The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 13 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1988

Issue: May, 1988

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.

By the middle of July all of our crops were laid by and there was more leisure time for all our family. Papa and Mama had both been feeling poorly so after the chores were all done up, they'd just sit and talk about us children all growing up or about politicians and wars and other things we'd heard about on the Jenkins' radio.

I spent a lot of time in the attic reading all the books the Shaughnessy's had left there and some new books I'd sneak from beneath Earl's mattress. They were yellow backed Westerns and Widow Pollard had prayed about them in church. She said they were as bad for boys to read as True Story's were for girls. I hated to be so bad and read things I shouldn't, but I loved those westerns; especially stories about two cowboys by the names of Hungry and Rusty. They were always doing funny things. One time they were camping out and Hungry sat down in a pan of uncooked biscuits and all that raw dough stuck to the seat of his pants. I laughed so loud about that I was afraid Mama might hear me down in the kitchen. I felt bad and decided to quit reading such things. But a few days later I was back in the attic rereading every book up there.

The attic was closed off from the big bedroom us girls shared upstairs. It was the back half of the upstairs that was directly above the kitchen. It was used for storing a lot of food stuff that we didn't have room for downstairs and the Shaughnessy's had left a few things up there besides their books. I fixed my reading hideaway back behind some boxes of quilts and extra pillows and old outgrown clothes Mama saved to mend other clothes with. It was a quiet, cozy nook to read, or pout or just daydream in. But I soon found out that I could hear almost every word that was said down in the kitchen. So in the next few years, without meaning to really eavesdrop, I heard a lot of talk Mama didn't mean for me to hear.

In a way that summer with it's leisure time was bad for me for with Mama and Papa feeling so poorly (Dr. Gilbert said Mama had gallstones and Papa's foot with the big toe missing was sore) they didn't go to church very much, but they'd let Ben and Earl ride the horses along with Jeanie and April in the buggy and they'd take Jimmy and Joan with them. They all got to acting mysterious and grown up and whispering and giggling a lot but when Jonathon, Andy or I got near them they'd quit talking and tell us to go play. Every now and then I'd hear them talking about some boy being cute or about some boy was going to ask some girl if he could walk her home from church and other things like that.

One day when Papa was going to town, Joan Jenkins, Jeannie and April all went. They took a big bunch of eggs to sell. When they came back they had some face powder and some Tangee lipstick. Mama said they could wear the powder to church but not the lipstick. But when they got away from the house they'd put on the lipstick. One day as they stopped in the woods, I was there and saw them putting it on. They got real mad and said if I told Mama they'd tell about me reading the True Stories.

So everybody was going places and doing things but me that summer. Mama quit letting me go rabbit hunting or fishing down on the creek with Jonathon and Andy. And Joan and Jimmy were acting grown up and running around with April and Jeannie. I was over three years younger than any of the other girls. So there I was ten and a half years old and just left out all because I was too young or because I was a girl or something.

I had begun to wonder and have doubts about a lot of things that puzzled me. I began to doubt what Mama said about the mares finding the baby colts under the haystack and the cows finding the baby calves in the tall grass out in the pastures; and I wondered about Dr. Gilbert carrying new born babies around in his pill bag. Then there was the frogs down in the pond. First they were just funny looking specks, then they turned into little fish, then they lost their fish tails and sprouted legs and hoped out of the water. I wondered if they turned into babies or little calves and things like that when it was real dark at night; but I wasn't sure about that at all. I didn't dare to ask Mama or the big girls for they'd just look shocked and tell me to be quiet and go play.

So there really wasn't much for me to do but go read or pout in the attic. There was a dictionary up there and out of boredom, I began to read it. Then I discovered how to tell what words I didn't understand meant; so I reread the True Stories and looked up words I didn't know but even then I didn't understand some of them. Then I read some in the Bible. I discovered there were a lot of stories in it about all kinds of love and babies and other things. I reread the story about Joseph falling in love with Rachel several times. It told about Joseph working seven years for her Papa so he could marry Rachel and about him getting tricked into marrying her sister.

Sometimes I didn't mind being left out but other times I'd get mad and pout; then I'd make up all sorts of imaginary friends just my age and I'd imagine all sorts of places we'd go and things we'd do. I'd imagine how fine we'd dress up just like princesses or other rich refined ladies.

Then all of a sudden it was March of 1938 and I was twelve years old. We had a good living with plenty of good food to eat we had raised and there was a lot of laughter and teasing at our house. But we still didn't have any extra money to pay Mr. Jenkins or to buy much of anything else with. We'd sold more cotton this fall for a better price, but all of our fat hogs got the cholera and died a week or so before Papa was going to ship them to St. Louis to sell. After Papa and the big boys buried all that mess of dead hogs, our house was real quiet; then one day Papa said we should all be real thankful for all the good health and other things we had, so then everyone perked up again.

Once again there was teasing at the table about Ben and Earl's girlfriends. We all knew that Joan Jenkins was stuck on Earl for she told Jeannie that she would climb the grape harbor so she could watch for him when he and Ben came by on the horses. Joan was chubby and the grape harbor was old so one day it broke and Joan fell spraining her ankle real bad. Earl didn't like to be teased; but he loved to tease Ben about Elizabeth, the youngest of the Jackson's children. Everyone thought Elizabeth was so pretty with her long, shiny, wavy hair that she kept tied back with a blue ribbon. She could ride horses just as fast as a boy and she always sang a solo in church in a clear voice so pretty it would put a bird to shame. Dovie Davis said Elizabeth told her mother that she thought Ben was the most handsome boy in church. Ben would turn red when he was teased, but he wouldn't get mad and leave the table like Earl would.

Mama would help Papa tease the boys about girls but they both looked real serious when Alice came home from Mrs. Reed's and talked about her boyfriend, Henry. Then one day I was in the attic reading and Alice and Mama were alone in the kitchen talking. I heard Alice say real loud, "Lots of girls get married long before they are twenty years old." Mama began to cry and said, "Alice, please, promise me you wont get married before your next birthday." Alice said, "Mama why should I wait until I'm twenty-one?" Mama said, "Because you're still so young. And when you get married there are babies to care for and sometimes lots of sickness and not much money." Alice said, "But Henry owns land and we might make real good crops and have plenty of money." Mama still was crying.

Just then Papa came into the kitchen and asked what was wrong. Mama and Alice both started talking and Papa just listened. Then Papa told Alice lot of things about how hard he and Mama had to work and about when he got his toe shot off. He said it was the late fall and Mama was expecting with Jeannie and that she and Ben were still just babies. He told about Dr. Gilbert almost having to cut his foot off it was so full of gun shots; and he told about how Mama had to do all of the work outside in the cold while he was sick abed. After telling her all that, he asked her to please wait until her birthday before she got married. Then Papa reminded her how lucky she was that Mrs. Reed liked her so well and paid her just to keep company and she could buy pretty clothes and learn to do fancy embroidery work and crocheting. So finally Alice promised to wait. Then she even said that lots of the town girls wanted to stay with Mrs. Reed but she liked her best.