Sunday, August 28, 2016

Truck patchin’ By Larry mountainborn Harmon The last thing that I had heard as I went out the door to make the long walk to the school bus stop was, “ come straight on to the house when you get off of the bus this afternoon, don’t be dilly dallying around about getting home !” The screen door slamming probably drowned out my “yes mam’ “, as I crossed the creaky old wooden porch and front steps. I didn’t know it yet, but it was a set up. Although it was a Friday late in the summer, all Friday’s were not created equal, a taking produce to town on Saturday required a little extra effort from everyone and we were already beginning to get signs of the changing of the seasons to come. The previous Sunday afternoon while walking with Grand ma Crowell to cut short sweetgum twigs that she would fray on one end to dip her Garrett sweet snuff, she had commented, “sap’s already a’ goin’ down and the switches are getting brittle”. She would test each one that I cut for her with my Barlow pocket knife by biting one end to expose the fibers and then fray it until it looked a bit like an artist’s paint brush. That was the end that she would moisten and put in the snuff bottle, then place it between the cheek and gum. The twigs were about six inches long and about one eighth of an inch round. The twig would stick out of the corner of her mouth much like some folks do a toothpick now a days. Some days she would be sitting in her old wooden rocking chair on the front porch, which would be on the cool side of the house, rocking and looking down the road for me walking home from the bus stop. Great Grandma Crowell and Grandpa Andy were the only tobacco users in the household, Dad hadn’t made it home from the Navy yet. Grand pa’s tobacco preference was fine cut Copenhagen in the round can. Dad smoked cigarettes, he preferred the old green label Lucky Strikes. Ole Scoop wasn’t at his usual place where he would meet me as I walked home from the school bus. He was running a little late. As Scoop met me near the front porch and the screen door slammed behind us, the house was totally silent. Sometimes I would hear, “Butchie ! Don’t you be a’ slammin’ that screen door so ! Since we now had electric lights in every room, I carried my books to the kitchen and dropped them on the table. No one there and the old brown cast iron cook stove was just barely warm. Thinking they might be out in the garden I went out on the kitchen porch to look. That was when I found it. Then I knew. There it was. A message for me. Just as plain as if it had been a written note. I had inherited Grandma Crowell’s garden hoe and it was leaned up against the cook stove kindling box with my straw hat hanging on it. Everyone was down in the river bottom at the truck patch and as soon as I changed clothes, split stove wood and kindling I was to go down to the bottom to help hoe out the garden. I should have noticed that Great Grandma’s rocking chair was missing from the front porch. Yep, it had been a set up alright ! The day before going to town with a load of produce from the truck patch on a Saturday, we would have an all hands effort where we got it ready for the trip to town. Grandma Crowell would be with the team and wagon under a shade tree over by rock creek, sorting and culling produce and rocking in her rocker when it was slow. One of my jobs was to load the crates of produce into the wagon. Sometimes I had trouble getting it just right to suit her, because she wanted to make sure it made the trip to town in the wagon in good shape. The prettiest went to town to sell, anything with a blemish we would can and put up in the root cellar to be used in the winter. Now about Grand ma Crowell’s hoe, it was short and light. The head had been sharpened by filing so many times over the years that it wasn’t very wide and Grandpa Andy had taken a broken hoe handle, scrapped it down with a piece of glass until it was smooth and light. I think that the Idea was that I would use a hoe that I was less likely to chop a toe off with. Since I was shuttling back and forth between the garden out in the hot sun and the wagon in the shade, there was plenty of opportunity’s to get a cool drink from the large water jug that was wrapped with layers of tow sack material and wet down from time to time so that the water inside would be cooled from the evaporation. There was a hay stack somewhat in between the team and wagon and the truck patch. So with that in mind I could make a bit of a hole in the hay stack where it would be a little cooler than under the shade tree. It was a dangerous thing to dig into the hay stack for it could slide down and bury anyone in the cool hole. Possibly smothering them. I had been warned, but still, was reckless about it. One time I dozed off and was awakened by Grandpa hunting for me and calling “Butch” ! I got my britches dusted off over that alright ! It took me awhile to figure out why it was called a truck patch when we didn’t have a truck. Though some others had farm trucks, we were still using horses and wagons. Our hay was cut with a sickle bar horse drawn mower and the hay was drug by a horse drawn hay rake to the fodder stack where it was thrown by the pitchfork full up onto the hay pole. The hay pole was a tall cedar tree that was planted in the ground and rose around twenty feet. It formed the center of the hay stack and kept it in place. The shape of the pile caused it to shed rain and the hay was pretty well preserved that way. The cattle were up near the house in a different pasture and when we harvested the last of the garden, canning most of it, the cattle were moved down to the river bottom and turned in on the truck patch. It just gave the cattle a little something extra to start into the winter with. Grandma’s “kitchen garden” was up near the house where it was handy. I would often be sent out to that garden to get a couple of this or a couple of that as it was needed when she was preparing something in the kitchen. On the Fridays where we worked the truck patch we would get back to the house with just enough light left in the day to take a quick bath in the creek and settle down in the living room to listen to the Grand Old Opry on the old battery powered radio. That radio was one of the last things to be replaced with one that operated on electricity. Before going to the creek for my bath I would rinse out the large cast iron wash pot out in the laundry area and put a couple of buckets of water in it before starting a small fire under it to warm water for those that bathed in a wash tub in the yard behind the house. Grandpa Andy would unhook the team in the yard under a tree in case it came a storm, then walk the team back up the hill to the barn for the night. Grandma would go with him carrying a milking bucket and while he unharnessed, fed and brushed down the team, she would be milking the old Jersey cow. Drawing fresh well water for the kitchen was the last thing before heading down the hill to the branch with a towel and a bar of soap. Busy times, yes, busy times indeed.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

DOWN ON THE FARM in POLK COUNTY ARKANSAS By Larry Mountainborn Harmon Times were hard in America when the J.I. Case Tractor Company in Racine Wisconsin closed it’s doors, laying Grand Pa off. Grand Ma and Grand Pa knew that as bad as things were they were only going to get worse before the economy turned around, and who knew how long that would take. They chopped the back end off of their ageing Pierce Arrow automobile with an axe, added a saw mill slab flatbed to the bare frame, loaded everything that they owned, and headed back home to Arkansas. They knew that they could “hunker down” and scratch out a living by farming until things got better. Grand Ma’s Sister and her husband, Beulah and Henry Reynolds, were in the same fix, and did the same. Helping each other out, moving slowly over a primitive Midwestern American road system, sleeping nights in their cars, they headed back home where they would stay. One morning just about daylight they were awakened by someone loudly calling, “ham and eggs, ham and eggs !” It was dark when they stopped for the night and unbeknownst to them, they had parked by an asylum. The closer that they got to home the more primitive and crooked the Ouachita Mountain roads became. The search for a place to live brought up lots of possibilities, most of which they couldn’t afford. When they did find the right place, it was a match made in Heaven ! They traded the cut down Pierce Arrow car/truck and fifty dollars for eighty acres with a frame house and a large barn. The previous owner had a promise of a good job in California and he needed the automobile to move out there in and the cash to provide travel funds. A few details about the livestock and some implements were finished up by mail over the following months. The Old House wasn’t much but it was big enough, though it was only an uninsulated single board thickness wall house, it had the inside lined with Newspaper, cardboard and flour paste glue that had been wall papered over. The barn on the other hand was wonderfully built ! As was the style during the era., and, as was the house. The barn was large with a gigantic hay loft and large stalls down each side of a lower level breezeway. A spring fed year around branch ran in front of the house, joining Rock Creek before it ran into the Mountain Fork of the Red River. The junction of Rock Creek and Mountain Fork made the South West corner of the Eighty acres. There was a hand dug well in the front yard and a long covered front porch ran across the front. One year we got a new couch and the old one went out on that porch, Ole Scoop the Rat Terrier, immediately claimed it for his own, and it had to get pretty bad in the winter, to make him want to come in the house. Grand Ma kept wanting it hauled off but I kept begging for it to stay for Scoop. I put a blanket out there and on a rainy day me and old Scoop could really get in a proper Nap ! A hand dug root cellar was out back with a smoke house a few feet away. A large garden spot was to the south of the house and it could be seen from the back kitchen door. The road that came to the house almost ended there, but actually turned into a dim track, that crossed Rock Creek and came out near the present day Boy Scout Camp Pioneer. Dad was in the Navy and when we came back from Hawaii we traveled by train from Long Beach California to Mena, Arkansas, where we were met by Gran ma and Gran Pa in a borrowed rusty International flatbed truck. Soon, I was enrolled in school at the two room Potter School. There was no cafeteria or lunch room. Every one brought their lunch, usually in a syrup bucket or a lard bucket. That is the way syrup and lard was packaged for sale back then. They had a tight metal lid that snapped on to keep insects and so forth out. At lunch time we would grab our lunch bucket’s and sit in the shade of a large red oak tree in the school yard. We had an hour for lunch and it didn’t take long before a baseball game broke out. If no one had a ball we would make one out of tightly tied rags. As a special treat, I would sometimes be given a quarter and would walk up to the dirt road intersection where old school mates of Mom’s, Marcus and Lora, had a general store. Lora would hand slice the lunch meat of my choice, make a thick sandwich from hand sliced bread with a soda pop of my choice and candy bar or banana. There was a dime in change given back to me. Dad was still in the Navy, but processing out, as were tens of thousands of other GI’s. When he finally arrived home after getting out of the Navy, it was by the Kansas City Southern railroad. He tried farming for a while but after the stress of war, the farm life was hard to take for him. America was recovering and big paying jobs were out there. As a certified welder he soon left on a pipeline job. I wanted to stay home so I settled in for the long run and it was just great. Times was still hard in the Ouachita Mountains though things were getting better. We watched excitedly as the Rural Electric Association brought electric lines closer and closer, then one day the power lines came to our house ! A whole new world opened up for us. For months when we had visited neighbors or even at the Potter School, we enjoyed electric lights and we could hardly wait. Yet we were so far out it seemed to take forever. It was several days before a guy from the County seat could come and put a single light bulb in each room with a string hanging down in the center to turn it on with. It would be weeks before we even thought about other things that electricity could do besides provide light. In the early days the power went off fairly often. We clung on to our tried and true coal oil lamps, it was nearly a year before we got our first large, noisy refrigerator. Grand Ma wouldn’t have it in her kitchen. She had it put out on the porch beside the ice box. Then it sat there for almost a week before the electrician could come out and put our first plug in up on the wall above the refrigerator. Any time the weather got bad, Grand Ma pulled the refrigerator’s cord from the wall, she was afraid that it might burn the house down. We never did add any more lights to the house and never added another plug in, that one was enough. In the evenings we would talk about an electric well pump, but that would mean plumbing and it never did happen. I kept on drawing water from the well with a bucket by hand. As more and more folks left the county to follow higher paying jobs, help around the farm became more and more scarce and it was harder for Grand Pa to do everything with just me to help in evenings and on weekends. As was the practice every member of a neighboring household would arrive at the house about daylight with teams, hay rakes or other implements to trade out labor as needed. Then on another day we would go to their farm to work a day. Grand Pa’s old war injury’s and age made it harder and harder to hold up our end of the deal. His injury’s from the world war kept coming back to plague him and there were several stays in the VA hospital. One day while in the County seat at the Court House someone made an offer on the farm. Our days on the farm were coming to a close.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

SATURDAY’S in POLK COUNTY ARKANSAS By Larry Mountainborn Harmon Friday afternoons after school could be very busy, or at least it seemed so to me. They went like this. Get off of the school bus at the end of the road that ran out to our farm. It was a mile and a quarter and I could get in trouble for dallying along the way. I was bad about getting distracted by the cool things such as squirrels, terrapins, rabbits, etc. . Then, ole scoop the family Rat Terrier and my buddy, would meet me along the way somewhere. It was pretty often that I heard, “you better get on around, you have kindling to split and a bath to take”. On Fridays I had to make sure that there was enough kindling and cook stove wood in the box on the back porch to last a couple of days because Saturday was town day. Drawing well water and filling up the hot water reservoir on the old brown and cream colored cast iron stove in the kitchen and filling the sink side buckets, as well as the drinking bucket with the enamel dipper was part of Friday’s chore list. But the water drawing didn’t end with the kitchen. I had to draw bath water for that old galvanized washtub that hung on the back porch. In warmer weather, I could skip drawing the bath water and slip off down to the branch in front of the house with a bar of soap and a towel. As the weather cooled and when I finally stretched that branch bath as long as I could stand it, I had to draw well water to bathe in. By the time I came back up the hill from the branch it would be getting dark enough that I needed to watch my step while keeping an eye out for snakes. The coal oil lamps in the living room were coming on by then. And I could always tell when Grandma lit great grandma’s lamp it had a tall glass globe/chimney and it was much brighter. Scoop would be “muting” around by the branch, but he could always beat me to the house, noisily crossing the front porch and tapping the front door screen. By then everyone was beginning to gather in the living room and when I came through the door I often heard, “your Saturday clothes are laid out on your bed, don’t get them dirty”. The old wooden battery radio cabinet was the focus of attention on a Friday evening, because the Grand Old Opry was on then. Radio station WSM was located at 650 on the dial. However Grand pa had made a small pencil mark near the number to fine tune the AM frequency. While the Old tube type radio was warming up, Grand pa would fill up the living room wood stove, if it was cold weather. If not he would fill his pipe with tobacco, carefully tamping it down and lighting it as we listened to see if the reception would be good on that night. Warm weather meant less of a chance of good reception. All too soon it was time to turn in for the night. Usually the last thing I would hear before dropping off to sleep would Grand pa putting wood in the living room stove and Grand Ma walking back to the kitchen with a coal oil lamp to shake down the ashes in the cook stove fire box and add wood before dampening it down for the night. Even though four thirty came early, I seldom heard the alarm clock go off, especially on a Saturday morning. In the predawn cool of Summer time I could hear the gentle creak of the boards in the floor of the house as Grand pa tended the living room stove and Grand ma went to the kitchen. The creak of cast iron stove doors seemed to be my signal to get up and get going. In warm weather the living room stove didn’t need wood so Grand pa would draw an extra bucket of water for the kitchen. Grand Ma always did the dishes before leaving out for town. One of my favorite sounds in the morning was hearing that large old wooden bowl put on the counter and the biscuit dough being kneaded by Grand ma. It had a certain rhythm and smell as the buttermilk was poured in. By the time the biscuits were put in the oven I was already getting instructions about what to fetch to the table, stove or sink counter to help out. The old wooden ice box was outside on the back porch to one side of the kitchen door by the wood and kindling box. At some point while the biscuits are beginning to brown and the gravy is beginning to thicken, I would get the word to shake down the ashes in the cook stove and add wood to the fire box. During one of my fetching runs out to the icebox I would hear the harness jingle as Grand pa brought the team of Percheron draft horses down the hill from the barn and hooked them up to the wagon. The old blue speckled coffee pot had been slid back off of the stove eye and was slowly percolating as I waited for Grand pa to come out of the dark, stomping his feet on the porch steps before coming into the kitchen. Always grand ma said “pour PaPa a cup of coffee and come to the table”. When we had Black strap molasses it was a tough decision about which to pour over smoking hot, well buttered cat head biscuits. By the time “town Saturday” came around we were out of, or nearly out of ice in the ice box, so one of the things that we had to make sure was in the wagon, for the trip to town, was an old heavy quilt, several clean tow sacks and a tarp to put over the fifty pound block of ice that we would bring back. Soon Grand ma was mentally going down a check list of things to be sure we had, such as an umbrella and a collapsing drinking cup in every ones pocket so we could get a drink from the spring in Janssen Park. I always had mine in my pocket because I would often slip away and be roaming the town at large and if I came back to the wagon, I ran the risk of being collared and taken in hand to stay with the adults. Lots of folks brought extra produce to town and we also did. Packing flats of eggs so they wouldn’t break and produce so it would not get bruised. Most mornings the sun would be coming up as we listened to the wagon brake squeal on the metal rims of the wood spoke wheels, holding the wagon back while going down the Rock creek hill. When we got to town we would make the rounds of the stores where Grand ma traded, dropping off eggs and produce as needed, before tying up the team and wagon by the bear pen in Jansen Park. Many that brought wagons and teams to town wouldn’t park near the bear pen because the bear would spook them. Training the team about the bears smell and sounds meant that in the summer’s heat of the day, the wagon and team would be in the shade.