Volume IX, No. 4, Summer 1982
A VISIT WITH MARY SCOTT HAIR
Edited by Dena Myers
Photography by James Heck and Sheila Jones
When we drove up to Mary Scott Hair's house in Hurley, Missouri, I was scared to death because this was my first story in my first year on the BITTERSWEET staff, and I hadn't even been on any interview before. Little did I realize that I had nothing to be afraid of, because as soon as she opened the yard gate for us, her sunny disposition put me at ease.
As we talked, she told us of a lifetime of tales and facts just waiting to be put in my story. As she would think of a funny story, she would suddenly smile and laugh like a young school girl.
Her personality shows through in everything she does. We got a letter from her saying, "Day before yesterday after school I helped a fourth grader with a paper about the beginning of our school system here in Hurley. He has red hair and is all boy. After the interview was over, he opened the front door to leave, closed it, came back and hugged me. I could stand pay like that every day!"
Mrs. Hair probably helped this boy in more ways than one because of her knowledge of Hurley's past and her own writing experiences.
On the envelope of her letter she had a quote that made me think that what I was doing was really worth the time I had spent on it. "Someday, somewhere someone will want to read what you could write down now."
"Samanthy" is my pen name. I do a news column every other week for The Crane Chronicle and one of the other papers uses the same news column. Everybody asked, "What have you got a pen name for?" To begin with I was kind of leary trying to sell them on the idea of a feature column, so I thought that if it failed, I'd rather that Samanthy be writing it instead of Mary Scott Hair!
There were two reasons why I picked Samanthy as my pen name. I had a first cousin twice removed, maybe you would say. Anyway Uncle B Short had a daughter named Samantha. They lived at the north perimeter of Wilson Creek Battleground, and following the battle of Wilson Creek it was sure a mess. The drinking water was polluted and this fifteen-year-old girl Samantha had typhoid and died. I thought I could memorialize her name.
Then my daughter had pneumonia the winter she was a freshman in high school. Dr. Doggett, a pioneer doctor in this part of the country who was her doctor, stopped to see Billie one night. He said that he had just delivered a baby and he told the number of ones he had delivered. He said, "It was a girl baby and I wanted to name her my favorite name." So I said, "Well, what is your favorite name?" He said, "Samatha." I said, "Okay, just stick around awhile and I'll make something out of that name for you." He died before I did much about the name, but his family knew. That was another one of the reasons that I chose Samanthy for my pen name.
My fan mail is most gratifying. I get letters from people everywhere. Somebody wrote in, "Where in the world did you get that pen name?" So, I told the story and I have to every so often, because people think it's funny. But, since I spell it with a "Y" somebody got the idea that I might have been kind of making fun of the name. I couldn't have been doing that because I was using my cousin's name.
My family was from Hurley--both sides of the family. I am a member of two pioneer families. My grandpa Scott came here with his family about 1890. My mother's people were Shorts. The Shorts were a pioneer family that came here in 1850 to where Homestead Park is now in Spring Creek Valley. That was where my grandfather drove his stakes and intended to build his house. When he came back in the fall, it had been a dry summer and the little spring had gone dry, so he moved on down the valley.
I own the land now where my grandfather intended to build his house. When I bought the land, there was a two room shack there. I got rid of it just as soon as I could. Since this area looked like a country slum, different ones said, "In the name of heavens, what did you want with that little corner of land there?" It's where Grandfather Short came and thought that he would build a home.
The school kids built the park--really it was the FFA that spearheaded it. They were looking for a bicentennial project. They said, "What would you say if we asked to use that ground down there and make a park out of it?"
I said, "Well, more power to you." So that's how we happen to have a park. I said, "The only thing that I want to request is that whatever you do in making the park that you be careful about the trees." My husband had set out three ginkgo trees that I've watched over all these years. Their names are Faith, Hope and Charity. They're slow growing, but I couldn't believe they were so pretty. If there's a good season, they'll turn the color of gold and all of the leaves be on the trees one day. The next day, they'll all be in a circle around the tree--all falling in the night. The first thing the boys did was to put protective coverings around the trees.
In the park where the wishing well is, there is a spring, and for years there was also a well. When the spring rains come, we have the nicest little spring with the clearest water that comes from under the bank at the foot of a tree. It goes dry, though.
I should have shown you my crown. I was crowned the queen of Homestead Park. We dedicated this monument. It has the names of the combat veterans that lost their lives in the field of battle. For a little town we were pretty hard hit in World War II to have that many casualties.
When the post office was commissioned in 1896 and named Hurley, we had already had the Spring Creek settlement since early in 1850. Stone County was organized in February of 1851 but we already had a Spring Creek Valley settlement here before that.
My father was the first postmaster. He said that the postal inspector asked, "What name do you suggest for the post office?" My dad said, "Spring Creek Post Office." The inspector said, That's too much to put on our cancelling stamp." His daughter, who was standing by listening, was engaged to a young fellow whose last name was Hurley. As they were talking about Spring Creek being too long a name, she said, "Oh, Papa, let's name it Hurley." We never did know whether she married him or anymore about the romance. That's a cute story, and it's true.
The mill was built in the early 1890s. It had additions at different times. My father owned the mill for many years. Late one evening he was getting ready to go to the house when this man rode up on horseback. The man said that he had been riding all day and that he would like to buy a nickel's worth of corn to feed his horse. Dad picked him out six nice big ears of yellow corn and gave them to him. The man paid him with three pennies and a two cent stamp. That's my favorite story.
The main industry in Hurley throughout the early years, I would say, was milling. There was a mill above Hurley and a mill below Hurley. The mill was the thing then because people had to have something to eat. Cornbread and milk were the basics at that time. Anything made out of flour was extra, but my father made good flour and so did Mr. Whinsey who bought the mill and operated it for a number of years. Flour was shipped from here to different places. It went out of here in wagons to the Frisco Railroad at Marionville before we had the railroad here.
The mill was pretty. There used to be a little pavilion in the mill pond where they had fireworks on the Fourth of July. We used to have Sunday afternoon boat rides on the Mill Pond. My dad always had a boat and kept it down real close to the dam. If the boat would've turned over, it wasn't deep enough to hurt.
My dad could come nearer doing everything than any man I've ever known. After he sold the mill, he had the lumber yard in Hurley and then he had the lumber yard at Clever. He was left-handed and a good fiddler as well as a first class carpenter. There was a byproduct of being a carpenter. The old-timers always spoke ahead for somebody to make their caskets, for children, babies and grownups, too. Well, my papa made the prettiest ones and my husband helped make them, too. In fact, I think he probably made the last one that was made in Hurley. The first thing that I can remember was my father holding me up to look at my grandpa Short when he died and was in his casket. I was born in December 1902 and he died in January 1905.
I've lived in Hurley all my life, I was born just across the creek on the other side of town in a house over there where my folks lived all of their married lives. Some friends of mine own that house now, but it's still home. When I think about it, it isn't theirs, it's home.
I was the happiest kid in the world. We had a hill out back of our house and I just practically lived on that hill. I was just a little Indian and brown as a pumpkin. The only thing that I can ever remember wanting to do was write, and write I did. I made poetry. I guess you would have to say that I made poetry because I couldn't write it. My mama and sister who was eight years older than I, wrote it down for me before I could ever write. I didn't know it, but after Mama died, in her Bible we found some of the things that I'd written and there was something about, "Let's go down to the mill pond, and throw stones at the frogs." I had it all rhymed and she had written it down.
The first train went over the track in April of 1907. I remember the first train that I ever saw. We stood there and watched the train come up the track just slowly, because they weren't sure whether the rails would pull apart or whether they'd get over it all right. Mama had me by the hand and by the dress tail. I don't know whether she thought I'd go running out there in front of the train or what.
There was a number of other firsts in my life. I attended school the first year that we had school here in 1909. We had a little one-room school on the hill up above the Methodist Church. That was where our school was until we built the high school building up the valley. Then I graduated in the first class from the new high school.
I went my freshman year in Hurley and my sophomore and junior years in Springfield Central High School because when I was a sophomore we only had the one year here.
I had to board in Springfield, but we could ride the train there on Sunday evening and then come home on Friday afternoon. A girl friend of mine, Phyllis Oliver, and I traveled together from Hurley and roomed together. It was real handy. She moved to Colorado at the latter part of our junior year, and that had some bearing on the fact that I got married because I couldn't see going to school in Springfield without Phyllis. But I'm glad it all turned out the way it did.
The class of '21--the class I should have graduated with in the high school in Springfield--had their sixtieth reunion this year, and I noticed that they still carry my name on the list. They were giving the names of some of the prominent members of their class, and they said, "Mary Scott Hair, well known writer of folklore." I don't know who ever tagged that on me. I live it rather than write it. It's just a part of life with me.
I was seventeen when I got married. My husband's name was Ernest Hair. He was from Brown's Spring, a little town right up Spring Creek Valley. He was born there and lived there all his life until we were married. Then he moved to Hurley. We were both natives of this immediate area.
The only thing left of Brown's Spring is the spring and a few of the houses, but at one time it was quite a little resort town because there was a dam there and a lake. The Missouri Pacific train had passenger service and came through on a regular schedule basis. On Sundays you could come from Springfield in the morning and go back between four and five o'clock in the afternoon. That gave you a good picnic day. There was a pavilion across the lake and you could buy soda pop and ice cream. It was quite a little town then, but the dam went out and washed away some of the buildings. It was a sad time. The dam and Brown's Spring was never rebuilt.
I'd known my husband all my life. I had a sister who was eight years older than I, and he went with her when I was a little girl. He was eleven years older than I, but she got married and then I married him. I always kind of liked that. They never were serious. After he came back from World War I, he was quite a hero in my eyes. You know how a seventeen year old is. He had just come back from the war, all handsome in his uniform. You can imagine how it was, can't you?
I've lived all my married life, since 1920, in this house. That's been sixty-one years. I couldn't move if I wanted to unless I just burned the house. It's old-fashioned, but it's home.
By the time my little girl was five years old, they had all four years of high school in Hurley. Then when she was six years old, I went back to school, and I graduated with the class of '28 from high school here. One class graduated before I did--the class of !927. That year we built the new high school building--my father was the contractor on the job--and I graduated with the first class from the new high school.
We had a first class high school here then. At that time that's the way they were graded. I think that I enjoyed school my senior year more than I did any other time. It meant more to me than all the other years put together. I worked--just worked like everything. Of course I had to. To keep a little girl in school and keep a home going and be valedictorian of my class, that took some doing.
Education wasn't important to me when I first went to high school but I didn't have to be married very long until I could see the error of my ways. I was happy to get back in school and if there had been a college anywhere close, I would have gone right on. In fact, I did get my journalism training by correspondence courses and extension courses from Missouri University. After all you learn to write by writing and the only thing I can ever remember wanting to do was write. I sold a lot of eggs and whatever to pay for the courses and to be able to manage. It was my own spending money that I used because we were kind of having a hard time about then, but I would do it all over again.
My husband was a carpenter mostly. My father gave us the lumber yard at Clever. We ran it for a number of years. Aside from that, he could nearly always get carpenter work. But toward the last we decided we'd like to farm, and we sold the lumber yard and bought a little forty-seven acre farm out west of here.
I had a flock of sheep which we moved to the farm. My husband would say, "Well, the reason we bought the farm was she had too many sheep at home." All my life, I guess since I was about five years old, I've had sheep up until a month ago. After this heart episode, I had to get rid of them.
Sheep are by far my favorite animal. I just love them. I just miss them so much since I had to get rid of them. I told one girl the other day, "My family pugged me until I sold them because I really don't need the responsibility of them this winter." But I said, "If I live through this winter, it just might be I'd have some sheep next year." But I mustn't. I'm getting too old for that kind of business.
One reason I like sheep is that if you have lambs and bring them up, they absorb your personality. Once on shearing day a lamb just cried and cried when she saw her mother, She just couldn't reconcile the way her mother looked without her wool. She just didn't like the way her mama looked at all. My husband was gentle with them. I took care of them a great deal because after he got sick then it was up to me to take care of them. But if you are loud and rough with them, they will be frightened. Mine were scared of men because all the sheep I'd had for the last eight years, I took care of them. When the fellows brought my feed to me, the sheep would always run to me and just gather around me because they were afraid. I've had goats for pets. We had milk goats for a little while and they're smart, but I just don't care for them. Chickens make good pets, but sheep definitely are my animals.
Lots of people have the idea, "Get you some sheep and they'll take care of themselves." They can't. No animals can take care of themselves unless they are truly a wild animal. I'm not sure squirrels can take care of themselves. They depend on coming to your house or your back yard and picking up something to eat. I don't think there is any animal but what depends to a great extent on human help. Now, I know God made animals before he did people, but if you remember your Bible story, he made Adam to be the flock keeper to take care of the animals and take care of the garden.
I saw a feature the other afternoon on television about the importance of pets to the aged and aging. "Shoot," I said, "I've known that all my life. That isn't anything new." But some experts are telling it like it's something that they discovered. They brought puppies and kittens to a nursing home and were passing them around to the old people. I think the biggest part of those old people in their growing up days had all kinds of animals. Anyway, out on the farm they would if they had nothing else but chickens.
We had a big enough flock of sheep on the farm that they contributed largely to our living. We sold the lambs in the spring and the wool. We got two crops. But, we also had some cows. We sold milk. Then because of his years in the war and the fact that he was getting along in years, my husband had arthritis. Once he got a bad dose of that, his working days were pretty well over. That's how come me to pile in and take over and help out with the living. Along about that time in 1948, I began writing for the Crane Chronicle. I've been at it ever since.
I helped pioneer writing feature columns for county newspapers. Now I have a feature column, "Much in a Basket,'' right on the front page. But at the time I sold the Crane Chronicle on the idea of one, I did it for free for the first two or three years just to prove to them that it was a paying proposition. It proved to be enough of a subscription getter so they began paying me for it and they have ever since.
My articles haven't changed except as I've changed. I can look back at some of the first ones and think that my writing style has changed, but it never does. Through the years I've been a nature buff, and when you have that for a background plus local history--and I'm rooted and grounded in local history --there are very few columns that don't have a little of both, like the one that's got the mill dam in it and the one where I am documenting the park down here, the memorial that we dedicated this year. When I did begin writing this column, I guess one of the reasons I tried so hard to sell the idea to the paper was the fulfillment of this dream that I had of writing. I did author a book. When the flood came my copy was the only copy I had kept. It was ruined. One of the neighbors gave me her copy so I do have one now. One book is all I have any desire to author.
My husband died the first of December in 1976. I say that I'm a bicentennial widow.
In '79 in June there was five foot deep water when Spring Creek flooded. We still haven't got rid of the flood damage. It just washed everything out that I had. It washed two buildings away and all my fences--just everything. Everything I still have in the house has a mark of the flood. Everything was just covered with mud and dirt.
It was the first time a flood like that happened in this particular area, but a whole section of town washed out one time--the string of buildings running from the bridge west. But there was more water down in this valley. You could have rowed a boat easily.
I was standing over by the telephone. I could just feel the water oozing up on my legs until it hit my kneecap and then it began subsiding. After the water had run down, we had to get everything in the house with the exception of the grand piano all out in the yard. The water came just under the keyboard of the piano, so I said to my grandaughter, "For goodness sakes, let's get that piano up to your house before something like this happens again. There was so much water in the room, and it was so damp for so long that it damaged the sounding board. We kept three big fans going day and night to try to dry that room out on the account of the piano. Water remained under the house for a long time, so I also kept a fan at the air holes trying to dry it up under the house. It takes experiences like that all added up to make a life.
My husband's nephew, Finis Gold, was here Sunday. He looked out there where there isn't anything now, where two buildings had washed out from up there and all the fences, and he said, "Aunt Mary, you know, I think that flood might of done you some good. It looks all clean!"
I'm very much a Hurleyite. I grew up with this town. I grew up with the railroad. I saw the railroad go out, and I've seen the town just go. It's an interesting thing a little town is. I wonder how many years it will be that we will still have little towns.
I remember Hurley when the railroad came in, when the mill was a going thing and when we had close to three hundred population. I believe one of the largest figures the census gave us was around 1920 or 1930 and it was 245, maybe. Now it's back down to 124. Ten years ago in '70 it was 148. We thought we were gaining.
I was a part of the building of the railroad and I watched them pull the rails when they took the railroad out. That was a sad day, believe me, because it was the end of an era. The Missoui Pacific line from Crane to Springfield was discontinued. There hadn't been any trains go over the rails for five or six months, and then the orders were given to pull the rails. On election day in 1972 they pulled the rails through Hurley. In about a couple of weeks it was all over. It was finished. We cried because you don't lose a railroad everyday.
Now there is a possibility of our only store being sold--the merchandise sold at the auction--and we wouldn't even have a store here. That would be sad. We've always had a store for as long as we've had a post office.
I'm also afraid we may lose our school, we brought it up to a double-A rating last year. The year before last it was just A rating and we began to get scared about it. If in the future years something should happen that we lose our rating, the powers that be may decide that it'll be better to consolidate with three or four more schools and build a big school. That has been talked time and time again. Of course, nobody wants to give up their school.
With all these changes in Hurley the population is getting old. When you get to thinking about the young people and the children, we don't have them in town. They come in on the school bus from the country. Just take, for example, my family. I'm the lone Indian down here. I've lived here all my life and I think I'm the last of the Mohicans--the last of the ones that were born here. There isn't anybody left in my family. My sister's house is across the street and all of her family is gone. As her heir I didn't want to sell her property, so I gave it to my daughter. She'll never live here, I'm sure. She lives in Springfield. She has one daughter and her daughter lives in Springfield.
I wouldn't want to be offered the chance to change anything in my life. I've lived a good life. It hasn't all been easy. My husband was eleven years older and that made some differences in our marriage, but then things would smooth out. When life became easier for us and I wanted to do things, go places, he couldn't because his health had deteriorated to such an extent that he wasn't able to.
I was brought up to respect the elderly. I had lots of aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas, because older people were called aunts and uncles. If an older man had a beard, he was grandpa or uncle to the whole town. It was just a custom. Every once in awhile, someone will call me Aunt Mary. It tickles me. I think, "Well gee, I'm getting along in years."
I've always been an admirer of Robert Louis Stevenson. His philosophy and mine differ in this way. He said "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." I think that it should be, "We should all be happier than kings," because I don't believe we have many kings now. Think how the mighty have fallen!
I think that's a good sentiment all right, and it was particularly so at the time that Stevenson lived. But now, in that number of years just think how the boundary lines of countries of the world have changed and countries that have had kings don't have, so, how happy can a king be? I think we ought to be happier than kinds.
There are so many things to be interested in that for the life of me, I don't see how people could say, "Oh, I'm so bored I don't know what to do." What about the natural world? All free.
The thing that bothers me is that more people aren't aware of nature. I don't know how to make them aware because that is one thing that I've plugged ever since I have been writing. There is always something in my column about nature. I've had people say to me, "Well, I think you would run out." It's been thirty-three years. I haven't run out yet, because nature is always changing. If you plan to do anything like I've done, for goodness sake, latch on to nature.
I like to walk. Walking is good for what ails you. Since this heart episode, I've been walking evenings with a couple of my friends, and mostly we go up Spring Creek Road that goes up the creek, north about a half mile. We almost memorized things on each side of the road--the plants and the things that go on. The creek's on one side and the hill's on the other side. On the creek side is a different type of plants and flowers than on the hillside, and we talk about them.
Last night we had gone quite a distance, and I said, "Wait just a minute. Look what's ahead of us!" Across the road in a huddle on one side was this bunch of quail about grown. We just stood there. The first one started out and one by one they went single file across the road. There were thirteen of the cutest things. They didn't seem to be afraid.
We just see things like that, and everyone has all of that at their back doors. That's what I have tried to tell people--just get out in your back yard and see what all you can learn.
To me life is just full of vim and vitality. It won't ever run out for me. I may run out on it but it won't on me.
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