnie Ray was picking on Butch. Though he was much smaller, Butch took the initiative and popped him in the eye. Lonnie Ray ran off crying and never bothered Butch again, at least to my knowledge. So I stepped up and popped him in the left eye, then it all broke loose! Fists the size of softballs began to rain all over my head. Knuckle bumps started popping up. I swung blindly, but it didn't slow him up a bit. Finally, he stopped. I thought to myself, “Why didn't it work? It worked so well for Butch! Maybe I hit the wrong eye.” I stepped up and popped him in the right eye, but Lonnie Ray then found places to raise all new bumps, plus close and eye or two. At long last, the bell sounded, ending the longest recess of my life.
     A few months later, my chance to redeem myself in Mary Lou's eyes arose. As we sat in class one day, Miss Durah, our fourth grade teacher, saw that a grass fire threatened a small house nearby. Not wishing to endanger the class by letting the entire class rush out, she picked Butch and me to run help. Butch was two steps faster than me, so he was first to arrive. The exhausted woman fighting the fire pitched Butch a wet tow sack and directed me to get a tub of water sitting nearby. As Mary Lou and the other students watched from the window, I grabbed the tub. I couldn't budge it! I tried pushing it, tearing up the grass with my tennis shoes. I pulled at it, yanked it, but it did not move. By the time Mary Lou and the rest of the kids arrived, Butch had the fire out and was I heaving from exhaustion, beside the still full tub of water. All the class gathered around Butch. Mary Lou said, “Oh, Butch! You are so brave and strong!” Maybe I only imagined it, but I thought I saw a sidelong glance at me as she said “strong.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Post twenty-six: Fourche Valley School

     I have never had any regrets that I went to a small school like Fourche Valley School, small in terms of students, but one of the larger districts in the state. There were lots of mountains and few people. Two icons of Fourche Valley that quickly come to mind were the Lowes. Mr. Lowe was the superintendent and principal. Normally, dealing with the principal was a negative, and I had lots of dealings. However, in the long run, I realize, he had a way of turning my associations with him into a positive thing. Winnie Lowe, I well remember, had a deep voice that could sound like rolling thunder coming across the room when one messed up, and it could make one shrink down in ones desk, becoming as invisible as possible. But she had a way of teaching us to be the best person we could be. Neither taught me in a classroom very often, except possibly short term. But I remember them so well, it seems like they did. They had three daughters who each became doctors in one form or another, and each is leaving a very large footprint on our country. I am sure genetics were involved, but as I said, just being around Winnie Lowe brought out the very best. One great thing about small schools, we dealt with the entire faculty on a daily basis, and I am a better person for it.                          My class, the Class of 1962, was made up of twelve students. Nine lived in Fourche Valley, three lived across South Fourche Mountain near Aly and Chula.
     There was no quick and easy route from Aly to Fourche Valley School. Mr. Mabry drove the Aly bus, many miles on rough dirt roads through the mountains. Few from the south side of Fourche Mountain participated in school sports, in those days. Just too far. Too complicated.
     Shelton Dishongh spotted it early. Although my class had a pretty good crop of boys for a basketball team, It was the girls who were awesome. He was our class sponsor in the seventh grade, and he was also the coach. He took us to the gym, one day, and we played, girls vs. boys. The girls beat us like a rented mule. Just wore us out. We boys never quite recovered from that, and it never got better.
     We five boys were the starting team, as seniors, early on, then we began to get a lot of help from the likes of Dobbie Wilson and Lanny Ashlock. We were 16-9, but it was the girls who won the District Tournament, and played in the State Tournament at Parkin. I asked our teacher, Rubye Singleton, single but courting heavily at that time, if she was going to Parkin. She said, "You never know!" I said, " I meant, are you going TO Parkin. Not going Parking."  She flushed bright red. We loved to make her do that.
     Jack Larry Gillum and Monty Dishongh were the ladie's men. Larry started chasing the girl's early, before I even knew "for why."  and, they chased him back. Monty never needed to chase, they chased him. Jackie Aikman didn't seem to think about the ladies much in high school.  Butch Garner was committed to the love of his life early, and never varied. I, myself, I had tons of romantic entanglements in high school. But only in my head. Nobody else ever knew about them.
     Jackie Aikman didn't rag the teachers much. He was very well behaved, compared to the rest of us. But one day in typing, he messed up. Miss Gussie Lofland, already sick of the whole lot of us for the day, set in on Jack. "Jackie Aikman, you're just as bad as the others! You're just sneaky! You're a snake in the grass!" Well, the name "snake" stuck, and he could not shed it. "Snake" Aikman."
    About the time I was ready to go off to college, I began to realize that was a very large crop of "easy to look at" girls coming up, 3 0r 4 years back. That was about where my maturity level wound up, anyway. (I spent 25 years teaching ninth and tenth grade students.) Anyway, getting back to the crop. Jackie and Monty later picked a plumb from that crop, as did Butch, early. By the time that fully hit me, (I have always been slow to catch on) I was gone, off to college. If I had stayed in Fourche Valley two more years, I probably would have never left. The love of my life, when I finally found her, was in that age group. Four years younger.
Several more posts to come on Fourche Valley School, about every two days. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Post twenty five: Crows are smart, but mathmatically impaired;

     As the corn matured, the crows moved in. Life on our farm was a constant battle with assorted animals wanting our crops. There being hundreds of crows, our focus turned to them. Once, when I was a small boy, I saw a pure white crow, mounted, on Herbert Person's wall. I assume he spread his wild oats broadly around Wing before going where all good crows eventually wind up. Anyhow, the crows who attacked our corn always had a smattering of white-winged crows in the flock. I never was able to point my trusty double barreled twelve gauge at one of them. They were too pretty. One who has never experienced the crow as an enemy cannot possibly appreciate the cunning intelligence of a wild crow. Without a gun, we could get close, like the tame golf course variety of today. But with a gun in our hand, they knew what that meant, and we could get almost in range before they abandoned the ear of corn and flew, laughing and calling to the others, or maybe at us, as they flew.
     Mike and I built a blind in the patch. As we entered, one guard crow watched from the tree line. Even if we sat for hours in the blind, not a crow showed. When we finally gave up in disgust, heading for the house, the crows would always flog in and cover the patch when we got out of range.
     One day we finally discovered a chink in their armor. A crow does not count well. We both entered the blind, one of us would leave, and the crows would flog in on top of the remaining shooter, discovering their error in math too late.
     These crows also provided a source of spending money. The county had a fifty-cent bounty on crow heads, simply show them to the county clerk and collect the reward. However, the first time we proudly sat a fruit jar full of aging crow heads on his desk, he suddenly decided he could trust us. From now on, we would only have to come in and tell him how many we had, he told us, as he fled his desk, covering his nose.               Ticks and chiggers were also new to Mike. Me, I had gotten used to them over the years, just scratch it off when you got one. They also served as a good source of entertainment each night before I went to sleep, scratching all my bites good. For Mike, it was different. The first time he saw hundreds of seed ticks crawling up his leg, I thought he was going to throw a runaway.
     The summer was drawing to a close. Mike was ready to ride the train three days back to Los Angeles. When he arrived, he got a dog, named him Tooter. He bought traps, and sat out a trap line in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. All he could catch were cats and ground squirrels, though. He told me this year that the summer in Arkansas influenced the course of his life. He later made many trips into the wilds of the west.
     I did not see Mike again until he returned from Vietnam as a demolitions expert, sporting a Teflon orbit around one eye. We visited Wing a couple of days and talked about the old days. When he got back to California, he had a rude awakening. People there did not appreciate him and the other returning veterans. By the time he had completed college, he had had enough. He went to Australia, taught school a couple of years. Then he played basketball on a touring team of displaced American veterans awhile. When he returned to California, pushing thirty, he applied for a teaching job. Remembering his earlier treatment, he did not mention to the Superintendent interviewing him about his war experience. But when the man asked him why, at near thirty, he was just now applying for a job, he came clean. The man, a veteran himself it turns out, stood up, shook his hand, and hired him on the spot. It turned out to be a 30-year job.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Post twenty four: The summer of 1956

     The summer of '56 brought a new friend and companion to the farm. Mike Ford, my city-boy cousin, arrived from California one morning in June. Mike had never been out of the Los Angeles area before, and even the routine occurrences on our hill farm became new adventures to him.
Soon after Mike's arrival, the raccoons attacked our corn patch, which was in the roasting ear stage, in force. Every coon in the bottoms seemed to show up at dark. Tooter, Mike, and I were assigned the task of protecting our patch. The stage was set for one of our greatest adventures.
     Early one warm summer night we headed for the patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn middle. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display, and I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?” when no reasonable solution came to mind, I called, “do something, Mike!” I don't remember exactly what he did, so I asked him when I visited him this past summer. He said he hit the coon on the head with a knife, and it just got mean. So I acted. I would jump up, planning to hold the tail by the right hand, slide my hunting knife out of its scabbard, and hit it over the head. But by the time I had began my draw, my fingers had just touched the handle when the coon went crazy. It was wrapped tightly around my right arm, biting and squalling, and my arm was turning into sausage. I shook it loose, only to have it latch onto my right leg, slightly above the knee. I was struck with a momentary flash of good sense, and I shook him loose. Tooter joined the chase then, for, still being a young dog, he liked it better when the coon was running from him. Myself, I was in the heat of battle now, and I stayed close behind. Again the coon turned to fight, raking Tooter with his claws. When I entered the fray this time, the knife was in my hand, and it was quickly over.
     We proudly carried the big coon back to the house, and I basked in the attention and glory as everyone examined my wounds. We did not think much about things such as rabies in those days. Mike later confided, “I would sure like to have some scars like that to take back to California.” A few days later, Mike went down to run the traps we sat out at the corn patch, got too close to a squirrel or coon or some such animal, and got his own battle wounds. For days, he pulled the scabs from the wounds, and he proudly wore his scars back to California.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Post Twenty Three: Tooter's Job Was Done

     Tooter was not always perfect. Late one summer afternoon, Mom sent me to herd her young chickens into the coop for the night. Any chickens not locked up securely at night would probably become a meal for a coon, or maybe a mink. Minks eat part of one, but kill all of them, just for fun. The chickens kept circling the coop in front of me. Round and round we went, with no apparent signs of progress. Finally, in exasperation, I called Tooter into action. He quickly developed a liking for this new game, and he was good at it. We soon had every chicken in the coop.
     Late the next afternoon, as I came in from the fields, what I saw beside the porch stopped me short. A dozen dead chickens were stacked in a row. Tooter, I soon found out, had so enjoyed the game that he continued it the next day. He had “herded” every chicken to death!
I dreaded facing Dad. I knew what was coming. Chicken-killing dogs could not be tolerated on the farm. Finally, the inevitable could be avoided no longer. “Son,” Dad said slowly, “that many killings would get anyone a death sentence.” My dad was a hard man. He had to be, scratching a living out of this hill farm. Hard living requires hard decisions. Dad, however, more than anyone else, understood the bond between Tooter and me. Tooter was spared, and I promised to teach him never to kill the chickens again. I guess Tooter understood because he never bothered the chickens again.
     The time came for me to leave the farm. I was off to college. Tooter never did accept this well. He drooped around, his spirit gone, searching for me each day in all the old places. On the rare occasions when I got to hitchhike home for the weekend, Tooter always spotted me coming when I was still a speck in the distance. He would suddenly regain his “world class” speed, and a rough and joyous reunion resulted as we ran up the lane. One time, he jumped on me, our noses meeting none too gently. Mine was the one that was bloodied. Another time, a flying leap sent a tooth through my watch crystal. I still have that watch. That and memories of a happy time are his legacy.
     With long periods of depression and separation and short, joyous reunions, my freshman year passed. Then I was home for the summer, and all was well in our world.
     One summer morning, I was awakened at dawn by a loud commotion in our yard. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, the sight before me send a chill through me. Two large wolves had Tooter, one on each end, stretching him out. When I yelled, they dropped Tooter and ran. Tooter chased one, caught him, and grasping him by the throat, began to squeeze the life from it. I grabbed Tooter, pulling him back. The wolf shook loose, and quickly melted into the woods.
     During the next few days, Tooter seemed to be slowly recovering. One morning as he leaped from a load of cattle feed in our truck, he yelped in pain. He moved slowly to the porch, lying down, and soon was unable to get up. I carried him to the cool cellar. He wouldn't eat. As I checked on him throughout the night, he became weaker. At daylight he was gone. That day I buried him in a grave under the persimmon tree overlooking the valley and the mountains we had roamed together so many times. I spent the afternoon cutting his name in a large flat rock that I placed at the head of his grave. Tooter had come to me when we were both very young. He had seen me through my growing up years as my constant companion and best friend. His job was done.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Post twenty two: A fearful night, and a Wolf

     One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe creek up the holler, avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown.     The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled Oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.
     I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about 100 yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the freshly fallen leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.
     The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of Fox squirrels and memories of a night that the passing decades have not erased.
     The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Hollow. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies.” One Saturday we set out up the holler. After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf or coyote. I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.
     As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, and my concern for my hard-to-come-by knife overcame my concern for the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.
Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought through it many times in the past 50+ years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the bend. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buell Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store, whittling and chewing tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Post twenty one: The Dogs of Wing

     I have not mentioned dogs much up to this point, not because they were not a big part of my life at Wing, but because I wanted them to have their own chapter. We had no house dogs, mind you. Any dog of ours unlucky enough to stray indoors quickly caught a broom to help them back out. I understood that they lived or died on their own good luck, money was not spent on dogs if they got sick. But nevertheless, dogs were a big part of my Wing life.
     Contact with dogs came early in my memory. Spot was an aging, cancer-eaten long haired dog, nearing the end, faintly recalled in my early recollections. Not so faintly recalled is the rifle shot that ended his suffering existence.
     Snippy was a short haired, black, chunky feist. He was a dandy squirrel dog without a hunter. Harold, my older brother, his hunting partner, had gone off to college. Snippy spent his days, lying in the warm sun, dreaming of days gone by. On cold winter nights, he would jump up through the open crib door into the barn, work his way into the hayloft, and burrow in for the night. One very cold winter morning, with the temperature hovering near the single digits, I approached the barn. Then I saw him. Snippy lay, curled up in the snow, frozen solid. Above him was a closed, and latched, crib door.
     Next came Chubby. We never hit it off. He was my sister Barbara's dog. Very ill-tempered, he growled when I came around him, I picked at him, and our relationship deteriorated from there. Even as an old dog, most of his teeth gone, he would attack, gumming my shoes in a rage, if I ever came near his food bowl. Chubby often liked to spend his time visiting the neighborhood, and I assume he was unwelcome. Once, he came home with a tin can full of gravels tied to his tail. Dad finally got tired of his carousing and took him to a man who wanted a dog 5 miles away. The next morning, he was home, and stayed awhile this time. Chubby loved to chase cars, and his hobby eventually brought about his undoing.
     My very first dog of my own was Champ. I built Champ a house, painted his name over the door. We wrestled and played, getting closer daily. As Barbara Lou and I rode to the cucumber patch one morning, Champ followed. When we arrived, I said, “Let me out so I can watch after champ while you make the turn.” I was too late. Bumped and knocked off balance by a front wheel, the rear wheel ran over his snout. Champ got up, walked a few steps, looked at me, and I saw the light fade from his eyes. Slowly he fell. I raced to kneel beside Champ, my shaking hand feeling a faint heartbeat ebbing away. It was a long time before the memory of Champ began to fade.
     When I got Tooter, he was an 8 week old, part German shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest. I carried him, resting on my forearm, back to our farm. As Tooter grew, he learned quickly. He became my constant companion as we hunted, fished, and trapped – or just roamed the bottoms and mountains for the fun of it. He quickly learned to “stand,” “heel,” and “back up.” Once learned, he obeyed perfectly. If I needed help getting up a muddy creek bank after setting a trap, or looking for mink sign, I had only to say, “back up.” Tooter backed into position, waited until I grasped his tail, then pulled me up the bank. Tooter was a world class sprinter, by human standards. Using the “stand” command, I timed him at 7 seconds flat in the 100 yard dash, eclipsing the world record by two seconds or so. Tooter saved me more than once. One hot summer day, walking barefoot down an overgrown lane to fish at Lilly Pad Lake, Tooter was in the heel position. He suddenly stepped ahead of me, then jumped aside. Looking down, I saw a large Moccasin, coiled and fangs bared, lying where my next step would take me.
Tooter became a good squirrel dog, though not in the normal sense of the term. He did not trail squirrels, but ran, crashing through the underbrush, scaring any self-respecting squirrel into movement. His sharp eyes caught the flash of fur, and another squirrel was treed. We worked well as a team. While I waited quietly on one side of the tree, Tooter crashed to the other side to turn the squirrel. They were an important source of meat for my family. The only meat we ate was either salt pork, which got old after awhile, or meat that I hunted or fished for. More about Tooter in my next post.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Post Twenty: When my family owned Niagra Falls

     Jan was always the quiet, nice one in the family. I don't remember her getting into trouble, but surely she did. How could anyone so nice be bad? Right after high school, I went with Dad to take her to Needmore to catch a bus to San Antonio, and she joined the Air Force. She was a WAC. She fell in love with a big, strong Yankee there, Bill Workman, and they got married. He was in the Air Force too. When their first son, Bob, was born, Bill shipped out to Korea for a year, and Jan stayed with us. Jan
liked to fish, so we went down toward the Hale Ford one day to fish in the slough. It came up a big rain, and her big car could not make it through all the mud puddles. I got out and pushed, then ran along behind and pushed some more, over and over, until we got to within 10 feet of the pavement, where we buried up for good. She got the best of me on another fishing trip. I found a hole in the creek full of Redhorses and suckers. I ran and got Jan. She said, “If you will run dig some worms, I'll wait here.” When I got back with the worms, Jan had already slipped the bare hook under their lips and caught all the fish.
     There is a good story in Bill Workman's family, too. It seems that, at the time of the American Revolution, England wanted the McMicken clan, his ancestors, to fight for the English. I've been told they were fierce horsemen. They did, and after the war they were rewarded with a grant of land in Canada. “The land is not much, kinda hilly, but it does have a waterfall.” Turns out it was the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Bill's family divided and sold off the land over the decades, but Bill still grew up there.
     When I was visiting Bill's mother in a nursing home, a few years ago, she told me of life at Niagara Falls. She said, “I even saw the falls frozen solid once.” Well, she was pushing 100, so I kinda let that slide off. Later, I told a Canadian friend about that, and he said, “Well, it actually did. They had a landslide up stream, and already had so much ice on the river, it froze over.” Later, Barbara Lou sent me a picture of it. The year was 1911. That would mean Kay Workman was 2 at the time. Not many people around who also saw that! I regularly use the line, “Yeah, my family used to own Niagara Falls.”
     Barbara Lou must have taught me how to talk, finally, at three years old. I say that because my wife, Barbara Sue, constantly tells me I say words just like my sister. So I guess she did. Barbara was the nearest sister to me in age, 5 years apart, and we played together a lot. Barbara was a good basketball player, so we got to walk home from bus trips often. She also walked with me to watch other peoples' TVs at night. We finally did get our own.
Barbara Lou married Bill Arrington. He is a great guy too. He and I both liked sports, so we always found a game to play when they were here. They also raised a great group of kids. Barbara is the family garden grower. When we got to Barbara's house once, she took me to her garden to show me her prize tomato. It was beginning to turn red way early. I touched it and it fell off. After that, I stopped touching her prize plants. Barbara sent me a copy of her own Wing stories. It was neat reading it from her perspective. What I just had bare memories of, she told about in detail. At least, she finally admitted she caused me to get this hole in my head. At last, it is totally her fault that half my brains ran out with my blood!
     One of the highlights of the year, maybe the major one, was the arrival of the giant new Sears and Roebuck catalog. The old one was formally relegated to paper doll duty and fueling the outhouse for the next year.
It was not enough that what few clothes we didn't make came from Sears, or that almost everything we bought, including baby chicks, came from the giant book. No, that’s not enough! Harold shipped his mink pelts there. My sisters spent many a hot summer afternoon, in the cool cellar, thumbing wishfully through the giant wish book.
     I learned today, for the first time, that the very house we lived in—where I was born—the only house I ever lived in until leaving for college in '62 was a 1920s era Kit House, ordered from, guess where? Yes!! You guessed it! Sears, Roebuck, and Company.
      This was not just a Wing thing. Far to the southeast, through Back Gate, deep in the Delta, my future wife, Barbara, was shooting to the pinnacle of Watson society, by arriving on the high school scene, sashaying in, wearing—guess what? Nothing less than the pants suit modeled on the cover of the current Sears and Roebuck catalog!
Now, you must understand the situation here. Barbara Sue doesn't remember how this came about. And the Good Lord knows, Verla Mae Dunnahoe never told me. She was a very strong woman of few words, and like my family, she had very little money. Sport and Verla Mae were raising seven children on 80 acres of cotton. Barbara would just never have asked for that pants suit. I'm sure there was never a conversation between the two about that. A woman of few words sees a lot. I'm sure she just noticed how long and hard Barbara looked at that catalog cover.  That strong woman just found a way, and the will, to make that happen. I'm sure it just showed up one day, probably on Barb's bed. I'm sure nothing was ever said about it later. Verla Mae Dunnahoe just did not operate like that.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Post nineteen: An Angel, and a high school kid SchoolbusDriver

     My brother Harold was somewhat like me in his hunting, fishing, and trapping. Before he left home, he was the family wild meat provider, a job I soon took over. He was always very mature at a very young age. When Harold was a senior in high school, they needed a school bus driver from Wing very badly. The Bluffton bus was doing a double route, and the people up there were getting tired of getting up so early. There was no house on this end to move someone into. Finally, Harold's name was brought up. It was said that he was as solid as a 40-year-old man. So Harold was hired as a school bus driver a week before school started. There was just one problem. He couldn't drive. Some of the local men gave him a week's crash course, and he did fine. When Fair time arrived, he drove a bus load over Danville Mountain. The road was narrow, steep, and dirt. The other driver chose to go around by Ola, farther but safer. Not Harold. Mr. Tommy Sullivan was on that bus. When they started down the mountain, he moved up and sat on the steps right by the door. At the bottom of the mountain, he told Harold he was a good driver. Harold spent 20 years in the Air Force. When Dad and Mom were not doing well in their old age, he once told me, “If you will watch after them until I retire, I will take over after that.” He did, and he got a triple dose. All the older Gillums started dying off quickly after he returned to Wing. The Clan was raised together, Mostly lived side by side all their lives, and died together. Harold finished raising his brood of boys here at Wing, and is the only Gillum family still on the farm.
     He worked for the Forest Service several years. When Yellowstone burned over, he took a firefighting crew there. After 30 hours on the fire line, he had a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. He was taken to Idaho for surgery and had a long recovery process. His balance and ability to get around were affected, but his brain is as sharp as always. He continued to run his cattle farm for years, always figuring out a way to do what had to be done. He went on steel determination for years. Once, he was raking hay. He was standing beside the tractor and pushed a rake lever the wrong way. It tightened in on him, and he quickly pushed the lever again–still the wrong way. Bones started popping. He finally extracted himself with numerous broken ribs and a punctured lung, and in typical Gillum fashion, finished raking his hay before going to the hospital. “The Gillums were not like other people.” That's never been demonstrated more clearly. First and foremost, the farm is taken care of.
     The last time Harold and I went fishing down at the Little Lake, Harold got on a high center with his 4 wheel drive “mule” just before we got there. I knew I could not carry Harold out, Harold could not walk out, and we had no tools. I finally found a small screwdriver, laid down under the rig, and chipped away at the high center until we could get loose from it. I was so worn out, Harold caught several bream before I could rest up enough to bait my hook. Come to think of it, that was a mighty fishy deal, hanging it up right by the lake. Harold would always do anything to get a fishing advantage!
     When Harold was a young man, he married Louise Parker. I discovered when Harold was in the hospital in Idaho that Lou was the person you wanted on your side when you were very sick. If Harold had a need, she moved out to the middle of the hall and quickly did whatever necessary to get a nurse there pronto. She is a great cook and has made many beautiful quilts over the years.
     If there ever was an angel that came out of Fourche Valley, it would be sister Jonnie. When I was in high school, I had cavities in my two front teeth. Spending money on a dentist was just something we did not do. But when Sis started teaching, she hauled me to a dentist pronto. When I thanked her again years later, she didn't remember it, but I sure do.
     A few years ago at the family reunion, she called me over and told me to write down the names of everyone there while she listed them. We were 60 or so strong by then, but she never hesitated. She reeled them off as fast as I could write. I asked her, “How do you remember all of those so easily?” She looked at me and said, “Why, I pray for them all, by name, every day.” I hushed and slunk off.
      Sis was loved by everyone around her, all her life. She got her last good laugh—at Harold—the day she died. While people were visiting her at the nursing home, Harold went to sleep in a chair out in the hall. An orderly came around, woke him up, and insisted Harold go with him to his room, “where he could sleep properly.” Someone had to go rescue Harold. The muscle tissue that regenerated while Sis was in the iron lung so many decades ago, enabling her to breathe, finally gave out later that day.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Post eighteen: Living by the sweat of our brow

     My Dad was always big on avoiding extra expenses, if a one time expense, combined with the sweat of our brow, would work as well. We had land, 250 acres or so, but a lot of ready cash was just not available. Our income came from raising registered Polled hereford bulls, and the sale of bull calves for quality herd bulls each year amounted to about $2000. and that was normally about it. So, we had a small Grist mill, Sorghum mill, sawmill, and pea thresher. The grist mill ground corn into corn meal. Mom usually cooked enough cornbread for us and a little extra for the dogs. The shelled corn was put into a hopper at the top. It was powered by a belt to the tractor. If the belt started running off, Dad always kept and old can of sorghum molasses to pour onto it. The corn was shaken down into the mill, and the first batch of meal that came out was always discarded, along with the body parts of the mice that did not get out in time. I suspect that was a problem with all the old time grist mills. The inner reaches of the machine would seem like heaven for a mouse–until all hell broke loose! Our “sawmill” was also powered by a belt from the tractor. We regularly got stave bolt trimmings from Plainview, ten miles away, and cut them up into firewood length. Once, the belt to the tractor broke, and the tractor started rolling down the hill. I chased after it until I finally caught it, and tried to push the brake. Finally, the tractor and I both wound up hung up in vines at the bottom. Dad also regularly cut a medium sized Sweet Gum and I cut it up into “back sticks” for the fire place, to focus the heat out front. I only saw the pea thresher running once, when I was very small.
     Our sorghum mill was powered by old Murt, our last mule. A long timber reached out from the mill, attached to the mule, and she walked round and round. The sorghum stalks were fed in, and the juice was pressed out. It was put in very long copper pans with a fire built around them. The juice was evaporated, with impurities constantly being skimmed off the top, until molasses remained. I'm sure there was more to it than that, but I am walking along the edge of my memory here, so I will leave it at that.
     One of the most common sayings Dad had, when things were not going well on the farm was, “I'm afraid we may be headed for the poor house.” Over and over he said that. I never knew what a “poor house” was. Then, recently, Barb and I visited one, on a trip to Ireland. It was set up when untold thousands of people were starving, during the Great Potato Famine of the early and mid-1800s. They wanted to limit it only to people who were on the edge of starvation, so it was set up so that only those people would want to go. Families were not allowed to communicate with each other; they worked very long hard hours, all on a bowl of thin soup a day. It looked like a prison. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Ireland, where the lady who ran it told us about her grandpa. He broke his leg, badly. But he was afraid that if he went to a doctor, he would be put in the poor house. He lived out his life with his leg broken instead. I did not know at the time, but have since learned they were commonly used in this country, before the welfare system. I am not sure how they compared with the Irish variety, but I do know that fear of the poor house was deeply ingrained in the old Gillums. I guess that fear finally died out, because I have never heard it used by my generation. ___________________________________________________________________________