By the time of my sixth birthday on February 11, 1947, my mother was teaching the first grade at Wonderview Consolidated School. I assume she was a substitute teacher and she had probably been teaching for the full term. She may have taught some the previous year as well. She had completed at least one year at the University of Central Arkansas (Arkansas State Teachers’ College then and prior to that, Arkansas State Normal School) and that was enough to qualify her as a substitute. It probably didn’t hurt that her father had been on the school board 10 years earlier when the school was formed.
She was 27 years old and had a car, but sometimes she walked the mile to school along the old road past her grandparents old place where her Aunt Dove now lived with her two younger children. The graded road was of very poor quality and there was always the danger of getting stuck when it was wet. The worst location was about ¾ of the way from the house to the intersection with what is now the paved Wonderview Road. Wonderview Road was very rough and rocky back then but was passable except in very wet weather. There was a place near the school that got pretty muddy in wet weather and it was easy to get stuck there.
Because of my February birth date, I had been to young to start school in the 1946 Fall Term, but Momma took me with her a few times. I don’t remember anything about her class, but I remember that some of the older boys told me that, if a hair from a horses’ tail was put in the rainwater barrel, it would turn into a snake. I was very skeptical of things people told me even then and I still doubt most claims until I’m shown some proof.
Luther Alonzo Maxwell and Eugenia Frances Houston Maxwell in the mid-40s
The rest of the time Grandma and Grandpa Maxwell took care of Jeanne and me while Momma was at school. They were 54 and 48 respectively. That must have been about the time I ran away from Grandpa when he tried to punish me for something. Because I was so small and quick, I could stay out of his grasp. I don’t remember whether he caught me or whether we both just gave out, but I don’t remember that Grandma gave me a severe scolding warning me that I should never run from Grandpa again. Grandma had long gray hair that she usually kept up in a bun. Often at night she would sit at the dresser in the northeast bedroom and brush her long hair out like a pony tail. Both Grandpa and Grandma were lean and sinewy from their years of subsistence farming after Grandpa stopped teaching school because of his loss of hearing.
My mother planned a class picnic for the end of school and let me go along. She led her class of about 8 or 10 back along the old road toward her grandparents’ old house and then down the even older road that went down the north side of the mountain at a long sloping angle. There was a big meadow at the foot of the mountain. As we neared the bottom, Momma cut through the woods to go directly down hill to the meadow. I stubbornly continued down the old road until it reached the bottom of the hill and then had a long walk back to the picnic area she had selected. She just let me go on my own hoping that I would learn a lesson I suppose. I’m afraid that many of the lessons she taught didn’t really connect.
The class played a game of hide-and-seek and I ran far from the group and hid in a ditch. No one found me, but then they didn’t really bother to look that far anyway. Finally Momma called me and convinced me that I should come in because the game was over.
Hattie Pearl got married about that time and moved away. Then she got divorced and moved back to Morrilton. She moved Aunt Dove down there, too, and we visited them from time to time. They lived on the exclusive area of town up on the ridge that runs along the south side between Morrilton and the river. It was somewhere near the hospital. We were there one time when Aunt Dove had some sort of problem with her breast. She wanted to show it to the young women and they pointed out that I was there. She said that I was still so little that, if it was still like the old days, I might still nursing, so she went on to loosen the left side of her brassier and show them, and me, the problem. I didn't know whether I was supposed to look or not, but I wanted to.
At some point in my early life I realized that there was a greater world beyond me and my immediate surroundings. I no longer remember exactly what I felt, but I do remember that the awareness of it came to me. I don't think my previous feeling was exactly selfish feeling that everything revolved around me, but there was a definite time when I realized that me outlook had changed. At that point I realized that I had to relate to the world and the people in it; that they were not solely focused on me.
Lyonell and Momma took us on a picnic. In a spirit of learning to play with me, he held me up to a tree branch so that I could “chin” myself. I wasn’t strong and had no idea how to flex my muscles to raise myself up to the limb, but he kept encouraging me. I never was able to do it. I felt like he thought I was a little sissy.
Grandpa’s house was now about 25 years old and the front porch was almost at the point of falling down. It seems that it was replaced with a concrete surfaced rock faced porch sometime around 1947. It seems reasonable to assume it was finished in time for Momma’s wedding. Our ages in the photos seem to fit that year.
In this photo of me and Jeanne on the tricycle the condition of the porch is pretty obvious. There are posts propping up the roof apparently in preparation for tearing the old porch out. This is one of the few photos that show the well with its posts supporting a pulley for drawing water. The garden gate is visible behind the well.
This photo shows Jeanne and me with James Luther, Aunt Dove’s youngest child and one of Momma’s younger cousins. The newly completed porch is visible behind us.
Momma and Daddy got married in August of 1947. I don’t remember anything about the wedding, but his sisters probably can tell me something. I do remember a little incident that must have happened about that time and it probably happened after the wedding because it seems to relate to weddings. Momma’s little cousin was only four in 1947 but she had a married sister and three big brothers so she new a lot. She told us that she knew what men and women do when they are married and she described it with a word that we all know but don’t use. That sounded interesting and she either volunteered or I encouraged her to show us. I say us but it’s possible that only she and I went around behind the house for a demonstration. When we got there, she realized that she didn’t know how to do it so she said she would show me how girls ‘pee.’ Perhaps I encouraged her to do this too. Anyway, she squatted under the hydrangea bushes and showed me.
After the wedding we all moved in with Daddy at his parents’ home in Cleveland. He had moved back in after he got back from the war. I’m not sure when he got out. Maybe in was in 1946. He made fun of Momma’s cooking abilities, saying that she could scorch water while trying to boil it. She was a dutiful little wife and was soon cooking food that he loved.
Daddy and Momma decided that he would not legally adopt Jeanne and me. They felt it would be an honor to our father for his name to be continued through us. There also was a practical aspect to the decision; our support money would have stopped if we had been adopted. Momma’s widow’s benefit ceased when she got married. I think the fact that we kept our father’s name helped us maintain our connection with his family although they would probably have maintained a close relationship with us anyway.
That was about the time they swapped the Nash for the 1946 Plymouth. The Plymouth was the Special Deluxe four-door sedan with “suicide” rear doors. I think that the doors were hinged at the back because that was a more solid place to anchor the hinges. Later, of course, the center posts were made strong enough for the doors to be hinged there. The little Plymouth had a stainless-steel covered starter button on the dash. That was a great improvement over the big, heavy, foot-actuated starter buttons on the floor. The little button was made possible by the use of a starter solenoid to handle the high current. The button switch only had to handle enough current to actuate the solenoid. I remember that there was a little concern that Momma was having to selling her car so Daddy could buy the one he wanted.
My teddy bear was getting dirty and ragged and Daddy didn't think little boys should play with stuffed toys so he made Momma throw it away.
Grandpa Halbrook built his new house in 1929 and had it finished in time for his youngest daughter to be born in it. It was on the north side of the little lane going west from Cleveland. Before that, they had lived in an old house across the road on the south side. The house was on the highest point in Cleveland. This little rise of about 50 feet from the main highway in town had a crescent shaped top. The house was built on the north point of the crescent. The crescent curved to the southeast and the little Methodist church house was built on the southeast point about a hundred yards away. There was a beautiful view of the foothills of the mountains in the Ozark Nation Forest to the north, but that wasn’t visible from the front of the house.
Although this house was only seven years newer than Grandpa’s Maxwell’s house, Grandpa Halbrook’s house had a more modern and finished look about it. The entire house, including the porches, was under a single gabled roof. The central part of the house was a square divided into four rooms. The two rooms on the east were bedrooms and the two on the west were the dining room and the kitchen. A back porch spanned the full width of the house. In the front there was an ‘L’ shaped front porch with a large living room filling the area inside the ‘L.’
All the doors from the front porch to the back porch on the kitchen side were in a line so that if they were open you could see from front to back. I don’t think there was a second front door from the porch, but there was a door opening to the east end of the porch. The doors were near the center wall. There was no hall. Access to the back bedroom was through the front bedroom or through the dining room and kitchen and around the back porch.
By 1947 they had enclosed the part of the back porch behind the back bedroom and had installed bathroom fixtures. They were one of the two houses in Cleveland with plumbing. They had also enclosed the base of the ‘L’ of the front porch to make a small bedroom. Daddy’s two younger sisters slept there after he came back from the war and moved into the back bedroom.
We moved into the back bedroom.
Hettie Mae, the youngest sister, was 18 and had lived there all her life. Reva Dale was 22 and had been off to college. She was going to be my first grade teacher at the Cleveland Grade School. They were the prettiest young woman I had seen besides my mother and they thought Jeanne and I were cute little kids. They have always treated us as members of the family. I could tell them apart, but I didn’t know which name went with which aunt. Aunt Reva Dale said that I asked her several times during the summer, “Are you going to be my teacher?” I think I was a little apprehensive about going to school.
I sat on the schoolhouse steps all through recess the first day of school my Aunt Reva Dale has told. I don’t remember much about those first few days. I do remember that grades one through three were in the first room, the one with the stage at least by the time I was in the third grade. Aunt Reva Dale said that there were two classes in each of the three rooms when she started teaching there. As attendance dropped they put three classes in each of the large rooms and closed the other other room. The third grade was in the rows of seats nearest the windows and the first grade was in the row near the inside wall where the blackboard was. The roll-up canvas stage curtain had a beautiful colored picture in the center with business ads around the border.
My new step-cousin, Lavonne, was my age and in the first grade also. She and her little brother, Larry, and Jeanne and I played together a lot. They were the children of Daddy’s older brother, Opie, and his wife, Adie Mae. Aunt Adie Mae was very sweet and made chocolate fried pies and chocolate gravy for us. The four of us played ‘mother’s and babies’ once or twice. When we got older we tried to smoke grapevines.
Daddy started building a house soon after we moved to Cleveland. He had bought an old home place of five acres on the west side of SH95and south of what is now named Copelin Cave Road, the road that went west of town past the Bowling’s, the Methodist Church and parsonage, Grandpa Halbrook’s house, another little house and Uncle Opie’s house near the stream that runs to Copelin Cave. Then the road turned south at another old home place and wandered on off through the hills to Effie and Odie Brents’ place. It ended at West Point Remove Creek where and old bridge had been washed out.
Daddy tore down the old house and used some of the lumber for the new one. Some of the lumber for the house was cut on family property and sawed at the local sawmill. The construction was wood frame on rock piers. The walls were veneered with natural stone laid and mortared in the style used on typical WPA projects of the ‘30s. The front and back porches had concrete surfaces and the roof was covered with asphalt shingles. The interior and exterior walls as well as floors and ceilings were made of 1” thick pine lumber. Sheetrock and plywood were not readily available then or at least not in common use. Lathe and plaster walls were not common in that area either. The house has three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, and living room. A nice sized room was built to serve as a future ‘bathroom.’ It was used as a canned goods pantry and store room until I graduated from high school. Just after I graduated Daddy began installing the bath fixtures. I helped pull the pipes under the floor because I was thin and agile enough to crawl under it.
I would go to the new house after school and hang around until they were ready to quit and go on up the hill to Grandpa Halbrook’s house. I was just tall enough to be head and shoulders above the front room floor joists when standing on the ground underneath. There were some long cardboard tubes that ‘tar’ paper had been rolled on and I decided that I should split one of them with the Barlow pocket knife my Grandpa Maxwell had given me for my sixth birthday. I think it was a tradition for boys to receive a Barlow on their sixth birthday. I held the cardboard tube in my left hand with my thumb and finger wrapped around it. I then started cutting down from the end of the tube with the knife in my right hand and when the blade slipped out of the cardboard, it cut right across the second joint of my thumb. I guess I whined and cried a lot and I asked if it would make a scar. They said “No” not realizing that I wanted a scar as a record of my suffering. I have that scar to this day. Fortunately, Barlow knives for boys weren’t very sharp and the cut was only skin deep, but they got a stick and wrapped it all up in strips of cloth anyway. I’d have been in bad shape if the tendon had been cut because a splint wouldn’t have fixed. I guess they knew it was a minor cut and just did all that to keep me quiet. I went to school with the splint the next day, but it was so much trouble I took it off.
There were family outings into the Ozark National Forest to gather rocks for the walls. They tried to make it fun but it was hard work. The house was finished enough for us to move in during the winter. The interior walls were covered with wall paper and the tongue-and-groove wood floor was stained and varnished. There was a ‘faux’ fireplace on the north wall of the front room between the windows. A small, open grate gas stove sat on the floor in the center of the ‘fireplace.’ That little stove (and the kitchen stove) was all the heat we had in the house.
There was a homemade table with benches in the kitchen. Daddy and I sat on one bench and Jeanne and Momma sat on the other. When the house was first built, the kitchen and dining room were separated by a wall with a regular size door between. I don't remember any furniture in the dining room.
We had to draw water from a well. There was a ‘drilled’ well in front near the highway and a ‘dug’ well at the south end of the house. The later addition to the south end was built over the old dug well. There was a wooden platform over the dug well with a small square opening in the center through which water could be drawn. Jeanne and I were afraid to get out on it, but we had to this is what it looked like some years later. There was also a fear that water from an open well like that could cause typhoid fever, so we only used it for washing clothes.
After several years they drilled a well in the back yard and put a pump on it and ran a line to the kitchen sink so we had water there. We still used the water from the front well for drinking. We heated water on the stove for washing.
I was very proud when I received my first report card. I don’t remember whether it was after a few weeks or at the end of the semester . My teacher told us to be sure to take them home for our mothers to see. I rushed home as fast as I could go, but there was no one there. I went through the house sobbing and calling, “Momma! Momma!” Then I stood in the front room looking out the window toward town and school. Momma finally came home and comforted me.
Many years later she said that she had gone to Aunt Kate’s house beside the road near school to walk me home, but because it was report card day, we had gotten out early and I had passed Aunt Kate’s before Momma went out to check on me.
First Five Years Originally Posted 1/28/01
Revised 1/15/05 w/counter at 322
Newer Pages Posted 3/3/05