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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going to see a man about a horse


The first thing Dad needed when we moved onto that little forty-acre farm was a team of mules or horses.  As it turned out, he wound up with a more mismatched team than the mules Red and Old Blue that we had on the Doc Hunt place.  He scouted around and finally bought a team of horses from over near Greenfield, about twenty miles from Bona.  They made a dandy team.  One horse was a chunky sorrel gelding with a white blaze face.  He was well-muscled and was about the size of a quarter horse—great for riding—which we did bareback because we did not own a saddle.  The other horse was a dainty black mare not more than fourteen hands high.
They were both willing and made a good team but a problem developed the first time Dad started to plow with them.  It turned out that the mare had a bad shoulder.  After a few hours of plowing she was limping and her shoulder was swollen.  I do not know if the man who sold them knew about the shoulder, but when Dad called him he agreed to take back the mare.
To save the money for a truck, which he did not have, my father decided that I would ride the mare back to Greenfield while he went elsewhere to dicker for another horse.  He borrowed a Model T from one of our uncles because we did not have a car at the time.  He also borrowed a saddle for me to use for the twenty-mile trip to Greenfield.
I was tickled to death to get to ride the mare all that way by myself, and in a saddle instead of bareback.  I did not know that I was going to get so saddle-sore that I would have to eat my supper standing up.  I had hardly ever gotten to ride in a saddle.  Most always we just rode a mule to the fields with the harness on or else went bareback.  I figured it would be a great adventure to ride all that way.

Right after breakfast my mother packed me a lunch in my half gallon syrup pail school lunch bucket while Dad saddled the mare.  Her swollen shoulder had pretty well gone down overnight, but she still limped a little and Dad cautioned me to just ride her at a walk or slow trot.  He gave me directions how to get to the horse trader’s place and said that he would meet me there in the middle of the afternoon.
I sat grandly off down the road through Dadeville—a “cowboy” in faded blue bib overalls, clodhopper shoes (I figured you shouldn’t ride with bare feet in the stirrups of a saddle), blue hickory shirt, and a very battered and tattered straw sombrero on my tousled coppery hair over my round freckled face.  The work saddle was well worn, but the leather creaked satisfactorily.  In my active imagination the lame little black mare was a big stallion and I was the black-clad marshal of Tombstone galloping across the western range in a silver-ornamented saddle with a rifle scabbard and with six-guns strapped to my thighs.
Proceeding at the mare’s limping walk, we passed through Dadeville four miles south of Bona in about an hour.  I very rarely got more than two miles from home so it was indeed a big adventure to be in “strange country” and see some folks along the way that I did not know.
Another hour or so later I came to the ford across the Little Sac River.  As I mentioned before, a river ford is a shallow place where a river can be crossed when there is no bridge.  These days there is a high bridge over the Little Sac at that point and the road is straight and paved with black top.  In those days there was only a rocky dirt road that meandered down the bluff and across the river at a shallow place where rocks and gravel had been dumped to form an underwater roadbed.  The shallow riffle it formed was less than knee deep so that a horse or someone on foot did not have to swim.  Cars could be driven across, too, since automobiles were built much higher off the ground back then.  A modern car could not have made it.
I got off the mare at the ford and watered both her and me in the cool clear water of the small river.  I wasted some time piddling around with some crawdads and watching a couple of dragon flies hovering over the water, then rode on toward Tarrytown where the dirt country road would hit the paved highway between Greenfield and Springfield.  At the Tarrytown junction I decided that it must be time to stop and have lunch.  I did not own a watch, but the sun was high overhead by then and it was getting pretty warm.  I tied the mare in the shade of an oak tree, taking off her bridle so she could graze a little, and ate my lunch of biscuits and bacon.

After more than three hours in the saddle it was a relief to rest my behind.  I loafed a while and got to watching a tumble bug pushing his load across the road.
Tumble bugs are big black beetles almost the size of a man’s thumb.  They live on cow manure that they store in their burrows for the winter.
The way a tumble bug gets the manure (and also the name) is that they find a fairly fresh cowpile and make a ball of it about an inch in diameter.  The beetle then rolls the ball by standing on its front legs and tumbling the ball with its back legs in the direction it wants to go.  I do not know hw he knows what direction he is going since his head is down and he is going backwards.  I always intended to follow one sometime and see where he took the ball of cow manure, but a tumble bug moves pretty slow, what with getting the ball around rocks and stuff, so I always ran out of patience and quit watching.

The old tumble bug was pushing his ball along, leaving a little trail in the dust.  I watched him hit a piece of flat sandrock and moved that out of his way.  I might have stayed there longer except I heard a car in the distance and thought it might be my father.  I quick bridled the mare, got back into the saddle, and headed for Greenfield which was still nearly ten miles away.
My father came by in the Model T about the time I was in sight of the Greenfield water water—sticking up out of the green trees around this courthouse square.  Dad stopped the car and repeated his instructions as to how to find the farm that I was to take the mare to, then he headed on into town.
When I finally got there, I had been in that saddle for over five hours and I sure was glad to get off that horse.  My behind was sore, my legs were stiff and felt bowed even though I had ridden part of the time with a leg hooked over the saddle horn.
We put the saddle in the back of the Model T touring car.  As we left town, Dad said that he had found another horse over west of Bona toward Cane Hill and that we would go get it.  I sure groaned inwardly because I had had enough of the saddle for a while, but I did not say anything because it was something that had to be done.  Dad did say that it was only about three and a half miles from our house.
It was getting close to sunset when we got to the farm to get the new horse.  That horse proved to be something else when they led him out of the barn.  He was the biggest buckskin horse I ever saw—probably near eighteen hands tall.  He was big-muscled, had almost a roman nose, shaggy mane, and feet about the size of dinner plates at the end of his long legs.  Inevitably, his name was “Buck.”
Fortunately, Buck was a gentle old critter and we were to find that he was a joy to ride once you got up onto him.  In spite of those huge feet, he was a smooth-gaited pacer.  He never trotted, he paced—throwing those big feet out and plopping along the dusty road.  The ride was as smooth and easy as sitting in a rocking chair.  With all that size, when Buck galloped he really thundered down the road!
This time I was neither marshal of Tombstone, Hoot Gibson, or Tom Mix.  I was by then a very tired and hungry little country boy with a very sore backside.  It was nearly dark when I turned onto the road to Bona and, although I was perfectly accustomed to roaming familiar countryside in the dark, I was in strange territory for the first couple of miles.  The dark hallows that road dipped through seemed ominous as the last of the sun faded.

I was still about half a mile short of where the road crosses Maze Creek—the boundry of home territory—when I really spooked myself.  There was a very dark hollow ahead that got me to thinking about “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” which I had recently read.  The more I thought about it, the more I imagined that the headless horseman might be riding up behind me.  I was looking back more than I was looking ahead and the hairs on the nape of my neck were prickling.

Just when I was at the bottom of that dark hollow, a screech owl cut loose in the brush nearby.  Now, if you have never heard a screech owl in a dark night, you have missed a very chilling sound.  A screech owl is very small, about the size of a man’s fist, but he can wake the dead.  He does not hoot like a respectable owl, but lets out a scream that could almost be a mountain lion or a banshee.  At least I think so, although I have never heard a banshee wail.

The scream of that little old screech owl did it.  I panicked, kicked that old buckskin in the ribs, slapped his withers with the end of the reins, and we went thundering up the road at a wild gallop.  There were a couple of people up ahead walking toward Bona in the darkness.  When that big old buckskin charged past, they took to the ditch!  Short as I was and hunched over the saddle horn, they probably thought I was the headless horseman!

We thundered across the wooden bridge over Maze Creek and I did not pull that horse up until we got up the hill to Bona and I turned him for home.  With a few familiar lights around me, I soon settled down and my heart quit pounding, but nothing in this world ever looked better to me than the soft yellow lamplight in the kitchen window at home.  The beans and macaroni that Mother had saved for me tasted wonderful—but I ate standing up at the kitchen counter.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Home is where the heart is.

1952 picture of the last farm the author lived on in Missouri during the 1930s.

Since I grew from eleven to fifteen years of age during the time we lived in that little farmhouse a quarter mile south of Bona—the most formative years of any young life—I shall always remember it as “home,” although the old house was long since been moved back from the road to the woods and a new house built in its place.

It was a grey, weathered little clapboard house shaded by several maple trees in the yard.  It had but three rooms—not counting the outhouse that was out past the chickenyard—a living room and a bedroom across the front and a kitchen/dining room in back that had a porch on each side.  There was only a small roofed porch on the front facing the road so there was not much room out there to sit in rocking chairs or swing in the evening and watch the world go by.  That did not matter much.  Nothing went down that old dirt road in the evening anyway.  You might as well be sitting on the back porch to enjoy the cooler evening air.

There was no electricity or running water in the house.  We used coal oil lamps and we carried water in a bucket from the deep well in the yard.  My father did build Mother a kitchen counter that had a sink that drained out into the yard so you could dump a wash pan or dishpan without taking it to the door.

Beside the back porch there was a smokehouse to the north.  Out beyond there, past a large black walnut tree and the chicken house was the two-hole outhouse.  On the other side of the backyard there was a path that led past the woodpile, some hutches where we raised a few domestic rabbits, and down to the stock tank and the small barn.

The barn had originally been a two-story log cabin.  When it was converted into a barn, lean-to sheds were built on each side; one with stalls for a team of horses or mules and the other with milking stanchions for the cows.  In the center was a corn crib and there was a small hayloft.

The stock tank outside the barn was a large round metal tank about three feet high and ten or twelve feet in diameter.  The water was supplied by a pipe from the deep well in the house yard.  The tank was large enough that we sometime jumped in it for a swim on a hot summer day or had a bath down there if we had not been swimming in the creek for a while.  In winter we had a bath in a wash tub by the black iron wood cookstove every Saturday night.  In summer when we had been going barefoot (which was all the time except on Sundays or when we went to Greenfield) we had to wash our feet as well as our hands and face every night before we went to bed.
Single cylinder pump

We had a pump house with a gasoline engine for the reason that our well was unusually deep—two or maybe three hundred feet, I think—which meant that it took a lot of force to work the long-handled cast iron pump.  It was just possible to pump a bucket of water for the house by hand, but for topping off the stock tank or pumping several buckets of water for Mother to wash clothes, the pump was rigged to a primitive one-cylinder gasoline engine with big cast iron flywheels on each side.

Now, that old putt-putt engine was a bane of we boys’ lives.  Starting it was a hazardous process.  After connecting the coil and a dry-cell battery, it was necessary to squat down, hold one of the valves open with your left hand to release the compression, and crank the flywheels with the right hand.  When you had the heavy wheels spinning pretty good you had to let go the crank handle, release the valve, and if you were lucky the engine would cough and start.  It very often did not start and the flywheel would kick back like an upset mule.  It could break your arm if you did not let go of the flywheel handle in time, something like a Model T would do.  When it did that to me, I sometimes kicked that old engine back if I happened to be wearing shoes at the time.

Out across a small pasture from the barn there was a “woodlot” on that little farm—two or three acres of woods left when the farm was cleared so there would be a handy supply of firewood to cut.  It was a great place for us boys to practice camping out.  Richard and I would sometimes take an old quilt up in those woods and make a tent.  Then we would build a campfire and kill a rabbit or a squirrel.  We rarely slept out there at night, however, since it was quite a way to go to get to the house if something scared us—which it sometimes did after we had been telling ghost stories.

Hearing about the conditions under which my father's family lived and my little grandmother cooked and cleaned and raised her children, I am overwhelmed with humility at her strength.  Grandma had had a taste of "modern" life in Vancouver and Kansas City with electricity, running water, and flush (if not inside) toilets.  Granted, most folks in the Ozarks lived that way and she was raised in what we would consider primitive conditions, but being a woman in those days, especially during the Great Depression, required grit and she had it in spades.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saints and Sinners

Vintage blacksmith in Bakerville BC.  Bona blacksmith shop is gone.

Over beyond Mattie Whiteside’s store to the south, there once was a blacksmith shop run by the Slagle brothers.  I well remember the ring of the sledge on the anvil and the odor and sound of the forge when they heated horseshoes or plowshares.  The Slagle boys shod horses and mules and repaired the steel rims of the horse drawn wooden-wheeled farm wagon until such wagons were replaced with wagons made from old Model T Ford frames and had rubber tires.  By the early thirties the blacksmith shop was not making a living for them and it was abandoned.  I recall that in the mid-thirties the Slagle brothers for a while operated a small, open air sawmill down by the frog pond west of Grandpa’s store.  It was belt driven from an old, old steam tractor.

I recall one incident involving that old blacksmith shop.  It was 1930 or 1931 when I was nine or ten years old.  We were visiting Grandpa and Grandma one sunny afternoon and I had been at the shop watching Ben Slagle heat some horse shoes in the forge and fit them to a black horse.  There was a group of men in a storeroom at the back of the dilapidated building taking turns sipping out of a quart fruit-jar of moonshine whiskey.

1930s still
Since Bona has sometimes been called “the buckle on the Bible belt” there were not many moonshine stills in the hollows around there except for a couple that us kids stumbled across down in the cane brakes along Maze Creek.  Moonshine was easy to come by during Prohibition, however.  The men who took a nip or three now and then knew where there was an old hallow log down by the Little Sac River where they could leave a dollar bill, go fishing for a while, then come back and that dollar bill would have turned into a quart of “white lightening.”

Well, on this particular day, I do not know who all was back there as we kids were not allowed in the storeroom, but I do know that Eulas Todd was one of them and, with Eulas, one drink led to another.  I had gone back across the road to Grandpa’s store when I heard Maud Todd yelling her head off out in the road.  Now Maud was a small lady with jet black hair and a mighty temper.  She was really on the warpath.

I went outside, along with everyone else in earshot—which was a fair piece when Maud yelled—and she was stomping up and down by a black Model T roadster that had been parked in front of the blacksmith shop, yelling things like, “Look at that drunken bum!  He has passed out right here in front of God and everybody!  Come here, you kids, and just see what drinking that Devil’s brew will do to you!”
She saw me and motioned, “Come on over here, Conrad, and look at this shameful sight.  He has plat passed out!”
I tiptoed rather timorously across the road and looked in the open door of the car.  There was Eulas, all right, sprawled out across the seat dead to the world.  He did not even stir when Maud shook him and beat on his leg with a clenched fist, mad as an old wet hen.  Some spittle was drooling from one corner of his mouth and I would have thought that he was dead except that he kept on snoring.
I don’t reckon Eulas really went to hell because of his drinking, though.  He was really a good and gentle man with his kids when he was sober and I remember he taught Claude to play “Greencorn” on the banjo one time when Claude had broken a foot and was laid up with nothing to do.  Eulas never went near the church in those days, but I heard years later that he had quit carousing around, got religion, and joined the Bona Church.  He never hurt anybody that I know of and I’d reckon he made his peace with the Lord before he died at a ripe old age.
Contemporary picture of the Church at Bona

Bona Church deserves a special mention since it was—and still is—the hub of the community.  It was a white clapboard square building (since then modified by the addition of a brick front) shaded by several large spreading trees—mostly maple, but one was a big mulberry tree.  The church is a very fundamentalist Church of Christ.  The members do not hold with drinking, card playing, dancing, etc, and no musical instruments (except for the song-leader’s tuning fork) are allowed in the church.
There were no regular ministers at the Bona Church.  Services were conducted by the deacons and elders of the church except when traveling ministers came to hold revival meetings.  I would reckon they were latter-day circuit riders although they came in either Model T or Model A Ford cars instead of riding on horses.
I recall two of those traveling ministers in particular because they were so different.  There was one short and stocky red-headed man who was an old-time hellfire and damnation preachers.  When he got going good, he would wave his arms as he paced back and forth behind the lectern and his sonorous voice would fair make the acetylene light fixtures shake.  When he thundered about the sins that would take you straight to hell, he could make you cringe in your seat while you smelled Sulphur fumes and imagined the devil with his pitchfork hot on your trail.
The other preacher I recall was just the reverse.  I do not recall the names but this other fellow was tall and lanky as if he were not eating to regularly and, instead of being bombastic about sinning, he was soft-spoken, kind, and gentle.  He based his sermons on the good things in the Bible and a promise of a good life to come with Jesus—providing, of course, that you led a good life and avoided the well-marked path to perdition.  He was very persuasive, too.  At the end of an evening revival meeting when the invitation hymn was being sung, he made folks sincerely want to come forward and pledge their lives to the Lord.  He was the one that baptized me, but that was later on.
There was no choir at the Bona Church.  The congregation was the choir.  Every Sunday evening many of the congregation gathered for “singing” which served as choir practice as well as a vesper service in praise of the Lord.  It is my regret that tape recorders did not exist then because, in their small way, the Bona congregation could rival the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Led by lanky Elmer Long, as long as they stuck to the old favorites—“The Old Rugged Cross,” “In the Garden,” “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown,” etc—everyone knew the tenor, bass, alto, and soprano parts and it sounded beautiful.  I shall always remember walking up the road toward Bona on a warm summer Sunday evening and hearing that music pour from the open windows along with the soft golden glow of the acetylene lights.  I do not know if they still sing that well or not since I have not been in the Bona Church for services for more than thirty years.

In 1970 I drove my grandparents home to Greenfield from a winter on Whidbey Island in the 1959 Chevrolet Impala my grandfather had bought.  I hadn’t been in Missouri since I was too young to remember.  My trip happened to coincide with Aunt Ora’s funeral which was at the Church at Bona.  My grandmother explained ahead that there wouldn’t be a piano or organ or a choir, but there were two pews of old folks who may have at one time sounded angelic to my father.  I couldn’t help but think that a piano or organ would have done a lot to keep us all in tune.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Life in Hard Times

Chapter 4

…and the star skunk

During the early thirties it seemed as if the drought and Hard Times would go on forever.  The sun rose each morning into a clear blue sky and, long before noon, it was a brassy ball under which the heat became oppressive.  The red soil of our Ozark cornfields and that of the dirt country roads turned to powdery dust and, in summer, the corn shriveled more than it grew.  The cows spent as much time in whatever shade they could find as they did in grazing on the parched grass.
Walking through the woods in the heat of the day was like walking in church—a stillness because the squirrels were enervated and the many songbirds were muted.  Many times during those hot summer days the only sounds might be the distant ker-thump of someone’s hydraulic ram pumping water from a dwindling branch, the listless caw of a distant crow, or perhaps the plaintive call of a mourning dove.
Typical dress and method of clothes washing in the Ozarks 

When we moved onto the little farm spang in the middle of the drought years, not much of a living could be made on forty acres so Dad had to rent other land to try to grow corn and he often went out looking for other work.  Once, in the mid-thirties, he got some road work when the government was improving the dirt road through Bona to a “farm-to-market-road” and during that time he helped build new bridges over the Little Sac river north of Bona and over Maze Creek between Bona and Dadeville.  By the sweat of his brow and the labor of his strong arms, he kept some sort of food in the house and clothes on our backs—albeit often faded and patched which Mother kept clean with her washtub and scrub board.

Josie Stanley on porch in Bona, MO

I have already described Grandpa Stanley’s general store at Bona.  His house was just north of the store, across a grassy yard.  It was a white, two-story (one and half actually, as the upper floor with two bedrooms was an overgrown attic with dormer windows) farmhouse type building.  It had a small front porch that was covered on each side by a red climber rose.  The porch was just large enough for Grandma to sit in her rocking chair out there in the evening and piece quilt tops or tat lace (her small hands were never idle).  When I stayed with them, Grandpa and I would sit on the porch step after he closed the store for the night and he would sometimes get out his fiddle and play for us.  He was a good old-time fiddler and could really saw out a tune, all by ear and memory.  I especially liked his lively rendition of “Marching Through Georgia.”  Right there you know that he was on the side of the Union during the Civil War, although he could play “Dixie” and the old Stephen Foster southern songs with the best of them.  Most old-time fiddlers played with the fiddle resting on their chest, but Grandpa played in a more modern style with the fiddle tucked up under his chin.

Great-great-great-grandson of C. B. Stanley

I like to believe that somewhere Grandpa Stanley looks favorably on the violin ability of his great-great-great-grandson.  

C. B. Stanley on the porch of his general store, Bona, MO

The house and store sat on a big double corner lot and there was a small barn down in back that Grandpa used for storage and for a garage for his car and truck.  At one side of the barn, behind a large lilac bush, was the two-holer outhouse (big hole for adults and a small one for us kids).  On the other side of the barn was the kitchen vegetable garden.  Between it and the big back yard Grandma always had a row of tall hollyhocks.  She was very fond of flowers.  In the front yard there was a frame for roses, sweetpeas along the fence by the town row of mailboxes, and in the side yard a combined flower/herb garden.  A big black walnut tree shaded that east side of the house.
In my earliest memories, the northeast corner of the Bona crossroads was vacant and was used for a hitching rail for wagons and buggies coming to the store or to church; however, sometime around 1932 or so, my Uncle Hubert from Kansas City built a new store building there for Tom Humbert.  We did not trade there much as he was a competitor to Grandpa Stanley but, of course, we kids often hung out there.
Although gambling was a mortal sin, Tom Humbert one time put in a penny slot machine that some slick-talking traveling salesman talked him into.  It resulted in a lesson for us boys that gambling was a sin.  One afternoon my little brother Rex was at Humbert’s store and he had a penny.  He put it into that slot machine and won a small handful of pennies.  Rex was only about six years old so, naturally, marched proudly home and showed Mother what he had won.  She scolded him good and made him march right back down to Humbert’s store and give back the pennies because he could not take money won at gambling.  I think Tom did away with that little contraption shortly thereafter, most likely the church elders got on him about it.
(I guess that lesson took pretty well on Rex as I never knew him to do much in the way of gambling in later years.  It did not take too well on Richard and me, however, as when we were in VP-11 in the Navy he was known as a sharp poker player and I had an undeserved—I was just lucky at times—reputation as a crap shooter and poker player.  I still play poker with some of my old cronies, but only nickel, dime, and quarter pot limit.)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Family Feud

Feuds are a part of the history and present in the Ozarks

The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys is well known, but not unique.  Families in the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains have found things to disagree over and take to feuding in one form or another.  The book and movie "Winter's Bone" is a recent pop culture look at a violent feud, not over moonshine, but over methamphetamine which has replaced moonshining as a cottage industry in the Ozarks with far more devastating results.  Fortunately our family feud never evolved to anything like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but hard feelings lasted until all the principles were gone from this world.

I mentioned earlier that feuds have started over less than that old dog Hoover.  That is true.  These days a lot of people think that hill country feuds are just fables to sing about, like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  They are not fables.  We had a pretty good feud going right there around Bona in the early thirties.  As a matter of fact, because of the criss-crossing of families, we were related to both sides of the local feud.

That North Morgan township feud was between the Tygarts and the Asbells.  Coy Tygart had married my father’s sister Norma so he was my uncle and their children, two boys and three girls, were my cousins.  The oldest was Eldon, then there was Lee, Edna May, James Lowell (the same age as Richard), and Imogene who was a little younger than me.

On the other side of the feud was Henry Asbell.  Henry’s mother, Aunt Lizzie, was a sister of my grandmother, Josie Stanley (nee Blankenship) so that made Henry and Maud Asbell’s kids our first cousins once removed.  Evelyn Asbell was about Dick’s age and their son Gene was a year younger than me.

We stayed just about completely clear of the feud and as neutral as we could, although I’d reckon we favored the Tygarts a bit since they were closer relations than the Asbells.  Coy and Norma Tygart lived on the Frieze old home place where I had been born.  Henry and Maud Asbell lived on the next farm to the west just across a small valley and creek.  The two farms shared a fence line.

Coy Tygart was a proud and stubborn man.  Apparently he was a pretty good farmer as the Tygarts always had clothes a little better than some folks in those Depression days and a fairly good Model T Ford to drive to town.  I found out in later years that, actually, my father harbored a grudge against Coy because of the way he treated my Aunt Norma—keeping her in the kitchen most of the time, hardly ever letting her talk, and Coy practically never took her to town with him, or any of the girls either.

Coy Tygart was to outlive Norma.  He lived to be 92 years old and spent his last years in a little house in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He was a tough old bird (like most Ozark men), lived by himself, and made a garden every spring right up to the time he died.  One morning in about 1985, James Lowell’s wife tried to call Uncle Coy and there was no answer.  She went to check on him and found him sitting upright in his chair at the dining table, but he was stone cold dead.

My father was then nearly 90, had been given up for being terminal a couple of times, and was pretty frail.  When I told him the news about Uncle Coy and how he died, Dad sat with his hands folded on his cane, thought about it, then simply said, “Just like Coy Tygart.  Too damn stubborn to lay down!”

To get back to that feud, Henry Asbell was quite a bit different from Coy Tygart.  Coy was a tall commanding figure.  Henry was a short little fellow with sometimes a weasely look about him.  He had the reputation for being a natural born thief and, according to some of the things my father told me in later years, the reputation was well-earned.  Henry was quite a woodsman and was always out hunting possum, skunks, raccoons for their hides.  He was not much of a farmer and I believe lived more by his wits than the sweat of his brow.

Henry Asbell also made moonshine both before and after Prohibition and used to keep some bottles of it in a gunny sack in the spring down the bluff below their house.  I know that because more than once we boys swiped a bottle or two to see what it was like.  I did not care much for it as it tasted bitter to me.

I also know from experience that Henry was a sneaky devil.  He could go through the woods in the night without making a sound.  One black night when we had gotten a little older, Richard and I were out possum hunting deep in the woods, quite a way form Henry’s house.  We thought we were pretty good at not making noise and were moving along quietly when Dick saw a shadow move and turned on the flashlight.  There stood old Henry grinning at us.  He just waved and vanished silently into the brush.

Well, I seem to keep getting off the subject of the feud.  I have never been too clear on exactly how the Tygart/Asbell feud got started, but it had to do with the fence line between the two farms.  One or the other of them was feeding turkeys at one time in a field near the fence and the other one’s pigs would get through the fence and eat shelled corn left for the turkeys.  Then a pig disappeared and nasty things started to happen.  I am fairly sure that Coy accused Henry of stealing a pig.

It never quite escalated into a shooting feud, thank goodness, and all in all it was really sort of funny, but they sure did some mean things to one another.  One night my father was in Greenfield with Coy Tygart and I reckon they had been drinking some.  It seems Coy spotted Henry Asbell’s Model T sitting on a street near the square, pulled out his pocket knife, and slashed a couple of Henry’s tires.  Henry saw them and got hold of the sheriff.  I do not know the details, but believe they may have spent a night in jail.

Even though my father had no part in slashing the tires, he was with Coy and that nearly drew us into the feud.  One night a trammel net (for catfish) that belonged to Dad disappeared.  He was pretty sure old Henry had snaffled it, but being slow to anger and a peaceable man, Dad did not accuse Henry.  Instead, that Saturday afternoon Dad was at the store in Bona and he told some people that were around about it and added, “I reckon I know who did it and, he don’t bring that trammel net back, I’m gonna go after him!”  The next morning the trammel net was in a gunny sack, hanging on the fence along our yard.

Not long after that, Henry decided that he would not share a fence line with Coy Tygart so he went to work and built a new fence all along his farm (a quarter of a mile of fence) three feet back from the old fence and forming what was known as a “Devil’s Lane.”  Being (as I said) a stubborn man, Coy Tygart allowed as how he would not use that line fence either and he built one three feet back on his side.   That Devil’s Lane, claimed by neither man, just few up in brush and made a dandy place for James Lowell to set his rabbit traps.

The Devil’s Lane was still there when I visited Bona not too long after WWII, but a few years later the Tygarts moved away, Henry Asbell bought the Frieze old home place and tore the fences down.  Unfortunately, Henry let that proud old farmhouse go to wreck and ruin and now my birthplace is falling down.

In researching the idea of a Devil's Lane I discovered that they were a method European settlers brought to the South and the Ozarks to settle land disputes.  A lot of those lanes have become actual streets and roads where houses have been built.  I don't think I would like Devil's Lane as an address.

I believe that the only time anyone actually got injured in that feud was in the late thirties after we had moved out to Vancouver, Washington again.  My brother Richard was in Missouri visiting not long before he joined the Navy.  He and James Lowell went to a baseball game at the Bona town ball field one hot Sunday afternoon.  Now I do not know if they had anything to drink and they would not admit it if they had, but during the ball game James spotted Henry Asbell crouching down over along the third base line watching the game.  James picked up a sizeable piece of sandrock and tucked it inside the bib of his blue overalls.  He and Richard moseyed around the ball field until they were right behind Henry then James whipped out the rock and broke it over Henry’s head.

I was not there, but I guess it really laid old Henry out and cut his scalp pretty bad.  I imagine that James and Dick lit out for the brush before anyone could catch them and I suspect that they may have hid out in a “secret” cave over to the west along Maze Creek that we knew about.  (I must remember to tell you about that cave and how we found it later on.)

I do not know how it all came out for James in the long run, but that was just about the last incident in the Tygart/Asbell feud.  Most of the time it had just been hard feelings between the two families so it really did not amount to all that much.

In these early chapters I have probably missed some of the places where we lived when I was small, but I guess that is not important.  The ones I have mentioned were the principal ones that I remember before we moved into the little three-room house just a quarter mile south of Bona which would be our last home in the Ozarks.
Last Missouri home of the Ernest Frieze family

My Grandpa Stanley bought a forty-acre farm there south of Bona and Dad moved us onto it to share crop.  That would have been in 1933 when I was eleven years old.  The great drought and dust bowl were in full swing, the Okies were heading down Route 66 to the promised land of California, and Hard Times seemed to go on and on.

When we all gathered in Vancouver for my grandparents’ 40th anniversary, my aunts and uncles sat with my grandparents around the kitchen table and counted up how many houses they have lived in by then.  After forty years of marriage they had lived in 42 houses.  I can’t remember which house that was in, but I think it was Minnehaha.  From there they would move to Whidbey Island, thence to Bolivar, MO, and to Greenfield before coming back to Washington for the third time and landing in Bellevue to be near my Aunt Sandra Hard.  So in the end, to the best of my knowledge, they shared about 45 homes in sixty-five years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog

Another thing I recall about the time in that yellow house is when I wound up with egg on my face—literally.  It was in the winter when everything was frozen.  The chickens were watered in an old wash pan and, of course, that froze. 
One Saturday after noon, long after the episode of the itch, we were going to go to Bona.  When we got ready to go I had forgotten that I was supposed to take the hot teakettle off the kitchen stove and thaw the water pan for the chickens.  Just as we were getting into the Hupmobile, my mother asked about it.
I ran back and got the boiling kettle off the wood stove.  In my hurry to get going to Bona, I raced through the back yard toward the chicken house and tripped over a big root from a maple tree.  I and the tea kettle hit the frozen ground at the same time.  The lid popped off and the scalding water splashed over my arm and one side of my face.
I probably near raised the dead in the next county with my howling.  My mother came running and, as usual, she knew what to do.  She hustled me into the house, broke some eggs and separated the yolks, then smeared the egg white on my face. 
I felt pretty silly walking around with that dried egg white on my face.  For years I thought about that every time I heard the expression “…and there he was with egg on his face.”  Either I was not burned all that bad or else my mother’s treatment was just right because the burns healed in a few days and did not leave any scars.  I always had a healthy respect for water after that, but being a dumb old country boy, I kept getting into “hot water” one way or another for the rest of my life.  And sometimes got “burned.”
I researched this home remedy and found it to be part of the training for firemen.  Absolutely my grandmother knew what she was doing.  The natural collagen in the egg white helps to heal the burn.
We lived in that yellow house for a year or so, then Dad moved us into a big white farmhouse about half a mile south of Bona.  It was also up a long lane from the road to Dadeville.  In fact, from the white house you could see the yellow house we had lived in a quarter of a mile away across acouple of pastures.  After we moved, a very distant shirt-tail relative, Kaz Shouse, moved into the yellow house with his family.
The big white house we had moved into belonged to Fred Hulston who was the Chevrolet dealer in Ash Grove over toward Springfield.  I do not believe we lived there very long as I do not remember much about that place as some of the others.  One thing I do remember though, was an incident about an old hunting dog named “Hoover.”
Possum hunting was a fall pastime in the Ozark hills and a little money could be made at it.  The fur dealers that came through occasionally would pay a dollar or a dollar thirty-five or so for a good possum hide.  They were dyed and made into cheap fur coats or coat collars.
The time for possum hunting was in the fall after the first frosts and when the persimmons were ripe.  It was done at night when the possums came out to climb the low persimmon trees for the fruit.  Their fur was thick for the winter by then.  All that was required was a good flashlight with which to spot the possums in the low trees.
A good possum dog makes the hunt much more certain.  The dog would sniff out the possums and bark to let the hunters know which tree he was in.  The possum can then be shaken or knocked out of the tree.  They seldom run when they hit the ground, but usually just curl up and play dead.
Well, old Hoover was a real good possum dog.  He was smart enough to not go off chasing rabbits or to tree a skunk.  The dog belonged to an old widow who was a relative of ours.  One time the old lady told my father that she wanted him to have old Hoover.
When the old lady died, Dad went to get Hoover only to find that Kaz Shouse had already taken the dog and claimed that it had been given to him.  I do not know who was right, but I know that my father was quite peeved about it and threatened to go over to Shouse’s and get the dog.  My mother did not want to see trouble started over an old possum dog (feuds have started over less) so she talked him out of it.
The morning after I had heard my father talking about it, I took little brother Rex with me and took off across the fields.  When we got to Shouse’s I found old Hoover tied up in the alleyway between the house and the smokehouse.  With Rex at my heels, I just marched up and started to untie the dog.  Just then one of the Shouse girls, Hazel (who later married my first cousin Carl Frieze) saw or heard us and came out the kitchen door.  She knew that her father would be pretty riled up if I took the dog so she set about talking me out of it.
“Conrad,” she said, “it will just cause trouble if you take that dog and you don’t want to cause trouble now do you?”
“Well,” I stated flatly, “my daddy says that the old lady gave Hoover to him and my daddy don’t tell no lies.  I’m agonna take him home with me.”  Meanwhile I kept pulling at the knot in the rope.
“Now just a minute,” Hazel said.  “It is just your dad’s word against my dad’s and you don’t know which one is right.  You let them settle it.”
“Dadgummit,” I said emphatically, “my daddy don’t lie and Kaz Shouse don’t have a very good reputation for tellin’ the truth!” (That was true, but I had not stopped to think that I was talking about her daddy.)
Hazel got downright indignant about that.  She jerked the rope out of my hands and pointed across the fields at our house.  “Now that’s about enough, Conrad.” She snapped.  “You and Rex Donald just get right along home and don’t you come near this dog again!”
A family gathering in Bona.  Richard is center with the hat, Conrad bareheaded next to him, Rex the little boy in shorts and cap.  My grandmother is in the cloche hat and white dress to the far right, her sister (we believe) in the dark dress and standing next to her, and their father over their shoulders between them.

Rex was already backing away because Hazel was a pretty big girl and probably in her late teens at the time.  I stood there fuming for a minute then, in exasperation, kicked a piece of sand rock against the smokehouse wall hoping it would bounce and hit her accidental like—only it didn’t.  My dander was up, but there was no way I would fight a female so I turned around and marched truculently away—feeling ashamed that I had let an old girl face me down.  Later on I decided it did not matter much as Hoover was pretty old and I think he died not long afterward.
When I was born in Wichita both of my grandmothers lived across the country in Vancouver.  It was Carl and Hazel that came and stayed with my parents at first so I expect that my father had gotten over his resentment over old Hoover!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

1927 Hupmobile
This next house was forever known as "the itch house" in family lore.

At the time we moved into the yellow house (I forget who owned the property) Dad had somehow acquired a big old Hupmobile sedan.  It was black and square as a barn.  Matter of fact, that old Hup looked like a hearse.  With money short to non-existent, we did not have the Hupmobile very long.  As I recall, Dad sold it to my Uncle Merritt Stanley who by then was running a garage and filling station in Aldrich, Missouri, seven miles to the east of Bona.  My Uncle Merritt cut the back of the body off and made a pickup truck out of that big old car.
One thing I remember about living in that yellow farmhouse was that it sure was a long way to walk to school.  Bona School was on a hill a full mile north of Bona so us kids had about a two-mile walk each way.  That is not far in a car, but it was a long way on shank’s mare.  We did not really mind, however, as walking to school was a way of life.

That walk really worked a hardship on little Rex because his legs were so short.  He did not have much trouble keeping up because Richard and I normally left in time that we could just mosey along, but coming home after playing hard at recess, Rex’s legs would sometimes give out and he got leg aches.  Sometimes he would just sit down in the ditch and cry, they hurt so bad.  I am afraid that we often gave him a hard time about keeping up, but I could remember getting leg aches when I was little so I would hoist him onto my back and give him a piggy-back ride home.
My mother, Eva, sure had a terrible experience while we lived in that big yellow house.  We kids caught the itch—no doubt at school because the Lord knows Mother kept us clean enough at home—and Dad caught it from us.  It sure was aggravating to be itching all the time and you were not supposed to scratch, but it was my mother I felt sorry for.  She slaved for several days carrying water from the well for the washtub she heated on the kitchen stove to scrub us and all our clothes.  She must have used a short ton of pine tar soap and I believe she doused us with calamine lotion.

We felt like lepers because we could not go to school with the itch, but eventually Mother got us all cured and we stayed home a couple of more days to make sure it was gone and no one would catch it from us.  We were happy as turkey gobblers in a polkberry patch when we finally got to go to Grandma’s at Bona one evening, then went back to school.
1927 Hupmobile
That first trip to Bona after the itch did not work out too well—in fact that was one of the last times I saw my mother cry.  We drove up in the old Hupmobile and Mother went to the door to make sure that is was alright with Grandma and Grandpa if we came in.  Unfortunately, she came back to the car weeping and we turned around and went home.  It was not Grandpa and Grandma Stanley’s fault, however.  My Uncle Merritt and Aunt Golden from Aldrich were there visiting.  When my mother asked—and before Grandma could answer—my aunt exclaimed, “Well! I sure don’t want to catch the itch!”
My mother just turned away and came back to the car.  I guess I never quite forgave my Aunt Golden that she had made my mother feel bad and cry after she had worked so hard to cure us all.

I’m not sure that my father ever heard “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” but whenever I hear it I think of him carrying his brother when he couldn’t make it make it on his own.  The Frieze kids were like that.  As an only child, they were my template for how siblings were.  I have since learned that is not always the case.  My father loved his family desperately as you will see.  I believe that anyone of them would have literally carried the other…well, not my little Aunt Sandra, but anyone of her brothers would have gladly carried her.  In the end, isn’t that the reason we are here?  To carry one another when we can?
 And at the heart of it all was my grandmother.  She raised four children during the Great Depression and, with a husband who had "sand in his shoes," she had to learn to travel light; to figure out what was worth carrying.  She travels with me in my heart and head and I believe I miss her most of all.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Chapter 3: Back to Bona

Chapter 3
More Moves and a Feud 
The crops did not amount to much that year on Doc Hunt’s place as the big drought of the thirties was getting underway and Hard Times were in full swing.  My father put his seed corn and his hopes into that worked-out red Ozark soil, but neither came to much.  He gave up renting and went back to tenant farming in 1931 or thereabouts.
This time we moved into a big yellow farmhouse about a mile south of Bona and a quarter of a mile off the road to Dadeville.  In all of our moves in those days we kept getting a little closer to that little store was there, is why I feel that Bona (such as it is) is my home town. [village would be a better term]
That yellow house was up a long rocky lane from the county road.  At that time the county road was just a rocky dirt country road.  There were no bridges over Maze Creek, halfway to Dadeville, or over the Little Sac River, south of Dadeville near Tarrytown.  In either wagon or car, it was necessary to ford the streams where rocks and gravel had been filled in to make a shallow riffle for the road to cross.
Richard and I were old enough by then to ramble around the countryside exploring and we really began to appreciate the beauty and peace of those Ozark hills.  It is an area of gently rolling hills, extensive green woodlands, creeks, and river.  There are no mountains in southwest Missouri.  The “Ozark Mountains” that you hear about—really just overgrown steep hills with lots of woodlands and deep ravines—are mostly in southeast Missouri and down into Arkansas.
I don’t like my father’s term “overgrown’ hills.  As an adjective, it is the opposite of what is happening to the Ozarks Mountains.  What Uncle Dick told me, and I believe him, is that the reason the Missouri Ozarks Mountains, particularly those in the area our family is from, are the oldest mountains in the world.  Some people believe that the Appalachians (where our family passed through) are the oldest, but they are taller than the Ozarks. Like old people, the Ozarks have become worn and stooped from the millenniums of years since their birth, but their spirit is strong, but by 1931 the soil was worn out.  When I am there I can feel the ancientness.  Whatever those mountains may seem to suffer when compared to our Cascades or the Himalayas they make up for in spirit.  Too, whoo whoo for you?  Go there.

Those Ozark hills, however, were a veritable wonderland to us.  The deep woods—interspersed with cornfields, grain fields (wheat and oats), and open pastures—were mostly deciduous trees that were thick-leaved and shady in summer and bare in winter.  There was little underbrush in those woodlands so we could roam freely through them.
Fox Squirrel
The hills at that time abounded with small game.  Besides the many cottontail rabbits, grey squirrels and fox squirrels, there were quail and ducks in the fall.  There were more song birds than I can count: mocking birds, whippoorwills, cardinals, scarlet blackbirds, and many many sparrows.  There were many crows and (as scavengers to keep the countryside clean of carrion) turkey buzzards that wheeled silently in the blue sky.
We had plenty of catfish in the rivers and creeks as well as perch, bluegills, and chubs so us kids grew up with a fishing line and cork bobber in our back pockets.  It seemed that we always had new territory to explore and yet, in retrospect, I realize that our real world lay within a circle around Bona of about four miles in diameter.  Anything outside that was alien territory and any person—other than relatives—from outside was a “stranger” upon whom we looked with a bit of suspicion.
In the halcyon days of roaming those hills and woodlands, squirrel rifle in hand and fishing line in pocket, we came to know that home territory so intimately that we could find our way unerringly home even on moonless nights with only the familiar star constellations to guide us.
No matter where they roamed, the stars always seemed to guide members of the family back to Dade County.