Volume V, No. 1, Fall 1977




A YOUNG OLD MAN

A VISIT WITH ERNIE HOUGH

by Patsy Watts

Photography by Doug Sharp


A Stradivarius violin rests silently in its case in one corner of the room. Its purpose and antique beauty have a splendor that stops all who gaze curiously at this violin made in 1736, over two hundred years ago.

In the room sits an elderly man who contains this splendor as well. And if one should take the time to stop in a moment he quite possibly would become enraptured as we were by a different music. It is not the music of the violin, but that flowing from the inner being of Ernie Hough. Our visits made him eager to turn hack the weathered pages of his life to re-read and share the experiences of his earlier days.

You wouldn't think I was 95. Nobody thinks I'm that old, and I don't feel that old. I don't feel much older than I did when I was fifty.

He was born July 2, 1882. His was a large family in comparison to those of today, but at that time three brothers and four sisters would seem only cozy.

I lived right down the river from Orla about a mile and a half. I lived on a farm of two hundred acres. It would have been a farm when we got it cleared. We had an upland farm and then we had a farm on the river, too. They was about one half mile apart. We growed everything there--wheat, corn, oats, just about everything you wanted to raise.

Now I know, or I think I do, that I would be the only one in Lebanon that ever plowed corn with a steer. My neighbor got behind with his work, and I was big enough to plow, eight or nine years old. My dad told me to go over there and help him. I plowed with an old red steer and a wooden plow. They was an iron bolt come up from the foot piece of the plow and through the beam. Then the shovel on it was iron and the rest of it was all wood. Everyone had horses then and they had horse collars, harness and everything like that. We put a horse collar on this old steer and a set of old chain harnesses. Of course, they had to be upside down. And then I had a halter on him and rope tied on each side for driving reins. If he wouldn't go where I wanted him to go, I'd have to pull him around with the rope and when I wanted him to do anything, I'd say "gee" or "haw." If I said "gee" he turned to the right. If I said "haw" he turned to the left. I plowed corn with that old steer, and I bet you ain't nobody else ever done that.

[24]

I never lived too many different places. I lived at home till I was twenty-three years old. We had an eighteen foot square log house and a kitchen. We carried our water from a spring for drinking, cooking purposes and all. We didn't have no baths and running water and stuff like they have now. All the running water we had was a branch of the spring running down. But we had a good spring. And we had a house over the spring where we'd keep our milk and stuff.

But then later we had a well drilled up close to the house. We didn't use the spring very much after we did. We used the well water to water our stock. We had horses in the barn and we'd put a hand pump in that well and we'd pump the water in a water trough for the stock to drink.

Now I'll tell you about some of my boyhood stuff. We'd camp out and we'd go hunting. A whole bunch of us would get out in the woods. We'd have our dogs and maybe we'd tree a possum or something like that. We'd build up a fire and cook eggs--have a big meal.

Of a night most of what we'd catch would be possum. Some coon, but possum was what we was hunting for. Skunk, we didn't mess too much with the skunks.

I like to hunt coons, but if you didn't have a real good dog that understood what he was doing it never was very much fun. He never would get one of them up a tree. Most of the dogs would get a coon's trail and trail it and bark, and Mr. Coon, he stayed ahead of that all the time. But if we had what we called a silent mouthed dog, when he got on the track he never barked, only went just as fast as he could and first thing you knowed he was right on that coon and the coon didn't know he was there. He wouldn't go too far and we'd never find him till he caught that coon. Maybe he'd be a fighting it and we'd get there and see the coon and dog fight. It took lots of dogs. The dogs had to understand what they was doing or they couldn't kill a coon.

And I'll tell you, I don't know whether anybody has ever seen a fish hawk or not. They're a pretty good size hawk. Them blooming hawks will fly over the river where it isn't too deep. When it's warm, a lot of fish come down around the shore. Whenever the hawks see the one they want to strike at, they fold their wings in a dart shape, and boy, they just dive down there and they lift water as high as your head. Nine times out of ten they come out with that fish in their claw.

There was two down there at our place for a couple of years. I watched them there blooming things at noon when I'd be working. They wasn't there every day but when they were there I'd watch them. Boy, now it was interesting just to see them things. They'd be sailing along and they'd just stop and quiver and stand still. Then next thing you know he's got his fish. Ka-wham! I don't see how it keeps from killing him.

Even though Ernie enjoyed hunting and watching the wild animals, a lot of the time they were a hindrance. Like any farm boy of his time he had to protect the stock from predators around the farm.

You had to watch that nothing got the chickens. The foxes wasn't too mean about that, but owls...there used to be a lot of those night owls. If they found a chicken around there they'd catch it and carry it off. You'd have to watch about them more than fox and mink.

We had minks along the river and they'd come up to our place. One night we had an old hen and two chickens with her on the roost. That blooming mink came up there and killed every one of them there chickens and a turkey. When they got into your chickens they just see how many they can kill. We never trapped for them, but we finally got the dogs after them. They'd tree and we killed them. They're not too big. They're kind of slim.

As he grew older Ernie still enjoyed life around the farm, but his interests expanded to include more social activities and entertainment outside of the home.

We had lots of entertainment, more than you'd imagine. I'll say I'd be, oh from fifteen on up when I went to parties. We'd have play parties and I don't hardly know how to tell you how they played them, but anyhow, we never danced or nothing like that. When we had a dance, we wouldn't do nothing but dance. But at a play party we didn't dance--we sang the singing games. We had quite a lot of fun.

[25]

I'm going to ask if you know anything about candy breaking? We got different colors of stick candy. We'd break that in two and put them in a dish pan. We'd cover them up and you would get somebody to draw candy with you. The one that you had chosen would reach in there and get a stick. If you didn't match her, well that was it, but if you reached in and got a piece that matched her candy, you got to give her a nice sweet kiss and squeeze her around. It was fun.

We used to have box suppers and then we would have a cake for the best looking girl. The men and boys would put up some money as votes for the girls. Usually two would run against one another. Everyone would take sides with a penny a vote. The girl that had the most money got the cake.

I worked in a country store when I was a young kid and saved my money. I bought me a buggy, and we had a good matched team. I could go get these gals where some of the others couldn't. I had a team and buggy and the storekeeper's son had a buggy and team, and we was about the only two who did.

When he was twenty, he took his team and buggy to a picnic. There his cousin introduced him to Olive O'Dell. They were married three years later and began their lives together. They raised three boys and one girl and remained together for sixty-one years, until Olive's death.

I had some cattle when I was married. I don't remember just how many. I had twenty--thirty head of hogs and I had a wagon and team. I wasn't no pauper.

I bought ninety acres and we farmed that two or three years. We sold that farm and we bought a farm up near Lebanon. We lived there a year. Then I traded that place for a store at Delto down where I was raised. I was postmaster down there but there was another post office, Delta. It was near Delta and they'd get the mail all mixed up. So they wanted to change the name of my post office. We named that place where I was at Lyons. I had to get a postmaster's permit again.

I run the store there for ten year and after that I moved to Lebanon in 1918. Lebanon then was just like a wide place in the road--wasn't much here. The town was laid off just like it is now and they was a building here and yonder along. I've seen up along the main street, wagons and teams in the mud till they had to get someone to help them out. They could not pull it through that mud. We didn't have no sidewalk and from one side of the street to the other, they's just a row of great big ole rocks to step on.

There was more people in town on Saturday and the stores, what there was here, all stayed open maybe sometimes it was eleven o'clock at night and people'd just come to town and have a picnic. They had a bandstand there and had a good band--they'd play. And everybody'd listen at them all up and down the street a-visiting one another. It was a pretty good place of a night. It wasn't wild. It was just all right--a nice place.

I had a produce store. I bought from farmers around over the country. Then I shipped it to a commission house in St. Louis. And I done that for, well off and on there in Lebanon, I was in business for thirty-five year.

Perhaps the way Ernie ran his business was influenced by his beliefs. Religion has always played an important role in his life, and among other things, it formed the standard he tried to live by.

I think religious training is important. I sure do. It's very important. The way you're raised and taught up to about maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, that's the way you will generally go. If you're living in a family of religious people, you will be too, just as sure as night. Of this I am certain.

Here is a story. It's the absolute truth, but it's unbelievable.

[26]

When I was younger, I wrote
a song to a gal. Do you want
to hear me sing it?

I have loved you for a long,
long time
Hoping one day you'll be mine.
I know you have left me and
I can't see why
You take another and leave me.

You know darling I loved you
with all my heart
Hoping that we never would part.
And then you have left me and
I don't see why
You take another and leave me.

Do you remember the days
That we would pick flowers for
your bouquets?
But then you left me, oh, how
can it be
That you'd take another and
leave me?

My folks trained us kids--taught us to be religious. My folks are all religious but very few I knew that wasn't. Of course, we didn't have no big fancy churches like they got now and I don't think we needed them. They'd make a church out of brush--brush arbor they called it. They'd meet in August. They'd have a camp meeting and they'd go there and stay--just bring their food and stay there for several days at a time. And boy, of all the shouting you've ever heard in the world, it was done. They had big times. Of course, they don't do that now and some say it's better, but I don't know that it is. I like to hear people sing and shout. They'd call young people up to what they called the Mourners' Bench--they don't never have that anymore. And they'd pray and sing with them. And they'd pray for themselves, and maybe they'd be two or three, three or four of them converted. And I think that ought to be more than what is now.

There have been a lot of changes since Ernie Hough's childhood besides those in religious practices. But in some of those cases, such as television, have they proven harmful?

Well, now there's something I couldn't tell you. Sometimes the programs they put on isn't real good for young people to listen at but they're there and we have to put up with it. I really think that if some programs wasn't on television young people would be better off and better satisfied. ~ really think that in some cases the automobile is deterous to young people. Not in all, but in lots of cases I think it is. We got automobiles and everybody wants one. It's all right for young people to have a car and go car riding with each other, that is as long as they watch what they're doing. But they get to having so much fun, they get to speeding that car and then somebody's hurt.

Because of these technological advancements have Americans lessened their morality levels or lost the voice of their conscience? Perhaps some of us have lost faith in the integrity of man but for Ernie Hough that faith still remains. Things and people are different than they were when he was a boy, but his compassion and deep regard for human nature remains untouched.

[27]

Back when I was a boy all those old folks, their word was their money. When they told you something you could depend on it completely. Don't you think now that some folks will tell you something and kind of get a little of the advantage on you and then don't do what they tell you? I don't think people is more so dishonest than they used to be, but there weren't as many people as there is now. Back when I was a little boy the population was pretty thin. People all knew one another a whole lot better than they do now. And you knew people from farther around. Lots of people live here now, or maybe in a little larger town, and they don't even know who their next door neighbor is. Well, it wasn't that a way back when I was a youth.

But most folks now I think is pretty honest. And all the young folks growing up here like you are now, I think, well I just think so much of them I don't know what. Just to see them strive so much to get ahead. I like to see young folks out marching with their bands. I think that's wonderful. I sure do. And of course, there is a few bad young folks, but not any more than they always was. They was a few that was just a little unruly it don't make any difference how far back you go. I think, considering everything, we have got a good element of young people. I sure do. I think they're just tops.

It seemed remarkable that at ninety-five Ernie could have retained so much youthfulness. We asked if he might be able to advise us in some way so that we could live our lives as fully as he has lived his.

Well, there is one advice I would give you, always be prompt in your promises and honest. Stay out of trouble. That's the advice I could give you. And never be afraid of work and one thing is the most important, girls. Learn to be a real good cook and you have got it made. If you ain't a good cook and you take on a partner, for a while, while everything's new it might be all right. But in a little while he may get disgusted and if you're a good cook then he won't. But now really, you can live a long full life. They ain't nothing to that at all. All you've got to do is in your mind. If you think you're getting old, then you will get old. If you think you ain't getting old, and you want to stay young, then you think young and don't never think you're old. Lots of folks don't think that but I do. You can either be an old young man or a young old man.

I like young people and I've always, always tried to live a young life instead of an old life. Lots of people when they get oh sixty-five years old, then they get old and that's all they talk about. They want to get with a bunch of old folks and talk about "how old I am" and all that kind of stuff and whine about it Well, now you'll get old. But if you try to be young, don't overdo it, but be young and associate just as much as you can with young company, and like young company, you'll be more like young folks than old folks.

Oh, you don't imagine. You can't imagine how much I've seen.

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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