About Me

My photo
Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, July 1, 2016

Old Fashioned Fourth

A big event each year in our part of the Ozarks was the Fourth of July picnic in Greenfield, the county seat of Dad County.  I do not know why it was called a “picnic” because it was far more than that.  It included carnival rides set up all around the courthouse square, hamburger stands, all the usual carnival booths with prizes, a few sideshow tents, and a fireworks display at dark.
During the first half of the year, we boys tried to save some money to spend on fireworks on the 4th.  We did not usually save much because the rabbit selling season and possum hinting were on in the fall and winter.  My mother, however, always managed to give us enough for some firecrackers, a cap gun, and a hamburger.  I think she sometimes sold some of the chickens to give us fifty cents apiece.
Our fireworks in those days were not subject to the safety regulations we know have and, consequently, were far more potent and a lot more fun.  We were taught the dangers involved and were then on our own.  I never heard of a serious injury involving fireworks; however, we were all subjected occasionally to minor burns, numb fingers, or temporarily deafened ears once in a while.

We had firecrackers that would blow a Maxwell House coffee can fifty feet into the air.  Our cap guns sounded like real revolvers and the Roman candles would send fireballs a hundred feet into the air.
One of our favorite devices we called a “cherry bomb” but it was not a firecracker with a fuse.  It was an innocuous appearing brown ball about the size of a walnut.  It went off on impact like a miniature hand grenade.  Thrown high in the air so it would come down on pavement or thrown at a boulder, a cherry bomb made a soul-satisfying bang.  I recall one 4th when we saved some of those cherry bombs and had a “war” the next day before Sunday dinner on a rocky hillside near my Uncle Coy Tygart’s spring on the old home place.  Fortunately, there were no casualties.

We usually arrived in Greenfield on the 4th before noon and spent the rest of the day.  My mother sometimes took biscuit sandwiches for lunch.  Dinner would be a real hamburger from a stand on the square—a nickel for a small plain one or a dime for a big one with mustard and onion.  No MacDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s can compete with the delicious taste of those 4th of July hamburgers.
Even though we were old country boys from the hills, we were smart enough to know that most of the game booths for Kewpie dolls and stuffed animals were rigged and were nearly impossible to win so we rarely wasted our money there.  Any one of us could have cleaned out a shooting gallery except that they would not allow anything but BB guns in the town square and they were never accurate.
Sometimes we were a bit more gullible about the sideshow attractions.  One time they had a “Wild Man from Borneo”.  There were lurid signs outside the tent showing a savage with bones in his ears and nose sitting in a snake pit.  Occasional wild screams and unintelligible gibberish came from inside.

My curiosity got the better of me and I paid a nickel and went inside.  There was canvas “pit” in the center of the tent and, sure enough, a wild looking brown man with straggling and stringy long dirty black hair was seated in the dirt among several large snakes.  There were some harmless ground snakes and a couple of big rattlers that I figured out right away had been de-fanged because they did not try to bite the man.
The “wild man” sat in the dirt mouthing gibberish while he fondled the snakes and threw one or two across the enclosure.  I stared at him for a while and he finally looked at me through the dirty stringy hair falling over his face.  I suddenly realized his eyes were as blue as mine and I sure had never seen a blue-eyed Negro.  I grinned at him and one of the blue eyes slowly closed in a wink while a faint smile flitted on his dirty face.  I laughed as I left the tent thinking that I sure did not want to make a living that way.

The fireworks after dark were the usual display of fire fountains, big Roman candles, skyrockets, and aerial bombs that left females covering their ears and dogs scurrying for cover.  One main attraction was the small hot air balloons.  These did not carry people and were only about three or four feet tall.  The balloon part was made of gaily colored Japanese rice paper and the “burner” was simply a large candle suspended on a small platform.

When the balloons were released and soared about the treetops, the candle flames lit up the paper and made a pretty sight as they drifted away in the warm night.  Since everything was dry as tinder in those drought days, I have no idea why those balloons did not start a major fire when they came down.
By the time the fireworks were done, so were we.  Dog tired from the long day and the excitement, a few stray firecrackers and a cap gun in our pockets, we would be bundled into the back seat of the Model T Ford touring car.  We children were usually fast asleep before we got to the Bona turnoff at Tarrytown.

A Visit from Cousin Ray Dean

Chapter 10

Family Departure for Washington

In spite of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s efforts, Hard Times did not seem to get any better in the spring of 1936.  Congress had declared the NRA to be unconstitutional and the WPA faltered.  The drought eased a bit, but the price of eggs remained at ten cents a dozen.  Unemployment had soup lines in the large cities stretching around the block.  I recall seeing a sign in a cafĂ© window in Greenfield: “BREAKFAST—two eggs, three strips of bacon, fried potatoes, toast, and coffee—25 cents”.  The work on the road through Bona was over and my father could not find a money job anywhere.

We continued to wear our patched overalls and faded shirts but we never went hungry.  There was always food on the table three times a day.  Breakfast might be only biscuits and gravy but it was good and nourishing.  We did not mind that often our syrup pail lunch buckets held only a couple of biscuits and some hog meat—it was good.
One of our favorite dinners was when Mother made macaroni and cheese and cooked a pot of beans.  We would stir the macaroni and beans together on our plates.  With a hunk of cornbread and a glass of milk fresh from the cow, it was delicious.  (It took me a few years to adjust to cold refrigerated milk—I preferred it straight from the cow.)
There was one thing that I really detested—turnips!  I do not know why it was, but besides the weeds, the one thing that seemed to thrive during those drought years was turnips.  We ate turnips fixed every way known to mankind.  Mother even cooked the turnips tops like spinach so we would have some greens.  To this day, I am reluctant to face cooked turnips.

A momentous turning point in our lives occurred in the spring of 1936 a few weeks after Sandra Dean was born.  One afternoon a shiny black new car pulled up to the front of our little house.  It turned out to be our cousin, Ray Dean Lee, from Vancouver, Washington.
As I mentioned before in the first chapter, Uncle Austin had a pretty good job with the city water department in Vancouver and had some money in the bank.  He was tight as the bark on a tree, however, and would never pass up an opportunity to save a dollar.
Uncle Austin wanted a new car.  He had figured out that if he bought a train ticket to Detroit for Ray Dean, Ray could go back there, buy a new car at the factory, and drive in out to Vancouver for a hundred dollars less than Uncle Austin could buy one there.  Ray Dean was on his way back to Vancouver with a brand new 1936 four-door Plymouth sedan.
That new Plymouth was the finest thing in the way of an automobile I had ever seen.  After supper, while everyone else were taking around the table, I sneaked out front to look the car over.  I touched the shiny black paint reverently and finally worked up the courage to slide into the driver’s seat under the steering wheel.
The car had that new smell compounded of newly baked enamel, leather, and fresh grease.  I gripped the steering wheel and fantasized that I was ahead of Barney Oldfield coming down the stretch at Indianapolis.  They found me there later, sound asleep and still clutching the steering wheel.

Ray Dean’s unexpected visit changed our lives.  During that conversation after supper, Ray told Dad that there were jobs to be had in the Pacific Northwest in the lumber business.  We had been there, of course, ten years before so it was not unknown territory to Dad.  Before the evening was over a big decision was made—my father would go with Ray in the car back to Vancouver.  If he got a good job, the rest of us would come later.
We boys were ecstatic when we were informed of the decision at breakfast the next morning.  I reveled and thought gleefully, “Now I will get away from these hot, dry, dusty old hills.!”
My father gave us some sobering words of caution.  “Now don’t get your hopes too high, boys.  First I got to get out there and find a job—something that will pay enough that I can rent a house and send for all of you.  That may not come easy or quick.  We will just have to hope that I don’t have to come crawling home with my tail between my legs.”
He turned to Richard and me.  “Meantime, we got to keep this little farm going.  I am depending on you two boys—especially you Richard, because you are the oldest.  We only are milking four cows so that won’t be a problem.
“I planted twenty acres of corn down in that bottom land I rented and you will have to take care of that with the team.  You know what to do.  When you get it laid by, if everything has worked out and we are moving to Vancouver, we will hope that your mother can sell it in the field to help pay expenses and you won’t have to pick it.”
And so it was arranged on very short notice.  While we were in school the next day, Dad put his affairs in order and packed his meager belongings in a battered old cardboard suitcase.  The morning after that, right after breakfast, he got into the Plymouth with Ray Dean and they headed west.