I was five in February 1946 and beginning my sixth year. Momma turned 26 that month and Jeanne was four the next month. Grandma was 47 in May and Grandpa was 54 on his birthday in August.
We spent three years with Grandpa and Grandma - from the summer of 1944 through the summer of 1947. In some ways it was an idyllic time for Jeanne and me, but I'm sure it was difficult for Momma. In those days, a young widow with children was in a difficult position. Momma was living with her parents way out in the country with few contacts with young adults her age. She had had just a taste of what college life and life in the big city was like and probably was hoping to be back on her own again. She did have a car, but the roads were bad and tires and gasoline were still scarce.
She soon got a job as a substitute teacher in the first grade at Wonderview, probably as much to have someone to socialize with as to earn a little extra money. I don't know whether she taught any during 1945 or not, but I think she taught all of the '46-'47 school year and she may have taught some in the spring session of 1946.
The school was about a mile through the woods and across the fields from Grandpa's house. In a couple of places styles had been built to provide a way over or through a fence. Momma probably followed the little foot path across the corn field north of the house to the old, abandoned road that went west to Aunt Dove's house, which was the house where her Grandpa Maxwell had settled in back before the turn of the century. It was a path she had followed many times as a child. A slightly better dirt road ran from the old Maxwell home place to the school. George Wayne and James Luther were still in school so they may have walked to school with her from there. Hattie Pearl may also have been at home, but she soon moved to town and got married. I'm sure that Momma must have taken the car on some days, but I know that I walked with her to school at least once.
Grandma and Grandpa took care of Jeanne and me while Momma was at school. They were very good to us but wanted us to obey. I once ran away from Grandpa when he tried to scold or punish me for something and, because I was so small, fast, and agile, he couldn't catch me. However, I had to go back inside eventually and Grandma really gave me a scolding. She said I must never run from Grandpa again and I didn't.
Although Grandpa and Grandma’s house was a nice enough place, it had no electrical power or indoor plumbing. They used kerosene lamps for indoor lighting and kerosene lanterns outdoors. They also had kerosene Aladdin’s Lamps that are still sold today. Aladdin’s lamps had a type of ceramic mesh mantle that was heated by the kerosene flame and produced a brighter, whiter light than the regular kerosene lamp.
They had some miniature decorative kerosene lamps that they let Jeanne and me play with. We would take the chimneys off and turn the wicks up to make them smoke and pretend that they were the smoke stacks of steam ships. We would drag them around the floor on sections of the newspaper. We were also allowed to amuse ourselves by poking rolled up newspapers into the wood stove to watch them burn.
Grandpa had a little patch of asparagus just inside the garden gate. We had fresh asparagus once a year. I loved it and would ask for it even though I didn’t know its name or how to describe it. We seemed to eat a lot of ham, bacon, and sausage. I think fried chicken was more rare back then because the best chickens to fry are young small ones (fryers). They wanted the chickens to produce eggs, so when they wanted a chicken to eat, they would kill one of the older ones. The older ones usually had to be boiled because they were tough and they made “chicken and dumplings” or “chicken and dressing” with them There was very little beef. In fact it was a big event to go to a grill in Morrilton and eat a hamburger. They canned all sorts of vegetables but not meat. Of course there were fresh vegetables in season.
When Grandpa butchered a hog, he cured the hams, shoulders, and bacon with a commercial mixture of salt, sugar, and spices that he called “sugar cure.” He would pack the meat in the mixture in wooden boxes in the little shed he called a ‘smoke house.’ After the meat had been in the mixture long enough, he took the meat out and hung in in the smoke house to air dry. I have never found ham as good as the ham he cured and Grandma fried on the wood cook stove.
When Grandma made pie crust, she would use the extra dough to roll out and cut into strips to bake as treats for us. She would also whip extra egg-white pie meringue for us to eat raw. It was much better that way than after it was baked on a pie. Grandpa had some fruit trees and he would cut ripe apples across the middle so that there was a ring of apple between the core and the peel and he would scrapped apple out with a table knife and feed it to us. We were like little birds stretching to be fed. He could scrap out the apple until all that was left was the cup-shaped peeling with the core in the middle.
I remember going to Sunday School at Lanty Methodist Church. Grandpa was the treasurer and we still have his record book from that time. The church couldn't support a full-time pastor so they were on a circuit with other churches in neighboring communities. He would be there to preach on one Sunday a month. On the other Sundays the church met for singing and "Sunday School." I remember Virgil Merrick, who led the singing. He sometimes missed a word and he usually held his hymnbook down around his knee. I'm not sure he could even see the words; he may have been holding the book father away to be able to see it better. He probably knew all the songs by heart, but he still missed some of the words. An old white-haired lady, Miss Alty, taught us little children. She had a son with Down's syndrome. They lived on the road to Lanty about a quarter mile east of Grandpa's.
Grandpa sometimes took the team and wagon. A time or two we walked. It was about a mile. There were no culverts or bridges on the little road back then, but the streams were small unless there had been a big rain. The road crosses the upper end of Prairie Creek and there was a steep bank on the east climb into a sharp turn. It was a little difficult for cars and couldn’t be crossed after a big rain. This photo shows the low-water crossing on the road just east of the Lone Grove church.
The Methodist Church eventually sold the property and building to a local group for a community center and the building was restored with the help of local fund raising efforts and matching grants from the state. We meet there once a year for a "Decoration Day" program.
One of the few modern devices on the place was a large battery powered radio with the antenna strung up along the roof line. I listened to a lot of radio over the years and still remember nostalgically the old clear channel radio stations we could pick up at night - WOAI in San Antonio, WWL New Orleans, Loyola University of the South, and a station in Chicago that I can't remember. We could hear stations from Little Rock as the years went by, but there was no station in the county for many years. When KVOM started broadcasting in Morrilton, I think its license allowed it to broadcast only during daylight hours. FM radio broadcast didn't start in that area for another ten years or so.
The well at Grandpa’s house had iron oxide (rust) in it. The rust would stain clothes and Grandma sometimes collected rain water from the rook for washing clothes and her hair. I remember going to a branch (small stream of water) in the woods to wash clothes. Momma put the big iron wash pot in the trunk of the old Nash and loaded the dirty clothes, rub board, “jobbing” stick ( to job or jab the clothes with) and lye soap and off we went down the little trail that led through the woods. They filled the wash pot with water from a deep place in the stream and built a fire around up using wood they gathered. When the water started boiling, they chipped up pieces of lye soap into the water and then put the clothes. The stirred and ‘job’ the clothes with the stick. It was like the stick handle of a butter churn dasher. They also used the rub board, but I don’t remember much more about the procedure. I probably had lost interest and was poking around other things in the woods. I don’t remember how they rinsed the clothes for example.
Uncle Irving and Aunt Nila bought us a subscription to the Donald Duck funny book while we lived with Grandpa and Grandma. I was fascinated at the artwork and asked who had made it. They misunderstood my question and told me that Uncle Irving did. For awhile he thought that he had illustrated the magazine.
Grandpa probably killed one pig each year. I don’t know how many times I was around for the process but it was surely a couple of times or more. I remember once when he was going to kill the pig with a pistol. The pig was in a temporary pen down the little lane northeast of the barn. When he went in, he left the gate open because he planned on the pig been dead when it came out. However, he didn’t shot in in the right place and it ran away. I don’t remember how he finally caught and killed it.
Many people are still familiar with the process of butchering animals for food, but many who read this will not be. You may want to skip to the next heading. To hang the pig for bleeding, they hooked the hooks of a single-tree through the Achilles tendons and pulled it up to a tree limb with a rope and pulley. Grandpa may have used the block-and-tackle set that I still have. They then cut the pig’s throat and let it bleed. Grandpa had a little sled that he had made for pulling loads around the place and that’s how he hauled the pig from the edge of the woods where he killed and bled it, up to the side of the house where the butchering was done.
The first job was scrapping the hair off. They had buried a 50-gallon drum in the ground at an angle and filled it with boiling water that had been boiled in an iron pot over a wood fire. They lowered the pig into the water using the single-tree and rope and pulley. They wanted it hot enough to loosen the hair, but not so hot it cooked the skin. Then they pulled it out and scrapped the hair off with dull knives. They would dip the pig back into the water when necessary.
After it was scrapped clean of hair, it was hung back up to a try and the genital/rectal area was carefully cut loose from the crotch and tied with nylon hose to keep the contents from leaking as the insides were removed. Then the pig was split open and all the insides were caught in a wash tub.
Either they didn’t use much of the internal organs or I just wasn’t aware of it. They probably scrapped the fat off the intestines to use for lye-soap, but they didn’t make chitlins or cracklings. Grandpa did like fresh brains scrambled with eggs and he also had Grandma cook the tail for him to eat. They may have boiled the head to get bits of meat for making minced meat.
I suspect that they had fresh pork chops after butchering hogs, but everything else was either “sugar cured” or made into sausage. I often had to help turn the grinder to grind the meat and I remember that they mixed the spices in by hand, but I don’t remember how it was stored and cured after that. I know they didn’t put it into casings of any kind. It’s hard to find sausage like that any more.
I remember helping grandma make lye soap in those years. She boiled the fat in a big black wash pot with water and lye, either commercial or homemade by running rain water through an ash barrel and collect what came out. The fat and lye eventually formed a thick crust on top of the liquid and this was either allowed to cool in place or was skimmed off and put into pans. Then it was cut into convenient sized pieces.
Sometime during that time Momma had been re-introduced to Lyonell Halbrook. Lyonell and Momma were acquainted anyway from the time they were five year-old children and her father taught school in Cleveland. Lyonell had just returned from the war and had been in the Philippines when my Dad was there, but I don’t think they had met each other. He had just been back from the war for a short time and was living with his parents and two younger sisters in Cleveland. I don’t know how much she knew about Lyonell, but he was well aware that her parents had sent her to high school in the county seat instead of Wonderview. His baby sister, Hettie Mae, must have still been in school at Wonderview when Momma was teaching there.
Momma hadn’t gone to Wonderview for high school. It was a new school and her father had helped in the consolidation plan, but he wanted her to go to the big high school in Morrilton, the county seat. So Momma lived with Uncle Noah and his family to be in the Morrilton school district. Lyonell thought that was kind of snooty. Uncle Noah had a daughter just one year older than Momma.
Lyonell’s other younger sister, Reva Dale, was 21 years old and she and her boyfriend and Lyonell would come to Grandpa’s to visit Momma. Grandpa and Grandma would take Jeanne and me into the kitchen, where the kitchen stove keep us warm, and let the young adults have time to themselves. Jeanne and I would be sent in from time to time to get acquainted with Lyonell. He would enjoy telling about the time that Jeanne climbed into his lap and asked, “Are you going to be our Daddy?” He would tease Momma by claiming that she and Grandma encouraged Jeanne to say that!
I don’t remember any of this from that time, but from hearing about it over the years. All of them are dead now except Aunt Reva Dale, Aunt Hettie Mae, Jeanne, and me.
Originally Posted 1/28/01
Revised 1/15/05 w/counter at 322