Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Cartel

The Cartel
FAIR WARNING:  Barbara gave me THE LOOK about this Post. Said this was not like me, using my writing talents to produce negative, gripey  sounding material. (Nice to find out SOMEONE thought I had writing talent!) Well, I’ve thought about it, over and over, and have decided she’s right. You may, or may not, want to read this post. I just had to leave it here, because I know some people just THRIVE on such stuff. So, if you’re not one of those people who just loves listening to gripey, negative sounding old men, just breeze on by this. I promise, once I get this said and out of my system, I will be back to my old, sweet self, next post.

Webster defines a CARTEL as: A combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices.

We most commonly hear the word applied to illegal activities, such as a drug cartel, etc. A cartel may also be perfectly legal. But a legal cartel may be every bit as damaging to the general population of a given area as an illegal one.

I have a little story I want to tell. When I finish, you be the judge

My attention was first brought to this situation by an editorial that was written in our paper, maybe twenty or so years ago. The gist was, the editor was attempting to determine why gas just seemed to cost more in Arkadelphia and closely surrounding area than in towns 15-20 miles away, in any direction. The question was asked, and this answer was given. “We are in the middle of a time of great gas shortage. Many of the surrounding dealers are fly by night operations, who are selling gas below cost. Soon, they will be out of gas, out of business. Dealers in Arkadelphia, however, are selling their gas in such a way that they make enough profit to stay in business. We will still have gas to sell when these fly by night operations are long gone.” The editor seemed to think maybe we were lucky, and insured of having a continuing supply of gas.

Well, I sure did want us to continue to have gas to buy. In fact, when I pulled up to the pump, bought a tank full of what little gas this old world had left, I was sure grateful. Almost grateful enough to tip the dealers a few bucks who were managing our dwindling supply in such a wise way that we would never run out. Almost. I never actually got around to doing that. A little bell in the very back of my mind seemed to go off at those times. I just attributed it to the old Devil himself, trying push me toward the negative side of things.
As time went by, I got to noticing, over the years; those fly by night stations, 20-30 miles away, were still there. Still in business. Still cheaper. I think that newspaper editor had a few bells going off in his own head by then,  because his tone, and his questions, changed over the years. And the answers changed. At one point, the answer was something like, “Free competition. We put our prices right out there for everyone to fairly see. We charge more, because we can.”

How come “We Can?” Well, to try to answer that, seems that area is sorta fuzzy. Fuzzy enough that we have to look at the few facts available to us, along with listening to a lot of scuttlebutt. Scuttlebutt may or not be true, we have no proof. Scuttlebutt has it, that a large operation that opened up in Arkadelphia, an operation large enough that it would not be controllable, and traditionally sells cheaper gas than many, had a clause in a contract that did not allow gas sales, by them, for x number of years.

A station operator who sold gas for a time, then discontinued it, was asked the question.” I could not buy gas, and make a reasonable profit, unless I charged those same high prices.”

A later editor of our paper once stated in his column, “People are always writing to me, asking me why I don’t weigh in on the gas situation here. I’m just one man. I have no more control of this situation than you do.” He must have rethought that, because shortly afterward, a headline screamed, “What’s with the gas prices in Arkadelphia?” He seemed to have a little influence, however, because the next day, prices were down. The situation had a spotlight on it. However, for the most part, he had been right. When the spotlight was turned off, guess what slowly began to happen? Again.

I once drove from Arkadelphia to the Florida Gulf Coast, and guess what? I saw no gas prices as high as Arkadelphia’s. Not even close.  The prices in the beach towns were similar, though. That’s fact. A friend drove from Arkadelphia to New Mexico along about that same time, and said he saw no prices as high as Arkadelphia on the way.  That’s scuttlebutt;  I didn’t actually see that

For the last several years, I have attempted to handle my own gas situation by keeping a Walmart gas card handy, and filling up as much as possible at the Walmart in Malvern, or at any one of a number of stations at Hot Springs. Savings of 16 – 18 cents per gallon were not unusual, sometimes a good bit more.

A friend of a friend, who has a close friend who is an executive in an oil company who supplies this area, asked the question. The answer, “Well, we have several stations in the area. We just raised the prices at our stations, and everybody else went along.” That’s scuttlebutt.

I watched with great interest as a very large Pilot station was completed at Caddo Valley recently. Maybe, just maybe, I thought. But I didn’t get my hopes up too much. The day after they opened, I saw they were charging a competitive price, typical of the interstate, but well below our normal area prices.
I asked the manager. Are you going to be our salvation, or just a part of our problem?  Just in case he was not aware of our problem, I explained it in detail. He laughed. “Well, I noticed prices around us went down when we opened up yesterday.”

I’ve been watching. Closely. Pilot seems to be holding at about the average interstate prices. And, those around them are NOW more competitive. Once, I recently decided to use up my Walmart card. When I got to Malvern, I wound up paying above Caddo Valley prices. I’ve never been close to seeing that before, for a very long time.

Maybe the Cartel is weakening, or maybe this is just a pleasant little interlude. The proof is in the puddin’. Maybe we should all just forgive. But I ain’t’ forgitten’.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Sweet Mother - Part Two

The winter time schedule varied from this, of course. There were clothes to be made, (mostly from chicken feed sacks) quilts to be made, etc.   Mom was an expert at wringing a chicken’s neck. I’ve seen four headless, bleeding chickens flopping about the yard at one time. Then they were scalded, feathers picked off, then dressed and cooked.

Winter time baths were a major undertaking. Water was hauled up the hill, 100 yards or so, bucket by bucket. Then it was heated on the wood cook stove. When the round bath tub was filled, we took turns. Being the smallest, I was last. I was nearly grown before realizing; bath water was not supposed to be brown.

After we went into the egg business full time, of course that became a large part of the daily schedule. We kids knew nothing of allowances, pay for work, etc. It didn’t exist on our farm.
In spite of all her hard work, Mom always found time for each of us, every day, though I don’t know how. If Mom ever got a few dollars ahead, it was never spent on herself. She would tell me, “well, I’ll buy this for you now, then when you are grown and well off, you can buy for me.” Unfortunately, Mom died at 68, and that time never came.

Mom always found time for her neighbors. Edith Turner told me this year of Mom bringing them loads of vegetables when they moved into Wing. We children never worked on Sunday, and officially Mom did not, either, but somehow, some way, all those great Sunday meals magically appeared. We were always in Church on Sunday, Mom saw to it. We had a very large children’s picture book, filled with bible stories. Mom saw to it we read every one, again and again. I fear I learned far more about the bible under Mom’s watch, that at any other time in my life.

Mom always loved having flowers in the yard. It was about the only extravagance Mom allowed herself. During dry times, we always found a way, somehow, to find enough time to haul water up from the creek and keep them alive.

One year, My oldest brother Harry came up with enough money for Mom to go to California and spend her birthday with her sisters. The  well oiled machine that was the Gillum farm went totally to Hell while Mom was gone. Dad trained me as the dishwasher. “Son,” he said, “ the open hand makes a great dish cloth.” Barbara Lou and Jan took over the milking. The cows wanted no part of that. Early morning screams emanating from the cow barn became a regular thing. What with all the kicking going on with the cows, more milk dripped from the ceiling than wound up in the milk bucket. After a couple of weeks, mom returned, and we all realized that in spite of the hard work by all the rest of us, Mom was the glue that held that well oiled machine together.

Everybody in Wing and Rover just loved my mom. A very small handful of Mom’s dear lady friends are still alive. My children, when they discover one of them, such as meeting Edith Turner at my book launching this year, just cannot seem to ever let her go. They are hearing, from a third party, just how wonderful my mother truly was; they are realizing, it’s not just me saying those things. It’s the total truth.

After I graduated college and Barbara Sue and I lived at St. Paul or Fayetteville, I would slip by and see Mom when I could, surprise her. After I did that several times, she finally told me. “Pat, please let me know when you’re coming by. Otherwise, I find myself sitting on the porch, looking down the road for you, every day.”

Dad Passed away, at 78, while Barbara and I lived at Fayetteville. When we decided to move to Hannibal, Mo. suddenly to a teaching job, Mom begged, “Let me go with you. I can cook and clean, and grow a garden.” I knew Mom was not doing well, living alone. But we were moving with only a few days left until school started, and we didn’t even have a place to live yet, and very little money. I told her,  “When we get up there, get set up, and get a house, I’ll come back for you.” I could see the disappointment in her eyes. I have wished for many years that I had that decision to make over. But life does not work that way.
We had only been in Hannibal a short time when we got word that Mom was not doing well, Barbara Lou had taken her to Memphis to live with her, and she was now in the hospital. I rushed down. When I arrived, she was already in a coma. As I sat by her bed, I realized. I had never told her I loved her. Open expressions of love were just not normally said in our house as I grew up, or maybe that was just me. I started telling her over and over that I loved her, but in her coma state, I did not know if she heard me or not. She was moved to ICU, and I lived there in that waiting room for days.  A couple of us could go in and see her every few hours.

  The chairs in the ICU were very sleep resistant, unless one had one of the few recliners. One night, I did have one. About midnight, two young women and their mother came in. The older lady was in very bad shape. Her husband was in the ICU. I gave my recliner to the older lady, and moved over and answered the phone the rest of the night. The next day, I noticed that one of those three were always in that recliner. About 8 o’clock that night, one of the daughters called me over. She said, “You gave this recliner to my mother last night when she was in very bad shape. We’ve been saving it for you all day. You need to sleep tonight.”

 Harry arrived from California. I took Harry in, and told Mom, “Harry’s here.” She stirred noticeably. I now knew she had heard me. But way too little, way too late, for a mother like God blessed me with. I should have told her I loved her every day I lived with her, and I knew it.
Mom died shortly afterwards. I made a vow, then and there, that there would never again be a shortage of open expressions of love in my family. And I have kept that vow.

I did not set out to write a sad story. But, in writing of the older generations, it just seems to work out that way. We can’t change that. But we are given the opportunity many times to help improve the quality of life leading up to that ending. Once written, it can never be rewritten or erased. We  just have to live with that.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Old Gillums Revisited - My Sweet Mother

Considering that my mother was about the sweetest, nicest woman who ever lived, I really have not written a lot of material about her side of the family.  She was quiet, and seldom told me stories of her family. Most of her sisters moved to the bright lights of California before I was born, and the others followed soon after, except for Mom. The few times I have carried on a  conversation  with her sisters, for the most part, was when I was very young. Her brother, Euriel, lived nearby, but he and most of his sons died early of heart problems. Mom’s other brother died as a child. I never met Mom’s parents. So there ya’ are. My knowledge of Mom’s family, for the most part, distills down to what transpired between my mother and I. She did tell me lots of stories, but most were funny, fictional and entertaining. They weren’t about her family.

After Dad came back from the war, he went to the oilfields of Oklahoma. When his father died in 1922, he was called back to Wing to run the farm. He first became engaged to a Humphrey girl, (I was never told the first name.) She died soon after. From what everyone has told me, The Gillum family just loved that girl, totally had their heart set on her being Dad’s wife. Dad had even built a house in the meadow for her. I’m not sure how much time elapsed after that happened before Dad and Mom married, but Dad was 33, Mom 21. Since there was no electricity in the Meadow House, Dad and Mom first lived with Grandma Gillum.  Hallie, Dad’s school teacher sister lived there too. For a time, a picture of Dad’s dead sweetheart continued to hang on the wall. After a while, a picture of mom’s former sweetheart, Searce Pickens, appeared on the wall also. Well, Searce Pickens was now working for Dad, and both pictures soon came down.

My oldest brother Harry, the first born, told me that Grandma Gillum, and also Hallie, on occasion, did not treat Mom well.  I don’t know why, because my mother, when I knew her, was wonderful. Very kind, loving, and hard working. From what I have heard, my best guess is that Mom came from a family that was very different from the stern Gillums, and they were harsh in judging her. After three children were born, Mom wanted out of that house. They moved to the meadow house, even though there was no electricity, and Dad had to do without a radio. Jan was born there. Later, Dad bought the Marion Turner house, which was larger, and they moved there, where Barbara Lou was born. Both of these houses were within hollering distance of the house on the hill. After Grandma Gillum and Hallie both died in 1941, Dad and Mom moved their family back up on the hill. I was born there in 1944.

Mom was a very hard worker. Since the Gillums were determined to put up enough food for two or three years, just in case the dry years returned, she sometimes canned as many as 800 Quarts each summer over that hot wood stove. They were stored in the concrete cellar, dug underneath the potato house and smoke house. The concrete floor was not very thick, and water often began to seep into that cellar in wet times. It had to get 3 feet deep or so before it reached the canned food, and before that happened,  We often all worked most of a day, carrying it out bucket by bucket. Later, Dad figured out how to siphon it out, and he and I would do that.

Mom worked full time, while raising six children. Setting a bedpost on a dress tail of a toddler made a good baby sitter while Mom worked. Later, as the girls got old enough, they handled that. This is a typical day for Mom on a summer day with no other major projects scheduled.   She arose early, and had a full breakfast of hot biscuits, (made from scratch) sausages, oatmeal, coffee, etc. ready at daylight. After the kids were up and dressed, the entire house was swept. Our dogs entered our house only at great peril from Mom’s broom. Mom might then work in the garden awhile, then it was time to start dinner. Always a full meal, always hot. After the dishes were washed, the dogs were fed the scraps, (dogs were only fed scraps. If there were none, it was their responsibility to go catch a rabbit, or whatever, though Mom normally made a little extra cornbread for the dogs. So they seldom went hungry.) Dishes and pots, skillets, etc. were washed and put away.

Afterwards, Mom might have 30 minutes of down time, then she might head for the truck patch, a quarter of a mile or so down in the pasture. Most of the food growing took place there, a couple of acres or so. She would hoe weeds, or do whatever needed to be done, then she would head to the house, carrying with her a good part of what would become supper. Time to milk both the cows. Mom always milked them alone, and they were so used to only her milking them, the cows would allow nobody else to touch them. Some of us could have helped, but I guess Mom figured  it was just easier to do it all herself than to try to get the cows to tolerate us. Time to cook another hot meal, do the dishes, then maybe a little down time before bed time. Of course, as we grew older, we helped in all this. I helped Mom for several years before I graduated to helping Dad in the fields. Then, I was one of the MEN. The girls, Barbara Lou, Jan, and Jonnie, worked very hard helping Mom, also. If it was a very busy time in the fields, one of the girls brought dinner to the men there.

This daily schedule varied, of course. One day per week, Mom would wash all the dirty clothes in the big black pots down by the creek, 200 yards down the hill using a rub board, lye, soap, and bluing, whatever that is.  The clothes were hung out on the fence or clothes line, and hauled in at night. On another day, all the clothes that needed it were ironed with flatirons heated on the stove. That always made the house very hot. Mom even ironed the sheets.  The milk had to be hand churned to make butter and cottage cheese.       Continued in four days. Thanks for Reading!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Old Gillums Revisited - Part Two

Now that I have told you about Martha Jane, let’s look at my dad. I think everyone in my branch of my family will agree, nobody shaped our branch of the Gillum clan like my dad, in my lifetime. My information about Dad’s WWI experiences is incomplete. All he ever told me was that while riding the troop ship over, they had to sleep sitting up. It was too crowded to lie down. He also stated that he was close enough to the front to hear the guns when the armistice was declared at eleven o’clock

AM on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The main American force had just gotten fully into  the war, and the Germans had been pushed back near the Germany-France border. They were well fortified there, and the generals in the field estimated  it would cost 25,000 allied lives to defeat them. There were talks in progress about ending the hostilities, and the main question seemed to be, an armistice or unconditional surrender. General Pershing, the American commander, ordered that battle to commence. The field general, however, stalled, thinking of his men, and knowing the war could be over at any time. The battle was delayed, and in a few days, the fighting did cease. Had that attack order been quickly obeyed, would my dad have been one of those 25,000 casualties? Had Pershing’s order to attack been obeyed immediately, with many, many more lives lost on both sides, would it have resulted in unconditional surrender eventually? Would that have, as Pershing seemed to think, have prevented another world war in a few years, or at least delayed it? I really don’t know. All I really know is, if that battle had been fought, and if Dad died that day, I would never have existed

I learned recently that Dad was involved in the trenches in France, but he was in supply rather than actually shooting a gun. Often, he was so tired when he was finally allowed to sleep, that he could not pull his boots out of the mud, having to pull his feet out of his boots, and roll up in his blanket. I still have that blanket. Dad served during the occupation of Germany.

The Gillum’s were pretty well off, for the times, when grandpa Gillum died in 1922. Grandma Martha Jane called Dad back from the oilfields of Oklahoma to run the farm. Things went well, for a number of years. Dad bought a car, and spent more of his time overseeing the share croppers  than actually running the farm. But 1930 brought not only the Depression, but also the onset of a number of very hot, dry years, when most all crops failed. The cattle had to be ranged out into the mountains for many miles to find forage, and Dad had to ride his horse many miles to find them. The sharecroppers could not get enough money to put in the crops, unless Dad signed the notes. He did, the crops failed, and the sharecroppers had to walk. It took many years to pay those notes off, extending the Depression for my family  many years. Dad had to sell off much timberland to the government, at fifty cents to two dollars an acre just to be able to put in his own crop. Nimrod Dam was  built, and the government took much of the prime farm land in that project. In addition to these problems, much of the topsoil in the valley was thin, and began to play out. Cotton and other row crops began to disappear, and cattle became the main crop, more and more.

As the depression deepened and dry years persisted, it became difficult to feed a family. I remember Dad, many years later, showing me how to build rabbit gums, quail traps, etc. He also taught me little tricks for catching fish when the need was great. Dad once said, “If we saw a rabbit crossing the road, chased by less than two people, we knew things were getting better.” After I arrived, I never knew of a Gillum eating a wild rabbit. Problems with rabbit fever during the depression changed all that.

Once the unusually dry weather was past, Dad was able to grow plenty of food, with a lot of hard work and foresight. Just spend no money unless it was necessary, buy only staples like flour, sugar, a little coffee. Dad’s solution to the problem was to just work harder and harder, longer and longer. But after the depression, Dad was never able to bring the farm back to the level it was at pre-depression. Only I, the youngest and his helper in his older years, saw how hard he pushed himself

Dad once planned a fairly long trip to find and buy the finest herd bull available.  A neighbor got wind of it, and asked him to buy one for him, too. Dad did. When Dad got back, the neighbor told him he had changed his mind. Dad was now stuck with two expensive bulls. Dad never had any use for that man again. From this kind of experience, and others along the way, Dad began to get a general mistrust for a lot of people.
I think factors I mentioned above combined with the strong “do right mechanism” Dad had always had shaped him into the man I met when I came along in 1944.  Work hard and long, every day except Sunday. Be careful about trusting people; don’t buy food you can grow. Save up enough food for years, the dry years can return at any time;  cut over every inch of cleared land, every year, or the woods will reclaim it. In the early 1950’s, I was doing the pasture mowing. Those were very dry years, and grass and weeds didn’t grow much. Dad insisted that I mow  every square inch, even though it looked exactly the same afterwards. Don’t think highly of lazy or wasteful people, lest you become like them ; be honest, pay the bills first, before spending otherwise. If you feed a hobo, he will just come back the next day, and the next. Keep your daughters away from men, as long as they live in your house; Keep your sons away from honkey tonks, no good can come from all that.

I know all this sounds extreme. However, if you look at the big picture, all six of his children , as adults, worked hard, were honest, fair, the do right mechanism strongly in place. Dad was hard, but it worked. Can one ask more from a parent than that?

I still have a lot of questions rolling around in my head. Most can never be answered in this world. My Dad and I spent much time together in his older years, with very little conversation passing between us. How could I have been so wasteful? There are so many of these questions I could have answered, had I only asked. If I had but one more afternoon with Dad, now, I could get an answer for them all.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Old Gillums Revisited

Since I first started researching and reading up on the old Gillums a few years ago, I have done a lot of thinking.  I’m very good at thinking.  One of the major frustrations in my wife’s life is that often, when she starts talking to me, sometimes I do not respond appropriately. A single grunt is not good enough. This often causes her to look more closely into my eyes,  then realizing. Nobody is home. I am off somewhere, just thinking.  Not necessarily thinking with great insight, not necessarily productively thinking. Just thinking.
With enough thinking, anyone, even one such as I, can begin to get some good insight. Even a blind hog can find an acorn occasionally, if it roots around long enough

I have decided that nobody influenced her generation of Gillums as much as grandma Martha Jane Tucker Gillum, commonly called, early on, Tennessee, and later, Matty. She was not born a Gillum at all, but let’s take a look at her.

She was born in 1859. Her early life was emersed in our Civil War, One of our country’s most horrible times. And I’m sure there was no more horrible place to be that in the South. A baby in her family was eaten by a wild hog. A young boy was killed by a runaway horse. At sixteen, a man broke into her house one night, and attacked her and her sister in their bedroom. He was caught by her father and brother, a crowd gathered, and the man was lynched within the hour by her brother and Harry Poynter, her sister’s husband. For some reason, nobody in the family knows why, she soon started living in Harry Poynter’s house. She stayed there until she married John Wesley Gillum. Soon after she and John Wesley began seeing each other, John Wesley started trying very hard to get her out of Harry Poynter’s house. Nobody seems to know why that came about, either.

The Pope County Militia war started getting hot and heavy in 1872, and Harry was a leading figure in that conflict, getting into a gunfight with the County Sheriff, clerk, and deputy, right in the middle of Dover. Harry killed the clerk, and chased the other two out of town to Russellville, followed by much flying lead. Harry was cleared by an over the body inquest, but officials in Russellville disagreed. A thirty man posse rode to Dover to arrest Harry, and they had no trouble finding him. Leaning against a tree in downtown Dover, two pistols strapped on and a double barrel shotgun in his hands. Everyone, even the women, had armed themselves, and swore Harry would not be taken. The deputy asked for his guns – Harry replied, “I will give up my guns with my life, and will make the man who takes it pay a heavy price.” Nobody in the posse stepped forward to be that man, and  the posse went back home to Russellville. During that war, Harry had carried Grandma, her sister Dozie, and babies to a cave 20 miles away, and they apparently lived there for the duration. Grandma remained very close to Harry Poynter for the remainder of his life, and she seemed to be the major influence  in seeing to it that, since her first baby that was born soon died, after she and John Wesley married, named Harry, My oldest brother was also named Harry in honor of Harry Poynter. (Man, that last sentence was a messed up mess. Hope you got it's message.)
Years later, after the war settled down, Harry became a leading citizen of Dover, became wealthy, founded the Bank of Dover. But when Grandma’s four milk cows were stolen. Harry promptly came over to Wing, chased down the thief, and recovered the cows, no questions asked, no answers given. But since a man was missing, the Law in Yell County wished to question Grandma about that event, but, I am told, he was afraid to. She was too close to Harry Poynter

Grandma’s life was full of enough trauma to make her a very serious woman. Hard, I suspect, and stern. I think she was a product of her hard early life, and the sons and daughters she produced were largely a product of her.  Her and Grandpa seemed to be very good in business, and their farm at Wing prospered, adding sharecroppers , more land, and their business of breeding supermules did well. King Leo, a huge Black Mammoth  jack purchased out of Texas for $1000, was the heart if this business.

 A photo of the family taken on their front porch in the original Gillum home in 1910 seems to show telephone wires running in. The children were all well educated, producing a doctor, a school administrator, a Peabody College teacher, and the others went to the Normal School at Danville, getting enough education to qualify them to be a teacher, though they never were.  After Grandpa died, in his early sixtys, in 1922, she lived on until l941, often visited by Harry Poynter until his death in 1932. At the final birthday party given for Grandma in 1941, shortly before her death, only one Poynter woman was present. It seems the Gillum family’s connection to the Poynters, Pryors,  and others from Dover died that year with Grandma.
Grandma worked very hard as a widow. She continued with her cattle, and raised Rhode Island Red chickens and eggs, and saved enough money from that buy Lula Belle a car. Though my brothers, who lived there with her as small boys, remember her as being extremely harsh at times, chances are they deserved it. It seems they were a little rowdy. My sister Jonnie, as an infant and small girl, was often sick, and she remembers her holding and rocking her most of the time. When she got too big to be held, she sat beside grandma in her chair and rocked with her. She made many quilts still in use today.

When I was told how hard she made my mother’s life, as they lived with her, I reacted the way one would expect me to. I thought very badly of a grandma I never knew. My mother, I knew, was about the sweetest woman  on earth. I also know grandma had earlier picked out another woman for Dad, and he had already built a house for her in the meadow.  After they were engaged, she died. Sarah Turner said, “The first woman, who died, is put upon a pedestal. No wrong can she ever do.” I think that was going on here, through no fault of my sweet mother.

I have three photos of my mom  that I placed side by side. In the 1920’s, Mom was young, beautiful, and smiling. In the 1941 photo taken at Grandma’s last birthday, she was mature, very beautiful, but there was deep sadness in her eyes. The smile and the fun were gone. In a 1950’s photo, the joy, the smiling was back. I think that says it all.

However, as I learned more and more about Grandma Mattie, I think she was a strong, hard working, moral woman who came along in the history of the Gillum clan at a very good time, adding rock solid stability and integrity to the clan still in evidence today. She loved her family deeply, I think, but seldom, if ever, spoke of it openly. Nowadays, thank goodness, the Gillums   seem to have moved away from that.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wing Bits and Pieces

 Wing Life -  Bits and Pieces

Coon Hunting
As a young boy, I often accompanied a couple of the older boys on coon hunting trips. The hides could bring in a little spending money, and thinning the coons out during the winter usually helped out our corn patch the next summer. Coons just love corn in the roasting ear stage, and a family of coons could quickly make a portion of the patch look like hogs had gone through it in a very short time.
     I didn't have a battery for my headlight, couldn't afford one. I often borrowed Dad's large battery from his electric cow fence to hook up to my light, though it was very heavy, maybe twenty pounds. I could never quite keep up with the older boys, toting that battery, but I was sure as heck never going to let them get out of my sight, either. Tooter was not a good coon dog, but my friend had a big hound that was very good. We could follow his barks as he trailed a coon, then if he treed it, the bark changed. We headed out to that spot quickly. We carried a .22 rifle, though our poor lights offered little help in bringing the coon out of the tree. We sometimes “squalled” a coon down. As best as I could ever figure out, making a sound similar to a coon fighting a dog would often cause a coon to climb down the tree, I suppose thinking that while another coon kept the dogs occupied, it could get away. But it would be met by the dog once out of the tree.
     Once two or three were caught, and the dogs were off trailing another one, we built up a fire and skinned out those we already had. That cut down on the weight we had to carry. A large coon could weigh about fifteen pounds. We only took the skin. My family seldom if ever ate coons, though the meat is good. Dad's family had some bad experiences during the depression with some wild meat, and he became very picky. Squirrels were the wild meat of choice. It was very good, and never caused problems.
     The hides were later stretched out on a board or on a wall. A well stretched coon hide is almost square, and the fur buyer who came to our house always said my coon hides were handled better that others, and that made me feel good. But, actually, I think I got about the same price, a buck and a quarter, as others. Many people did eat the meat, and the meat could be sold for a buck or so. If I could put it in my bag with that twenty pound battery, and carry it all the way to the house, while keeping those older boys in sight. I never sold any coon meat.

The State Fair

Fourche Valley School, in my childhood, always sent one school bus to the state fair each year at Little Rock. Those of us lucky enough to get a seat on that bus had a great day, seeing and experiencing many new things far removed from our life at Fourche Valley.
     At thirteen, I finally got a seat on that bus. At the fair, as I wandered around wide eyed, I started noticing hundreds of federal troops walking about, and I wondered about that. I had no knowledge of the drama that swirled around Little Rock that year, at the height of the Central High School integration crisis. On the bus headed out of Little Rock, a black girl walked along the sidewalk. The boy in front of me lowered his window, and hollered out what I now know was a hurtful racist remark to her. She turned her head toward the bus, and answered in kind, it looked like, because her face was contorted in anger. But her words were just carried away by the wind. I wondered to myself why he did that. He, nor I, had never known a black person. None lived in Fourche Valley. All I knew was, she was just another person, like us, minding her own business. I never again thought highly of that boy after that.

The Keen Switch
     One day, Sammy Turner was at my house. He wanted to go to the river, a couple of miles away. I asked Mom. She said no. We sneaked off and went anyway.  
     When I got home, Mom was waiting. With a freshly cut  switch. I had never experienced the switch before, though I had heard many tales of it from my siblings. Those tales  had pretty well kept me in line up to this point. Mom walked toward me. I was taller than her by now,  and as I looked down at that small woman, I knew I was too big for her to do that to. I made a major mistake. I smirked down at her.
     She grasped my left arm, and started swinging away. Round and round we went. I just could not get away from that small woman. My screams echoed all over that hillside.  I never felt the switch again from her. A limber switch does no damage, but the pain is intense. Properly applied, once is enough for a lifetime. At least, it was for me
     This year, I had the opportunity to pass that bit of country wisdom down. I was at my daughter's house. Her husband was gone for a couple of days. Her youngest is very headstrong. He just decided that he would not do a thing she said. Her regular discipline just didn't work. The final step was for him to have to deal with his dad, when he got home, but now Dad was gone.
     I went out in the back yard, and found the perfect keen switch, just as I remembered it. I called her out. I explained the hold one arm, and whale away with the other technique. Then I told her to hit me with it. She did. I called her a wimp, her son would laugh at that weak effort. I instructed her to hit me, harder each time, until she got it right. Her hand was shaking by now. After about half a dozen licks, she finally got it right, and earned my respect. A couple of days later, her time came. She earned his respect, also. After half a dozen proper swings, he broke loose, and ran. She later found him hiding behind the clothes washer. She got a bonus. After the youngest gave a full description to the oldest son, they both got much better. When her husband returned, things were different. When trouble arose, they both begged her to let Dad handle the discipline.

When I was a small boy, I went into Herbert Person’s house, our next door neighbor a mile away. On the wall was a mounted, pure white albino crow. Albinos normally are looked at as just different, other animals of their species tended to reject them, so their line does not last long in the wild before it plays out. This crow, however, must have had attractions for at least one other crow, because during most of my childhood, we always had a few white winged crows after our corn crop. My job was to protect the patch, as best I could, with our .12 gauge double barrel shotgun. I just never could make myself shoot one of those white ones, however, they were too pretty. So I just gave them a free pass to our corn. That line played out after awhile, and they finally disappeared.
This year, some 50 years later, I told Annette Person Miley, Herbert’s granddaughter, about that white crow. She pulled out a picture of that mounted crow, and the feathers had all turned black over the years. At long last, That “different” crow finally looked like all the others in it’s pack. He Woulda’ been proud.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Diamond James Archer - Part Two

“One morning several years back,   I was out here in the parking lot getting ready to go in one morning, soons’ it opened. A man started talking to me, telling me he was here to find the largest diamond he could, and buy it for his fiance’ for her engagement ring.  I told him I didn’t have any diamonds on me now, but maybe  you’ll find one today.” James went on to say, “A lot of folks talk big like that. But when it comes down to it, they don’t have the money to back up their talk.”

James continued his story. “So the park opened  it’s doors, and we both went in and bought our ticket, and went into the mine. When we got to the search area, he turned left and I turned right. I only went a couple of hundred feet before I saw something shining at me.  I went over and picked it up. It was a big, canary diamond, sitting right on top of the ground. I shouted, Hey, Mister! I got a big one for ya’. The man came over, said he wanted to buy it as soon as he saw it. He asked, How much ya’ want for it?” James told me, “I didn’t even know how much it weighed, and I usually set my price on that. So I just said, $7000. Then that fella reached in his pocket, and pulled out a huge roll of money. He counted out 70 100 dollar bills into my hand. When he was finished, that man’s roll looked as big as it did when he started peeling bills off’a there.  I said to myself, I shoulda’   said $10,000. But I didn’t know he really had the money. The man took the diamond and never registered it at the park office. I heard from him later, and he’d had it cut and set in that ring. He said the jeweler weighed it before it was cut and it was 7.9 carats.”

 A lot of people have been wondering for a long time about just how  well  James has done. Tourists have been trying to pry that out of him six days a week for 30 years. Most people don’t like having people trying to get information about their business, and James was no different. We do know he never lived in a mansion, or bought a new truck. When tourists ask, “Is it true all your children graduated from college?”  James just said, “That’s what they say.” When asked later how many children he had, he said, “seven.” Is it true they all graduated college? “Yep. And my wife will graduate college this year.” Seems James did not invest his money in himself, but invested in his family’s future.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2003, James Archer went into the Crater of Diamonds State Park as he had for thirty years.  And, at the age of 77, he died there doing what he loved, digging for diamonds.  The Crater will probably never see a more diligent, consistent, determined prospector than Diamond James Archer. And I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside James, and learn much about diamond hunting, and about life, if only for three days, which, coincidentally, is also the total number of diamonds I have ever found. I tell my  friends, “I am the best trained, hardest working, and best equipped of all the non-producers at the mine.” I once worked 30 days one winter, with my total find being one diamond and a few small nuggets of gold. (The park superintendent refused to believe I found the gold there, declaring, “There is NO gold in THIS park.” But God and I both know I did.) On the last day that winter, Grandson Jordan came with me. At the end of the day, he declared, “Papaw, anything we do for fun can never be this hard.” Wise words from a young man. I ached all over, and my overworked body was breaking down. I hung up my shovel and screens, and have never been back. I don’t plan for constant pain to be my constant partner in my old age, if I can help it. But I’m not dead yet, so my life collection of diamonds just might not be totally complete.

I did have some interesting experiences along the way.  Once Henry Emison was working along the creek. A group of Texas hunters had been working on the other side for two days. On Sunday, they got into a vein of very rich fine sand, and they found it very deep, an old sand bar from eons past. They started finding one diamond after another, but they were about worn out, and they had to leave that day. Knowing Henry was a total digging machine, they crossed the creek and made a deal with Henry. If he would dig with them, they would share the diamonds found. At the end of the day, Henry had five very nice diamonds. Henry called me that night, told me all about it, but he could not go back the next day, he had to go to work. He described exactly where the glory hole was, and, quite naturally, I was there, ready to dig, the next day. But as luck would have it, an old full timer had already taken over that spot. He dug there for days, and would never reveal how many he found. After he had finished, I was over there on a very rainy day. I told a group of college boys who were there about the twenty some-odd diamonds taken from that hole in one day. That hole was chest deep in water now, however. Later I came back by that hole, and the college boys were diving down, pulling out two handfuls of sand at a time. There is no limit to which one bitten by the diamond bug will go to try to find a diamond.

As I worked one day, a northern tourist, new to the mine walked about, just looking at the ground. He came over to where I was digging, and started telling me how easy it was to find a diamond. He Said, “Yesterday, I just walked around, and found ten diamonds, right on top of the ground.” Did you get them positively identified at the office? I asked. “No, but I identified them myself on the internet.” I wanted to tell him, if he would bring any two of those diamonds to the park, get a positive ID, I would kiss his butt at high noon in the middle of that field, and give him an hour to draw a crowd. I WANTED to tell him that, but he was a big man. So I didn’t.   There’s just a lot of quartz and other stones on that field that can LOOK like a diamond.

*Some info about James Archer for this post came from  -  A thorough and accurate History of Genuine Diamonds in Arkansas, written by Glen W. Worthington. Published by Mid America Prosprecting,  Murfreesboro, Ar. 71958

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Diamond James Archer

You may not have noticed. Three or so posts during May and :June did not go to Facebook properly, a symptom of my ineptness on this new computer, mostly about our year's travel. Few of you have read them. Maybe you should, as I could have talked about some of you. (Possibly, but not likely.)
Don't forget about SPREADING WING. It's still available on, book or Kindle. Also, in several locations around Arkansas.

Back during my diamond mining days in the late 1970’s, I was fortunate enough to buddy up with, and work alongside the most famous Arkansas diamond hunter of all time. A lot of what I learned by watching James Archer enabled me to find my first two diamonds during that first three day trip, the first being my largest find ever, a beautiful 1.00 carat canary diamond. During those three days, I was determined to learn as much as possible from this legendary diamond hunter, and be just like James Archer. Alas, I failed miserably.

James Archer made his first trip to the Crater of diamonds by horse and wagon, sixty some odd years ago.  Later on in life, he and his wife came there again, determined to find a diamond. He failed, but his wife did find one. This galvanized his determination to also find a diamond. He surface hunted for two years, off and on, and never found one, gently being  teased  about that by his wife the whole time. When he changed to digging deep holes, and washing the mud through screens, He quickly became successful, finding his first two, a 1.7 carat and a 1.71 carat brown diamond, all in the same day. In the early 1970’s, he worked at a sawmill, unloading railroad ties by hand, then going to the diamond mine to dig after work. At one point, he was not at the mine for two days. When he returned, his arm was in a sling. His hand had almost been severed at the  sawmill.   He should have been at home recuperating, but the hard working James was not the type to ever sit still. He could not stay away from the crater.

When he returned to the  sawmill, they told him they no longer had a job for him. This was a turning point in his life. He decided to become a diamond hunter, six days a week, every week. The number of diamonds found  varies from one report to another, but the best estimate given by park officials was 5,000.

As I said, I met James and worked alongside him for three days in 1979. The characteristics I noticed about James that were not present in anyone else seemed to be that he worked very hard, very fast, all day long, every day. For thirty years. I did meet one other man who compared to James in all of these categories, except that he always kept a full time job otherwise, and he’s still raising a family, so he does not get to go every day.  Henry Emison and his wife Lori were digging away when I met them. They were beginners at that time, but they quickly changed all that. Henry soon was recognized quickly by all other diamond hunters on the field as a digging machine, a true man among men. He could work all day at his job landscaping, then drive to the mine and do as much work as we fully human diggers could do in a day. Of course, he quickly found a lot of diamonds. At one time, they moved to my rental house at Gurdon, partially because they loved that 120 year old, six bedroom brick house. But mostly because it was close to the diamonds. What is it about rare, driven men like James and Henry that makes supermen out of them when they step onto that diamond field? I wish I knew. I would buy up a few gallons of it and enhance my own diamond collection a bit. Henry moved to the other side of Arkansas, because that was where his job was, a few years ago. But I know he’s still not out of range of that diamond mine, so we still don’t know how his lifetime collection will look.

 James told me the story of finding a very nice diamond on his screen just as two rough looking and talking men walked up. Afraid they might try to take it away from him, he simply dropped it in the bucket of fine sand he would be taking home to look over closely that night. He was never able to find it again.

In 1994 James unearthed a very nice 5.25  carat diamond. This was, officially, his largest find. But, when a story came out about him in the National Enquirer, it was said he had found a 7.9 carat diamond. When asked about that later, he stated, “Well, they did get things sorta messed up in that story, all right. About my age and stuff. But I did find that 7.9 carat diamond.” When pressed about this, James related this story.

Continued in four days. Thanks for your time, and your attention.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Home Again, Finally!

     We drove across Minnesota to Lake Superior. After traveling along the lake a while, we discovered an area where many rock hounds came each year to hunt agates on the beach, so we found a park near by and I spent the better part of two days looking for agates. Those I found, along Lake Superior, did not look superior, but I'm sure, cut and polished, they would look much better. I could still do that, I have them in my garage. If I just had the foggiest idea where.

     We went to the Mall of America. It was now Barbara's turn to be excited. We spent the bulk of two days, trying to see it all, and it only takes me one minute to see most stores. But we still failed. In Minneapolis, we went to see the Minnesota State Capital building, or so we thought, but the actual capital building was across the way. That also fooled the movie makers. We saw a movie that night, about the then governor Jesse Ventura, the colorful governor/wrestler of that time period. A scene in that movie supposedly showed him walking into the capitol. But, it was the wrong building, the one we first picked. Made us feel a little better about our little mistake.
     In La Crosse, Wisconsin, we camped along the mighty Mississippi, running bank full, only a foot or so out of our RV. Actually, that spot, still far north, was part of the southern half of that river. The river curves and twists so much near it's source, as we discovered tracing it, more than half the total length is in Minnesota.

     In Iowa, we went to the Field of Dreams and played baseball, as best we could, with no ball. Or bat.
     We moved to Iowa City and set out to find, and photograph, every one of the “Bridges of Madison County.” We succeeded, and I even took my shirt off and washed up at the same water pump Clint Eastwood used to tease Meryl Streep, and Barbara got in the same bathtub Meryl seduced Clint in. It was a little too public now for Barbara to actually seduce me there, But I have to say. I pretty well stay in a state of seduction around Barbara.

     We went to Winterset, and saw the birthplace of John Wayne. It seems the city council once met on a cold day to decide the name of that town. Summerset was suggested, then someone noted, “Feels more like Winterset today!” It stuck.
     Iowa wins the prize for the most deer, and the most corn.

     Our next stop was again in the driveway of our Hannibal friends, Cheryl and Wes. And the price of that park was holding firm. They were both teachers. Wes keeps a loaded gun, in a locked gun safe, in every room of his house. But I have never known him to hurt a fly. And, he is all about mountain man stuff. But it almost made him sick to his stomach when I described trapping and skinning animals in my youth. Mountain man or no, he's a great guy. He once belonged to a motorcycle club, the “Buffet Brothers.” They traveled from one buffet to another, he says.

     We had now completed a full circle. A really big circle. Branson, Missouri beckoned, and we took in a show or two. We found another dirt cheap campground, in Barbara's sister Patsy's driveway. Traveling there from Missouri brought about the only other occasion, after San Diego, where our old camper overheated. We were pulling up the long grade from the Buffalo River to the summit of the mountain. Pretty good, for an old relic from the 80's. But, old campers tend to have few miles on them, for their age. They are bought with big plans that seldom pan out. Our camper, at the beginning of the 18,000 miles we drove it, only had 29,907 miles on it. We put around 20,000 miles on the car. Our final leg brought us back to the Arkadelphia KOA again, where we waited three days for our house to empty up.

     I wish I could tell you about all the really neat things we saw, did, and learned that year, but if I tried to do that, it would fill this book, and grow it into the size of an encyclopedia. Oh, sorry. I forgot. An encyclopedia is an old person thing. I started making a wild animal list, but finally gave it up. It was the most fun, footloose, carefree year of our lives, even considering the mechanical problems. I seldom got the RV hooked up in camp before Barbara had the car off the dolly, saying, “If I'm going to be away from my family, I'm going to be seeing new things, not sitting here in this park.” We loved the old RV, but at 6 MPG, we soon parted with it. We missed home and family. I even missed working in my yard, if you can believe that. I immediately began making our back yard into a showplace, vowing to my family that soon, people from miles around would soon be streaming in to view it. Barbara vowed to be the weed puller. I even put in a sprinkler system. The fervor has waned, though, and now it is but a relic of it's once imagined self. The stream of visitors just never got started.
     To this day, Barbara sometimes rags me some about my long lost dream of a backyard showplace. But when she does, I have only to tell her, “Yeah, that gardener just ran off with the weed puller.” And, they have never returned. I hope they are having a good life, in some real showplace somewhere. They deserve each other. As for Barbara and I, we are back to being our old selves. One never touches a weed, the other hates the sight of a lawnmower.

     We fully intended to become productive citizens after this trip, but somehow, it just never happened. There's just too much world left to see, still too much excitement and fun yet to be had.