Volume IX, No. 1, Fall 1981
A VISIT WITH WILFORD HAYMES
Edited by Lisa MestanColor photo by Allen Gage
"I live right today on the farm I was borned on. I grew up on this farm. Might say that it's two hills and a holler."
Not many people live on the same farm they were born on, but Wilford Haymes does. In spite of the many jobs he has had, he is still a farmer with an interest in animals of all kinds. His life is not as active as it was when he was younger, but he continues to take pleasure in many pastimes and loves to visit with people.
"I'm not an expert on nothing," he said, "but when I could see, I could do a little of pert'neer anything anyone else could do. I could make a stagger on it. Anyone could be a good hand on something. Anytime you're working at something you don't like to do, it's drudgery. If you're working at something you like to do, you take a pleasure in it. I've always done what I wanted to do."
About twelve or fourteen families of Haymes descendents and their son-in-laws came to what is now Webster County and Dallas county, and they all settled where there was a spring. They didn't want to have to dig a well. That was before the land was surveyed out and the homestead law come in.
Then, after the law come in, they had what was called squatter's rights. They allowed them to go to the office in Springfield and pay a dollar and a quarter an acre for all the land they wanted and could pay for. They give them a clear deed. On the homestead law, you had to live on the place three years and do certain improvements. But they didn't have to do that, because they'd already been here longer than that.
I'm living right here now on a farm that my grandfather came to from McMinn County, Athens, Tennessee, in 1839.
My grandfather Gourley was a blacksmith. I remember one horse I heard him tell about. There wasn't nobody could shoe that one certain horse without having to throw it and tie it. They brought it over, and he just walked up, said something to him, picked up a foot and shod him. They'd always have to bring that horse to him to shoe it. With all the horseshoeing and things that Grandfather had done, he never got kicked but once.
Grandfather could also make a cabinet or anything like that, and he used to make coffins before you could just go and buy a casket somewhere. He owned a sawmill, and he would saw out lumber out of big, old walnut trees. He would bore a hole in the end of a board, put a chain through them and tie them in the spring to season them. There was a big spring, right almost in the edge of the creek, and he'd tie them in there, and, of course, green walnut won't float. It'll sink. He'd just throw them in the water, leave them about a year and then bring them out and dry. My mother said the wood was the prettiest stuff. She helped him before she was ever married. There was a baby in the neighborhood that died, and they made a coffin for him. She helped him sandpaper it down smooth and all. He told her to go up to the house and get a meat skin and an old wool sock. She took a meat skin of a ham and greased that coffin and then polished it with that wool sock. She said that she worked on it till you could see yourself in it, just like a mirror. It was the prettiest coffin she said she ever did see. Then, they'd line it inside with something.
My grandfather was a talented man.
He did three dimensional drawings. He'd draw how it looked from one side and how it looked from the other way and then he'd draw how it looked when you looked right square down on top of it. I never could do that.
After he got too old and couldn't shoe horses no more, he made wooden puzzles and stuff like ironing boards that would collapse and fold right up. I don't know how long it took him to make those puzzles, being a blacksmith, but my mother said he'd work at it all of his spare time on one thing and another. He also made a ring puzzle with a bunch of rings. He braized the rings together, then they folded. It's bound to be a hundred years old. It can be worked. It took Grandpa about three weeks to work it the first time. Our grandson works it in twenty minutes or so.
I had a lot of different uncles and cousins from all over. One of my great uncles drove the Butterfield Stagecoach from Lebanon to Springfield. He lived right about where we lived.
My father and my mother were married in 1897. I was born in 1901. I was their only child. I had a brother that was older than me that died. His monument shows he was born and died the same day, so I suppose he was born dead.
I lived here on this farm with my parents and we farmed. It's awful good land down the branch--good a land as you can find. There was a big farm right north of us on the creek. There was an old widow-woman that lived on it. 550 acres, I believe it was, and we rented it. When I was little we rented lots of land from her.
We lived a little over a quarter of a mile to one of my uncles and he had two boys, both of them just a little older than me. We'd get together a lot of the time. I growed up listening to grown folks talk, and I never did talk like a lot of the little kids, because I always talked like a grown person. I never heard nothing else.
I went to St. Luke School on the Old Wire Road. The Old Wire Road comes out through Lebanon. The schoolhouse was built a way long back there on about an acre of ground with the woods coming up around. My daddy helped build it. Two men took a job building the schoolhouse. They contracted for three hundred dollars, and so they hired my father to come over and help a little. They had to furnish everything. It was made out of lumber and it was a frame building. The old schoolhouse is still there today. It's been remodeled a time or two, added on to, and a family lives in it now.
We had only eight grades. Kindergarten wasn't called kindergarten. We had what they call a primer. The little kids would go just a little while--more or less like a kindergarten today. They learned how to read and they learned their letters, figures and things like that. It gave them a little smattering of what to do.
Then they had the first reader, second reader, third reader, fourth reader, fifth reader, sixth reader, seventh and eighth.
What they called the first reader, I call the first grade now. They was supposed to be able to read a little when they started in the first reader.
There was one time I remember. One fall we had a hundred or more register to come to school, and I don't believe they was all there any particular day, but they all come to school. There was one year that they got to where they didn't teach all the grades the same year. They would teach the sixth and the eighth grade one year, then you'd have to go back the next time to get the seventh grade. Irene, my wife, didn't go straight through. She took the eighth grade one year and had to go back the next year and take the seventh grade. I thought that was crazy, because if you could do the eighth grade one year, there's no use in going back and doing the seventh grade another year, but that's the way they done it. The state had it set up that way. I went straight through.
We didn't have a full nine months term. We might have one term in the fall, and then we might lay off through January and February, and then we'd go in about March and April. We'd have two months and maybe four and a half months at a crack. We'd start in at about August and go on to the first of the year and then we'd lay off two months. We usually had about six to seven months.
I remember when I was in the eighth grade, there was an old gentleman in the neighborhood. He had a grandson and four kids going to school, some of them in the eighth grade. He decided he'd go to school. He couldn't get a job because there wasn't anything to do, so he proceded to come to school. He was good. Sometimes we'd let him speak for us. He was a good speaker. I remember one particular speech about the travels through the South with a little wax figure show. It was kind of a ventriloquist deal and he was good on that and we enjoyed it.
The school didn't furnish anything. We had to buy our books and our tablets. Most of the time we done practically all of our work on a slate unless we had to hand the paper in. We could rub it out and work again. It didn't cost so much. We didn't have much money, so we didn't waste paper like the kids do now. We've got a bunch of little grandchildren and they make one little thing on a piece of paper and throw it away and then make something else on another.
There were no school lunches. We had to take our dinners. Some of the kids took their lunch in a syrup bucket--put the lid on it, put some biscuits or something in there when they'd be warm and soft. At noon, everything would be soggy and wasn't fit to eat. I wouldn't do that. I took a little pasteboard box for my dinner. It said "school" on the side of it, I think. It was a pressed paper thing.
I remember one time I went to school and it was snowy, bad, down around zero, and there was only about five of us that went to school that day, so the teacher made us sit on the bench right there by the stove where we could stay nice and warm. We had a big box stove right in the center of the building. It had a drum on top of it. I guess it'd take wood almost eight foot long and we could stay pretty warm.
We had to walk. Even if it was bad, snowy and cold, we started out for school. That's the only way they had to get around because there was no buses. I walked about a mile and three-quarters or two miles to school every day. It was a good long ways to walk in the bad weather for the little fellers in the first and second grade. I never did ride a day to school in my life. There were two people that lived across the creek that rode little western Indian ponies to school.
They had to cross the creek, and when it was up, they'd go ahead and ride a horse over there and tie it up. We had one teacher or two that would ride a horse.
One time I did ride home from school. It was pouring rain. We had to cross a branch and it was up. Rather than for me to have to wade the branch my father came over there, horseback, and got me. I rode behind him. Of course, we was wet as a drowned rat before we got out of the school yard, but then I didn't have to walk.
Sometimes during class times, we'd cipher. Ciphering, you might say, was a contest in arithmetic.
Two people would choose the whole school up. Then the two would get up to the blackboard,
and the teacher would give out a problem. The one that got his work right, and first, stayed there
while another one from the other side went up. The winner could select what they
wanted--subtraction, addition, multiplication or division. Whoever went up there had to take it
whether they liked it or not. I was pretty doggoned good on division and multiplication and I'd
usually take them. I just liked them better than I did addition.
It was the same way when we'd have spelling. If the person up at the board missed a word, the next one got a chance to spell it, then the next one, until finally somebody spelt the word right. The better spellers were standing up a lot by the blackboard. We'd get head marks for spelling the word right. I didn't get too many of them like some of them, but I found out they taught the same things at both ends of the class, and so it didn't make any difference what they would spell.
When you went to the fifth grade, if you listened, you could hear what was going on in the seventh or the eighth grade. If we got our work caught up, we listened to them awhile. That's what I'd do and that's what a lot of them did. You'd get a little idea of what the others was doing. I think it wasn't a bad idea at all because whenever you started in that other grade, you knowed kind of what to do. When my boys attended a one room school house, one of them come home one day--he was about the second or third grade--and he said, "Daddy, how is it that you work board feet?" I said, "My goodness alive, son, they're not trying to teach little kids how to figure lumber are they?" He had a smithering of about how it was, but he didn't know just exactly how to figure out how much there was to a certain board. I had to show him. He'd been listening to the seventh grades every once and awhile.
I learned a lot in my school days, but what benefit is it that I happen to know that one of those big old statues on Easter Island weighs one hundred thousand pounds apiece, or that the Eiffel Tower weighs fourteen million pounds, or a grown man's brain weighs three pounds and one tenth. Did you know that? Well, that wouldn't do you one speck of good unless you're going to be a brain surgeon. I know stuff like that, but it don't do me any good, I suppose. The fact that Lake Superior is thirteen hundred and twenty feet deep don't do no good either, but I know things like that. I got a head full of useless knowledge.
I never played hookey because if I did, I'd get the devil beat out of me when I got home. Back then, we had teachers that didn't just rear around. When they said for somebody to do something and they didn't do it, they whipped him. They gave him a pretty good one sometimes, too. I never got a whipping because my mother said, "Now if you get a whipping at school, you'll get a heap of a worse one when you get home." I was pretty careful to not do something that I'd get into. But I had to stand on the floor a good bit.
I could talk to somebody without turning around to look at them. I could whisper to one of the boys that sat in front of me when I was in school and ask him something without working my lips, but he couldn't do it. He'd have to turn around to see what was going on when he said everything. The teacher would jump onto him, then he'd tell on me. I'd have to give in because he'd make us both come up and sit on a little old bench that didn't have no desk. Well, it wasn't too bad. We had some teachers we didn't enjoy going to school to very much. Others, they was good.
There was a wagon trail that went about eight or ten feet from the sides of the schoolhouse down the back of the hill. I'd see hundreds of covered wagons going west on the Old Wire Road when I was in school. There would be anywhere from one to five or six in a bunch. Then there would be a bunch of gypsies coming through on the wagons. There would be some kids driving loose horses.
There was some big springs right there close to the schoolhouse, so they camped there and stayed maybe four, five, six days, long enough for them old ladies to go around and tell fortunes and steal anything that was loose. The men traded horses or swapped an old mule or horse. It didn't make any difference how good your horse was, and it didn't make any difference how sorry theirs was. You had to pay a little bit of boot to get to swap with them.
We had one teacher who, whenever he'd hear one of them wagons coming, he'd get him a switch. He'd walk around, and if he saw somebody looking out of one of the windows to see who it was a-passing right there, he'd jumped on to them. He'd just give them a good one. So we'd sit with our nose right down in our book, kind of looking out of the corner of our eyes to see which one of them fellows it was that was going by. We also had some good teachers that would say, "You children ought to look at that bunch of covered wagons. Open the windows and look out fast." Well, we enjoyed a teacher like that, rather than that other kind that wouldn't let us look out of the window.
I remember one teacher I had that I really enjoyed. He taught us a class on agriculture, and done things in experimenting. One time he told us to go down to a little country store, which was just off of the school grounds about fifty yards, and buy half a dozen kerosene lamp chimneys. He tied a little netting of some kind across the bottom of each, and we filled one with road dust, one with leaf mold, one with clay, one with sand, one with gravel and I don't know what all. We got a bread pan, filled it with water and set them down in there. We wanted to see the capillary attraction and how the moisture would rise in there. In some, it was a little bit at the top and some, it never did get up there. He was teaching capillary attraction and showing what good the water would do on our farms, depending on what kind of ground we had. We liked things like that. He made a volcano deal. I don't know just what he put in it, but when he touched it off, stuff just boiled out of the top of it and shot up in the air. It was interesting to go to school to that man. He didn't just sit and read what it said in the book, he'd show you. He was always doing something to show you how things worked and we really liked it.
We had some teachers that hadn't much more than got out of grade school. I believe that when you graduated from grade school you could get a job at teaching if you could pass the teacher's examination. They had an examination every year at Marshfield at the county superintendent's office. However, they didn't pay very much in them days. The teachers would get around and get them a school, but they would always try to get the school out in time so that they could go to Springfield Teachers College. They would go there in the summer until it was time for school, but there's a whole lot more to learning how to teach school than just knowing what the book says.
We had a few friends that we chummed with. Some of the kids we didn't like, and we didn't get around them too much, but it was a pretty good deal. Everybody was pretty friendly.
We played all kinds of games. We mostly had to think them up ourselves. We'd pull off some pretty, good tricks on some people, but we never did anything that would hurt anybody. We just wanted to do something that'd be different from what we'd been in the habit of doing. Naturally, we'd have a good time while we were doing it. If we was in the lower grades, we didn't do too much messing around with the higher grades. They'd play things that the smaller kids weren't capable of doing.
We'd play various games, mainly something like blackman or anti-over or things like that. We played ball. We didn't have or ever did see a basketball at the schoolhouse, but we played baseball. We had a softball. It wasn't a big softball, but it wasn't a baseball. One of my cousins made a ball one time and put a little ten cent rubber ball in the middle and wrapped all of it together with twine string good and tight. Darned if he couldn't make one just as hard as a baseball.
Another game we played was shinny. It was called that because we always everlastingly got the devil beat out of our shins. We'd take and batter up an old tomato can into a chunk, and we had sticks a whole lot like a hockey stick. We'd just take them out there in the woods and choose up. Two people would start. They'd bump the sticks together and hit them on the ground. About the third time, they'd try and see who could knock the can out of there. Then, the teams would knock it back and forth. It was just a whole lot like hockey, only we played it on foot. Somebody'd make a pass at the can and you'd be running in there. He was liable to be aiming at the can, but hit you. Yeah, I got shinned up one time. The teacher hit my shinny stick, and it just slid up my leg and knocked off the bark. He called time out right straight while he went down and patched me up.
We weren't having school one week for one reason or another one time and I got a job at the little store in our neighborhood helping kill turkeys. Everybody raised a few turkeys. They'd buy turkeys and bring a bunch of them down at Charity or Hog Eye. They'd take a bunch of boys with cane fishing poles, and they'd drive maybe a hundred or one hundred and fifty turkeys right up the road. After they got them started, they'd stay in the road. Some boys would walk along one side, and if one went to go out around them, they'd take them big long cane poles and make them go back in the bunch. After they drove them a mile or two they'd stay in the road.
Then they would get ready for the Christmas market. They sent the turkeys to New York when it was cold weather. Me and one of my cousins, two years older than me, would kill these turkeys, hang up the turkey, pull the big feathers off, pull the wing and tail feathers out and then somebody else would take them and pick them. They'd hang them up on the side of the building and let them freeze at night. They was sent just like they were killed, but they had the feathers all picked off of them. They wasn't even gutted. They wasn't scalded, they was picked dry but they looked nice. That was what they called a New York dress. They'd barrel them, put all the good down in the barrel, put their feet in there, bend them up and twist their head around. They'd cover the top of the barrel, haul them to Springfield and ship them to New York. They wasn't safe to eat when they got there. I know they wasn't, but people there didn't know!
I also made rabbit traps and trapped live rabbits. They give more for a live trapped rabbit than one
that had been shot all to pieces. We got ten to fifteen cents for them. They'd put them in barrels
and ship them down to New Orleans and Memphis. When they went to barrel them up to ship
them, they'd take an ax and chop their heads off and their feet off up to the knee. I trapped
enough rabbits to buy a shotgun. It was the first time I owned a gun.
I also had a muzzle-loading civil War musket that I learned to hunt with. It was carried through the Civil War by a man named Starr. My father and his brother bought it from him. He took it and cut his name down on the stock of the old musket. They weren't very pretty letters, either.
I graduated from the eighth grade and I wasn't going to high school. My dad said, "You're going to take the eighth grade again and really get it good." So, I went back to school another year in the eighth grade. I really learned a lot the last time. I already knowed pretty well at what they done and I really done good in it.
When I got out of school, I didn't go to high school. Instead, I attended business college in Springfield and took a complete business course. World War I was just about on then. I was in the school at Springfield in 1917 through the winter of 1918.
I started attending business college about two weeks after school. I did take the typing and the shorthand, but I never took the test on shorthand. I graduated from everything they had but shorthand and typewriting. I just lacked about thirty days finishing them up because father got sick and I went to work on the farm. I went home and I never did go back. I could go to the Springfield Business College today if I wanted to because I have a lifetime deal.
I'll be darned if I know how Mrs. Haymes and I met! I was going with one of the neighbor girls and a boy up in our neighborhood and I would take her to places with us. Finally, I switched horses in the middle of the stream forty some odd years ago. I suspect, more than likely, that the first time we really ever seen one another was at Epworth League meetings at the Methodist Church.
I lived a mile and a half from the church, and she lived a mile and half the other way. Well, we eventually got married and had two boys. David is my oldest and Wayne is the youngest.
This farm we live on now is eighty acres of the farm my grandfather moved on. We've got one hundred twenty-four acres here. There's a fellow got eighty between us and the other half of the place and where David, my boy, lives is just over the hill. He's on the other eighty. He takes care of all of it.
We got our first car in 1919. The first time I drove it, I drove it about two miles while a fellow was showing me how to drive it. We went to a brush arbor meeting at church that night which was about four miles. We went up there before dark, got in and was ready to start home, but the hind tire was flat as a pancake. I'd never seen a tire changed, didn't know how to go at it, but two men in that neighborhood had cars, so they came out and helped me change it. The patching was about a half a dozen little round patches about the size of a half dollar. We'd wash the tube a little with gasoline, tear the paper off the back of the patch, stick it on there and it'd stick. The first trip I ever went on, I had a flat. I run a number six nail through the tire. It was just a cotton fabric tire.
We could buy gasoline then for anywhere from eighteen to twenty-two or three cents. It wasn't long till it got down to where we could buy it a little cheaper. That's the only time it ever went down cheap, after that it only went up.
For one of my first jobs, one of my cousins and I started a canning factory along in '25. Everybody was canning tomatoes. We built a factory and we run it and canned a few carloads of tomatoes that year. I sold out to his brother that fall and come back on the farm.
I have worked as a bookkeeper for Domino Bakery in springfield. It was owned by an Italian that made spaghetti and macaroni. I learned about more kinds of bread back then, than I ever knowed there was. I was bookkeeper for them--not long--and then I came back on the farm.
Old photos courtesy of Wilford Haymes
I worked in a blacksmith shop. When it closed out, I got my own blacksmith's business. I'd sharpen the hoes and stuff like that for my neighbors. My grandfather was a blacksmith, my father worked as a blacksmith awhile and it sort of came natural. I could do a little bit of forge welding, but not too good. I never got too good at blacksmithing because I never worked at it long enough. I could've gotten a job in a bank, but I didn't want to work at a bank, so I never did do it.
When the Depression come along, I'd work at anything I could get. Maybe, I'd work twelve hours a day shoveling concrete for a dollar bill. I was glad to get it because there weren't very many people that had anything to hire anybody with. I worked pitching hay and feeding a horse-powered hay baler. I fed the thing and I would get a dollar a day.
We'd work about ten to twelve hours a day. It didn't make any difference, as long as we could see, we would work. I shoveled concrete for a basement. We didn't have concrete mixers. We had to mix it with shovels. We'd stand there all day long and shovel that cement. We'd turn it back and forth, and when we'd get it mixed pretty good, we'd put water on it, mix it again and then shovel it into the floor. That was hard work, just as hard a work as anybody ever done. You really get tired, but I think I've been just as tired when fishing as I got doing that. But I like to fish and I didn't like to mix concrete. I'd paint a little, carpenter and work on the farm. Back along whenever Fort Wood was started, I worked on building Fort Leonard Wood.
I went to preaching in the Methodist Church. Now I'm a retired old broke-down has been, but I preached in the Methodist church for about twenty-five years. I didn't go to college and take a lot of stuff on theology. I took my studies by correspondence from Dallas, Texas, and believe you me, it's not funny to take a correspondence course in theology. You've got to do a lot of studying, but I made good grades, good enough and I passed everything.
I quit preaching. I only preach funerals and things like that. I do some of that yet, but not much.
Most of the towns people, especially in the bigger cities, think, "Why, if we just had a farm, we could just go out there and have all this good stuff and just go and open up our deep freeze and take out a hunk of beef any time we wanted it." They don't stop to realize what a lot of trouble it is to raise and kill that beef. You have to be a bugologist and everything else. You've got to know about selective breeding, how to fight pests of all descriptions and a lot of things people don't think too much about. It is a revelation to many people to be out on a farm. Sometime, they should come to visit us, stay a week and just see how we do things.
I've got a cousin who lives in Los Angeles, and she came out and visited us one time. I said, "I don't see how anyone would want to stay out there, choking to death in the smog. Why don't you get out and farm?" She said, "We don't know how. We've not got sense enough to work on a farm. You've got to know too many things."
I like cattle, We've always had a milk cow. When we were milking, our cows were always Jersey. A long time ago we had a few Guernseys, but most of them were Jerseys, and we never did own but two or three Holsteins. They hadn't got very many Holsteins in the country when I had the deal. Everybody now nearly milks Holsteins altogether.
On our farm, we usually always had some beef cattle too. We have sold cattle for eight dollars a head. We had some cattle we couldn't use. Nobody wouldn't buy them. The government started a buying program in Marshfield. They gave eight dollars for a good big cow, if she'd butcher. They would kill the cattle if they weren't good enough to butcher. They give eight dollars, top price. We took a bunch of our cattle. Some of the neighbors all ganged up together and drove them to Marshfield about eight or nine miles. They butchered the meat, canned it and gave it to the people who were almost starving.
We sold two-hundred pound hogs for five dollars--two and one half cents a pound--during the Depression. My father-in-law once sold two wagon loads of hogs, for four dollars and seventy-five cents apiece.
I worked both horses and mules. I like to work mules. Working in the field, I prefer a mule. They're onery and all that, but I like mules. I've always had horses and sometimes I've had some mighty good mules. If you can get one that'll work good single, it'll be the best thing in the garden you've ever seen, because they've got a small foot and don't step on as many things in turning around. Mules are awful good. They can stand more than a horse and you can't founder them, either. You can give them a wagon load of corn and they'll just eat what they want. A horse will eat enough to kill himself. They don't know enough to quit eating. Mules take the heat better. Of course, in the wintertime, they get pretty frisky- If you let them stay around a few days you almost have to break them again.
There's a funny thing about a mule. I never did see a mule get scared and run away. They just run away if they're onery, not because they get scared, but just because they're feeling good. They want to run. A horse will get scared, and it will just run through a fence or run into a building or anything. You can't run a mule into anything. When a mule's running away, and something comes up that looks like it's going to hurt him, he'll stop.
We once had an old mare that was a pacer. You could just go to sleep in the saddle and ride along while she was pacing. I rode her as far as from here to the moon. I'd ride anywhere that I could just as long as I got back at a decent time.
Besides mules, I worked horses. When I went places I went horseback. I'd walk sometimes because the horses would've been worked so hard, I thought they should rest. I didn't think about me working, too.
In small animals, I like goats and rabbits. I love and admire milk goats. We used to have one hundred, forty or fifty rabbits sometimes. The most I ever sold to the Pelvery Company down in Arkansas was fifty-two. They bought rabbits. They'd give maybe twenty-five cents a pound. They come to Marshfield every two weeks and we'd take our rabbits up there. I've sold anywhere from three and four up to fifty-two at a time.
When they went to barrel them up to ship them, they'd take an ax and chop their heads off and their feet off up to the knee or back, wherever they was good. That's the way they'd ship them down there.
We went in the chicken business and sold setting eggs to MFA Hatchery. When they quit, we raised little chickens for Edwards Hatchery. They had a big old ten and eleven pound rooster that they raised what they called broad-breasted broilers--Indian River Broilers is what they were. We raised eggs for them to hatch to make the broilers out of. We also raised Arbor Acre and White Rocks.
We've got an empty chicken house out there with 3,200 square feet in it and a lot of cages. Now we have only eleven chickens up there in the brooder house--enough to give us eggs for us and our boy. The only reason we've got those eleven chickens is because we keep a light burning every night to keep the coons away. The coons is awful bad up and down this holler. We've caught coons in there killing our chickens. I'd fix a place where they could get in, set some big wolf traps in there and I'd catch a coon.
One time, a coon was killing our chickens. We fixed it so we knowed he couldn't possibly get in. He climbed up on top and tore a hole in the shingles and went down in there and killed a hen. We patched that up and put a light in there. We keep a light in there all the time to keep the coons out. They won't go in where there's a light. They're very vicious. When you've got a chicken in a cage, if they can get to it, they will grab his head, pull it out and kill it and eat it as far back in as they can. We've had them pull a chicken's foot down through a one by two inch mesh chicken wire at the bottom of the cage. They pulled one down there and just eat all the flesh off the bone plumb up to its body. They couldn't get the body down, but they'd have him caught.
Our barn loft is full of baled hay, and my boy went out there one day and a coon went in that hay, so I'm satisfied there's a bunch of coons out there. I know one thing, you can't leave a sack setting out here somewhere or that night they'll tear the whole side up. They eat feed and anything else they can get a hold of.
While we were gone, my wife left some egg cartons in an old washing machine that had a lid on it. She told our boys where they could find them. Along about the time we were going to come back, they put eggs in there for us to get. A doggone coon took the lid off of that, got in there, ate up the eggs and tore up almost all of the cartons.
We can't raise any roasting ears in our garden anymore. Just about the time they get ripe for eating, the coons would get thirty-five or forty ears a night. We finally learned to run a wire down there, put a couple of lights over the corn and they don't bother them.
We also have trouble with coyotes. They're pretty bad up and down this holler. My grandson come over here the other day and jumped one. They also kill our chickens. But because of them, we don't have many rabbits anymore. The place used to be jumping with rabbits. Anymore, you can drive all over the field and hardly ever jump a rabbit, because the coyotes are too thick.
There's a bunch of coyote hunters up in Marshfield that works down in here all winter. They kill a good many. They run foxes up and down this branch holler nearly every night through the summertime. They don't some summers because it gets so dry the dogs can't trail. There would be too much dust, but there would be fellers running up and down. Sometimes there would be four or five pickups over here in the holler. They've got dogs running loose. It keeps us busy calling people and telling them their hounds have come in to the house.
I have a lot of pastimes to keep me busy. We'd have singing and things at the Haymes Chapel Church, which is about four and a half miles from home.
I also play some different kinds of instruments. I play a mouth bow. I have heard where some people call them a picking bow, but this is a mouth bow. It's a musical instrument. It has a sort of jews-harp sound, and just makes one note. It's got to have a sound box, so your mouth is the sound box. You play it with a guitar pick. It's made of a guitar string. I made my own mouth bow out of a little piece of cedar I sawed off. The guitar pick is a good thing. It takes the tension off of it so you can just tighten her up. There's one pictured that is several hundred years old in a cave over in France.
I also have a jews-harp. I've carried it in my coat pocket for years and years. When I was running all round the country, I always carried my jews-harp with me.
I fish a lot. When I fish in the summertime, I use a hook and line some, and in the wintertime, we'd gig. We live a good long ways from there, but we used to go down to the Osage or the Gasconade, down there below Hazelgreen at the Cedar Bluff Eddy. I preached in that neighborhood and I knew the people. We'd go down there in the wintertime and gig in a hole of water nearly a mile long. It used to run anywhere from six to four foot to fourteen foot deep. We'd grab in the spring, where them suckers would come up to shoal.
Gigging with a spear is a whole lot easier than getting in there and catching a fish by hand, like when you noodle. Noodling is illegal in Missouri now. Noodling didn't used to be illegal. I have noodled until one time, me and another feller was noodling, and by golly, he thought he was catching a catfish! He came out shaking his finger and bleeding, and somebody said, "Well, you ought to know better than to jerk your hand. That's a big old cat. Well, drag him, but just don't jerk. He'll turn loose." I had my hand back in there and I could feel the slick side. About that time it went by and I felt him hit my side. The boy had a seine around him. The cork went to bobbing and we had a big old muskrat! We just hemmed him up back in there, and he bit a hole right through that feller's fingernail, right on through his finger. He had blood poisoning and almost lost his hand. That stopped me from reaching back in that way and noodling fish.
I don't know which one I like better between hunting and fishing. There isn't much difference.
A few years back I got sick and couldn't work, I wanted something to do, so I started learning to cane chairs to keep from going stark raving nuts. We had a chair my wife had give a dozen eggs for, and it looked like it wasn't worth that, but I got it finally cleaned up. She saw an advertisement in Needlecraft magazine and she ordered some cane. We didn't know there was a lot of different sizes of cane. We just knowed there was cane and that was it. It happened to be the right size. The county agent in Marshfield gave me a book. I looked at that and I caned a chair. I did a pretty good job. I thought it was as good as I ever done, so from that, I just moved on. I caned another and then I'd buy an old chair and fix that. Then I accidentally ended up working at a crafts festival each fall.
I also do work at home. I have done as high as forty-five or eight chairs between coming home from the festival and going back again the next year, plus making stools and chairs for them.
One day I seen a fellow pitch a chair out at the dump. I just went over there and picked it up and seen there wasn't a thing wrong with the chair, only it had one of the top stretchers broke where the seat goes around. I brought it home, knocked it apart, put a new stretcher in it and put a seat in it. It was a good chair. Somebody didn't know how to fix it and just throwed it away.
I have a homemade turning lathe I use to make legs for my stools. I give five dollars for the motor. It's a gasoline pump motor--a used one. I made it several years ago. I think I've got eighteen or nineteen dollars tied up in this lathe. One that will turn a board four foot long will cost anywhere from two hundred to three or four hundred dollars. I can turn whatever I want to with it. All the tools I use are homemade.
I like to work with the hardest wood there is. Persimmon is about as pretty a wood as you ever saw. Some think it looks like pecan and some think it looks like butternut, but it's heavier than either one. I can't buy persimmon lumber.
You hardly ever see any persimmon wood finished up. If anybody's got a tree big enough and wants to, they can get a good price for it selling it to the golf club manufacturers. They make golf clubs out of persimmon. They are real heavy and hard and it finishes up awful nice and slick.
There were a lot of hardships in my life, but I'm reminded of this story a lot of times. One of my wife's aunts married an old feller in Conway. He had ten kids and they lived on a little old poor piece of ground of forty or fifty acres. That's all he had--a bunch of kids and a little ole poor farm. The Depression come on and he worked as hard as any man ever did. My daddy-in-law said he was the poorest, hardest working man there was in the country. We went to see him just a few days before he died. He was laying in his bed and he said to me, "Wilford, by golly, I've sure had lots of fun in my life." He never thought about all them hard times when he was working, cutting wood, cutting corn, making railroad ties, working on the railroad section when he could and other things enough to buy a few things to eat.
I've lived a long life, but I don't know how good it's been. I'm like old Gus. I've had lots of fun and so far I don't owe nobody anything. I can't do lots of things because of my health. A fellow's getting in quite a mess when he can't see nor hear neither. I've already seen and heard a lot of things, so it don't make much difference.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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