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Donna Flood
Dian Layman's "Going to Grannie's" Arkansas?


January 3, 2003

      Today I received an email from a cousin in Oklahoma, who had sent me some limericks she had written, one of which was about a party line. She asked if we had ever been on a party line. Her question made me think of the old crank telephone that hung on the wall at my Grandmother's, where I spent almost every summer, and my mind took off into the past with every detail of those visits to "Grannie's" that seem to compose most of the memories of my childhood.

     "Grannie's" is home to me; more than our actual place of residence ever was, though I have some happy memories of that, as well.  As I look back, I realize that I really had a wonderful childhood.

    "Grannie's" house is gone now, in the sale of my grandparent's estate, and for some reason, I get a strange, sad, almost painful, feeling when I think about it's having been sold out of the family. When there for a family reunion, held at the local park, I found that I didn't even want to go to see it again, though I understand that the present owners have done wonderful things with it.

     Once embarked on this "trip down memory lane", I also thought about a memoir written by a niece of my gggg-grandfather about the family's migration from South Carolina to Tennessee in the 1830's; their first home a sod hut with a dirt floor; their later plantation home, and her memories of the Civil War. It is a real treasure and so revealing of a time that we have no concept of. I decided to record my memories of my childhood, as she had done, for later generations.

     My first memories of going to Grannie's, were of the trip up there on Highway 71, which wound through the Boston mountains through Fayetteville and on, until we turned off and went close to Eureka Springs, where the road was also extremely winding. In those years, my memory probably beginning in the early 40's, the road was two very narrow lanes, and, in places, it dropped off a cliff on one side and hugged side of the mountain on the other side. We were sometimes held up while road workers cleared dirt, rocks and even boulders off the highway, that had fallen from the cliffs above, or, places where the road had fallen away into the valley on the other side. Many times, we had to go for miles behind big trucks as they labored up the mountains at a snail's pace and the cars lined up behind us as far as you could see. We almost always saw a truck wreck, where one had gone too fast in one of the hair-pin curves and gone off the mountain, or where the brakes had burned out going down the mountain and the truck had run off the road at the bottom. This happened a lot at the bottom of the mountain at Mountainburg, and a friend that I met in later years who lived at Mountainburg, told me that the kids there lived for the truck wrecks so they could gather up the truck's contents that scattered all over the wreck site and sell it or eat it.

      It seemed that we had at least one flat tire and sometimes more, and my mother usually changed the tire herself, which I thought was very impressive.

      My most vivid memory of all, was being carsick all the way there.  It started almost as soon as we got in the car, and by the time we got through the mountains, I was just laying in the back seat and hoping to die. We usually had to stop at least once for me to get out, unless I could manage to go to sleep. In most of my memories of arrival at Grannie's, it seemed that we usually got there at night, and I now realize that my mother probably planned it that way so that I could sleep and not get sick.

     Even if I was asleep, it seemed I always knew when our arrival was imminent, and I usually woke up when we turned off the highway on to the dirt road that led to our destination. If it was daytime, and I was not lying down in the back seat, I always watched for the little "log cabins" of a motel that was built on top of a hill overlooking the highway right before our turn-off.

     Mother always had to shift into low gear to go up the hill to the house and by that time I was very excited. Everyone who was at home would come out into the yard to greet us. At the time of my first memories, I was the only grandchild, and I guess our arrival was an occasion for them, as well. I had nine aunts and uncles, the youngest of whom was only 2 years older than me. My oldest aunt had gone off to Kansas City to make her fortune, but the rest were there most of the time until the two older boys went off to WWII, and the older girls always made a fuss over me, which I enjoyed to the fullest. The only bad memory that I have of our arrival, was that I had to undergo the ordeal, every time, of being asked immediately if I had quit wetting the bed. This was an affliction that had come upon me at age 6, when my brother was born. Whatever the psycology of that event may have been, it became an object of torture and humiliation gleefully inflicted by my younger aunts and uncles.

     After everyone had calmed down, we would go into the house, and I remember that it was dark inside except for the kerosene lamps. I later realized that the walls, and probably even the rugs, were darkened and stained by the smoke from the wood stoves and the kerosene lamps, to a uniform brown. Probably, my very earliest memory is of that dark living room with it's vaguely patterned dark beige wallpaper, and being rocked by my grandmother, who sang as she rocked. The only song I remember, was one about two children who wandered into the woods, got lost and died, and the birds covered them up with strawberry leaves. I always got very sad and cried when she got to this part, and I now wonder why on earth she would sing such a song to a small child. I now wish I could remember the words and melody to that song. I have never heard it since, and I am sure it was probably something she learned as a child herself, from her family, who came from Georgia in the mid 1800's.

     If we arrived at night, my grandfather was usually already asleep, having probably gone to bed right after dark. I don't recall seeing him at those times. After the excitement had subsided and everyone had settled down, we were off to bed, taking our kerosene lamps, and going across the large yard to the other house, where everyone slept, except my grandparents and one or maybe two of the youngest kids.

     At this point, I think it may be important to explain the circumstances of there being two houses on the farm.  My grandfather, probably still in his late teens, had become the farm manager for two unmarried sisters from Illinois, who had traveled to Arkansas to Hot Springs to take the therapeutic baths offered there. At some point, they purchased the farm and the two story rock house and settled there in Boone County, near Harrison. When my grandfather decided to marry the daughter of a neighboring farmer, they built a "cottage" for the newlyweds across the yard from the main house.

      My mother says that the original house was not as I remember it, but grew over the years, until, by the time I came along, it consisted of two small bedrooms, a dining room, living room and kitchen, and a covered front porch, which at some point was screened in, a lean-to, built off of the kitchen, and a sizeable attic. At the back was the outhouse and chicken house, where my grandmother kept a sizeable flock of chickens.  There was a swing on the front porch, and some flower beds, which were outlined by whitewashed rocks and usually contained some dahlias (always maroon) and some straggly petunias. I also recall  a lilac and a "Rose of Sharon" to the left of the front porch.

      There was a cellar under the house, where all the canned goods and root vegetables were kept. The dirt floor was covered with potatoes, and the walls with shelves of mostly canned tomatoes and green beans. It was dark and cool, and my grandfather often took a nap down there on hot summer afternoons on a folding cot. My grandmother, at the first hint of a storm, would rush down there in fear of tornados, and I recall her wanting me to go also, but having learned that she would do this, I managed to be elsewhere at the first hint of a storm. I had absolutely no fear of the storm and the cellar seemed by far the worst threat. I hated to be asked to go down there to fetch anything. It was full of spiders and, I imagined, other unpleasant things. My grandmother was bitten down there by a spider, probably what we now know to be a brown recluse, and had a huge pit of a scar on her leg from it.

      I also avoided the outhouse. Someone cautioned me to always check the seat before sitting down, and , from then on, I couldn't bear to go in there. I do recall the inevitable Montgomery Ward catalogue, which, as I recall, was totally inadequate for the job at hand. There was a regular bathroom in the old two story house, and I made a great effort to make it there in times of necessity.

     My grandfather apparently purchased and began to pay on a farm of his own, but when the depression came, the "Misses Andrews" evidently became financially strapped and were on the verge of losing their farm, and my grandfather made some sort of arrangement to sell his farm and save theirs in exchange for ownership of their farm with the stipulation that Clara Andrews, who was severely crippled by arthritis, would be cared for until her death. Minnie Andrews the other sister, was a registered nurse, and I don't recall that she ever lived there after I began to spend time there, but had gone to Kansas City, and at some point, got married. Consequently, Clara inhabited the entire lower floor of the house, and my grandparent's family, which had grown to 10 children, began to spill over into the upstairs bedrooms of the main house. I don't recall sleeping anywhere but in this house, usually in the room referred to as the "library", a small room on the second floor, which contained a few shelves of books and a cabinet model Victrola. I came to think of this room as "mine", and left all my treasures there when I went home after the summer. My treasure consisted of a large collection of paper dolls, a couple of beaded purses from the 1820's "flapper" era, given to me by Clara Andrews,and some rocks that were actually clumps of marine fossils that I found in the creek that ran through the lower part of the farm. One summer, when I returned, my grandmother had given my paperdolls away to a visiting cousin, and another cousin of mine was given, or had taken, the two beaded purses. I was very upset with my grandmother at the time, and still regret the loss of the purses to this day, though I have never mentioned it to my cousin, who I have met only on rare occasions. I have always been tempted to ask if she still has them, and have wondered if she valued them as much as I. I don't know what happened to my fossils, but my favorite one was mostly a solid mass of skeletons of tiny creatures with shells like a snail.

     My grandmother was evidently mystified by my tears over the paper dolls, and I don't think, ever understood why I was so upset. I don't recall that she was ever very affectionate, and my memories of her are of someone who was somewhat distant. I realize now, as an adult, that she was overwhelmed by children and work, and that she probably had all she could do just to get through a day, much less think about the importance to me of what she probably considered my "childish" treasures. Even knowing this, I am amazed that even now, I feel emotional about what I considered at the time, to be her callous disregard for my feelings, and that, somehow, I never quite felt the same about her. It makes me wonder what similar acts I may have unknowingly inflicted on my own children, that may affect them even today, as adults.

The Party Line

I remember when my grandparents had one of those old phones that hung on the wall and had to be cranked. (I never did understand how that worked) There were a lot of people on the party line and some of them would keep it tied up so long, that my grandmother would have to ask them to get off. It could get to be a real diplomatic problem, since everyone knew everyone else. We kids used to get a kick out of listening in, though it was forbidden. I also remember that my grandmother yelled into the phone as if speaking to a deaf person. I think the voice on the other end was faint, which made you feel that they couldn't hear you if you didn't yell. I'm not sure, but my brother may have that old phone. We were on a party line right here in Fort Smith when we first built our house in 1961, and were on it for many years. It was cheaper than having a private line and we were always on a tight budget. I never found the line tied up for some reason. It's funny how something will make you think back. I spent the whole summer with my grandparents every summer, and to me, that was home. It's amazing, now that I look back, at how they lived. In my earlier memories, probably up through the late 40's and 50's, they had no electricity. We used kerosene lamps.

    They had 10 kids and the place had two houses; one very old 2-1/2 story rock house, (that's where the phone was, and when the phone rang, if someone was there to answer it, they had to yell across the yard to the other house for my grandmother) and, the "cottage" that my grandparents lived in. When it got time for bed, we lighted the kerosene lamps and took off across the dark yard for the other house to go to bed. It was scary and my aunts and uncles, who were near my age, loved to hide and jump out and scare someone. You also had to be careful not to trip over the blue-tick coon hounds that were laying all over the yard. To take a bath, you had to heat water on the wood stove in the cottage and carry it across the yard to the bathtub in the other house, or, take a bath in the kitchen in a big washtub next to the wood stove. The houses were at the top of a fairly big hill, and all perishable foods were kept in a spring at the bottom of the hill. It had been dammed up with a sizeable dam, and there was a compartment left in the bottom of the dam with a door in which they kept the milk and butter. I remember that at every meal, someone had to go to the bottom of the hill for something. All meat, was provided by the farm, and was kept in the smokehouse. I never could eat the bacon. It always tasted rancid to me. (I'm sure it was) Now that I think about it, I don't recall having anything but chicken and pork, and rarely a beef roast or fish that my grandfather and uncles caught. The spring with it's dam all
covered with moss, was really beautiful. It was surrounded by big oak trees. The water was so clear that it looked shallow, but was very deep. The crawdads looked huge through that water. It somehow magnified their size. My grandfather and uncles used to go on week-long fishing trips to the White River and would come home with the most enormous catfish you have ever seen. They would hang them up on hooks out in a lean-to behind the cottage on big hooks, and use pliers to strip the skin off. The catfish hung from the rafters almost all the way to the floor, and their heads were enormous. After a fishing trip, they would have a big fish-fry down at the spring for all the neighboring families. My grandfather would drop the fish into a huge black kettle full of lard boiling over a big fire. (I think it was the same kettle that my grandmother did the wash in and was also used when they butchered hogs) The fish tasted delicious. Maybe it was just that I was hungry all the time. Thinking back, I don't know how everyone kept from getting food poisoning, with no refrigeration and all that rancid meat.

Gosh, I don't know what made me ramble on so, down "memory lane". I guess we all have such memories when we get to this age. This last century has really covered a lot of territory in technical advances, and I know my children just don't have any comprehension of experiences like I had growing up. Look what just mentioning a "party line" provoked!!

The Truck Ride

The Truck ride is my other favorite. It was a big treat to go to town in my grandfather's old black truck. It had wooden rails, that I guess were home-made, built all around the sides and the back of the cab. I guess it was used to haul cattle at times. We would climb up on the rails behind the cab, so we could see everything. Our hair whipped around in the wind, and it seemed like we squinted all the way to town, though I don't know how we got that much velocity when my grand-dad drove in second gear with the engine whining and protesting, all the way. Looking back, he was probably a terrible driver; one of those "old farmers" that my high school boyfriends "cussed" about when they pulled out on the highway in front of them, and then puttered along at 15-20 mph, riding the brakes on every hill and curve.

Little Children Lost

We had to take a "good" chaw of the tobacco, chew it up, and then suck the raw egg. This was devised by my older uncles, who got a great kick out of all the gagging and vomiting. It was really kind of mean, but then, so were they. I think this all took place after my mother had left me there and gone, for I don't think she would have allowed it, had she been around.

I am working on this story and it is running away with me. I was trying to recall my earliest memory, and it is of my grandmother rocking me and singing a song about two children who wandered into the woods, got lost and died, and the birds covered them up with strawberry leaves. I always cried at the last part. Have you ever heard such a song? I wish I could remember the words and tune. There are people who collect and study the old songs from pioneer families, and I'm sure this song was probably a remnant of those old pioneer days or maybe even earlier to the immigrants, but I just can't remember it.


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