by Raymond Eugene Boyd
by Dorothy Lucille Brown Boyd
Dad wrote his memoir after friend Cathy Kellough gave him an old computer and printer. We kids encouraged him to write about his life, and he started writing in 1995. Of course, he started with his birth and named siblings and gave a bit of history about the covered wagon journey from Lead Hill, Arkansas, where he was born, to Oklahoma. He covered the Depression and his time in the military service, his courtship of Mom, their early years, being recalled into the service for the Korean War, and even his thoughts on work and golf. Every once in a while, Mom would insert her thoughts on a certain subject, like their first home and the Korean War experience in Lubbock, Texas. I have marked Mom’s insertions with her name, so it’s clear who’s writing.
At the end of Dad’s memories are a few pages that Mom wrote about her life. She wrote longhand.
When something is mentioned that needs a little clarification, I’ve added my two cents in brackets. I’ve also corrected punctuation and spelling, although you will likely find some typos. Proofreading one’s own typing doesn’t always catch all errors.
I hope you’ll read about the lives of two people who meant the world to me.
Veda Boyd Jones
Once upon a time, long long ago, in the little town of Lead Hill, Arkansas, I [Raymond Eugene Boyd] was born. The date was February 7th, 1923, and as you might have guessed, it was a dark and stormy night.
About a year and ten months later, my dad decided it was time to make a move. He had lived in this area for several years, and people with class and itchy feet just don’t hang around in the same location that long. He had been working for the Toll Company for about twelve years and the pension plan wasn’t very attractive. I don’t think The Company even knew how to write “pension,” and the business they were in was making lead pencils.
Dad had the job of buying cedar to make pencils. He would contact land owners and contract to cut the cedar trees that grew on parcels of their farms. The trees were then trimmed, cut to length, and shipped to the pencil factories. I’ve always wondered how they cut the wood into those little round eight-inch rolls and then put a length of lead into the middle and dabbed a little piece of rubber on the end. You erased a couple of words and bit the eraser once, and it usually fell out. That’s probably why they were called penny pencils.
A few hours before we were ready to head West, the family set to work loading the wagons. In those days you didn’t go to the station and gas up so you could get an early start the next morning. If you were in a hurry, the early start was gained by losing a few hours sleep. Feeding and watering the mules and horses the previous day just wouldn’t do. The fuel that they needed to run on had a way of leaking out.
We started our journey West in late November or early December, 1924. I can’t pinpoint the date because I hadn’t learned to read the fine print yet. We only had the farmer’s almanac, not the big fancy calendars with beautiful pictures that we have today.
After a good breakfast, one that would stick to your ribs for the better part of the day, we were nearing departure time. The livestock had been fed and watered while Mom and my oldest sister were cooking breakfast. Dad and the older boys made short work of throwing the harness on the horses and mules that were to pull the wagons. They probably had to saddle a horse or two, also.
The horses were hooked to the wagons, the cooking gear packed, and we were ready to hit the road. Dad climbed upon the lead wagon, Mom shut the door, got on beside him, and with a shake of the reins, we were off. The kids had all picked a place to ride, either on a horse or in the wagons. Some of the family probably had a little ping in the heart or shed a tear as they looked back at the old home for the last time. I whistled up the dogs and didn’t feel a thing.
The population of Boone county would be drastically reduced withing the next couple of days. We had a good-sized family, and it was destined to get larger. Following is a list of the departees.
Willis Henry Boyd was born November 26, 1878, somewhere in Tennessee. He migrated to the north-central part of Arkansas a few years before the turn of the century. There he met my mother, and they were married January 6th, 1901, at Yellville, Arkansas. The remainder of his life was spent in Northeastern Oklahoma, Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas.
Dad died November 8th, 1962, and was buried in the beautiful Butler Creek Cemetery, which is located about two miles northwest of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, and just a hundred yards or so south of the Missouri-Arkansas state line.
Daisy Olga Estes Boyd was born August 15th, 1879, near Harrison, Arkansas. The early part of her life was spent in that area. Of course, she was married the same day my dad was. They believed in marriage vows in those days. They believed in “until death do us part,” and lived together 61 years, 10 months, and 2 days.
Mom passed away December 28, 1970, and was placed beside Dad in the Butler Creek Cemetery.
[Arlie, their first son, died at age three or so of whopping cough or some other childhood disease that is rare these days.]
Walton Orr was the only in-law on the journey that we were undertaking. He was born December 9th, 1903, in Zink, Arkansas. His parents just plumb forgot to give him a middle name. Later in life when he applied for a social security card, or something of that nature, he needed a full genuine name. He decided to take the initial of his mother’s maiden name, which was Trimble.
Walt was living at Parma, Idaho, when he passed away June 2nd, 1991. Funeral services were at the Kirkpatrick Memorial Community Church and he was laid to rest at the Parma, Cemetery.
Etta Ella Boyd Orr was born at Lead Hill, Arkansas, June 5th, 1905. She was the oldest daughter in our family and probably did her part of the bossing. She might have used the switch a time or two. If we were on a private line, I’m sure I would have called the child abuse number.
Etta and Walton were married September 15, 1923, at Yellville. They were together for nearly 68 years.
Kenneth Wayne Orr was born November 4th, 1924. He was Walt and Etta’s firstborn, and was only a month or so old when we started our trip. He and Etta remained behind and did not make the leg from Lead Hill to Rogers with us. They took the train to Rogers a few weeks later and made the rest of the journey with us. Kenneth didn’t even get a chance to whistle up the dog. He had hardly learned to pucker, anyhow.
Kenneth and his wife, Norma, live in Lincoln, Nebraska. They have two boys, Mark and Mike, who also live in Lincoln.
Ernest Patrick Boyd was born March 17th, 1907, at Lead Hill. The folks didn’t have any trouble selecting part of his name, as he was born on St. Patrick’s Day. Ernie, as he has been called ever after, was a pretty serious old boy. He didn’t think the world was going to end tomorrow, and so far he has been right. Although serious, he could keep you laughing for hours. He knew something comical about any type conversation and spiced his stories with funny sayings. I think he coined a lot of them himself.
Gus Leon Boyd was next in line. He was born June 18th, 1909. Gus was just the opposite of Ernie. He didn’t take things seriously, and probably thought there would be no tomorrow. He lived the early part of his life as if it would end next week. He had an outgoing personality and seldom met a stranger. But he was no Will Rogers, either.
Gus married Leona Burge September 2nd, 1939. They have three children, Virginia, David, and Wayne. Gus passed away [of a heart attack] October 4th, 1976. He was buried in Carselory Cemetery, which is located about ten miles south of Vinita.
Berley Elmer Boyd was born November 5th, 1911. He was the quiet one of the family. He played the guitar pretty well and would join a few of the boys around the country when they played for dances.
Berley married Irma Fore January 9th, 1945. They had three children, Danny, Bill, and Anita. [He was married and divorced and had one son, Willis, by a previous wife.]
James Harold Boyd was born January 28th, 1913. He would help Berley “make music” sometimes, and it was hard to turn them off. Depression guitar playing is hard to take.
Willie Dale Boyd was born June 22nd, 1916. He was as onery as bat manure. He could get into trouble when it didn’t even exist. He hated school and only went so he could fight some kid on the way home. He won some and lost some, but never had a ‘rain out.’
Bill married Edna Dean Slate on December 12, 1941. [Can’t make out the date for sure.] They had five children, two girls and three boys. In order: Vickie, Margaret, Dale, Doyle, and Doug.
Edna Mae Boyd was born December 18, 1918. It was a sad day in our lives when she was burned in a grass fire and died on December 19th, 1927. [They were burning brush, and she stepped on a twig that was afire. It caught her dress on fire and she ran. She lived for a couple days in agony. This info from Raymond.]
Helen Virginia Boyd was born February 1st, 1921. She was the baby girl of the clan. She got a lot of attention from the rest of the family, or as much as they had time to give.
Helen married David Nathaniel Burge on November 30, 1940. They have two boys, Arlie and Larry.
Raymond Eugene Boyd was the next liability. I don’t think there was a big celebration. I understand there was a gathering of the family to discuss my future. To keep or not to keep was the question. The vote was tied, five up, so they called Walt in to vote, him being an in-law and not eligible for the first round. They didn’t tell him clearly what to vote on, just yes or no. That’s the only reason I’m around today.
The last member of our family was on the covered wagon journey, but he didn’t know what was going on. That same problem plagues him today. He joined us a few weeks after journey’s end.
We named him Frank Lee Boyd. He was born March 28, 1925. Everyone called him Frankie, and a lot of people do as of this writing, which is 66 years later.
That was the motley crew we straggled out of Boone County, Arkansas, with. Pioneers had been doing this for years, but it still took a lot of grit. Today’s mothers wouldn’t take their kids to Sunday School under those conditions.
The sun was peeping from behind one of the smaller Ozark hills as we started down a gravel road, heading west. It was a mild fall day, and the leaves on the trees, which had been a rainbow of colors a short time ago, were turning a dirty brown. They were starting to fall and would be a carpet four inches thick by spring. They would then be burned “to get rid of the ticks.” Those ticks were dug in deep enough to survive so all the burning did was warm them up so they could start multiplying earlier. It also cleared the ground off so they could get around easier.
The horses had hardly raised a lather when some of the kids got off the wagon to walk. They knew they could lag behind or run ahead and still catch the wagon in a matter of minutes. Harold and Bill were tagging along a quarter of a mile behind when Dad crossed the first stream of any size. He saw no reason to wait for them to ride the wagon across, so he just drove on.
When they came to the little creek, they were shocked to find water about a foot deep and twenty feet across. It didn’t take long for the ten- and twelve-year-old boys to make a decision. Their feet were as tough as sole leather, so they took their shoes and socks off and plunged in.
The rest of the morning was uneventful. Just plugging down the road at a steady pace. About noon we heard a train whistle. That was a first for me. Dad pulled off the road a few yards to where a small spring bubbled out from a hole in the bluff. You could tell that many travelers had used this spot to camp. A small dam had been built below the exit of the spring. A pipe was extending from the water in the dam to a wooden half barrel about six or eight feet away. The barrel was running over with the purest Ozark water that you could possibly drink. It ran a few more feet and sank into the pebbles of a small creek bed.
The kids could hardly wait to drink from the end of the pipe. Several of us took a couple of turns at it. The front of my shirt and overalls were soaking wet.
Dad and Walton had unhitched the horses by this time and brought them, one team at a time to drink from the barrel. The horses drank fast enough to lower the water in the barrel, but it soon refilled and was running down the outside of the barrel and into the rocks.
We did not bother to unload the cook stove from the tailgate of the wagon. Mom had baked an extra amount of biscuits that morning, so we had biscuit and egg sandwiches and also biscuits with butter and jelly. We ate, the horses ate, and we all rested for quite some time. The horses were watered again and hitched to the wagons. The kids drank again and some of them got behind a tree or went to the bushes. We didn’t bother to turn the water off.
About thirty minutes after leaving the spring, we crossed a railroad track. The Union Pacific, I think. The train that whistled must have been on this track. I wished that I could have seen that sucker.
Late in the afternoon, we came to a fork in the road. There was a sign on a post with the word Harrison and an arrow pointing south. We turned the other way. An hour later we pulled into another spring on a creek bank and prepared to make camp. The Outside Inn, I thought. I’ll enjoy this tonight.
While Dad, Walt, and Ernie were taking care of the horses, Gus and Berley unloaded the cook stove from the back of the wagon. Mom sent Harold and Bill to get wood for the stove and also for a campfire. Helen and Edna were in one of the wagons trying to make a bed for the night. I was a guest.
The stove that was used to cook on was made of cast iron and weighed about fifty pounds. It had four burners and an oven. The fire box was at the front of the stove. It had a door with a draft adjustment and was usually where wood was put in. But you could lift one of the lids and feed the fire through the hole you had just created There were two of these lids directly above the fire box and two more behind them, thus forming a square. These lids were the forerunner of what are known as burners today.
The oven was behind the fire box and under the back lids. When a fire was lit, it heated one side of the oven at the fire box, then the flames went over the oven and under the burners on its way to the stove pipe, which was located at the back of the stove. If you wanted your biscuits or whatever done to the same consistency, you had to turn the pan around.
The lids were about eight inches in diameter, casted with a little indenture at the edge. The lid lifter fit into this indenture. If you were in a hurry, like being late getting to the office, you could grab the lifter, set one of the lids aside and put the skillet next to the flame. A good cook could get about any temperature she wanted—if she was a good cook.
After a fine supper of ham, fried potatoes, biscuits and gravy, the dishes had to be cleaned. No one had thought to stop by Quik-Mart for paper plates and plastic forks. A large dish pan of water had been set on the stove to heat while we were eating, and it was steaming hot. A couple of shavings from a bar of homemade soap and the dishwasher was ready to go.
We had planned on using old Shep as a garbage disposal, but some time during the afternoon, Ernie looked back and old Shep was headed for Lead Hill. Someone had leaked the word that there weren’t many trees in Oklahoma and old Shep had got wind of it. Old Shep was the smartest one among us.
We sat around the fire for awhile and talked. The nights were getting chilly in the Ozarks this time of year, and we had a roaster going. There wasn’t much Indian in any of us, and wood was plentiful.
Soon the talk got boring. It was the same old thing night after night. There wasn’t much exciting that could happen to a bunch of kids and a couple of wagons going up a country road. There wasn’t a damn thing on television worth watching. Kid after kid took a little trip to the woods, came back, and started getting ready to hit the hay. That was literally what we did.
Our mattresses were made of a heavy material called ticking. These mattress-shaped bags were then stuffed with straw or hay. You could create your own “beauty-rest,” soft, firm or hard by continuing to cram straw into the bag until your arm got tired or you ran out of straw.
Mom and Dad had a mattress stuffed with down from ducks or geese. It was like sleeping on a cloud and they were warm and comfortable. That’s where I slept. Edna and Helen slept in the wagon, also. The older boys threw their straw mattresses on the ground, covered up with Mom’s homemade quilts, which would sell for a fortune now, and didn’t stir until Dad rousted them out the next morning. Mr. Simmons could have learned a thing or two by spending a night on those mattresses.
The next five days were spent much like the first day. We arose, prepared breakfast, fed the horses, loaded the wagons, and were off again. We bought grain and hay for the horses from the farmers as we passed. We also bought items such as eggs and milk, or anything else they had which we needed. The people were mighty friendly back in those days. I asked Ernie where we got our eggs when were on the trip, (I had forgotten, sixty-five years and all) and he said, “Well, we didn’t bring any hens along.”
We finally arrived at Rogers. Every one of our family except Etta, Kenneth, and Old Shep. They were to arrive in a month or six weeks. Not Old Shep. Kenneth hadn’t learned to whistle yet.
We set up camp on the north side of Rogers, probably about where the airport is located. Walton, being a friendly sort, was talking to a native who was building a house. The Rogerite wanted Walton to haul lumber from a mill on White River to the new house site. This led to Dad and the older boys agreeing to build the house. Ernie told me it was a pretty good-sized house. Something else I had forgotten.
The real estate developer let us live in one of his houses while they were working for him. They hauled lumber and hammered nails for several weeks. Dad was a fair carpenter and knew how to keep two-by-fours on a twenty-four-inch center. As the green oak dried, it didn’t get more than three inches out of line if it was nailed securely.
Etta and Kenneth finally arrived in Rogers on the train from Boone County. I have no idea where they caught it, but I’m sure it wasn’t Lead Hill. We had spent December and January in Rogers. Christmas had come and gone and if old Santa Claus had Rogers on his route, he must have overshot it. At least I don’t remember seeing the old rascal.
We stocked up on groceries and feed for the nags, loaded the wagons with kids and resumed our journey. Etta told me about camping in a beautiful valley just west of Bentonville on our first night out of Rogers. She remembers how friendly the people were that lived there. The evening was spent visiting with them.
The following day the weather turned bad, and we made about fifteen miles before circling the wagons. We were about three miles east of Gravette, Arkansas, and the ground was covered with ice. I think someone had failed to turn up the thermostat. It was a two-dog night, and old Shep had already deserted us. Ernie said that when he awoke the following morning, he was covered by about four or five inches of snow. In inclement weather, the boys spread a tarp over themselves so they hardly knew the fluffy snow was there. In the wagons, we were cuddled in our feather beds and didn’t worry about them. At least I didn’t.
Breakfast and the chores created a problem on this day. Can’t you just see a family mushing around in the snow trying to cook and eat? It would have been a nice day to have breakfast in bed. That’s probably where I had mine, joined by Edna and Helen. Kenneth might have even joined us. Mom and Etta sure had their hands full. Taking care of the horses probably wasn’t a snap for Dad and Walton.
With the weather so mean, we got a slow jump on the day and only made thirteen miles. That’s what it shows on today’s map. The roads had more crooks and turns in them sixty-five years ago, so we might have gone a little farther. At any rate, we passed through Gravette and camped at a small town on the Arkansas/Oklahoma line, by the name of Maysville. I’m sure we spent another miserable night.
Early the next morning, we entered the brand-new state of Oklahoma. A tad over seventeen years earlier it had been Oklahoma Territory, land of the Indians. I look back and see that I could not have lived my boyhood days in a place I liked better. From this day until I was discharged from World War Two, I had an allegiance to Oklahoma. Many fond memories are from there. I did not like the word “Okie,” and John Steinbeck was a lousy writer.
Another three days brought us to our destination. We settled on Pryor Creek a few miles from Pryor. The next couple of years were spent there. I think we farmed a little and worked wherever Dad and the larger boys could find anything to do. I don’t remember any of the family saying that we went to bed hungry.
About six weeks after we settled in our new home, Frank was born. He was the only true Oklahoman among us. The date of birth was March 28th, 1925. He married Billie Jean Sellers on December 18th, 1948. They have three girls and two boys.
I told you about Dad and his itchy feet. Well, after a couple or three years around Pryor, he decided to move again. It could have been the rent, the green grass and the fence, or just about anything. We moved to Centralia, Oklahoma. That turned out to be the worst move we could have made.
Dad and the boys were burning off a field of grass and stubble to get it ready to plow and plant in the spring. They had warned the smaller children to stay away from the fire, but kids don’t listen to everything that is said. Edna and Helen were playing in the fire with sticks when Edna’s dress caught fire and she was fatally burned. This was on her ninth birthday, and she died December 19, 1927, the following day.
[Raymond told me that he and the other kids stayed outside while the adults in the area tended Edna. He couldn’t stand her screams. He knew she was in terrible pain. He was almost five when she died, so they had been playmates. I have two pictures of her that he treasured. They are in the little bedroom with the twin bed.]
After the loss of Edna, we became a family of Gypsies. We moved to Noel, Missouri, and spent our usual short time. We moved into a beautiful rock house, or I thought so. It was on the north slope of a valley with a small branch running down it. I remember rolling into this branch and coming out looking like a cat you were trying to teach to swim. I got wet in this branch several times. Just couldn’t remember that water was wet. Mom and Dad thought a little education would help. My first day of school was at Noel. First grade, since there was no kindergarten in those days. I got on the wrong bus, wet my pants, and did everything that a person could do that wasn’t right. It’s strange how those little things stay with you and you don’t even know your birthday sometimes.
I remember a few other things about living on the old Patterson place, as if was called. We had a few cows and old Essex car, and I remember where I caught the school bus.
Our next move was to Eufaula, Oklahoma. Mom hated to move. She said two moves was equal to a burn out. She had to leave something behind that she dearly loved each time we moved.
Our house was on a sandy road in the North Canadian River bottom. We raised cotton, peanuts, watermelons, cantaloupes, and had a big garden. The watermelons and cantaloupes were planted along with the cotton and ripened about the time the cotton was ready to pick. It was a custom to sit on your half-filled cotton sack and have a watermelon or cantaloupe break.
Raising cotton is about the hardest crop of all. I can understand why those old plantation owners sent to Africa for their hired help. In the good old days, cotton had to be blocked, chopped, hoed, plowed, picked, weighed, loaded, and hauled to the gin to be processed some more. After that the bolls that were partially open were pulled and hauled to the gin.
Peanuts were an easier crop to raise. They were dropped in a furrow about a foot apart and covered with two or three inches of dirt. The North Canadian River soil was ideal because it was sandy and stayed loose. The peanuts had plenty of room to expand as they matured. They were pulled in the fall and stacked around a four- or five-foot stick that had been driven in the ground. When one stack was finished, another stake was driven and stacked full, with the top of the plant toward the stake, and the peanuts to the outside to dry. When a field was finished, there were several rows of staked peanuts from end to end. After drying, they were loaded on wagons and stored in the barn or shed. Peanuts made wonderful feed for the livestock. They would eat every bite of the plant.
The livestock weren’t the only ones that ate peanuts. We toasted a large bread pan of them practically every night. Frank started a rumor in McDonald County that he grew up on peanuts. It was partly true.
I remember an episode that happened while Harold, Bill, and I were hauling the peanuts to the barn that still gives me cold chills. Harold and Bill were loading the peanuts with pitch forks or hay forks if you want to call them that. One of them drove the wagon to a new stack and I carried a pitch fork. Someone said, bring me the fork, and I tossed it over the stack just as Bill threw a fork full onto the wagon. The middle tine of the fork went completely through his arm just above the wrist. I can still see about six inches of fork sticking out on the wrong side of his arm. We wrestled him down, pulled it out and took him to Eufaula to have it treated. Bill said that the doctor hurt him a lot more with the swab than the fork did.
Work wasn’t the only pastime we had in the olden days. Sometimes it seemed that way, and we like to make you young people think so as we talk to you. We did have to walk about every place we went, and the weather was worse back then. The more we tell the stories, the farther we walked and the deeper the snow gets.
We played in the woods a lot. One of our favorite games was played in a grove of small saplings. We needed trees that would bend easily when there was the weight of a small kid in the top. It was a tag game, but a little harder to play than the sissy game of today. I’ll give you the rules if you want to try it.
One person was IT. All the other kids climbed a tree. All he had to do was climb up and touch them. Sound easy? When he climbed after them, the prey would sway the tree toward another one, grab on, and turn loose of the one he had climbed. He might transfer to a dozen different trees before being caught or might never be tagged. There were a lot of different ways to bend a sapling and after playing there for awhile, you knew them all. We had evolution going in reverse.
We played all the tamer games that you learn at school, but we needed something a little more exciting at times. A good corncob fight was easy to stir up. Cobs were plentiful around the barn. Most famers fed the horses corn on the cob, usually eight or ten ears each, per feeding. When the horses ate the grain off, that left a lot of cobs laying around. They also fed the hogs ear corn, and those cobs would get water soaked and dirty and would weigh a ton. We tried to outlaw those as fighting cobs, but if a guy got in a tight spot, he would often use one. You weren’t supposed to throw at the head, but a well-placed cob to the ribs would leave a welt. Throwing cobs strengthened the arms of the little ones.
We made most of the toys that we played with. A ‘bean flip” was a must for every boy in the country. It was made from a tree limb that forked just right. After it was cut to the precise dimensions and debarked, rubber bands were attached to the upper prongs. They had to be built for strength because we shot rocks in them instead of beans. The prongs were notched completely around and the rubber strips cut from an old inner tube were stretched over them and secured with stout string. The pocket for ammunition, the rock or pebble, was made of leather. The tongue from an old shoe made the best pocket, and you made sure the shoe was too far gone to be used again. One pair of shoes was all you got in one year back in those days. The rubber strips, which were about a foot long were then attached to the pocket on each side where holes had been cut. Drop a rock in place, pull her back and turn it loose and the rock went through those prongs like a bullet. Anything in its path for the next hundred and fifty feet was zapped.
I’m real genuine living proof about how those things would zap. Frank and I were having a little dispute one day; I was probably getting the best of it, as usual, when he went for his bean shooter. I took off trying to put a little distance between us while he was loading with a hickory nut, it being handy, thank goodness. A rock did much more damage. I was picking up speed and going over an old storm cellar when the hickory nut hit me in the back of the head. When the Milky Way exploded, I knew I had been zapped.
We made other toys, bows and arrows and wooden guns that fired rubber rings cut from old tubes. Walmart would have gone bankrupt within a month if it depended on our patronage.
We always built a hide-a-way to play in. Everyone knew where they were, but we had to call them something. Whatever material was handy was what we used. On the Canadian River, it was tumbleweeds. In the fall, when they had matured and were drying, they were huge. We would select a thick grove of small trees that were close together to build our tumbleweed house in. Tumbleweeds were packed between trees forming a wall that was two or three feet thick. These walls went up in a hurry as we had plenty of raw material to build with. We would dummy in a tree or two if they were too far apart to hold weeds A top was put on by laying poles across and stuffing with tumbleweeds. In a downpour, we usually had a few leaks.
When there was an accident and someone ran through a wall, it was easy to repair. A few tumbleweeds stuffed in the hole and it was as good as new. The longer a house stood the bigger and better it got with all the additions.
When darkness came, we could still find plenty to do. We played dominos, checkers, and several card games. The rural people of the Midwest had no electricity at this time, so we had to make do with kerosene lamps. You could deal from the bottom and get by with it in the dim light from some of those smokey chimney coal oil lamps. I learned more about numbers from a set of dominoes than I did in my first two years of school.
Mom read a lot when she could find a little extra time. I can remember her reading books to me—nursery rhymes, westerns, the Bible, newspapers, and anything else that she could find to read. We couldn’t go to the library when we needed something to read, so we took care of what we had and traded books with the neighbors.
We went to a school that was about three miles from home, couple miles west on a sandy road, and then north uphill, which was easier walking. I don’t remember learning a thing or doing anything at that school. The big boys were always fighting. That’s what Bill majored in.
While all these things were happening to us, the rest of the world was going to hell in a paper sack. The stock market crashed, money became scarce, — wasn’t anything new to our family — and people got panicky and jumped from windows, tall ones, and got ready for a depression. We were the lucky ones. Didn’t lose a penny on stocks or bonds and just let our subscription to the Wall Street Journal expire. We were one of the few families in Oklahoma who had to go up to get into the depression. I don’t remember much of a change, just ate good and put on a little weight.
Our family was getting smaller. Ernie got married and Gus joined the army. The rest of us moved to a little farm between Big Cabin and Vinita, Oklahoma. This meant another school, and I didn’t even know the teacher’s name at the last one.
The place had a big barn on it and a small creek out behind it. I learned to swim in this muddy little creek. That’s when I knew I was talented because we weren’t there long enough for over three lessons.
Our next move was only three or four miles in distance. It was the old Len Allen place, one-half mile north of the Couch school. Couch was a two-room school with a cloak room that had a bell tower above it. The bell rope that dangled down was always a temptation to me. We dare not ring it for that meant business, but the teacher would sometime let us ring it to take up school.
The school was heated with a pot-bellied coal stove that was popular in those days. The coal pile was out by a long shed where the students that rode horses to school could stable them. The shed had several stalls in it, and they were usually full on bad days, weatherwise.
Our drinking water was from a long-handled pump over a deep well. The water was black sulphur, and it was cold. I liked it. The teacher wanted each of us to bring our own cups to drink from. The method we used was for one kid to pump while the other drank from his cupped hands. Recess couldn’t be used hunting for a cup.
The school had two outdoor privies with modesty wings. They were both two holers. The older boys used them for smoking lounges. They would whip out their Bull Durham sack and a paper to roll one to share. Bill and Rolland Jones were smoking one and I was with them when the teacher caught us. She took us into the school to talk to us. I told her I wasn’t smoking, which was true. She said she wouldn’t paddle me if I promised not to smoke. I agreed. She wore the paddle out on Bill and Rolland while I watched. I never developed the habit of smoking, and I have thanked that teacher in my mind a thousand times.
The Couch school was used for all sorts of community activities. Pie and box suppers, plays, music and singing, and holiday programs were enjoyed there. Christmas was always a big thing at Couch.
The Great Depression was in full bloom. We were all in the same boat because no one had money to spend for anything that wasn’t a necessity. The Midwest was in one of the worst droughts in history. The all-time record for hot days, weeks, and months was set in the summers of 1935 and 1936. That’s when the week deserted the ship. Most of them went from bad to worse. The strong rode it out and were much better in the long run. It was like being in a long sand storm. Some wandered around out in it and others hunkered down, made the best of it and started over. They learned to live with what they had and worked to improve things each day. We planted anything that would grow and that we could eat. We had chickens, hogs, and cattle, and I don’t remember going to bed hungry. Everyone should go through a depression. It builds character. I imagine the Soviet Union will be much stronger in the future after the strife of 1991.
Everyone we knew lived on a farm. We were away out in the country south of Vinita and five miles north of Big Cabin. The farmers planted anything and everything that would grow in that part of Oklahoma. They always saved seed from the best and biggest plants. When we ate watermelon or cantaloupe that was extra sweet and had good size to them, we always saved the seed. Just scrape them onto an old newspaper and let them dry, then put them into a quart fruit jar and wait for spring. Extra seed was traded or given to the neighbors.
I can remember helping dig holes in the ground to store apples or turnips. They were lined with straw, and several bushels of whatever we were storing was poured in the hole. They were covered with straw, and then boards were laid across the hole and covered with the excess dirt. A small hole was left at one end so you could get to the fruit. It was plugged with an old bucket or a board to keep varmints out.
We usually planted several rows of popcorn so we had plenty to last the winter. Mom canned all types of fruit and berries and things that we grew in the garden. Dad made sorghum molasses for several years so we had a lot of sorghum, butter, and biscuits to eat.
Len Allen, a close neighbor, had a sorghum mill. It was quite an operation. A large piece of machinery was mounted solidly on the ground. It consisted of several gears—three drums mounted vertically and a 15-foot pole with a single tree attached. When a mule or horse was attached to furnish the power to turn things as he went round and round, you were in business. One person fed the stalks of cane into the cylinders, and they mashed the juice out into a barrel, and it was later used to make sorghum.
Neighbors from miles around brought their cane to this mill to have it made into lasses, as we kids called it. It made real good cookies. Pecans, walnuts, and hickory nuts were plentiful and free for the taking, so you see things weren’t so tough as far as eating.
In 1935, I went to the mail box to see if there might be some mail. I happened to get there just as the mailman drove up. He broke the sad news that Will Rogers and Wiley Post had died in a plane crash in Alaska the previous day. Will Rogers was born and grew up in Oolagah and was the greatest celebrity in our area. He usually made the rodeo parade at Vinita each year Everyone had seen him. His favorite horse was led in the rodeo parade soon after his death. It was bridled and saddled with his boots turned backward in the stirrups. Very touching. The rodeo has been held every year since and still bears his name.
Roosevelt instigated the WPA and CCC projects in the early part of the depression. It was a wonderful thing for the people that had very little to eat and no money. Jobs were scarce and every freight train that came along was loaded with people going somewhere to look for work. They weren’t hobos, just bums that were hungry as hell. The WPA and CCC put a lot of these people to work. As you look around the country you can still see evidence of the work that they did nearly sixty years ago. I saw the Red Rock Amphitheater near Denver, Colorado, recently. It was built with CCC labor between 1932 and 1936, and today every rock is solidly in its place. Bridges and culverts that were constructed by the WPA are still in service in Oklahoma. We could use a few of those programs in the USA today.
Frank, Kenneth [Raymond’s nephew, who was about 18 months younger than he and a few months older than brother Frank], and I knew every cross tie on the MKT railroad from Vinita to Big Cabin. Walton and Etta [Raymond’s oldest sister and mother of Kenneth] lived just across the fence from the rails, and our family lived about a quarter mile away. We spent more time running up and down that railroad than the section hands did. Probably knew more about it than they did. A lot of animals live along a railroad track, and we knew every den.
Etta was having a party one night. Frank and I came early, and as there was no activity, we joined Kenneth on a walk down the track. One of our dogs had something bayed under a flat rock. Curiosity and a pry pole soon raised it and a civet cat came out right under our feet. The dog met the skunk at that point, and the evening air turned a deep purple with the stench. Did you know that a three-pound civet cat holds five pounds of stink gas, and it’s all under pressure? We tried every method we knew to get the smell off our clothes, but when we entered the house, we knew we had failed. We did learn one valuable lesson—how to move a crowd.
Etta took us to the barn where we bathed in a tub of water with homemade lye soap, changed clothes, and still weren’t presentable. Needless to say, we didn’t do any mingling with the crowd that night.
Our next move was a short one. It was about five miles to a house less than a quarter of a mile north of the Carselowey School. We always went home for lunch.
Carselowey was a larger school than any I had attended other than Noel. It was on an acre of ground, I would say, with lots of trees and swings and a teeter-totter and two nice outhouses. There were probably forty students enrolled. The first grade had eight or ten, but when you got to the eighth grade, there were only three or four. A lot of children never went to high school. A lot of them were sixteen or older when they graduated from the eighth grade. This was caused by starting to school late, failing a grade, or dropping out for a year or two to help on the farm.
I really enjoyed going to school at Carselowey. We always had fun things to do at recess and noon. A lot of times we would come early to play before school took up. I think I even liked some of the book learning. Once or twice, we went to other schools to track meets for some and inside events such as one act plays, debates and oratory for others. I remember walking three miles to another school, playing a game of softball, then walking back. This was after school had let out because the teacher went with us. Check it out. The name of the other school was Wayside.
When I boarded the bus for my first day of high school at Ketchum, Oklahoma, I could feel the butterflies. After we had made a few stops and picked up some of the neighbor boys, I felt better. Cecil Woodall was the only person that I knew who was in my grade. We had both gone to Carselowey.
Cecil and I had been friends all my Carselowey days, so when I sat down by him, my jitters eased up. After getting off the bus and entering the school to get our running orders, I didn’t see a person I knew. We had always gone to Vinita or Big Cabin for our needs, so I might not have been in Ketchum till that day. Even after we got to know everyone in school, we still hung around together. When one of us had trouble, we both had trouble.
I enjoyed going to school and didn’t miss too many days just because I wanted to stay home. There was no telling what kind of job you would end up doing if you pulled a stunt like that.
Ketchum had a good sports program. In those days, you could participate until your 21st birthday. Several boys would lay out a year or two to work or just because they wanted to. Ketchum had a few of those nineteen- and twenty-year-olds playing when I went there. They had football, basketball, and boxing. I went out for football and boxing. Didn’t do well in either. The year after I graduated, Frank was quarterback on the football team. I was in service and every letter I got from him, he had thrown or scored from three to five touchdowns. I figured he would get drafted by the bears (Chicago), but instead it was Uncle Sam. He ended up in Europe playing tiddlywinks with the Limeys.
Soon after I graduated from high school, I went to the post office in Vinita, Oklahoma, and volunteered for service in the air corp. You didn’t have to have a masters from Yale to know that you were going to be called within a month or two. The draft was all that anyone in the draft range thought about. I never registered. Just beat them to the punch.
All my days in service when I gave my serial number to a clerk, he would look up and snicker. Every time you turned around someone was asking for your name, rank, and serial number. My number was 18108470, which screamed out that I had volunteered. Draftees’ numbers started with two, three, four, etc. according to what part of the United States they had registered. Listening to a GI talk usually gave the first number of his serial number away. Then you could tie him in with the zone he was from. If they were from New York or Pennsylvania, you didn’t want to listen to them talk. I never figured out why a person didn’t just go in and get it over with. The time from register to call was very short.
The recruiter who filled out the papers gave me a day and the hour to catch a bus. They didn’t want to send a bus half-full, so it might have been two days later. Anyhow, a group of strangers and little ole me got on that bus and took off. The only thing we were supposed to take were the clothes on our back. That suited me because that was about all I had. The driver was the only person who knew where we were going, and we wondered about him. There were people going to all branches of the services, and I figured somebody was going to mess up. Hadn’t heard the word SNAFU or I would have been sure they would mess up. [SNAFU = Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.]
We arrived at Tulsa and unloaded. Seems to me that it was a post office, but I’m not sure. The one thing I am sure of is that we were lined up and given a couple of shots. I remember the first one, but they must have given me the second one while I was on my way to the floor. The next thing I remember is some guy sponging my head with cold water. That was really embarrassing. I knew what everyone was thinking. He’s going to be a big help in winning this war.
Our next run was to Stillwater. We picked up a few more strangers. They probably had their shots. I didn’t ask. From there we went to Lawton, Oklahoma. As we drove through a big gate with a little building in the middle of it, I saw a sign which said Fort Sill. It was dark. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I ever got to a new destination while the sun was shining. The bus stopped at a barracks and we piled out. There was a soldier waiting for us. He yelled “fall in” and I looked around for something to fall into. Some of the strangers were lining up, so I lined up with them. Us old Craig County boys pick up on things pretty fast.
The private first class (one of the boys recognized the rank) told us we were going over to the supply to pick up a few items. We marched over single file, no one in step, and entered the building. There was a long counter with a group of soldiers behind it. They started issuing things as fast as we could pick them up. All of it was one-size-fits-all stuff. You can’t get a duffle bag in two sizes.
After the duffle bad came the razors, toothbrushes, combs, soap, etc. All this type stuff went into the duffle bag in a hurry. Then things slowed down some. It would be at least ten or twelve seconds between items. A lot of things came in threes. That’s the number they gave us, not sizes. Just two sizes. You can do a lot of business that way. If you could see over the counter, you got small. If they could see your armpits, you got large. I got three of everything, SMALL. Except shoes. I only got one pair of those.
When all of that was crammed into the duffle bag, we were given sheets, blankets, and a pillow and cover. All this probably took us ten minutes from start to finish. We then carried all this to the barracks and made our bed with no instructions. That was to come later. Then you could watch the quarter bounce.
Our next step was the chow hall. I don’t know what we had to eat, but it was good. After going all day without eating, roadkill would have been delicious. By the time we had figured out what to wear tomorrow, it was past bedtime. The lights were turned out, and I lay there wondering what kind of mess I had gotten into. I finally got to sleep and the lights came back on and someone was yelling, “Fall out.”
It was four-thirty.
We hung around Fort Sill for three or four days, falling in and falling out and doing all those little S—- details. The area around our barracks was as clean as a hound’s tooth. Not a cigarette butt or a match or a scrap of paper. We also had vaccinations and more shots. Then we got more orders. Just a list of names and where we were going. They were always in triplicate and were given to the ugliest man to be in charge of the group. I never was in charge.
My group was headed for Wichita Falls, Texas. It was a hundred miles or so south of Lawton, just across the Red River. Shepherd Field was located there, so those of us who had volunteered for the Air Corp figured we were headed in the right direction. WRONG: We were there for basic training only. We got the standard welcome that all GIs got during The Big One. “YOU’LL BE SORRY.” This was yelled in unison by every person in sight. There’s not a service man in the whole wide world who hasn’t heard it. It’s standard procedure.
Basic training is something else. The fat boys were the ones who had the most fun. They took two and sometimes more runs at the high wall. They got to go swimming when they could no longer hold onto the bars crossing the water ditch. That was routine to an Oklahoma farm boy. We learned that in grade school at recess. There was a thicket of second growth trees just across the road from the old Carselowey School where we played “squirrel.”
We got up earlier than any sane person should have, with some guy turning on every light in the barracks and yelling at the top of his lungs to “fall out.” He yelled a lot of other things, but I don’t dare print them. We dressed and lined up in the street for roll call. Then we marched to the mess hall for chow, fell in again and marched back to the barracks. This is where you learn to eat fast. You are back in the street and ready for the day after doing the morning chores, and sometimes they are cut short by “FALL IN.”
We ran, we did the obstacle course, and we ran some more. Finally, we did something interesting. We went to the firing range. That was something I knew about. Everybody had a rifle or shotgun during the Depression, and everyone knew how to use them. We fired pistols, machine guns, and rifles. The carbine was my favorite. I qualified with it the first day out. The targets were a fur piece out there, but I had nothing but Bull’s eyes. No Maggie’s Drawers for old Raymond. [Maggie’s Drawers is a red flag thrown to indicate a miss.]
We always got back to the barracks in time to don our class A uniform for retreat. We formed groups twelve wide and twelve deep and marched onto the parade ground. The first group on suffered because of the heat and the time it took for the others to line up. There were always a few who passed out from the heat and standing at attention for so long.
We had the pleasure of going through the gas chamber. It was a Quonset-type building filled with tear gas. The sergeant in charge taught us how to put on the gas mask and how and when to take it off. After entering, he lectured for quite a while on the dos and don’ts of gas warfare. We were shown how to get down close to the ground and raise the face flap a bit to check for gas before removing. He talked a little longer then said for us to remove our masks. Guess what? Me and a few other dummies removed our masks. The tears flowed, but I can tell you how tear gas smells.
I thought being in the Air Corps would be a snap. It was. We snapped here and there for about a month before seeing a runway. Then one day several of us were out on the parking ramp looking at the old planes and talking to the mechanics when a couple of pilots came out to fly. They asked if any of us wanted to go up, and everyone did. There were too many, so we flipped coins to see who would go. Heads would go and tails would stay. One of the pilots said flip, and we did. All heads were to raise their hands, so I did even though I had a tail. I wanted to go so bad. I pretended that it was just being tricky, but I knew I was wrong. It’s a wonder that the Lord didn’t zap that old airplane out of the sky. He was probably thinking about the other men. Could have cracked the door a little and given me a push. That was my first airplane ride.
Orders were the order of the day back in ’42. The people who made bulletin boards must have made a barrel of money. We checked them religiously. A long list of names was posted every day, and no one was exempt. Latrine duty, K.P. (kitchen punishment) [actually kitchen patrol], guard duty, charge of quarters, and a peck of others was listed, and your name was apt to be on one of them. YOU ALWAYS CHECKED THE LISTS WHO WERE ‘SHIPPING OUT.’ I cannot tell you why, but all personnel think that the next place will be better. It was usually just the opposite. The greeting was always the same wherever you were shipped. “You’ll be sorry.”
In my case it was better. A list of about twenty of us who had finished basic was posted on the bulletin board. We were to go to Oakland, California. Most of us were from Oklahoma and Texas. We were together for about six months.
This is a list of our class:
John Rockel, Tunkhannock
Carl B. Chestnut, Oklahoma City
Herbert T. Mashaw, Lewisville, AR
Marvin Countryman, Texas
Fred L. Behrens Jr., Clarendon, Texas
Robert H. Sarola, San Antonio, Texas
Ivan L. Parker, Portland, Oregon
Joe W. Cannady, Cedar Hill, Texas
Milton Frank, Winthrop, Minnesota
- Norval Cochran, Victoria, Texas
Santana Garcia, Kingsville, Texas
Cherulf Christensen, Antelope, Montana
Luther C. Bledsoe, Lubbock, Texas
Francis B. Bockius, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, pure Osage Indian
- R. Keith, Galveston, Texas
Ted Kjiseth, Minnesota
Forest McGrew, Greely, Colorado
Allen R. Camp, Wilsey, Kansas
Warren Briery, Muskogee, Oklahoma
Kenneth Barber, Eaton, Colorado
Bill Penn, Midland, Texas
Egon P. Stabeno, Hutto, Texas
George G. Wolkenhauer, Minnesota
Gerald Martin, Chico, California
This is Class A2-43. We graduated November 9th, 1942. Some of the class might have ‘washed out’ because I have graduating pictures, and there are only fifteen of us.
This was a private school. Boeing School of Aeronautics. The instructors were Boeing employees. The mess hall wasn’t a mess hall at all. It was more like a large café. The meals were smorgasbord style with waitresses at your beck and call. Everything was handled by civilians. We never had it so good. I gained several pounds while we were there even though we did calisthenics and ran every morning without fail. I was a hundred-thirty-eight-pound chunk of bone and muscle. Hard as a rock and mean as a rattler. It’s a damn shame they didn’t send me to the front then. Could have knocked as much as six months off the length of the war. I was a real live atomic bomb.
Boeing had a very prosperous thing going for themselves. They were not only making and selling thousands of planes, but were training the people to maintain and fly them. They were also housing and feeding [men] plus renting all the necessary buildings and equipment.
Getting around in Oakland and San Francisco was another thing that mystified a kid from Craig County. I directed a guy down one of those cable car tracks for about two hundred feet before he wizened up. He just kept bumping along. I thought he had a flat tire.
I watched my first college football game at Kezar Stadium and also visited the zoo, which was a first. They weren’t located at the same place. The zoo was down the beach. I later realized that most of California was a zoo. The bridges were spellbinders. The Oakland Bay Bridge would reach, catty-cornered, from Ketchum to Disney. We ought to check on the cost. Grand lake needs one there.
The class of A2-43 got their orders and left in a body for San Breadwinner, California. We expected to go to an air base and start plying our trade. Wrong again. We got the shock of our lives. The familiar greeting “you’ll be sorry” was the truest words we would ever hear. We were hauled about ten miles out into the sand at the base of a mountain and dropped off. All we could see were tents. Lugging our barracks bag with our worldly possessions, we were escorted to our new home.
The tents were pitched on the bare sand with eight or ten fold-up cots in them. The door was a slit in the canvas and could be tied back or left flapping. The matching doors were at each end so we had a problem identifying them as front or back. The sides rolled up about three feet to let the air blow through. Each morning, every tent was the exact twin of the one next door or a quarter mile down the line. I can relate to a honey bee that has collected a load of pollen and is looking for a certain cell If you were out late and had a couple snorts, you had a problem.
We pulled KP, lathering duty, or guard duty every day. I spent my time pulling guard duty. Two hours on and four hours off. We patrolled the perimeter of tent city, which included a motor pool, which included cars, trucks, tanks and big guns. The guns we carried were fully loaded and heavy. You would have thought that place was Fort Knox under canvas. We guarded it day and night. The one good thing about the place was that some of us would only be there for three or four weeks.
One night I had a very embarrassing thing happen while I was walking my post. A Jeep came down the road so I stepped out into the sand to let it by. I figured all those Jeeps were on our side. He came right at me and didn’t stop until I was right between the headlights. A man jumped out on each side of the Jeep. One grabbed me around the shoulders and the other took my rifle. I was the officer of the day who had my rifle and the corporal of the guard who subdued me. I got chewed out until there was nothing left to chew. They threatened to have me court marshalled. They called me every bad name they knew and told me how dumb I was and how I could have gotten every man in Tent City killed. They didn’t talk very nice to me.
Later on that same night, they tried the same stunt on me again. They probably enjoyed it and wanted to see if I had learned anything. As the Jeep came at me, I went around the side to the darkness. I ordered them out of the Jeep and into the lights of the Jeep. I checked their IDs as if they were Hitler’s best. I never let the barrel of the gun waver from the belly button of the officer of the day. He knew he wasn’t going to take it away from me again. He commended me for the way I handled the situation the second time. I also served as corporal of the guard for a few days before leaving Tent City.
My next journey would be to Indianapolis, Indiana. Just three of us from the class 12-43 would make the trip. We boarded a train at San Bernardino depot and headed east. We traveled first class. When you just hang on and ride, it doesn’t take long to go somewhere on a train. I remember the train stopping at Woodward, Oklahoma. I got off and kicked the ground, thinking I might not see the state again.
When we arrived in Indianapolis, we were picked up at the depot and taken to a dormitory. It wasn’t far from the downtown square. We walked to the ice rink where the professional team played hockey. The hockey games were another first for me. We played hockey in Oklahoma with a soup can and a sassafras stick when we could find a pond frozen over, but that was the extent of it. I began to realize that I hadn’t seen much. Anyhow, we would march down to the rink and watch those boys skate, fight, and knock that little old puck around. Servicemen got in free. If all the hockey players had been drafted into service, things might have ended sooner. They were mean and tough.
I got sidetracked by the hockey players. Sorry. Still enjoyed the games.
We were housed in Luxury. Good beds, good food, showers, and restrooms. Nearly everything was handled by civilians. The classrooms were filled with gun turrets on stands. I suppose that all the companies that manufactured them were represented. They improved gun turrets daily. The hydraulic operated ones were more vulnerable to shrapnel and the lead those fighter planes were squirting at you than the electric ones. A leak in the hydraulic system affected the operation of the wheels, flaps, bomb bay doors, cooling system, and any other actuating cylinders. All these things were essential. You can get by without most electrical circuits. In the next five months, we knew gun turrets and the fifty-caliber machine gun well.
Westinghouse and General Electric had put the brakes on domestic appliances and jumped into the turret business. One of the companies, I don’t remember which, was making a remote-controlled turret. The gunners operated the turrets from the windows in the side of the aircraft. [scanner positions] The gunsight was located there, but the turrets could be placed anywhere on the aircraft. Normally the gunner sat in the turret and rotated with it in the early days of the war. The new turret was equipped with four fifty-caliber guns and could spin completely around in a flash and all the guns on the plane could be operated by one gunner. If an enemy was coming at you on the left side of the aircraft, the other gunners would release their turrets and all guns would obey the left side gunner’s wishes. When he pulled the trigger, all hell would break loose. If he was good, that’s where the target would end up.
Our instructors were employees of the companies that built the turrets and gunsights. We also had classes on bombsights. All this information was classified top secret. There was one bombsight that was really top secret. The bombardier checked it out, carried it to and from the plane in a little black case, and checked it back in. It was made by the Norden Company. I enjoyed this school very much, also.
I spent the winter of 1942-1943 in Indianapolis. That included Christmas. It was my first Christmas away from home. Christmas didn’t mean much to me back in the days before 1942, so it wasn’t a big deal that I was away from home. We were a lot poorer than Dolly Parton’s family and didn’t give or receive a present that was worth more than a dime. I did miss home though and would have enjoyed being there the 24th or 26th just as much as any other day.
On Christmas Day, I was walking around downtown Indianapolis about lunch time, so I decided to go into a near-by café and get a bite to eat. I sat down at a table and was checking the menu to see what I could afford when the waitress came up. She pointed out an old couple who was seated a few tables away and told me they wanted me to have lunch with them. I walked to their table, we introduced ourselves, and they asked me to sit. All during the meal, we visited and I answered question after question. I thought it an honor. They wanted my parents’ address, and I got their address. They lived in Ohio. Mom and Dad got the nicest letter from them telling what a great son they had. After parting goodbyes, I thought, What a wonderful Christmas.
After graduating from the guns and gun turret school at Indianapolis, we scattered like a covey of quail, everyone going back to the base he was from. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to San Berdo, as the natives called it. A couple of the students were from Blythe Air Force base, and they told us it was the hell hole of creation. California had several little bases out in the desert where the sand was deep and the heat was stifling. Listening to other servicemen was educational. There was always someone who had been stationed at the place you were talking about. We learned to use the ninety-ten theory. Ninety percent rumor and ten percent fact, give or take a half of a percent. According to them, the Replacement Depot of Tent City was a Holiday Inn.
I was back but a very short time when I was given a two-week furlough. It was a shock. I had been in service a few days over thirteen months and hadn’t seen a person I had known. The bus ride back to Vinita took a couple of days. I met a mother and daughter from Fresno, California, and had dinner at their home at a later date when I was stationed there. We corresponded and the daughter sent me a picture, which I still have. Dorothy doesn’t mind.
The memories of the ten days are very dim. Mom and Dad had moved to Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, and there were few relatives and a lot of strangers around. We had a get-together one weekend with several relatives attending.
There’s one memory that I don’t remember. I think it’s worth a line or two. Brother Ernie had planted several acres of beans to try to aid the war needs. I’m sure he had his mind on making a few dollars also. You can’t live on beans alone. He had hired several people to pick the beans. I was walking along with him while he was supervising. There happened to be a little sixteen-year-old girl picking, but I didn’t notice her. She says she remembers me. Her name is DOROTHY LUCILLE BROWN BOYD. I’m glad she remembers. I love her.
The furlough came to an end, and it was back to San Bernardino, but not for long. A group of us was sent to McClelland Field at Sacramento, California. The rumors started. We were going to bid the United States goodbye and make our mark in the world. I wasn’t completely Red, White, and Blue. There was a tinge of yellow along the edges. I liked Sacramento. I was willing to make my mark down on Twenty-Second and H Street.
Sacramento and McClelland Field had a lot of plusses There were a lot of sports on the base like bowling, soft ball, baseball, pool, and Sacramento had real championship boxing. There was a large PX where the men in our squadron spent leisure time. Beer was twenty-five cents for a large pitcher. We could toss in a quarter apiece and have a nice quiet evening. I didn’t drink… hic!
There was a large bowling alley, and the pins were set manually. The pins were put in a frame, which was pushed down to the lane and released in the proper spot. The pin setters were mostly GI’s, who received two cents a line for setting. You could set for an hour and bowl for a couple of hours at a nickel a line.
We also had to do a little work. A P-39 Bell AirCobra made a forced landing near Truckee, California. The pilots liked to fly up in the mountains and fire off a few rounds now and then. They have been known to hunt deer like that. Anyhow, three other guys and I were to go up and pick up the plane. We took a flatbed truck with a winch and all the tools it would take to take it apart and load it. My job was to oversee the removal of the guns and ammo. We drove to Truckee, rented a room apiece, and went out to the crash site. The plane was scratched up a little and had a dent here and there, but otherwise was in pretty fair shape.
The P-39 had a twenty-mm gun that fired through the center of the prop. We disarmed all the guns and removed the ammo. The twenty-mm had a round in the barrel. We got things in good shape for tomorrow and went back to Truckee, ate, and turned in. The next morning, we found the truck driver in bad shape. He had bought a bottle, drank too much, threw up until he had plugged the lavatory, and had the motel manager in a damn bad mood. We other three had to do all the work that day.
Just about the time we were getting acclimated with the Sacramento area, we began playing musical chairs. Within a two-day period, we had sacked up everything, tossed it into C-46 and C-47 cargo planes and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains into Nevada. We landed at a landing strip near Reno that looked as if it had been freshly poured. A couple of brand-new hangars were at one end. There was ample parking because nothing larger than a stunted tomato plant graced the area for miles. There were mountains on three sides with a saddle here and there with one road out leading to Reno and the Lake Tahoe area. The landscapers hadn’t scratched the airbase yet.
As we got off the planes, we didn’t hear that old familiar “you’ll be sorry” phrase. The welcoming committee must have been in Reno at Harrod’s Club. They might be counting all those silver dollars that cover the floor and bar. If the dates were good, they would pay off the national debt if sold to collectors at today’s prices.
The strip was high in the middle and low at both ends. A plane landing at one end disappeared from view. The field had just been dedicated, and we were told that a pilot was killed at the dedication. Seems he was rolling a P-38 in a flyover and it crashed.
We did very little for the war effort in the short time we were there. The top brass wanted to go for a picnic at Lake Tahoe, so we spent a day or three camped out and sleeping in our pup tents. Everyone visited the clubs in Reno just to say they had been there. I don’t suppose there was much of a surge in the town’s economy.
We sacked up again, loaded things and took off up hill. The skeleton crew that was left there didn’t even bother to tell us goodbye. We crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains again and were landing at McClelland Field, wondering what the hell had happened.
About this time of life, I got wind that Frank and Kenneth were at a base near Riverside, California. Thinking that it would be a good time to see them, I wrangled a weekend pass, and as soon as it became valid, Friday at noon, I ate a bit and glommed onto it. It was around four hundred miles down to Riverside. Hitchhiking was good back in those days, so I figured I could make it to where Harold was working at Long Beach by ten o’clock. Wrong again. I got to Long Beach at eight the next morning. That was one long night, and I was hungry and tired. I had five pennies in my pocket. I wasn’t one to go around packing a lot of money. Exchanging them for a nickel, I called the number where Harold was supposed to be working, and the person who answered said he had gone to see his brother in Riverside. Well, there went my last nickel. I had been there before, but not so far from home. With no other choice, I turned east and started riding my thumb again.
I arrived at the main gate of the base where Frank and Kenneth were supposed to be around noon. I didn’t have a watch, didn’t need one. The Air Corp told me when, where, and how to make every move I made. So you can see where that would have been extra weight to carry around. Besides, it would be in the shop by now. You know, under those three balls.
A T-5 with a forty-five on his hip was tending the gate. I whipped out my ID and the weekend pass, and he waved me through. No sooner had I turned around when I saw two civilians and two GIs coming toward me. I was awake enough to recognize them. Harold, Bill, Frank, and Kenneth had met me at the gate, and they didn’t even know I was coming to visit. Glory Be. Someone else had gotten involved. With ten to twenty-thousand people at the base, they were the first ones I saw after entering the gate.
They were going out to eat. I was all for it. Harold or Bill picked up the tab, and I didn’t even argue. As a matter of fact, I borrowed a five from one of them to get back to Sacramento. I don’t remember paying it back.
I was too groggy to remember what we did the rest of the day and night. I must have hit the ‘n’ when my brain asked if I wanted to save and override the previous entry. That was one long weekend.
Within a month, Frank went to England, Kenneth went to India, and Bill was drafted. I went to Fresno.
The outfit that made the dry run to Reno and back scattered to the four winds. Most went to replacement depots to be reassigned to fill the gaps in other squadrons. At the replacement depots, you just kept your duffle bag packed and waited. You didn’t want for a job. They kept you busy at something. Every person in the service has a Specialist Number. Whatever job you qualified for, you got a number. That number is forever on your service record. I had three Specialist Numbers. I have forgotten the numbers, but I know that I was recalled to the Korean Conflict on a 235 (maybe). Fifty some years is a long time to remember a number. When an outfit is in need of a number, they check at the replacement depots and the man with that number had better grab his bag.
My job was Charge of Quarters. I would go on duty at Headquarters when all the officers and clerical people got off. This was around five or six o’clock p.m. When the headquarters people came to work the next morning, I went off duty. I was a Staff Sergeant at the time and knew enough to handle most of the minor problems. The Officer of the Day and the MPs were easy to contact when there was a major problem. I was on duty every other night, so I had a lot of free time. The other CQ and I both worked at a winery and made jingling money. It didn’t last long though. My number came up, and I was headed for a B-29 outfit in Pratt, Kansas.
Pratt, Kansas, my favorite town in Kansas. Population at last count in 1940, not very many. I would say well under five thousand. The population of the air base was a lot less than that. A strip long enough to accommodate a B-29 and a taxiway. There were two rows of wooden shacks about twelve or fifteen feet square, a coal burning stove, and one door. It was a step under the Ritz, maybe two steps. Each manor had eight fold-up cots. A sixty-watt lightbulb in a pull socket graced the cathedral ceiling. We had no hot and cold running water. That was in another building about a quarter of a mile away. A few times, nature called and the race was on. You lose some, and sometimes you would get a draw. Number one was no problem. Just step behind the building and cut loose. A have seen evidence of number two scattered about. Some guy miscalculated or didn’t have the speed required to make the dash.
By the time eight men crowded into the building that served as our quarters, there wasn’t room for company Most people smoked back in those days. Cigarettes were cheap, so those what didn’t smoke before they got in service, started. When everyone prepared to retire at night, the smoke was so thick, you couldn’t see the opposite wall. I didn’t smoke, but when I came out of service, I had a hacking cough and a build-up in both lungs.
I’ve gotta go to a flashback. About two weeks into basic training at Shepherd Field, a friend and I met a second lieutenant coming down the walk toward us. When he was some distance off, my friend said, “Let’s show that bastard how to salute.” When he came near, we were in perfect step and our hands came up together, and we snapped off a dandy. There was only one little problem. My buddy had a cigarette in his mouth. The Second John went into a tantrum. He chewed him out until there was only a piece of raw flesh hanging. If we had met a colonel, he might have laughed. I did…later.
There was a street between the two rows of shacks. Just a plain old dirt street without sidewalks or any kind of obstructions. It made the best touch football field you ever saw. We had a lot of fun in that dusty street. There were a few unnecessary roughness penalties. No loss of yardage. They just duked it out and put the ball down where the ground was torn up the most.
The B-29 was just off the assembly line. It was made at Wichita, fifty miles east of Pratt. It was the largest bomber made at the time. It also flew faster and higher than any other bomber the United States had made. It was equipped with the new remote-controlled turrets. Each turret had four fifty-caliber machine guns. The bomber was pressurized and was capable of flying thirty-thousand feet and above. The front part of the pressurized area was connected to the back part by a tube about three feet in diameter, which ran over and the length of the bomb bay. The crewmen scurried through this tube like a bunch of rats.
The B-29 was a scarce item at Pratt. Training flights were scheduled and planned. It wasn’t like jumping into a B-25 and taking a three or four-hour ride. We took off from Pratt one evening about six o’clock and flew to Topeka, Kansas. They set up and made bomb runs over the town. The pilots and bombardier worked at it. The navigator and engineer did a little checking now and then giving a heading or wind direction or checking the instruments. The gunners were in the back loafing, but making sure someone had on a head set. The pilots wanted you on your toes at all times.
Our next bomb run was over Kansas City. Same procedure as the one over Topeka. The altitude had probably changed. The next city to be demolished was St. Louis. Then we took off southeast to Nashville. From Nashville to Memphis, then back to Pratt.
The pilot asked for a location check, and I was surprised when the navigator said we were over Neosho, Missouri. Off to my left and downhill about thirty miles, my mom and dad were probably snoozing away. We had been up in the air about eight hours and had another to go.
One afternoon a B-29 was landing, and since that was the most excitement we usually had there, we were watching. He used too much of the strip before he touched down so was traveling at a pretty fair clip when he neared the end. Instead of continuing off the end of the runway, he attempted a left turn onto the taxi strip. The main landing gear on the right buckled and the wing and propellers hit the hard surface of the taxiway, and the fireworks started. The prop blades bent backward as they turned, and took the shape of two huge spiders. One expensive B-29 was out of action, and it was probably less than a month old.
Soon afterward, most of the outfit boarded a troop train and headed west. All movement of service personnel was top secret, but this little hole at the bottom was always leaking. Someone started a rumor that had a fifty-percent chance of being right, as in this move. The name Seattle was being used a lot. We might as well have hung a “Seattle or Bust” banner on the side of the train as that was a noted jumping-off place. The train chugged its way west through Kansas, and we entered the Royal Gorge about dusk. Everyone was oohing and aahing as the beautiful scenery became even more beautiful. In places, it seemed that one rail was in the Arkansas River and the other under a bluff.
The word started circulating that the Royal Gorge Bridge was just ahead. The height of the bridge above the Arkansas River was quoted as being from three-hundred feet to a half mile. Some said it was the highest bridge in the world and gave it credit for several other records. I didn’t get involved. I didn’t even know it existed. My biggest worry at the time was keeping my head from coming into contact with those huge cliffs. It turned out to be as spectacular as advertised. It looked like a foot bridge from our un-vantage point.
Darkness soon erased the spellbinding views and we started looking at a four-card flush. That’s what you call the daddy of all extremes. I will always regret not going back to ride that stretch of railroad in the daylight hours.
The train arrived at Seattle, and we spent a few days on the obstacle course and climbing up and down those forty by sixty-foot net ladders that the navy uses. When there’s twenty-five or thirty people trying to climb them at the same time, it’s quite a chore. Everyone wiggles in a different direction at the same time.
After a strenuous day of body building and a good supper one day, we were ordered to fall out and fall in. That meant to fall out into the street and fall in line. Rumors running about eighty-twenty at this stage of the game, the guys knew that there would be no calling Mom or the wife. We were given a very short time to grab our duffle bags and to be back in the street. Clerks checked your name as you loaded into a truck. Within thirty minutes or so, we were on board a ship in Puget Sound. They didn’t forget anyone.
If you are wondering how I can remember some of the things and the exact time, I’ll explain. First, we’ve got to take in the fifty to seventy-three-year rule. I get one-sixth of a point for every year. Each point is worth ten minutes. From fifty to fifty-six years, I could be off as much as an hour. Now, that’s not likely to happen, but it could. If we go back sixty-eight years, I’ve got a give or take of three hours. You would have to have ‘old timer’s disease” to miss it that far.
We had a pennyante poker game that Monday night and by eleven o’clock I was feeling kind of queasy, so I knew we were in the big water of Puget Sound. Tuesday morning, I could see we were on the Pacific Ocean. It was raining and it was rough, and I was sick as hell. The navy always have beans for breakfast on Tuesday. I ate a few of them without chewing. They came back up the same way and bounced off the deck like rifle bullets. I’ve never had any respect for the navy since.
The ship was going south, so we began to have more doubts about the navy. We thought they were going to attack the Santa Cruz Islands down near Los Angeles. Instead, they turned under the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco, on past Alcatraz Island and to the eastern side of the bay. They were picking up life rafts. We had made the roughest part of the trip with only life jackets. Good thinking.
The ship sailed out of the bay the next day, and we took another look at the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge. It hadn’t changed an iota. Several other things had changed. We ran into the damnedest bunch of ships I had ever seen. There were all kinds. We fell into position and started chugging away to the west. The ships’ crews started blinking their lights and waving their flags, and we felt totally left out. We weren’t alone. There were more troop ships along.
As we sped on west at about the speed of a three-legged terrapin, we got to know more about how the navy operated. A battleship was in charge of the flotilla. Every few minutes they changed direction. The bigger ships, loaded with troops and cargo, were inside the smaller ships, which were supposed to protect us. As I looked at the expanse of the Pacific, I was thankful for the armada that surrounded us.
The navy sounds general quarters at twilight [meaning before the sun comes up] and again at dusk each day. All men take their battle stations and we had to keep out of their way. They would come on the horn and announce when the smoking light was lit. That’s when the smoke started billowing up. We followed their rules most of the time. On hot nights, we would come on deck and sleep in the life rafts. The swabbies hosed the ship down each morning with fire hoses. They enjoyed accidently squirting water in the life rafts.
One day, about mid-morning, general quarters sounded. The crews went to battle stations. They had detected a Jap submarine. Those sub chasers started firing depth charges and rolling charges off the side. After several runs, they decided that the sub had been sunk.
About fifty miles from Pearl Harbor, a tow plane came out with a target. The navy jumped in their forty-caliber gun turrets and started banging away. Watching the roll of the ship and the black puffs, I was concerned for the pilot.
When somebody spotted landfall, we crowded the deck. We had been at sea for eight days, I think, and every man on board was ready to find something solid to walk on. It took forever to get to Pearl Harbor, and then it took another forever to get all the ships inside the harbor. The shores resembled a large lake in the states. There were docks aplenty, but when that ceased, the vegetation grew close to the banks. Pineapple fields were scattered up the hills as far as one could see. The beaches were a big disappointment. Since Pearl Harbor is so far inland, that’s understandable.
We weren’t allowed to drop the gangplank and just walk off the ship. Security was tighter than the bung [plug] in an Ozark whiskey barrel. If everyone could have walked off, we would have arrived at our destination with a short crew. Five days later, we left most of the fleet behind and headed west by southwest wondering what was in store.
Still zig-zagging and not breaking any speed records, we reached the Marshall Islands. Now, some of those dudes had beaches. They reached from one side to the other. You’ve seen comic scenes with a small patch of sand and a palm tree and a man trying to launch a bottle with a note in it. The idea originated in the Marshall Islands, and the palm tree was added. We added fuel near Kwajalein. That raised the spirit of some, I expect. We wouldn’t have to use the oars. And NO, we didn’t stop at a service station. The restroom was locked.
Speaking of restrooms, I must give you a description of the ones on board a troop ship. The plans weren’t drawn by an engineer, and they didn’t cost the government a fortune. It looked like the brainstorm of some old farm boy. Simple, that’s the way to keep things that worked as good as this toilet. It was a trough about sixty feet long, a foot deep, and about two feet across. The dimensions are all estimated. I didn’t have a ruler, so these are eyeball figures. There were seats attached about every two feet so it would accommodate about thirty men. Sea water was pumped in at the front or uphill end of the trough and ran back into the sea at the rear end. Pardon the pun. There were about three inches of water running down this trough at all times and about three knots faster than the ship was running. A roll of toilet paper was hung between the seats and easily reached either right or left-handed. No flushing and the water bill was minimum. The only problem found in this whole set up was the white capping of the water in the trough during high seas.
We arrived at Guam, at the southern tip of the Marianas Islands, bright and early one morning. After the paper work and orders, we assembled on deck. There were no piers so we anchored about a quarter of a mile offshore. The navy threw the rope ladder over the side of the ship, and some landing ships for personnel drew alongside. We dropped our duffle bags overboard into the LSTs [Landing Ships, Tank] and started scrambling down. The training in Seattle was producing dividends. Some bags fell between the LST and the ship and had to be fished out.
When the LST was loaded, we were driven to the beach and the front end was dropped. We jumped out into a foot or so of water and waded ashore. No welcoming committee, either friend or foe, met us. A company of marines were on the island, but the only sign of them was the LSTs and the drivers.
We milled around on the beach for several hours trying to get organized. Guns and ammo, C rations, mess gear, canteen, all were issued. Some trucks pulled up and we were transported to the opposite end of the island. On the way, we saw evidence of one hell of a battle. Burned out tanks and other wrecked vehicles were scattered along the way. The Japs had an airfield on the island at one time. We heard that it was in American hands at the present. That’s probably where the trucks we were riding in came from. We didn’t find the air base that day. We were taken to the opposite side of the island and dropped off in a small clearing.
Within an hour, some of the nosier men were scouting the place out. It was a jungle. We had been warned while at the beach that Japs were everywhere. These guys jumped a couple Japs that had built a lean-to not far from where we had camped. The Japs ran, and the boys started shooting. No casualties, but they brought back everything the Japs had in the lean-to. They had a bamboo log hollowed out and were fermenting chopped coconut. The most valuable item was a watch that was made in Australia.
Guam is thirty-two miles long, and its width varies from four to ten miles. Its shape resembles that of some of the better-looking native women. We went ashore at the south end of the island. The capital, Agana, is located there. Most of the houses were framed with poles like an upside-down vee and the roofs were thatched. The street was fenced with bamboo poles in most places. The water buffalo was the beast of burden and was used to tend the crops. The transportation system was a two-wheeled cart with a water buffalo between the shafts. The speed limit was optional, but they got the middle part of the road.
The south end of the island was where all the crops were grown. Ninety-five percent of the people lived there. I don’t remember seeing a native on our end of the island. The south end was valleys and hills. The north end was a thickly wooded upland with an elevation of five or six-hundred feet. It was infested with Japs that the marines had overlooked and small pigs. That’s the end we got. The B-29s took off over those five-hundred feet coral cliffs and gradually gained altitude as the plane lightened from use of fuel.
The first night on the island was a disaster. We put up some tents for the officers and the first sergeant and his staff of paperwork people. The first sergeant never moved out of that tent while I was on the island. The rest of us threw a shelter half on the ground. Then the rain came. It lasted for ten minutes or so. We found this to be a common occurrence. The following day, we put shelters up for everything we had. We also supplied our own security.
The building of the runway was a well-planned operation. Within days, dozers, trucks, and all equipment needed was brought in. They blasted and dozed and soon there was a strip a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. I don’t know the make-up of the surface of the strip and ramps, but coral played a major part.
In the meantime, every man in our outfit was working at something. The officers were probably glad to get the exercise. A large mess tent was set up, and the necessary equipment installed. We dug holes to be used as toilets. Used the navy’s patent for the seats. Someone came up with a Japanese generator and strung up a few lights in the areas. When you have a hundred men, you find that you can come up with a person for any job.
Things began to take shape. Spare parts came in. Quonset huts were set up, and lumber was trucked in. The construction people built several sixteen by sixty-foot buildings. A two-by-four frame covered and floored with plywood, tar paper on the roof, and screen and plywood on the sides and ends, a couple screen doors. This was whipped out in a couple of days. I moved into one of the first ones built.
The planes started coming in as fast as Boeing could build them, and we were in business.
In our spare time, we played softball on the ramp. Seldom ever got a bad hop and was very careful sliding into the bases. The dozers cleared off a recreation field that could be used for baseball. The marines brought a couple of truckloads of Jap prisoners to work on the field. When they finished, it was as smooth as a pool table. Those automatic shot guns and forty-fives stationed about fifty feet apart helped keep things in order.
The high spot of my stay on Guam was a baseball game made up of major league players who were in service. The lineup looked like a list of the baseball hall of fame. The printed programs were passed all afternoon. We were a bunch of hungry autograph hounds. Mike has the program that I had signed that afternoon. Mike McCormick, Joe Gordon, Johnny Vander Meer and the list goes on.
Johnny Vander Meer [only major league pitcher to pitch two no-hitters in a row] was passing a baseball around to be signed. The last man in the dugout signed and passed the ball back to Jack Burns, a friend of mine. We thought it was a ball belonging to some GI so we decided to sign it. Johnny asked the dugout players where his ball was, and they pointed into the crowd. I tossed it to him. I wonder if he still has the ball we autographed.
The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Word reached Guam about the middle of the afternoon. It was a well-kept secret. The base went berserk, and the celebration started. After the next three days passed, and Japan was still sending out those damn crazy Kamikaze pilots, it looked as if we had run out of bombs too soon. Then the news came on August the 9th. Nagasaki had turned to ashes. Even though we knew that little boys and girls were being killed by the thousands, we still celebrated. The majority of the service men in the Pacific would not have turned their hand to keep Japan from sinking into the ocean.
Japan surrendered August 15th, 1945. The insane rulers had finally come to their senses. Many of the top admirals and generals committed suicide, as well as the leaders of the country itself. They had sent many men to their deaths on the suicide missions. When you can trade a man and a plane loaded with all the explosives it can carry for a battle ship, you’re a pretty good trader. That would have gone on forever if the atom bombs had not been used. The invasion of Okinawa was having its problems. Casualties were enormous because the insane Japs didn’t mind dying if they could take a few men with them. Friends Clifford Barns and Les Porter didn’t object to the use of the Bomb. They would not have been shot to hell if it had been used sooner.
The invasion of Japan could have lasted for years and years. The casualty list could have been in the millions. The Japs were just plain crazy.
Service personnel from the European Theater were already bound for home or the Pacific. Wouldn’t it have been disgusting to come all that way to be killed by a Jap that didn’t mind dying? The A Bomb solved that. We should be thankful for the Bombs and remember Pearl Harbor.
Bill, Frank, Dave [brother-in-law, married to Dad’s sister Helen], and Kenneth had all been discharged. When I got home, they were admiring their Ruptured Ducks [honorable discharge label button] and grinning.
My first days home:
I crawled out of the car that had picked me up somewhere between Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and Sulphur Springs. Home sweet home. I thanked the guy who was driving, I’m sure. It had become a habit since that was the only way we service people had traveled the past four years. I pulled my duffle bag out of the backseat and slammed the door. It wasn’t very heavy: a few dirty clothes, a New Testament and an old razor.
I didn’t see a person that I knew as I looked around. I knew where home was, so with duffle bag on my shoulder, I took off, hoping this would be the last mile to carry it.
Mom and Dad had moved since we had been in service. They lived on a small Ozark hill just north of town and about a quarter of a mile from the Missouri line. It was uphill both ways. The duffle bag was heavy, but it was a pleasure to see them.
A lot of service people were being discharged around the end of 1945 and beginning of 1946. Germany had surrendered in May, and the atom bombs dropped August 6th and 9th blew the bushido samurai code, which the Japs were taught, to hell. The European Theatre troops who were waiting for a trip to the Pacific instead came home to the good old US. The Pacific troops arrived a little later.
As I said, Frank and Bill were out when I got home. Frank had made a few friends around the area, probably the Shadow Lake [nightclub] variety. When we went into service, we lived near Vinita, Oklahoma, and knew no one in Sulphur Springs. I just started running with his group since there were only a couple of cars among us all. I still had my three-hundred dollars in my shoe, and the ruptured duck on my class A uniform.
Hal Hulett, C.L. Osterloh, the Doughty boys, Joe Heckman, Roy Oliver, Kenneth Orr, Frank, and I made up our small circle. As the weeks passed, this circle increased, and we found more things to do to occupy our time. Most of it was bad. We didn’t have jobs and weren’t looking. Our mustering-out pay was holding out fairly well. Gas was around fifteen cents a gallon, and our territory was about thirty miles in each direction. Beer was two bits over the bar and less than that by the six pack. A dollar went somewhere back in those days. The trouble was the number of bars in McDonald Country in Missouri. [Benton County, Arkansas, was a dry county.] We tried to make them all every two days. We were looking out for the economy. Nobody should go out of business if we could prevent it.
In the spring of 1946, all was not fun for the retuning veterans of World War Two. We realized that we could not party forever. Reality was just around the corner. I’m sure Mom and Dad were getting fed up with out coming and going at all hours. They were accustomed to being alone. How I understand their situation now that I am older and wiser.
We soon tired of this life, deciding we were going to be around for more than a month or so. The local girls had helped us wipe out our fortunes so we needed cash to operate on. Part time jobs were the best hope. Frank, Kenneth, and I got jobs shoveling creek gravel onto a dump truck. Now that’s the kind of job everyone should do for an hour or two. It exercises the brain. You start thinking about something easier to do. The largest employers around were the Gravette Shelling Company or The Dolomite plant north of Sulphur Springs and neither of them employed more than a dozen hands. Most of us veterans weren’t qualified for top jobs. WW II made more one-legged men than geniuses.
The time we were in the service was not a total loss as some would lead you to believe. They taught us to take orders and to give orders. To take care of ourselves and those about us. To do it right the first time. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline. You began to realize that the world was filled with people who knew more than you did and that most of them were in the Air Corp. That old saying, “I’ve got no superiors and damn few equals” was a no-no in the Air Force. There were so many people above me that I thought the earth had another layer. The Air Force was Air Corp when I enlisted.
As I said, a lot of the returnees started looking for jobs or making jobs for themselves. You couldn’t make a career of chasing the girls. We organized an American Legion Post with the help of a few World War One veterans. Claude Hendrickson played a major part. Our old gang attended the first meeting and made up about a third of the charter members. On the 15th of August, 1996, we will celebrate 50 years as Forristall-Wells Post 35.
In the spring of 1946, we organized a baseball team. We took the name of Sulphur Springs Pirates, which was used by Sulphur Springs teams eons past. We became one of the teams in the Benton Country League. Other teams were Gravette, Decatur, Gentry, Hiwasse, Centerton, Bentonville, Rogers, and a couple of Missouri teams, Southwest City and Anderson. I’m not sure just how many or which of these teams made up the Benton Country League. Washington County also had a league that year, and we played Tonti-Town for the Pennant. The last time I saw the Pennant, it was hanging in the Jones-Forristall Drug Store. Sid Foster was the grandson of one of the ladies that worked there, and he also worked there. Since he was our first basement, we let him display the flag. He is a retiree mortician and has probably made a deal to have it draped across his casket when he departs.
Baseball was the favorite sport in this era. The couch potato hadn’t made his blubbery appearance at this time since television was not around. He had to keep active and usually did. So there were a lot of ball players. Not good, but active. More quantity, less quality. Dorothy and the kids spent most of their Sunday afternoons at the baseball field.
A few noted ball players have rounded the bases at the Sulphur Springs ball park. Mickey Mantle played there when he was with the Baxter Springs club. Mickey Owens caught a game or two there. Gene Stevens played for the Sulphur Springs ball club. In the early fifties, he played for the Boston Red Sox. Arlie Burge [Raymond’s nephew] played several years in professional ball before retiring at the Triple A level.
The returning veterans started carving their niche in the history of Sulphur Springs. They served on the voluntary fire department, on the city council, in the church, in clubs, and working in or starting new businesses. It wasn’t much, but it was the beginning of a new life.
This is the shank of 1995. Another Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, then the fat lady should hit the high notes. It was about fifty years ago about this time of year (give or take a day or so) that I was mustered out of the Air Force. [It was army air corps then.] Then in another day or so, I would meet a girl who would play a major part in my life. When I say major, I mean like sixty/forty. She was the sixty part, and rightly so.
Fifty years is a long time to try to remember, especially when it is tacked onto twenty-three more. The mind dulls, and the more you try to think of something, the easier it escapes. You might recall it tomorrow, but that is too late. You needed it yesterday. Old age takes its toll, but I will attempt to call back some of the things that happened long, long ago.
Let’s get back to this lovely, wonderful girl. Some of the facts might be distorted, but they will have to do. Dorothy Brown, that’s the name of this lovely lass, will be the only person who could dispute them, and she probably will.
Roy Oliver and I were riding around the little town of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, looking for something to do. If you have ever been there, you would know we had our work cut out for ourselves. When we drove by his house, we stopped. Carol Doss, who was Roy’s cousin, and Dorothy were there. That was the first time I remember seeing her. I thought she was cute. A little plump, but really cute. Quiet, but cute.
We visited for a while and someone said that the Art Davis Band was playing in Siloam Springs that night. I asked Dorothy if I could escort her to the dance. She probably said, “If you would like.” She wasn’t a plain old yes or no girl. All the time we were dating, she didn’t make a decision. Made it real rough on me, being the gentleman I was.
Back in the forties, the western swing bands were the rage in this part of the country. The larger bands like Bob Wills were popular all over the United States. Western music was starting to make a run at the big band sound of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, etc.
Well, Dorothy and I went to Siloam Springs that night. Our first date. She didn’t say fifty words. I didn’t say many more than that. We could have passed for a couple of mutes. To top that off, I didn’t know how to dance, and she didn’t offer to give me a lesson. That night was a dud. We both could use a course in public speaking. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a manuscript compared to our all night conversation.
After that disastrous night, I didn’t see Gabby for several months. Then she had a wedding shower for Carol Doss and Walter Shepard. The Dosses, Olivers, Orrs, and Dorothy were as thick as fleas on a coon dog. Kenneth Orr was sparking Norma Oliver, Roy’s sister. Roy was chasing Marge Orr, Kenneth’s sister. Dorothy was engaged to Norma and Roy’s brother, and Carol was a cousin to everybody.
Kenneth and Roy were going to the shower on account of, so I just tagged along for the ride. We each brought a gift, under a dollar probably. Money was hard to come by back in those days. For one thing, we didn’t have jobs. We were on the fifty-two-twenty plan. Twenty dollars for fifty-two weeks or until we joined the working force. Most of the kids get a bigger allowance than that nowadays. When they start high school, that will double. I got carried away there, didn’t I? The mention of money has always affected me that way. It’s caused by not having any.
Wedding showers were handled differently back in the forties. A lot of people showed up just for the eats. It was a little nicer if you brought a little something, though. I’m sure we had refreshments. They might have been good, or they might have been bad. You can’t ask your taste buds to recall something like that after fifty years.
I do remember playing games, inside the house and out. The outside games were a lot more interesting. Dorothy and I decided to go for a walk. Now this is something I will remember forever, every step. We walked to the mailbox, which was about a quarter of a mile north of their house. She had gotten her voice back and talked more while we were walking a few yards than she had the entire trip to Siloam Springs. That was the night I decided to spend the rest of my life with her. There wasn’t any mail.
The next couple of months, we were together a lot and the engagement ring disappeared. We were in Lanagan, MO, at a restaurant, which was inside Dad Truit’s cave when we decided to take another walk. I proposed, and she said YES. The speech course paid off.
We set the date, moved it up a couple of days, and asked our mothers to go with us to be married. We were married at Columbus, Kansas, August 23rd, 1946. Calla and Daisy both signed our marriage license. As we read those names, we realize that we had the most wonderful mothers in the whole wide world. Those names could be the cause that has bound us together for near fifty years. They are priceless. As I write this, I opened the safe and looked at our marriage license. Calla Brown and Daisy Boyd stand out brighter than ever. And I have tears in my eyes.
After the wedding everything was sunshine and roses spiced with happiness and bliss. Then came the big shock of meeting the Brown clan. Dorothy said it was a package deal. I was satisfied with my cute little wife. I had become well acquainted with George. He was an outgoing type and knew everyone in nine counties. He was a wheeler and dealer. Would buy or trade for anything that he thought would make a dollar. I think Dorothy inherited several of his traits. She could have done a lot worse.
Caldonia (Calla) was just the opposite of George in my opinion, which is right ninety-five percent of the time. No one every called her Caldonia, just Calla. She was quiet and serious. She didn’t allow anything that was the least bit out of line to go on around her or in her house. Everyone toed the line around her except me. I could joke with her, and I think she liked it. She and I both knew that there wasn’t a serious word spoken. We were great pretenders. She was a wonderful and gracious mother-in-law. Dorothy inherited a few of her traits.
Dorothy had wonderful parents, and they were very nice to me. They never criticized the things we did and offered very little advice. We would have been better off if we would have used some of that they did give. They were an asset to the package deal.
Dorothy’s grandparents (George’s parents) were married October 28, 1873.
Garrett Durlin Brown March 27, 1849 – June 25, 1924
Mary Frances Stewart October 2, 1853 – December 29, 1935
Dorothy’s grandparents (Calla’s parents) were married January 25, 1885.
John Wesley Barnett January 31, 1861 – November 29, 1943
Louisa Elizabeth Pearce June 4, 1867 – May 1941
Dorothy’s parents were married November 2, 1913.
George Cecil Brown July 27, 1891 – May 30, 1955
Caldonia Barnett August 26, 1895 – June 2, 1982
Jessie Faye Brown Meredith July 1, 1914
Tom Willard Brown December 24, 1916 – August 14, 1991
Jewel Florine Brown Lukens February 8, 1919
Violet Pauline Brown Morgan May 21, 1921
Dorothy Lucille Brown Boyd March 10, 1927 – June 20, 2011
Jimmie Allen Brown September 11, 1936
Word got out that there was a little off brand, two-pump service station for sale at the north edge of Sulphur Springs. When I say two-pump, that’s exactly what I mean. They weren’t electric. They were the old ten-gallon glass cylinder that you had to pump each time a sale was made. One of those pumps is worth more today than we gave for the station. One pump was ethel and one was regular. Octane content was a mystery. Probably around seventy-five. It might have been less than that if the tank truck had more regular on it than would go in the regular tank that fed the pumps. The ethel tank always had room for extra gas. Two cents more a gallon is two cents.
A couple of months after the end of World War Two (we called it The Big One), my brother Harold and I leased the service station. It was fun for a while. There was a lot to do around one of those places. We didn’t just sit around and take in the money like they do now. The customer didn’t lift a finger when he drove into our place. We washed the windshield, aired the tires, checked the oil or anything else that needed checking under the hood, pumped gas, and cleaned his glasses if they needed it. We did everything. We had a grease rack so we could change oil, grease the car, changed tires, fix flats, replace belts or adjust anything that needed adjusting.
Back in the good old days, if you got ten thousand miles out of a tire, you had performed a miracle. The tubeless tire was unheard of. To repair a flat, the tube had to be removed from the tire, the tire from the wheel, and both repaired as needed. We kept a large assortment of boots and patches. We booted the tires and patched the tubes, then put them back together. All this for fifty cents. The customer did not have to pay for the boot, but it was only ten or fifteen cents. The charge for a truck tire repair was a dollar. Balancing tires was another thing that hadn’t reached the Ozarks. People just drove down the roads a bumping. And we just kept grinning because fixing flats was about ninety-five percent profit.
That’s the business I was in when Dorothy and I tied the knot. Don’t you know she was proud of me? I’ll bet she was wishing she had the engagement ring back.
While I was pumpin’ gas and fixin’ tars, Dorothy was working for an outfit in Noel, Missouri, called The American Institute of Grapho Analysis. I figured it had something to do with the cold war with Russia or a secret organization of the Mafia. She told me she was a secretary and opened and sorted the mail. There was always money and checks in the mail, so I figured she was in the know. I was scared for her. Then one day on her way to work, she lost a front wheel from my brand new ’35 Plymouth. That did it. They were trying to rub her out. I forced her to become a full-time housewife. We were both happier, and I could go home for lunch every day.
I would like to say a few words about the things we did for entertainment. There were five couples of us that ran around together in the spring and summer of 1946. Hal Hulett and Joy Brown (no kin to Dorothy). They were married later that year. Roy Oliver and Marge Orr also married in 1946. Kenneth Orr and Norma Oliver wed in 1947. Brother Frank was playing the field, and Dorothy and I, who were betrothed.
Someone in that group could always come up with something to do on any given night or day. There was a skating rink in Anderson, a bowling alley in Neosho or movies in most of the towns nearby. We would sometimes go to Joplin to the wrestling matches to watch the pros, trying to pick up some new holds. Wild Red Berry was one of my favorite wrestlers. We usually stopped at the Ponderosa Club or Ropers in Lanagan to watch the fights or so the girls could get a soda, if we were in that neighborhood.
Sometimes we would go out to eat or have an ice cream soda or banana split. Fast food joints were not in style in those days. I remember going into Jones-Forristall Drugs store in Sulphur Springs for ice cream sodas. It was an experience. It was CLASS. Gone with the wind type. We sat in antique chairs placed around glass top tables. The glasses we used were made for that purpose. The waitresses, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Forristall, added to the décor. They were in their late sixties or seventies. We would often go there after a Sunday baseball game to have refreshments.
It was void of the things that fast food places have. No hustle and bustle, noise, Styrofoam cups or loud orders.
Another pastime that we enjoyed was visiting relatives. At times it was more fun than the Barnham and Bailey Circus. We had stranger characters than they did. We celebrated birthdays and such and often had homemade ice cream.
Dorothy or Mrs. Brown sometimes made doughnuts on Saturday, and Dorothy would invite me out to brag on them. I always went, but I wasn’t crazy about doughnuts.
One hot August day, someone in our group planned a watermelon bust for that night at Mount Shira. Mount Shira was a secluded little park just south of Ginger Blue, which is just south of Lanagan. Kenneth and I picked up our favorite girlfriends and drove up there at the appointed time. We sat around and threw rocks in the river for an hour or two before realizing we were going to be the only ones there. We didn’t have a watermelon either. What a wasted night.
The policy of all newlyweds was to move as often as possible. We followed procedure and moved three times in the first six months. It’s a lot easier than paying rent.
Then we found a house that was for sale. We looked it over and decided to make the plunge. We made a $750.00 down payment and borrowed the remainder to pay for our dream castle.
Dad had a friend who loaned us $500.00 at eight percent interest for one year. Harry Tucker was his name. He wrote the agreement on a sheet of paper, Dad and I signed it, and Dorothy and I were the owners of a mansion. Harry didn’t take the note to be filed or ever notarized. We paid the note off within six months. I offered Harry the interest for a full year, but he would not take it. That’s the way business was done in the good old days.
My memory of things that happened fifty years ago is not the keenest, so Dorothy can describe our first home.
There was a kitchen that seemed quite large. A living room and one bedroom, very small with a closet that was extra small. Three screened-in porches that were enclosed up high enough you couldn’t comfortably sit down and look out. We opened the front one and left it open. [Took down the screens and lower wall to make a porch.] The second one went the full length of the house, and we made two small bedrooms out of it. The third was divided and part was added to the kitchen and the rest was made into a bathroom. It contained a shower, a lavatory, and stool. A few years later we ‘remodeled’ and put the bathroom in the corner, complete with a tub, and where the bathroom had been was part of the kitchen, and it contained the kitchen sink, which Raymond’s brother Bill got for us at wholesale prices, as he was a plumber in Vinita. The $1250.00 also included a wood heating stove and a small cook stove, the top flat to cook on and the oven underneath. I would love to have it now, but I don’t remember what we did with it. I suppose we threw it away when we upgraded our cooking facility to a kerosene stove that seemed very modern to us at the time, even though it smoked and didn’t always operate correctly. Besides a cot that consisted of a metal frame with springs attached, I don’t remember what else was in the house, but soon after, we really made progress in our furniture update. Raymond went to an auction sale of people by the name of Byrd. He bought a bedroom suite (I believe Veda is using the chest of drawers now [yes, I am]), also a divan and chair that was really worn out. Raymond’s sister Helen and husband Dave later upholstered them in a beautiful blue velvet material and made what I thought was the most beautiful set I had ever seen. Dave also had a little rocking chair that he upholstered from material they had left for our children. Also in the items from the sale was a floor model radio.
When we bought the house, the only water was a hydrant in the front yard. It had a leak in the pipe and a small trickle came out of the opening. I would take the water bucket and set it under the spout and go on about my house work and come back later for the bucket of water. (We had a ‘one holer’ in the upper back of the yard.) [an outhouse]
The yard was so rough, Raymond borrowed his brother Ernie’s horses and breaking plow and plowed up the yard so we could rake it down and make it so we could mow it. We had a small garden in part of the yard for a year or so. I remember Mr. and Mrs. Oaks (neighbors across the tracks) walking up the road to town one day, and I heard him remark about how pretty it was. Mrs. Oaks was very hard hearing so he had to speak loudly so she could hear. I remember there was a plant or two of rhubarb growing there when we bought the place.
The first hot water heater we had, we had to light when we wanted hot water and remember to turn it off or it probably would have burned the house down. It was located in the basement, which was not quite like most basements of today, however I believe the house is still there today. [The basement was a walkout basement since the house was built on an incline. Only part of the house above the basement was the two bedrooms made out of the screened-in porch, to the best of my recollection.]
I don’t remember what we used for curtains except the kitchen. I made café type curtains from white feed sacks, trimmed in red-and-white-checked material. I was so proud of having our own home. I’m sure if I lived in the White House, it would not mean as much as that little house did to me. Maybe that is why I love to watch Little House on the Prairie now. –Dorothy.
We had something to look forward to after we moved into our little house. We would plan and work and work and plan. It was a lot of fun. Every month you could see an improvement or addition somewhere. The work was an added pleasure that we never tired of.
Operating the service station was also fun. Someone was always around to visit with. It was the loafing spot for the town. We didn’t bother to subscribe to a newspaper for we knew what had happened and what was going to happen long before it hit print. The little town (population five-oh-one) could sure spread the news. We should have affiliated with NBC. We heard that we were going to have a baby before we knew. That’s shocking.
Harold and I took turns opening the place. Usually got there about six a.m. Frank Burasco or Howard Holcomb would be waiting or would come in soon. They hauled and scattered lime on the farmers’ fields within a twenty or thirty-mile radius of Sulphur Springs. It was good stuff. Made the grass grow. That’s what they told us…
There were more lime slingers that traded with us. They were good customers. When they drove in, they grabbed a pump handle and filled their tanks while they told a nasty joke or some news. Most of them bought on credit and paid once a month. That’s the way most of the people in town or out of town did. The businesses had little three-by-six books which were lined up in cheese boxes. The book had a cover that you could slip under the second page so that the carbon wouldn’t come off on a half dozen pages below. You made a notation of what was bought and the amount then handed the carbon copy to the customer. He usually wadded it up and tossed it into an oil box, which was being used as a trash can. Trust your fellow man was the motto back in those days. But not always. When we sold the place, there was well over a thousand dollars on the books that we never collected. That’s why we have that old “three-to five-percent” adage. Someone has to make it hard on the rest of the world.
We worked long hours, but we also took a few breaks. If someone came along and wanted one of us to go to Noel or Gravette, we would saddle up and go. That is if we weren’t too busy. Harold would go to the café or post office and spend an hour or so sometimes. It took him a long time to walk there and back. It was about half of a block. I would raise hell and tell him how busy I had been, even if I hadn’t turned a tap.
One day, George (Dorothy’s dad) came by and wanted me to go to Clarksville with him after a load of peaches. I thought it would be a down and back thing, but was I wrong. At midnight, George was still dickering with those peach growers. The peaches were getting riper and riper so they finally took his offer, and we started loading. At the crack of dawn, the following day, we rolled into Sulphur. I was pooped, but I think he just started peddling peaches. Since then, I’ve been kinda leery when asked to go on a trip over twenty miles. That’s just good walking distance.
Dorothy: About this time, we were preparing for the arrival of our first baby. “It” was a sweet little girl. She was like a baby doll to us. What we knew about taking care of a baby wasn’t too much, but we played a lot. She weighed six and a half pounds and seemed perfect in every way. Dr. Fountain, with his nurse, Naomi Crum, delivered her in our living room. They brought their delivery table and set it up in the middle of the room. My sister Faye was there, too. During this period of time, a new mother was to stay in bed 10 days. My sister Violet [Punch] came to help us through this period of time. The doctor had told us about what time he thought she would be born, so Raymond wanted to set the alarm so we would be sure to wake up. This was June 29th, 1947. We named her Elaine Gayle. The Elaine part was for some girl Raymond had known (I think he went to school with her) and we couldn’t think of a name that sounded right for a middle name, and I wanted to call her by her first name, so we looked in a magazine and saw Gail Russell, but decided to change the spelling to Gayle.
That fall we moved to Fayetteville to a cabin that was owned by the Methodist Church. [The cabins were on Mount Sequoia where their neighbor was named Veda, who I was named after. The first year Raymond majored in chemistry, then another year changed to Physical Education.] They had camp there in the summer and rented the cabins to students from the University of Arkansas in the winter. We had two rooms. The bedroom was very small. We had a bed, dresser, and baby bed, and the room was full. The kitchen also served as a living room, but it was about the size of the bedroom. We had a tiny gas stove, table, and some chairs, and our dishes we kept on a bookcase Raymond’s brother Frank made in high school. There was a restroom for men and one for the women, and we were lucky. Both were located really close to our cabin, and some of the couples had to walk quite a ways. Also, in the women’s restroom there was a place to do laundry (by hand). I did a lot of our washing there, but we went to the washateria occasionally, and we drove our model A Ford home on weekends a lot, and would sometimes do the laundry while there.
Raymond’s parents and brother Frank moved into our little house to live while we were in Fayetteville, as they lived in the country, and this was better for them, not to be so far from town. The reason we went to Fayetteville was for Raymond to attend the University of Arkansas. When the two semesters ended, we moved back to our little house, and Raymond bought back into the service station, with his brother Harold. The following school year, he didn’t attend, but after missing one year, he decided it was time to resume his education, but this time we continued to live in our little house, and he commuted three days a week.
After working at every job I could find and not gaining a thing, I decided I had better try to get a better education. Dorothy and I drove to Fayetteville for registration. I planned to commute, and I needed a three-day schedule if possible. That way I could work on the other days and we wouldn’t have to pay rent. This would be my third year.
When we returned to Sulphur Springs, we found that all our plans had been changed. We stopped at the post office to pick up our mail and got the shock of our lives. Mrs. Whaley, the postmistress, asked us if we had been recalled to the Korean Conflict. It had just sprung up in the past month, and no one took it seriously. Well, we began to right that minute. You can get killed just as dead in a conflict as you can in a war. They use the same kind of bullets.
Brother Frank had picked up a registered letter to me, which he had to sign for, and the news was all over town. We were the last to know. We stopped at the garage where he was working, and he was waiting for us. He came waddling out to the car with a big grin on his face to give us the good tidings. I didn’t think it was so damn funny. All I could think about was leaving Dorothy and the kids.
A couple of days later I got orders to report to Biloxi, Mississippi, for a physical and several other things. They sent me a ticket to ride Kansas City Southern’s “Southern Belle” from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to New Orleans, then catch a swamp train on to Biloxi. I guess they expected me to walk to Fayetteville.
I threw a Gillette safety razor, an extra shirt, and a pair of shorts in a bag and was ready to go. Kissed Dorothy and the children, with tears in my eyes and a runny nose, got in the car with Frank, and was off for Bentonville to catch the bus to Fayetteville. This was late in the afternoon, but we still missed the bus. Frank had to drive on down to Fayetteville. Served him right. (A month or so later, he was called back. I’ll bet that took the grin off his face.)
The porter yelled “Board” so I waved to Frank and got on the train. The government is pretty liberal with the tax payers’ money, so I was traveling first class. I went back to that little cubby hole, sat down and went to pieces. All I could think about was my little family. The porter brought my supper back, and I snapped out of it for a while. Then I started thinking again, and all of it was bad. I thought about unloading from that damn train, but realized that would really mess things up. I thought about all the boys in World War II who had to leave their families. I had listened to them talk, but I didn’t understand.
I had never slept in a lower berth before. Always took the top one because I was smaller and there’s not much room up there. I didn’t sleep much in the lower one that night. Every time the train stopped, it awakened me. They must have changed crews at De Queen, Arkansas, because we were there for quite a while. We got to New Orleans in the early morning, had breakfast, and changed trains for Biloxi, Mississippi.
The route we took to Biloxi was along and over the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Seems as though we were over water as much as land. There were miles and miles of pilings. If we crossed one bayou, we crossed a thousand. More or less. I was on the right side of the train, and my view included the Gulf and brush. Sort of like riding the tourist train from Springdale to Van Buren, only more water and less brush.
I got off the train and nearly dropped my teeth. There sat a van with Keesler AFB on the door. I think I was the only passenger on the van. It’s hard to remember and not important. It was a very short trip, but the sights were awesome. It was a pretty old town, and the pine trees were brushing the clouds. As groggy as I was from losing sleep and worrying, they were still pretty. We pulled up to a barracks building that was surrounded by those same tall pines and got out. The driver took me up to the top floor and told me to pick out a bunk and wait for further orders.
There were a half-dozen other people sitting around on bunks. It didn’t take me long to realize they were suckers just like me. They had that down in the mouth look. I tossed my little bag on a bunk and sat down. No one greeted me with “you’ll be sorry” in a sing-song voice, which I had heard so many times before in WWII.
I told them who I was, where I was from, and what I was in for and got the same info from them. A couple of them had arrived the previous day and told us what to expect, not that we needed it. We hadn’t forgotten 1942. When noon came, we moseyed down to the mess hall. We were eating off the government again. I’m not sure, but I think the only other thing we did that day was check out bedding and loaf.
The next few days were filled with meetings, physicals, checking out clothing and more meetings. We weren’t treated like rookies. Most of the recallees had rank. By the time the week was up, the barrack was filled with stripes.
We started getting our orders and shipping out. When I read mine, I was elated. Reece AFB, Lubbock, Texas, 3502ndTraining Squadron. Reece AFB was on other orders I had, but I didn’t know whether I would be there a day, a month, or forever. There were three other men on the orders. When we got to Reece and checked in, I don’t remember seeing any of them again. I knew the 3502nd would probably be permanent.
Dorothy had an old, old friend who lived in Lubbock. They grew up together. Her name was Ruth Prichard, and she was married to a guy from Pineville named Joe Bradley.
Dorothy: Ruth and I grew up together, since our parents were friends before they were married and remained the best of friends until their deaths. Raymond called Joe when he got to Lubbock, and he took him to look for a house to rent. He also helped him clean it after he rented it. Raymond called me and said he had found a house, so I started preparing to leave. (It really didn’t take long.) My brother Tom Brown, better known as Polly, volunteered to drive me down there. If he hadn’t, I don’t know how I would ever have made it. Elaine was three years old; Veda lacked a couple of months being two years old, and Stanley was less than six months. [This was probably September 1950.] Also, I wasn’t a world traveler, so I probably wouldn’t have made it alone with the children, but I was determined to go, as it seemed like Raymond had been gone for years, and it had only been a couple of weeks. Raymond’s niece Jolene Orr had stayed with me while he was gone. She was in high school, and it was nice to have her there with me. After we got to Lubbock, we went to the base to find Raymond, and he was waiting for us, as it had taken a little longer than he had expected. We had a little car trouble, but not major. Polly stayed a couple of days with us, and then he returned home. I think he rode the bus part way and hitchhiked part. We lived in three different houses while we were in Lubbock before we returned to the Little House on the Prairie.
While we were in Lubbock, we made one trip to Safford, Arizona, to see my sister and family, Faye and George Meredith and children Dick, Georgia Lou, Dorothy [called Cookie], and Gene. My mother came down and went with us. Ruth’s mother, Helen Pritchard came with her (they rode the bus), and Ruth and her mother stayed at our house while we were gone to Arizona on a three-day pass.
It was nice to have our family together again. Our house wasn’t the best, but being with Dorothy, Elaine, Veda, and Stanley made up for all of that. It seemed we had been apart for months.
The 3502nd had about thirty B-25 light bombers and a few T-6 single engine trainers. The B-25 was one nice airplane. It was ideal for training. If you remember, it was the plane that Col. Jimmy Doolittle used to bomb Tokyo. They were armed with six fifty-caliber machine guns and could carry a fair load of bombs. Some were equipped with a fifty-caliber cannon that protruded up through the nose and was loaded from the floor of the forward hatch just behind the pilots. These planes were used on Japanese ships in the Pacific.
The planes we used for training were stripped. We could have used the waist guns on those big west Texas jack rabbits. The future pilots had to have so many hours of low-level training, and we were down there among the rabbits. There wasn’t any use for a parachute at that level. When the cadets graduated, they donned their second lieutenant bars and were sent to Korea where they did a lot of low-level bombing. They didn’t have to worry about flak at that altitude. One of those muscle-bound Chinks might have hit them with a grenade or rock.
Returning pilots told stories of how the North Koreans stretched cables across the valleys to defeat the low-level bombing. They used the B-26 more than the B-25 in Korea. It was faster, but more dangerous to fly. Both planes were about the same size and had the same equipment.
I really enjoyed being around those planes again. My WW II training was coming back. I was given a B-25 crew. I had been an assistant crew chief for a while. She was a beauty. Number 429997. To everyone she was Triple-Niner-Seven. She wasn’t in combat because there wasn’t a patch where a gun turret should have been. I was assigned an assistant crew chief and a cadet who would start his training in a month or so. Most of the cadets were college graduates. They wanted to learn all they possibly could about the plane they were to take lessons in. I had one that was above all the rest. His name was Jerry Stamm. He was from one of the New England states and was a graduate of Yale. He would work at anything and wanted to fly every time Triple-niner-seven left the ground. I would take him along and he would explore every inch of the plane. I received a graduation announcement from him after I was discharged. The last we heard, he was flying F-86s. The Air Force had set up a great training program.
We were offered a discharge after we had been in service a few months because we had three children. Dorothy and I talked it over and decided to finish out our hitch. I was drawing flight pay and was promoted to Tech Sergeant soon so we were doing okay moneywise.
We lost one plane and three men in twenty-three months. A crew chief and two pilots. The crew chief was a good friend, and his plane was parked next to mine. We spent a lot of time playing nickel knock. He was from Louisiana and had a saying he quoted many times. “Hello Mellow Jacks, You’re the Beer for Me.”
They were flight testing his plane after a fifty-hour inspection. It was determined that a wing broke off during dive and turn. He had pulled the red handle and the hatch was gone. He nearly made it.
During WW II, I respected the pilots because that’s the way it had to be. They did all the chewing and we listened. I never realized how and why they acquired such a mean disposition until I became a member of the 3502nd pilot training squadron. The abuse the cadets had to endure in the months before they graduated was stricter than the convicted murderer of today goes through. The pilots doing the training had gone through it, and they were passing it along. Sometimes I became embarrassed from just listening.
The cadets hit the books for hours each day. Tomorrow they were supposed to know what to do. When flying the range under the hood, the cadet could see nothing but the instruments. The hood was an orange shield that enclosed the cockpit. The cadet wore glasses that turned day into darkness when looking through this shield. The pilot spun him around in the sky, kind of like playing pin the tail on the donkey. He would be expected to find a beacon fifty miles away, fly over the cone, which flashed on the panel, with correct speed, altitude, and timing in his turn to be over the end of the runway. Add to this, the pilot pulls one throttle back and the cadet is supposed to go through the single engine procedure and make a go-around.
When flying the range, my place was always the bombardier’s compartment in the front of the plane, looking for other aircraft. The pilot pulled a single engine while we were over the Big Spring, Texas, airport. While the cadet was going through his procedure, the plane continued to drift down and to the right. We were right down over a man plowing at the end of the runway when things straightened out. I had scooted through the crawlway and was behind the cockpit, as if I would be safer there. When the pilot regained his composure, he said, “I’ll bet we scared the s… out of that old farmer.” I told him I also needed a clean pair of shorts.
There were six major stalls that the cadets had to master. With plenty of altitude and the reliable old B-25, it was no problem. Most of us enjoyed that phase of the training. The cadets seemed to enjoy the low-level training. It was to be used in Korea. I’ll bet there wasn’t a cadet who didn’t fly the Pala Duro Canyon from one end to the other. They usually did this just before graduation, after they had soloed. The crew chief was always along. They are expendable.
It was heart wrenching to see a cadet wash out late in the program when he had given it his best shot. The pilot who gave the check ride was not one of the everyday pilots. He went by the book. I had the misfortune of having to go through one of these “you’re out of here” rides. It was a lousy day all around. I remember it as if it were yesterday. The wind was blowing, and the clouds were two-thousand feet at most. The pilot had the cadet do a lot of things both in and out and over and under the clouds. We were under the clouds when he motioned for me to turn the gas off to one of the engines. When the plane stared yawing, the kid gave the engine more throttle. Then he started trimming. He finally realized the engine was just setting there wind-milling, and he was losing air speed fast. He just checked the throttles and saw they were even. No one had ever turned the gas off before. I thought it was a low-down trick. He started the single engine procedure, pushing the throttle of the good engine forward, feathering the prop on the dead one, trimming and trying to get air speed. I knew the boy would be pulling KP in a busy mess hall within the week.
After I turned the gas on and the victim unfeathered the prop and started the engine, we headed for the ground. He had been through the wringer. He made a lousy landing. One wing high, the opposite wheel touching, then back to the other wheel, we went waddling down the runway. Several dogs barked, but old Triple Niner Seven had survived another one.
I’m sure that all the things that the instructors did were necessary. The 3502nd wasn’t a Sunday School class, although the Lord’s name was mentioned several times. A lot of good pilots came out of Reece.
Our tour of duty with the Air Force ended on a Saturday. On Friday the truck came to pick up our little dab of furniture. We kept just the things we thought we needed to survive Friday night and breakfast on Saturday. We seldom worked on Saturday or Sunday. I had planned to pick up my discharge papers early Saturday morning and pull a Hank Snow. Major Postlewate, the no-good SOB who was our commanding officer, said my tour was up at midnight. He said he would be out at eight o’clock Sunday morning to sign the papers. I should have sued the U.S. Government. I put in an extra eight hours. His excuse for not letting me go on Saturday was I might get killed and the government would have to pay the insurance.
I drove back home, cussing Postlewate after every breath and hoping he would break a leg. Dorothy and the wee ones were anxiously waiting. We bid our landlords goodbye. They were the nicest old couple you could hope to know. We corresponded with them for years after our return to Sulphur Springs. The six hundred and twelve miles ticked off pretty fast, and we were back in our little mansion. It was so nice to be back among the relatives.
We loafed and visited for a week or so. We had credit at Luttman’s Grocery and with relatives all over town and a few in the country. We didn’t have a worry in the world. Dorothy and I discussed the situation, and she decided maybe I had better start looking for a job. She said the relatives were pulling the drapes when we drove up.
I was loafing around the service station and garage that we used to operate when Lady Luck hit me right across the bridge of my nose. Bruce Douglas, who was the meter reader for Empire District Electric Company, came by reading the meters. He could visit for an hour with a fire hydrant. He told me that Uncle Newt Douglas was retiring and that he would be taking over as district manager. I immediately asked him who was replacing him as meter reader. They were taking applications at Joplin, and he gave me information about who to see.
I got clearance from Dorothy and took off for Joplin. Tom Cheek was the man in charge of meter readers, so I looked him up and asked for an application. After completing the application, we had a friendly little chat, and I left with the feeling that I had a job. There were a couple more applications turned in.
While waiting for a yes or no concerning the application I had made at Joplin, Newt was checking Dorothy and me out with visits to the elite of Sulphur Springs. One would have thought that I was applying for a position with the FBI. We passed the test, and I was notified that the job was mine. Those people that Newt talked to were looking out for their interests. They figured if Raymond was working, he would get squared with them. We appreciate the good words Mrs. Whaley, Kirt Siler, and others said about us.
I reported to the Gravette office of the Empire District Electric Company the following Monday morning. The front door was locked, and that was understandable as I was a little early. That was carry-over from service. When the order said to be there at a certain time that’s exactly what it meant. Punctuality was a sacred word. I have adhered to that practice all my life. Braggy. Braggy.
Glancing in the door, I saw someone at the back of the office. He thought an early customer needed something before going to work. He opened the door, and it was Earl Pearson. We had met when I was pumping gas. Earl said that Bruce and Leta bent the deadline. After working there a while, I tended to agree with him. Earl usually came to work early. He became one of my dear friends and gave me a lot of good advice.
Bruce soon came in and gave me a lesson in meter reading. For about a week we read meters together. We ran the routes, and I didn’t get lost too many times on my first meter reading cycle. Bruce knew ninety percent of the customers in Benton County, and he gave a good education.
Bruce Douglas was a nice person to work for. I read meters twelve days a month and worked in the office the remaining days. The clerk at the Gravette office was Leta White. She did the meter orders, collected, and balanced the records. Bruce sat around and visited a lot because he knew everyone in Benton and McDonald Counties. Leta taught me how to run the office, and then she visited a lot. They were nice people to work with.
Earl Pearson was the line foreman. He had three men under him. Bill Persing and Woody Wilmoth were first class linemen, and Elmer Shinpaw was a grunt. Elmer was pretty old, or it seemed to me he was, and he didn’t want to climb those poles.
Empire served six towns and the rural area between these towns in Arkansas. The towns were Sulphur Springs, Gravette, Maysville, Decatur, Gentry, and Springtown. Earl’s crew had the duty of building and maintaining the lines in this area. Bruce and Leta Belle took care of the customers’ needs and the office. I read the meters in this area plus Noel, Southwest City, and Pineville in Missouri. These towns were served from the Neosho office. Reading meters was a wonderful job. You had no one breathing down your neck or kicking you in the butt. The one problem was DOGS. There were a thousand in every town and not a one of them would bite. According to the owner.
Two weeks in the office each month made the meter reading even easier. I worked meter orders, helped balance, worked the cash drawer, and did other things as they came up. Meeting the customers as they came in was also helpful. It made visiting a lot easier. I almost became as good as Bruce and Leta were.
It’s only five miles from Sulphur Springs to Gravette, so I didn’t waste much time getting home to start working on the projects that needed doing. We bought a new water heater, and of course it was electric. It’s been a long time since then, but I think Earl came down to help with putting up a new meter loop. He probably furnished a lot of the material. Water heaters were on separate meters in those days, and they were on a timer, which had to be set any time the electricity was off. I always carried a dollar watch. Sure hated to read after a long outage because all the water heater meters had to be reset. We had a brand new 220-volt service, and a new water heater meter on our little house. We were proud of both of them.
We had a project going at all times. We built a small play house with hardwood floors and windows and a real door. The girls were old enough to enjoy it, but Stan was still a little young. Dorothy would fix a lunch or breakfast and often we would eat there. Those were happy times.
Dorothy: We had wonderful neighbors. Kathleen Eldred and Doris Meade would come down and take my clothes off the line if I was gone and it looked like it was going to rain. One day the neighbor boy, Butch Sanders, and Stan [age 3] were playing, and they decided to paint Jesse’s (Butch’s dad) pickup. They took a butcher knife and opened a gallon of tar and started painting. (All Jesse said when he found out was, “I’m glad it wasn’t Raymond’s company car.”)
There was one house between where we lived. It looked toward the alley and here came Dessie (Butch’s mother) holding Stan’s hands away from him with tar all over them and, of course, on his clothes. She went back to clean the tar off Butch, and I guess Kathleen heard us. Anyway, she came down and took Stan to give him a bath, as she knew how hard it was for me to do this since I was pregnant with Cecil, while I tried to get the tar off Stan’s boots. All of our neighbors were so wonderful to us.
John and Dia Croft lived across the street from us. He was a retired school teacher, and she had taught, but retired from working for the Teacher’s Association. One of the things she did was buy books for the school library in Topeka, Kansas. Many times, the authors would give her a copy of their books, autographed for her, so she had quite a nice library of children’s books.
She would give our children a book for their birthday or Christmas, or just anytime. One year, I was president of the PTA, and she gave a book to the room that had the most parents come to the PTA meetings, in honor of me being president. I had asked Mr. Croft to speak at a PTA meeting one evening, and after he finished, he went home instead of staying for the business meeting. Before the meeting was over, Raymond came running into the meeting after me because Mr. Croft had had a heart attack and fell in their dining room floor and was dead. I left immediately and went to be with Aunt Dia and spent the night with her. Years later, she was to play [the piano] for Elaine’s wedding, and she had to cancel as she had gone to the hospital. She was so sorry to do this because she felt it an honor to do this, and of course, we certainly wanted her to play. She died and her funeral was the morning of December 17th, and Elaine’s wedding was in the afternoon. This certainly put a shadow over the happy occasion.
There are many memories of happy occasions and sad ones while we lived there [in the little house]. Elaine, Veda, and Stanley were born in the living room where Dr. Fountain and his nurse Naomi Crum would set up the delivery table. Cecil was born during the time we lived there, but by then, Dr. Fountain was delivering in his clinic in Noel, Missouri.
We had lots of relatives living in the area, and we played canasta a lot with them, as well as playing cards with friends.
During these years, Raymond played baseball as he did before we were married, so the children and I would go with him usually every Sunday afternoon during the summer months. It was during one of these ballgames that the ‘Big Fight’ occurred in Goodman, Missouri, several years later.
We worked on the little house every spare minute we had. There was very little to do back in the good old days of fifty-three and fifty-four. We played cards some, but that was long after it got too dark to work. Canasta, a couple of kinds of rummy, penny-ante poker, and the old standby pitch were all popular in those days.
Raymond: The yard sloped quite a bit, so I built a rock wall about fifty feet long and started filling it in with anything that took up space. The Gravette Shelling Company located in Gravette, naturally, had an annex in Sulphur Springs. They cracked black walnuts and pecans and sold the meats from them. They had no market for the shells. That came a few years later when they found a use for every part of the walnut. The hard shell was ground to the consistency of flour and sold to cosmetic and explosive companies. A larger grade was also used for sand blasting. The workers sat along a conveyer belt, which was covered with cracked nuts and separated the hulls from the meat. The meat was then pasteurized and ready for shipment. When it came out of those ovens, it was delicious. I have never heard of a case of constipation from a person who worked at that company.
Sulphur Springs had a similar setup in a large rock building that was built at the turn of the century. It was rumored that Axel Johnson and his son Aubrey used it as a garage and to bootleg liquor from. That’s another story. Let’s get back to our sloping yard and rock wall.
The walnut shells were piled behind this building and anyone who had a use for them was welcome to haul them off. I filled the yard with them and covered it with a thin layer of dirt. We burned some trash and those walnut hulls caught fire and burned for days. We would hose them down, and a day or so later, they would start smoldering again.
The little house that Dorothy loved so well was about livable when Vi Anderson came along and wanted to trade us a larger one for it. The house was on the corner of Moffit and Bush and was three blocks from downtown Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. It was a two-story with three bedrooms, a bath, and a large screened-in porch on the sconed level. It had an outside stairway as well as an inside one.
I would say the house was built between nineteen-ten and nineteen-twenty. The owner might have lived in the bottom and rented the rooms above. Sulphur Springs was a booming town back in that era. The Kansas City Southern Railroad dead-ended there. According to the records, Sulphur Springs was a rip-roaring resort town. It had more hotels than Las Vegas. Well, maybe.
The ground floor had a parlor, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a screened-in porch directly under and the same size as the one on the second floor. A porch ran completely across the front and down the street side on the north. Those porches were the style of the turn of the century. How nice it must have been to sit and visit with friends and neighbors on a cool summer evening. People are just too busy today watching some TV show that shouldn’t even be on the screen.
Dorothy: The Sulphur Springs Public school was quite small. Elaine went there four years, Veda three, and Stanley one. Of course, I went there from the first through the twelfth grade, a FEW years before they did. During the years I was there, they condemned the school building, and we went to school in two buildings downtown. One on either side of the post office, and the WPA built a new one, and we stared school in it when I was in the 10th grade. All of my brothers and sisters went to school there. The older ones went to Roundtop for the beginning of their education. Roundtop was a country school, named for a hill that was close by.
Elaine, Veda, and Stanley all had Mrs. Hendrixson for their first teacher. Mrs. Counterman was also Elaine and Veda’s teacher. She lived over near Southwest City, so when the weather was real bad, she would spend the night with us, since we had a large house at that time, and we had become well acquainted with her. Since we lived so close to the school, I was usually called if any of our nephews or nieces became ill at school, and we had several in school at that time.
After we left there, the Sulphur Springs school was consolidated with Gravette school. The building is still there, and the lunch room is used to serve senior citizens’ lunch. At this writing, they were trying to raise money to have a library in part of the building. [It is there now.]
Raymond: Soon after we moved into the Big House, as we called it, the population of Sulphur Springs doubled. About five-hundred Wycliff Bible Translators came to Sulphur Springs to update the Bible. They were from all points of the globe. Finding places to sleep became a major problem. The people of the town were called upon to help solve this problem, and they did a magnificent job.
We let them use the upstairs of our house. They paid one dollar a room The occupants were usually a man and wife and sometimes a child or two in one room. This sounds like a tale from an old western paperback of the eighteen-hundreds, but it’s a fact, Jack. The water bill probably went up more than three dollars a day. We always thought we were the winners because these people were really nice. They took care of our house as if it were their own.
This was an occasion that our family will never forget. The people were well-suited for the task they were performing, and we thought there was a little bit of angel in each of them. A year or so later, Billy Graham graced the town of Sulphur Springs. He preached in the city park to a mountain of people. That’s probably the smallest town he has ever appeared in.
I started repairs on the big house. We tore out a partition, sanded the floors, and built an L- landing onto the inside stairway. While reading meters in Springtown, I found some walnut two-by-twos and four-by-fours that were ideal for the project. The four-by-four newel posts with the two-by-twos between looked beautiful after they were sanded and varnished. I patted myself lightly on the back.
After my arm healed, I started tearing the outside stairway down and closing in the door. [This was after Wycliff shut down. Those renters used the outside staircase.] It would have been a hard tumble from the door to the ground for the kids. The house had ten-foot ceilings.
My next undertaking was a dandy. I bought an old building at the edge of town that was sided with one-by-twelve pine boards. The termites had eaten a few inches off the bottoms of some of the boards. That didn’t pose much of a problem. I would just make a shorter two-car garage. You have got to use the old noggin. We did have two cars, counting the one belonging to Empire.
To make a long story short, I worked like hell for three or four months putting up the garage. Dorothy and Lois Noble helped put the shingles on. It tore into their coffee drinking time, but they were glad to have a construction job. The wages were tolerable.
I had won a seat on the city council in 1952 or near that date. The campaigning was exhausting, and my voice was only a whisper by election day. Speaking every day was taking its toll. All this hard work paid off, though, and I won by a landslide. I had convinced the forty-seven people whom I had talked to for so long that I was the man for the job. At the first council meeting, I was appointed to the job of city clerk. The pay was the same as what Dorothy and Lois got for putting the roof on our garage.
An Arkansas natural gas company was running a line to some of the towns in Benton County. If my memory serves me correctly, the gas line was tied on at Siloam Springs and the towns to be served were Gentry, Decatur, Gravette, and Sulphur Springs. Sulphur Springs was only a mile from the Missouri state line and was the tail end of any activity from the state of Arkansas. The mayor, Cal Killingsworth, and I had to sign all the documents it took to run gas to the people of Sulphur. I’m sure the paperwork we did was about the same as that of Chicago. We were well rewarded. The gas company took the entire city council to the best steak house in Springdale for dinner. We didn’t have any pre-dinner drinks, which wasn’t nice, but I did get my first introduction to bleu cheese salad dressing.
A license was required to plumb a house or run a line from the new company’s meter to the house. Of course, the local plumbers and a few other people got licenses and were gouging the customers. Jess Noble, who owned the telephone company of Sulphur Springs and was an onery old cuss, said he would just get a license and we would do a little plumbing of our own. He was my golfing buddy. Brother Berley, Jess, John Croft, and I usually played on the good Saturdays. Jess and I plumbed the telephone office and the living quarters in back, his son’s house, and the two houses we owned. Seems we did a few others, but I’m not sure, and I wouldn’t want to write something that wasn’t 100% true. A good name is worth a lot.
If you add up the pluses and minuses of a small town, the plus list seems to be always longer. That is the way I see it, and I’m doing the writing, so there. You can only have so many friends. The other people are pretenders. They are out to impress and are totally worthless when you need someone in a pinch. Most of the people know everyone in a small town. You can ask the person you dislike the most for help, and nine times out of ten, he will pitch right in without alibiing.
The peckin’ order is measured in mills. [ten coins to a penny.] There is very little difference from top to bottom. If a rumor starts, the town discusses it until it’s either proven innocent or guilty and it’s no longer a rumor. It’s a fact, and it is accepted as such. You get the feeling that no one is superior to anyone else in the town. Everyone is happier, and a sense of peace exists.
On the minus side, the schools might be inferior, the groceries a few cents higher, and the jobs scarcer. The entertainment the teenagers seek is always in some other town, no matter where you live. I’ll bet the kids in Tulsa gripe about not having anything to do and drive to Oklahoma City.
I have often wondered what the world would be like if three or four groups could be eliminated: the kids from sixteen to twenty-one, the druggies and drunks, the smokers, and the people over seventy-three. Utopia. No national debt, lower taxes, fewer worries, and a thousand other things. If that should go into effect today, I’m gone, gone, gone.
Dorothy and I had become members of the American Legion and the American Legion auxiliary, the Masons and the Eastern Star, and she had been president of the PTA. The attendance was always good at the meetings. It was something for the wives to do and kept the husbands busy babysitting.
The American Legion and Auxiliary had projects that kept the till full of cash for other projects. On the Fourth of July, the Legion serves from eight hundred to a thousand dinners to the people who flock to the beautiful park at Sulphur Springs. They built a nice barbecue pit several years ago that cooks between two- and three-hundred chicken halves at a time. The Legionaries start the fire around four o’clock on the morning of the event. Six or eight men are on each two-hour shift. That’s just about the time it takes to turn out two hundred golden brown and perfectly cooked Peterson broad breast chickens. Lloyd Peterson always furnishes caps and gloves to the cookers.
The American Legion helps care for the Butler Creek and GAR cemeteries, which are located near Sulphur Springs. We built crosses with flag holders soon after the post was organized, to put at the head of the veterans’ graves. In the spring, we gather to help take the old flowers off and fill in the graves or whatever needs to be done.
Dorothy was Worthy Matron [of Eastern Star] when we moved to Neosho in the spring of ’57. [I believe it was the day after school was out.] She drove back and forth to conduct the meetings. Sometimes the children and I accompanied her and visited relatives. One week of my two-week vacation was planned around her visit to Little Rock to attend the state convention. The four little ones and I did very well, thank you. We hardly missed her. We pretended when she returned.
I’ve had a few interruptions today, but they have all been enjoyable ones. Veda just called and wished me a happy birthday. She couldn’t resist telling me that it was the big seven-three. I just love it. She and Jim went to hear Margaret Thatcher speak at the Hammond Trade Center last night. She spoke for a solid hour, so they got their money’s worth.
Dorothy volunteered to keep Onvia and Stan Barnhill’s sweet little girl, Lindsey, while Onvia took their little boy, Lance, to the doctor. Olivia and Carlene Hunter surprised me with a birthday cake and a present that Olivia had picked out for me. Olivia is my best friend. We call her Ollie, and she is three and a half years old. Ollie’s present to me was the sweetest little blonde-headed doll about fourteen inches tall. She had a crown and a neckless that changed color when immersed in water. I believe that is the most shocking gift I’ve ever received. We had ice cream sodas and happy birthday cake for lunch. My dear friend Ollie had chips. Allison and Byron missed the party.
Elaine called and wished me a happy birthday. She didn’t say anything about the big seven-three. She gave me the sweetest card. I’m blessed with two of the most wonderful daughters that anyone could possibly have. Thanks.
When our children were growing up, we were always building things to keep them entertained. We didn’t have the money to buy things for them that were readymade. We used scraps to build things for them to play with. They didn’t seem to mind, or else they kept it a secret. When you haven’t got it, you don’t know what you are missing. The rich kids always gloat, but later in life they always seem to be the ones that feel the pang of loneliness. Too much, too easy is the spoiler.
We had the playhouse at Sulphur Springs that had oak floors that Elaine and Veda enjoyed. Stan was too young to know what was going on. Elaine probably can remember it, but Veda might not remember eating meals, especially breakfast, in it.
After moving to the Big House in Sulphur Springs, we didn’t seem to have the time to do much except remodel and build. There was plenty of room for everyone. Elaine and Veda had a room, which they shared. They shared a room all the time they lived at home, except for a day or two when they were mad, and then they split it right down the middle. I think Dorothy knew about it, but I was left in the dark for months. Mom and the girls were pretty close, so I think there was a lot that I didn’t know about.
Stan and Cecil had a room together, but Cecil probably spent a lot of time in our room because he was pretty small when we lived there.
After four years of reading meters, I got a call from Tom Cheek asking me to come to the Neosho office as a clerk. I hesitated, but he more or less suggested I come. It paid more money, so Dorothy and I decided to take the job and move to Neosho.
We borrowed money from Arnold Farber at the Bank of Neosho and started building a house on one acre of land, which we bought from Mr. Swift. It was located about a mile west of Neosho city limits. This was in the fall of 1958, and the house wasn’t finished by mid-term, so we waited to move until school was out in the spring of 1957.
The day I started working full time in the Neosho office, I realized I was in for another education. Another stage in life was unfolding. The activities around big business were somewhat different from the things I was used to. Fred Rouse was the new District Manager, having replaced Otto Bishop a few months earlier. He entered his office, rummaged through a few papers, made a telephone call and then left the office for a cup of coffee. Dorwin Clark, who was an appliance salesman, tagged along after him. He didn’t have any papers to look through and no one to call. Harold Carney was Chief Clerk and was in charge of the office, so he had a few things that had to be tended to. He cracked the whip so the three or four clerks under him started doing our thing.
Sterling Gage was the fulltime janitor. He took care of the office and store room. The mail was waiting when we arrived for work. He would do anything asked of him. He was a great guy.
Lee Fort and Melvin Hildreth were the appliance service people. They had an office in the back. Sterling worked with them when he was needed.
After about thirty minutes of toiling, the men went next door to the Wilson Drug Store for coffee. I wasn’t quite broken in to having coffee breaks, but I would join them. We played some silly game to see who would buy. I enjoyed anything that had a little bit of chance to it. I’ve always enjoyed gambling.
The girls took their coffee break as soon as we got back to hold down the fort. Sometimes they got a little shopping in.
Virginia Parker was hired by Empire soon after World War II. She and Louise Nimmo were working as clerks when I came to Neosho. George Barnes, Bob Bridges, Doyolene Bowes, Sandra Blakely, Darlene Bacon, Ilene Davidson, and others I can’t remember spent time there. Virginia and Sandy have both retired after a lifetime with Empire District Electric Company.
Working for a utility company in the office where all the complaints are handled is probably one of the worst jobs a person can have. The people you have to deal with are the deadbeats of the world. When they are without electricity or gas, they lie to you or write a bad check without batting an eye. Those are the people I had to listen to for thirty years. Most of them blew smoke in my face while I was listening. The lot of a chief clerk is a sad thing to behold. If it were to do over, I would opt for a stint in the Foreign Legion. The district managers go out the back when they see trouble. PR men. Bah.
At the first house we built in Neosho, we didn’t have a tree. The tallest thing on the flat acre that we bought to build on was a blackberry bush. There was a black jack tree about a hundred yards from the house on Mr. Swift’s property, so we took squatters’ rights on it to play under and build a little platform in. It couldn’t legally be called a treehouse, but the kids played there sometimes.
We had a nice place to play ball. There were rocks to be picked up and put in a pile. The kids didn’t cotton to that job, but it was something that had to be done. I don’t believe we ever lived at a place that was free of rocks.
We had boards left over from building the house so I built some hurdles. Can’t you see Veda doing the high hurdles?
At the second house we built, one half mile south of the first one, we had two huge elm trees. They were about forty feet apart. Just perfect for a trapeze act. With Richard Vanwinkle’s help, he was a lineman who wasn’t afraid of heights, we put a swing on each tree. The trees were made for the purpose we had in mind. After the swings were in position and had been tested, we put up the platforms. When the timing was perfect, one could swing out and transfer to the other swing, which had been swung out by a person on the other platform. Elaine and I could swing out and trade swings without a hitch. We had a lot of fun. The ground was our safety net.
Dorothy kept telling us that someone was going to get hurt with all the contraptions that we had put up. One Sunday morning we were going to Tulsa with Lawrence and Athalie Nichols. Some of the kids were playing on the swings just as we were starting to leave. Cecil let out a squall that could be heard in downtown Neosho. He had missed his grab on the opposite swing and come plummeting to the safety net. He got up holding his arm and stopped crying. He probably thought we would put a stop to his using the swings. We checked his arm and thought he might have sprung his wrist, but he thought everything was okay. The next day, as he was coming home from school on the bus, someone grabbed his wrist, and he came in with tears in his eyes. We took him to the hospital, and he had a green stick fracture.
That was the only accident we had on the trapeze swings. A couple of years later one of the trees died with Dutch elms disease. I thought Dorothy had something to do with killing it. The next year, the other one died, so it was probably the grubs. She might not have as much power as I thought. I should apologize. We bought the acre of ground especially for the big elm trees.
We bought another acre from Lawrence that was just west of the first acre. It had a good-sized elm tree on it. Cecil built a tree house in it. We had an extra-large electric bill one fall month and started checking things. When I followed an extension cord to the tree house, I found a sixteen-hundred-watt heater plugged in to it. It was running full blast. He was trying to heat up Newton County.
We set up a couple of poles with nails driven in every three inches to hold the cross bar. This was for vaulting. The kids in the neighborhood enjoyed coming to our house to play. The Shorter boys came down, and the sport of the day was vaulting. A few minutes after the activities started, we had another casualty. Jackie, the oldest Shorter boy, made a jump and came down on his arm. When Dorothy and I arrived at the scene, we could see the arm was broken and swelling rapidly. While I tried to calm him down, Dorothy ran in and brought back a cookie sheet to lay his arm on. It worked very well, and we took him home and then to the hospital. It was before the days when people stared suing if you sneezed in their presence.
Another little deal we had rigged up was a bat pole. Our house had a porch [a balcony from the kitchen area, which was later made into a dining room] with wrought iron railing around it. We attached a twenty-one-foot pipe from the ground to the roof of the house. The original idea was to grab the pipe about three feet from the top and slide down to the ground. This was very simple, no big deal. Then somebody came up with the idea of making a game of it. We had a stop watch, which we punched and yelled go. The contestant would jump the rail, grab the pole, slide down, run up the steps to the front door and through the house to the porch. We had a lot of Crowder College basketball players visit us in those days, either to play pool or try to set a record on the bat pole. They damn near tore our house down, and I still don’t know the record.
[Elaine and Veda were students at Crowder at that time, and we both like to think all those guys were coming to see us and not to play games.]
Golfers are strange. A lot of them have a Jekyll/Hyde disposition. When that damned little pimpled ball stares back at them from a tee, they are all smiles. One swipe later when the ball peeps out at them from under the hundreds of plants that are growing in the rough, their grin changes to a snarl that looks worse than the slice that got them there. The big headed four-hundred-dollar driver is fully to blame. Some golfers look kind of sheepish because they were just telling the world what a wonderful club it was. Others just pound the tee into the ground, or if it’s not around, just pound the tee box with no respect for the innocent grass that happens to be trying to grow there. Sportsmen? They would make a hunter, who just potshot a covey of quail, blush.
Sometimes the gorilla and old big head get to the green in regulation, and then the fun begins. It’s fairly hard to putt or chip with a driver. The gorilla whips out his nine iron and overshoots the green from about a hundred-fifteen yards out. He blades one from about ten yards out, and it runs clear across the green and onto the fringe. He goes to the putter and leaves his par shot six or eight feet short. From there he has a knee knocker because there’s a little money riding on the shot. Sure enough, he misses the shot a couple of inches on the low side and has to take a double bogey. It’s the short game that needs working on. Anyone would like to be within the hundred-fifty-yard markers after his initial drive, but if it takes two wood shots to get there, he still has two shots to par or three to bogey. The secret is to hit it up the middle and work on the short game. A three-hundred-foot drive and a three-foot putt each count as one stroke. Make sure that you can make the three-foot putt.
I believe a person could make a pretty good living videoing the antics that take place on a golf course. It’s hard to describe the things that one sees in the course of eighteen holes. If you have watched TV golf, you have seen a few things, but the amateurs put on a much better show.
The best comedians are found on golf courses. There’s one in every foursome. Some of those guys put on a better program for eighteen holes than you can get in Las Vegas for twenty dollars. Of course, I sometimes pay pretty dearly for the golf course jokes, but they are never censored.
I think that holidays and weekends should be limited to tee times and foursomes. If you don’t have three friends, stay home and fight with the wife. There’s not a damn thing worth watching on television.
My grandpa has always been nice to us and done great things with us. He always played with us and in most games beat us. Usually when he beats us, it’s in cards. He never cheats, although we sometimes do.
He always has the pool in the backyard ready for use. I still remember the time when I pushed him in the pool with all his clothes on. I didn’t get in much trouble then because everyone thought it was funny.
Playing pool with him and winning was always a dream of mine. He always beats us. I guess all those years of practicing paid off for him. The only way I ever won was when we were playing with teams and I was on his team.
He also beat me in baseball. We usually don’t play now that I’m bigger. When we did play, I couldn’t hit homeruns. All of my boy cousins could because they all are older than me.
He built a nine-hole golf course in his front and back yard. I never beat him at golf. He would beat my brains out every time. We were a deadly combination. He would win the games and I would brag. –Marshall Jones
I have been asked to write something on my grandpa, Raymond Boyd, so here we go. I remember playing “New York Gin” (that’s what we called it) and always winning by at least 200 points. Then he’d want to play again, and I would beat him by 300 points, and he would eventually give up.
Chess. I never played him, but I know I would have beat him.
I often did magic tricks, and of course, I would always totally baffle him. He would get a headache from trying to figure it out and have to take a nap.
We (my brothers and myself) would instead of calling him Grampa would always say, “Hey Shorty!” as if that was his name, and it stuck. I don’t think he really minded, but it’s just kind of strange, call your grandpa, Shorty. Oh well.
That brings us to pool. I must have played him 1000s of games. He always won. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever got to shoot. He would always hit all the balls in on the break. That might not be true, but that’s how I remember it.
May 29th 1996
Since retiring in 1985, golf has been my hobby or waste of time, whichever you prefer to call it. It’s one hell of a game. You meet every kind of person that ever lived on this earth on a golf course. They will lie, cheat, have fits, pray, curse, help you look for a lost ball, steal your ball, lend a tee or give you a ball, break a club or throw it farther than they can hit a ball or break it across their knee. That’s just on the first hole. Everything gets worse from then on, and there’re eighteen holes on most golf courses. The scorekeeping is something else. There’re more mistakes on the two tiny pages of a score sheet than a crooked lawyer or accountant can make on a tax return.
Golfers shouldn’t be allowed on the course until they are able to count to ten. After they have sunk their putt or someone has told them it’s a gimmie, they often look back toward the tee box, which they vacated about thirty minutes earlier, and start counting and pointing their finger at what they think was the spot the shots were hit from. (Omitting the duffs, lost balls, kick outs, etc.) That’s the golfer who has played for only a couple of years. The old timer or low handicap golfer doesn’t look back. Some other golfer might be counting with him, especially if there’s a quarter riding on the hole.
My golfing career began in 1950 in Lubbock, Texas. I was recalled to service to assist in stifling the Koran Conflict. It wasn’t a real war. The bullets all had rubber stick-ons on the front of them. Reese Air Base had a nine-hole golf course that was as flat as a buffalo chip. You could see every flag as you drove down the entrance to the main gate. It was not what one would call a challenging course. There was a pond, or tank as it is known in Texas, with arms running out from it. It was built to serve the officers of the base during WWII. They needed an outlet for their stress. Enlisted personnel don’t have a stress hole.
Rip Naegel and I checked out a set of clubs apiece and decided to give the course a try. The course didn’t have much play. Reese was a training base for class after class of cadets who were to be the future bomber and fighter pilots of the USAF. They had to hit the books to stay in the program. We sometimes had the course to ourselves. We could play it in two hours, and that’s including looking for balls and counting fingers.
After I was discharged and moved back to Sulphur Springs, the golf bug still bothered me a little. There were a few golf nuts in town so we got up a foursome and started playing on Saturday whenever possible. John Croft, Jess Noble, brother Berley, and I played together. There were three courses within driving range: Rogers, Siloam Springs, and Neosho. Neosho’s course had sand greens back in those days.
Jess Noble and I came up with the idea of building a golf course in the city park at Sulphur Springs. We approached the city council and they gave us the OK. With the help of a few of the kids, we dug small greens and filled them with the product that the dolomite plant sold to the farmers as fertilizer. It made a good putting surface until it rained, and then it became a slush like pancake mix. We became dry weather golfers.
After moving to Neosho, golf was put on the back burner. All we did was work, work, and more work. We built two houses and the kids complained about picking up rocks. I played golf about twice a year with the Kiwanis Club. That was the extent of golf until I retired.
Neosho has a nice eighteen-hole course that is well maintained. It has several hazards and is not easy to play. Old duffers have trouble reaching the green on most of the par four holes. The easiest shot is reaching the water. That was proved when the ponds on the course were dredged and over thirteen thousand balls were taken. I would guess that most of them were second shot balls. About ninety-two percent of the golfers are bogie golfers or worse. When you talk to them, they don’t leave that impression, but it’s true. A golfer only remembers the best rounds.
I like to play best ball with Jim Harmon for a partner. I’ve played with him for years and have never had to hit from a bad lie yet. He has a knack for getting the ball in perfect position. His best club is a leather wedge.
Herb Redding is fun to be around. He keeps your spirit at tip top level. If you are trying to make a crucial putt, he will start telling a joke to make you relax. He’s a lot of help. The first couple of years he played golf, he thought a birdie was the tenant of one of those little houses on eight-foot poles that are placed about one-hundred-fifty yards from the center of the green. Jim finally straightened him out by telling him a birdie was one of those striped birds with long legs that you see on beaches and golf courses. Herb chipped a ball in a few days ago and told around that he got a kill-deer. Confusion at its best.
Jess Robbins is another stellar golfer in our group. He’s deformed. He hits the ball from the wrong side. Jess likes the financial part of golf. Can’t say that I blame him. The rest of the group line up to pay him after each round. We keep him in beer money, and that isn’t easy. He has one great quality. He’s honest up to ten dollars.
John Schultz gets what money we have after we have paid Jess. He also gets all the Saturday money. We pay him the greenie money on five before we even tee off. He has to wait on the other par threes, and that seems to upset him. Jerry has threatened to cut off his ice supply. When John keeps score, he doesn’t need a card. He says all that writing interferes with his golf. He keeps it in his head and gives us the results after each nine.
Leroy Locke is something else. Golf is secondary. He comes out for the entertainment. He has a joke for each hole and is the only guy I know who can quote the punch line while sinking a thirty-three-foot putt. He’s a cross between Johnny Carson and George Burns. He also comes up with a mean drive now and then.
We have another long ball hitter who plays with some of us on Saturday. He’s just a kid and is still working for money. He doesn’t need the money. We check his billfold after each round, and it is always more than three inches thick. When Jerry Fullerton takes the cover off of his four-hundred-fifty-dollar driver, everyone cringes except his partner. I have him on every third robin, and that’s when he cringes. Jerry always brings a cooler of ice. He says a golf course is one of the hottest places on earth, and the body needs fluids.
When I play with The Tuck Ellis Clan, it’s an entirely different game. Everyone is on his own. We don’t toe wedge the ball around quite as much as we do in the other group. Jim Harmon could give this bunch a few lessons, and they would have a much better score. Some of them could shave three or four strokes off of each nine. That would make that score card look a heap better. That’s what we are playing for, isn’t it? A good-looking score card and a few quarters.
It’s a pleasure to play with the Ellis bunch. There’s Tucker, his daughter Terry, two sons, Tom and Jerry, son-in-law Adam Telford, daughter-in-law Julia, brother-in-law Norman Hackathorne, and his father-in-law Jack Selix.
Jack and I like to pull our clubs and walk the front nine. We just saunter along and visit and try to keep the ball on the fairway. We have had some of our best nines in this manner. We had no pressure, not a care in the world, and always talked about the good things. That’s the way to enjoy golf.
Well, it’s time to pick up current events. Those are the things that an old timer forgets first. Things that happened years ago are the things that snap to mind in a second. The date is February 7th, 1996, my birthday. Frank and Faye both called to wish me a happy birthday, but I figure they just wanted to make me feel bad. Both called collect, so they did what they set out to do. Tuck Ellis also called, but it was local, so it was painless.
Tuck and I went to the Veterans’ Hospital in Kansas City yesterday. He had an appointment to get his hearing aids checked, and I rode along to see the hospital. It was chocked full of those old codgers who survived World War Two. They all looked about fifteen years older than me. Isn’t that strange? I was going to pick up a new eye for Clifford, so he wouldn’t have to make the trip, but they were out of them.
We made a little run to check the ice flows in the Missouri River and ended up at Harrah’s Club. Strange things just kept happening. Tuck drove up, tipped a kid to park his Cadillac, and we big-dogged in. We stocked up on slugs and started feeding those machines. I like pulling the handle rather than pushing the button. You’ve got to work at a thing to be successful. You can also vent your anger pulling the handle. After the slugs had disappeared, I whiled some time away counting the rows of people. The ratio of men to women is going to blow your mind. It was twenty to five, women.
McDonald County, Missouri
McDonald County takes up a twenty-by-thirty-mile piece of prettiness in the very southwest corner of Missouri. If there’s a more scenic county in Missouri, I haven’t seen it. Of course, I haven’t seen everything, but I have been around the block a time or two.
Oklahoma borders it on the west, and Arkansas takes care of the south side. Southwest City, a town of six-hundred or so, borders both states. A cornerstone was erected years ago where the three states meet. Stan Waite and a few other dignitaries of the Cherokee Nation are buried in a little cemetery a couple of miles west of the town.
The county has history that is beyond description. Each town tries to outdo the others. Noel, Lanagan, Anderson, and Goodman were all located on old Highway 71. She was built in the early part of the century and went right through the middle of all of them, entering Arkansas at the little town of Sulphur Springs. About 1960, [new] Highway 71 skirted Goodman and Anderson and passed by Pineville and Jane and crossed the line into Arkansas on its way to Bentonville. The area between Bentonville and the state line was in the early stages of becoming a retirement village. Thousands of acres were bought just south of the state line, and today those acres are covered with houses, golf courses, lakes, and other recreational facilities, and more are being built each day. A four-lane highway goes right through the retirement village, and the population is over twelve thousand.
Old Highway 71 was changed to Highway 59 and runs from Anderson to Gravette where it joins Arkansas 59 and snakes its way to Fort Smith. Some of the most beautiful scenery is along this road as it squirms down Elk River to Noel. The tourists ooh and aah as they pass under the overhanging cliffs with their heads out the windows and their necks twisted much like a hen with a flock of chicks watching a low flying redtail hawk.
McDonald County has a stream system that anyone would be proud of. Elk River runs through the county from east to west and empties into Grand Lake of the Cherokees a few miles west of Tiff City. Big and Little Sugar Creeks merge near Pineville to form Elk River. The battle of Pea Ridge was fought on the banks of Big Sugar and its tributaries. From beginning to end, streams from both north and south run into Elk River. In 1946, the river that passed by Ginger Blue was crystal clear. On hot summer days, people flocked to the river to camp and swim. Families did not worry about what the little ones would hear or see. Today, fifty years later, you can see and hear anything. The canoes are so thick on the river that you can count twenty in a quarter of a mile stretch. About half of the people take care of their trash and cans. The other half don’t give a damn.
About thirtysome years ago, the state left McDonald County off the map. That riled the natives. It was about as bad as hitting them on the big toe with a croquet mallet. A group contacted Jefferson City to find out how this was going to affect the tax situation. They had visas printed so outsiders would be allowed to enter the county. Butch Wyatt gave me one, and I still have it tucked away in my junk box.
The people in McDonald County are closely knit. I would say that some of them took epoxy each night. Back in the forties and fifties, you couldn’t just walk in and start a conversation. You would be doing all the conversing and that is pretty damn embarrassing. One didn’t dare say something bad about anyone. Eight out of ten times they would be a relative of one of the people you were talking to. I would say that about seventy-five percent were good people and the other twenty-five were tolerable.
If you really want to see beauty, come to the Ozarks in the early spring. Check the dogwood and redbud over around Powell.
The year started off in the same fashion that millions had in the past. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold Some days it just felt that way. The Lord knew what He was doing. Before the mediocre winter had reached its end, He decided to start an early spring. The dandelions and grass started growing about the same time, but the dandelions got the upper hand and filled the yard with their yellow blossoms almost overnight.
There was the sound of mowers everywhere. The birds had a problem hitting a note. A few days later, they started building nests and filling them with eggs. They evidently got in touch with the dandelions and decided we were going to have an early spring. The yellow tops and grass got a surprise when the sharp blades of the mower were set on the lowest notch and started wreaking havoc on everything in its path. The rain came just as we needed it to make things grow, and the gas cans got empty faster. Mowing once a week and then once every five or sixth day was a must.
The whole world seemed to start blossoming at once. At least our part of it did. The redbud trees were popping to beat the dogwoods. They were in bloom at the same time this year. That is a rarity for the fringes of the Ozarks. Dogwoods usually bloom a week or so later than the redbud, but not so this year. The front didn’t keep the fruit trees from showing off in 1997. The rains keep coming at the right time, and they were laden with fruit. Gardens were trying to see if they could outgrow each other, and neighbors were giving vegetables to neighbors. It was just like the good old days.
The first cutting and baling of hay was evident in all the fields you passed while driving around. Some hay got wet from the bountiful rains, but it still made the other things grow. There will be no shortage in this part of the country this year. Livestock will go to bed with full tummies.
We had two large pecan trees that were loaded with pecans. Dorothy enjoyed picking up the pecans and could be seen before breakfast in her robe going round and round under the trees. I’m sure she picked up the first one that fell. The neighbors laughed at her. She has picked out twenty or more pounds and given most of them away.
We also had plenty of apples this year. We have three trees and they were loaded. We dried several plastic bags and shared with the kids and neighbors. We love dried apples pies and have friends that also like them. Dorothy hasn’t had anyone turn down a cup of coffee and an apple pie yet. There were twenty-five or thirty bushels of apples on the trees, and we gave them to anyone that would take them. There was a bumper crop of everything this year.
I’ve played several rounds of golf in my life, so you had damn well better remember what you read here. It’s the gospel truth, even though it would be easier to consider it fiction. Golfers will lie, cheat, steal, and deceive any other way that they know how to better their scores. Eighty and nine-tenth percent of the golfers of the world have never parred a golf course in their lives. Their tales of glory are one-hundred percent pure dee fiction, and I would bet my putter on it. I have done about everything that’s a no-no on a golf course wrong.
In the past ten years, I’ve never had a bad lie. It is so easy to kick a golf ball eight or ten feet from a tree to get a better shot. There’s a thousand ways to get out of trouble if you look around a little. Jim Harmon is one of the best at pulling tricks out of his golf bag. I wouldn’t be surprised that he knows fifteen-hundred ways to get a top-flight X-out with a blue dot on it into super position. He’s a regular Houdini.
When golfers approach the first tee box, the show begins. Some of them start their warm-up procedure with moves that you wouldn’t see in the best spas in Georgia. They twist and turn while wrapping their driver around their neck. That’s why some golfers run through four or five drivers each year. Then they stick a tee in the ground and swing six or eight more times. Finally, they take a swipe at the ball and shank it out of bounds down the fairway about a hundred-fifty yards. That brings up the mulligan. Sometimes two or three. All this Georgia exercise routine seems to me to be a waste of time.
The next guy in the foursome approaches the tee box from his position, which was that of a wooden Indian. No noise and no movement. That’s the curtesy that must be shown to a golfer. A passer-by would think they had just lowered the body of their next of kin if they didn’t recognize the terrain as a golf course.
In the meantime, the group that I play with continue with the joke that they were telling. We wait on the ones ahead and wonder why they don’t go ahead and hit the damn ball. The green ahead of them has been open for five minutes.
Dorothy and I are attacking the huge pile of cards and letters we received commemorating our first fifty years of bliss. We are on the second week of the next fifty. Opening and reading the cards and letters brought back a lot of memories and a few chuckles. Our troubles were covered by a basket as we thought of the good things we have enjoyed in the past fifty years. We enjoyed every word of over two hundred cards and letters. A reception would come in a distant second in our opinion.
We were married on Friday, and our anniversary was on Friday. On Saturday, August twenty-fourth, we enjoyed a great dinner at Hidden Acres in Joplin, with children and grandchildren. [He remembered the location wrong. It was a big place, I can’t remember the name, out on West Seventh.]
Dorothy: I don’t know just what I can add to the above, except we also received some lovely flowers and other gifts. We received cards and letters for over two weeks, each day, even on one of the Sundays. Also, several friends and relatives came by to wish us a Happy Anniversary, and we went out for breakfast with friends that morning. We received two anniversary cakes, and since we didn’t have a reception when we were married, these were special. Our children, with the help of friends, sent letters to everyone they could think of that they thought might want to send us a greeting. A lot of time and effort on their part, but we really enjoyed hearing from so many relatives and friends.
[What followed was a list of people who sent cards and letters, gifts, and visited. They responded to them all. Also, the following letter was the last thing in Dad’s memoir.]
August 4, 1996
Dear Friend of Raymond and Dorothy Boyd,
RE: “Send a Memory” Surprise
On August 23rd, Mom and Dad will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Please surprise them with a card or letter commemorating this landmark occasion
Can you remember one special event or experience you shared with Raymond and Dorothy? This memory would truly be a gift from the heart. It doesn’t have to be a novel, a paragraph or two will do. Spelling won’t count. Nor will they look for punctuation errors.
Their address: 13620 Kodiak Road, Neosho, MO 64850. No, they haven’t moved, but the 911 system required all rural routes to be named.
Although we have confiscated and copied Mom’s old address book, we fear we have left out very important people or have wrong addresses on others. If you think of someone whose life was touched by Mom or Dad, please share this letter with them.
Many thanks for making this a “memorable” time for Mom and Dad.
The Boyd Kids
Memoirs of Dorothy Lucille Brown Boyd
As I take pen in hand to write my ‘memoirs,’ this is the 30th of March, 2001. My, how time flies. I’m sure it will take a long time to put on paper all the important things that have happened in my 74+ years.
I was born Dorothy Lucille Brown, March 10th, 1927, to George Cecil and Caldonia (Calla) Brown about three miles west of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, on a farm owned by Grandma and Grandpa John Sutphin [not related, just called that]. I assume they were renting it, although I don’t know how they got money to pay rent. This farm is also known as the Greenleaf Place. I must have had red hair because I remember it being auburn red in grade school (now known as elementary school) and freckles weren’t long in appearing. I had three older sisters and an older brother: Jessie Fay (Fay), Tom Willard (Polly), Jewel Florine (Fat) and Violet Pauline (Punch).
Dad farmed the land and, of course, had some cows to milk and horses to farm with. Mom always had laying hens and would “set eggs” in an incubator, and when they hatched, would raise them to have more hens. We would eat the roosters when large enough to fry and kept a few so the eggs would be fertile to ‘set’ the next batch of eggs the next spring. They always sold eggs and cream. They had a “separator” that separated the cream from the milk.
Dad had an old yellow Ford. This was a pickup, I assume a Model A. He had a meat box, which must have been about three-foot square. He would have a chunk of ice in a metal container to keep the meat cool and would drive to Sulphur Springs and Noel, Missouri, and go from house to house and sell meat to people. Before going on his route, he kept the meat in the ice plant at Noel. He cut meat to the customer’s order on the door of the meat box. He had a certain day he’d have pork and a different day for beef so his customers knew what to expect. He sold fish on Friday.
Punch and I had two canes that we used for our stick horses. We would ride them around the table and into the living room. We’d say, “Going around the highway and up the church house hill.”
While we were living at the Sutphin place, I have been told that Jewel was holding me and Polly or Punch was on the other end of a flying Jenny and the other one was pushing. This was a board fastened with a bolt into a stump of a tree. As it went around, one end stuck out several feet over the road below. Jewel dropped me to the road. So now you know my problem all these years!
While we lived at Grandma Sutphin’s place, Dad’s brother Porter Brown (Uncle Whitey) and his wife, Aunt Donie, lived on the DeShazer place. Mom and Dad had owned and lived there before moving to the Sutphin place. Sometimes I would walk over there, which was like going across a field (no danger of traffic). Usually, she gave me a jelly and bread sandwich. This time she didn’t and I asked her “What do you think I came over here for?” I got my sandwich.
I can’t remember much that happened while we lived there. We moved ¼ mile south to the DeShazer place before I started school.
Because of Grandma and Grandpa Sutphin moving from Potwin, Kansas, back to their farm, we moved to the DeShazer place. I didn’t start school until the fall after I was six because of walking so far. The County School Round Top, located west of Sulphur Springs and a lot closer to us, had closed. Punch was kept out of school a year because of the long walk. The older ones walked to the state line and went to Noel.
When I started first grade [in Sulphur Springs], Faye was a senior and always worked with horses at home, so part of the time she would drive and we rode a ‘hake’ to school. There was a barn behind the school building where she put the horse during the day. One day she came in our school room. Someone had taken the collar and she was trying to find out who had it. As I recall, one of the boys in our room (1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades) had done something with it, so she got it back and was able to drive home after school.
Sometimes we walked to school, and it seemed a long way. Polly dropped out of school, but later he decided he would start high school. However, he was so much older than the other kids in his class, he never finished high school. The rest of us all managed to get through the twelve years. Jewel graduated as valedictorian of her class. Guess she got the brains in the family or else she was willing to study more.
If it was too cold or the snow was too deep, we might miss school, but not often. One day when Jewel was probably a senior, she was the only one of our family who went to school. As she was stylish then, she wore a ’tam’ pulled down over one ear. The other ear got frostbite.
When I was in the sixth grade and Punch a senior, the school building was condemned. They put large beams from floor to ceiling in some places to stabilize it to finish the year. Each building was divided into three rooms. The following two years, we had school downtown. First through sixth grade was in a building on the south side of the post office, and seventh through twelfth were in a building just north of the post office.
During this time the WPA (a government project developed by President Roosevelt to give people jobs while building public buildings or roads) built the new school. This one just had one floor plus a basement that contained an auditorium. There was a basketball court upstairs over the building downtown where first through sixth grades were held where the basketball boys played. That was the only sport we had. I don’t recall when it started, but believe I was in the ninth grade.
I didn’t get to go to many activities because of no way to get there and probably didn’t have the dime or whatever they charged to get into the games. We had a Dodge pickup during some of my school years, and Dad had a meat route again, but during a lot of the time we only had horses and wagons, and we didn’t do much running around.
When I was in the first years of school, we had a rhythm band. I played sticks. I always wanted to play the tambourine. We had costumes made from white satin. I don’t know how we got money for the material. We had a program one night, and I spent the night with Naomi Crum, who was in high school, so I could go. Later she became Dr. Fountain’s nurse. She lived with the Fountains and went with him on all his home calls. She helped deliver four of our five children.
Except for the length of time Faye drove the hack to school, we walked for several years. Our first school bus was a pickup truck, driven by Carl Abercromie, with an enclosure on the back with seats along the sides where several could sit down.
This we had for several years, then it was replaced by a station wagon. The only one I remember driving it was Guy Dacy. I believe they had to run three routes with the bus to get us all home. By the time the first one ran and came back to school to get the second and then the third, the last route was pretty late. We were usually the second.
When I was in the 4th grade, Mrs. Feldcamp was my teacher, and they put our weight on our report cards. I weighed 44 pounds at first, but weighed 48 pounds most of the year. I finally made it to 52 pounds before the year was over. Maybe I wore my coat.
I remember Miss Miller reading Nancy Drew books to us in the 5th or 6th grade. Usually, a chapter a day. We went to school downtown during my 7th and 8th grade. I started a friendship quilt during my 7th grade. [People embroidered their names on a square.] I have several blocks from girls I knew then. I still haven’t set it together. (I’ve had blocked pieces ever since then. Several ladies in the American Legion Auxiliary made one and since I moved to Neosho, I treasure each one. Some were made by the St. Clairs and Mrs. Harmon in Noel. I am now waiting for our little neighbor, Olivia Hunter, to learn to embroidery and make one like the rest of her family has done. She will probably be able to this summer. Then I should spread them out on the bed and cut the material that goes between them and sew it together.)
The WPA had the new school building done so our class started the ninth grade there. Some of the boys dropped out before we graduated and went to service. By the time we graduated, there were only seven of us. Ruby McGowan, Carol Doss, Pauline Long, Shirley Wells, Fern Rethmeyer, Bab Coyle, and me. I kept in touch with all of them once in a while except lost touch with Shirley Wells a number of years ago. I’ve tried writing her, but she doesn’t answer, but my letters aren’t returned. Carol Doss Shepherd is the only one who has passed away at this time to my knowledge.
I spent the summer with my sister Jewel and her husband, John, after I was out of the ninth grade to help care for their oldest daughter, Violet Nell. Jewel helped milk, so they needed someone at the house with the baby. I also helped with house work. I picked strawberries for a neighbor of theirs to make extra money and also picked blackberries at Jewel’s and sold them. The money I made I used to buy school clothes. Summers before then I’d spend a week or two at a time with them [with her sisters in various homes] just to visit even before Jewel was married and she was working for Mrs. Netherton. I can also remember staying a week or so with Faye when she was working for Laddy’s. Guess I liked to visit around.
During the summer of 1936, it was so hot and dry. Dad had walking typhoid fever, so the rest of the family had to take typhoid shots. Dr. Buffington came to the house to give them. None of us got it. Mom was pregnant with my brother, Jimmie Allen, and he was born September 11, 1936. We were sleeping out in the yard, and I woke up and they were moving Mom and Dad’s bed into the house. Helen Pritchard, Mom’s friend, came during the night, and I remember her cooking breakfast the next morning. I was sent down to Mrs. Gailey’s to spend the day. I didn’t know we were having a visit from the stork until during the afternoon of September 11th. Helen came by Mrs. Gailey’s with Dr. Buffington (he had a car and was taking her home), and stopped to tell me I could go home. I had a baby brother! Jim Thomason, an old bachelor, was staying with us at that time. He was also staying with us when I was born. He’d just help with chores, etc. for his board and room. He stayed with Pritchards sometimes, too, and sometimes he’d ‘batch’ where there was an empty house.
Butler Creek Church was where we went to Sunday School and sometimes, we had church. We would have a Christmas program on Christmas Eve and we’d get a sack [brown lunch-size bag] of candy, nuts, and usually an orange from the church. After Faye and Jewel were married, we’d have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, then go to the program, then home and eat again. We didn’t get much sleep. Jewel and John would spend the night, and Faye’s if they lived close enough. On Christmas morning, Mom got to stay in bed, and the girls would cook. We’d have our gift opening the first thing. Of course, the gifts were quite meager. I remember buying Jewel some Butterfinger candy bars, probably one, and I ate it before Christmas. We had such little candy, I guess I just couldn’t leave it alone.
While we were living on the DeShazer place (or up home as we call it now), Punch and I slept upstairs. It was the length of the house, and we had a curtain up to divide it to sort of give us our own privacy. As soon as Jimmie was old enough not to have to sleep with Mom and Dad, he slept with Punch. She was so crazy about him. He called her Baw Baw—for what, I don’t know. But he was “Baw Baw’s little boy.”
One night Punch called for Mom and Dad to come upstairs She had Jim get out of bed, and he came to my side of the upstairs. She said there was a snake in her bed. It had started to crawl inside her pajama leg. She got out of bed and slipped out of her pajamas as Mom and Dad came upstairs with a kerosene lamp. Dad had a rifle. The snake was on the floor and Dad shot it. Earlier in the night, Mom and Dad heard a bucket fall off a shelf in the kitchen. They found a snake and killed it. So they weren’t surprised when another one showed up, as they are many times in pairs. Yes, they were copperheads. I can remember getting out of the bed to light the lamp I had on my side of the upstairs (and I still have the lamp) [it’s actually Veda’s now and sits on Punch’s secretary.] I saw Mom coming with hers, so I didn’t light mine, just sat down on the bed. Probably with my arm around Jim.
We lived in the DeShazer place until I was out of the 10th grade. A short time after we moved, I went to Noel, MO, to keep house for the St. Clair family. I worked until time for school to start. I went back the following summer and worked for them again.
Their family consisted of Mr. Bert St. Clair, Mrs. Fannie St. Clair, and their daughter, Lorene, who was home for the summer as she taught school in Tulsa, OK, during the school term. After I graduated from high school, Carol Doss and I went to Noel to work at Carl’s Café in the kitchen. After a week or so, we rode the bus to Sulphur Springs one day. Carol’s parents were in town, and she was so homesick, she went home with them.
I saw Fern Rethmeyer (she also graduated with Carol and me), and she went to Noel and worked with me as Carl hired her to take Carol’s place. We hadn’t worked long when we heard they were hiring waitresses at a new café across the street, so we got a job there and quit our kitchen jobs.
Wasn’t long until our new boss found she had hired too many waitresses, so we lost our jobs. I saw Mrs. St. Clair, and she asked me to come help her do spring house cleaning. I ended up working for her all summer again. However, I also went to work at Lula’s Café in the afternoon and worked until they closed after cooking, cleaning, etc. for St. Clair’s until I finished lunch dishes. I learned to cook while working for the St. Clair family. I worked both jobs until fall and went home in time to help get ready for a birthday dinner celebration for Mom’s birthday (August 26).
A short time later, Carol, her sister, Donna, and I went to Joplin to seek our fortunes. Carol and Donna planned to go to beauty school, but never did start. I started working for a 5 & 10 cent store. My brother, Polly, came home from service, so I came down on the train on the weekend to see him.
I remember Carol and I bought black wrap-around dresses alike. Probably the only one we could find that was available in both our sizes. [Carol was quite heavy.] While in Joplin, I spent about $40 more than I was being paid. Punch and Dad came to the stockyards and came to see me. I sent my suitcase home with them, and I rode the train home that night so I wouldn’t leave work in the middle of the day. Carol had already come home because her boyfriend was home on furlough. This left Donna there alone, but she was older, so it didn’t bother her. She didn’t stay long until she came home, too.
No long after this, Carol and I applied for work at a handwriting school in Noel where they taught people by correspondence to look at your handwriting and tell your character, etc. We didn’t take the course, but went to work there addressing envelopes for a while. I became secretary to the lady who graded the lessons of the students.
Before long, I was given the job of opening and sorting the mail. Students sent money to pay for their lessons, a lot of time in cash. If I had confiscated that money instead of taking it to the bookkeeper, I could have made my fortune the easy way, but Mom’s teaching kept me on the straight and narrow. I was paid $16 a week when I started and believe I was up to $19 when Raymond talked me into quitting my job soon after we were married.
Carol and I shared a room at Bonnie and Jess Toddy’s home and Bonnie’s mother, whose name was Dashie, also lived there. This was the fall of 1945, and I was married August 23, 1946. Carol had already left me to get married in January, 1946. Seemed she was always leaving me to go home or something. Raymond’s niece, Marge Orr, shared my room a short time to work, but she didn’t last long so I kept the room by myself and paid the full $5 a week. However, I ate lots of meals with the Toddy’s. I remember Jess would call me that breakfast was ready. He seemed to be the main cook for breakfast. Bonnie worked, so Dashie would usually cook supper. One thing I remember having that summer that I really enjoyed was potatoes with jackets on them. As I remember, they were potatoes boiled with peeling on, and we pealed them, mashed them, and put salt, mustard, hot bacon grease, and onion on them. Sounds so good I’d like one now. With sliced tomatoes.
After Raymond made me believe I couldn’t live ‘without him’ (and I guess I couldn’t since that was over 56 years ago, and we’re still together, so guess he knew), we were married in Columbus, Kansas, August 23, 1946, by Judge Graves with my mother, Calla Brown, and Raymond’s mother, Daisy Boyd, going with us and signing our marriage license as witnesses. We got a blue swede-like covering for our license because it was so pretty, but we had to pay more for it. [Veda has that license in her safe.]