Volume 7, Number 10, Winter 1982


Childhood Memories

by Gladys McPherson Norman


I was born January 14, 1905 on the coldest night of the year at Bradleyville, Missouri in Taney County.

My father, Elijah T. McPherson, born April 11, 1846 in DeKalb County, Alabama, owned a 360 acre farm on Beaver Creek. He was a former merchant and pharmacist and was known for the rest of his life as Doc Mack. He reared two families; and after his first wife died he married my mother, formerly Rebecca Clark Morris of Virginia, born November 1865, (the year my father was discharged and the year of Lincoln’s death).

Rebecca, my mother, was a young widow with four children at the time of her marriage with E. T. Only one of these four children is now living -William H. Morris, a World War I veteran who will soon be eighty-eight years of age and is very alert and well and lives out West.

Other members of my immediate family were an older brother, Ralph D. McPherson, born July, 1899, five years my senior and a sister, Edith, two and one-half years younger than I, born July, 1907. (Now Mrs. Jewell Snowden of Willard.) Ralph is now deceased. He was formerly a High School Administrator at Bradleyville, Galena, and Forsyth, Missouri and a past president of the White River Valley Historical Society.

As I look back over the years gone by I have some nostalgic memories of my childhood. We had to improvise our play as we did not have the many toys and playthings that children have today. We made playhouses, mud pies, rode stick horses and were happy and contented. Our pets were little puppies, kittens or baby chickens.

You might not believe it, but we had excellent telephone service hack in the early part of the century. Aunt Frankie (Estep) Moseley was the operator and she was a good one. Most of the farms had telephones - hung on the wall. We didn’t have numbers to call or dial, we rang so many shorts or longs; two shorts, one long or three longs, two shorts, etc. If we had trouble or wondered about someone, Aunt Frankie was glad to help and people listened in on the line sometime, too.

I remember calling a little friend when I was four or five years of age. I had to stand upon a chair or stool to reach the phone and hold the receiver to my ear. I told her I would like for her to come and visit with me and that we had several little baby calves. She replied that they had a new baby colt.

Speaking of telephones, once my father had a piece of machinery to break on the binder. He rushed to the house and called a local merchant, Montie Slusher, at Bradleyville, whose store contained everything from needles and pins to farm machinery. Dad was trying to describe the exact piece he needed and was having a little trouble doing so. He finally held the broken piece up to the telephone and said, "Here it is!" Of course he was somewhat embarrassed after he realized what he had done.

When I was about nine or ten years of age, mother said it was soap making time. I was curious. She used meat rinds, cracklings, dye, water and "stuff" and put it all in the big kettle in the beck yard to make a batch of homemade soap. She built a fire and warned my sister and I to keep far away. The kettle might accidentally turn over and we might get burned. (A few years before, a neighbor boy had been burned and was left crippled in his hand and fingers. His name was Scott.) It took most of the day to make the soap. Finally she dipped the liquid into a tub end left it overnight to cool. I can remember the pleasant look on my mother’s face, and she hummed a tune as she sliced the soap with a big knife and placed the pieces on a wide oak board in the smokehouse to dry. This soap was used only to do the household laundry with a washboard and tub, water being dipped from the near-by rain barrels (if it didn’t have wiggletails) or drawn from the deep well.

I also remember the wheat threshing in the Ozarks. The big fields of grain now were ready to harvest. This was a big event on our old homeplace. It required many days of planning for the farm wife and with the help of the "hired" girl and a few neighbor women, she managed to get along fairly well. My mother baked pies and cakes the day before and food that they could prepare that did not require refrigeration. (This was

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before the coming of the REA to most of the farms in the Ozarks.) My mother was a good cook, (we thought). She had several varieties of everything possible- ham meat, fried chicken and always chicken and dumplings with plenty of gravy. (This was her special talent.) There would be sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, dried beans and green beans, biscuits and corn bread, too - and many green relishes from the garden.

Neighbors up and down the creek would swap work and the cooks never knew exactly how many mouths to feed, so they always cooked plentiful amounts. You see, there were the usual stragglers who followed the threshing crew and were not about to miss a chance for a free meal or to learn some new gossip. This habit was generally accepted by the hill people.

We looked forward to the early threshing of wheat because then we could go to the Taneyville Fourth of July Picnic. This was an annual affair at Taneyville for years - ten miles away - in those early days we had to travel by wagon or horseback.

Our country doctor, Mr. Hummel, and the Bud Hicks family had surreys with fringe on top with prancing horses as I remember. My brother Ralph has a buggy with a team of young mares to go courting his girl friend and if he didn't arrive back home at a certain hour, my parents knew he had had a run-away. There were two or three Ford cars in the neighborhood and when the horses encountered one we had to get out and hold the frightened team to calm them. I remember Montie Slusher having one of the first Fords. He asked me to go to Springfield with the family one day. When we got to the Chadwick hill we had to walk all the way to the top, old Lizzie just couldn’t make it with a full load.

Lastly, I must tell you a few things about the Taneyville picnic. We had never heard of slacks then for women. Mother dressed us in our white embroidered dresses, put ribbons in our hair and we looked "fit to kill." (We were too young to use the curling iron.) We sat in chairs placed in the rear of the spring seat or sat on a quilt in the bottom of the wagon bed. When we arrived at the picnic it was like being at a Circus. Located in a grove of beautiful trees the stands were decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Flags waved here and there. Pink lemonade was sold and ice cream. They buried the ice in sawdust under a tarp to keep it from melting. Instead of cracker jacks we bought popped corn wrapped in colored tissue with the prize on the outside - usually a colorful paper fan neatly folded or a small rubber ball that you could swing with a ring over your finger. There was a dancing platform for the square dancers, music all around. There was a ball rack. You paid a small fee, received three balls and tried to hit a target - a man usually with a face painted black. If you were lucky he fell into a tank of water. If it were a hot election year there were campaign speeches. Sometimes you could see a man or two, that had passed out from consuming too much corn liquor, lying at the edge of the grounds. Best of all was the Merry-Go-Round pulled by a horse or mule, with swings to sit in for a dime or quarter.

Many changes have come and gone since those childhood days. We treasure the memories of the past, but we must not dwell too long on them. It is better to look forward with faith and hope to the remaining days ahead. We appreciate the good things of life that we have been given, such as modern conveniences, good roads, schools, churches, friends, husband, son and daughter and fine precious grandchildren.

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