Once More - - - With Feeling
By: Alice Melvina Pinnell Turner
Recently my 38 year old daughter and I were called upon to help host an open house at a restored historically valuable home here in Hillsboro, MO. The old house, former home of Gov. Thomas Fletcher, had been restored by the historical society.
Hundreds came and went, the older ones marveling at the authenticity and the younger ones struck by the complete lack of modern conveniences. Fate seemed to have a hand in the fact that I was left alone there at days end waiting for an official to lock up.
There alone in the quiet of the old house I was soon engulfed by a somber loneliness. A chill ran through me not caused entirely from the dying fire in the old fireplace.
Suddenly I was back to my childhood; to a big old farmhouse. I was a skinny dark haired girl rushing up and down an old staircase. Mom was cooking on an old cook stove heated with firewood. Dad, three older brothers, Archie, Asa and John and an older sister, Gladys, complete the beloved family. I could see them all in my mind’s eye that day as I walked quietly from room to room.
I was brought back from my reverie by the presence of my daughter. She soon drove me the few blocks to my home in her big navy blue Buick, the back filled with groceries.
I entered my kitchen with a new awareness. As I ran some tap water in a mug, put it in the microwave and reach for a tea bag, a yearning again engulfed me. Tears welled in my eyes and the hot tea washed down a lump that was developing in my throat.
There was a time, a place and a people that deserved remembering. Sometime, when time permitted, I would write about them. I would attempt to again feel the freedom of childhood and to listen more carefully to family stories. Perhaps I’d do some research. I’d live it all again, once more . . . with feeling.
A Fragile Beginning
It was late November. There was a chill in the early morning air. The sun had not yet risen but Laura busied herself about the house and threw a shawl over her shoulders to bring in more wood from the front porch. She wondered if she should have carried so much at one time. She was large with child and her back was feeling rather weak this morning. Laura had always been driven by the need to keep busy. “Idleness is the devil’s workshop” she’d say. Her philosophy of life was often expressed with such sayings, many of them from the bible.
Ed and the boys had left early earlier to run the steel traps. The boys had helped set them along the Gasconade and they’d become completely responsible when Ed returned west to his job with the railroad. Asa was 15 and Archie was only 11, but they were expected to help with whatever work needed to be done. Consuming much of their time in the springtime was the strawberry field which Laura had developed into a business. In Ed’s absence, she and the boy’s shipped strawberries from the train depot in crates marked “Laura Pinnell, Grower, Swedeborg, Missouri”.
Ed and Laura had lived some 150 miles from Swedeborg and had met at a church service in Valles Mines, MO. He was tall, very thin and handsome and Laura was happy with his attention. She hardly got to know him when he went away to another state to work. She promised she would marry him when he returned. They corresponded only a few times and he was gone more than a year. When he returned on their wedding day, he had changed and she hardly recognized him. They were married on Nov. 24, 1909. Laura wore a white soft cotton dress which she and her sister Ellen had made by hand.
Laura’s mother had died when Laura was only ten years of age. Her name was Elizabeth “Betsy” Ann Goff. Laura’s father was a red bearded Irishman whose surname was Hodge and he had the appropriate first name of Pleasant. He was a member of the Salvation Army. Betsy Ann was a dark haired girl, believed to be one quarter Cherokee Indian. Laura retained knowledge of doctoring with home remedies, herbs, etc., but she inherited her appearance as well as her philosophy from Pleasant S. Hodge.
Ed and Laura were both hard working people. They had very little earthly possessions but they were ambitious. Pleasant Hodge was the only parent left for Ed’s father John W. Pinnell had died when Ed was 15 and his mother Mary Merceille Pinnell a few years later.
Tragedy struck when Ed and Laura’s first child, a beautiful red haired girl, Clara Jewel, did not survive. She was buried near Valles Mines and Laura visited her gravesite daily until they moved to Jeff County (Fletcher) where Ed had been born in 1886. Three healthy boys followed named Asa, (1912) Archie, (1916) and Rollen (1918). Then one day in the year 1919 a letter arrived that change their lives. Laura’s Uncle Arnold had died and her Aunt Melvina was inviting Laura and her family to come live with her in Swedeborg, Pulaski Co., MO. Laura and Ed reasoned that it would be good for the family to live on the small farm where they could grow their own food. Two more children joined the family: Gladys, (1921) and then John in 1924).
Laura was still a vigorous attractive woman with a happy outlook on life. She had suffered the loss of Clara Jewel as well as losing a little boy between Archie and Asa. Then, the most devastating thing, little Rollen died of pneumonia at fifteen months. As one of her surviving children, I would realize years later the devastation she must have suffered for her father, Pleasant Hodge died the same week in Jeff. Co. and she was unable to attend the funeral, but was sustained by her faith and her unselfish nature.
She possessed a glow about her countenance that radiated from the inside; the kind that is impossible to simulate. Her soft fair skin complimented the long red hair which was her best attribute. If there was a time when her busy hands would otherwise be idle, she used that time to tend that long red hair. One hundred strokes would keep it shiny, she’d heard, and it seemed to work for her. Sometimes she’d make a long braid, but most of the time she’d wind it into a bun at the nape of her neck give it a little push to loosen it around her face and secure it with six or seven wide hair pins.
That was exactly what she was doing the chilly November morning as she waited apprehensively for Ed and the boys to return from checking the traps. She was quiet so Gladys who was now six and John, 3, would remain asleep. (Aunt Viney had died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1923). As time went on, she became more convinced that her eighth child was about ready to make its entrance – at least two months too soon.
The sound of a step on the porch brought her back to the task at hand. She asked Asa to go tell her sister Sarah (the children called her Aunt Te` To`) to come quickly and sent Ed after Dr. Sell. The little town of Swedeborg was a nice country town, a good school and church, a depot and post office and two hundred or so good friendly people.
Aunt Te` To` got there first. She said, “Laura, you can’t have this baby, it’s not time”. Dr. Sell got there in time to weigh little thing. Sarah tied a blanket around it; Dr. Sell lifted it with the hook of a hand scale, looked through his bifocals and proclaimed, “Laura, I don’t think this one is any good. She weighs in at 2 ½ pounds”. Laura whispered, “A girl!” and not being one to “carry on”, closed her eyes and breathed her usual prayer, “God, thy will be done”. Laura had been taught to do all she could and God would do the rest.
What was done in this instance: Dr. Sell instructed Ed to get some whiskey. They were to drop a couple of drops on the baby’s tongue as a stimulant. Sarah was told the baby must be kept warm and at an even temperature. Sarah improvised. She pulled a big rocking chair over to the bed. It was overstuffed but with wide wooden side arms. She padded it evenly and placed the baby in the center. An outdoor thermometer was leaned near the baby where it was easily visible.
Fixing the chair for a cradle was easier than obtaining the whiskey; for there was no whiskey to be had in Swedeborg, MO on November 30, 1927. Ed had to walk many miles, already worn out from running the traps, pay money he really couldn’t afford and hurry back with what was necessary to keep the tiny girl alive.
There, weighing less than three pounds, in her makeshift cradle, with “home brew” being dropped periodically on her tongue, Alice (for Gladys’ first school teacher) Melvina for Aunt Viney and Pinnell (for the man that went after the whiskey) began what might be a very short life.
As fate would have it, I not only survived but thrived on a diet of mother’s milk, whiskey and loving care.
But I was not destined to work the strawberry patch, swim in the water of the Roubidoux Creek nor fish the Gasconade River. Another creek and another river awaited.
Aunt “Viney” closed her eyes for the final time and was laid to rest in the flea hollow cemetery (Bethlehem Baptist) near Uncle Arnold and “Little Rollen”. The reason for staying in Swedeborg no longer existed, and the Pinnell roots at Fletcher beckoned.
Mom (Laura) and Pop (Ed) both had a penchant for holding on to cash money and they had managed to do well. So, before I was walking age, plans had been completed and we were ready for the big move.
It was not easy for Mom to leave Swedeborg. She recounted later leaving so much there. We would never again live close to Aunt Te` To`. Aunt Viney and Little Rollen were left beneath the sod. The many friends and pleasant memories acquired there would be part of family discussions for years to come.
But we were returning to Fletcher triumphant in the knowledge that we had money to buy “The Place”. There’d be Calico Creek and Big River and McKean School and Oak Grove Church. Pop was fired-up for soon we’d be back in Pinnell Country. Actually the Pinnell name was entwined with Merceille, Maness, McKean and Williams (to name a few).
I can only imagine what it was like in 1928, all of us and our most prized possessions in a truck heading for new horizons. I’ve been told that Mom & I and John rode in the “cab”. No one seems to know the month, but I imagine Pop wanted to get there to put in a crop and Archie said they were concerned that I “Might not survive the trip”. A cow was also hauled in that overloaded truck. Gladys says the cow gave birth to a healthy calf sometime after arrival, but the cow was sacrificed. Gladys was seven and she recalls coming through Cedar Hill and wondering “Where is the hill with the cedars?”
I visualize the move with my mind and with my heart. My family, the dearest people in all the world were on an important journey so I think they looked clean and presentable. Perhaps they even wore their best. Mom is wearing her best print cotton, long sleeved dress. The skirt is long and full. It almost covers her buttoned shoes. Her hair is puffed in its usual bun and a narrow brimmed hat with silk flowers sits flat on the top of her head. She often checks on everyone, giving each individual an encouraging smile. I rest contentedly on her lap and John holds tightly to the piece of her dress-tail that’s wadded in his little fist. He is a pretty little boy with a cleft in his chin and dimples in his cheeks. He is pouting a little and he has a reason. He’s still three and Mom’s lap is taken. (Gladys would later tell me that John got less attention than I. If that is true, I am very sorry, for John remains the most precious and perfect of my childhood memories.)
Pop is wearing a white shirt and gray pants. His black shoes are well shined on the toes. He wipes them once in a while on the back of his pants legs to make sure they stay that way. His chapeau rests squarely on his head. He might push it back but he doesn’t believe in tilting it to one side. He is not real comfortable with all of the cash money he has fastened in diverse places about his person. The fact that Mom has a well fastened purse with little or no money in it does not change his mind about carrying it all himself.
While Mom is wrapped in her invisible cocoon of faith, Pop carries on an inner battle with imagined enemies who are trying to keep him from accomplishing all that he desires. The stress often showed in angry facial expressions. However, he is a striking figure of a man. He is wearing a size 10 ½ shoe, 16 ½ shirt with 35” sleeve length. His cuffs are turned back to reveal large hands with the long tapered fingers of an Adonis. He stands more than six feet tall.
Asa is almost 16 years of age. He is thin and is quickly acquiring the height of his father. He has the pleasant face and a kind concern in his voice that shows he is like his mother. He is undemanding and helpful. He and Archie are both wearing bib overalls with white shirts. Although the boys are dressed alike, there’s little brotherly resemblance.
Archie is shorter and stockier. His shoulders are wide and he is muscular for such a young boy. He resembles neither parent but probably is a good combination of both. He is wearing a short billed golf cap. It is tipped jauntily to one side. He sits where there is a good view. He doesn’t want to miss a thing, and probably won’t.
Gladys, the little lady of the family is wearing a long sleeved cotton print dress like her mother. While Mom always said “I never had a mean child nor an ugly one,” I’m sure she considered Gladys her most beautiful child. Her shoulder length hair had been crimped with the curling iron. She sits deep in her own thoughts.
Home at “The Place”
I wish I could remember “The Place” as it was then. I can only tell what was told to me. I believe the original plot was 160 acres which was probably a homesteaded plot. We arrived in Fletcher, MO and spent our first night with Uncle Tom and Aunt Maud Hill Pinnell. The following day we went to survey our newly acquired treasure. It contained more than 200 acres of land, located in section 29, township 40, range three, Fletcher, Jefferson County, Missouri. The property was purchased from Willard McKean who married a daughter of James S. Williams. James S Williams was a very wealthy man who still owned 15 parcels of land at the time of his death around 1900.
A sister of James S Williams married Richard Pinnell in 1833. Her name was Artimicia M. Williams and her father the Rev. James Williams preformed the ceremony which is recorded in Potosi, Washington Co, MO.
Pop’s father John Wesley Pinnell married Mary Merceille in 1866 and they reared a family in and around Fletcher and they are buried in the Old McKean Cemetery located on the property.
Richard Pinnell is a son of Peter Pinnell (1745 – 1845), an American Revolutionary War Soldier. He and his offspring owned vast properties in Crawford and Maries Counties in MO. Artimicia’s brothers included Wm. F., an early Justice of the Jefferson County Court. Also Mary Merceille was reared by her stepfather Elisha Maness who also was quite wealthy.
The earliest school in Fletcher (which was actually Frumet at the time) was the Maness School. The first cemetery was the John McKean Cemetery. John McKean chased Osage Indians from the Big River bottom fields. The second school was the McKean School (where I would later teach) and the Maness Cemetery which is now called the Fletcher Cemetery. No wonder Pop wanted the property. And after three years of research I come to understand my father’s frustrations and desire to acquire wealth.
The house contained six rooms, four downstairs and two large rooms upstairs. A front porch spanned the entire width of the two front rooms. Two doors and two windows opened onto that porch. When we arrived we found the plaster cracked and one of the living room chandeliers broken loose from the ceiling. It seemed the local youth had a dance in the upstairs after the McKean’s moved. According to Mom, “No telling what else. This whole bunch of French people lived like a bunch of dogs”. After Mom’s Salvation Army and straight laced upbringing some of the people with French Canadian background and Catholic beliefs had entirely too much fun Mom’s taste.
We have now arrived at the setting of my story. Hearsay will be less prevalent. For I am about to climb down from my Mother’s lap and experience life my own way. The combination of heredity and home brew that was dropped faithfully on my tongue produced an energetic, curious child, loving and trusting my surroundings. And what better place to turn me loose than a beautiful 200 acres in the MO Ozarks amid a small country town with people unlike any other; and a whole life ahead to live there! !
The house on “The Place” had a roofed porch along the front. Two of the upstairs windows opened onto the porch roof. That slightly sloped roof was where we dried apples and peaches and roots. Mom was really knowledgeable about roots. As before mentioned, Grandma Betsy Ann had been an herb doctor and Mom had a remedy for almost any illness. We sold roots occasionally, not as a business, and the boys dug bartese “Tiff” to sell. Tiff was a natural resource in the area and a large tiff mill was later founded over the Western hill from Fletcher toward Richwoods. The pasture land and some farms were ruined with the diggings but it provided work for many people.
The house remained a treasure to my very soul. Anytime I was away, whether it was the river bottom fields or much farther away in later years, the sight of that tall white house brought a comforting feeling. It nestled there and waited for me and I was always glad to get inside.
The house was situated on a slight slope. The porch was on the eastern side. While sitting on the porch looking straight ahead, you’d be facing east and looking at the big barn, some one hundred yards away. A spring branch ran between the house and the barn. Actually the house was on an eastern slope and the barn was on the western slope and a spring branch ran in a low area between them. So we had two spring branches on the property; one from the adjoining property to the south. (Asa would later purchase that property and build his first home on the very spot of the old log Maness school where Pop went to school). Our spring was 25 or 30 yards north of our house. A small log storage barn was just right of the spring. There was a porch across the front which faced our house. I’m quite sure it once served as slave quarters, but, as yet, have not found early history on this beloved old home place.
Both springs mentioned emptied into Calico Creek. (“Muggs” Johnson, my first cousin, his Mother was Pop’s sister, Lou, wrote poems about Calico Creek. He died before I read his poems and I wish I could have told him that I too had many joyous times exploring that lovely stream.) Anyway, to the left of the little log building which we called a crib barn, our spring bubbled constantly with plenty of good cold water to supply our needs. A small spring house with a level trench through it kept our perishables cold and also housed the cream separator. Milk was poured into a large metal bowl at the top of a machine which measured about 4 feet tall. By turning a crank, milk passed from the bowl through many, many various sized metal discs; some miracle occurred and cream came out one of two long spouts which stuck out on either side, and skimmed milk out the other! That whole contraption had to be taken apart, washed in soapy water and rinsed twice daily. That was not an easy chore. I’m sure Gladys remembers it even better than I.
Above the house, on the south side was a big smoke house. Just right of that was the big chicken house. In between the two, set back a little was a small chicken house where we kept baby chickens that we ordered from Olson’s in De Soto. If the Mother hens hatched some, they took care of them in the big chicken house.
Far right of the chicken house was the essential building. It measured about 5’x5’x8’ and had a slant roof. It sported a bench with two holes; one suitable for big people and one small hole and two or three Sears’s catalogs. The door swung wide open. It opened up the hill, of course, away from sight of either the house or chicken house. The bench was well made and sanded for splinters. White lime was sprinkled occasionally in the holes. It was not an unpleasant place. In fact, much time was spent there procrastinating; hoping someone else would do the dishes of carry in the wood. Dreams were dreamed there and privacy was respected there. (Archie tells a story about a heavy lady who unfortunately broke through the seat in such a building at a home coming at a Swedeborg church and they had to pull her out with a team of horses.) My, my!
I was frightened of very few things on the farm, but one old fighting rooster had my number. He seemed to wait just for me. He had large spurs that could do damage. I remember as though it were yesterday, running out the house toward the peony bush, turning right on the path to the outhouse when I realized that old rooster was right on my bare heels. With my heart racing I managed to rush inside and close the door. I’d peek out and there he’d be, his old beady eyes staring at me. He stayed right there for what seemed a long, long time. I finally yelled enough for someone to hear me and he had to be chased away with a stick. Even our bull cow seemed fond of me, but there were definitely negative vibrations between that old rooster and me.
The farm was bordered on the north by Calico Creek and on the east by the Big River. It was the kind of farm that had small cultivated fields here and there, not the vast flat fields that are seen in some areas. From the porch, cultivated fields were visible to the left and barn and pasture land from the right. Not that all the property could be seen from the porch, for there were also wooded areas that I particularly loved. The cows had access to the wooded areas as well and often a cow would have a calf and attempt to hide it, but since I knew the wooded area so well, I often would be first to find the cow and new baby.
I failed to mention the garden between the house and spring house (with the pear tree in the middle of the garden plot), the wood piles between the house and the branch and pig pens and hog houses enclosed in the area around the big barn.
Large lime stones, or some kind of very large white-gray rocks, were indigenous to the area and the barnyard contained many such large beautiful deposits. Above the barn in a grove of trees a natural rock wonderland existed. Some were shaped like benches, some tables or cupboards. John and I and sometimes the Washburn or Nickleson children would play in this area. We’d fix meals where leaves were make-believe bacon, small stones were bread, etc. Some of that type of stone formed waterfalls in the spring branch from the other property, which Asa would later buy. Also, the large rocks that were near the barn were used for feeding the cats. After milking we’d pour milk in the indentions in the rocks and the cats would drink from the natural bowls.
Once we became over run with kittens at the barn and kind little Mom decided something had to be done. So she took a “grass sack” filled with kittens to a deep hole of water. She pushed them under the water, held it a few moments, then thought, “Oh Lord, I can’t do this”. She hurriedly dumped them out and every last one had croaked. She didn’t tell me this story until I was older.
Recently on a documentary on television, I heard about discoveries of rock formation where Indians had ground corn, etc. and thought, “I fried make-believe bacon on rocks like that and didn’t think it was unusual”.
The river bottom fields were especially alluring. The river ran below the high banks and on the other side of the river great monstrous rock cliffs had markings that probably were left by the Indians. Geologists have studied those rocks. In the ridge pasture above the cultivated fields we children (John & I) found arrow heads near the McKeon Cemetery where Grandpa John and Grandma Mary Pinnell are buried. I suppose Indians grew vegetables and corn in those fertile fields, but had to move on (probably many were killed) to make room for another civilization. Now in this time in history they lay idle and we choose our expensive vegetables at a supermarket!
A description of the entire acreage is unnecessary but enjoyable for me for the gates, the fences, the paths, the trees and the gullies where I swung across on large grapevines are all so easily remembered. Perhaps when I left the farm I left part of myself there, but I definitely took a lot of the farm with me as well.
The community of Fletcher is situated on Hwy. H, about twelve miles west of De Soto and three miles east of Richwoods. Richwoods is in Washington County, so that means Fletcher is almost on the Jefferson – Washington County line. Fletcher contained everything one needed to live a good life, but for death, taxes or much variety, the Pinnells went to De Soto or Hillsboro.
The first time I remember going to De Soto was when Uncle John Butler died and we all went to the funeral home. Gladys took us to a movie show. So I experienced several “firsts” that night. Children today over use the word awesome. Seeing that big movie screen for the first time – now, that was really awesome! De Soto was “town”. Fletcher was “the store” or “the post office”. So going “to town” was a pretty big occasion. Actually, Pop had three sisters who lived on the East side of De Soto: Aunt Alida (Lyde) Houston, Aunt Rose Butler and Aunt Lou Johnson. They were all attractive ladies, tall of stature with those same elegant hands.
Those times when I visited the Aunts were exciting times. Getting there necessitated crossing the railroad tracks. There’s an old joke: Two country boys went to town. When it became necessary for them to cross the tracks, one crossed and the other stayed behind. When the first looked back the second was running along down the other side. The first yelled “Where are you going?” The second replied “My Mom told me never to walk across the railroad tracks so I’m going around”. We weren’t that dumb but we did some silly things.
We’d never seen colored people so Mom told us not to stare or they might chase us; so we would take quick glances at them. And when a train went through, we’d hold our hands tightly over our ears. That was a much louder noise than we were used to hearing. In fact, there were times when the train going through De Soto could be heard from the farm. Fletcher did not have a funeral home and that was usually what took us to De Soto to Mothershead Funeral Home near the north end of town. Then everyone visited and I was introduced as “The Baby” even after I was grown. Pop always expected every member of the family to show up at the funeral home and was upset if they didn’t. He’d sit in an adjoining room and tell fishing and hunting stories while people gathered around to listen and chime in with some stories of their own. In later years he acquired a nasal quality to his voice that was easy to distinguish. I learned to listen for that sound, and the rumble of laughter. Even to this day, when I go to a funeral home, it seems I should hear him telling his stories and see Mom slipping quietly around hugging and kissing ever body and pointing out her “baby girl”. Once Pop came home from a funeral and said, “There was just too big a crowd for me to enjoy myself!”
While Fletcher has no mortuary, it could boast other necessities, if not amenities. Following Hwy. H east from the Washington Co. line, you’re close to Fletcher when you pass the Old Stockings Place on the right. The next obvious thing on the right is a building that holds so many memories: A COUNTRY STORE. It sports a sign atop the full width of the store porch: L. H. Withouse, General Merchandise Fletcher, Mo. And only a few yards, continuing East is a slab of concrete that eases the crossing of the fabulous Calico Creek which was probably the reason for founding of the town in the first place.
Close by to the right is the Oak Grove Baptist Church; a nice white church and very close in its morning shadow is a small reddish building which houses the Hoffmeister Pentecostals. To the left side of Hwy. H a smaller dirt road followed Calico and led to “The Place”. Had time frozen in the 30’s, my bare feet tracks would still be imprinted in the dust happily coming and going on various errands. Continuing east only a few hundred yards, the McKean School Dist. # 57 is obvious setting beautifully on an incline. It also is shaded in the morning, warmed by the afternoon sun and every inch of the building and grounds melded lovingly into my entire being. Add the Maness Cemetery on the hill above the school; scatter some houses about and the scenes of my childhood take form.
The store was our shopping mall. The gas pumps out front were hand pumped with a lever close to the bottom that was forced (pumped) back and forth by hand to bring gas to the glass tank at the top. It was numbered from one down allowing one to count the gallons that ran out encouraged, of course, by gravity. Then it was multiplied out and paid for in the store. A Sinclair truck driven by Harry Brown from De Soto lumbered in periodically and filled the underground tank. (Wish I could supply the types of vehicles and the price of gas).
The store featured a front and back porch. A long wooden bench, complete with a back to lean on, dominated the front porch. This often held the social nucleus of Fletcher. It was not a place for women to sit. Sometimes it was the senior citizens center when the younger men were working. That’s when Dad Kramer, Dick Couch, Fred Rousin and maybe Uncle Tom Pinnell warmed the bench. Those were peaceful times. But when the younger ones, including Pop came during the winter months, they moved in around the pot-bellied stove; some chewing tobacco and spitting. Pop didn’t use tobacco of any kind.
The socializing at the store sometimes got out of hand and fists would fly. Pop would come home in a bad mood and warn the boys never to pick fights because someone could have “knucks” concealed in their pockets. “Knucks” or brass knuckles are a heavy metal instrument with finger holes that transformed the hitting fist into a lethal weapon.
The back porch of the store held a scale one could stand on, place small numbered weights on the arm and move marker back and forth until it was perfectly balanced. Inside the front door on the right, a telephone hung on the wall. If you had to send a message, the proprietor would ring it up for you, usually deliver the message himself, then ring back later to find out how much you owed.
The store provided many services. A poultry and egg man came by to buy the chickens and eggs that customers had brought in to defray the cost of their supplies. I was also a pick-up place for cream, the product of the cream separator, by a Sugar Creek Creamery truck. The check for the cream would come in the mail. Dried roots were sold to the proprietor; also tiff was taken to the back porch. Just which items were paid for by the proprietor, I don’t recall. It would be interesting to know if all or any of these services were lucrative for him. Either way it was certainly a great help to the community.
One man was largely responsible for keeping the store stocked, tending to live chickens in there near-by pen, collecting money for the various trucks, money orders, pumping gas, waiting on the customers – many bulk items, receiving and making phone calls for the whole community and taking care of the mail. The post office was an extension on the side of the store building like a tip out or bay window. A swinging gate allowed the postmaster to enter and pass the mail through an opening with a shelf. Until I got tall enough to reach the shelf, I waited by the swinging gate. I never really saw what was back there, but he knew just where to reach; so there alphabetized cubby holes for each family’s mail.
The mail was our connection to the outside world. In the spring-time baby chicks were sent out on the mail hack. If tools needed sharpening, or most anything needed De Soto, the mailman took care of it. Orders from Sears, Montgomery Ward and Alders were eagerly awaited. Comic valentines were a diversion. Some were very uncomplimentary; so the jokester sent them anonymously and then the receiver would usually put it in another envelope and send it back to the one they thought had sent it. Of course, sending it to the wrong one caused all kinds of bickering. Pop received lots of them. Once he received one with pad-locks on all of the comic packets which made him very angry and he fumed for weeks. Only recently Gladys admitted she sent it and how she “hid out” every time Pop mentioned it. This comic valentine mailing often lasted long past Feb. 14 and livened up conversation around the pot-bellied stove.
The store had a wooden floor, the boards darkened from much wear and oiled to keep down dust. There were counters and bins and shelves to the ceiling. One didn’t wait on himself or have push carts, but pointed out or described what he wanted. I’d peek around the ends of the counters, feasting my eyes on candy, etc. Most things were not wrapped but were loose; some in large sliding glass door cases, but you did not help yourself. There were medicines: Wine of Cordui, Dr. Legears Udder Ointment, Pinex Cough Syrup, Liniments, poultices, Black Draught, Epson Salts, Fletchers Castoria, and Vicks Salve to name a few. There were sewing supplies, Coats & Clark embroidery thread, bolts of yard goods that were measured on a counter top marked off to measure the yards.
There were loose cookies, long twisted licorice sticks, big peppermint sticks, Wrigley’s gum and lollipops. There were shoes and boots, men’s overalls, and ladies long cotton stockings. There were horse collars, nails, bolts, screws, and canning supplies. Flour and some feeds, like chicken feed that were bagged in cotton muslin printed sacks. These bags, when washed and ironed, made lovely material for clothes. Many of my dresses were made straight, no waistline, with puffed sleeves and sometimes a white collar. With a pair of matching bloomers, or perhaps white bloomers made from white sacks and no shoes, I was dressed just fine for summer. Mom made the bloomer with elastic around the waist and the legs (and there were legs) so I was well covered. (I saw a print dress 100% cotton with white collar and cuffs, a small flower print, resembling the dresses Mom used to make on the rack in Nieman Marcus in St, Louis recently. It had a price tag $129.95) I didn’t know how well dressed I was!
Most canned goods in the store were in glass containers, but not a very wide selection because people grew and canned their own. I was always curious and stayed around to watch when a big Wettereau grocery truck would pull up by the store porch. I’d peek in the big doors and wonder where they got it all. The store was open from sun up in the morning until eight or nine o’clock at night. In fact, much later when I caught a high school bus there, Uncle Dick Couch (not really my uncle) would unlock the store before daylight so we high schoolers could stay warm waiting for the bus. When the store got a radio, I’d go with Pop and listen to the radio at night. It was on that radio that I first heard the voice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he became my idol. He was our president from 1933 until 1945; all my grade and high school years. I truly loved him and grieved his death in April of 1945 as though he were a member of the family. I was a Roosevelt – New Deal – Democrat before I was ten and remain a Democrat today.
It was around that radio at the store that we gathered to listen to the Bruno Hauptman trial when he was found guilty for the kidnap murder of a baby son of Charles A. Lindberg. He was executed in 1936. That’s also where I first heard the “Grand Ole Opry”. Soon we were all singing songs other than the old familiar gospel songs & ballads.
The proprietor of the store during all of the time I was growing up there was Louie Withouse. He blended into the décor of the place. I could come and go and hardly see him at all. I wondered what it would be like to have so much candy and cookies. When Christmas time neared, toys and other gifts were brought in and I spent more time in the store when I went to get the mail. Louie was a broad faced stocky Dutchman. His pants often looked like they were about to fall off. He chewed tobacco and often held his chin high and talked without opening his lips, this action necessary because he was too busy to spit. He kept up the same slow steady pace. He usually had post nasal drip, so occasionally would pinch his nose his fingers and sling the contents on the floor. But he’d always wipe his hands on his pants before slicing bologna or cheese. The bologna from the Withouse store was gourmet quality. It was a real treat with our steady diet of cured ham, pork sausage and navy beans. Sorghum molasses was also a main staple in the Pinnell household. Mom also made cottage cheese from “clabbered” milk. The sour milk was put in a jelly bag and hung for days so it could drip.
Now, with hindsight I can see what a truly fine person Louie was. He spent so many hours and actually committed himself to the store that was the hub of the community. I was told later that Louie had a girl friend who lived near the rear of the store who would signal in the window of his home (His home was opposite the store on the other side of the highway.) with a flashlight in the late night hours for him to come visit her. Louie’s first wife had died and he had one married daughter. About the time I started high school, he married an attractive lady who was a stranger to the community. Where he met her and when he had time to court her was a mystery. After that Louie’s clothes were ironed. She helped him in the store and added refinement but she never really changed Louie. He was a “rough old cob” and remained so all of his ninety some years.
McKean School Dist. # 57
If I had to choose what most influenced my life, family and school would run a close race. McKean School District # 57, Jefferson County, MO was less than ¼ mile from the farm, even closer if we walked “over the hill”, which we did in very bad weather. It was school for grades one through eight. If one reached age sixteen before completing eighth grade, he was considered educated.
In September 1933 Mom sent her youngest off to school. I’m not sure what I wore but I’m sure it was a dress. None of the girls wore slacks. Gladys was in the sixth grade. She probably helped packed three lunches. I hope they were proud of me, but of the stories I’ve heard I was sometimes an embarrassment. Once Gladys and John told at the supper table that I stood at the blackboard with one bloomer leg hanging below my dress. The elastic had broken. I don’t remember it being broken but I do remember them telling it.
There I was, less than six years old. I was a receptive little girl. I had barley heard a radio, not seen a television of had earphones from a stereo in my ears. I had been to church. I had heard stories read to me. I had stood in church, held a song book and sung to the top of my lungs. I had sat on the smokehouse steps with a song book on my lap, my cotton dress pushed between my legs to my ankles and made up songs. I’d sing my songs to the trees and the sky. I knew how to swim, probably knew how to milk a cow (if not then, soon). Whatever I did or didn’t know, I walked into McKean School Sept. 1933 and listened to everything that took place. Soon I was spelling words like multiply. I remember asking at home, “What does M-U-T-I-P-L-Y spell?” and getting quite a reaction. I was watching the other classes and listening to the very interesting things that were taking place. I did so well that I took the second and third grades in one year, and by Sept. 1935, not yet eight years old, I started fourth grade. This is something I would not have thought about had I not, years later, have had access to the old records and Hazel Curtis, my teacher, had entered in the record, “Alice did so well that I allowed her to complete second and third grades this year.” I tell this to point out what a wonderful experience school was for me and also to point out that perhaps our children of the 1990’s might have their minds too cluttered before they start school.
We always walked to school. Everyone did. Often we ran. The big bell on the school roof began tolling at five till nine. By nine o’clock we’d be standing beside our desks saluting the flag, singing a few songs and starting our school day with prayer. We sometimes had a quiet few moments or sometimes repeated a prayer in unison; perhaps The Lord’s Prayer. The thirty or so children came from within a mile or two of the school. We all came from coal-oil lit houses with wood burning stoves.
The teacher had to use the time wisely. There were twenty or more classes to teach. The way that was accomplished: The teacher would call, “Third grade arithmetic, sixth grade history”, or whatever, and the group would go to the front of the room and sit at a designated place. Students were expected to be prepared, not return to his desk for supplies, and ready to pay attention. Everyone in the room could hear what was going on. Thus all children were exposed to a vast amount of teaching on any one day. The school, of course, took on the feeling of the teacher who occupied that desk at the front of the room. On that desk a copy of “The Course of Study for Elementary Schools” was evident. If the teacher followed the outlines in it for each class all schools were teaching the same thing at about the same time.
Each quarter, exams sent from the county superintendant were given to fifth grades and above. Then to graduate from eighth grade, final exams were given in a county group. A frightening experience! Most people considered themselves educated if they had an eighth grade education.
I had the good fortune of having two very good teachers. My first teacher was Hazel Curtis. She had a stern look and a firm hold on each student. She covered the material well and was a rough disciplinarian. Terrible punishments were used back then. She’d have an erring student kneel on the floor with pieces of chalk beneath the knee caps. Another punishment was stretching on tiptoes to reach a mark on the blackboard. Tears would streak the blackboard and if you had to do that once, you behaved. Everyone was scared of her, but we learned. She taught me through the fourth grade (three years).
After that I had two men teachers, each staying only one year. Then a teacher came our way who was one of the best things that ever happened to all of us at McKean. He stood about 6 ft 3 in tall with a large frame. He was a bachelor with a balding pate. He wore glasses and his name was Robert E. Lee, named after the confederate general. In those one room schools, as in any classroom, the atmosphere was as good or as bad as the teacher. Well, McKean School picked a pearl of great price in Mr. Lee. I am thankful until this day that he came my way. He spoke softly, gently. He smiled with his whole face, especially his eyes. He made us feel special. He created a working environment. Soon we were digging into every book in our small library. We covered the old red Marshall History book with gusto. We learned sentence diagramming and square root. We had heated debates.
It was a time when a lot of changes were taking place. Roosevelt’s New Deal was either loved or hated. It was a fabulously interesting time in our nation’s history. We also learned to embrace Mr. Lee’s philosophy of life, “You’re just as good as the greatest person on earth, but you’re not any better than the most lowly”. He told us many sayings like that. He read poetry and taught us to read it aloud and appreciate it. We worked hard and we played hard. The one room school was like a family in many ways. The older children often helped the little ones. We had two recesses and one noon hour. That gave time to plan games and talk to each other.
There was a great feeling of freedom when you went to the restroom during school hours. The girls was up the hill some 50 yards or so, and the boys was situated in a peaceful spot south. For drinking water or for washing hands we gathered at an outside pump. I don’t recall bringing water into the classroom. Some rural schools cooked a kettle of beans or soup on a wood stove. Our school’s enrollment was larger than some and the teacher kept quite busy.
School lunch programs were not started at Fletcher until after 1943. There was no such thing as special education. With so much teaching taking place, there was something for everyone. Some bright children could absorb everything. Some slow children could listen to the grade beneath theirs and catch up on what they might have missed or forgotten. It was the most exciting learning experience one can imagine and progress killed it. Soon busses would roll through Fletcher and the doors of that dear school would close. The children would be transported to Grandview where children would be grouped and even sorted according to ability thus depriving the slow ones of patterns of excellence and goals.
When I finished the eighth grade it was 1940 and Mr. Lee took us to Hillsboro to get our diploma at the Hillsboro School. Hillsboro was celebrating its bicentennial and he gave us some money and we rode the Ferris wheel. It was a big night! That was not the end of my elementary education for I was still only twelve and Hillsboro seemed far away. My folks felt high school was unnecessary. Although I had done well, Mr. Lee suggested I come back to school for another year post graduate work, if you will, and I spent eight full years at McKean School after all.
That year Mr. Lee gave me extra work in algebra and English and I attended every day; no tardies or absences. Then I began my higher education Sept. 1941 at Hillsboro High School. There I would hear my beloved F. D. R. with his unforgettable voice announce on Monday Dec. 8, 1941: “Dec. 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy” as he declared war beginning World War II. A radio was placed on a chair in the gym and we sat on the bleachers and listened to the now famous speech that brought our nation together in a patriotism I had not known before and, unfortunately, have not known since.
The rural school was a big part of the small community. At 8:55 AM bells tolled atop rural schools nationwide; the rope pulled by a school marm or a school master. The teacher was picked by a board of directors and was judged by his or her conservatism and religious beliefs. If the teachers erred morally, they were replaced. Christmas programs and pie suppers as well as elections and other meetings were held in the rural school. Once those schools were closed, a vital part of small community America was gone.
Oak Grove Baptist Church
“There’s a Church in the Valley by the Wildwood,
No lovelier spot in the dale.
No spot is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown (white) church in the vale.”
The white Baptist Church at Fletcher was my church from the time I was too small to talk until my own firstborn was almost school age. My life took on various changes during that length of time. I worked in St. Louis, I went away to college, I married, and I moved out of the community. Veritably everything else has changed but Oak Grove Baptist Church still nestles peacefully in the spot it claimed as its own nearly one hundred years ago. “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt. 16:18.
We Pinnells found our way to that church usually three times per week. My first remembrance of the experience is riding on Pop’s back to and from church. I’d lock my arms around his neck; he’d clasp his hands behind his back, thus making a fine seat for me and away we’d go. In later years, when he became very old, he often walked that way. Perhaps he was remembering those trips in Fletcher “Holler”.
It appears on a land map in 1876 that the Wms.’ owned all of Fletcher including the area where the church now stands. The Williams family is the reason John W. Pinell, Pop’s father came to Jefferson County in 1860. He came because his mother, Artimissa N. Williams Pinnell, is named in her father’s will. It seems that the Williams family has been left out of any (and there’s very little) history about Fletcher. Perhaps they moved away too soon for the histories. I am always curious about the word “prehistoric”.
The story as told to me: A minister, whose name unfortunately was not recorded, rode into Fletcher where only a small store and post office were located. Also settled in a valley by a clear small stream was a one room log school house. (That clear stream was a spring branch mentioned earlier that ran through the barn lot on our farm and my brother Asa built his first home on the very spot where the log school once stood). It was in that log school that the minister began preaching and eight people went forward. Among them were: Mr. & Mrs. L.A McKean and Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Hill, the parents of Maud Hill Pinnell, who came from England. The story goes that Joseph Hill rode a white horse and collected money and material to build the church. People sometimes would give logs and others would hitch up their teams and haul the logs to the saw mill where they were cut into lumber and then stacked on the church site. (The sawmill and also a grist mill is mentioned in my Cousin Muggs Johnson’s poems about Fletcher). The site was donated by the Valle Family, a family rich in history.
In 1915 the Jefferson Baptist Association was held at the church and I recall Mom telling that Pop’s Uncle Joe Mercille cooked mutton outside. How I wish I’d done a better job of listening. I believe Grandma Mary’s background was Catholic because her children did not commit to church membership when they were young. The Pinnells were Methodist or Baptist. Some early McKeans had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I feel there are gaps in the history of the church. For instance, was the church built about the same time the post office was moved from Frumet to Fletcher? Fletcher is referred to as Frumet in early history. I really believe that Fletcher is named after Gov. Fletcher and the Williams families were involved because they were judges and lawyers in Hillsboro and were civic minded. With the age of the church nearing the century mark, perhaps some history will be updated.
I can recall how the inside of the church was when I was a kid. The left side was completely filled with wooden benches. On the right side the benches stopped midway to make room for a big wood burning stove. Beyond the stove the benches face the middle aisle. The choir could sit there or a bay window type extension behind the pulpit could serve as a choir loft. That extension was torn off when an addition with a basement was added to the church in the 1950’s. The church is said to have been organized in 1899.
Small community churches operated on a small budget. The preachers often preached at several churches and still worked at farming, etc, to make a living. A circuit riding preacher was one who traveled from one church to the other. Each church would have a preacher one Sat, night, Sun. morning and Sun. night per month. My father-in-law was one such minister during the early years of his ministry. He later became the pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church and I’ll tell more about him in a Turner Family History, perhaps.
Those old Baptist preachers preached hell fire and damnation and revival meetings were held that sometimes continued every night for several weeks. There was no doubt that if you rejected the teachings of Jesus Christ and didn’t accept Him as the Son of God you were condemned to spend eternity in a burning hell. I accepted that belief when I was a young girl and have never encountered any better. I have studied and find good things in all beliefs. The watered down version with little mention of hell is still better than any belief that does not put the man who died on the cross at its center
Today when a church service seems unusually bland, I think back to the time when I knelt by a bench near the old wood stove in the Oak Grove Church. Rev. Henry G, Richardson laid his hand on my shoulder, prayed along with me a prayer of forgiveness and the burden of guilt that is with us all from birth was lifted forever from a heart that was already filled with love.
Mom made me a white cotton dress for my baptism. I was baptized in Calico Creek in “hollering distance” from the farm house. I know for it was one of our swimming holes. Mom penned the skirt of my dress close to the insides of my knees to keep it from floating up. I was emersed beneath the waters of Calico Creek by the same Henry G. Richardson. The church people gathered on the edge of the creek and sang songs and prayed. It was a glorious time. The old time baptisms were comparable to the time when God appeared at the scene when John the Baptist emersed Jesus in the Jordan River and a voice from heaven proclaimed,”This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.
We were at church good weather or bad and often carried wood and kindling for the stove. We enjoyed homecomings held once a year. In the early days there was a “Lady’s Aid” that sold things they made at bazaars to make money to help finance the church. An ice cream social at church was a big event. It was at night and lights were hung on the tree branches. Ice cream cones were something special. The ice cream was dipped from wooden barrels wrapped with layers of ice and burlap. Duffners had an ice cream plant in De Soto and it surely was the best ice cream in the whole world.
Christmas programs were a special event, too, and I went from one liners to putting on the program myself. It’s an embarrassment to me that the church records include minutes written by me when I was the church clerk when I was too young. I was only about twelve years of age. Mom usually gave the history of the church and was almost always called on to pray. Pop was more quiet and while Mom could talk at a testimony meeting and improve the spiritual environment of the whole place. Pop always said, “I ask the prayers of the Christian people that I’ll hold out faithful and do better in the future than I have in the past”. And he did seem to need the prayers more than Mom.
Years later when I’d enter a church and be handed a bulletin with the order of the service typed out telling the song selection and the preacher’s text, I’d be completely turned off. How could they be led by the Lord if they already knew what they were going to do? Church bulletins still seem unnecessary to me. I realize I’m just plain old fashioned.
The Pentecostal Church next door was completely spontaneous. Many of my friends went there and I wanted to go there too; but Pop wouldn’t let us go. The older boys decided it was the best. Archie still embraces that faith and is very happy with it. That church caused some problems at home. I don’t think it was the faith that Pop didn’t like, but the preacher, Frank Hoffmeister. Most of the people who attended the church lived in houses that the preacher owned. He was married to one of Pop’s cousins and something must have happened to cause animosity between them.
I attended Pentecostal churches after I left home and I find good in all churches. That’s what America is. Of course, if someone has not made a decision and you’ve proven by everyday living that you have something in your life they want, then you can witness successfully. Self righteous “preachy” people (religious snobs) do more harm to the cause of Christ than a quiet person who does not mention religion.
Oak Grove Baptist Church has had its highs and its lows. There have been short periods when the doors were closed. But it always came back. At the present time, 1992, the attendance is poor. But they send in their money to the cooperative program and keep up with association requirements, etc. I know because I check the monthly reports of Jefferson County. There have been times when I’ve considered going back to that church of my youth as a permanent member. “There’s a place dear to me where I’m longing to be, with my friends at the old country church. There with Mother we went and our Sunday’s were spent with my friends at the old country church”. Viva Oak Grove!!
Merry War Lye Snakes, Etc.
Wash day at the Pinnell home was such a chore that I’m quite sure it was not a once a week occurrence, perhaps every ten days. The old iron kettles one might find at antique sales today were necessary back then. We’d lay a fire, like good boy scouts make a campfire, around the kettle. The water had to be carried from the spring or dipped from the rain barrel and poured in the kettle.
Children associated that kind of kettle with Halloween and witches brew. I can associate the witches brew with another staple on wash day, soap making. Old pork grease was saved all winter long and in the early spring, we made soap. It was made from three ingredients; grease, water and lye. Lye isn’t something to treat casually. It’s used today to dissolve the clog in drain pipes. Soap was made by mixing about two and one half pints of water to a can of lye, I remember Merry-War-Lye, but I’ve heard of Red Devil Lye. Add the grease, probably two pounds per can of lye. Stir and stir, then leave it set a while and stir some more. The lard kills the lye and it thickens about like chicken gravy. Stir and stir some more and pour it in a shallow pan to set over night.
Cutting it into shapes was fun. We were anxious to see how white it would be. Sometimes it’d be as white as fels naptha; sometimes it was two layers of color, whiter on top and kind of brownish on the bottom. I suppose it depended a lot on the condition of the old grease. Or, perhaps, how much we stirred. We didn’t put any perfume in it. It had a good clean natural smell. Mom could make good homemade soap. I notice today that most detergents are coming out with “unscented” or “natural scent” on their boxes. They’re learning.
I remember once when I was 8 or ten yrs. old, Momma was down by the garden fence talking to Lawrence Curtis and I stuck my head out the back kitchen door and yelled, “May I use the Sunday soap?” We’d bought soap at the store, I remember it so well, it was kind of transparent with pink swirls and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to use it for “every day”. That little story was told a few times, almost as bad as when the elastic broke in my bloomer leg at school.
Back to washday; we had two or three galvanized wash tubs and the big iron kettle. The kettle was used for heating the water and also for boiling the whites. We’d boil them awhile, dip them out with a wooden dip stick, put them in the tub and scrub them on the scrub board. If they weren’t clean we’d boil them again. We’d cooperate with the wringing sometimes. If something was really heavy, two people would work together to wring it, twisting in opposite directions. I can see Momma right now, cutting homemade soap into slivers into the iron kettle or bending over the scrub board with one of Pop’s shirts, smoothing that shirt collar on the scrub board and rubbing it up and down on the metal ridges of the board. No ring around the collar when Mom got through with it. Each item was handled many times before it was ready to wear. It was washed, boiled (maybe twice), rinsed through two waters, wrung out after each process, starched and hung on the line to dry. It was gathered in towards evening. Many items were sprinkled and rolled for ironing.
Ironing necessitated a good fire in the stove (keeping a fire was job enough) because the irons had to be heated to a loud sizzle when touched quickly with a wet finger. If we washed on the porch, we dumped the water and scrubbed the porch with the broom. We had to clean the tubs and hang them on the smoke house and turn the kettle over. One thing for sure, we didn’t come home from school and leave our clothes in a heap on the floor. We had our clothes for home, our clothes for school and our clothes for Sunday. We didn’t have many changes. I don’t remember much about what I wore except the feed sack dresses and underpants to match. Perhaps I choose not to remember.
Just because it was wash day didn’t mean other work was neglected. The stock had to be tended to, the milk separated and the cooking had to be done. Maybe we’d have to walk to the river bottom fields and take the men their lunch, and no vegetables can be allowed to go to waste. If something needed canning, we just managed to do that too. One thing that was different from now, we didn’t watch the clock. We were busy from daylight till dark and on the longest days of summer it’s a long time from daylight till dark. There was always the old coal-oil lantern to light up and carry around after dark.
In hot summertime we’d walk down to Calico and wash off. We were always glad when Mom & Pop went to our swimming hole in Calico. We’d yell, “Watch this Mom. Watch this Pop.” And show off our swimming and diving accomplishments. We had to get out of Calico when the sun went down because we couldn’t watch for snakes. In all of those years on the farm; with Calico Creek, Big River and two spring branches, not one Pinnell was ever snake bitten. I thought I was bitten several times. I’d heard of blue racer snakes. Once when I was after the cows, I rounded the blackberry patch in one of the upper fields above the old Alice Williams house. I spied a bright shinny blue snake. He wasn’t real big, probably between two and three feet long. It raised its head and I thought looked right into my eyes. Instead of slithering away like most snakes would, he started swiftly toward me. I distinctly remember the terror of that moment. I said I was in an upper field. It didn’t take me long to get of the low ground and the two-rut road that led to the big pasture gate. All I remember is the wind rushing by me. The fall of my bare feet hitting the ground left no impression at all. I was hunkered on top of the big gate post and looking around for a blue racer snake only moments after I had seen it a half mile or so away. I never saw the snake again. Many times in life motivation has brought results. Seldom has there been any better example than when I thought I was being chased by a blue racer snake.
Soon after the memories of wash day that I have written here, Dad brought in a clothes wringer with a crank that was fastened on the tub benches. What a luxury! And then when we got electricity in the late 40’s we were amazed.
Precious Father, Loving Mother
The best of what I am I received from Mom and Dad. They were proud, self taught, and when they died, they left no debt. What they did leave was a heritage that was neither saint nor martyr, but one of the power of simple human decency.
John Pinnell, my grandfather, was 48 years of age when my Dad, Ed, was born in 1886. Dad was 15 years of age years of age when his father died in 1901. His mother Mary E. Merceille Pinnell died when Dad was 19. Dad told us very little about his parents and I, foolishly, didn’t ask. We knew Dad’s siblings and they all visited us on the farm.
When we moved to the farm in 1928 it was in the midst of the depression. It was the only life I knew so I had no way knowing how hard life was for my parents. The “thirties” had to be very hard years on the MO dirt farm. Dad made some money hunting and trapping. Mom carried chickens (live) to the store and sold them. We all worked. We did what we were told to do: pull the weeds from the sweet potato hill, de-bug the Irish potato vines, weed the garden or carry water.
In the winter the chores were different: fill the manger with hay from the loft, keep wood on the porch and in the kitchen wood box. And there was always the milking. During the winter the cows slept with their heads in the stations and in the morning the udders had to be washed before milking. The milking at our house was women’s work and I could milk a cow as fast as mom. I could sit on a milk stool, lean my head in a cows flank, and make music with the rhythm of milk hitting the pail. Usually we milked about ten cows and Mom & I could handle that, loose the cows from the stations and turn them out for the day. If the cow’s udders had sores, we doctored them with Dr. Le Grear’s Udder Ointment. That was great healing salve. The formula was probably destroyed or there’d be no more need for the diverse skin potions available today.
Most of the time, Mom hummed or sang the lyrics of a gospel song as she worked. Once when I was a teen ager, Mom & I started for the barn and Mom started singing, “Georgia, Georgia, no peace I find, just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.” That was the neatest thing to me! Mom had picked up a popular song from the radio! As the slaves sang their spirituals to ward off the depression of hard work, so Mama sang songs to keep her mind and spirit ever in touch with the all powerful One who guided her actions. Most farm women worked hard and took great pride in their work.
According to Mom, the Pinnells didn’t have very high morals; frequenting all night picnics with moonlight dances, roasting sweet potatoes on a stick and just having “high old times.” The French dialect and the attractive young people of French Canadian (Merceille, Thebeau, Rousan) descent conjure up a picture of good times. Dad would dance a fine jig and do a neat soft shoe. We should have put some taps on a pair of his shoes.
One picture which remains a family treasure is of Dad, Uncle John and Walter Pinnell tenting and trapping the Big River. They stayed at least one whole winter (maybe more winters). I wonder who took the picture. It hung in a large oval frame at the farm.
I prefer running streams over man-made lakes. Sitting beside a running stream, one can cast problems into the running water and they’re carried to greater bodies of water where they are diluted forever. That sounds like a statement my quarter Indian Grandma Betty Ann might have made, but I believe the deeply imbedded love I have for the Calico Creek & the Big River and other running streams are inherited from my father who was happiest in natures beauty. I am sure the River of Life mentioned in the Bible is a running stream.
Dad moved “over there” April 24, 1975. He was almost 90. His better half (a true phrase for Mamma) lived 2 ½ unsettled years before she joined him there on July 29, 1977. She was 87. Dad died in St. John’s Mercy Hosp. in St. Louis of pneumonia. His last 2 weeks were spent in the hospital. Mom died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital in an ambulance and lived four days after the stroke. They were both well cared for in their final years here below.
I became the old generation July 29 1977 and I was very much aware of it. I inherited a new responsibility. The pictures of Dad and the furs, Mom’s poems, the dates when and where we were all born, suddenly became more important. Why hadn’t I asked more?? Dad and Mom were both the youngest of their generation and I am the youngest of mine.
I have stopped writing on this long enough to do some family research and compiled a Pinnell history, “Missouri Pinnells”. Those couples involved: Peter Pinnell and Nancy Yarber (1), Richard Pinnell & Artimisia M. Williams (2), John W. Pinnell & Mary E. Merseal (3), Wm. Ed Pinnell & Laura Rose Hodge (4), Alice M. Pinnell (b. 1927) and David Turner (5). I also have done some Williams, Merseal, Hodge, Goff and now attempting to find a path through the many Turners in the U. S. Those things will be filed with this particular attempt to relive my days on the farm. These things are being put together for my three children and for those precious people, Grandchildren, who come along in ones later years to brighten our day and lighten our hearts.
Laura Rose Hodge (1890–1977) was born in Sabula, Iron County, MO the last of several children of Pleasant S. Hodge (1850 – 1920) and Betsey Anna Goff Hodge (1849–1900). Betsey Ann died when Mom was only 10. Thomas Goff (1) wed Eliz. Golden in 1803. Elizabeth was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. Their son Isham (2) married Serena McBride in 1831. Betsey Ann was their daughter. Goffs came to America around 1650, so grandma was closer to being American than most. More about my dear Momma, the
More about my dear Momma, the Hodges & Goffs in future writing.