The township was formed in 1869 and was named after Nashville, TN. By
1890, the population was about three hundred souls. When we moved there in
January 1939 maybe fifty people lived in Nashville proper while perhaps two
hundred lived within a three-mile radius. The main street (with no name) had
three grocery stores operated by Gay Pope, Ern Beaty (he sold carried many
items found in five and dime stores) and my folks, a post office with the
postmaster (who was also the barber) and a blacksmith shop. One block over
were two churches--Methodist and Christian (Disciples)-- and the two-room
school. Interesting enough, many families who traded with us at Medoc now
lived near Nashville and traded with us there.
We felt at home in Nashville because we had lived there for a short time
in 1933 when the folks worked in the store that Aunt Susie and Uncle Elmer
Kibler ran for Granddad Hightower. They still ran the store when we lived at
Medoc from 1933 to 1937 so we visited there a lot and became acquainted with
many people, especially Bun and Ruth Armstrong. Their store building had two
floors and some organization (I think it was the Grange) kept a mechanical
goat on the second floor. Lois, June and I thought it great fun to sneak up
the stairs and ride that critter.
Mom and Dad rented the old Neusom store building that had an apartment on
the side. The building was heated with coal stoves and we carried water in
from a well. It was the typical general store with groceries, dry goods,
clothing, hardware and farm supplies such as horse collars, horse blankets,
animal feed, a wall telephone and kerosene lights that soon were replaced by
The apartment had three rooms. Mom cooked on a three-burner gasoline
stove with an oven on the side. Soon after we moved there, REA (Rural
Electrification Agency) brought electricity to the community so we had
electric lights in the store and the apartment.
Our store, like the one at Medoc, became the gathering place for teenage
boys who got along great with Mom and Dad. They liked to work on cars and
Dad ran an extension cord out in front of the store so they could work late
at night. This upset Gay Pope who ran one of the other stores because he
said the folks were encouraging those good-for-nothings. One Halloween the
boys came over to say Ern Beaty had put kerosene on his store windows so
they couldn't be soaped. Mom gave them a bucket of hot water, yellow soap
and rags which they used to wash the windows. Then they used the remaining
soap on Beaty's and Pope's store windows. The next year Ern locked up early
and went home without doing anything to his windows so the boys left him
alone turning their attention to Guy Pope’s store. As they started soaping
the store windows, Gay chased them down the street. Where did they go? Why,
through the large front doors of Thurman’s store which the folks had
accidentally left open with the lights turned off. Of course, Gay couldn't
follow them inside the darkened store. He stood outside yelling so everyone
in the community could hear that Dad and Mom housed bandits. Of course, the
people in the community had a big laugh at Gay’s expense.
A person really had to be alert around those boys because they were
always pulling practical jokes. Take the time they were working on a Model A
and, hot wiring it, they ran a wire to a metal post on the porch so anyone
leaning against it got shocked. The trick was to get the person who got
shocked to keep it secret so new victims could be set up. One night Tom
Murray was the victim and he took it with good nature. A few days he had a
heart attack and died while working in the hay field. That sobered the boys
up quickly and they stopped pulling that particular trick.
I liked to watch Pat Patterson, the black smithy, at work. That man was
an artist. He could take a straight piece of iron, put it in the forge until
red-hot, lay it on the anvil and shape it into a shoe to fit the particular
horse he was working on. He made wagon wheels, parts for plows and wagons
and many other items. He let me turn the bellows to heat the forge and I
thought I was really helping. By 1939, very little of the turn of the
century ways remained in our lives. Although we still sang the old songs,
played the old games, had traveling shows and used many of the folk
medicines, other parts that we did at Medoc were gone --shiverees, the
blessing after the marriage ceremony and sitting up when someone died. The
people at Nashville were not as close as those at Medoc so we never got
together to make ice cream or play cards. Most people had cars and had even
done some traveling, some out to California in search of jobs, others to
Kansas City to see the Royal Livestock show and nearly all to Joplin. The
Depression was still on but there were farmers who made a good living, drove
nice cars and lived in nice homes. And, the REA brought electricity to the
people who wanted it.
Good People Here, Too
Our closest friends were the Bun and Ruth Armstrong, Aris and Emma
Parkers and Merle and Pauline James. Bun and Ruth Armstrong were long time
friends of Mom and Dad. Clint, their son, was my teacher when I was in the
eighth grade and I really liked him. Glenna Parker was about the same age of
my sister so they did things together. I spent a lot of time at the farm of
Merle and Pauline James who had two children just a little younger than I.
Charlie Bauer had a farm just south of our store on Highway 43. They had
a son with Downs Syndrome who was kept hidden from the public. He was put
out in the barn or upstairs in the house. So I saw him very few times even
though I played with their boys many times and I worked for Charlie
Francis Polston, Marvin Burnside and Archie James, three teenagers, spent
a lot of time at our store. I guess in part because they got along with Dad
and in part because of my teenage sister, Lois, who dated Francis. They dug
our well when we moved to Highway 43. Francis and Marvin were just like big
brothers to me. Francis taught me to drive when I was eleven years old using
his Dad’s school bus. Since I couldn't reach the gas pedal or brake, he
crouched down and took care of them while I steered. Mom said the first she
knew of this was when she glanced out of the store window and there was the
bus coming down the road and all she could see was my tow head over the
steering wheel. I moved up (or down) to a pick up truck and finally a car.
Not many cars were around in 1939 so it wasn't too dangerous.
But back to Francis. I knew he had a reputation for being kind of wild
but he taught me to always treat girls with respect so I listened to what he
said, not what people said about him. I guess the one time when I was
bothered was when his Dad brought some tires down to the store for Dad to
sell. One morning they were gone and come to find out, Francis had taken and
sold them, keeping the money himself. When he was killed at the Battle of
Midway, I felt as though I had lost a member of the family. When the navy
sent his personal items home in a large box, Coy, his Dad, called our family
to come up to their home and when we got there, he asked Dad to open the box
because he couldn’t do it. It was a sad occasion.
Then there was Tommy Shaunce, the brother to Lucien who married Aunt
Flora. He was rather odd but very well liked. So far as I know, Tommy never
had a permanent home after his wife died years earlier. He just went where
the spirit moved him. One day, he stopped by the store to tell Dad that he
had just returned from Neosho where he attended an auction. What’s unusual
about this? Well, Neosho was close to forty miles south of us and he hitch
hiked the entire distance going and coming. He knew he wasn’t going to buy
anything. He just wanted to see the auction. Tommy had some very odd ways.
He lived in the smokehouse at our place on the highway while Dad was fixing
the house and the well was being dug. Dad put in a small coal monkey stove
and Tommy would fry up a skillet full of sausage and scrambled eggs. After
eating some for breakfast, he would push the remainder to the back of the
stove to stay warm until he was ready to eat again. His dessert was apple
butter on crackers. This was his diet for nearly a month when he switched to
cheese and crackers for the next several weeks. After that, back to sausage
and eggs. We were puzzled why things didn’t spoil but if they did, he
certainly wasn’t affected.
As you might expect Tommy was a candidate for teasing and tease him the
boys did. The three teenagers who dug our well told him to be careful when
he walked around because they had lost some caps used to set off dynamite
somewhere around the smokehouse. That night they went out to the place and
set off some torpedoes, a type of fireworks, so it sounded like the caps
were exploding. For the next couple of days, Tommy wouldn’t leave the
smokehouse for fear he would get blown up. Dad heard the boys laughing about
it and told them to stop teasing so they told Tommy they had located all of
the caps and it was safe to come out.
Dad kidded Mom that Tommy came to the store just because of her, knowing
this would get her goat and it did. Tommy chewed tobacco and two brown lines
dribbled down his chin. Just the thoughts of Tommy and his tobacco made her
shudder. Boys in the community picked up on this and so at the school box
supper, they would nominate her and Tommy as the sweetest couple and they
won the sugar and creamer set.
For all of his peculiar ways, I doubt there was any man in the community
more trusted than Tommy. People knew he was honest and wouldn’t hesitate to
leave him alone at their farm with the house unlocked and the door wide
open. They also knew he gave a day’s work for a day’s pay. He was especially
good at clearing trees but he met his match at our place. We had a large
stand of black jack oak which is one of the hardest oaks there is. When he
cut a tree down he worked all around, chipping away until it fell. It looked
like a beaver at work. When Dad asked why he did it this way, he said he was
hoping to find some soft wood. No such luck, tho.
But, there were still those folks whose world was very limited. Take the
Bill Flaker family. In 1940 when Mrs. Flaker came into the store all excited
because they had driven to Joplin and it had taken only one hour to make the
twenty-mile trip. She told Mom, "Miz Thurman, I had the best sandwich in
Joplin. I don’t know what it was called but it had chopped beef that was
fried and put between two heels of bread with mustard." She had eaten her
first hamburger. Another time she told Mom that she had learned a way of
fixing potatoes other than boiling them. "You take taties and slice them and
put salt and peppy on them and cook them in hot grease. They are really good
that way." These foods were as new and exotic to her as lobster and raw
oysters were to me years later.
Claude, called Claudie or Snapper, Crouch was both postmaster and barber.
Claude was naive and gullible so he was on the receiving end of many
practical jokes. Problem is, he never caught on that he was being joked so I
guess the joke was really on the jokers. He drove a Model T Ford and
whenever anything went wrong, he called Roydon Coss who had a shop at
Cossville, some five miles away. He called Roydon so often that a song was
Claudie had a Ford machine
He filled it up with kerosene
He cranked and cranked
But the darned thing wouldn’t start
Then it wouldn’t wait til he got in
And now he owns a pile of tin
But every month he walks right up and pays
Roydon Cross, Roydon Coss
So much down and so much every certain day
It wouldn’t wait til he got in
And now he owns a pile of tin
But every month he walks right up and pays.
Ole Snapper thought it was right funny. He was not a good barber and I
wouldn’t let him cut my hair. He used hand held clippers but the trouble was
they weren’t sharp and he didn’t open them fully when he finished so he
pulled hairs out by the root. One time a salesman asked Uncle Elmer if
Claude could give a shave and Uncle Elmer, who was a practical joker,
assured him there was no better in the area (which was right -- because
there was no other barber in the area). Well, when the salesman got
settled in the chair, Snapper put an apron around him. Then, he opened the
back door and brought in a pail of water that was partially frozen. Breaking
the ice, Snapper took the soap brush and tried to make some lather in that
cold water which he put on the man’s face. Then, soaking a towel in the
water, he wrapped it around the man’s face to soften the whiskers. The
salesman said he more than likely froze them. Finally, Claudie took his
straight razor and scraped away. The salesman came back to the store and
said he didn’t think Snapper had sharpened that blade for a year. Needless
to say, he didn’t thank Uncle Elmer for sending him over to Snapper.
Snapper, who never married, lived with his mother, Aunt Em, who was in
her eighties. One day, a friend went to visit Aunt Em and found her in
tears. When asked why she was crying, Aunt Em replied, through her sobs,
that so and so had died. The friend said she didn’t believe she knew anyone
by that name. "Of course you know her. She is on Stella Dallas." Aunt Em had
been listening to a soap opera.
The Methodist and Christian churches were located across the street from
one another. Ernest Beaty, who ran the grocery and dime store, went to the
Methodist while Gay Pope, who also had a grocery store, went to the
Christian. People showed their loyalty to their church by trading with the
store keeper of their denomination. Well, Claudie was the custodian of the
Christian Church but one day he bought something from Ern. Gay told him that
if he wanted to continue being custodian, he better not do that again. He
was to buy whatever he needed from Gay. Since Mom and Dad did not attend
church, people didn’t have a conflict so we had customers from both
Then there were the very poor people. A few of the poorest lived on the
‘lost forty’, a ridge of wooded land that lay west and south of Nashville.
Small plots of land were cleared to raise some corn and a little garden. I
have no idea of how it got its name but no one claimed ownership and the
land was not on any tax roll.
When driving up the ridge into the lost forty, the first house was the
goat woman, so named because she kept goats that ranged all around including
inside the house. The story was she had a college education and lost her
mind when her husband died. She was very friendly and had a daughter about
three years younger than I who was very sweet and smart. She liked to draw
and was good at it. Going on back a ways was Puss Rowe (rhymed with owl),
his wife and her sister who lived in extreme poverty in a tar paper shack.
He was the target of cruel teasing by teenage boys who called "Here puss,
puss" when he came to town. Deacon Helms and his brood also had a place on
After a couple of years in Nashville, the folks bought thirty acres on
Highway 43 about a mile south from town. It had a lot of woods and two
fields that could be farmed. Dad rented both of them to some farmer who
planted corn and pumpkins. It was a good place to hunt quail and rabbits.
In the summer of 1940, the folks moved a four-room house in from the coal
fields. Mom and I painted the entire outside of the house white. The REA ran
an electric line but, for some strange reason, did not put in a meter so we
had free power for several months.
Now a well was needed but where should it be dug? How about dowsing or
witching a well by using a limb from a cherry tree to find the water? Well,
that is just what Granddad Hightower did. Taking a small forked cherry
branch in his hands, he began walking back and forth near the house.
Suddenly, the branch started to quiver and then near the southeast corner of
the house, it dipped straight down. Granddad pointed to the spot to dig
saying water was down about twenty feet or so. He figured the depth out by
the number of times the cherry branch moved up and down. Of course, the
farmers who lived near us had a field day laughing because the shallowest
well anywhere around was at least sixty feet deep. But Dad, who had faith in
his father-in-law, asked Francis, Marvin and Archy if they would dig it.
They drew a circle in the ground and built a pulley over it to bring up the
dirt. At about twenty three feet water started in and at twenty five feet it
came in such a stream they had to stop. Dad had the last laugh. Not only was
it shallower than other wells in the area but it was the only one with
sweet, soft water.
Dad also built a store building. I had just finished the sixth grade and
was rather small for my age. I guess I weighed about 85 pounds and was about
5' 3" tall. I mention this because I helped him as best I could but being
short I probably was more of a disability than help. He walled the inside
with plywood which wasn't hard for me but the ceiling was a different
matter. Dad made a T brace for me so when he lifted a 4x8 foot section of
plywood to nail to the ceiling, I held up the other end. He had a lot of
patience because sometimes my arms gave out. I also helped stain the walls
with orange shellac. That summer was quite hot and as he said, when we put
the stain on, you could hear the plywood drink it in.
I really enjoyed living on the highway. There were a lot of trees, a
small stream meandered through the fields and I had a lot of places to
explore. Sometimes I cut across the fields to visit a schoolmate who lived
about one half mile away. I rode my bike to school and to visit friends who
lived as far as five miles away.
Actually, my best friend was Butch, a small brown terrier. As I roamed
the woods, Butch chased squirrels and rabbits, never catching either one and
I’m not certain he wanted to. Grandmother Hightower gave me this poem
My Dog Butch
Two dark eyes in which I see
Courage, faith and love for me,
Two perky ears that listen and hear
My commands that sound so dear.
Not much of a name
And no pedigree;
What care I what
His breed may be
He’s Butch to me
A man may smile and bid you hail
Yet wish you with the devil;
But when good ole Butch wags his tail
I know he’s on the level.
He had one fault. He liked to chase cars and he was killed one summer
afternoon while chasing a car on the highway. I can’t describe the pain I
felt. When the folks drove down to Medoc later that evening to see Uncle
Elmer and Aunt Susie, June and I sat in the kitchen and she mourned with me.
I don’t remember anything she said but they were just the right words
because I felt better when we went home. He was my last dog.
Prince, a regal German shepherd, came to our place. At first he was very
wild and wouldn’t let any of us touch him. Lois, who named him, determined
to tame Prince so she put out food and then she talked to him in a calm
voice. After a few days, she walked closer and closer but didn’t try to
touch him. Soon, she not only was able to walk up to Prince but was able to
pet him. In time, he became friendly to all of us. Prince was really a smart
animal. One time when Butch ran after a car, Prince went out into the road,
growled, circled Butch and then made him return to the yard. I wish he had
been around that last time when Butch chased a car. When we moved, we asked
a friend if he would like to have Prince and he was delighted. When we tried
to put Prince into the back seat of the car, he went wild, snapping and
growling. There was no way he was going to get into that car. Some folks who
lived just down the road from us said they would care for him and they
walked him to their place where he seemed to be very happy.
Just as Mom and I had spent a lot of time together fishing at Medoc, we
did a lot of things together on the highway. We picked wild greens,
blackberries and mushrooms and we hunted squirrels. She took my twenty-two
rifle while I used the four ten shotgun...and she usually shot more
squirrels than I did.
Dad bartered groceries and feed for pigs, which he fattened out and sold
either to a meat packing plant or at the stockyards. He would give me a
shoat to feed out and I got the money when we took them to market. One day,
Dad wanted to take a Chester White sow and several of her shoats to market
so he backed the truck up to the loading dock and told me to drive them up
the chute into the truck. Well, I got into the pen and as I started the
shoats toward the other end, I heard a loud squeal. Turning around, I saw
the sow with her mouth wide open heading straight toward me in a run.
Needless to say, I took off down the pen and climbed up the side of the
chute in nothing flat B while Dad roared with laughter. At first I didn’t
see anything funny but then it struck me how I must have looked running down
the pen and up the side. After the sow calmed down, I got back into the pen
and put the her in the truck first and then loaded the shoats. Didn’t have
any trouble that time. Later on, Dad laughed that he didn’t realize just how
fast I could run. Of course, I had some incentive.
Although business was good and Dad said they made money, it never was as
good as in Nashville. The people who lived west and north of Nashville
stopped off at Pope's store rather than drive an extra mile to get the same
supplies at our store. In 1941, Dad got a construction job at Camp Crowder
and Mom continued running the store. Then the war came and things got hard
to get. When Granddad Hightower became very ill in the fall of 1942, Mom
spent a lot of time with him so they decided to close the store.
In January 1944, Lois and Ed got married and moved to Texas. Dad worked
away from home for a time so there was just Mom and me out there. In late
November 1944, the folks decided to move to Vancouver, WA to work in the
shipyard so they sold the place and stored all of our furniture at
Grandmother Hightower’s home in Alba. I was sort of sad to leave that place
in the country but was excited to see what the west looked like.
Fourth of July
The Fourth of July was the largest community celebration that we had. It
was a big community party for even the poorest because the fireworks finale
at Joplin Schifferdecker Park or the Pittsburg Municipal Park was free to
I was up and at ‘em early on the morning of the Fourth, setting off
strings of ladyfingers and shooting my homemade cannon because this was Amy
Actually, for me, the celebration started in mid-June when Lee Luwinski,
the salesman for Bullard and Bell wholesale dry goods company, came to the
store to show the fireworks line. He knew the Fourth was my birthday so he
would give me some unusual toy and some firecrackers. Then, the folks
stocked up on fireworks for the store and let me have all I wanted. How did
they ever make a profit?
I liked to make cannons. Using a short metal pipe for the barrel, I
loaded a missile in the front end, put a large firecracker with the fuse
sticking out at the rear and packed the opening with clay so the blast went
forward. After lighting the fuse, I stood aside to watch the missile fly off
toward the target. It was also fun to put a tin can over a large firecracker
and watch it shoot high into the air. At Nashville, a group of us boys
created an interesting game when we took firecrackers about the size of my
thumb and encased them in clay so they were about an inch in diameter.
Putting one in the pocket of a sling shot, I’d pull the rubber back as far
as I could and wait for another boy to light the fuse. Now came the exciting
part. The game was to see how long I could hold the firecracker before
letting it fly. If I misjudged, it went off in my hand and, boy howdy, did
that smart! If I guessed right, it shot high into the air and exploded as it
arced, dropping bits of clay down below. We could count on Mr. Raisoner
complaining that "Someone has been shooting a shotgun at my house." Dad
would ask what made him think so and he would say he could hear the pellets
hitting the roof. Sometimes Dad asked us to aim some other direction which
we did, right over Red Nichol’s tin roof barn. Soon, Red was complaining.
Boy, we couldn’t have any fun at all!
Our family went to an old fashioned Fourth-of-July at Galesburg where
Granddad Hightower had a grocery story in 1934 and 1935. It was about three
miles from Medoc. A large pasture was cleared for the gathering and booths
were decorated with red, white and blue bunting. I remember one sold cold
drinks but I imagine others sold cakes, sandwiches and souvenirs. Someone, I
have no idea who, stood on a gaily decorated platform and no doubt gave what
to adults was a rousing patriotic speech -- though to a six-year-old boy it
was just loud talking. I laughed as we watched teenage boys try to catch the
greased pig or climb the greased pole to claim the dollar at the top. Men
pitched horseshoes. Swimmers swung out over Spring River on ropes and dived
into the cold swift water. And, of course, people visited, ate and enjoyed.
It was a fun day.
We started going to the park at Pittsburg, KS, after we moved to
Nashville. The park would be filled with adults and children and we knew
many because they were from our community. There was a large pavilion where
couples danced the two step or fox trot to the music of A.J.Cripes Playboys
or some other local string band. Boys roamed the grounds shooting off
fireworks and throwing torpedoes, objects the size of marbles that exploded
upon impact, under the feet of unsuspecting adults and squealing girls.
Teenage boys wore straw bowlers with such bold sayings as "Don’t Go Kicking
My Dog Around" or "Kiss Me Quick" or "I’m a Salty Dog." Then, after dark, a
dazzling display of fireworks filled the darkened sky to the oohs and ahhhs
of the crowd. After we got home, we put on our own show with Dad and me
shooting off Roman candles, spinning wheels and other fireworks.
My last visit to Pittsburg on the Fourth was in 1946 just before I
shipped overseas. I took a group of teenage friends from Joplin and the
atmosphere was just like it was before the war.
Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother's house we go
The horse knows the way and carries the sleigh
Over white and drifted snow
Over the river and through the woods
Be quick, you dapple gray
Hurrah for the sun, is the pudding done?
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day
Well, we did go to Grandmother's house on Thanksgiving Day although not
by sleigh. Snow was rare this early.
Bird season opened in early November so it was traditional for men to
hunt quail and ducks on Thanksgiving morn. Dad and Uncle Elmer would be off
at day break while Mom and Aunt Susie started cooking. After the men
returned, our trucks were loaded with good food and off we'd go to
Grandmother and Granddad Hightower.
What a feast. There would be roast beef, baked hen, quail and wild duck
(when the men had good luck hunting). I remember eating turkey only once and
it was very dry. We also had goose once but it was too greasy. Bowls were
filled with bread dressing, sweet potatoes in brown sugar syrup topped with
melted marshmallows, mashed potatoes with a puddle of yellow butter in the
center, home made noodles, home canned green beans, pinto beans,
orange-pineapple-carrot Jello salad, slaw, pickles and piccalilli (pickled
green pepper called mangos filled with ground green tomatoes and cabbage).
Grandmother's "light rolls" were tall and tasty (the leavening was potato
water instead of yeast) and went great with home churned butter. The oven
did not have a thermometer but she had her hand which she stuck in to see if
the temperature was just right.
Ah, the desserts! There was the traditional "sticky lemon cake" that
Grandmother baked. Mom might bring a chocolate or a burnt sugar cake and
several different pies (might be custard, lemon, chocolate, banana creme or
coconut creme) and the other women folk brought their favorite desserts.
After eating, the men went to the living room to talk until they dozed
off to sleep. The women were in the kitchen cleaning up. And, the children
were playing upstairs although we would run into the kitchen to get "just
one more roll."
President Roosevelt, in 1939, managed to create some confusion around
this holiday when he proclaimed the third Thursday of November as
Thanksgiving Day instead of the fourth Thursday. The idea was to help the
economy by giving a longer shopping period before Christmas. Well, that set
off a firestorm and while it was a national holiday on the third Thursday,
most states and people continued to observe it on the fourth. This continued
until 1941 when Congress made the fourth Thursday official.
Christmas Day was an exciting time. Decorations were not as fancy as
today and did not go up until maybe the third week of December. We decorated
the dining room and a few days before Christmas, Mom opened the box with all
of the decorations in it. Then we ran twisted red and green crepe paper
strips from the four corners to the red bell that hung in the middle of the
room. It looked like a half of a bell when it came out of the box with the
front and back made of stiff paper and hinged at one edge. When pulled at
the edges, it opened up to a whole red bell with the inside looking sort of
like a red honey comb with a knob hanging down.
Then Dad and I went out in the woods to find a cedar tree which the
family decorated with glass ornaments, tinsel and a glass bird with a fiber
glass tail that went on the top. There were no lights since we didn’t have
electricity and candles were too much of a fire hazard. And, I don’t
remember anyone wishing for a white Christmas. I don’t think that became
popular around our area until 1942 when Bing Crosby sang "I’m Dreaming Of A
White Christmas" in the movie "Holiday Inn."
On Christmas morning, people greeted one another with "Christmas Gift"
meaning the gift (birth) of Jesus.
I don’t remember much ever being said about Santa Claus except at school
programs. We would have a tree at school which we decorated. We also drew
names with a limit on how much we could spend but we also gave gifts to our
best friends. Many children made their gifts because they didn’t have any
money. We always had a Christmas program at night for the community at which
we sang, recited poems and put on a play. I guess I was in the third grade
when I recited
Guess I’ll get forty eleven presents
Cause I’ve been good as good can be.
Maw and Paw are worried
Cause they ain’t no flies on me
Just ask my folks, I’ve been so good
They didn’t know what to think.
They were ‘fraid I was getting sick
For I’ve hardly dared to wink,
Clint Armstrong, my eighth grade teacher at Nashville, asked me to play
Santa Claus at the Christmas program which I did. I was rather slender so
Ruth, his mother, dressed me up in the red suit and stuffed pillows around
my waist so I was plump. I walked in saying "Ho, Ho, Ho" to the delight of
children and adults -- of course everyone knew who I was -- and passed out
the presents and candy. It was a fun evening.
Decoration Day was very important to my family and to the people in our
community. It was more than honoring fallen warriors; it was remembering all
loved ones who had died.
Grandmother Thurman, Osa and Helen came up from Pawhuska and we’d get
together with Aunt Susie and her family, Grandmother Hightower and Aunt Ruth
and her family. Mom and the other women began cutting wild flowers such as
Bachelor’s Buttons and Daisies on the afternoon before and early the next
morning we finished up by cutting purple flags (iris) and other flowers that
We then began the trek to cemeteries to place quart jars filled with
water and cut flowers on the graves as a sign of family love and memory. Our
first stop might be Weavers where Hightower family members were buried. We
children looked forward to going to Weavers because wild strawberries would
be ripe and we spent our time eating these delicious sweet berries while the
adults decorated graves. From 1936 until I went into the army, I decorated
the grave of Henry Keesee, a man from Medoc I greatly admired. My cousin
June continued the tradition for me for many years after I left the area.
From Weavers, we might go to Oronogo where Grandmother Sallee was buried.
Next, to Carterville where Granddad and Uncle George Thurman were buried as
well as Grandmother Thurman’s sisters. Just north was the Carter Cemetery
where Great Granddad Foster was buried. Then we’d stop at Harmony Grove
where Uncle Elmer’s father was laid to rest.
The day ended at Alba where we gathered to eat and visit.
A Sucker Born Every Minute - The Medicine Show Is In Town
P.T. Barnum, the famous circus operator, supposedly said, "There is a
sucker born every minute." Now, I don't know whether or not he did but I saw
a lot of evidence that it was true especially when medicine shows came to
These shows brought in a lot of business so Dad let them set up on the
back of our lot for no charge. They stayed for a week, closing down after
the Saturday night show. The side of a trailer was let down to form a stage,
folding chairs were set up and a canvas wall was erected. I don’t remember
how much people paid to see the show but it was probably a dime.
The head of the show was called "doctor" who sold special medicine
supposed to cure anything that ailed you. The performers, who lived in
trailers, included an Indian who supposedly had given the secret recipe to
the doctor and he would talk or dance as well as other performers who sang,
danced and put on a plays. One time two young sisters sang "You Must Have
Been A Beautiful Baby," and really won over the crowd.
Between acts, performers moved throughout the crowd selling boxes of salt
water taffy and other candy, satin pillows with scenes on them and, of
course, bottles of medicine which sold for 50 cents a bottle or three
bottles for a dollar. Mom swore by the medicine sold by one group because it
stopped her cough. Of course, we kidded her saying it probably was ninety
per cent alcohol because it burned all the way down.
There was always a contest for the most popular girl with people
nominating different girls from the community for whom they voted by turning
in empty candy wrappers and boxes they had bought. Lois, my sister, was
popular among the teenage boys and one year she was elected and won the
‘diamond’ ring prize.
The jokes and plays always included some suggestive material -- and the
meanings were usually over my head. One year the last play on the final
night had a man using a fishing rod. During the play, he cast out to the
side of the crowd and reeled in a pair of women’s ‘bloomers’ (panties). Of
course, women blushed, men roared -- and, while I wondered what was so
funny, I knew what the closing line, "There’s a sucker born every minute,"
Later in the week after the medicine show left the community, some men
came into the store to complain that the medicine didn’t cure whatever it
was supposed to cure. Since the medicine show had set up on our place, they
wanted Dad to give them their money back. He laughed, "Boys, didn’t he tell
you there’s a sucker born every minute? Why, you was took." When they
persisted in wanting their money back, he told them the show had moved to
Purcell, about eight miles away and they should go there for their money.
Several men drove to Purcell that night and after the show hit the ‘doctor’
up for their money. He agreed they were due a refund but, "Boys, I just
don’t have enough cash to give it to you right now. If you come back in the
morning, I’ll have it for you." This sounded like a reasonable suggestion so
they agreed. Then, just before they left, he said, "It sure looks like rain
and I need to pack up my tent. If I wait until morning, I’ll have a dickens
of a time folding it up. Will you boys help me take it down and put it in
the trailer?" Why sure, they would and they did. And, you probably have
guessed what they found when they returned the next day. An empty lot. Dad
sure had a lot of fun razzing them after that about ‘a sucker born every
These shows were lots of fun and added something different to our lives.
I don’t remember Halloween being celebrated at Medoc but at Nashville it
was a big night for pulling tricks. Both teenage boys and girls got into the
act as they turned over privies (outdoor toilets) and did other forms of
mischief like the time some boys took Merle James’ wagon apart and
reassembled it on the roof of Ern Beaty’s store. Dad and Mom, who always got
along great with the teenagers, weren’t bothered. In fact, though I blush to
mention it, the folks even helped the boys. Take the time Ern Beaty put coal
oil on his windows so they couldn’t be soaped. When the boys told Mom about
it, she heated some water and gave them some yellow laundry soap so they
could clean the windows. Then, they soaped them good with that same yellow
soap. Another time, the boys were bothering Gay Pope and when he chased them
down the street, they ran into our store B seems the folks conveniently had
left the front doors open and lights off. Gay, who couldn’t follow them in
the store, stood out in the middle of the road yelling that Dad sided with
Another year, when we lived on Highway 43, a gang of young people
including my sister Lois had been to a party and ended up in Nashville.
There they saw Gay Pope marching back and forth in front of his store to
assure nothing was done to his windows. That presented a challenge to those
teenagers who accepted with it gusto.
Well, they crowded around Gay. As he told them what they weren’t going to
do, Cleona McCool stood with her back to the window doing it, that is giving
the window a good soaping. Other young people were stacking empty oil cans
in front of the door. And, still others were busily doing other things. Gay
took down names of those he knew but he didn’t know the girl soaping the
window. "What is your name?" he demanded. Sweetly, Cleona, seeing the handle
on the gasoline pump, answered, "Sally Pumphandle." He then announced in a
loud voice that he was turning their names over to Mr. Reasoner, the Justice
of the Peace and was going to demand justice.
Lois came home very upset and so were the folks. She because of being in
trouble with the law and probably being in trouble with the folks for coming
home so late. The folks because she was so late. Tearfully, Lois
explained what she and her friends had done and what Gay Pope was going to
do. In a stern voice, Dad said she should not have gotten mixed up in
something like that but he would talk to Mr. Reasoner to straighten things
out. As I remember it, Lois was very relieved that the folks were so
understanding until Mom started laughing. That’s when, as Paul Harvey would
say, Lois learned the rest of the story and she didn’t see the humor. Not
only had Dad, Mom and I supplied the kids with the empty oil cans but we had
hauled them to Nashville. When we got there, Mom hurt her leg as she fell
down getting out of the car. We also were watching as the young people,
including Lois, hoorawed Gay. Next morning, Dad and several parents met with
Gay and Mr. Reasoner to explain that what the kids did was good clean fun
and as nothing serious had happened, they better forget all about it. They
took the advice and dropped it.
The One Elephant Circus
Imagine a "circus" with an elephant, a laughing hyena, dogs, monkeys and
a clown coming to Nashville. I stood in front of the hyena cage for a long
time but it never did laugh! We did, though, as we watched the dogs go head
first down the slide, jump over one another and leap through hoops of fire.
Lois got to be in one of the acts, too. I really felt important because I
got to take the elephant down to a pool of water for a drink. Because the
circus was on our lot, we got in free.
Talky Movies Come to Nashville
Ern Beaty operated a silent movie house as part of his store until the
mid thirties. That meant the nearest movie house was at Pittsburg, some six
miles away. Well, in 1939, the Hi-Y Club from Mindenmines High School came
down on Saturday nights and showed sound movies on the side of our store.
The show began with a serial such as "Burn’em Up Barnes," a race driver who
got into all kinds of scraps and each episode ended with a cliff hanger such
as a fiery car crash, Barnes falling over a cliff or a big fight. This was
followed by a three or four-reeler of some western or mystery movie. A
collection was taken up to pay for the expense and to help the Hi-Y Club.
The School as the Community Center
The one and two-room schools served as the social center for the
community. One of the most enjoyable events was the pie and box supper.
First people in the community put on a program. Then, the silliness took
over with contests in which people were nominated as ‘the man with the
biggest feet’ (the winner got a large pair of socks), ‘the man with the
dirtiest feet’ (yellow laundry soap)and the ‘sweetest couple’ (cream and
sugar set). Folk voted by giving money which went to the school. Usually the
people nominated were opposites like Mom and Tommy Shaunce (an old man who
chewed tobacco). And, one night they won the sweetest couple award. It was
just fun and actually showed who was popular and good natured.
The pie and box supper auction, the real "entertainment," began after the
program and auction. Teenage girls and adult women in the community fixed a
dinner for two in a box which they decorated up with tissue paper and crepe
paper ribbons for teenage boys and men to bid on. The woman was supposed to
keep secret which was her box but, of course, she had her own tricks to let
the man of her choice know which box was hers because the highest bidder got
to eat the food with the person who fixed it. Most boxes probably went for
maybe seventy-five cents or a dollar but if boys caught on that a particular
boy wanted the box of a certain girl, they might run the bidding up to five
or six dollars. All of the proceeds went to the school to buy books,
supplies and other things that the teacher needed.
Every boy I knew carried a pocket knife everywhere he went including
school and we used it to whittle, to cut branches for kites and to play
mumble peg. We cut strips from an inner tube and trimmed a fork from a tree
branch to make a sling shot.
Lois and her girl friends played paper dolls they cut out from the Sears
or Wards catalog. They played jacks. They dressed up using turn of the
century clothes from Mrs. Jennings, who lived next door to us. They might
have baby dolls that opened and closed their eyes but only the most
fortunate girl had a real Shirley Temple doll with long, curly hair.
My sister Lois, cousins , Ginger and Jacque and I had a lot of fun using
our imagination at Granddad and Grandmother Hightower’s house at Alba. After
eating dinner, we’d go upstairs to an empty bedroom that had a very large
walk-in closet where we put on plays for each other. Ginger and I would go
into the closet where we’d plan a song and dance production. Then we’d come
out and after introducing ourselves as Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers
(popular movie starts), we’d sing and dance. Lois and might be next and
they’d be some movie stars. This might go on for a couple of hours. Or, we’d
go outside and play in the yard, rolling down the grassy slope in the front
yard or playing games such as "Pretty or Ugly" or "Statue."
Several boys at Nashville rode their bicycles to school and we made up
games using them. During my seventh grade the weather was too wet to play
outside in winter so we rode our bicycles in the front hall which was just
long enough and wide enough for two bikes. We took turns and the idea was to
make the circle without hitting the wall or the other bike. This took skill
and patience. In nice weather, we used teeter totters as obstacle courses.
We started out on the lower ones which were only a couple of feet off of the
ground. We’d ride the bike up the board to just the mid point, step on the
brake, lean forward to make the board go down the other side and then ride
down the other side. It took skill to know just when to stop and lean
forward. If you did it too soon, you lost the momentum and fell off the
board. If you waited too late, the board went down very fast and again you
fell. Once we mastered the lower ones, we moved to the higher ones with
midpoints about four feet off the ground. I broke two pedals and a goose
neck on the bike but no bones. We also took girls for a ride.
I now realize one game was dangerous but back then it was exciting. A
large maple tree was behind the Nashville school and I and a couple of other
boys would climb up about ten or fifteen feet and then move out on the
limbs. Meanwhile, on the ground, Mr. Foraker, the teacher, and other boys
took hedge apples (hard, green fruit that grew on hedge trees) and tried to
hit us. If we were able to catch a hedge apple, we threw it back at them on
the ground. It is a wonder that none of us ever fell out of the tree or was
injured when hit. Clint Armstrong, the eighth grade teacher at Nashville,
liked to ice skate so when winter came, he put our recesses together with
the lunch hour and took us to a frozen pond for ninety minutes of skating.
It was a lot of fun.
SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAZE
School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days
Schools I attended were a far cry from modern day schools. None had well
lighted and colorful carpeted rooms, nice furniture, a cafeteria,
well-equipped gym and a large library with books, computers, videos, tape
players. The two rural elementary schools I attended were white frame
buildings. The one at Medoc had one room for all eight grades while the one
at Nashville had two rooms B the lower room for grades one through four and
the upper room for grades five through eight. The two small town schools
were brick buildings. The school at Alba housed grades one through twelve
and my room had one teacher for grades three, four and five. Each grade of
the Eugene Fields Elementary School in Webb City was in a separate room but
we changed classes for different subjects. Mom would have found the school
at Medoc in 1936 very little different from the one room school she attended
at Galesburg in 1913 B they looked the same, smelled the same, teachers
taught and disciplined the same and the subjects were the same. Dad would
have felt at home at Alba because it even looked like the one he attended at
Prosperity from 1904 to 1912.
I went to the Nashville elementary school from the middle of the fifth
grade through the eighth. It had two rooms with grades one through four in
the ‘lower room’ and grades five through eight in the ‘upper room’. Each
room had maybe fifteen or sixteen students. My grade had five students until
the eighth grade when we had six. There were two large halls separating the
two rooms - the front hall and the back hall. Of course, there were the two
privies outback and a water pump.
The upper room was sparsely furnished with a metal cabinet as the
library, the teacher’s desk in the back of the room and a large coal-burning
stove in the right front. A blackboard (so called because the slate was
black) ran across the front and a smaller blackboard was on the left and the
right side at the back of the room. No pictures were on the walls and no
shades covered the windows, although the metal grating covered them on the
outside. There was a piano but only Mr. Foraker and Miss McKissock played
it. Our desks were screwed to the floor so they couldn’t be moved so when
two grades studied together, students had to share seats. Of course, this
encouraged us to talk when we were supposed to be studying. The summer
before I entered the seventh grade, the seats were put on 1 x 4 boards so
they could be moved. This made sweeping the floor easier.
I had a different teacher each year. Merle Bolton was teacher when I was
in fifth grade and I was afraid of him. Charles Foraker taught the year I
was in sixth grade and he was a good teacher. I was in seventh grade the
year Emma Lou McKissock was the teacher and, like the other students, I
loved her. The only trouble was I had a hard time getting my tongue around
her front name or her back name so I called her "Hey" like "Hey, will you
help me with this arithmetic problem?" One day, she asked me to find another
name so I chose "Jack." You see, Jack Helms, a little boy in the third
grade, followed her around like a puppy dog. She knew I used it with love
and respect so she said ok. So, I’d say, "Jack, I can’t do this problem."
Clint Armstrong, my eighth grade teacher, grew up in Nashville and his
family was a long time friend of ours. Clint was maybe five years older than
I and, since I had known him most of my life, it was hard to call him "Mr.
Clint" but if I forgot, he’d gently remind me. I went with him a couple of
times to run his muskrat traps and spent time visiting him at his house.
When the war started, Clint joined the air corps and was killed in a flying
accident. I was very sad because I had lost a friend.
Readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic
Each grade had its own reading, arithmetic, spelling, grammar and
penmanship (handwriting) but for other subjects, grades were grouped. One
year the fifth and sixth grades studied US history together and the next
year geography. The seventh and eighth were together for civics, science,
health and agriculture. When the desks were screwed to the floor, we sat two
to a seat and shared books. As you might suppose, we often got more
interested in talking to each other than to listening to the teacher. After
they were put on runners, rows could be scooted together but, of course, we
kept on visiting.
I don’t remember much that we studied in school but I will always know
Fort Crown and Fort Ticonderoga that we studied in the sixth grade. I was
sitting with my buddy Glenn Woods and Mr. Foraker was telling us about the
revolutionary war and things about Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Men as
well as the battle of Fort Crown. Usually I was very interested in something
like that but it was a warm spring afternoon and I nodded off. Actually, I
went sound asleep. The next thing I knew, Mr. Foraker was scolding Glen and
me for going to sleep. As punishment, he made us go to the board and write
the name of a fort fifty times. I always knew Glen was teacher’s pet because
he had to write "Fort Crown" while I had the long name of "Fort
Ticonderoga"! I did make an effort to stay awake from then on.
That year the county schools put on a historical pageant at Lamar, the
county seat, and our school was to have the Civil War period. Noland James,
who was in the eighth grader, was to be Abraham Lincoln because he was the
tallest student but when he couldn’t learn the piece, Mr. Foraker asked if I
would play the part. With fear and trembling, I agreed. The night we went to
Lamar and I walked out on the stage and saw all those people (two or three
hundred I guess), my heart went up to my throat. Then, I saw Mom in the
audience so I looked at her and spoke my piece that began, "I, Abraham
Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States, do hereby put my name to
this the Emancipation Proclamation..." Oh, how relieved I was to get it
over. Well, the pageant went over so well we had to give it a second night.
I wasn’t quite as nervous that time until my fake beard started slipping
just as I finished speaking. Of course, I couldn’t use my hand to fix it, so
as I stepped back a few steps, I pulled it back up with my upper lip. A
woman sitting next to Mom told her, "That boy sure was a good Abraham
Lincoln." Mom agreed but didn't tell her he was her son. Modest, you know.
In the seventh and eighth grade I studied reading, grammar, spelling,
handwriting, science, arithmetic, health, civics (government) and
agriculture. Clint made agriculture not only interesting but fun. We made a
landscape plan for the school yard and set out plants and shrubs. He taught
us to graft plants which I have done many times since then. We had a debate
about the advantages of horses and tractors and I had to take the horse. I
thought I was so clever and original when I said gas fumes could never be
used to fertilize fields like horse manure. My side won, by the way.
It was in the seventh grade that I got my first taste of teaching when
Miss McKissock let several of the older students help younger students with
their school work. I started by listening to fifth and sixth graders read
their history and then I "went down" to the lower room where Miss Crouch
taught to help fourth graders with spelling and arithmetic. I’m not sure how
much help I was, but it was fun and gave me something to do.
Our music depended on the teacher’s skills and interest. Mr. Foraker was
very musical and he not only had us sing but also gave lessons on the
violin, guitar and mandolin to any student who was interested. I took
lessons on both the mandolin and the violin but didn’t keep them up after he
left because the folks couldn’t afford to buy either instrument. Miss
McKissock had us sing using the community songbook and an elementary school
song book. My favorites were "The Bulldog on the Bank," "Spanish Cavalier"
which was sung together with "Solomon Levi," "Santa Lucia," "Jeanne With the
Light Brown Hair," "Blow the Man Down," and "When Johnny Comes Marching
Home." Of course, we sang a lot of songs of the west like "The Old Chisholm
Trail," and "Home on the Range."
The library was much like the one at Medoc, a metal cabinet with probably
fewer than one hundred books, but there were some good ones. I especially
remember The Three Musketeers, books about heroes from our history
such as Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Ethan Allen; and an English story,
Water Babies. The teachers read to us after lunch and two of my favorite
stories were Treasure Island (I still have the image of Long John
Silver in my mind) and Tom Sawyer. The teachers had a sense of the
dramatic because they knew just when to stop at the most exciting moment.
How hard it was to wait for the next day to hear the next episode.
Oh, that dreaded county examination to graduate from the eighth grade! We
started reviewing past exams two months before taking it in late February,
memorizing all of the questions and answers with the hope that at least some
of them would be on the exam. I don’t remember if any were or not. When the
fateful day arrived, Clint drove us to North Star School, three miles north
of Nashville, where, along with students from other area schools, we spent
the entire day taking the test. Let me tell you, it was an ordeal! Spelling
threw me. One of the words was ‘hydraulic’ and I had no idea of what it
meant let alone know how to spell it. On the way home, I asked Clint what it
meant and he said it had to do with water power and some cars had hydraulic
drive B which didn’t help me at all. Anyway, since spelling was part of
language arts, I passed everything. What a relief!
The graduation was held at the high school in Mindenmines with several of
the one room schools taking part. The folks bought me a suit for the
occasion B my very first one and I really felt dressed up.
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
Teachers had different ways of punishing. I don’t remember any child
getting paddled at Nashville but the threat was always there. Mr. Bolton,
who was a sorry teacher, would threaten us and that is about all I remember
about him. Several children had a difficult time learning the multiplication
tables and he said we better learn them that night and he would paddle
anyone who missed any the next day. I learned them but I disliked him from
that time on. Years later I saw him and still had a fear of him.
Mr. Foraker, on the other hand, had a sense of humor (warped tho it may
have been). There was something about writing on the blackboard (today it
has the fancy name of chalkboard) that kids loved so he let us work on
spelling or arithmetic at the board. He let us know when we were messing
around, however, by throwing a chalk eraser at the board. We’d got a big
kick when he did this because we knew he wouldn’t hit us. One time, he and
an eighth grader got into a fist fight during school and they fought up and
down the rows. We had to stay in our seats and I was really scared. When
they finally stopped, the boy sat down at his seat and Mr. Foraker went back
to his desk. I never found out why they fought but the next day, they went
on just as though nothing had happened. Miss Emma Lou McKissock had a soft
voice and I don’t remember her raising it very often. Her favorite
expression when she was put out at us was "I'm going to have a conniptions
fit and fly off of the chandelier." We didn't know what a conniptions fit or
a chandelier was but we got the message and calmed down.
Maybe it was because he was a home town boy but Clint was a very easy
going teacher and we never gave him any problems. I don’t remember him even
getting angry at a student.
Holidays and Special Events
We observed the birthdays of Washington (February 22) and Lincoln
(February 12), Valentine Day (February 14) and Armistice Day (November 11
when we had a minute of silence at 11:00). Clint Armstrong, on St. Patrick’s
Day, had me give a report on St. Patrick and why green was part of the
celebration. We made green Jell-O and ate it with cookies. We always had a
party on Valentine Day and exchanged valentines. I was very embarrassed when
Virginia Polston gave me one that had a carrot on the front and the words,
"I carrot for you." Comic valentines were the rage and the teacher always
got several -- unsigned of course.
We drew names at Christmas and were supposed to give a present only to
the person whose name we drew but we usually gave our friends something.
Some children didn’t have the money to buy anything so they made their gifts
and, as I look back, those were the best presents I received. We had a
Christmas party at night when the parents and people in the community came.
We put on a program, people sang and Santa Claus gave out presents. Who
played Santa when I was in the eighth grade? Me, of course. During the
party, Ruth, Clint’s mother, took me down to her house where she stuffed
pillows inside the costume to fill me out and had me say "Ho, Ho, Ho"
several times. Then, back to school we went. Maybe I fooled the younger
children but no one else and I sure took a lot of kidding from my friends.
Afterward, we lined up to get a sack of candy from Clint. All in all, it was
a fun evening.
THE END OF AN ERA
Change took place at a slow pace during these years but by the end of the
decade, the pace picked up steam and, looking back, it seemed to move at a
breathtaking speed by 1940. The slow going Model T was replaced with faster
cars so people made more trips to nearby Pittsburg and Joplin. Airplanes
became a more common sight in the sky. With electricity came refrigerators,
radios and gadgets for homes and the store. Girls, who became more aware of
fashions in other parts of the country, began wearing penny loafers and
broom handle skirts. Why, even Ern Beaty was seen wearing walking shorts
down the main street of Nashville B shocking!
But, not everything changed. People on the Lost Forty continued to live
just as they had for years past. Tommy Shaunce still walked wherever he
wanted to go. Claude Crouch still drove his Model T. And, the wall telephone
was still the way to call family and friends.
BOB THE TEENAGER
Teen years for most youth are from age thirteen through nineteen but mine
were just the time I turned thirteen in rural southwest Missouri until
seventeen when I entered the army in urban Joplin. To the military, I was to
‘put away those teenage ways’ and be a man. But ‘what a difference four
years makes’ to paraphrase a song that was popular back then.
What made the difference? Nashville in 1941 was ‘twenty miles north and
fifty years behind’(to paraphrase another song, this time from the musical
‘Take Me Along’) Joplin in 1945. Take how we dressed, what my friends and I
talked about and our language. In 1941, most of the boys I knew wore
overalls to the two room elementary school and overalls or wash trousers to
Minden High School but nothing dressy like a necktie or jacket except when
school pictures were taken. We talked about what was happening on the farm
or hunting or fishing. After Pearl Harbor, the war entered into our
conversations especially about friends who were killed or wounded and
wondering how we would be as soldiers. And, we used very little slang. At
Joplin High in 1945, boys wore nice wash trousers or blue denims and a few
even wore matching jacket and trousers with a necktie. We talked about
current movies, music, what we planned to do after high school and, of
course, the war that had just ended. Our speech was spiced with such current
slang like’hubba, hep and cool’. It was like being in a different world.
I initiated myself into being a teenager by pulling a dumb trick. We
lived on Highway 43 south of Nashville and I hunted a lot. I was very
careful with my rifle or .410 shotgun but, for some reason, I slipped up one
August day just after my thirteenth birthday. I had been hunting and
remember unloading the rifle just as I got up to our store. Ad Gregg, a man
I knew, was in the store and we kidded about doing some target practicing.
Suddenly, BANG! I looked down and knew at once what the problem was when I
saw blood coming out of the top of my left shoe. I was stunned and yelled,
"Hey, I shot myself." Lois replied, "That's not funny. You shouldn't shoot
in the store." Mom saw the blood and started walking back and forth crying,
"What are we going to do." Fortunately Ad kept his head and took me out to
the porch to wash my foot with kerosine. It didn't hurt then but it sure
bled. Then Ad drove Mom and me to Doc Knott over at Jasper some six miles
away. Doc poured some thing on the wound (I think it was silver nitrate and
it turned the skin black) and THEN it hurt. The bullet went between the
second and third toes without hitting a bone and Doc Knott told me, "You are
a lucky boy. If it had gone right or left just any, you would have lost a
toe. If it gone back just any you might be crippled. Course, if it had gone
forward a couple of inches, it would have missed your foot."
School started a couple of weeks later and I learned a sad lesson about
human nature. People don’t like for you to be different. I was on crutches
all through September and part of October so I stayed in the room during
recess and lunch hour. I read a lot and since we didn't have a softball, I
decided to make one. Taking the rubber core from the old one, I wrapped it
with twine and covered it with friction tape. It wasn’t like a store bought
one but it was pretty good if I do say so myself. During this time Clint
Armstrong, the teacher, and I talked a lot. I guess this made the boys
jealous because they started calling me "teacher's pet" and were really
cruel. When I was off crutches, they wouldn’t include me in their play. This
went on until the night of the Halloween party when Clint called them into
the lower grades room and really gave them a bawling out (one of the boys
told me about it). He told them about the softball and said if he were I, he
would burn it up. Anyway, they came to me as a group and asked me to play
with them. We got along fine after that.
Being Alone Without Being Lonely
I really liked our place on Highway 43. The trees and the stream (we
called it the ‘branch’) that ran through our place became my companions. It
was here I learned to be alone without being lonely. Learning how to be
alone helped me be comfortable ‘with me’ when I was in the army in Germany
and in later adulthood.
Now, don't get the wrong idea. I wasn’t a loner. I still cut across the
field to play with the Woods boys or rode my bicycle five miles to spend the
day with Jerry McClintock, or got together with Lonnie Crouch who lived
about two miles away. But, those days I spent by myself were special then
and are still today.
Would You Like To Go With Me?
I guess I went with my first girl when I was in the eighth grade. I say
‘I guess’ because it was not my idea and I didn’t consider I was taking her
anyplace. In fact, I strongly opposed it. Then why did I do it? Because I
didn’t have much choice. Several young adults in Nashville put on a play and
the cast included Lois, my teacher Clint Armstrong and Dixie Crouch, a girl
in my eighth grade. Well, when the play finished, the group decided to throw
a skating party at Pittsburg, KS and Lois told me (not asked mind you) I was
taking Dixie. Now Dixie was a sweet girl and I liked her a lot but I didn’t
want to take her (or any girl) skating. Over my loud protests, Lois won out
(Mom told me to do it so Dixie wouldn't feel left out) but I made one
condition, they had to take me home first and then take Dixie. I wasn’t
about to walk her to the door. I had a lot of fun but I am not certain Dixie
did because she fell and hurt her head.
WORLD WAR II
"December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy."
President Franklin Delno Roosevelt
On a quiet December Sunday afternoon, Lois, June and I went to see
‘Sergeant York’ at the Civic Theater in Webb City. Suddenly the screen went
blank and the lights came up just as Sergeant York gobbled like a wild
turkey and shot at the German troops. As we sat there wondering what was
going on, a voice from the rear said, "We just heard on the radio that the
Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor." As gasps and sobs sounded over the
theater, some people got up and left. Then, the theater was dark again and
the movie continued.
The war that rocked Europe and devastated China had now reached our rural
southwest Missouri communities. It came quickly to Nashville because Mrs.
Askins' son died on the USS Arizona when it was bombed and sunk by the
Japanese on December 7.
The War Becomes Real
I had been aware of the war in Europe and Asia before Pearl Harbor
because of the newsreels at the movies, the radio news broadcasts and the
newspaper articles. I also knew Leroy Skinner, a distant cousin on the
Hightower side, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), had been
shot down in Europe and was in a German prison camp.
Now, I was aware of the war in a very personal way. Frances Polston,
Marvin Burnside and Archie James, three teenagers who hung around the store
and had dug our water well, enlisted immediately. Francis, Lois’ boy friend
who taught me to drive and so many other things, went into the navy. Marvin
Burnside enlisted in the marines and Archie James went into the army. Over a
dozen young men from our community died during the war including Clint
Armstrong whom I had known most of my life, Lowell Ring, a very good friend
and Wallace Lanz, brother of Marie Lanz. Marie, whose family lived in nearby
Duval, stayed with us when she taught school with Lois. Warren Eldred, a
good friend down by Medoc, was captured by the Japanese.
In June 1942 we received word that Francis Polston, who was a radio
gunner in Torpedo Squadron Eight on the aircraft carrier Hornet, was missing
in action at the Battle of Midway. Fifteen planes of Torpedo Squadron Eight
flew against Japanese aircraft carriers and all were shot down with only one
survivor. I thought "It can’t be true. Francis will be found." When the navy
returned his personal gear in a large wooden crate, his parents called us to
come to their home and they asked Dad to open it. That was one of the worst
evenings of my life for I knew then Francis was gone. A few months later,
the Navy Department sent a movie of the Torpedo Squadron crew that was shown
at the elementary school and a large crowd from the community came to see
it. As the room went dark and the image flickered on the screen, we saw
Francis, laughing and clowning with his buddies. Tears flowed.
A short time later, Clint Armstrong died in a plane crash. I had a hard
time accepting that this wonderful young man whom I had grown up with and
had been my eighth grade teacher was dead. Five of us who had been in the
eighth grade were honorary pall bearers and the popular war song, "Coming In
On A Wing and a Prayer" was sung at his funeral.
The war had indeed become real to me.