Cousin Bill's Youthful Ozark Memories
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.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:
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."
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 . . .