Volume 2, Number 10, Winter 1966-67
HOW WE LIVED ON $100 A MONTH
Fathers salary as Cashier was $100 a month, and we lived on his salary throughout the years of our growing up in Ozark. Earning all except his bank salary by side investments, by shrewd trading (largely in real estate), and by dint of devilish hard work, he steadily increased his capital holdings. He spent dreary evenings in the Court House copying deeds for his abstract business, he installed Ozarks first waterworks and kept it going despite nearly overwhelming odds, and made it pay. He farmed here and there on pieces of land he owned in the county; and he kept a big and bountiful vegetable garden for our home use. Added to this, we farmed in town, for half of our home property--nearly a city block in size--was farm- and barn-yard and vegetable garden. Always we milked two cows, supplied our own table and several neighbors. Mother churned butter, made smearcase, "cottage cheese," froze the cream to make ice cream, and mixed cake with it. We had a henhouse and a large flock of hens for eggs and friers, and occasionally we fattened hogs that Father himself (with assists from Mother and 5 sons) butchered. All this on our farm in town. Yes, and fruit trees, and a berry patch. Blackberries grew wild on every country road--every summer Mother canned scores of gallons of them that we picked ourselves or bought for a dime a gallon from hard-hitten farmers eager for a bit of cash.
UNCLE DOC AND UNCLE BEE
Yes, we lived well on Fathers meager $100-a-month salary, plus perquisites. Plenty of milk and sturdy proteins, plenty of leafy vegetables, gave us a balanced ration. We were well nourished and we were healthy--all of us five sons. When we felt ill, though the occasions were rare, we had two uncles to doctor us--our real Uncle "Doc" and our Foster Uncle Bee.
This foster uncle, and his wife "Aunt" Alice, met on Grandmother Rogers farm. This is how it happened:
When Alice was a young girl both her parents died. Her father was the Union veteran, Captain Flagg. The Flaggs were neighbors of Grandmothers, and as was customary, neighbors took orphans in. Grandmother took Aunt Alice. She was a pretty teen-age girl when another neighbor, Bee Elkins, came to work on Grandmothers farm--and there Alice and Bee meet and fell in love. What it was that gave Bee his notion to study medicine is only a conjecture, but I like to think it may have been the example of Grandmother and Uncle Doc. Anyway, he did go off to St. Louis and he did get his medical degree. Then he came back and married Alice and set up practice in Ozark. I was named for him--Charles Elkins Rogers. Mother said he saved my life when I was an infant and would have died of pneumonia but for Uncle Bees heroic attention in the crisis of the disease.
Aunt Alice had extraordinary skill and art in cooking. Her fried chicken, her cake, the vegetables she prepared, everything she cooked was exquisitely done. One time I asked her who taught her, and she answered, "Why it was Aunt Junta of course,--your Grandmother." (Grandmothers name was Junta Wilson (Watts) Rogers.) Then Aunt Alice went on to tell how much of the time, she learned by watching Grandmother cook. For Grandmother had her foster daughter, that was Alice, read to her as she did her housework. Alice told me the things she read were the paperback romantic novels of the period--Grandmother "ate it up," and Alice (so she used to tell it) "had it easy."
Father used to twit Mother about her poor skill as a cook. He would tell her and all of us--how his mother used to get fried chicken on their table for breakfast. Father said his mother would herself catch the chicken, wring its neck, pluck its feathers, get it and cut it up, and fry it to a golden brown, all in the unbelievably short period of 15 minutes. It would be on the table by the time Johnny and Newt (Uncle Doc) got their clothes on, the stock fed, and came in from the barn for their hearty country breakfast. No doubt with fried potatoes, and maybe cornbread and sorghum molasses. But that yarn I never believed. My mother would have taken an hour to do it, puttering around the kitchen in the ineffectual way she had with all housework.
Of Uncle Bee, Mother used to say he was the wisest and most trustworthy diagnosticism of any doctor she knew. Often he would take off from his practice to travel to the great medical centers to pursue "postgraduate work," something out of the ordinary for a country doctor of his day. His hobby was music, and he played the violin -- he didnt just fiddle by ear, like yokels who played for the square dances. Uncle Bee knew the classics; it was not unusual for him to travel to St. Louis to hear a violin concert by a renowned artist. By rail to St. Louis and back just to hear the violin played for an hour or two by a great artist--that would take at least three days away from his practice in Ozark. It cost him dearly, but it was almost as necessary to him as the food that nourished his body. Father
could never understand this foolishness --father was tone deaf.
FATHERS SMALL LUXURIES
Father indulged himself in few luxuries. He smoked cigars -- 5-cent ones -- and took a little dram of gin or whiskey, or a bottle of beer. Steadily, but seldom much at any one time. But he kept these around, as he often said, for his healths sake. Mother belonged to the WCTU --Womens Christian Temperance Union --and wore a white ribbon. She never made it easy for father to have spirits in the house, but he steadfastly stood his ground. He liked hot toddy in the morning: I remember the first time he ever gave me one. It was when I returned home for vacation from college one Christmas holiday. He brought it up to my bedroom, before breakfast. I loved him for it -- and the toddy was good, too. He made it with a glass of boiling water, a small jigger of whiskey, and a teaspoon of sugar. Perhaps he sprinkled a bit of nutmeg over it, for I remember the aroma of spice.
Drinking and smoking were Fathers small luxuries. But he had one large, expensive luxury. It was horses. We always boarded 2 to 6 horses in our barn, although one, or at most two, would have served our needs. But father loved horses and he lavished considerable sums on their keep. The horses and mares I recall were Teddy and Togo, Queen and Kate (also called Ribbon). Teddy and Togo were geldings --Teddy a saddle horse, Togo a buggy horse, the former from Queen, the latter from Kate.
Queen was the only thoroughbred animal we ever owned. Father bought her off Colonel William H. Phelps, railroad lobbyist and businessman. Colonel Phelps broke her wind one day riding her from the mines south of Ozark to Springfield, after receiving word that his daughter had committed suicide. Despite the handicap of her broken wind she served us faithfully and well for many years, foaling several fine colts. The two years we lived on the farm, during which Father commuted the eight miles up Friday afternoon and back to Ozark on Sunday afternoon, he always rode Queen. Father rode majestically -- he and Queen certainly complemented each other. I can see him now, all these 60 years later, as they rounded the far corner of our farm a quarter mile away, I watched expectantly from the yard.
Queen was a large black animal, proud and spirited, with wide nostrils, and large brown eyes. She never walked in the usual sense --she seemed to glide along. She could pace, foxtrot, or single-foot, according to command of her rider. One could ride old Queen all day without tiring-- she was the Cadillac of horses. Father rode her like a commanding general, erect, his back stiff as a poker rod He was not a tall man--only 5 feet 8 inches--but on horseback he looked much taller, partly because his body was disproportionally longer than his short, fat legs. Around the turn of the century Father weighed more than 200 pounds, though he carried his weight well.
Queen hated being hitched up. She would show it, either by kicking, throwing back her ears in anger, or by balking--just refusing to move. Once Father hitched the two mares Queen and Kate to a wagon to take us on a Sunday outing up Finley River to Parchcorn Ford, Queen did not pull her share of the load at any point; indeed, Kate practically did the job alone. But Queen at least did deign to go along, until we came to a little hill near our destination. As we started up the grade, Queen halted, and no persuading, exhorting, swearing, scolding, or even the lash of a buggy whip would move her. She baulked. Father lost his temper. He handed the line to one of us, got down from the drivers seat, and started pounding Queens plump hip with his fist. In his anger he opened out the little finger of his right hand and whamed it against the old mares rump, fracturing the bone -- of the little finger, of course, not of old Queens rump. She hardly felt the blow. I thought the old mare turned her head in the direction of Father and gave him a horse-laugh that Sunday afternoon on a little hill, not far from Parchcorn Ford on Finley River. Nobody can prove she didnt--and I saw it myself. I was 5 years old. We had to unhitch the mare and turn the wagon around and start it downhill before we could get Queen to pull her share of the load.
Ribbon was dual purpose--saddle-horse and buggy-horse. She was gentle as a lamb, hospitable as a Kentucky Lady, willing to go till she dropped. She was our "regular" buggy-horse. You didnt need to drive her --you just dropped the lines over the dashboard and let Kate (Kate or Ribbon -- she answered to either) take over. Tom Gray, in 1957 Vice President of the Pullman Company, inventor of Train-X. but then my Ozark "gander," used to tour the countryside with me by the hour in Kates safekeeping. And she was Mothers favorite animal. She left us several good colts.
FATHER HAD FUN
Once Kate carried Father and me to Springfield in our buggy. Father had business in Springfield and he took me for company. Although Springfield now is only 10 or 12 miles from Ozark and less than 20 minutes away by car over a fine paved road,, in 1906 or 1907, and before, it was regarded as about 20 miles from the square at Ozark to the center of Springfield. With a spry team it was possible to drive the distance in 4 hours, and even longer if the long clay hill above James River was slick with rain or snow. It was no more than a fair country road, unpaved of course, rocky and hilly. If you intended to drive up and back the same day, you
got an early start and you got home late at night, if you remained in Springfield long enough to shop or transact business.
The day Father and I drove it, when I was 14 or so, we did start early and did get back to Ozark around 10 at night. We had a wonderful time, and Father got tipsy.
Mother used to tell us boys that it was a bad thing even so much as to taste liquor, for if we tasted it, woe unto us! We ran the awful chance of becoming drunkards. Then she would tell us, unconvincingly, that though Father sometimes took a drink, he never got drunk. Somehow I accepted Mothers statement about Fathers drinking--up to the time I saw him get high on this trip to Springfield one sharp Fall day when I was 14. Father didnt get disorderly--I dont mean that--just tipsy. Soon after we left Springfield Father produced a half-pint flask of whiskey and took a good draw at it, remarking that one needed a little dram to keep off the chill. It was afternoon--you could feel the sharp November air, and the smell of Fathers tonic was good.
By the time we reached Captain Taylors farm, a mile beyond the Christian-Green county line, he had tipped his half-pint three or four times. I could see that the bottle was more than half empty. Father was in fine spirits, for a little nip went a long ways with him, and I was enjoying his fine talk. He didnt appear to be affected by the drinking, except noticably talkative, though not much more so than was usual. It wasnt until we drove up to the barn back of our home in Ozark that I perceived his condition as unusual, and then not until he stepped out of the buggy. Father couldnt stand up without help! He hung on to the buggy until I got Old Kate unhitched and into her stall. Then I gave Father a hand; he leaned heavily on my sturdy boys shoulders as we walked up through the garden and into our house. It was after 10, and mother was asleep--she was a sound sleeper, and we didnt wake her up getting in. I never told her about Fathers little spree with me. She wouldnt have believed me if I had.
GRANDPA AND GRANDMA SOUTHWICK
Before Kate and Queen there had been a horse named Mike, a gray gelding as I recall him--but he is a little beyond the reach of my memory, except vaguely. In those days Mother and her 5 sons used to drive Mike up to see Grandma and Grandpa Southwick--six people in a one-horse buggy. It had a pull-up seat in back. Here is a story I wrote about Grandpa and Grandma Southwick back in 1929. The story was called "A Magnificent Failure." It was published in the farm magazine *Farm and Fireside, in April 1929. The picture of Grandpa, which was printed with the story, looks just like him as I remember him. Almost Santa Claus, his face and head, except his eyes, nose, and forehead, were covered with gray hair, for he wore a full beard. Even his eyelashes were gray. Out of this gray frame smiled fine brown eyes. I never saw him angry, though sometimes his eyes were sad. Once I recall he wept quietly, and big tears streamed down his face into his beard. That was the time Father scolded one of us at the dinner table. He did love his grandsons. Here is the story I wrote about Grandpa Southwick.
*No longer published
(to be continued)
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