My Place In The Sun
On a cold frosty winter morning just at sunrise, on December 10, 1910, I entered this world, the eighth child of a poor cotton farmer. Until the day before I was born, the family lived in a one room log cabin, but on that day they finished a shed room on the side. My mother climbed up on a chair to hang some curtains and fell off thus hastening my arrival. I was supposed to be a Christmas present. I am sure there were many things they would rather have had for Christmas, but they got me, just another mouth to feed. No pink nursery awaited me, no lovely bassinet welcomed me. My layette consisted of one dozen flannel diapers and three gowns. My resting place was the far corner of a bed so no one could sit on me. Our room was fourteen by fourteen feet, and it held two beds, plus the rest of the furniture. The shed room served as kitchen, dining room, bedroom. A bed had to go on the floor each night, and I was the little victim who slept between two others. I got too hot, and crawled from under the covers, then got croup, bumped my head on the bottom side of the bed rail trying to raise up, got dragged out by a leg or an arm and was given kerosene on sugar to stop the choking. I did not know what it was to sleep on a bed until I was five years old. Certainly it was not a spacious setting. We struggled to survive. We all had to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time or get stepped on. There was not much floor space with made down beds. How I hated that kerosene and sugar remedy, but I took it every single night until I was five years old.
This was not so different in life style as it sounds. All the rural people were poor. Some lived no better. But by this time, many families had remained settled and improved their farms, built three to five room houses, had good barns for their livestock, and good poultry houses for their fowl. And because they had settled and worked they prospered to a degree.
We were located in Clay County, Texas, just South of Red River, in a community known as Deer Creek. Numerous small towns were here and there; Joy, Shannon, Bluegrove and others where we could do our shopping, with Henrietta as the county seat. Deer Creek had a school and church, and was a farming area. All prairie, sandy, and as I remember was just a sun beaten hot dusty spot where we eked out a living, fighting weeds, grass and pests. And so I started life thus with the Watson family.
My father was James Benton Watson, known as uncle Bent. He always signed his name J. B. Watson. He was the son of Abraham Watson and Matilda Hobbs Watson, both of whom were born in year 1815, he in Indiana and she in Tennessee. They lived in Missouri in 1841, but came to Texas soon after with a group of settlers known as the Mercer Colony, and were given a section of land with a cabin in Hunt Co., Texas. This was a part of the Spanish Land Grant after Texas won its independence from Mexico, and proved a great inducement to immigrants to settle in Texas. Henry Watson, who I believe to be the father of Abraham, was with them and also a member of the Mercer Colony, and also received a section of land. He immediately sold it to Abraham, so the Watsons as early as 1853, and the same year in which my father was born, became extensive land owners, for twelve hundred and eighty acres was a good deal of land. But take another look. It was not a ranch roaming with white faced cattle, but a wilderness of forests, acres of turf weeds and grasses never having been touched by plow or human hands, and growing profusely along the Brazos River and its banks. These are the provisions under which my grandfather sat down to take on such a task with a wife and four children to make a new life in a new world: Not to give, sell or in any way furnish to an Indian any spirituous liquors, nor any gunpowder, lead or firearms, or warlike weapons. To pay the sum of five dollars toward the building of a schoolhouse, and to occupy a house or suitable cabin, and be supplied with a good rifle, yager or musket, and a sufficient supply of prime ammunition. It took courage, back breaking toil, and endurance for this family to face such a task.
And in so short a time, they were faced with the Civil War and it's ravages. Both Abraham and William, the oldest son, fought in it, which left my father, a nine year old boy, as the man of the family. And by this time, three more children had joined the family. They stayed there until 1866, then sold a part of this and bought farm land in Benton County, Arkansas, where they stayed until both died in old age, and where Abraham sleeps today in the beloved soil that he loved so much. Grandpa was the first postmaster of Nebo, which later became Gravette, Arkansas. It was located on this homesite. So in his period of growing up, my father knew only two homes, both well established and providing a good family life.
But somehow my father did not inherit that contentment or satisfaction. He seemed to long for frontier days, hated to see civilization ruin it, and seemed to feel he was being fenced in by progress. He tried to hang on to that part of the past and help to keep the frontier, which was fast disappearing, a part of him. He was constantly on the move. He married once at age thirty-two to a Nancy Ann Woody, but the marriage went on the rocks the same year, leaving a daughter he never saw. After that, he was a wanderer, a lone wolf and a restless man, never staying long anywhere, and as all of us know a rolling stone gathers no moss. He moved at the end of each year, but was never a sharecropper. He bought and sold as he went. He spent much of each year looking another location for the following year. And always, it was a farm without a good house or improvements.
A cabin, half dug out, or shack, and as the family grew it became increasingly difficult to cope with. So in 1910, they had wound up in the log cabin where I was born. He was a good man, a hard working man, and in his way loved his family. But he never seemed to find himself, even tho he searched a life time for contentment without avail. When he was forty years of age, he and my mother were married. She was born in 1877, and was sixteen at the time of their marriage.
She was the daughter of a Baptist Minister, Albert Allen Hilliard, born in 1845 in Georgia, moving to Texas at age of nine. He married Mary Angela Roberts in Lee County, Texas in 1873. She was born in 1854 to a farming family near or in Milam County, Tex. Her parents were settled people, staying on one farm to raise a big family, but never prospered to any degree. But Albert Allen Hilliard inherited none of the contentment his family knew. He was a circuit preacher and went from church to church, keeping him from home much of the time. He was a good man, but a poor provider, and his family knew nothing but want and destitution. This, of course, my mother was a part of, and being among the oldest of the children to survive to adulthood, she carried much of the burden. Grandpa did not understand the suffering he imposed on the family, for as a minister, he was entertained in the best of homes, and the best of food was always prepared when the minister came, so he fared well. I am sure he received little money and in some instances probably none, so he had nothing so send home. As time went on, he became so callused to the pleas of his wife (grandma) that he did not hear them. So in desperation she wrote her family for help. The family lived in and around Milam County, and were prosperous so far as farmers of that day were, and she explained that they had nothing to eat, and asked the relatives to help. In a few days she received word that a barrel had come into the depot. She, with the help of neighbors, got it home and on the floor. She expected it to contain flour, meal, syrup, and was hoping for a ham, for she knew they butchered hogs. When she opened it there was a hundred pound sack of sugar, and packed around it was cookies. She sat on the floor and cried. What could she do with sugar? Sprinkle it on their dry bread made from flour and dirty creek water, for that was all they had. She had envisioned how she would be able to put some meals together, thinking they would respond with farm staples. Only the hungry know the pangs of hunger. They did not know how to respond to her plea.
Soon after this she took measles and died, leaving seven little children, and baby only two years old, and the oldest thirteen. Her strength was gone having had babies every two years or less, and her body was so devastated from malnutrition she had nothing to fight with, so death over came her. This was in Cisco, Texas in the year of 1891. Grandpa took the children to Archer County, and simply abandoned them, leaving nothing to help them survive. He left them to fend for themselves, and this they couldn't do. My mother tried to hold them together, and feed them by stirring water from the creek into flour, but when the flour ran out, she had to go to the neighbors. They came in and found homes for them over the community. No two were taken to the same home, but the people were kind and kept them in touch, and when they were grown, they became a close knit family and remained so until death. This was probably the reason my mother at sixteen married a man of forty. The laws of nature frowns on such a union. So the contrast in life style completely reversed itself in the marriage of my parents, Papa, who had known a stable home could not build one for himself. Mama, who had never know such, longed for a home and a settled life comparable to that of her neighbors, but it would be years before she was to have one.
In spite of poverty, she was a homemaker, and with seemingly nothing she created beauty within the four walls. She added tatting, crochet or embroidery to the pillow cases, scarfs and curtains. The walls were covered with mottoes, and many of them were done in needle work by my mothers hand. One reading "Christ is the head of this house. The unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation." It pointed its finger at me when I did wrong, and served many times to guide me right. It was a great inspiration in the home. Another "I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, God helping me, I will do." gave us strength many times, and I am sure it guided her. She was a good cook, a good manager, and a good mother. A good Samaritan in the community, and a Christian example wherever she went.
My father, J. B. Watson, and my mother Prudence Earl Hilliard, were married in Knox County, Texas on May 25, 1893, but before Coke Oliver was born on September 16th, 1894, they had moved to Baylor County, Moneta (Nete) was born on October 21, 1896 in Archer Co, and Zenada (Nade) on March 19, 1899 in Shawnee, Seminole County, Oklahoma. Port Arthur on February 22,1901, Simeon Reed (Spud) somewhere in Oklahoma on January 10, 1904. Then back to Texas and Clay County they went. Scott Buster was born near Shannon on May 19th, 1906, Lillie Mae at Deer Creek on July 17, 1908. I was born on December 10th 1910, and Willie Theron on August 30th, 1914. The three of us at Deer Creek. Port was born at McCloud, Oklahoma.
This should give you some idea of what I mean by a rolling stone. We were to stay here until I was five years old. Then we moved again every year for six years before we settled again. But that comes as I tell my story. My early years must be recounted. I raised up in my made down bed so many times and bumped my head on the bottom side of a bed rail that I was called knot head. We survived by home remedies, and seldom saw a doctor. We soaked our feet in hot mustard water to break up colds. If we got a chest cold with cough, we made a poultice of home made lard, turpentine and camphor, and in this mixture we saturated a wool sock, and placed the sock on our chests. We were glad and willing to get well over night, for nothing was more repulsive than the thought of having to wear that stinking thing a second night.
In those days we knew nothing about home canning, and refrigeration was unheard of. We had good fresh vegetables in the growing season, and fried chicken in the spring. We baked or boiled hens in other seasons, and had delicious chicken and dumplings, or chicken and dressing. Now and then the old rooster was called upon to make the supreme sacrifice when he got too old to be cock of the roost, and went in the pot. In winter, we butchered our hogs and from this had our hams, shoulders, sausage, and bacon until it was all used. This also provided our lard for cooking, and our lye soap for washing our clothes and dishes. You may wonder how. I will tell you in a minute. We raised nice yams, irish potatoes, beans which we dried and stored, and when the fresh things were gone, that was our ration. I bet if we could have had a blood test in late summer our blood would have tested 90% "Tater juice," we ate so many of them in dry seasons. Hot biscuits, syrup and butter for breakfast, and beans and /or potatoes for dinner and supper. Now, we call them lunch and dinner.
Work on the farm was tiring, continuos and never ending. We must wait until the weather was freezing or near that to butcher or hogs, so the cold could draw the body heat out overnight. Otherwise, it would spoil. Then we packed the hams, shoulders and side meat in coarse salt to preserve it. We, and every other farmer had a big meat box built somewhere near the house to keep the meat. Ours was at the end of the house, on the shady side, and on top of this was my playhouse. I spent many happy hours there. In the summer time it was shaded, and from sunrise to sundown I could be found there. I loved to make mud pies, and would listen for a hen to cackle, telling the world she had just laid an egg. then get it to stir into my mud pie. I loved to see the yellow streak thru the brown, and was fascinated by it until I got caught. I suddenly lost my appetite for egg based pies. I found I was doing so many other things that would annoy the adults. I never could figure out why they did no let me do my thing and they do theirs, so we could all be happy. I was always a happy child. I lived my life to the fullest. I played every awaking moment, but was lazy as a bum when it came to work. Created my own entertainment, built my own toys. I preached so many sermons from the top of the meat box, I wonder that every member of the family and all the near neighbors weren't saved. They could hear it from wherever they were. I led the song service, all the prayers, then went into the sermon and preached fire and brimstone by the hour, exalting sinners to turn from their wicked ways. My audience was Papa. He always sat outside under a shade tree in hot weather, for air conditioning was not known then. He used to laugh until his sides would shake at my antics. I did not know we were poor, and looking back now, I wonder if we really were. We had food and something to wear, and that was as much as any poor rural family had at that time. Our needs were so much less then. We did not have to keep up with the Jones. We were a church going family. Never missed a service. When all of us climbed in the wagon, it was a wagon bed full, but when the church doors opened, the Watsons were there. I thank God for that heritage today. I hear so many people say"I was forced to go to church when I was a kid, and I always swore that when I got old enough that no one could make me go, I would never go again." Bosh what an excuse. That was the thing that instilled into us the true meaning of values, gave us courage in later years when we needed it most, and built the characters upon which our adult years were based. It instilled into us the meaning of God and his plan for our lives. We were a praying family, and always took time to bow our heads and thank God for our food. We held evening devotional services and read our Bible before going to bed. I grieve today to see how we have wandered so far from God, neglected our children and their spiritual training. We have let them drift without the knowledge of the spiritual values we knew, and now we wonder why our nation is suffering from moral decay, and our children are drifting aimlessly without purpose in their lives. We kids did not always live by these principles, and did so many things to be ashamed of, and make our parents ashamed of us. We drifted and many quit going to church because they were so busy but that still small voice was ever present in our conscience, and in the end it won out. Every one died with a strong faith in God and without fear in their hearts.
I was very small when we got a new organ. It was a beautiful thing, mahogany with carved trim, an inset mirror and a lovely rich tone. It was a typical old pump organ with stops to pull in and out for tones and sounds. Nete and Nade both learned to play, and we had some of the greatest singings in our home. Coke led with the melody or baritone, Nade alto, Port bass, Spud tenor, and Nete with Soprano, with the rest of us adding to the various parts, and we would often sing until midnight, all gathered around that old organ. Life's Evening Sun Is Sinking Low was one of our favorites, and I can almost hear it now. That organ stayed in our home long after all the kids except me were gone. I wonder where it is today. I somehow feel it may have found its way to heaven along with the family, and I wonder if they gather around it and sing the songs I love. I hope so, for someday I will sing with them again, and when I get there, I want to sing "No tears in Heaven". We don't need any more. We have had enough here on earth.
I seem to remember things at a very early age. I am three and one half years older than Theron, and I remember well when I saw him for the first time. I put my hands on the bed and kicked my feet up as high as I could and yelled to the top of my voice that we had another little baby. I also remember hitting Lillie over the head with my doll the morning after Christmas and breaking its leg off when I was three years old.
Our farm was infested with bull nettles, That is a weed that stings on contact, and I have never known anything to hurt worse. Papa always chewed tobacco and was seldom without a "cud" in his mouth. When we got into the nettles, he would give us a chew to rub on the sting. I don't know if there was a substance in the tobacco that healed, or if it was simply the cold, but it helped. If he was anywhere near the house, we would run like a deer to get to him, but one day I got in them and I could see him plowing on the back side of the forty. I knew I could never reach him, so I went into the house and got a chew myself. I got it into my mouth then completely forgot about the sting. It was no longer my major problem. Chewing tobacco and breathing at the same time can be very difficult for a four year old, as I found out.
One day Papa sent Lillie and me to the house to get his monkey wrench and bring to him in the field. He needed to fix his plow. On the way back, we passed a water hole, and being good religious girls that we were, stopped to baptize the wrench. Lillie was to perform the ritual, and just as she said "I baptize you in the name of common sense, and in the hole you go", which is what we thought the preacher always said, she dropped the wrench, and in the hole it went. Now, in our family there was no room for errors such as this. The Bible plainly states that to spare the rod, you spoil the child. My parents were faithful Bible readers, believed and practiced every word it said, so there were no spoiled children in our family. We had to retrieve the wrench, and we had to find some way to do it, so I lay down with my head near the water and my hells back up on the bank. Lillie held my heels and I went under water and got the wrench. I was probably four and Lillie six. We did not know that I could drown.
I was only five years old when I gave my first reading, or my "speech" as we called it then. I was so small they stood me on a table so the crowd could see me, and I remember saying "I'm a temperance girl, see my ribbon blue, Don't you think it's pretty, then you wear one too." and with my blue ribbon in my hair, and the crowd cheering, I made my debut into society.
I was the ugly duckling of the family, and even tho the family meant no harm, they let me know it. We really can't know the importance of what we say to children, or how their minds can be warped, and their spirits crushed by the wrong words. The first time they took me to church, which was when I was nineteen inches long, and weighed eight pounds, Coke remarked when we got home that he did know I was so blamed ugly until they got me out among folks. They were all ashamed to show me off. My aunt Lillie Epps told me when I was nine years old that when I was small, I was so ugly she used to wonder if I had good sense,. Well, they said and forgot, but these things lingered in my mind and impressions were deep and lasting. I suppose I was born with a complex, but if not, this certainly gave me the material to develop one. I felt so inadequate, so inferior to others, and so unimportant that my decisions must be made by others. I did not realize that we are all individuals, and each has our own personalities, and it is human that some of them clash. I was crushed if I thought someone did not like me. The fault was always mine for, I must please. I was so timid as a young teenager, I could not mix with crowds. Even tho I was only five feet six inches tall, I was too tall, I thought, and felt gauche and ungraceful. I recognized my talent for writing at an early age, and knew that my very nature was that of creativity, but timidness smothered my desire to develop them and lunge into a career that might lead to success. I am sure the poverty in which I was born smothered desires for ambitions and gave me a feeling of inadequateness. I was self conscious in a crowd, naive in actions, and suffered from inner conflicts in school, church or wherever I was exposed to people. I do no place the responsibility for this altogether on the remarks made to me in my childhood. I was born with these traits, and my environment did not give me the grace or opportunity to overcome them. But in talking to other people in my adult years, I am convinced most of us look back and remember when our lives were seemingly under the same bondage.
Christmas in those days was a bit different to ours today. It was a tradition that the entire community meet for one common tree. Every body had a part. The men would go into the timber and bring in a tree. It would have to be quite large. Then the young people would spend the day decorating it, by placing strings of popcorn, colored berries, sprigs of cedar, and colorful things on it. We lived nowhere near pines, spruce or decorative trees, but many people had cedars in their yards, and these produced a colorful trim, and made it Christmas. It was a gala affair. Families came in wagons, and in most cases big families, and the wagons left with loads of hilarious children who had just seen Santa Claus. It was not uncommon for some child to discover that Santa Claus was wearing shoes just like his dad's shoes, and always for some reason, that dad could not come to the party until late. The little kids helped Santa pass out gifts. No one ever received more than one gift, and the giving was confined to children only. Most parents made a sacrifice to give that much, and nobody thought of exchanging among adults. I looked forward from one Christmas to another, for I knew I would get an orange. I never saw one any other time of year. And on few occasions, I would also get a banana. We held the service or party in the church or school. In many rural communities, the school served as the church as well.
I was about four when I saw my first automobile. About a mile from our house was headquarters for the Webb Ranch, and they were among the first to get one. On summer nights our doors were open because of the heat, and we could hear the motor start at their place, and when we did, we kids ran like something wild to climb up on a fence post to see the lights throw the beams in to the sky, and watch them travel thru the night. Each of us had our own fence post to get us three feet higher, and even tho I was the smallest I could run just as fast as the others, and there was blood in my eyes that easily spilled over onto them if someone got my post. It was a barbed wire fence, and many times I tore my dress off trying to climb down, but it was worth a few good dresses to get to see the lights of an automobile. It was still many years before I would have opportunity to ride in one.
This year saw many changes in our home. Nete married Daniel (Dan) Cribbs, and they went to live in another part of Texas. Coke was grown young man, and lived with a Newton family near Joy, and worked on their farm. I was old enough to begin trying to dress myself, I got my heels on top when I put my socks on, shoes on the wrong feet, and always forgot to pull out the tongues before I put them on. Then I started a chase after some older brother or sister who happened to be around, trying to get them tied.
At this time our living conditions were about to improve. In the summer, Mama and Papa went looking at farms around Bellevue, a small town in the South part of Clay County, and about twenty miles from Deer Creek. They decided on one and the following Sunday went back to buy it, but when they got there, a Mr. Walter Shahan had beat them there and was closing the deal for it. So they went on and bought another in the Little Hull Community, about four miles from Bellevue. In the winter we moved to it. We had won a victory over the crowded conditions in which we had lived. Our greatness was not in having been born in a log cabin, but in getting out of it.
To us this was a giant step forward. I remember the move so well. It was my first, and most exciting. We loaded all our worldly belongings in the wagon, tied our net wire chicken coop to the rear to take our hens, and tied the milk cow behind the wagon. The boys rode the saddle horses and led the extras. We started before daylight, and at noon, stopped by the roadside, built a fire and cooked our noon meal. We had bacon, or as Papa called it, sowbelly, fried potatoes and home baked bread. It was so much fun eating this from our tin cake tins, and better yet, I did not have to wash dishes. We kids ran and stretched our legs and had a ball. We arrived in late afternoon, and the wagon had not come to a stop when we little ones hit the ground running, and by dark had explored every creek, meadow, field and pasture, and I had dragged to the house every piece of junk I found for my playhouse.
We found a three room house, barn and buggy shed, and a beautiful location. I shall never forget the many huge oak trees in our yard, the creek flowing thru the forest, creating rich bottom land to grow massive watermelons. Coke was back with us now that we had room and needed him in the farm work. All the kids who were old enough started to school at Little Hull. Coke was too old, and Theron and I too young. The law would not allow a child to start until they were six years old, and I was only five.
It was just another year until I could go, and I was so excited I skipped all the way to school, and really I have not stopped yet. On my first day, I got a brain storm and started for the front. Nade saw me coming, and grabbed my dress tail as I went by, but I kept going, and walked up and looked right into the teacher's face and said "Teacher, I just can't read a bit." She said "That is exactly what you came to school for, to learn to read."
Soon, the family became a part of the community and everybody was happy. Coke went sweet on Denna Bee Stillwell, and Port was madly in love with Lillie Weatherford. Nade met Elmer Chenault, they went together five years and married. It was a singing community, and we were a singing family, so we fit right in. Lee Lovelandy was a singing teacher, and we attended his school each summer. We used to go miles in the wagon or hack to all day singing conventions. Everybody brought baskets of food and spread at noon time. Today, we call it pot lucks, but then it was singing all day and dinner on the ground.
We had prospered enough to buy a buggy and a hack, or to some it was a surrey. A buggy is a one seated vehicle and could be pulled by one horse. A hack was a two seated buggy, and it took two horses to pull it. As the family grew to adulthood, our lives were so enriched, and we were active in all community affairs. We were only four miles from Bellevue, and then news traveled only by word of mouth, but somehow we got it. World news could be weeks old, but it got there. Then, people cared about people, and where there is friendship, there is communication. Newspapers came into Bellevue, and the boys went there often, so they brought news home. We never saw one as I recall. Our minds were not boggled by radio and television, for non existed so we had time to think and talk.
Our little school building served as a church on Sunday. Many were the times I play pop-the-whip, tag, drop the handkerchief and jump the rope on that little old school ground, and it is fresh in my memory today, for that was the turning point in my life from a baby to a little girl.
We did not have a big supply of clothes as we do today. In the spring we got a new Sunday dress, new Sunday slippers, and wore our old ones for every day. In the fall, we got a new Sunday dress, two school dresses. WE wore one for a week, then changed to the other for a week, and that one went into the washing and ironing. We got a new pair of shoes. Some who were more prosperous could afford two pairs, one for Sunday and one for school, but we were not so lucky. Our money did not reach that far. We made our bloomers from pink sateen, gathered full and with a band just above the knee. We must have long handled underwear, long socks of cotton or wool, of course high top shoes. In summer we went barefooted. About this time they came out with flowered flour sacks. We bought our flour by the hundred pound bags, and made clothes with the bags. One bag would make a pair of bloomers, and it was not uncommon for my dress to blow up, and printed right across my fanny was Bewleys Best, or Texas Rose, or some other brand name of flour.
One thing we had here was a fighting bull, Buster, Lillie and I had to walk thru the pasture to get to school, and along the cow trail were some huge boulders. That monster would hide behind them and wait until we passed, then he would jump out and come for us. bellowing and pawing the ground. We were about one hundred yards from the nearest fence, and we would take off with all the steam we had and just make it to the fence, hit the ground and slide on our stomachs under it. We wore the ground slick under the fence and each one knew our spot and took the same one, no two ever trying to use the same one, for there was no time for error in this game. I wonder if he ever intended to hurt us, or was just playing a game and laughing up his sleeve all the time. That is, if bulls have sleeves. Well anyway, whatever his purpose, he did it. I am not just shooting the bull on this story.
We also had a gentle pony named Dude. I think she belonged to Coke. And in our yard was a huge oak tree with a limb growing straight out, and about six inches above her back. We would rope old Dude, and one lead her while another rode. Lillie just loved to get me on the horse and lead her under the limb dragging me off behind. She never kicked or tried to hurt me as I slid over her rump, and I sometimes wonder if it was also a game with her, she too was laughing at the act. And I guess horses laugh, for I have heard of people getting a horse laugh.
Our year here was the year of 1916, and in the spring after we moved in, we had a rainy day. We lived in a tornado area, and especially did we fear them in the spring. Big clouds would form, usually in the west, and roll in with all it's fury, black forms twisting, boiling and rolling, and we could never tell until it struck what was in it. We had storm cellars dug below the ground and ether got inside or near the door as we watched the viciousness of it. It always came with gusts of wind and rain. And if it contained a tornado, it would precede the rain. So as soon as the rain set in, we felt the tornado threat was over. Someone would look out, and if our house still stood, we would dash thru the pouring rain and get to it. It was the consensus of all that after the rain became steady, we were not under any threat and could relax. But on this rainy day, a tornado cloud formed in the west. The Shahans were home just as everyone else was, and as was our nature, were relaxed and gave no thought to the cloud. Then suddenly it struck, and was one of the most devastating things anyone had ever seen. The Shahan home was directly in its path, and when it was over, not a plank remained intact of their house, barn or fences. Not an animal remained alive. Mrs. Shahan was found in a tree, her body decapitated, and a fourteen year old boy in another tree. Chickens plucked clean of feathers were strewn all about. Mr. Shahan, Lillie and Bill survived, but were unconscious for days, and suffered nightmares, horrors and headaches all their lives. When the neighbors arrived, all they found was mute testimony to the force of destructive winds in a tornado. It wiped out many homes, one of them being the Sidney Johnson home, but they saw it coming and all except one boy made it to the cellar. He was too far away, so he grabbed a sapling (young tree), and it bent to one side, then the other taking him with it and whipped him as if he were a baseball, but he held on and survived. When they looked out, not a trace of their house stood. The hill was swept clean, and where their house had stood, the cows were standing. It destroyed all of Bellevue, and left only one house standing or undamaged. A man was getting a shave in the barber shop with one side of his face shaved. They never did finish the shave, for there was no barber shop. We stood in our yard and watched. We could see trees, animals, houses, windmills whirling in the air, and as the general merchandise store emptied, bolts of yardage unrolled in the air like ribbons. I have wondered so many times where we would have been that day had Mr. Shahan not beat us to that farm, for we would have been living there. I am sure God was protecting us, but where was he when the Shahans needed Him?
It was a whole community who turned out to help in a time like that. As soon as the tornado passed over, the country roads would fill with people on horses, in wagons, running on foot or any way to get to the scene of the disaster, hoping to reach the dead and injured and maybe be able to lift objects off them or rush them to doctors. Wherever you saw a horse, it was in a dead run and some one trying to make them go faster. I've seen wagons filled with people, and the team running so fast it was almost impossible for the ones sitting in the bed to hang on. A wagon bed is flat with a sideboard about twelve inches high around it, and people would bounce so high that you could see underneath them as they rose up and came down, only to rise and fly again. Or should I say we, for I have taken more than one such ride. I marvel that the wagon going so fast did not did not sometimes run out from under them while they were in the air. It was a terrifying thing to go thru this. The dead and injured must be cared for, and the homeless must be housed until neighbors could go in and assist in rebuilding their homes.
The spring turned to summer and summer to fall. We made a good cotton crop, but it was an obsession with my Daddy to have it all mortgaged before we started gathering it. I believe if someone had come along with a load of priveys and said to him "You can pay for them when you gather your cotton crop, he would have bought the whole load". Of course bollweevils, drought, hailstorms or pestilence could destroy an entire cotton crop even after it was white unto harvest, and we would lose it all and have no cotton to gather, we still owed for the priveys. This kept us debt ridden and afforded no chance to prosper.
We were only twelve miles from Bowie, Texas, our biggest shopping center, and every fall the Ringling Brothers circus would come to town. This was our first circus, and we picked cotton like fury to get a bale out so we could go to the circus. We loaded the cotton wagon full, and to hold a bale of cotton, we had to put on sideboards four feet high. On circus day, we were up long before dawn, in fact, soon after midnight to milk the cows, feed the hogs, cook our breakfast and be on our way to Bowie. It took us four hours to travel there, and get our cotton sold. We kids bedded down in that fluffy cotton to keep warm and sang all the way there. By nine o'clock we were on the streets, ready to watch the parade. It is nostalgic to go back to Bowie today and see the same old brick streets where I stood that day, and walk the same old board walks where I walked some sixty one years ago.
This year of 1915 came to an end, and we moved about two miles from this farm to Hamms Ranch. This was the first, last and only time Papa ever lived on a farm he did not own. He bought and sold as he went, but he owned the farm where he chose to live. We leased this one, and it was the best year of our lives, and I might say it was a long way back to our log cabin and Deer Creek. We had a dairy ranch, milked cows and sold cream and butter, with enough milk left over to feed out many hogs and chickens for market. We had a big milking barn, good poultry houses, a good barn to store our grain in which we raised to feed our livestock. And a nice bit four room house with huge porches to live in. For the first time we had screens on the doors, and a fireplace. We had rich bottom land along the beautiful creek that bisected the farm, and raised a bountiful watermelon crop and sold many. For the first time in our lives we had luxury. To us, that meant having our needs. If you have never tasted a home grown watermelon fresh from the vine you have never tasted melon. And until you have gone into the patch on a hot day, burst one and washed your hands with its heart so you could burst a big one and gouge it's heart out and eat while the juice dripped off your elbows, you have never know the ecstasy of country living.
We could afford so many things this year of 1917, which heretofore had been beyond our reach. We bought a new cream separator that turned with a crank, a new fangled churn that turned with a crank to make our butter, and a fruit peeler. Another thing I remember was a dish cabinet, called a safe, with glass doors in the top section. In this bottom shelf rested our plates. I had a terrible habit of pouring too much syrup, for I usually finished my noon meal with bread, butter and syrup as my desert. Nothing was wasted in our house. It was too hard to get so I had to eat my left over syrup for supper, and they always set it in the plates where I could see it thru the glass doors. As a matter of discipline also, we had to eat our left overs, I went many times during the afternoon to see how thick the crust was getting on my syrup, and by supper, it was pretty heavy. I tried doing without my supper to escape, but it stayed there until I ate it. Oh, how I hated to eat that crusted stuff, but you know, the next day I would do the same thing all over again. Kids never learn.
Since we stayed in the same community of Little Hull when we moved to Hamm's Ranch, it was not really a move. Just a step forward. We had our same neighbors, school, friends and church. I spent many hours roaming those creeks, playing in the groves of trees, and picking flowers in the meadows. I loved nature, and still do. Evening found me in my playhouse, and I can still hear the call "Dollie come to the house, its supper time" I watched as the sun sank lower and the evening shadows began to creep in, for I knew soon I would those words. I'd skip with delight, and always tried to get by without washing my hands, then the ten of us would gather around the big home made table, and I'd climb upon the home made bench, stand on my knees so I could reach the food, bow our heads and thank God for our food, and dive in. Son as I swallowed my last bite, I'd jump down and within five minutes, I'd be to the top of some tree, or maybe straddle of a yearling calf, trying to show somebody I could ride it.
The boys got some old hound dogs for hunting coons and opossums, and on winter evenings they lighted the kerosene lanterns, took their hounds and guns and roamed the creeks. It was a delight to hear the dogs chasing an animal, running and howling, then when the animal escaped up a tree, how they bayed at the base of it, attempting to keep it in command until the boys could get there. Often, just about the time the boys would reach the tree, the animal would leap, hit the ground, and the chase was on again, running, baying and howling in an effort to tree it again. Often the boys would bring in nice young squirrels or rabbits for the table. Some people ate opossums, but we did not.
I saw my first telephone when we moved to Hamms Ranch. It had one installed, the wall type that you turned a crank to ring out. But we could not afford such a luxury, and had no earthly need for such a thing, so we did not keep it. Some other neighbors had one, but they were scarce through the area.
I am sure I had the meanest bunch of brothers on earth, and how they did love to tease me. I was six now, Lillie eight or nine, Buster eleven, Spud fourteen and Port about sixteen. This gave them quite an advantage over me. It was the boys duty to pile the cow manure in front of the milking stalls, and the pile would get eight to ten feet high. Eventually, they would haul it to the fields and spread it for fertilizer, but in the meantime it dried out, got real spongy, and became almost like dust. We kids had a ball climbing up on the shed and jumping off on the pile. I would sail thru the air barefooted with my dress tail flying, hit the pile and slide down. One day Port and Spud found a soft pile of manure spread about fifteen inches wide at the base of the mound. They sprinkled it lightly with powdered manure to make it look like it was a part of the old mound, then dared me to jump from the roof and try to land at the base. Of course I tried it, and made landing, right in the middle of it, slid down and sat right in it. I went to the house screaming and dripping. They had to fire up the wood cook stove and heat water to clean me up. I don't know where the boys got their supper that night, but I think they had to sleep in the barn. They weren't very welcome in the house. I don't know why everybody got so upset over this.
As I write, time is fleeting and I find we have moved into the year of 1976, our nation is two hundred years old, and we are in the midst of a hot presidential election race between Gerald Ford and Jimmie Carter. They have been slinging that stuff all over America now for months, and are getting less reaction than my household did when I sat in it. But if they don't clean up their act, it is going to take more than soap and water to kill the effects of it.
My daddy never had much money in his hands except in the Fall when we sold our cotton. He would always get anxious when we started picking, and when we got about five hundred pounds ready, he took off to town to sell it in the seed. It was almost traditional, for we knew he would bring home a bushel of apples, and a case of catsup. Why the catsup, we never knew. We never had it any other time of year. We kids went thru it like it was seven up.
I guess the funniest thing that ever happened in our house was during the Christmas holidays. The boys brought in fireworks for the holidays, and among them were powerful roman candles. My mother had such a horror of them she would not even watch them fire. To save matches, and we saved every penny we could, we all stuck our firecrackers, sparklers and such in the fireplace to light them, then ran outside to let them fire. One day all the boys were gone from home when Lillie got the sudden idea she would like to fire a roman candle, so she slipped it out, lit the fuse, then got scared and threw it in the fireplace and ran. Mama saw her, and had to go into action. NO time to lose, so she grabbed it and as Nade opened the screen, Mama started running toward the door. The first shot went off and thru the door, and as Mama went thru the door the second shot fired. Then she took off down the road with the thing in the air, and each time it fired, she ran that much faster. By the time the last shot was expended she was running so fast, she did not even know it had stopped firing, and just kept on running. Nade was behind her trying to catch her, I was behind Nade, and little fat Theron was trailing way behind trying to catch all of us. Lillile wasn't in the race. She probably ducked under the bed which was about the only safe place for her right then. We got Mama stopped about a quarter mile from the house. Port was always good for a joke and I can still hear him laughing when he got home and heard the story.
The news from Europe began to sound bad this year. It appeared a war was about to begin, and sounded as if the United States might get involved. News was sometimes weeks old before we heard it, but we knew of the anxiety of it all. I could not understand why people could be so upset over something so far away, and with a great big ocean between us. I thought they were excited for nothing, and so long as I did not know what or where Europe was, nor did I know what an ocean was, I promptly forgot all about it and went back to my playhouse. There I could talk to my created images of people, they knew nothing of such a war.
Summer was fast fading into fall, and we were busy picking cotton, harvesting grain, and getting the storehouse filled for the winter. We kids were back in school, and everybody was happy. That is except Papa. I guess he could no stand the affluence of a good comfortable living, progress was fencing him in again, restlessness gave him the urge to move, so he went looking for a new location and believe me he found it, right down in Bean Creek Hollow.
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