Saturday, December 27, 2014
Forever A Hillbilly: A Town the World Forgot - Part Three: Like I said, it just seems that Wing is a town the world forgot. Wing was first named Mineral Springs, due to the large amount of f...
Like I said, it just seems that Wing is a town the world forgot. Wing was first named Mineral Springs, due to the large amount of fresh spring water produced right behind the old church. Wing was a thriving town around 1898, when the Gillum's first arrived. At that time, there were said to be seventeen houses up Wing hollow, right behind the old church, with every cleared spot as large as a wagon sheet growing cotton. There were none in my days at Wing, just old home sites. In 1898, the rich bottom land carved out by the river was dotted with small farmers rapidly clearing more land, more cotton and other row crops appearing. A cotton gin, a sawmill, and a grist mill sat at the mouth of Wing hollow, with the very large spring producing a large amount of cold water year around for steam power.
Wing and the surrounding area was then an educational mecca. In 1915, fifteen school teachers lived around Wing. The old school room above the church was only an overflow classroom. Mineral Springs Academy took in boarding students from many miles around, advertising, “Room and board with a nice local family for two dollars a month.” Thousands of acres of prime, virgin forests covered the mountainsides. The walls of many of those old houses were made from 1x20 pine boards from that virgin timber. The mountains were free range land, with large numbers of cattle ranged out into those hills. My dad often had to ride horseback for many, many miles to locate his cattle. A bell cow, wearing a cowbell around its neck, was with each herd to help in locating the herd.
But all this was not to last. By the time I came along in 1944, many changes had taken place in the valley. The thin rich topsoil was rapidly getting tired, and cotton and other row crops were becoming less productive. Cotton gins disappeared. Nimrod lake was built, taking much of the richest bottom land. Hundreds of acres of cropland were reclaimed by the forests. Most of the small landowners lived by grubbing out a living from the soil, and had to put the wagon sheet back on the wagon and move on.
The word was out. The delta land of southeast Arkansas was now a mecca for farmers, and the exodus from Yell County to the delta was in full swing. I met the love of my life at the Delta Dip in Dumas, home of the Ding Dong Daddy. I also learned while I hung around nearby Watson, trying to win her heart, that many, many farmers in that area came to the delta from Fourche Valley during that time period.
The larger landowners, including the Gillums, began to depend more and more upon cattle as a money source. The virgin timber was gone. In the 1920's, a rail line was built up the South Fourche River Valley, to reach that virgin harvest. This brought about temporary prosperity. Saw mill towns sprang up, large bustling towns. Once the virgin timber was harvested, these towns disappeared, and were reclaimed by nature. The only signs remaining to show they ever existed is a rusting piece of metal or concrete lying here and there on the forest floor. In 1927, the harvesting was winding down in the south mountains. The flood of 1927 destroyed the rail line, wrapping rails around trees. Two of the large train engines were trapped at line's end. One was moved onto the railroad bridge during the height of the flood, to help keep it from washing out. Afterwards, the rail line had to be rebuilt to get the engines out, taking up the track behind the engines as they were moved out.
The government bought up much of this timberland for as little as fifty cents an acre during and after the Depression, which became part of the Ouachita National Forest. The free range mountains were no more. Without that free range land, many of the cattle farmers had to move on. Hundreds of old, deserted home sites dotted the valley.
But this is not the end of my story. CONCLUSION NEXT WEEKEND.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Forever A Hillbilly: A Town the World Forgot - Part Two: Well, to make a long story short, (too late) those valley and mountain people of Yell County just seem to always support their own, ...
Well, to make a long story short, (too late) those valley and mountain people of Yell County just seem to always support their own, even those fifty years removed, and when launching day arrived, they just kept coming. Sometimes, I had a stack of books half a dozen high waiting to be signed, and still they came. I've always dreamed about how great it would be, with a line of people coming to me to get my signature! But I didn't have time to fully enjoy it. Even so, it was one of my best days ever. I didn't even get a bite of that mountain of salt pork and biscuits. We sold seventy books that day.
Equally as important, they ate up every last scrap of that salt pork. Even more importantly, I had a chance to renew a lot of very old, wonderful relationships. Edith Turner was there. She was ninety, but not anywhere near the oldest person in Wing. My children, Corey and Kinley, found out she was a friend of my mothers. My mother passed away when they were at or near infancy, and they are now at or near forty years old. They just could not seem to let her go, just hung with her every word, until long after the big event was over. She told them story after story of my mother. Kinley said, “Holding her hand was like finally getting to hold the hand of my grandmother.”
Corey and three others, at great risk to life and limb, climbed up to the old classroom above. The stairs were long gone. I started up the ladder, but at the top was a three foot wall, to keep people from climbing up, I guess. Well, I'm sixty eight years old, so I headed back down. But Cindy Turner Buford, whom I knew was at least eight years older than me, (maybe more, but who's counting) just upper middle aged by Wing standards, scrambled up and over that wall. When they were all about to come down, Corey came first, and I saw him standing under that ladder, panic in his eyes, already holding his arms out as if to catch someone. He told me, “There's a lady in her seventies about to come over that wall!” I didn't worry too much about that. Those normal age limitations don't always apply to Wing people.
I grew up with Cindy, just a tall ridge over. We often communicated with a loud holler, that went something like this: “Whoooo, Whoooo, Whoooo weeee ouhooooo! Of course, that was back at a time when I could still holler that loud. I well knew Cindy could have climbed that tallest mountain behind Wing again, if she set her mind to it. That hill up to her house was about as steep as any mountain around.
Anyway, in the old classroom, they found the name of my aunt, Leta Lazenby, who left Wing forever in 1930. It was on the chalkboard, still just like it had been written yesterday. It was just like it was when I saw it in 1950. That chalkboard was made, it appears, by painting or spraying something on those very wide, virgin pine boards. It also had a lot of newer names. Seems climbing up there has become a “rite of passage” for Wing children. Nephew Ken Gillum said, “It was just like stepping back in time.” The old classroom had not been used in at least eighty years, maybe much longer. Nobody living knows for sure.
Effie Turner, an icon of Wing, ran the store next door all during my child hood. She died in 1979, at one hundred years of age. During her lifetime she rode to Wing in an oxcart, and saw men walking on the moon. Her son, JR, passed away last year at one hundred two.
Elois Hunnicutt, just across the road and down the lane, ninety four, still grows a large garden. But she fell, out in that garden last year, and broke some bones. She managed to crawl to her back door, but could not get in. She had to lay out most of a day and a night. Remember, cell phones don't work well in Wing. But she's back now, as lively as ever. I know I'd have a hard time keeping up with her now, doing the kind of day's work she does.
My sister Jonnie taught Sunday school classes in Fourche Valley for many years. Once I visited her class. The best I remember, her youngest class member was in his ninety's. CONTINUED NEXT WEEKEND
Monday, December 15, 2014
Some time back I told you about the beautiful old church at Wing, Arkansas. It was built in 1880, totally from virgin pine. I told you all I knew, at the time. But then I got to wondering, How can it still be so solid, and so beautiful, after 133 years? Are there no termites in Wing? I did a little more research about that. Seems the answer was right there, under my nose, the whole time, right in the back of my brother Harold's mind. Harold is 82, does not get around much. He's told me a lot about Wing, in my research for my book, Spreading Wing. But Harold's a private person. Some of his revelations were followed by, “But you can't put that in a book!” Anyway, I stopped in to say hi a couple of days ago, and Harold told me he had come up with one more memory. Well, I was due in Russellville in a short time, but he said, “Sit down, and listen to this story!” I sat. And I listened.
Seems in the 1940s, Arthur Walden, reputed to be the best carpenter around, noticed the floor of the old church was infested with termites. He told the church, “I know of a certain type of oil that would handle that problem.” Well, the church and the community listened. But the church operated on pennies in those days. The pastor was paid in produce from the gardens, and chickens. That oil was expensive. It seemed the church building was doomed.
Right about there was where Buford Compton, the legendary sheriff of Yell County for sixteen years, and a resident of Wing, stepped in, Bought the oil, and put it on the floor. The termites just could not stomach that stuff. I remember my mother always told us, “If you're going to pray, don't kneel. Stand up.” That seemed strange to me at the time. But Apparently, she well knew what that black oil would do to our Sunday best. We stood. Actually, the most likely reason for me to be on the floor was that I was wrestling around with Sammy Charles Turner when I should have been sitting up and listening. I was two years younger, and I was usually the one on the bottom. But it sounds better when I put it in terms of how I was praying. During the winter, We usually only occupied a small area of that floor, right around that huge pot bellied wood stove.
Many years later, a new floor was put down, right on top of that black floor. Kneeling was not only allowed now, but encouraged. Seems that old church would never have made it to the sixty's, when the Turners took over and completely renovated it, without Arthur Walden and Buford Compton's black oil.
My good friend Skeet, (Short for Skeeter) decided to go to Wing recently, since I was always talking about it. But he came to me with a big handful of maps, said he had been going over all his maps with a magnifying glass, couldn't find it. I told him, “It's not on most maps anymore. Just go to Rover, turn west, drive two miles, only church on the right.” He still headed out grumbling, to Walmart, to get another map. Skeet just leaves nothing to chance.
If you want to go see Wing, just remember those directions. When you get into Yell County, you start to notice cars you meet will usually have a smiling face behind the wheel. And, they will wave at you. But about the time you leave Rover and head up the valley, put away your cell phones and your GPS. You are now entering a 45 mile dead zone. But I have found there is one place at Wing where you can get a signal. Go two miles south of Wing, wade out to the middle of the Fourche La Fave River, and it will work wonderfully. Though one is often unable to hear, this time of year, what with all the teeth chattering going on.
When you are arriving, You have to look closely for that tiny sign announcing Wing. Just remember, That old church is right in the geographical center of Wing. Just like it was the activity center of everything when I was a child.
Well, last fall, after three long years, I finished my book, Spreading Wing. I put it on Amazon, but Amazon seemed sorta hit or miss. One day right off, my friends and relatives, I guess, bought seven books, and I looked to see where I stood in the top 100. I was sitting right on number 69,000th. The next day I looked, nobody bought, and I was right around 230,000th. After another day of bad sales, I had dropped to around 400,000th. I decided I had to step in, Amazon needed some help. This was no way to sell a book. Nobody seemed to know me, or Spreading Wing, at Amazon, once we got past friends and relatives.
I had always wanted to have my Book Launching at Wing, in that old church of my childhood. I knew that was a big risk, since I had been gone from Wing 50 years. We cooked up six packages of salt pork and a ton of biscuits, since that was a staple at our house in the 1940's, when I was a child. I knew I was running the risk of having to eat salt pork and biscuit sandwiches for the next few months, and I had way more than my share of that as a child.
I went to the Yell County Record at Danville, expecting to spend an arm an a leg on advertising. Since my mother was the Wing correspondent for the Record in the 1950's, telling who all went to town and who visited who, I hoped for a discount. Well, David Fisher, the next generation of Fishers there, (his dad ran the Record when I was at Wing) said he would do two or three feature articles on my launching. For free. What!? “For free” had not existed in my world for fifty years. That seems to correspond with how long I've been gone from Yell County.
CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY Thanks for your time, and your attention
CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY Thanks for your time, and your attention
Monday, December 8, 2014
Forever A Hillbilly: The Point of no Tomorrow - Sport Dunnahoe: Sport protected his girls from the ugly things in life. But his only son, J.D., was right in the middle of everything with him. And, J.D...
Sport protected his girls from the ugly things in life. But his only son, J.D., was right in the middle of everything with him. And, J.D. carries his genes. He's a lot like him. Once, Sport had loaned Albert, his nephew, his shotgun to hunt with. He handed Sport his gun back just as a Game Warden pulled into the yard behind him. He started ragging Sport pretty good about loaning his gun to that kid. Sport had enough. “Did he hurt anybody with it? Did he damage anyone's property with it?” “No, but - “ “Then get in your truck and get off my property.” The shotgun, still in Sport's hands, added emphasis. He left. Barbara, as a little girl, witnessed this exchange, a rare event. She was scared they were just going to come and arrest the lot of them.
Sport would just not allow any man to take anything from him. Or push him. If you pushed Sport, there would only be a small number of possible outcomes. Sport would get hurt, you would get hurt, or he would stop you. And Sport always handled that option in such a way that it never happened again. The humiliation prevented that..That is best illustrated by this little example----
Once, a very cranky old neighbor had two large dogs. They were very bad at chasing and killing livestock. They struck Sport's livestock, and Sport went to visit the man. “That has to stop.” The old man said, “You mess with my dogs, and there will be some killing going on.”
A few days later, they struck again. Sport had J.D. bring the gun. Sport gave the word as the dog ran by, chasing a calf. J.D., a dead shot like his father, took him out. Soon the other was dead too. Sport loaded them up, and they went to visit the neighbor. Sport threw both the dogs up on the porch, and pounded on the porch with his shotgun. When the old man emerged, saying, “What's going on here?” Sport said, “You told me, if I messed with your dogs, there would be some killin'. I'm here to start it.” Well, the old man wilted. “Now, don't you worry none about those dogs!” They left. J.D. was puzzled. “Why did we not just take the dogs down and throw them in the Bayou? He would never have found them.” Sport answered, “ If we had done that, that old man would have been bad mouthing us all over the country. This way, there will never be another word said about it.” And there wasn't.
One of Sport's cows wandered off into a neighbor's pasture. He sent J.D., a young boy, to get it. The neighbor man told J.D., “It's in my pasture now. It's mine.” When J.D. told Sport, Sport said, “Let's go get it.” Sport started up toward the man's house. J.D. said, “We could cut the fence in the back and get it out.” Sport shook his head. “I'll get it.”. He walked up by his front door, into the pasture, got behind it, and drove it through the man's front yard. Nothing was ever said.
The road grader man started making his turn through Sport's bean field, taking out more and more of Sport's beans. Sport stopped the man, told him to stop doing that. Well, before long, he did it again. Sport ran him off, this time with a shotgun. A short while later, the County Judge found the road grader man a new place to turn around.
A rich, big landowner bought up some land next to Sport. Told Sport, “The old survey is wrong. You'll have to move your fence back 50 feet.” Sport replied, “That fence has been there since 1927.
It stays there.”
Well, a while later a couple of surveyors showed up, started setting up their equipment. Sport and J.D. walked down. Sport: “Nothing is going to be changed down here..” The surveyor started explaining, “We're doing the job we were hired to do, check these old lines.” Sport said, “I've got a shotgun here that says you're not going to survey anything here.” The younger man wanted to get bad, but JD stopped him. “You just really don't understand the situation. If that old man says you don't, you don't. For your own sake, you best go home.” The older man toned the younger one down, and they went home. They never came back.
The girls, for the most part, never knew about any of this. Their sweet Daddy could just never have said any of those words. And that fits right in with my daughter Kinley's memories of sitting in his lap, putting rollers in his hair, and painting his fingernails. But in the “wild west” of the early Delta country, a man had to stand his ground or just move. Sport never moved. I fully believe all of this for two very good reasons. First, J.D. is just like him. Second, I've seen those strong genes of Sport's in every one of those girls, cropping up from time to time. They call it “Dunnahoe Nerve.” They are all very strong women, always ready to stand up to whatever life throws at them. All us in-laws were very fortunate to find a member of this family to scoop up and marry. Sport just had that unique ability to be a fun loving, lovable person, always loved dearly by all those around him. But he had rather die than allow himself to be pushed. If Sport Dunnahoe had been my father, I could never have loved or respected him more. When I fished with Sport's grandsons, and great grandsons, I came to realize, some of them only know Sport Dunnahoe by his name. I hope, in writing this, they will come to realize what a great man he was. On my “Great men I have known” list, Sport Dunnahoe stands right up there with the best of em'. An ancestor to be proud of.
Later in life, Sport was diagnosed with dementia, but he never lost his sense of humor. A doctor was interviewing him in his office to determine the extent. “Mr. Dunnahoe, what is today's date?” “Thursday, August 4.” Very good, Mr. Dunnahoe. How did you do that so easily?” With a little grin on his lips, Sport replied. “Its on the calendar, right behind you.” Another time, he was in another doctor's office with a daughter. The doctor came in. She immediately started giving instructions to the daughter, ignoring him. She was saying, “Take one tablet, four times a day, and-” Sport was pulling on the daughter's sleeve, with that little grin.. “What is it, Mr. Dunnahoe?” “Well, that just looks like it would be sorta hard – taking the same pill, 4 times a day.” “Point well taken, Mr. Dunnahoe. The next time I will talk to YOU about your medicine.” Barbara was taking Sport home from the Hospital. At the door, she instructed, “Stay right here while I go get the car. Don't move.” Sport was getting around pretty slow by now, and said, “I could start right now and not get outta' sight by the time you get back.”
Sport left us all with a vast array of “Sport-isms.”. My favorite is, “Being right won't help yore' old haid' none.”
After Verla Mae died, Sport just couldn't go on without her. He gently explained to all his girls, “I just can't live without her.” Just a few months later, Phyllis found him dead in his bed one morning. The paramedics said it must have been a heart attack, there was a blue spot on his chest. But we all knew. A broken heart is just one kind of heart attack. Verla Mae's death had pushed Sport to the point of no tomorrow.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Forever A Hillbilly: The Point of no Tomorrow - Part one: During our early married years at Fayetteville, and later, we spent a lot of time at Watson. Mostly, we just loved to be there, but ...
During our early married years at Fayetteville, and later, we spent a lot of time at Watson. Mostly, we just loved to be there, but also, Verla Mae, Barbara's mother, just had some mysterious hold on her large family. She seldom spoke, but when she did, they listened. Right up until the day she died. When she called our house, if I answered, all I ever heard was “Barbara there?” Then when she got Barbara on, she said her say, a few words, then just disappeared from the air waves. Never “bye” or “so long.” just disappeared. If one of the things she said in that phone call was, “Ya”ll coming for Thanksgiving?” we went. We all did. She always prepared about twice as much food as we needed, and we ate it. By the time that food had just began the digestive process properly, she was at the living room door. “Supper.” Then she was off to somewhere to eat hers alone.
Us prospective and actual in-laws never really knew where we stood with Verla Mae. She just never talked to us much. The only hint of where I stood with her occurred one day when the jock (Barbara's college boyfriend) came home with Barbara to meet the family. (His idea, Barbara says.) She got Barbara alone, said, “Where's Pat?” A short time later, I was back in the fold, he was out. I've always had a warm place in my heart for Verla Mae about that.
I have never seen a large family so close. They pretty well all wound up living close together, but if some of us did venture off for a time to another state, Sport and Verla May just got in that old truck and came to us, regularly. Verla Mae worked very hard, and she was always very fast. If she was chopping cotton, and Sport dared to suggest she slow down a little, as she was chopping too many cotton plants, She didn't say a thing. Just threw the hoe down, went to the house. Sport seldom did that, by the time I came around. Throughout our married life, as we worked together, if Barbara or I got a little too bossy, we had only to say, “I'm gonna throw my hoe down.”
If one of her children wanted/needed some new clothes, shoes, etc. badly, they never discussed it. Verla Mae just found a way to make it happen, it just showed up on their bed one day. There was never any family discussion about whether they could afford it or not, it just showed up. Never a word said later. But they always got by, money wise. Verla Mae just saw to that. Sometimes, after the girls got older, Verla Mae would buy them new shoes and she would wear their old ones. She made sure her children and grandchildren never missed celebrating a holiday. One rainy easter, she hid a dishpan full of easter eggs in the house. Took hours to find them all. She was a firecracker fanatic. I think she liked them more than the kids did.
Verla Mae loved to drive around, find an old house place, dig up some plants to put in her yard. When she got behind the wheel, she started humming church songs, then got to tapping her gas pedal foot to the beat of the music. That could be a hard ride. Phyllis said, they bobbed their heads long before head bobbing became the thing to do.
Verla Mae instilled an extremely strong sense of right and wrong in her children, similar to the old Gillum “ Do Right Mechanism” I have already talked about. But somehow, she just brought it about, with no screaming at them, no constant reminding, no watching them with eagle eyes. However, they did get THE LOOK if they messed up. She expected it, therefore they did it. Maybe a “Stop messin' and gommin'” thrown in occasionally. Just generally speaking, some sort of magic.
A little word about THE LOOK. Barbara inherited THE LOOK. During the years Barbara was substitute teaching, she was always the first sub called to handle a difficult situation. Even in boy's PE, shop, whatever. They quickly learned, that soft spoken young lady could just put a rowdy kid on the floor with THE LOOK. Kinley was always especially vulnerable to it, and would do anything she could to avoid it. Oh, all right! I'll admit it. I was, and am, vulnerable to it too. I have changed more than one segment in my blog, when Barbara, while proofreading, gave me THE LOOK.
CONTINUED IN ONE WEEK
CONTINUED IN ONE WEEK