Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The War Years - November 21, 2013

As published in the White River Current - Thursday November 21, 2013

It was one of those “where were you” events that you never forget. It was a mild, December Sunday afternoon. My granddad and I were out in the front yard with our baseball gloves, playing “catch” when dad came out on the porch and called us inside. Our Philco radio was turned up loud and I could hear the announcer talking about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was or the significance of this attack until the next day. It was the main topic of conversation in every classroom. Some of the older boys dropped out of school and enlisted in the army or navy. The president of the United States called the attack an act that would “live in infamy.” Well, I didn’t know what infamy was but I was pretty sure that it meant it was pretty bad. I finally looked it up in the dictionary (it means extremely bad; wicked). The Congress declared war on both the Japanese and Germans. Our school superintendent was of German ancestry. We young boys were convinced he was a spy. Occasionally someone would see the lights were on in his second story school office and we were certain he was up there sending radio messages to the enemy. What imagination. Things settled down and got back to a degree of normal in a few days. A rationing program began on several items such as gasoline and some food items. I believe sugar and coffee were a couple of these but I wasn’t involved in the buying of our necessities. I do know that there were kinds of stamps that were required when you purchased certain items. The Calico Rock Museum has some of these stamps on display. Check it out. We continued our family life much the same with raising most of our food and applying an old adage that my mother used to quote: “Eat what you can and what you can’t (eat), you can.” As I have stated before, mom had a canner on the stove six days a week. She also made butter and had a regular list of customers. Her butter was pressed into a round, wooden mold that would leave a raised imprint of a leaf on the top when it was turned out. She wrapped the butter in waxed paper and sold it for forty cents. I wish I had that butter mold now but maybe it is in a museum somewhere. Anyway, as in all wars, some of Calico Rock’s finest did not return and many others returned with the scars of battlefield encounters. I happened to be down on Main Street when my uncle Elbert received the telegram that his son, my cousin William Reed, was missing in action. Several weeks later, another telegram came that notified the family that Reed was a POW in Germany. He was a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber that was shot down over Germany, A few years ago, at the Oshkosh, WI, air show, I toured the inside of a B-17 that was on display. I always thought they were really large planes but, actually, they were pretty small, comparatively speaking. I’m still amazed at how tight a space there was for the tail gunner. A miracle that he was able to get loose and bail out. I think he was in POW camp about eighteen months or so until the war ended and he was able to return home. A real hero as are all who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom. My dad served on the draft board for a time during the war years. I know the anguish he had when one of the boys he sent off to war never returned. What a burden. About ten years later, I was drafted into the army to help in the Korean conflict (it was never referred to as a war). I might talk a little about that in an article soon. Anyway, the war with Germany ended in May, 1945, and with Japan about three months later. When word reached Calico Rock that the war with Germany was over, school was dismissed and we all headed downtown to join the celebration. Two of us climbed up the bell tower on the church and rang the bell for an hour. Everyone was so happy. I want to back up and write about an incident that occurred during the war, probably the summer of 1944. That will have to wait until next time, in two weeks. See you then.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hard Times No 4 - November 7, 2013

As published in the White River Current - Thursday November 7, 2013

Continuing the saga of life at the Rock House on Red Lane in the depression years. Our family quickly developed a routine that we followed for the seven or so years that we resided in the Rock House. Every morning, after granddad had built a fire in the wood cookstove, mother would begin cooking breakfast. When the water in the teakettle was hot, she would fill a cup with hot water and place it on top of the warming closet of the stove. Granddad would have finished milking our Guernsey cow and would bring the two gallon bucket of fresh milk into the kitchen where it was strained through cheese cloth and placed in a cool place for the cream to rise. The cream was skimmed off and later churned to make butter. We drank the skimmed milk at mealtime, referring to it as “blue john.” Granddad would drink his cup of hot water and wait for the breakfast meal which always consisted of hot biscuits. We bought flour in 25 pound cloth sacks. The empty sacks were used for various purposes, such as dish cloths, sewn into small bags for freshly ground sausage on butchering day, and quite often used to make shirts and other articles of clothing. Granddad always ate oatmeal every morning. Funny but I could eat oatmeal every morning now but I wasn’t very fond of it then, much to the chagrin of granddad. After breakfast, Janice and I would be off to school. The two-story school building housed all twelve grades. There also were schools at Creswell, Boswell, Pineville and 25 other locations in Izard County. I believe the first consolidation of the schools took place in 1939 which was the same year that Izard became a “dry county” but I imagine that is strictly a coincidence. After my sister and I got home from school, I took care of the chores that were assigned to me, did my homework, ate supper and usually went to bed early. Included in the list of my daily chores was feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, slopping the hogs, emptying the chamber pots, splitting wood for the kitchen stove (also splitting kindling). About this time every year, after the first frost of the season, my dad would get home from work in time to eat supper with the rest of us, after which we would have a family conference. Now, I know it wasn’t exactly like that, but, looking back, it seems like it was. One of the items of business was to check the almanac and select a time to butcher the hog that we had been fattening up. This was earmarked, but we agreed to start the necessary preparations and wait for that cold, frosty morning. Susan had a “Not So Long Ago” column in this newspaper several months ago that gave all you would want to know about Hog Killin.’ You might check with the archives and find this two column story that was written by a former resident. Anyway, we finally got to the main topic of our family conference which was: Who are we going to buy our molasses from this year? My dad would lean back and say, in an expert tone, “Well, I heard that Vessie Scott has the best this year.” So, it was settled and we all went to bed. We always bought several gallons of molasses every year. We had that thick, sugary liquid on our table at every meal. The comedian, Jerry Clower, had a funny routine about the amount of butter you would stir into your plate of molasses. He quoted his mom as saying “now you be sure and lick that knife before you put it back in the butter.” Probably a misquote, but you get the idea. We didn’t have a lot, but we never went hungry. We had a big garden and mother had a canner on the stove six days a week during the summer. I had a few added chores in the summer, shelling peas, churning the butter, etc. Life was good. Then one Sunday, December 7, 1941, everything changed. Our country was at war.