The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 10 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1987

Issue: December, 1987

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children. Experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

Christmas that year (1935) was a happy day for us and the Jenkins' family too. We all got up early and after eating a big breakfast, we unwrapped our gifts which was a piece or two of warm clothing for each of us and some candy, bananas, and oranges. Then Papa hitched up the team to the wagon and as planned, we went to get the Jenkins' family to spend the day at our house. Widow Blooms had planned to eat dinner with us too, but her son from the county seat came out and insisted that she go home with him.

That was a lovely warm day in spite of the cold light snow that was on the ground. Mama baked two ducks to a golden brown and fixed mouth watering dressing with them and baked half a ham with candied sweet potatoes; then she fixed lots of vegetables and topped it off with cake, cookies and fruit pies. The kitchen was a bustle with activity as Jonathon, Andy, and I left to go with Papa to get the Jenkins' family. They were all ready and waiting when we got to their house.

We all helped Mr. Jenkins in the wagon bed and wrapped him with several blankets and Mrs. Jenkins had several buckets of hot stones wrapped up to help keep him warm (when Jonathon asked her about that she laughed and said it was an old Indian trick she had learned when she was a little girl). Then we started out across the fields bouncing along in the wagon. Papa asked Mr. Jenkins if he was comfortable and he laughed and said that riding in that wagon was like riding an old Strawberry Roan. At the mention of that song, Jimmy and Joan started to sing loud as they could. We all joined in with them singing loudly too, and laughing at Mr. Jenkins for he had a real deep voice that boomed like a big drum. Then we sang some Christmas songs and before we knew it we were home.

Ben and Earl had saddled up the two mares and old Maud and after we got Mr. Jenkins inside, we unhitched the horses from the wagon and all of us children except for the big girls, rode down the creek bank to Widow Blooms to feed her livestock. Ever since the chivaree, we approached her house with a little awe and perhaps a little fear too for we no longer thought of her as being timid and uncertain after she had whipped out her hidden revolver and shot at Mr. Martin for stealing her chickens. Ben and Earl said they had known for years that she had carried a gun; otherwise she would not have stayed on her farm after her last son had married and moved away. So as we hurried around putting out hay for her horses and cows and feeding her chickens corn, we wondered if she wore her gun when she went to church.

After we finished feeding the animals and started home we cut across the woods and fields and took the long way home singing and laughing as the horses trotted along anxious to get back to the barn and the hay in their stalls. We were just as anxious to get inside our house where it was warm and to check the progress of the food. Ben and Earl brought an extra table in from the smokehouse and put it at the end of our table and Alice put two of her fanciest new embroidered table cloths on them.

When we sat down to eat, that was sure a delicious sight to see. Mama had prepared a meal fit for a king's family. Papa asked Mr. Jenkins to say grace and he ended by asking a special blessing for each one of us for he said Papa and Mama and us children had been the most forgiving and dearest friends he and his family had ever had. And he added that without our help he didn't see how they could have gotten along. Then we all filled our plates high and that was a happy and gay Christmas Day.

The Jenkins family was just as important to us as we were to them for it was a fact that some of us or some of them would be at each others house every day of the week. It seemed like we had always lived near them and that the warmth of their friendship had become almost a necessity to us. They had no team with which to haul their wood or supplies from town so without even thinking about it, as a favor, Papa saw to it that they had plenty of wood for their stove and fireplace and he always stopped by their house when he went to town.

The Jenkins' had two married sons who lived in the Delta and they both had small children so they couldn't make the trip to see their parents very often, but they sent them a few necessities along and a daily paper and kept a battery for their radio. So our friendship with them opened up a whole new world for us; a world so big and refined that it was almost unbelievable to imagine all the refined people and the luxuries we heard about and read about on their radio and in their newspaper.

The news about Mr. Jenkins tragedy spread through our neighborhood and at first everyone had come out of sympathy to see him. Then they kept dropping in frequently for it seemed like Mr. Jenkins high spirits and the cheerfulness of his whole family was just contagious. Seemed like people never felt sorry for him and treated him like an invalid, for being around him was a joy that warmed the heart. None of his family ever complained about all their land and other property they had lost or their home they had to give to strangers.

Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins liked every one of us children but I believe Jonathon and I were their favorites. If they hadn't been fond of us two, I'm sure they would have chased us out of their house many times for we were there almost every day. We knew that Jimmy went to their mailbox every morning that was on the town road by the Davis' family mailbox, to get their daily paper. Jonathon and I would sneak away every afternoon and go across the fields and creek to their house to read Little Orphan Annie and Minnie Ha Ha. But first we had to sit still while either Mr. Jenkins or Mrs. Jenkins read the funnies to us. Then after they read them to us and explained the actions, reactions and people to us as they understood them, they would let us children read them for ourselves. I enjoyed them more when I read them myself for many times I didn't agree with their views but I didn't say so for I was afraid they would think I was impolite and didn't appreciate their being kind enough to share their papers with us. I loved to look at the rest of the paper, at the clothes and other unbelievable things advertised in it. But surely nobody could be rich enough to pay the prices of some of the things in that paper. Just once for fun I pretended I was going to buy a hat, coat, dress, and shoes for Mama and when I added up the prices it was more money than Papa earned from our cotton crop that year.

Saturday nights we'd all go to the Jenkins' house to listen to the radio or if they didn't have company, they'd get in our wagon and ride to our house bringing the radio with them. We'd put the battery and the radio in a washtub lined with quilts to protect them as we bounced along in the wagon. We'd all listen to the country music programs and wonder about all the people who played and sang on the radio. Sometimes it seemed if you just closed your eyes and listened you could almost see them folks singing; and everyone of them was rich and refined looking and wearing new clothes from a Sears catalog or maybe even wearing new clothes from one of them stores advertised in the St. Louis Post Dispatch paper.

After we met the Jenkins' family and became so fond of them, not once did we ever say they took over our farm. Right at first, Mr. Jenkins told Papa if he could ever afford to or if Papa could ever pay him the back payments, he would get a small place in or near town. But then none of us ever hoped to get that much money for it would take a hundred or maybe two hundred dollars. So us children, among ourselves, would just pretend we had loaned Mr. Jenkins our farm. But we soon learned other folks didn't feel that way. Dovie Davis just had to let us know that she knew we had lost our place to the Jenkins' family.

One day the Davis' family visited the Jenkins' while we were there and Dovie came out where Joan and I were watching Jimmy shake walnuts down from a tree. She asked me what kind of a house the Shaughnessy house was. Then before I could answer she said it was a good thing the Shaughnessy's even owned a chicken coop for us to live in seeing as how we didn't have anywhere else to live after Mr. Jenkins took over our farm and house.

I remembered what Papa had said about the Jenkins' feeling just as bad as we did for they had lost a much finer place than ours but still I felt my face get red with shame and I opened my mouth to call her a big blabber mouth but didn't say anything for just then Jimmy shook the limb he was standing on real hard and a bunch of walnuts pelted Dovie on the head. She started hollering for her Mama and bawling like a calf being weaned. Just then Jonathon and Danny came up and Danny was saying, "Your shoes is girls shoes for they both have straps just like girls shoes on the toes." Jonathon answered back, "They ain't girls shoes while I'm wearing them. They is boys shoes." They were Joan's outgrown shoes she had given to us and only Jonathon could wear them.

The two boys lit into each other and fell to the ground in a wild scramble of flying feet and fists but Mama came running out and broke up the fight. Danny and Dovie both went and leaned on their Mama's fat knees and sniffed and wiped their runny noses on their sleeves for awhile. We went ahead gathering walnuts and looking inside the house every now and then to see what was going on. Then Joan told us she and Jimmy were afraid some of the Davis family would look in their mailbox and see Mr. Jenkins' relief check and that Dovie would blab it to everyone in church. Getting relief help was such a dreadful shame that nobody could live it down. Even Mr. Martin said that stealing was better than taking a handout from them "givernment fellers."