About Me

My photo
Tacoma, Washington, United States

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.)

No comments:

Post a Comment