[Transcript of interview with Perry Posey, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]
Interviewer: Library Station Recollections and Connections. Presenter is Mr. Perry Posey. Today’s date: April 17, 2010. Mr. Posey, could you tell me a little bit about the area you grew up in?
P.P.: Yes, it was in kind of a rocky 80 acre in Douglas County, Missouri. Ava was our county seat.
Interviewer: What time period did you live there?
P.P.: I was born in 1936 and from times that I can remember of all the stories that my mom and dad had told me before they were married, they went and looked this property over, this 80 acres in mostly timber, a little bit of open land but mostly timber, and they started looking for a kind of an opening to build a house and it ended up to be in the northwest corner of the 80 acres. And they was looking for nice trees to build a log cabin to live in to raise a family.
Interviewer: So tell me a little bit about the log cabin you lived in.
P.P.: The best I remember it was around 24 by 32 feet and in the lower level we had the kitchen, a living area, and for one bed that was in one room. And then we had an upstairs, went up a little flight of steps, there was two bedrooms in the upstairs. And I can very well remember that my dad had done such a good job on it that the wood floors were nice and the logs were smooth where they'd actually hewn them out like, it was kind of like a railroad tie that they took the round logs and made them kind of square. And you can see the axe marks and everything on there. And the thing that I will always remember is the oak shingled roof that my dad, he split them out with, they called it a froe, it was just a tool to hit with the hammer, and he made wood shingles probably three-quarters of an inch thick, somewhere like that. And I can remember so very well, I must have been four or five years old, but in my bed upstairs I could look out and kind of move around and see the stars and that was, for a young man that was kind of neat just to lay there in bed and look at the stars. What’s hard, it’s hard to really realize that, but you know, it didn’t leak. These boards would get tight when they started to get wet with the rain, they’d get tight and swell up, and then I couldn’t see the stars, of course, but it didn’t leak. There was, I don’t remember any rain ever coming through, but we did have snow when it was dry and cold and a fine snow, there would be maybe a quarter inch of snow on my floor and my cover.
Interviewer: [laughter] So tell me a little bit about your family and siblings.
P.P.: I was born there of course, and I think, I have three sisters, I think they were all born there, however, my two younger sisters went to the Ava school system a little bit later, but I think all of my siblings were born there on that 80 acre tract of land. And I don’t think they were all born in the log house. I think dad had built a regular house by the time the last two girls were born.
Interviewer: What were some of the activities you remember, how you filled your days as a young child?
P.P.: Well, the most activities that I remember of course was gardening. I mean we really had to make our living from the earth, you know. Dad had plows and horses and put out huge gardens with everything that you’d actually eat on the table. One of my fondest memories of that goes way, way back to my family, back to the fifth generation now, goes back to my grandfather Benjamin Stillings, on my mother’s side, they called him Ben. I never got to meet him because my Grandpa Ben died. He passed away when my mom was just a little girl and she could barely remember him. But anyway, it goes back to the days of making molasses when they, well it was called sometimes sorghum molasses. And of course, you had to plant the crop and cultivate it, then later strip all the leaves off and you’d come down to just a cane stalk and they hauled that in to this molasses sorghum mill. And put it through the mill and it actually squeezed out the juice and they, then a little later poured all this juice into a huge pan, probably four foot by eight foot, and a huge fire underneath with dry wood, and they boiled this down and made molasses which is very, very good.
Interviewer: So was this a way for your family to earn some income during that time?
P.P.: It was sort of a tradition that was handed down from generation to generation, and I just happened to remember that my family on my mother’s side had the sorghum molasses mill. And other neighbors would bring their cane in to have it processed also. And it would be a big family gathering. It started out, I suppose, rather small, just a neighborhood activity in the fall of the year but it’s grown today where it’s, I’m guessing there would be three or four hundred people gathered. And they have the molasses making, apple butter making, wagon wheels, lye soap, all kinds of arts and crafts, and I kid my cousins now, Tony Stillings and Linda Posey Stillings; I say you’ve got a little Silver Dollar City started, do you know that. They say, we do, but we’re not getting that kind of pay here.
Interviewer: Well, it’s definitely something that’s a heritage to the Ozarks so it’s great that that’s still going on and teaching young people and reminding older people about what it was like.
P.P.: Oh, it’s a real fun time of the year, and I really do like their gospel, country, and bluegrass singing. They come in, in the last several years, they actually play music and sing all day long on a little stage there and they get very, very professional. I’d say these folks are coming around out of the Ozark mountain hills and they’re very professional people, just never had the opportunity of Nashville, you know, but anyway I consider them very good professional people in their musical work and it goes on about all day, I mean from early morning 'til late in the evening. And people just have a good time; and they all bring like a covered dish and whatever you want to bring and there’s no admission charge or anything. We have a great big dinner, and it’s just a good day, a wonderful day.
Interviewer: Sounds like something to definitely check out in September. Tell me a little bit about your understanding of the time when you were a child, of wealth, and you know, the Big Read this year deals with a book that takes place in the Depression and you were born just after and in the middle of it all before World War II, so tell me kind of your understanding of that time, of your family’s wealth.
P.P.: Well, I’m finishing up right now, as you well know, my, actually my third book. This is entitled Short Stories and I try to go back and remember as much as possible. Of course, right, you might say maybe in the middle, toward the end of the Great Depression, that I heard plenty of stories from my parents and grandparents because it was kind of a front porch talk thing you know, and of course, like I asked my mom one time, "Mom, did you ever remember a time when you didn’t have a dollar in the house?" And she said, "Oh, son, I remember a whole year when we didn’t have a dollar in the house."
Interviewer: [laughs] Gosh.
P.P.: So, yeah, we were poor but we, mom and dad, there was no alcohol, no cursing, and they, they was a good mom and dad and my sisters and all the other wonderful family. You might say no money but happy and food to eat, and that was about it.
Interviewer: Well, and working off the land making that be your sustenance probably protected you from some of the greater strifes maybe.
P.P.: I think so. It was an enjoyable time. I like to think back then. They were happy days, all happy events. I don’t, I really don’t remember any, any problem events, you know, just in my memory it was just, just a happy time. And I kind of wish that the young folks in this high tech computer day, that they could reflect some on that and kind of know where their parents and grandparents came from, because in my age I like to go back to the Indian era where they really had less than we did, you know. It’s history and I enjoy it.
Interviewer: Well thank you for taking time to share a little bit about your childhood and growing up in the Ozarks. And we’ll look forward to the molasses in the fall.
P.P.: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to give you this report.
[Transcript of interview with Perry Posey, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read. For more information, contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]