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Kentucky Childhood

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Kentucky Childhood (1923-1940) by Mabel Hohimer

Apr 26th, 2008 by admin | 3

Mabel Hohimer now resides in Bloomington, Indiana and lived much of her adult life in Evansville, Indiana. She grew up on a farm in Kentucky, and this is the story of her childhood.

I dedicate this story to my children and grandchildren, and hope that it will help them connect with the generations that preceded them.

photo of Mabel Hohimer as a babyIntroduction

I was born on Sunday, May 13, 1923 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, about seven miles from the county seat of Greenville. Like my three older siblings, I was born at home. The doctor came to the house to help with the birth. I grew up on a farm in the same county during the 1920s and 30s. In 1940, at the age of 17, I left home and lived briefly in Louisville, Kentucky and Akron, Ohio, finally settling in Evansville, Indiana, where I lived and raised a family from 1945 to 1988. I then moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where I live today (2002). This is the story of my childhood in rural Kentucky.

Mama’s Family

photo of Granddad Stinson and Grandma StinsonMy mother’s name was Missie Florence Stinson. Missie Florence was Dad’s affectionate name for her. She was born in Clifty, Kentucky (Todd County) on March 8, 1885, and grew up there. Todd County was a farming area with a very small community. It had a courthouse, but I do not imagine that there were more than 500 people in Clifty at that time. Mama was a beautiful, small-boned woman, about five feet tall. She had lively blue-gray eyes that never looked tired. She had an unusual way of looking at things or people without turning her head, which made her eyes show a lot of white. Dad would tease her by saying that if he had a horse that showed a lot of white in the eyes, it would be difficult to handle! By the time I was born, her hair was silver-gray. She wore it long and combed back and twisted into a bun, secured at the back with pins. On rare occasions, when she went to the doctor, church, or visiting her sisters, she would wet her hands and use soap to work up a lather and then press a wave into her hair around her forehead.

Mama’s people were from Tennessee. Her mother’s name was actually Mary Tennessee Gary. I do not know if she was named after the state, but the name Tennessee ran through two generations of her family. I do not understand that much about where they came from or where they were pioneers. I believe that Mama completed the third grade in school.

Mama’s father, Thomas Brown Stinson, was a farmer. He and Grandma Stinson lived in Todd County. However, when I was a child, my grandmother lived with my Aunt Betty and Uncle Cody, in Muhlenberg County. I remember going there and combing Grandma’s hair. She had real long, white, wavy hair. They had five daughters and one son.

Two of their daughters (my mother and Aunt Betty) lived near Greenville, Mindy lived in Hopkinsville, Cindy in Drakesboro, and Ethel in Duncan, Arizona. Their son lived in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Grandma and Granddad Stinson moved out to Arizona soon after all their children were married. One of their daughters had adopted the Mormon religion. I do not know if this conversion took place in Kentucky or why, but I have several cousins out in Arizona that I do not know. Granddad died and was buried out there and that must have been when Grandma came back to Muhlenberg County. She died when I was about eight. The Mormon Church gave her the shroud that she was buried in because she had no bad habits. I always thought that that was remarkable. Aunt Cindy took her back to Arizona by train and she was buried beside her husband in Duncan, Arizona.

Dad’s Family

My father, Henry Jackson Massey, was born March 16, 1881, in Clifty, Kentucky, in Todd County. He was five feet eight and a half inches. When he was young, he weighed 180 pounds, but when I knew him, he weighed 140-150. He had black hair that, later in life, turned gray only at the temples. He had rosy cheeks and light blue-green eyes.

Dad’s father, Frederick Massey, and his mother, Martha McElwain, died before I was born so I never knew them. Grandma McElwain’s parents were Jack and Purdie Mayes McElwain. I’m not sure how my father’s family came to the United States, but I think that my great-grandfather, Joseph Massey, came from either Ireland or Scotland because my father called children chaps. There were people in Kentucky that said yung’ns (young ones), but my father said chaps. Chaps, behave yourselves! Eat your dinner and then shut your mouth!

Dad grew up in Todd County, where his father was a farmer. His parents were very poor when he was growing up. Dad worked for people in the neighborhood and was paid with bacon, which he took home to help feed his family. There were eight children in his family, although I’m not sure since I never really knew them. My father also went to school up through the third grade.

My Parents’ Marriage

photo of Mabel’s ParentsMy parents grew up in the same neighborhood, but they never told me how they met and courted. They were married in Todd County on January 19, 1902. My mother’s name on the marriage certificate is Mollie Stinson, but the name in her family Bible was Missie Florence Stinson.

Dad was a hell-raiser when he was a young man. Before he got married, he drank and fought a lot. My mother told me that he darned near killed a man because the man hit his dog. The man he hit was unconscious for days, and Dad did not know whether he would live or not. Dad was scared to death that he would be arrested for manslaughter. But the man did live. My mother’s parents did not want my mother to marry him because he was such a rebel.

When he married Mom, Dad quit drinking, settled down and worked very hard. All that he ever thought about was working and making a living. From what I heard, he got drunk only twice in the 60 years they were married. Once when he was drunk, Mama made him go to the sharecropper’s house so that my sister and brothers (I was not born yet) would not see him like that. He did not drink when I was a kid. After cutting the tobacco, he would take it to the warehouse to sell and buy a pint of whiskey. He put rock candy and glycerin in the whiskey and that is what he used for coughs and ???. That pint of whisky would last all year, so he obviously did not drink.

After their marriage, my parents lived in Clifty, where my sister Beulah Ernestine was born, in 1902. They then went to live in Rumsey, Kentucky, in Maclean County, where my brother, Eura Elmo, was born, in 1906; and my other brother, Burness Jackson, in 1908. Since Dad did not have any money, he must have obtained a government homestead grant in order to get some land to farm. I remember Mama talking about how he had had to clear the ground before he could cultivate it. They also had to build a house. I wonder what kind of house it was. Dad could not drive a nail without bending it. But they built a house of wood and used old brick (for the chimney). Mama helped crack the concrete off of the used bricks.

When my brothers and sister were teenagers, Mama became ill and was confined to bed for a year. They said that she had gum disease what they call pyorrhea of the gums and it evidently poisoned her system and resulted in what they called a “nervous breakdown”. The doctor said that, if she lived, she might be in a wheelchair. After she had her teeth pulled, she gradually recovered.

The Move to Muhlenberg County

photo of Mabel at age 2The land in Maclean County where they were living is flat. There was a lot of standing water at that time (around 1918) and a lot of mosquitoes. Many people had typhoid fever and Dad decided to move. He sold the Maclean farm and they moved to Central City for six months. Central City was about 30 miles from the farm in Maclean County and my older brother, who was 16 at the time, walked those 30 miles, leading a cow. Then Dad bought a farm on Drakesboro Rd., in Muhlenberg County, from a Mr. Bogges. That was where I was born. Nothing very exciting happened in my family after I came along, but they had quite a few adventures before I was born!

Soon after I was born, Dad sold the first Muhlenberg farm and bought a bigger farm with richer soil and a larger, nicer house located about amile away from the first farm. Then when I was about three years old, Dad sold the second farm and bought the Shaver farm, which adjoined our farm. I lived there until I left home, in 1940.

Dad was definitely the king of the house. I think that is what the name Henry means: “ruler of the house. My parents’ way of thinking seems strange now, but it is not so strange when I stop and think of the generation gap. Because I was born so late, they were old enough to be my grandparents. Mom always said, We never argue, because I know when to hush. They did not argue, because she knew when to stop. Occasionally, when she was angry, she would say that she “went in front of Henry and kicked the stumps out of the road”. She quietly made life easier for him. My parents had worked out a way to live together very successfully. They were protective of each other in their own way. There was a real closeness between my parents. They did not show it by hugging and kissing, but they showed it in quiet ways. For example, we only had one rocking chair in the house and, due to my mother’s sickness before I was born, no matter what child was sitting in that rocking chair, when Mama came in the room, they got up. No one had to tell us to do that.

Dad

photo of Mabel with her DadDad had a strong influence on me. According to him, if anyone would lie, that person would also steal. So I tried not to tell a lie. The two whippings that he ever gave me as I was growing up were for lying about something I had done but denied doing. My niece Verna Mae was two years older than I was, and she and I did a lot together. She got me into trouble a number of times. When I was about 14, she and I walked over to a neighbor’s house about two miles away when we were supposed to have been going to church over at Pleasant Hill. We went over to where Verna Mae’s future husband lived and came back and lied about it. Someone had seen us and told Dad, who whipped us both. Doggone-her-hide, Verna Mae knew how to get out of being whipped very much because she would yell, Oh Daddy, don’t kill me, don’t kill me!! Oh Daddy, do not kill me!! I had a very different personality and I would just look at him as if to say, Just switch me again. You can’t make me cry! I darn near got a switch cut into my back, and I never did cry.

My brother married a girl whose mother had died and her father farmed out his kids. So those kids two brothers and two sisters periodically lived at our house and worked for room and board and $15 a month. One of the girls was a year younger than I was. I do not know what she and I thought we were going to do with them, but, when I was about 11 years old, we dug up a hill of potatoes and I lied about it. Dad paddled me because I lied — not for digging up the potatoes, but for lying about it. Both times, my whippings were for lying, and that is why I kind of have trouble lying today.

Dad had a temper. One time that he showed it was when my sister Beulah got divorced. She had two children — a girl two years older than me and the boy one year older than me. When Beulah and her ex-husband came out of the courtroom, Dad jumped my sister’s ex-husband, shoved him up in the door of a store, and was about to choke him when the police pulled Dad off. That is the last thing I heard about Dad and his temper

Dad was real distant, physically and verbally. I never felt that he really loved me until I got married and had children of my own. When I was two or three, we had a smokehouse. My parents and I were sitting on the steps of the smokehouse and I crawled into his lap. I remember him saying, “The only time you get in my lap is when you want to sleep with your mammy. That was the only indication I ever had that he would have liked for me to have sat in his lap more often. I guess I was really afraid of him, because he was so stern. He was very stoical. I never remember him laughing out loud. The closest he ever came to cracking a joke was when a neighbor, Albert Jernigan, said that he had sold a cow. Instead of Dad saying, How old was the cow?,he said, Well, how many sets of false teeth did you have to buy before you sold her?

Mama

photo of Mabel and her ParentsMama was a gentle person. Once one of our sharecropper’s hens decided it was going to come down to our place to lay its eggs. My mother, trying to shoo it back up to where it belonged, picked up a tobacco stick [it is about three feet long and about one inch square] and threw it at the hen like a spear. She had no intention of actually hitting it, but the end of the stick hit the hen right on the head and killed it. I thought she was going to die right there. Her face got red and she started breathing heavily. She was never hurt so much in her life as she was over killing that hen. I do not ever remember how it came out, whether we ate the hen or took the hen to its owners and told them. I just remember how it hurt her.

I never heard the word “love” uttered in my family, but somehow I could always feel Mama’s love. She never raised her voice. She just went ahead and did what she had to do and did not complain. I was a mama’s baby and really close to my mother. She was not much for the hugging or anything like that, but I guess there was a bonding before I knew it, because she did not demonstrate her affection. She did not complain, although her kids caused her a lot of trouble. She would always say if anyone wanted to criticize her children, they would have to find someone else to talk to rather than her. She was always there for us.

photo of Beulah and Charles “Fred” (son of Burness), 1934Mama was very sensitive to the needs of the family and was always willing to go out of her way to help. She always put us children first. When I was eleven, Burness and his wife had their first child, Fred, who was born with a double hernia and had to have surgery at the age of six months. Fred was high strung and fidgety. When he was three or four, the doctors said that he should be kept quiet and not excited. Mama would keep him in the daytime, and she would lie down with him on the bed and play “mental hide and seek”. Mama would say, “I’m hiding somewhere in this room” and Fred would have to guess where. He would guess, for example, “Are you on the mantel?” and she would tell him whether he was “hot” (close to where she was “hiding”) or “cold” (far from her). After Fred guessed where she was hiding, he would hide and Mama had to guess where he was.

Mama and Fred also sang religious songs together. Fred made a guitar out of a stick, string, and a metal lid. One day, Fred serenaded a hobo with his homemade guitar and those songs as the hobo sat on our porch step and ate the meal Mama had provided for him. Fred eventually cut a record of religious songs on the Sampson label, in Nashville, Tennessee. When Mama was dying, he came and sang those songs to her.

photo of Mama with Verna Mae (left) and the author (right)My mother had a sense of humor. When Verna Mae was twelve and I was ten, she and I went up to the sharecropper’s house one night. We went through a cornfield and did not come back as soon as she thought we should, and it got dark. There were no telephones. We came ambling down through that cornfield when all of a sudden we could see something white in the corn crawling around and growling. We took off running! Later we found out that it had been my mother, trying to scare us so we would not do that again.

My mother always said, “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but he never did free the women,” and she told me many times, “I want you to know how to take care of yourself. Do not be like me.” She also quoted Clare Booth Luce, who said, “A single woman has to work like a horse, think like a man, dress like a lady and…” (I cannot remember the fourth part). Not that Mama ever complained about her lot in life. She never complained, but she did say that she wanted me to be able to take care of any business that I needed to. If Mama ever had any ambitions, she never said anything about it. That saying about Lincoln was as close as she ever came to complaining about her lot in life.

My Only Sister

I was born a year after my mother recovered from her “nervous breakdown”. When I was born, my sister Beulah was 19 and already married with two children, a daughter, Verna Mae, and a son, Lynville Rae (or Wray – I have seen it spelled both ways). By the time I was a year old, Beulah and her husband had divorced, and Beulah had abandoned her daughter and moved away with her son. Eura traveled eight miles to the town where Beulah’s daughter was and brought her back to our home. Eventually, my nephew Lynville came to live with us too, so my mother found herself with three children in diapers plus two teenage sons. My nephew and niece were like a brother and sister to me. My nephew Lynville did not live with us for long. After about six months, he went to live with Beulah, in Florida. Verna Mae, on the other hand, lived with us until she got married.

My strongest memory of Beulah is that she was very pretty. I only remember seeing her once, when I was eleven years old and she came back home. Earlier, she had sent Lynville to stay with us because he was getting into trouble in Florida. Lynville did not respond very well to Dad’s strict discipline, however, and left us after only a few months. When Eura took Lynville to the train station for the return to Florida, Dad went to bed and just cried. He was so sad about losing Lynville. He said, “You learn to love your grandchildren and then they’re taken away from you.” It was the only time that I saw my father cry. He told us that, while he was crying, his “head seemed to explode” and, after that, he would not let himself cry.

My Brothers

photo of  Burness (age 15), with Mama (pregnant with author), 1923My older brother, Eura, was seventeen when I was born, and my younger brother, Burness, was fifteen. It was nice being the baby with older, teenage brothers. The neighborhood boys would come over to the house to play cards on Sunday (everyone worked during the week). My brothers and the neighborhood boys did not gamble. They just played for fun. If they did not have four players, Verna Mae or I would sit in to make the fourth person and get to play cards with those guys. That was fun. They played “Sail Pitch”. I have never found anyone else who played that or do not know where it came from. It must have been from the mountains. A lot of card games were played in the neighborhood because we did not have even a radio then. Finally, a neighbor, Gus Johnson, got a radio and we would go over to his house and listen to the Grand Ole Opry. I particularly remember Roy Acoff, Minnie Pearl, and Mama Maybelle. Verna Mae imitated Minnie Pearl’s way of talking for her entire life.Eura would have been considered talented if he had been born in a different era. He taught himself to play the French harp and guitar. He also sang and even taught himself to do his version of tap dancing. I think that if he had been in a different time, he would have been able to develop his talents. After breaking horses in North Dakota for awhile, he returned home and became a farmer, like Burness. Eura also hoboed during the Depression, back when hobos were so popular. I think he went just about everywhere in the United States as a hobo. My brothers were gone much of the time that I was growing up, moving in and out until they got married. I was eleven when Eura got married. He and his wife Mabel lived at home for their first year of their marriage. At one point, we had Mom and Dad, me, my niece, Eura and Burness and their two wives and the first two grandchildren all living there in the same house. That is ten people!

Dad used to go to Missouri and buy unbroken horses and mules and bring them back. Eura would break them because he had broken horses for a living while in North Dakota. Eura’s method of breaking horses and mules was to first get a bridle on them, then gentle them down until they got accustomed to him. He would then put a sack or blanket on their back until they got used to that. Then he got them used to a saddle. Finally, he would try to ride them. They would usually “buck like the devil”.

Eura had broken his leg while breaking horses in North Dakota, and he was still using a cane when he returned home, when I was eight or nine years old. One of Dad’s mules was named Ole Rowdy, and he was a hard son-of-a-gun to break. Every time that Eura thought he had him broken, Ole Rowdy would buck him off. Ole Rowdy kept throwing him, and he would get up and get back on him again. One night, Eura rode Ole Rowdy over to Drakesboro, about seven miles away. Coming home that night, Eura rode along on Ole Rowdy, playing his French harp and guitar. When they got near the farm, Ole Rowdy started bucking and threw Eura into a ditch, breaking his cane. When Eura limped home, he found that mule waiting at the gate to be let into the horse lot.

Eura had a friend, Andy Miller, who had an energetic pony that could run fast and for great distances. He was known for running away with his riders. Once, when Andy brought the pony over to our house, I convinced Eura and Andy to let me ride him. I got on that pony and it started running away with me. Eura was hollering, “Pull him in a circle! Pull him in a circle!” trying to get me to pull on the right rein so that the pony would run in a circle and not be able to get up any real speed. I finally did pull him around, and they got me off of him before I fell off.

For entertainment, Eura, Burness, and the Greenwood boys paid me and Verna Mae ten cents to box with each other. Eura liked to box, and he had some boxing gloves. Verna Mae and I said, “We’re not really going to hurt each other,” but I got carried away and hit her and knocked her down! It beats all. Even though she was two years older, we were about the same size. I was a tomboy, but she was not. I do not know how Mama put up with this.

Burness was like Mama — gentle, soft-spoken and sensitive. He was like Dad in that he did not talk much and was steady and hardworking. Like Mama and I (and unlike Dad and Eura), Burness had a slow way of moving and working. Burness taught me that it is okay to work at your own speed, even when people around you are urging you to go faster.

My relationships with both of my brothers were very good as long as they were my idols and I did not question what they said or did. They idolized me and played with me and Eura was the only one who ever helped me with my schoolwork. Then, it seemed when I got old enough that I started questioning them – not agreeing with everything that they said – why, I guess I got obnoxious. But they were never ugly to me. I guess I just got to where I was not so cute and was not the baby anymore.

My parents’ honesty was their strongest trait. As for my brothers and sister, I think they were the way they were because Dad was so strict with them. Of course, Mama did not have any say-so. That he was so strict on them was probably why Beulah married so young and then ran off. Dad could never forgive her, especially for leaving her daughter. Dad did not forgive easily. That may have been common for people in that generation, but Dad was an extreme case. Mama was a very forgiving person, but Dad was not.

Eura would just try to see how far he could push the limits with police or rules without getting caught. In fact, he got into trouble for riding a horse too fast down Main St., in Greenville, and jumping on and off of it as it ran. Eura did not drink. I saw what their behavior did to my parents – especially Mama, because Dad would not discuss it. One of the things my parents said when I came along was that they had whipped the older kids and they had not turned out well and so they were not going to whip me. So I think that, if I was more Mama’s personality, that was why. She was a gentle spirit.

The Farm

photo of The pond and tobacco barn, with Jernigan’s Chapel school and church in the distanceThe Shaver farm where I grew up consisted of 168 acres about two miles away from the county seat of Greenville. When leaving Greenville, our farm was just about the first flatland you came to that would be good farming land. Sixty percent of Kentucky even now is woodland. As you continued southwest, it got less flat and less of the land could be cultivated. Greenville has some pretty good hills. The terrain is a lot like Bloomington (Indiana), but not nearly as beautiful.

Dad was a farmer. He loved the land. He went to bed when it got dark, no matter what time it was, and got up every morning at 4:00 AM to start his chores. He would never work on Sunday, but he walked every inch of the acres that were under cultivation every Sunday. He really loved us, but he did not show it by talking or hugging. He showed it by working hard and doing without so that he would have something to leave to his children. That was the custom back then. You were not doing for yourself, but rather for your children’s future.

We had a sharecropper house on our property. The sharecropper (often an aunt or uncle) lived in that house with their family and farmed the farm with my father. Dad furnished the land, team, equipment and fertilizer, and they did the physical work. They shared the proceeds of the farm fifty-fifty. Usually, there was a new sharecropper each year.

Dad raised corn, wheat, tobacco, melons, and, later, soybeans. Tobacco required a great deal of hands-on work back then, so everyone worked. In my early years, I would wake to the sounds of my father shelling corn for the hens as he sat in front of the fireplace. There was no lamp. The red and gold flames from the burning coal lit the room enough so that I could see him sitting there alone. This was one of the many chores he did every morning for the family. He got used to doing some of Mama’s chores when she was bedridden with pyorrhea and continued doing them after she recovered. Everyone would be asleep except me, and I would get up and sit with him. It was often said in later years that I stopped getting up early after I got big enough to help!

Dad would start up the fire in the kitchen stove each morning. He first lit kindling made up of twigs, corn cobs and kerosene. He then added wood. Because Mama was allergic to flour dust, Dad would also sift the flour for biscuits early in the morning so that she did not have to do this. Mama also had an allergy to feathers, so Dad gathered the eggs in from the hen house for her.

Dad also raised honeybees for honey. He wore a canvas cloth over his hat and shoulders, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt when he was gathering the honey. He also carried a smoking torch to quiet the bees.

I started dropping tobacco plants by the time I was five. Dad would plow furrows at right angles to each another. I was supposed to drop a plant at a precise place next to the spot where two furrows intersected, so that Dad could stride quickly down a row, grab a plant with his left hand, make a hole in the ground with the peg in his right hand, and press dirt around its roots with a minimum of effort and time. Unfortunately, Dad could plant faster than I could drop the plants. Whereas his movements were always quick, I had inherited Mama’s slow way of moving. After that experience, I never could stand having someone look over my shoulder at work in an office or a factory. Verna Mae and I helped with hoeing the tobacco fields. We once hoed an acre of tobacco in a single day. In my early teens, I hoed tobacco for some of the sharecroppers for 75 cents per day.

photo of Beulah (left) and Verna Mae, 1934Verna Mae and I brought in the wood for the cookstove and the coal for the fireplace. We also brought in the water bucket that set in the kitchen because when the fire went out, that water froze after a time in the winter. We also washed the dishes, helped with the laundry, and caught the beetles in the garden. We also helped with churning whole milk to make butter, a chore that I liked because I could read while doing it. More than once Mama had to remind me to stop churning because the butter was ready but I was reading and had not noticed. We used the buttermilk that was left over after the churning for baking.

Mama did all the cooking, hoed the garden in the summer, made soap, did the canning, took care of us children, made quilts, mended our clothes, and kept the accounts.

Farm Animals

There were lots of animals on our farm: horses, cows, hogs, chickens, dogs, cats, and kittens. My favorite animals were the horses. Horses were still used to cultivate the land — at least that is what our horses were used for. Only on special occasions was I permitted to ride them. One of the things I enjoyed about living on the farm was walking to the field where my father was plowing. At noon, he would let me ride one of the horses to the barn. But before we got to the barn, we had to stop at the pond. The horse would wade out where the water was clearer. This was very scary. I could look down at the water and see the reflection of the horse and myself. The horse would blow onto the water to scatter the water bugs before drinking.

When I was about 14 or 15, we would buy chicks and raise fryers. I took care of the chicks, feeding them and making sure the light under the brooder was lit and keeping them warm. When they were sold, I got 25 cents on the dollar. That was the part of my history that taught me how to handle money.

Our Garden

In the summer, we grew a lot of green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables in our garden. Mama did the hoeing and picking of the vegetables in the garden. What we grew was limited, but it was limited because of my parents’taste. It was not as widely varied as some farmers had. We had a lot of fried apples because we had apple trees. You peeled the apples and cooked them in some type of shortening with some sugar. We had grape arbors on which we grew purple grapes.

Learning to Drive

I learned to drive with our 1939 Chevy pick up truck. We had eleven trees in the yard, which was on a hill. I was raking leaves and would put them in the truck and Dad or someone else would drive the truck down a hill and empty them into a ravine to prevent erosion. Dad pulled the truck up there by a pile of leaves and said to me, Now put ’em in and take’em down there to the ravine and dump’em. He did not tell me how to go about doing this, and I had to drive between two fence posts. I released the brake and the truck rolled down the hill to the ravine. However, after I had dumped the leaves and wanted to start back up the hill to continue raking, I did not know that I had to push in on the clutch. I turned the keys and stepped on the gas, and the engine jumped and stalled. I got out and walked back up to where Dad was and told him what happened. He said, “Well, push in on the clutch. That was my only lesson in driving a truck. So I walked back down there, pushed in on the clutch and drove back up to get the second load of leaves.

I also learned to drive a tractor to break ground. I can remember Dad walking beside me saying,You’re going too fast. Anything that was not ordinary for a girl or woman to do, I had to prove that I could do it. Somehow, my parents got through to me that it was a smart thing to be self-sufficient. When I was in my teens, Eura had been going to the distilleries in Owensboro, which was about 35 miles away, to get mash to feed the pigs so that they grew content and big. When Eura’s leg was broken, I drove the truck with the barrels in it to Owensboro and got the mash. I had to ask someone to aim me out of town, because I did not even know how to get back out of town after I got there. So I drove that truck home, but I did not know about driving a truck loaded with barrels downhill on a gravel road, and I did not know what could happen if those barrels started rocking. I almost went off an embankment. That was a learning experience!

Dad gave me a lot of responsibility, because I could remember going to pick up people who were going to work on our farm, driving across the county road even though I did not have a driver’s license at that time. (I did have a license when I was going into Owensboro.)

Finances

My parents had an interesting way of handling their finances. Certain things were earmarked for Mama. For example, once a year, a calf would be designated as hers and she would get the money from it when it was sold. The thing that made it strange is that Dad did all the work and took care of it, but the money was Mama’s. She would put it in his checking account, and she signed his name to checks. He never did. When she wanted to buy something for the house or clothing for Verna Mae or me, she took money out of the checking account. Dad would gather eggs from the hen house and take them into town to sell them. He would then buy coffee, sugar, baking powder, and salt. That was all we had to buy. The rest we had on the farm. Whatever cash was left was Mama’s too and went into his checking account.

Mama never took more than “her fair share, as she would say, and that taught me never to take more than my fair share of anything. She spent only what was put in the account for her, and she never did overspend. I’m sure that there were bills connected with the farm – paying for seed and fertilizer and what-have-you. And I’m sure that my mother signed the checks that paid for that, because nothing was ever charged. When Dad died, in 1954, he owed only $30 and that was at a drugstore.

Dad sold watermelons over at the coal mine. He did not like the coal miners’ way of life, but he sold them watermelons. He would load up the wagon the night before. In the morning, he would hitch the team to it and drive the seven miles to the mine. They would probably sell for about a quarter or fifty cents back then. He would come back and spread all that money out on the bed and count it, and I would sit there and look at it and never touch it. That was the kind of kid I was. Too good to be true! (I never went to the mining camp with my dad, but he had a brother, my uncle, who lived in a mining town and I would go there and stay for a few days. Looking back, I do not know why they let me do that.)

One of the responsibilities Dad entrusted me with, when I was about fifteen, was figuring his income tax. I had to go to the bank to get some assistance, but I did it. He did not teach me, because he did not know how to do it himself. He had a lot of confidence in me. Before Verna Mae got married, she would often get me in trouble, but, after she left, I told my dad, If I say I’m going to be back by four o’clock, I’ll be back by four o’clock.I can remember him going out and filling the truck with gas, and I would drive to a friend’s house, four or five miles away. I always came back when I said I would. We did not have telephones back then.

Trading

We were pretty self-sufficient, and my father never had to go into town to work. We never felt the impact of the Depression because we had always been short of cash and most things that we bought in the way of food were in exchange for eggs or cream that we sold. “Taking it out in trade, was what they called it. There was a lot of bartering. You might get tired of the food – eating the same thing over and over – but we were never hungry. A lot of people came around begging for food during the Depression. Some were willing to work and some really seemed to be trying just to get something for nothing, because you would see where they had thrown food away after they left the homestead where they had been given something. It may have been that they simply did not have a way of cooking the raw vegetables that people gave them.

One way of trading was called Jockey Day. It was on one Saturday every month. You could look down the road and see farmers walking, leading a cow or a horse. Some of them may have had a pick up truck with a horse or pigs in that truck. Some of them walked seven miles or so from nearby towns. They would auction off things or trade. If you had a cow, you could trade it on a horse and pay some amount of what they called boot. I have no idea why they called it Jockey Day. Some people would go south and buy a truckload of apples or they might bring fresh fruit that you could buy. It was an interesting time for me to see that my dad never lost anything in that bartering. If he had a horse that was winded and could not run or work for long distances, he would always tell that when he sold it. He would tell exactly what was wrong with that cow or horse if there were anything wrong with it. He always stood behind it and never gypped anyone. And he traded a whole lot. I never did go. It was kind of a man thing. My mother never went either.

Hunting

Eura had hunting dogs. He and his friends would hunt foxes and possums at night, and they often let Verna Mae and me go along. The possums would run up a tree to escape. Eura would then shake the tree until the possum fell out. Since he intended to sell the possum’s fur, Eura did not want the dogs to get to the possum once it was on the ground. So he had Verna Mae hold the dogs to keep them away. He asked me to hold the dogs too, but I was afraid of them because there were numerous wild dogs in the area that I knew attacked people. Upon our return from hunting, Eura stretched the skins on boards, cured them, and sold the fur.

There were lots of hunting dogs in the area. Sometimes hunters would take their dogs out just to hear them baying. They could tell from their bark how far away the dogs were and whether or not they had treed something.

Our Home

photo of Mama behind our house, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, 1948The Shaver house was big and L-shaped, with a screened in porch running along the back. The front door opened onto a wide hallway, where a staircase led to the second story. The hallway led straight back to a door that opened onto the back porch. There were two bedrooms upstairs and, downstairs there was a parlor, bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. There was no running water, no electricity, and no central heating. The only rooms that were heated were the kitchen, which had a large stove, my parents’ bedroom, which had a fireplace, the dining room, which was heated by warm air from the kitchen or laundry stove, and the parlor, which also had a fireplace. The house imitated southern mansions except that it was made of different materials and did not have any of the conveniences of a mansion. We never used the parlor, but we had it. Southern people had to have a parlor!

All of the rooms were 16 ft. by 16 ft., with 12-foot ceilings except the dining room and kitchen, which had 16-foot ceilings. That was to allow the heat from the cook stove to rise up away from us in summer. In the summertime, Verna Mae and I slept in a bed in the dining room, because the house had a metal roof and the upstairs bedrooms were too hot in the summer. Another reason not to use the upstairs bedrooms was that one of my brothers and I were sleepwalkers and the upstairs windows were great, big ones (about 40 x 36 inches). If we fell out of one of those windows, it would be a long way down. Once when I was sleeping in the dining room, I crawled over the low headboard and out the window, then walked the long way around the house. I came back in through the screened-in porch, entered the dining room and ran into the table. That is what woke me up.

It was very cold in the winter. The tall ceilings helped keep us cool in the summer, but they also kept us cold in the winter. My parents’ bedroom was heated by a fireplace and did it get cold when that fire went down! Before going to bed, they banked it, that is, they put enough ashes on it to kind of smother the flame so it would hold until morning, when they would start it up all over again. When it was cold, Verna Mae and I slept in my parents’ bedroom, which had two double beds.

Lighting

In my early years, we used kerosene lamps for lighting. Mama used to sit up and make quilts by that kerosene light. She had a lot better eyes than Dad or I ever had. Later, we had an Alladin lamp. It was invented in Indiana by someone whose last name was Alladin. It burned kerosene and had something like a mesh cone that they called the “mantel”. It looked almost like it was made of cloth. It was very soft and set down inside and magnified the light. It was about as bright as an electric light.

After Dad went to sleep at sundown, Mama would put a lamp down low next to her chair in their bedroom, and she would read or make quilts. Dad would wake up several times during the evening and say, “Florence, when are you coming to bed?” Mama would answer, “I’ll be there in a minute” and go on working until midnight. She then slept until seven the next morning.

Our front yard had some grass. There was no grass in the backyard, because the hens and rooster had free run and ate any seed they found there. My mother had her flower gardens in the first two rows of the vegetable garden, because the garden was fenced in to keep the chickens out. We did not have any trouble with rabbits. I guess there was enough for the rabbits, but we did not miss anything and I never heard any complaining about rabbits eating the vegetables.

Food Preservation

In the winter, we kept food cold by storing it on the screened porch. Since we did not have electricity or an icebox, it was difficult to keep foods like milk and butter cool in warm weather. Even butter would just go running everywhere when it got too warm. It was hard to keep it firm when it was hot. We put the milk and butter in an eight-pound lard bucket and lowered them down into the abandoned well in the backyard; not into the water but deep enough that it would be 10 degrees cooler than if it were out sitting on a table someplace. The bucket had a very tight cover – like our paint buckets now. Not being pasteurized, the milk would not last very long even in the well. We did not make cheese, although I know people that did. I guess that with all that my mother had to do, she just did not have time to make cheese. We also used the well to keep watermelons cool. We would put the melon in a tow sack (a mesh-woven grain bag), tie the sack with a rope, and lower it into the well.

After the harvest, one of the ways we preserved vegetables for the winter was by storing them in a pit. We dug a hole in the ground, lined it with straw and then put in squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and other root vegetables. We covered the vegetables with straw. We did not have plastic then, so we covered the hole with a mound of packed dirt so that the rain would drain off rather than go down into the hole and cause the food to rot. When we needed vegetables to cook, Dad went out there, dug a little hole and took out what Mama wanted. He then closed the hole back up and packed the dirt and straw in there.

We canned a lot of vegetables. We even canned some meats when we butchered the hogs. We never canned chicken meat, but just made up some sausage, fry them and put them in jars. When we ran out of canned green beans, we started eating dried beans and cornbread until the garden would come in again. It seemed like it was almost impossible to can enough things to carry us completely through the winter.

We also canned a lot of fruit. I think I peeled a million apples and one of the things we did to take care of the boredom when we peeled apples was to see if we could peel the whole apple without letting the peel break. You did not peel a thick peeling, though! It was a real thin peeling. Even though we grew what we had, we never wasted anything. We did not eat the peel, but the peel and core have pectin and we used them to make jelly thicken. I do not know how many green beans Verna Mae and I broke (that is, pulled the string off of). I do not think we ever found something to do to break the boredom of that work!

We also used dehydration to preserve food. For fruit such as apples, pears and peaches, we would first peel them and cut out the core. On a sunny day, we would climb up the ladder to the top of the hen house and spread the fruit out on the galvanized roof, where it would dry. The fruit would dry in a week if it was sunny, but we did not usually have a good sunny week in the fall. I look back and wonder why we did not get sick, but nevertheless, we did not have as much sickness then as we do now.

My aunt had a root cellar. It was built on a hill out of concrete block. We went down steps and there were all the shelves. It had a drain that let the water run out and on down the hill. I actually never did see the root cellars that were built into a bank, but I know there were some. I guess I saw some abandoned ones. My aunt’s was the nicest root cellar that I had ever seen. You could take watermelons down there or vegetables. We did not have a root cellar. My dad was a hard worker, but he did the work on the farm and did not really get into making things convenient for the house. He was thinking more about the money-paying crops than making things convenient. He did get out and cut the weeds in the fence row, however. Each fall, he would cut down all the weeds on the fence row before they could put on seeds. But he would not cut a weed down in the yard!

Water

Greenville is not near any river, so it is dry there. There were four wells, a spring, and a pond on our farm. The big well had what people called “hard water”. It had a lot of minerals in it that would make soap scum. That well was abandoned during most of my childhood. Later on, we cleaned it out.

We also had a cistern in the corner of the L-shaped back porch. To make a cistern, you dug a round hole about 12 feet wide and put bricks around its bottom and sides, up to two feet above the ground. Then you sealed the brick with concrete. Rain water ran off the roof and into the gutters. It then went down the downspout, into a charcoal filter in a galvanized 15-gallon tank, and finally into the cistern. In a very dry summer, the cistern would run dry and we had to carry water from the wells, which were about 500 feet from the house. We did a lot of carrying water from the smaller wells on the farm.

Bathing

We usually took what were called “birdbaths” using a pan of water, a washcloth and soap. If we were feeling real adventuresome, we would heat some water on top of the kitchen stove. To have enough water, we also used water from the five-gallon water reservoir at the end of the oven, water which heated while we were cooking. After heating the water, you poured it into a round washtub and bathed in that. You ought to try getting into one of those things when you are full-grown! I used to think, “What a luxury it would be to just have a double washtub!” The Sears Catalog had something that was like two round tubs hooked together and you could sit in it and take a bath. Unfortunately, we did not have one of those. We would take a tub bath in the kitchen about once a week. I took a birdbath every day. In the wintertime, we would bathe in front of the fireplace. In the summertime, we would have birdbaths anywhere in the house.

Laundry

When there was plenty of water, we heated water in the house on the kitchen stove, or else we used a big cast iron kettle that was about two feet in diameter and was outside the house. It was up on a rack where you could build a fire under it. The stove had four burners. We filled a wash boiler with water and set it on the laundry stove to heat. The laundry stove burned either wood or coal and was about twenty-four inches square.

No wonder clothes were so white! We would scrub them on a board and then take them out and wring them out by hand. Then we would put them in a fresh tub of water and boil them. After that, we put them through a second wash and then rinsed them. We hung them up to dry on a line. That process would take all day.

When water was scarce in the summer, we went down the road in front of the house and used that well to wash clothes. We had an iron kettle out there where we would heat water, and there was also a wash bench. When I was about five years old, my uncle was living in the sharecropper’s house, and my older cousin was at that well, washing. I was down there fiddling around when I should not have been and I turned the washtub full of cold rinse water over my head. The water dumping over nearly choked me and really scared my cousin.

We used the big cast iron kettle to make lye soap. To make the soap, you put meat skins, grease, and lye into water. The lye would break down the meat skins. How they ever got that to thicken, I cannot tell you. It did not smell too bad, but it sure was strong! You used that soap to wash dishes and laundry. The lye in the soap would really kill all the germs. I do not have any memory of using the lye soap for baths. I only remember using Lifeboy and Palmolive soap for bathing.

Not everyone made soap like that. My parents were old enough to be my grandparents, and they still held on to the old ways and did not buy soap. Later on, they did buy face soap. I do not know when they started doing that. Mama never gave up on the lye soap for washing dishes and clothes.

Sewing

Mama made lots of quilts. I have two tops that she did. The rest of the quilts were sold by my brothers after Mama died. I was not given a chance to buy them. Mama also embroidered designs on sheets and pillowcases. I have the pillowcases but somehow the top sheets that take the place of a bedspread got away from me somewhere when moving.

I started making my own clothes — mainly dresses — when I got to be twelve years old. We had lots of hand-me-down and homemade clothing. My mother had a sister in Hopkinsville who had a daughter, and that is where my clothes usually came from.

We also darned a lot of socks and patched a lot of clothes because there was never much cash for buying new clothes. We never wanted for food, but we did not do a lot of shopping.

School

photo of Jernigan Chapel School, 1934 (author is 5th from the left, second row)I started attending school in 1929, when I was five. I attended a country school by the name of Jernigan Chapel, which was located on land adjoining our property, about an eighth of a mile from the church of the same name. It was built on land that used to belong to our farm before Dad bought it and was donated to the Jernigan Chapel Methodist church. I do not know why they named it Jernigan because the person that owned the farm before Dad did was not named Jernigan. It must go way back. The Jernigans did have a farm that adjoined ours.

On sunny days, I walked the quarter of a mile to school, but on snowy days, my father would lift me up on a horse, give me the reins, and I would ride bareback to school. The horse was very gentle and easy to guide. If I wanted to turn to the left, I pulled on the left rein and if I wanted to go to the right, I pulled on the right. If the horse stopped, a kick in the flank and “Get Up!” would make him move forward again. When I got to school, the teacher would take me off, slap the horse on the rump, and it would return to the barn. After school, my father would come for me and we rode back together, without a saddle, the two of us on one horse. I looked forward to snowy days!

The one-room schoolhouse was heated by a large round stove located in the middle of the room. The stove burned coal and sometimes was very red when hot. There was a blackboard (a board painted black) clear across the front of the room, windows on each side, and the entrance at the rear of the building. The desks were on each side of the room. Two students sat at each desk. The various grades (1-8) were in little clusters around the room. That schoolroom seemed very large to me!

Every morning, we said the pledge of allegiance to the flag and a prayer. I was a shy, quiet child and was not a fast learner. I had the same teacher in that school for all but two years. The same teacher! Dad never thought that she did a good job, of course. Dad never realized that he could have counteracted that if he had known how. I only found out when I was 25 that Dad had vision problems and could not read. He could not see a word that had more than five letters in it. He would have to look at the first five letters and then look at the rest of the word and try to bring them together. He just did not worry with it. I did not know that when I was growing up. My mother, on the other hand, read anything she could get her hands on – novels, the Bible, the newspaper.

I never was a good student. Maybe I think I was slow because Verna Mae was so quick. In fact, the teacher made Verna Mae read backward from the right side of the page because the teacher thought she had everything memorized! But she was just smart. The thing that I liked most about school – and probably the reason I did not get good grades – was that I liked to take the younger kids out in the schoolyard and sit down on the ground with them. I would listen to them read and help them with their lessons. I probably should have stayed in the schoolhouse, learning a little more myself! I had one girl tell me that she did not want to be my friend because I did not know how to read. That little schoolhouse burned down after I left it.

In our school district, the high school was in Beech Creek, a mining town about seven miles from where we lived. They bused the kids to that school, starting in ninth grade. Dad would not let us go to that school because he thought miners lacked principles. After I finished the eighth grade, Dad drove Verna Mae and me to the high school in Greenville. We went in his pickup truck. Dad would never let us stay after school to go to football games and other after school activities. We always went home at 2:30, which is when he picked us up. I felt left out.

In addition to feeling left out in high school, I felt uncomfortable because of the clothes that I wore. I can remember distinctly that one of the hand-me-down dresses that I got from my cousin was very different from the dresses I knew. It buttoned up down the back, and I put it on backwards and wore it to school that way. I was embarrassed. We were not so poor that we could not buy clothes, but Dad just did not spend money on things like dresses. That is probably one of the reasons why I was so shy. I was definitely aware of not having clothes like other people. Of course, I was not very outgoing myself. I remember crying a lot.

There was a definite split between the children who lived in towns like Greenville and the ones, like me, who lived in the country. That is why many of the children, faced with either going to high school in the mining town or the one in Greenville, chose instead to continue to study at Jernigan’s Chapel school, where they felt more comfortable. There were always some students there who were past the eighth grade.

It was probably also because I was becoming a teenager, but Mom and Dad thought that there was no need to force me to go to school if it was going to cause me to crack up. They let me drop out of high school after only one semester. I think that, in the back of all of our minds was the fear that I might be having a nervous breakdown like Mama had had. I lived under that shadow for many years. After I dropped out, I raised strawberries and worked in the fields.

Dad definitely wanted us to have an education, but he did not know how to help us. He had a high regard for education, and if I could have gotten through high school, he would have put me through college. But he did not know how to make me want to go. My brothers went through eighth grade, like I did. I do not know what my sister did. Verna Mae went ahead until she finished eleventh grade, when she got married.

Religion

My parents had a very strong sense of what was right and what was wrong, but they did not attend church. Dad was very narrow in his way of looking at things. There were two ways you could do things: the right way and his way. He was much too strict, in my opinion. Mama was more “live and let live” and did not gossip or criticize anyone. Even if someone did not do the right thing, you did not discuss it.

Dad gave I do not know how much money to gravel the road back to the church so that people could get back in there. He was a good human being, and he did a lot of things for people, like helping out neighbors. Mama was the same way. But they did not go to church. Before I was born, Mama read the Bible through twice when she was bed-fast.

I went to church to see the boys, or that is all that I remember. My religion is different than the Methodist religion of my parents. I laughingly told someone the other day that I went up to the alter so many times because when they got up there and started preaching that fire and brimstone, I got to feeling that I better go up there and confess my sins. I do not know what sins an eleven-year-old has, but I went up there at every revival.

Entertainment

I remember working on the farm, but I do not remember too much playing. I am sure I did play, but I just do not remember it. There were not many forms of entertainment when I was a child, so we created our own entertainment out of the work we were doing. Verna Mae and I made play out of working in the fields -contests to see who would get done first and who did the most. We did not have to have money to entertain ourselves. I did love to read, though! It was primarily in the wintertime that I did a lot of reading. The summer was when Verna Mae and I slipped off and walked to town on Saturday evenings, after Mama and Dad went to bed.

I played inside with dolls more than I did outside. One time, however, when workmen were putting in the highway down near the edge of our property, I watched the workmen hauling in dirt to build up the bed for the highway. I do not know how old I was, but I had a little truck, and I hauled in some dirt and put in a little road for the my toy truck. If my parents or I had been smart enough to have known it, this showed that I was never going to be a woman who would be satisfied with just staying home and cooking and cleaning. I built my own highway!

There was a pool hall in town. Eura loved to shoot pool. Could he ever shoot pool! He spent an awful lot of time in the pool hall, even after he was married. He was also a good shot with the rifle, and he convinced my dad to buy what you call a “shooting gallery”. It is a mechanism where these little concrete ducks go around in a row. You shoot at them and they fall over if you hit them. Using a mirror, Eura could even shoot those ducks with the rifle over his shoulder and his back to them. Eura had the shooting gallery over in Cairo, Illinois. The building it was in was flooded in the 1937 flood. Why in the world my parents ever let me go over there with my two brothers and sister-in-law to pick up that equipment, I will never know. I remember being in a motel with my sister-in-law where the downstairs was flooded.

There was not much to do for entertainment other than in church. There was one theater in Greenville, but that was all. When I got older, I did go to see a lot of westerns. Saturday was always westerns day.

We did not have any organized sports. When I got to be a teenager, the community’s youth would get together in the field and play baseball. For a baseball, we took an inch-sized rock, wrapped it with inner tubes cut in half-inch strips, and then finished wrapping it with twine. There were no gyms in country schools. I guess there were in the towns, but there was a strong division between the town and the country people then. There was not much mixing. Evidently it never occurred to anyone to ask for permission to use a town school gym.

When it came to parties, my dad was all work. He did not go in for that kind of stuff. To him, parties were a waste of energy. Visiting was a waste of energy. However, he would go up to the hardware store and sit around that potbelly stove with other farmers if the weather prevented him from working in the fields. So he had his socializing there, with the other men. Mama just stayed home. Once or twice in my lifetime, my parents went to church in Todd County where they had all-day singing and a picnic dinner. Everyone always said “all-day dinner and singing on the ground”. We would carry in dinner and there would be a church service followed by singing and eating throughout the afternoon. That was the church that my parents attended when they were teenagers. I do not remember the name of that church.

Verna Mae and I went to church because it was a chance to get together with our friends. They used to have ice cream socials in the little church next to where we lived – Jernigans Chapel. That was to raise some money, but, to the people who went, it was just a get together. That was the church where I went to Sunday school, prayer meeting on Wednesday, and church service once a month (because we shared a minister with three other churches in the area).

After I learned to drive, I attended the Pleasant Hill Methodist church with a girlfriend. That church was a good three or four miles from our place. There were boys at that church. My friend and I would take turns staying overnight at each other’s homes. About 80% of the people who lived in the sharecropper house were family, like uncles and my cousins and some second cousins of my mother or father. Verna Mae and I played with them too.

Dating

photo of Mabel in 1937My father took a dim view of dating. The nearest thing to a date that we had was if a boy would come and sit in the parlor and talk. We did not have a record player or a radio or anything. We just sat there, and at nine o’clock they had to leave. It was kind of difficult to expect someone to walk maybe five miles or something to sit in the parlor from five to nine!

My social life involved mainly family and people I met at Jernigan’s Chapel, the little, one-room Methodist church next to our farm. On Wednesday night, we had Bible studies prayer meeting, and I went to Sunday school. The church shared a minister with three other churches, so every third Sunday would be our Sunday for services. Then the minister would go someplace else the next two weeks. It was nothing out of the ordinary for the minister to come to your house for Sunday dinner or what have you.

The real fun came when I learned to drive and began attending the Methodist church called Pleasant Hill. That was where my friends were and where the boys were. My best girlfriend had about three brothers and there were some cousins that lived close by and they all went to that Pleasant Hill church. That was interesting. Then on Sunday night, they had church again at Jernigan Chapel.

When my mother’s cousin Obie Gary was living in the sharecropper’s house, Dad would sometimes let him drive into Greeneville on Saturday afternoons and take Verna Mae and me. He would park the truck, and Verna Mae and I would sit in it and watch the people go by. That was interesting. You might get a glimpse of a boy if you looked real close. Anything to get where the boys were! I do not remember if the boys were doing the same thing.

Verna Mae got me in a lot of trouble, but we never did get caught slipping out of the house and walking to town on Saturday night. It was a two-mile walk, and we had to hide in the ditches when cars came along so that our neighbors would not see us and tell on us. I cannot remember how many times we did that, but I know that we did it more than once. There was a restaurant there. It was a dry county, and I cannot remember what we did when we got to town. I only remember hiding in the ditch when the cars came. We probably got a coke and nursed it all evening with a hamburger. That is probably what we did. My parents were in bed sleeping, and they thought that that is where we were.

The most exciting thing I did that was legal was to go to the public library in Greenville on Saturday and get books by Zane Grey and Jack London. Then I would come home and, after the evening chores were finished, build a fire in the laundry stove and light the Alladin lamp. I would spread butter on the white bread that I had bought that afternoon in town and sit there and read and eat bread until I finished the book that night. Sometimes it would be twelve o’clock, sometimes one. It just all depended on how fast I was reading and how big the book was. That was quiet pleasure, not like doing something you were not supposed to be doing. Light bread is what we call white bread now. In Kentucky, we called it light bread because it was so light in weight compared to the bread we baked at home. That was a treat, because I only had that when I went to town.

Christmas

My parents did not really celebrate Christmas. We had a Christmas tree at the schoolhouse, not at home. We did not have Christmas decorations, but Mama was famous for the jam cakes she made for the holiday. To make it, she mixed up the dough but, instead of putting so much milk or water in it, she added moisture by adding jam. I do not think there was frosting on it. We were given a dollar each to get gifts for ten people! We could get a little knickknack. I still have one of them here that I think they told me was carnival glass. So it was usually something like that that you would buy or else you would make something. I do not remember any gifts that I particularly liked, except for the doll that my brother Burness sent me and Verna Mae from Florida one Christmas. It was just a very barren life in a way. But I think that that is what made me the strong person that I am today.

Funerals

My parents did not take me to funerals. I was protected from death. I guess I was supersensitive, because it upset me when dogs would kill a cat. They would chase that cat under the floor, where it could not get out, and then they killed it. One morning, I woke up and heard Mama say to Dad, “Move that cat away before Mabel Florence gets up and sees it.” They knew how sensitive I was to everything. That was the reason I did not go to funerals. I guess I did attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral, but I do not remember it. She was the only grandparent I ever knew. They had the funeral there in Kentucky and then buried her out to Arizona. I have pictures of it, but I do not remember it.

World War II

All of our news came from the weekly newspaper my parents subscribed to. When I was 14 or 15, they got a battery radio. I remember well December the 7th, 1940, when it was announced that Pearl Harbor had been hit. I was making up a bed in the downstairs bedroom that we also called a living room. I wonder why I was not in church because it was a Sunday morning. Maybe it was before I went to church. We had a battery radio then, because we still did not have electricity. President Roosevelt came on and said that we were in a state of war. I am not sure how much I really understood about what was going on. Who knew where Hawaii was then? I sure did not. So I do not think I realized what it meant because we were coming out of a Depression and seemed to know more about that than about the war. I do not remember hearing a whole lot about what was going on in Europe before then. We did not know why things were happening.

I remember when they called in the young, unmarried men in our area for nine months’ training. It was just supposed to be training. They did not tell us all they knew, I guess. My brothers somehow fell through the cracks due to their ages. Some of the boys that were a little bit older than I was were drafted.

Then we geared up and we grew strawberries and picked them, capped them, and sent them to the Strawberry Association, which shipped them to the servicemen in refrigerated train cars. At that time, instead of using our butter, we bought margarine and we had this little yellow ball of dye that we had to mix into it. We sold our butter. So many things went to the servicemen, which I did not begrudge at all. When we went to the movies, we would see newsreels during the war – those little snippets of men fighting.

Leaving Home

photo of Mabel’s parentsWhen I was 17 or 18, I began having a lot of headaches. Changing my glasses did not help. So the optometrist in town suggested that I go to Louisville and see an opthamologist. I did, and they came to the conclusion that there was an enlarged bone pressing on my optical nerve. Surgeons removed the bone, and that stopped the headaches. When my eyes are examined now, they can still see my damaged nerve, but it does not affect my vision.

So I went to Louisville by myself on the train, scared to death that I would not get off the train at the right place. I had never been fifty miles away from home before that and had never been on a train or a bus. A neighbor that lived about three or four miles away from us knew about me going up to Louisville, and he asked his father, who lived in Louisville, to meet me at the train. I stayed with him and his wife. I did not know them very well. It seemed strange that they would take in a person whom they did not know very well, take me to the hospital and bring me home after the surgery. That was southern hospitality.

I went into surgery in Louisville by myself and when I was well enough to go home, the surgeon asked me to be a nanny for his children. I was not about to do that. No, I was going to be in Louisville, and I was going to see all the exciting things! But I did live with the neighbor’s family for nine months. I do not remember how I found the job, but I worked in a defense plant. It was a lot of pressure. I was patching plywood veneer for airplane wings. I made sure there weren’t any cracks in the veneer that were used for planes, because if the planes went into a dive, any weaknesses in those wings would cause the planes to crash. They were constantly reminding us that if we did not do the job right, the wings would come off the planes. If there was a hole in the veneer, I would cut out that area and cut a piece to fit it in. Then it would go back through the press, which would seal it.

It was an exciting time because I met a girl who worked there and we became friends. We would get on the streetcar to go uptown, and there would be a lot of soldiers on the streetcar. They loved to tease me because I blushed. I was so shy. I do not remember what they said – nothing to amount to anything – but it was just that they said anything to me. I was so shy, I would be embarrassed.

While I was in Louisville, I decided to join the WACS, so I was taken to Cincinnati along with other girls. I had only been out of my surgery for six months when I got up there, and I got scared. I just was not as anxious to go as I thought I was. I had even had my birth certificate doctored since I was too young to join up without my parents’ consent. I think that that was one of the reasons I got scared, because I was afraid to be found out. You know the stories about the two whippings I got because I told a lie! The funny thing was that they made me pay for my transportation back to Louisville!

My parents were heartbroken when I decided to stay in Louisville rather than return home, but they never showed it. They never gave me any words of advice, but they set an example that told me that, if you work hard, you will survive.

I never lived at home again except for one, six-month stay. When I would go home for a visit, the train got into Greenville around one or two o’clock in the morning and I would take a cab out to the farm and just walk in. Not a door locked anywhere. They would not know I was there until the next morning. How times have changed!

Lessons Learned

photo of Mabel Hohimer (1999)Life is a journey rather than a destination, and numerous lessons that I learned on that farm in Kentucky have helped me on my journey. Dad taught me to be honest and trustworthy. I also learned from him that, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From Mama, I learned tolerance and forgiveness as well as that I should never take more than my fair share in life. Both of my parents showed me that happiness is not having more possessions, but being able to enjoy what you have. Eura demonstrated how important it is to challenge myself and reach out for something new. Burness, on the other hand, showed me that I should work at my own tempo and not someone else’s. I am very grateful to my family for passing on these life lessons, which proved to be invaluable in my life. They have given me the skills and strength to face whatever challenges came my way as an adult. But that is another story.

*I wish to thank Jean Umiker-Sebeok and Helen Hollingsworth for their help in editing my story.

E-mail Mabel Hohimer.

3 Comments on “Kentucky Childhood (1923-1940) by Mabel Hohimer”


  1. Pam Rumer said:

    Hello Mabel,

    My siblings and I thoroughly enjoyed your story!

    We remember many of the people and places that you reference.

    If possible, we would love to speak with you.

    Best Wishes,
    Pam Rumer


  2. David Tomes said:

    Dear Mabel:

    I enjoyed your story and it brought back memories. My grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Tomes was your aunt. I believe I met you when I was a child. You are about my mother’s age, she was Kathryn married to Adrain Tomes. Mom passed away last year. I definitely remember meeting Burniss when I was young. I live in Louisville and made my first visit to Bloomington a couple of months ago to visit my niece who is living there.

    I would love to hear from you.

    Best regards,
    David Tomes


  3. Lisa C. Nicoll said:

    Just found your life story. I am a descendant of the Arizona cousins. My Grandmother was Ozona Stinson Christensen. Her father was George Warren Stinson, son of Thomas Brown Stinson and Mariah Ellen Vandeveer. Thank you for publishing this. Lisa Nicoll

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