Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ozark Memories from William E. Hodges, Sr. (born October 28, 1922)

Typical Dog Trot Log Cabin
Somewhere in the Ozarks
(Image from photoSIG)

Cousin Bill recently sent me a report on his father's memories of Grandpa Horace Hodges in the days prior to the farm near Flora. Here's what Bill wrote by way of prefatory remarks:
Just read the latest blog/comments regarding the older brother's memories of the accident and death of Grandpa Hodges. Unfortunately, I do not have additional from Dad at this time to send.

But thought the following might be of interest to you -- feel free to share same with anyone.

On the next visit with Dad, I'll get him to tell me a little more about Grandpa's accident and death, and will send to you. Also information about Dad and Grandpa Horace's clearing and fencing of the Flora farm prior to the rest of the family moving there from the Mitchell area.
I was planning to wait until Cousin Bill sent his father's details about the accident suffered by Grandpa Horace Hodges, but upon re-reading what his father has already written about childhood days, I came to realize that the report is complete as is . . . except for some apparently excised but undoubtedly exciting details about hunting foxy critters that I'm anxious to hear more about in a follow-up report.

What follows for now are the earlier memories from Cousin Bill's father, whose full name is "William E. Hodges, Sr." (to keep things straight), but I'm going to refer to him as "Uncle Bill" since that's what I've called him since my childhood:
There are times I would love to go back and relive those days again, like going swimming in the creek, catching fish, tearing down wasp nests, drowning out yellow jackets who had nest in the ground and getting stung by them. I’d swell up like a poisoned pup and be sick for a day or two.

My parents were born in Fulton County, Dad near Viola, and Mom at Elizabeth. I was the eldest son and was born in DeWitt, Arkansas. I had a sister [named Marguerite] a year and a half older, who died when she was about two years old.

My Dad’s folks farmed, Mom’s were in the dry goods, saw milling and cotton ginning business until the Depression Days, when everything went bad for him (Cranford B. Stephens).

Dad served in the Army Medical Corps during WW1. He took his basic training at Ft. Polk, LA and served in France for 18 months. After discharge, he returned home and he and mom were married.

They moved to DeWitt, AR. Jobs were scarce then, but he went to work there on a farm operated by one of his Army buddy’s father.

Dad also had an uncle and aunt living there who were sharecropping. Mom (Nora) told me they were never settled too long in any place for a very long period of time.

About a year after my sister’s death and my birth in 1922, my parents, along with the Armstrong's, moved back to Elizabeth to rent his mother’s (Jenny Hodges) farm. We all came back on a train from DeWitt to Calico Rock. This was my first train ride. I was too young to remember, but how I bragged about it when I was older. I suppose they moved all their earthly possessions on that trip also.

The folks row cropped and raised livestock, hay and grain for our existence. I must have picked a million pounds of cotton during my time. We had to grow most of our food for the winter months. I remember having to shell corn on Friday nights to take and have ground for cornmeal to make our good cornbread.

My Grandma Hodges had an orchard that produced some of the best apples and peaches. We canned them for winter use. Mom would dry the smaller ones for apple and peach pies.

Dad would plant sorghum cane and in the fall, just before frost, we would strip off the leaves, cut the tall slender stalks, pile them in bundles and cut off the cane heads. These would be fed to the chickens and live stock. Afterwards, we would haul all those cane stalks on a horse drawn wagon to a juice press, as we called it. It was a three cylinder machine driven by large cog wheels attached to a long wooden tongue, and pulled by a mule that walked around in a circle. First, we would put the large end of the cane into the machine, and slowly the whole stalks would come out on the opposite side, flattened out minus all the sweet juice which was caught in a large wooden barrel. This juice was dipped out and carried in buckets to a large copper pan, about twelve feet long, and four feet wide and some eight inches high. This pan had dividers about six inches wide, each one opened at the opposite end so this liquid would travel from one end to the other. This copper pan was placed over a large homemade furnace, built of sandstone and cemented with clay mud to seal out the air. The furnace was fired with wood, just enough to keep the juice boiling.

At the back end, Dad had built a large smokestack so the smoke could escape and not choke you to death. When the molasses was cooked and the color clear like honey, it was drained off into gallon buckets for eating. Oh boy, what a treat, molasses, butter and hot biscuits for breakfast. Also, Mom would sometimes make molasses cookies, cakes and taffy.

In the fall, we had to harvest the corn, pick peas, beans and the biggest back-breaking job of picking cotton. We would pull the white fluffy locks by hand and put them into a sack attached to a strap over the shoulder. When the sack was as full as we could get it, the sack then weighed and emptied into the wagon. After the wagon was filled and packed in tight, Dad would take this to a cotton gin to be cleaned, the seeds removed and the cotton pressed into large banded bales, weighing about 400 pounds, to be taken later to market. This would buy our clothes, shoes, supplies for school and cash to pay the upkeep of a house full of kids.

My first school was a 14x20 one-room school house, probably twenty pupils at the most, taught by a lady teacher by the name of Lula Barker. She did a pretty good job of corralling the bunch of "young'uns" as she called them. I had to walk nearly two miles to school carrying books and my lunch pail, and by lunch time it was cold. In warm weather, we would eat out under the shade tree, along with ants and all the other little bugs. I never knew what it was like to have a hot lunch at school. Sometimes we would swap part of lunch with other kids. I used to envy one kid in particular. He was the only "young'un" in his family so his parents could afford to buy bakery bread, referred to as "light bread". He was the envy of the lunch hour. How I wished my folks could afford such luxury. We all thought he was a little brat.

The house we lived in on my Grandma’s farm was a three room log house. A dogtrot or porch divided the kitchen from the living room. Our bedroom was upstairs over the living room. It was cold as ice in the winter and hot as the "underworld" in the summer. Dad and Mom's bedroom was part of the living room. There was a large fireplace in the north end of the house for heat during the winter months. You would freeze on one side and roast on the other. Well, that was the way of life for us country folks.

The kitchen was located on the east end of the house separated by the dogtrot (open hallway). Sure was a cold walk to the kitchen to eat in the cold winter months. Mom cooked on a small wood stove. She baked biscuits, cornbread, cooked the meat, vegetables and anything edible to fill up the hungry kids. She also cooked fruit and vegetables for canning so we could eat during the winter months.

Dad would fatten a pig for our fresh pork in the cold winter time. We would eat a bit of wild game during the winter months. We'd have fried squirrel and rabbit, but no possum, which wasn't our dish. Mom also would stew some of them and make dumplings so we could have a variety of dishes. So, you can see we lived sort of like Daniel Boone.

Dad loved to hunt for game so he could have hides for sale. He also loved to go fox hunting with his father-in-law, my Granddad Stephens. Granddad Stephens was a large man, white headed and sporting a big mustache, just as white as his hair. He also chewed tobacco, so his mustache was always stained, but he was a barrel of fun. Dad also loved to go on fishing trips. Often the family would go for a whole week camp out and live it up by cooking out and eating fish they caught on trotlines. We would sleep in the old wagon bed filled with hay which had a tarp cover held up by staves to keep us dry in case of rain. Feature, if you will, the old prairie schooners the settlers used to travel in.

All of us kids were all the time coming face to face with minor accidents like stubbing toes or getting thorns in our feet because we went barefooted during the summer months. The only shoes we could afford were our shoes for dress on weekends, and of course, school in the winter time.

Mom did lots of sewing for us. Made us four older boys short pants for dress out of discarded wool suits that Aunt Cora Ashley gave Mom (that Cora’s husband would no longer wear). Can you imagine how hot and sticky wool was during the summer? I just hated them, but what else could you do, this was all we had to wear. We did have overalls to wear for school though.

When I grew older, I would take Dad's two fox hounds out in the woods to chase rabbits. They would chase them into hollow logs, I would then take an axe and chop open the log, catch the rabbit and then get it ready to take to town on Monday morning when I went to school. The bus driver would let the fellows and I off, and we would sell our game at one of the local stores for our spending money. We would buy paper, pencils and candy to give to a girl we were trying to impress. So our life wasn’t always dull. By the way, this hunting deal didn't go over with Dad. It wasn't good for his fox hounds to chase rabbits, so I had to give up this hobby and pursue something else, like girls for instance, which wasn't so bad, much more fun than catching rabbits.
Hmmm . . . this tale from Uncle Bill breaks off just when it was getting very interesting. Perhaps we'll hear more about Uncle Bill's pursuit of the ladies in a report soon to follow?

Unless Aunt Hazle hears about this . . .

Blogging is getting too easy for me these days. All I need do is check my email and post whatever one of the kinfolk has sent . . . so keep those emails dropping into my inbox, and I'll keep posting them.

I don't know what my other readers think of all these Ozark reports, but the kinfolk will be happy, and if all of my kin take to reading this blog, my readership will rise exponentially!

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At 8:42 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Thanks for the latest. I'll copy this, along with Cran & Kathyrn's previous, and give to Dad at Christmas. And try and get the rest of the story!

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bill, I hope that you can motivate you father to tell us more about Grandpa Hodges, who sounds like a fascinating man with broader experience than I had imagined.

Also . . . if you can get your mother out of earshot, I'm sure that many of us would like to hear more about your dad's youthful hunting days.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...


At 12:08 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

Jeff -
My husband and I were in Osage City Sunday afternoon to visit with my parents. They were both in a fairly talkative mood - their remembrances are fascinating to listen to. Their lives in that era were so different from ours. Bill can keep the stores coming - he is the writer in our family!

You are right - the kinfolk do love reading all of this!

Have a Merry Christmas!

At 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My paternal grandfather was William Bazzil Hodges, and I think he was called Will.
My maternal grandfather was William Cranford Stephens, and was called "Uncle Cran" by the locals.
I inherited their middle names, which immediately disqualified me from ever becoming President.....except with Barack Hussein Obama now President elect, I might have had a chance had I been born years later that I was.

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

Jeff -
Before you notice it - my comment should have said "stories" not stores! Oops!

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio (Al-Ozarka), I'm glad that it's fascinating for kith as well as kin.

I hope that other, more far-flung readers also enjoy it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Barbara, a merry Christmas to you, too.

I'm sure that Bill can't be the only writer in our family. Your father seems to have written these "Ozark Memories" -- at least, they're told from his point of view.

I'd bet that you could relate some interesting anecdotes, too.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're right, Bazzil -- that middle name of yours ain't 'Merican enough. Can you imagine any self-respecting citizen of these great United States admitting, even sheepishly, "Well . . . I voted for Bazzil."

It's unthinkable.

Clearly, your parents weren't thinking . . . or were thinking, "Well, we don't want our boy to grow up believing that just anybody can become president."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Barbara, "Bill can keep the stores coming," too. I can always use more stores, especially now that winter is here and my own stores are running low.

And "stories" are also welcome.

Especially humorous ones. Laughter, best medicine for the poison of life.

Just administer the anecdote . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:49 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

Wild game, pastured livestock, and homegrown vegetables and grains. Ironic that your poor family truly ate better than so many middle-class families today.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Sonagi, it is ironic.

Although I didn't experience what my Uncle Bill did, I'd also "love to go back and 'relive' those days" -- which I missed by about 20 years, I reckon.

But even my childhood in the late 50s to late 60s had its idyllic times on farms and in nature.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:23 PM, Blogger mrstkdsd said...

I LOVE these stories! Keep them coming. My dad was born in Oklahoma, but grew up in Texas. His mom came from Arkansas, if fact, they came west in one of those covered wagons. My dad's family also picked cotton, and I have one of their old cotton books, which my grandma used as an address book years later.


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cynthia, thanks. I'm glad that these stories are interesting for others as well. They do tell of a world that now seems so far away.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:33 PM, Blogger justin lee hodges said...

I just stumbled across this post. Now I'm hooked and must seek out as many old family stories that I can find. Sadly, I don't know much about our namesake's history but I am now longing to dig in and see what I can find. Your blog should be a great start I'd imagine... or I reckon as we Arkansans say. Thanks for sharing Uncle Jeff.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome, Justin. There are more stories here on the blog -- you just have to search for them (though clicking on "Family" might help).

Jeffery Hodges

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