Volume 2, Number 5, Fall 1965
First I met Maggie Hensleys grandson. We went to the feed store to buy blue grass seed. The clerk attracted no special attention, a young man doing well his job. Then after he removed the string, which stitched across the end of the sack held the seed inside, he put the string in his pocket.
I smiled and said, "Every family has one, including mine, a string saver."
He said, "My grandmother is crocheting a bed spread of them."
I could scarcely wait until the next day to drive three miles up Highway 76 out of Branson. There we found Mrs. Maggie Hensley at the home of her son. Maggie moved in with Claude and his wife after the death of her husband, Ben, eight years ago. She could not take care of all the farm tasks. The grandson and his family live at the Home Place.
Next week Maggie moves with Claude to Branson. Maggie says of that, "Once Ben and I lived in town for eleven months. We did not like it and came right back to the farm. Likely I will like it better this time, for it is good to have a son and daughter to look after one when one is 83 years young. I was born on Christmas Day of 1882.
Maggie does appear young. Her hair, not at all of the pull-back grandmother area, frames her face with curls. I noted, to her shoes, neither granny knits or brogues, but of new style with small heels and cut-offs.
She pieced two quilts this winter, for her church to give to needy families. She reminds you "Sometimes a family loses everything by fire or flood and a quilt comes in handy." One year she made twelve.
After a bit of prodding and interest shown, Maggie began telling stories of near to pioneering days in this area. Often she interspersed her remarks with bits of information that showed insight into the present and into the future.
Born Maggie Lord, she grew up at the mouth of Bull Creek, "Long known as the best fishin stream between Missouri and Arkansas."
She soon recalled the joy of riding a horse to the country store at Walnut Shade. I asked, "What could you buy at the country store?"
"We could buy anything we wanted," stated Maggie.
I, too, remember country stores. I saw my first one some sixty years ago. I remember their size and sparseness of articles. The one at Petersburg, Missouri, measured about 15 by 20 feet but perhaps, for too long I have visited supermarkets.
Mrs. Hensley repeated, "We could buy anything we needed or wanted. We did not need, or perhaps want, much.
"We grew our own sweetin, that was sorghum molasses. Every fall my father borrowed a sorghum mill. With a horse to turn the press he squeezed the juice from the cane stalk. Out in the yard in pans, he cooked the juice until it became a thick golden syrup. Fifty gallons of it he made."
Maggie liked the squeezing and the cooking, but she hated what came before. She hated the cane stripping. Using a cane knife with its long thin blade one must strip the leaves from the stalk, remove the seed head and the roots, then lay the stalks in straight piles.
She adds, "Sorghum mixed with butter and spread on hot home-made biscuit, corn bread, home-made bread, or hot cakes is just larrapin. And with the sorghum my mother made gingerbread, taffy candy, and popcorn balls.
"We grew our own bread, too. Father grew the wheat which he harvested, then took to the mill at Forsyth, our county seat town. He would bring home barrels of flour. From this good flour, with none of the extras they now add, we made our own light bread, full of protein and vitamins.
"I even continued to make my own yeast, just as did my mother and grandmother. I always gathered enough peach leaves to fill a skillet. I would boil them (Mrs. Hensley, like any good southern cooks, expects you to know the quantity of water, usually until you can see it). Then strain the liquid, scald the meal with it." (Here again Mrs. Hensley expects you to know the quantity).
When I pressed her for the amount she said, "Maybe you will want a quart of meal. When the mealy mixture cools, stir in a tea-cup of batter from your last bread-making. Let it set to rise. Then if necessary, stir in more meal to make it thick enough that you can form it into cakes. When the cakes are good and dry, put into a quart jar and seal. I try to make my cakes big enough for one to make a baking, like this . . .
She brought forefinger and thumb about an inch apart.
"Father grew the corn bread, too, and he grew the corn," she continued. "Sometimes he would let me ride a horse and carry a sack of corn to Pedrows Mill to get the corn ground into meal. A water wheel turned the mill, made of two stone burrs. They never turned fast enough to burn the vitamins from the meal. I would take a bushel and a half of corn. The miller took his toll, one-fifth I think, yet going home, the sack seemed fuller and more unmanageable. I did not mind the trouble, for what is better than hot cracklin corn bread and cold milk for supper?"
I asked, "How does one make cracklin corn bread?"
Mrs. Hensley answered, "Mix up a batch of bread. You know how to do that. Then just before you put it in the pan stir in a lot of cracklins. The cracklins are what is left when the men render lard.
"We liked Johnny cake, too. For that you take maybe a quart of meal, put it in a bowl, mix in a handful of cracklins, and then some salt. Then stir in boiling water. Make into patties and bake in the oven.
"I really liked best the Johnny cake my grandfather would make. He first scraped an oak board until it was smooth as could be. He heaped wood on the fire, in the fireplace, until he had a good bed of coals. He took a bowl of corn meal, added just salt and hot water. He patted the stiff batter on the clean board and stood it before the fire. Sad irons held the board at just the right angle to get the heat. That Johnny cake always seemed a bit earthy with just enough smoke to give it a meaty flavor.
"We grew our fats, too. Mother made our butter in the old stone churn. I swung the paddle up and down for many an hour. I did not mind it in the summer when I sat under a big tree in the yard, watching the squirrels, butterflies, and birds, and hear the waters rushing down Bull Creek.
"Father rendered the lard out in the yard in big kettles. That is, he cooked the inch squares of pork fat until all the fat came out, leaving only the cracklins. The lard he poured into five or ten or sometimes twenty-gallon stone jars. These filled jars we kept in the cool cellar in the summer time. The lard did not become rancid, without adding the fancy fixings of today. They say those fancy fixings hold or make cholesterol, which causes heart illness . . . but I guess we would rather have heart attacks than to render lard.
"We grew our own meat. In the winter father butchered the hogs. The meat he cured, smoked, and put in sacks, lined with hay. The filled sacks he hung from the rafters of the smoke house. He butchered beef only in the summer. Mother raised chickens both for producing eggs and meat. We had wild game such as venison, squirrel, rabbit, turkey, and quail and fresh fish all the year from Bull Creek and White River.
"We could buy coffee at the Store but sometimes Mother made our coffee. She roasted wheat grains, roasted them very dark. She ground the roasted grains and from these made coffee. The drink was not too bad and maybe not too different, for in those days we bought our coffee beans green. Mother roasted them in the oven and ground them in the old square coffee mill.
"We dried apples and peaches on long boards placed in the yard during the day and brought them inside during the night. Mother made apple butter in the big kettle out in the yard and father made cider, some of which he permitted to make vinegar.
"We had our vitamin C, too. Father made forty gallons of sauerkraut every fall. He cut the cabbage right in the barrel. He used a shovel with a blade about this wide (8 inches). He would cut several inches of cabbage, add salt and then, add more cabbage and salt to near the top of the barrel. He then smoothed a round oak board, a piece that would fit close inside the barrel and over the cabbage. On the board he placed a flint rock to hold the cabbage down and keep the juices covering the cabbage. He used a flint rock, not a common sand stone, for then there would be grit in the sauerkraut.
"The family must be clothed so father raised cotton. Mother and I picked the seeds from the cotton boll and carded to remove the dirt. Then mother spun her sewing thread and warp for weaving. Also, father brought wool fresh from the shearing pen. Mother washed the wool, carded, and spun thread or yarn for knitting socks, gloves, and sweaters.
"Neither my mother nor I ever wove material for clothing, but my grandmother did. I have heard her say that the cloth she spun and wove was strong enough to hang a boy. That is, if a boy climbed a tree and got caught on a limb the cloth never ripped or gave way. The boy just hung there until released. When rearing a family, I never had a comforter or quilt that was not lined with cotton I had carded.
"At the store we could buy calico for dresses and aprons. We never had a silk dress."
When Maggie wanted a new carpet, she made it. She says that any floor not covered from wall to wall would have felt immodest. Maggie borrowed a loom, wove yards and yards of yard-wide strips, then sewed the strips together. She covered the
floor with fresh-threshed wheat straw and tacked the carpet to the four wall boards.
She says, "It took you and the man, and sometimes the neighbors to lay the carpet, for that carpet had to be stretched tight or wear made it give and make wrinkles which would throw you as you walked across the floor . . . and then every spring you went through the same ordeal, for at house cleaning time the carpet must come up, be cleaned, new straw laid, and that carpet again laid.
Maggie and her mother used scraps and every bit of good old material for weaving. She says, "We never threw away a bit of cloth. You see, we could buy anything we wanted at Walnut Shade country store. There were likely other things we might have wanted, but we were so happy with our hills and hollers, the birds, the animals, our family, and friends that we seldom wanted anything we could not grow or make . . . or get at Walnut Shade."
O, yes, that bed spread is about half finished.
Maggie just works on it when someone brings her more string. Neighbors and friends, too, save string for Maggies bedspread. Everyone who brings string stops to visit. The grandson brings the news of the town, the neighbors bring the news of the country . . . and Maggie stays interested and interesting.
Now did Maggie deliberately plan a satisfied senior citizen of elderly years, or has she just done what comes naturally for one with her background? ? ? Anyway, as I reach three score and ten years, I will continue to keep in mind how Maggie kept them coming to see her.
(Time does bring changes. I wrote the above story in the Spring. Now, before time to go to press, I learn that Mrs. Maggie Hensley and the Rev. Frankie Stuart were married on the third Sunday in July at the Mt. Branson Baptist Church. The couple lives at Cedar Creek. From there Mr. Stuart serves three General Baptist Churches of the area. JRM).
The Kilby family at their home in Taney city. Richard and Mercy Kilby and Grandfather and Grandmother Kilby and children living at that time.See story in Summer issue of 1965 Quarterly. -Photo courtesy of Roy E. Stout, Forsyth, Missouri
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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