Friday, January 02, 2009

Cousin Bill's Youthful Ozark Memories

Moonshine Still
Confiscated in a Raid, Circa 1930

I'm continuing to mine anecdotes from the family report that Cousin Bill sent me. Since he was born in 1945 (somehow, I had always thought 1950), I reckon that the following memories date from the early 1950s. At any rate, they describe his experiences on Grandma Nora's farm near Flora:
Summer visits there were freedom filled. I could go to the creek or ponds anytime, and had no real chores to worry about. I was free to do as I pleased, so would spend the days exploring the farm, farm buildings, the creek and the woods. Sometimes, if not working, Archie would accompany me on a fishing trip to the creek or ponds, and swims in the creek. Grandma was a great cook, a wood stove being used to cook homemade bread and biscuits, pies, cakes and cookies and the usual meats, potatoes, gravy and vegetables. She canned vegetables, and made jams and jellies. Chickens and geese roamed the yard, and the milk cow and pigs were just across the road from the house. Late afternoons and evenings were spent on the front porch, with the view to the east across the garden and into the field and woods beyond, all the while catching the cooling breezes from the south. Grandma would sit on the swing and be satisfied for hours watching her humming birds and talking about past days. There, if I wanted to, I could gather eggs, slop the pigs, and work in the garden. Sometimes I'd make the mile plus walk to the Flora mailbox, kicking dust and stopping at two spring fed branches to check on minnows, try to catch glade lizards sunning on glade rock, and noting the occasional snake near the road. And from listening to sounds coming from the wood's shadows, you would imagine more creatures than would be seen.
I interrupt to remark that my own memories of the farm echo Bill's -- though I didn't much care to walk the whole mile-and-a-half to the mailbox in the hot summer Ozark sun. I usually headed for Big Creek, down past the barn, to get in some swimming. But I often had chores, especially the summer after my third grade year, when I stayed on the farm much of the vacation time and worked, plowing the garden, hauling hay from the fields, feeding the chickens, and 'slopping' the hogs, among other, lesser things. I even helped Grandpa Archie mow the big lawn at Flora Baptist Church's graveyard.

But I didn't get into the things that Cousin Bill next relates, which date mainly from the 1930s, I calculate:
Grandma Nora told me a little wine was made on the farm, and would then laugh and chuckle, and would never finish telling the rest of the story. Her brother Elbert Stephens and Horace's brother, Rev. Robert Hodges did run a moonshine operation on the Hodges farm near Elizabeth.

Note: Dad recalls the still operation being shut down by the county sheriff, stating "We heard the shots, and after the law left, us kids went to the woods and saw the barrel shot full of holes".

Dad's brother Cleo acted as a "watchdog" and did a little moonshine running for Elbert and others in Fulton County. Cleo's moonshine running ceased after he was being pursued by the county sheriff and tossed the pistol he was carrying out of the car window while crossing a low water bridge. The sheriff stopped and retrieved the pistol. Cleo joined the Army to avoid prosecution by the county sheriff. Following training, six months later, Cleo returned to Viola, strutting around in his Army uniform, and the sheriff told Cleo, "Cleo, I've got your pistol," Cleo replied "Don't need it sheriff, the Army gave me another."
Some readers may recall that I've told this moonshining story about Uncle Cleo before, but I hadn't heard that the moonshine had been made by my Great Uncle Elbert Stephens and Great Uncle Robert Hodges in a 'business' partnership that made them co-owners of a still! I have mentioned that Pastor Robert Hodges, a charismatic, Baptist preacher enjoyed an occasional trip to West Plains, Missouri for a few drinks in which one thing led to another, maybe a fight, maybe a night in jail, not the sort of behavior that one expects from an evangelical minister . . . but in the Ozarks, people were very forgiving about that sort of thing, knowing that the Lord works through his servants in mysterious ways, and Uncle Robert was a mystery, a man who once even prayed himself out of jail after a drunken evening around about 1940 in West Plains, where he had gotten himself into a fight:
Robert woke up in jail during the night, reflected upon his wickedness, and began praying. Now, Robert had a deep, resonant voice, so it carried. As he prayed out loud, confessing his brokenness, his voice awakened the jailer, who began listening to a man he'd considered just another brawling drunk, and Robert prayed with such eloquence and power and at such length that the jailer couldn't stand it any longer. He took his keys, flung open the cell door, and told Uncle Robert: "Go home. Any man who can pray like that don't need to be in jail."
Not quite a miracle, but close enough for evangelical sainthood to be conferred on a man filled with two occasionally incompatible 'spirits' . . . and I pray that other folks are just as forgiving of my own spiritual stumblings.

Speaking of such spirits, I wish that I knew more about why Grandma Nora chuckled when referring to that Flora Farm 'wine' . . . though I suspect that she did so because that 'wine' could have fueled her coal-oil lamps.

Calling all kinfolk . . .

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At 6:14 AM, Blogger Bill said...


At 6:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You refer, of course, to my pious remarks on 'spiritual' stumbling.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:23 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Or mine, past, present and future.

At 6:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Future stumblings! That's proleptic stumbling, a 'spiritual' presumptiveness!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know of at least a couple of occasions when spirits were served on the Flora farm:
(1) Brother Bill (Elmo) was holding a revival at Flora Baptist, and brother Harold (Buel), with his cousin Ordean offered to drive him to church, using the horse drawn wagon. The names in Parentheses are the ones used by Mom, and thus by all the siblings during our youthful days, so I will use them.
What Brother Elmo didn't know was that Buel and Ordean had a jug of homemade mountain dew in the tool box.
Before arriving at the church, the wagon was bouncing on the rough dirt road and the jug exploded.
Elmo asked, "What was that?" Buel & Ordean said, "Oh, just a water jug."
They let Elmo out at church, drove to the creek a mile west, and cleaned out the box, before joining the services.
Next day Elmo searched the wagon, but naturally didn't find anything.
(2). At a later occasion, Buel and Ordean were there, and said they would like to open a quart fruit jar of homemade grape juice. None of the rest of the family knew it, but they secretly spiked the juice with white lightning (mountain dew). I remember it well. Kathryn, Bradley, Virginia and I were innocently drinking the grape juice, and pretty soon we were a happy bunch of kids, laughing and staggering around. Buel and Ordean were also laughing their heads off. When Mom realized what they had done, she was one angry woman. Somehow the two culprits calmed her down.
That could be the "wine" that Mom was referring to.
Brother Bill (Elmo) also told me that he & Hazle visited the Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in California, that was founded by my paternal uncle Isam B. Hodges. He also served as first president. Bill said there was a letter, either on display, or in the archives, from my father, James Horace Hodges. It said something like this.
Dear Isam:
Well, Robert is at it again. I had to go to Salem and get him out of jail, after a drunken spree...."
Uncle Robert Hodges was an unusual man. He was a wonderful preacher, but for years fought a battle with drinking. When he was sober, he was the nicest, funniest man you could ever meet.
Everyone liked him, and he raised a good family.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, thanks for the stories. As for that letter, I saw it myself when I visited Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, but I think that Robert was in a West Plains jail . . . though I may be confusing the letter with the story of Robert 'praying' himself out of jail.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel much better now.

Good Ozark examples are always near at hand.

(uur, urrp - hic)

Happy New Year, Best of all that to You and Yours - you too Cran

Excuse me

(Gggrruuup phtthaa-loogie!)

Excuse me again.

That "loogie" by the way Perfessor was haucked up, not "hawked."

Haucus-to hoist- at least that's the way my Normal ancestors oh my...

I forgoet how to spell "dry heave" in haucing language uurrrp!


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Just let us be your guides, JK . . . but follow at a sufficient distance if you're expecting to hail a Buick.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are probably right, as you had to travel to Missouri for 'bouten' liquor.
My story is second hand, and like all second hand merchandise, has a few flaws.
Most of Uncle Robert's children are committed Christians. I only know of one who has a problem with alcohol. Our families were pretty close, and we children (cousins) visited back and forth in our youth.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year to you.
I think you use a little "poetic exaggeration" in your comments, and suspect you are a better man than you sometimes portray yourself.
After all, being brother Navy men, we have a little in common.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I'll pass along Cran's "mountain dew" story to Dad. I'd quizzed Dad at the Christmas gathering in reference to a "dew" episode, but Dad recalled only his troubles with an irate wife after "dewing" a little sipping with Uncle Cleo (this in the late 40's). Whether he did or didn't know about this story, he'll enjoy it.
Too bad we cannot get these brothers together, loosen them all up with a little spiking, and let the recorders roll.

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran! Of course, I'm right! This is my blog, after all. Do you expect me to be wrong?

No commenter would last long here with that opinion!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cousin Bill, let's find a way.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Amen, again!

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Marvelous stories, Jeffery.

Even though I grew up in a rural area myself, and spent much of my happiest boyhood time in the woods, fields, and barns of my best friend's family farm down the road, it's getting harder and harder to imagine that I once lived in a world with no computers, no cell phones, and no Internet - not "connected" to anything except the actual world around me, the friends I was with, and the summer days we were enjoying together.

At 4:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Cousin Bill! Now, can I get an amen from some sisters in the Hallelujah choir?

I know, I have no female siblings, but cousins of the feminine persuasion will do just as well in shouting out an amen or two.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, I didn't realize that you grew up in rural circumstances.

I have a lot of family stories, some of which I've already blogged about over the years and some of which have been recently sent to me by kinfolk.

If stories continue to arrive, I'll continue to post them.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:55 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Well, the area I grew up in - Skillman, New Jersey - is not nearly as rural now as it was back in the 60's and early 70's. But back then it was almost entirely farmland, with a few newer houses dotted around, one of which I lived in. Across the road from my house was a cornfield, and we had woods out the back, and my best friend's farm just down the way.

Once I moved out of my parent's house when I turned 18, I wound up renting an old farmhouse, near Flemington, NJ, with several of my zany friends. It was on 145 acres of rolling land, and for the first two of the four years we lived there a farmer who rented the fields and barns ran the place as a dairy farm; he'd show up every morning of the year at the crack of dawn. But he ended up moving down south, taking his cows & pigs with him, and after that we had the run of the place.

It was like our own sovereign nation, and we had a fair amount of fun, as you might imagine. I might have to spin a few yarns of my own one of these days.

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

Malcolm, what sort of farming did you do on that 145-acre 'farm'? That was the tail-end of the '60s' (which means about 1975), and to my recollection, there were still a few 'communes' hanging on.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

I know what you're thinking, Jeffery, but we did very little of that particular sort of agriculture. Mostly relied on "bouten".

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Well, Cran used the very same word here:

"You are probably right, as you had to travel to Missouri for 'bouten' liquor."

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah, you were speaking dialect. Missed it.

"Memories, they cain't be boughten..."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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