This book is a continuation of “G’bye My Honey,” the first of the Reunion Series.
Contents come from the same source – more than a quarter century of traveling and talking with Hoosiers in southern Indiana for my newspapers, the Herald-Times and the Sunday Herald-Times in Bloomington, and the Daily Times-Mail, in Bedford, Indiana.
As in G’bye My Honey, the characters who brighten these pages are also just people like you and your friends, perhaps like your father or mother, an uncle or aunt, a co-worker, or one or more of your neighbors.
You will find heroes here, too, but you won’t find anyone famous or anyone rich. Simply put, these people were chosen because of the amusement, pleasure, courage, faith and understanding that they have brought to the lives of countless others, and especially to me.
I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Precious Rascal and that you will look forward to Ol’ Sam Payton, the third book of the Reunion Series, to be published soon. LInc.
This book is no longer available in print. It will be posted here in it’s entirety soon.
In some ways it may have been a better time to have lived, when Idas Armstrong was a girl growing up on a farm between Bloomington and Bedford. She believed as much, anyway, even after decades of change – as it is often argued – for the better.
There were Idas, her sister Ora, and their brothers Ray, Evan and Ellis, and almost four hundred rolling acres on which they were reared. Grant Armstrong and his three sons worked with cattle, hogs and sheep. The girls aided their mother, Emma Whisenand Armstrong, with the cooking, the housework, the canning, and with the chickens and the eggs. They also learned to tat.
Eventually there was for Idas, too, the rural mail carrier, a youth named Robert Roland Ellison. When he appeared in his buggy she’d make some excuse to meet him at the roadside mailbox. Ultimately they would marry – in Springville – and in later years they would, with their daughter and son-in-law, operate a hardware store in Bedford.
“In a way it was a better time to live,” Idas Armstrong Ellison said at the beginning of our visit in her home at 1428 Thirteenth St., in Bedford. “Life is too fast now, for one thing. And although there are more advantages now, I think our time, living on a farm, was better. My father was not rich, like some. But usually he had two to three hundred head of cattle and a big lot of hogs and sheep, and was able to care for his own. There was no work for us girls, only cooking and the like. We learned to cook when we were so small we had to stand on a box to reach the cook table. We had nothing but happiness back then.”
There were the chickens and the eggs from which the girls earned money. Tatting brought them more money.
“We made a lot of tatting,” she said. “We did tablecloths, sheets and pillow cases and all kinds of fancy things. A pair of pillow cases and sheets would bring eighteen dollars, and as much as twenty-five. When we weren’t cooking or keeping house we were tatting. We tatted all the time. We could just go like lightning with it.”
When she and her sister, Ora, got in the notion for a new car, they gave their father five hundred dollars of their own earned cash and asked him to go to Bedford and buy them one. Grant returned that afternoon with a new Model-T Ford with side curtains.
“A man drove it home, and our dad came home with him,” she recalled the event. “You didn’t have to have a driver’s license back then, just get in and drive. And we did.” After a pause, during which she seemed to be luxuriating in the memory, she continued, “I can’t remember that anyone ever taught us to drive. We had plenty of space to practice, and we just climbed into the car and practiced.” She laughed quietly as though reviewing in her mind some humorous recollection of that time – which she did not reveal to me – until she was ready to dismiss it, then said, “It was a brand new car, right out of the factory. And when it rained we put the side curtains up.”
By then another new Model-T had appeared in the neighborhood. The mail carrier’s. Actually it was his father’s. Fathers laid claim to everything in the family in those days, and Idas’s and Ora’s car had its claimant in Grant. But claims notwithstanding, Model-Ts were faster, more comfortable than buggies, and the mail carrier knew it. He was also aware that the Model-T would get him to Idas’s house not only faster and in more comfort than a buggy, but also in style.
“I liked the looks of Roland from the first time that I saw him,” Idas remembered her initial feelings for the young mail carrier. “I’d see him coming out the road and I’d go out to get the mail. He’d be waiting for me. And when I’d get to the mailbox we’d talk and joke and laugh.”
They talked and joked and laughed at the roadside mailbox for three years. Then, in a more serious vein one day, they climbed into the young mail carrier’s Model-T and drove to Springville, home to the Armstrong clan, where in a simple ceremony Reverend Quincy Short pronounced them man and wife.
“My father and his brothers were all born at Springville, where uncle Curtis Armstrong lived, and we always called Springville our home,” she explained the choice of the wedding site. “Quincy’s father married my grandfather and grandmother, so we had Quincy marry us.”
It was years later that they and their daughter Mildred, and her husband, Robert (Bob) Szatowski, bought out Heitger’s Hardware Store, on the east side of Courthouse Square, in Bedford. The establishment became known as Ellison’s Hardware, and a first-time shopper in the friendly place knew almost immediately that it was a family owned store.
In subsequent years the Ellisons enjoyed many successes there. Then Roland fell ill and died. Alone then, Idas asked Bob and Mildred to move into her home with her. Then Bob passed away.
In the cool quiet of Idas’s lovely home it became again hard to believe that time in its passage can be so abrasive. But it was a short-lived thought for Idas’s voice interrupted. When I looked up she was smiling. “I do declare, it was better living back then,” she was saying. “But I’ve always enjoyed my life. I still am enjoying it. And I just want to keep on and keep on and keep on.”
In spite of Grant Armstrong claiming the Model-T after she and Roland were married, Idas, who was on the brink of her 90th birthday at the time of my visit in 1981, expressed no regrets about the past.
THE TOTEM POLE
During a period when the late Tom Lemon was mayor of Bloomington the color lemon yellow decorated many city properties, including its police cruisers.
One night, while gloriously besotted with spirits, Jim Ayers, who now is also with the saints, staggered out of a city tavern. Thinking he was getting into a Yellow Cab he mistakenly climbed into a yellow police car. Promptly taken to the county jail, he was booked as a drunk, and locked up.
Next morning there was joy in the jail. Jim, a regular visitor there, was a fine cook, and the jail just happened to be in dire need of one. Sobered, showered, shaking, he was dutifully at work in the jail’s kitchen.
“When they’d run out of a cook down at the jail, they’d come looking for Jim and arrest him,” a bartender in a city tavern remembered. “He was usually drunk and they’d get him for public intoxication.”
“Old Jim made the best brain sandwiches you ever tasted,” devoted friend, Bob Nellis, said, remembering the days when Jim cooked at Skinner’s Cafe on N. College Avenue.
“Nobody could make chili like Jim,” Butch Gastineau’s wife, Ann, was known to say. She used to have someone go into Skinner’s for take-outs for her.
“That was back when it was against the law for women to sit at the bar,” another of Jim’s old friends, Bill Harris said. He pinpointed the time as that era when a respectable housewife wouldn’t be caught dead in a drinking establishment, when Kenneth “Skinner” Rush and his wife, Thelma, owned the cafe. “You never saw women in the place,” he said.
Besides being a good cook, “When he was sober Jim could paint you a sign as good as any sign painter,” Bill added. “He’d ask you for money to buy paint for your sign and then go right to a tavern and drink it up. Then he’d come back and tell you he needed more money to buy more paint. Hell of it was, painted signs went out of style before he could get sober.”
“He’d sober up once in a while,” Bill said. After a moment’s thought he added, “He was a good boy, Jim was. He wasn’t a drunk. He was like me and a lot of other people, he just couldn’t stay sober.”
Whatever he was, Jim is remembered – by those who knew him best – as a good guy, one who could sit next to someone’s hamburger on the bar and never steal it. And he’d buy anybody a beer who walked in the door, if he had the money.
A veteran, Jim rarely spoke of his World War II experiences. “When me and him was together he’d tell me lots of things,” Bill remembered. “But Jim was drunk and I was drunk and I don’t remember anything he told me.”
Jim received a soldier’s pension from the government. Nothing like what a congressman would get. From that and his meager earnings, he retained an attorney. “Had him on his payroll,” is the way Bob Nellis put it. “For twenty-five dollars he’d either get Jim out of jail or keep him from going back, whatever his predicament at the time.”
Because he needed a place to stay one winter Jim lived at Bob’s remote country place. It was a campground named Bob’s Five Little Acres, south of Lake Monroe, and he could pay for his keep by doing odd jobs there. Although it was about eleven miles from the nearest tavern, and Jim didn’t drive, he seemed content to live in the house there while Bob stayed in town. They had been friends for many years and had often fished and camped together, and Bob trusted him implicitly.
Jim triumphed over the lonely separation from town that winter in two remarkably memorable ways. He secretly guzzled a cache of Bob’s whiskey in such a clever manner that Bob did not learn of his loss until months later.
“He drank most of the whiskey from each bottle, refilled them with water, and reglued the cap seals,” Bob said. “Out of seventy-five bottles I had stashed there, he left me about two gallons of watered-down whiskey.”
Jim’s other accomplishment was less evasive. He cut down a tree and when he wasn’t drinking or watering down Bob’s whiskey, he carved it into a totem pole as a gift for his benefactor. Touched, Bob helped him prepare a concrete base and together they stood the symbolic shaft on it at Jim’s own choice of location, the entrance to the campground.
Jim had a stomach ailment he ignored until it got him down. A dear friend, “Boodles” Chitwood, who owned a downtown tavern, arranged his admission to a veterans hospital. By then Jim was living in government subsidized housing and Boodles went there and made him go to the hospital. She liked Jim, and it was a motherly, loving effort on her part.
But Jim had drunk too much whiskey in his lifetime, and he didn’t last long after that. Boodles went to his wake at a city funeral home and was impressed by what she saw. It was replete with organ music and mourners, some being Jim’s old friends, and a few older ladies from the government subsidized housing complex, which was Jim’s last address in this life.
After the service Jim was cremated. His ashes waited in a cardboard box at the mortuary for someone to claim them. He had relatives; someone thought a sister, a half-brother, maybe two. No one was sure anymore. But for months there were no takers. In the end his good friend Bob claimed what was left of his old fishing companion. “I put him on the passenger seat beside me in my pickup,” Bob said, “and we drove out to the camp. When we got there I put him on a shelf in the kitchen.”
Jim’s altered presence posed no problem, except that Bob felt that his friend should have a proper burial. “And every day,” Bob recalled, “I’d look up at him and say, ‘Jim, where do you think I ought to bury you?'”
That’s the way it was for months; Bob asking and Jim not answering. “One day I thought I’d put him in the pond back of the house because we had fished so much together. Then I said, ‘No, Jim. In winter you’d freeze in that cold water.’ Then one day I told him, ‘Jim, I think I’ll put you in the ground where you belong.'”
When the time was right Bob took up a posthole digger, put Jim under his arm, and carried them both to where he and Jim so many years earlier had installed the totem pole.
“This,” Bob told his friend as he started digging near the base of the emotionless wooden faces, “is where I’m going to put you, Jim. This is where you belong.”
And there, while we stood contemplating a tiny metal marker bearing the appropriate legend at the base of that decaying, crumbling, upright wooden shaft, Bob held, for my sake, one sunny morning, an ad hoc get-acquainted memorial service for his old fishing buddy, one James Ayers, 1914-1984.
One of the more devastating floods in American history took place in Ohio and Indiana in 1913. Seventy-seven people in Indiana were killed. The main cause of that disaster was torrential rains that dumped ten times more water into the Miami River than it could hold. But in a one-time Republican stronghold now covered by the waters of Lake Monroe, the people blamed that flood on the Virginia-born son of a Presbyterian minister.
“We called it ‘the Wilson flood,'” Aunt Gertie Henry told me during my visit with her one afternoon.
Woodrow Wilson, former managing editor of the Princeton University Princetonian, former lawyer and Princeton University president, and governor of New Jersey, was elected twenty-eighth President of the United States the previous November. Soon after his inauguration in March, the flood of 1913 inundated the land.
“And we were in it,” Aunt Gertie said, “and I’ve been wanting to tell you about it. We’s all Republicans, there where we lived by the old Cutright covered bridge. And when the flood come along, Wilson hadn’t been in office too long, so we named it after him. Because he was a Democrat, of course.”
Aunt Gertie was born, raised, married and lived on Cutright Hill, above the bridge. Her brother, Jim, lived down in the bottoms, on the banks of Salt Creek. A second brother, Don, also lived nearby, but away from the creekbed.
“It commenced t’rainin’ and stormin’ the night before,” Aunt Gertie recounted from memory an ordeal that would last eleven hours. “Now that was a rain, believe me. We thought it would never stop. And the wind just raged, and it rolled the metal roof right off’n the kitchen and blew it away. Next mornin’ I had to ladle water out of the cookstove before I could get a fire built to fix something to eat.”
Long before she began ladling water out of the stove, however, her brother, Jim, had awakened about four a.m. and, realizing that his family was in danger, alerted his wife, Anna, to the rising creek waters.
“He told her t’fix some breakfast and then they’d get out of there,” Aunt Gertie continued. “But before they could do that the water was up in the house. They put the children on the bed, Anna got in the washing tub, and Jim put on his hip boots and went out and started hollerin’ to the hill.”
Joshua Waldrip, his wife, Serepta (Aunt Rep), and Gertie’s brother, Don, and his wife and family, and Aunt Gertie, then twenty-two, and her husband, all could hear Jim calling for help. “But when we’d call back to him he couldn’t hear us,” Aunt Gertie said. “And we knew that him and his family was in grave danger.”
Joshua and his son then began caulking an old boat, preparing it for a rescue mission. By that time Aunt Gertie, with the help of some other women from the rural neighborhood who had congregated at her house, had cleaned the wet ashes from the fireplace and bailed out the stove. They soion had a crackling fire burning in both, and had breakfast “a-cookin'” for Don’s kids.
“Everybody had a woodshed then, and we had ours, and there was plenty of dry wood for fires,” Aunt Gertie said.
Meanwhile, Joshua and Don had rowed across the racing, high waters and returned safely with three of Jim’s four children. They then again pitted their strength and daring against the rising flood to return to Jim’s home. Arriving there safely they helped Anna and the baby to the barn loft for temporary safety. They also took time to throw down enough hay to build a ramp, up which they drove two horses and three head of cattle, securing them in the loft apart from Anna and her child.
The three men then spread hay in the lofts of a double corn crib, and into the safety of them they lifted hogs and chickens. A contrary rooster, squawking hysterically and madly flapping its wings, escaped, flying free of their good intentions. Alas, the angry bird’s ability to fly was limited and it was unable to reach land. Exhausted, finally, it glided to a forced landing in the surging water and drowned.
The mens’ efforts took up valuable time. It was three o’clock in the afternoon before they brought Anna and the baby down from the barn loft and were ready to challenge the flood again. The small boat, its gunwales nearly underwater from the combined weight of Joshua, Don, Jim, and Anna and her child, was pushed out into the flood.
“By that time the water was really high and it was runnin’ swift,” Aunt Gertie remembered the hazards of that trip. “The men couldn’t row straight across. They had to go with the current. Once, when they disappeared behind some trees, we thought they was lost. But they wasn’t. We saw them again and we was glad. We clapped and we hollered. And they got to the hill all right.”
Aunt Gertie had waited a long time to recount this experience. She was in her mid-eighties at the time and, having left Cutright Hill just prior to the construction of Lake Monroe, was sharing a home in Bloomington with Virginia Vaughn. She was the oldest active member of the Burgoon Baptist Church, where she was baptized July 21, 1907. As a girl she attended a one-room school that stood near the church.
“That’s where I l’arnt what all I l’arnt,” she told me, her eyes a-twinkle. “Ray Lampkin was a teacher, so’s Elmer Ferguson. And Cora McCormick, Jason Browning, Riley Butcher, Tighe Hays, Cap Hays and Logan Browning was all classmates of mine.”
Aunt Gertie had no children of her own. Jim had four, Don had ten, and her sister, Molly Sexton, had eleven. “I baby-setted with all of them and I sewed for all of them,” she began a marathon of words that left her almost breathless. “I remember one time one of them had the ‘hoopin’ cough and was black in the face chokin’, time I got there. And they’s pitchin’ her up in the air, and her mother was alayin’ in the kitchen floor fainted, like she was dead. And I retched my finger down that child’s throat and I pulled out the biggest bunch of phlegm out o’her. And she’s alive today.”
Recalling that the years living amid the rest of the Republicans on Cutright Hill were good ones, Aunt Gertie pointed out that, “We was all peaceful.”
A faithful member of Burgoon Baptist Church for her entire life, she was equally faithful to the Republican Party except for the last election. Voting an absentee ballot, which was not unusual for rural residents without means of reaching the polls on election day, Aunt Gertie inadvertently X-ed the wrong square and voted a straight Democrat ticket.
“I voted in the wrong place but I didn’t lose my vote,” she philosophically reviewed the error. “I aimed to vote’r straight, and I did. But I felt guilty. I felt like I hadn’t ought to’ve done it.”
The blue in Eddie Crum’s eyes was faded from eighty-five years of viewing life, and his proportionately small shoulders were stooped from the living of it. He had unusually large ears for a small man, and the thick mass of hair on his head belied his days, for it was black, showing only touches of gray.
But strumming and singing a guitar or banjo, and fiddling such tunes as “Maid In The Garden Sifting Sand,” or “Eight More Miles To Louisville,” or his own “Midnight Eddie,” or his “Burglar Song,” Eddie would double in size, he was that good a musician and entertainer. And as such he was as refreshing as a cooling summer evening breeze.
Eddie always said that his musical talent went back to his mother, who was a natural born musician. “And,” he observed one day, “I never had a lesson in my life, I got it from her, and our five kids get it from me. They all play, and if you’ll come over some Sunday evening you can hear us. We always have a round on Sunday evening.”
Eddie stopped talking long enough that day to strum his guitar and sing a few songs. When he had satisfied himself he paused to recall an early family event. “We were the first family to play and sing over old WLAP, in Louisville, Kentucky,” he said. “Me and the old woman and the five kids. But that’s the short story of it. While we were there one of the kids took the measles. We were supposed to be quarantined. But I only had seventeen dollars, and the man from the Board of Health said, ‘If you go straight home and not let anyone out of the car, I’ll let you go.’ Now that’s just the case, exactly. It just gave me the blues so bad I just never did go back to sing on the radio.”
Eddie’s son, Festus, who was a member of the troup that made the jaunt to Lousiville, remembered the event differently. “Mom didn’t go to Louisville,” he said at the time of this writing. In his seventies at this time, Festus said he was ten or eleven when he, his brothers Clayton and Edward, and their sister, Forrest accompanied their father to Louisville to audition at WLAP.
“The man did like us and he said he would put us on the air in the morning. But Dad wouldn’t stay overnight. He was one of those kind of people who liked to be home at nighttime and he told the man, ‘I wouldn’t stay all night in Louisville if you gave me the place.’ And we came home. No one had the measels, either,” Festus continued. “I don’t know where that part of the story came from. I suppose Dad might have just told it one time and then got to believing it.”
If the blues still remained with Eddie when we visited he kept them well hidden. His conversation was light, animated, and he appeared pleased and happy. The small house that was his home in rural Harrodsburg, some dozen miles or more south of Bloomington, was aglow with him, his words, his songs. The “old woman” to whom he referred was his lovely wife, Edna McNeely Crum, a tiny, white-haired lady “No bigger,” as Eddie put it, “than a pound of soap,” who shared the home with him. She also was a musician, having played the piano in her youth.
“I used to visit here,” she said of earlier days when she traveled from her home at Ellettsville to Harrodsburg, where Eddie was reared and where he had lived all his life. “He used to call me ‘Mousey’ because I was so small,” Edna said. “Oh, he used to make me so mad. And he wouldn’t stop calling me that. He wouldn’t stop on nothing.”
She looked back on sixty-one years of marriage to Eddie, and she avowed that the association had wrought no change in him. She declared that given the opportunity she would not marry him again. Nor would she marry any man, for that matter, she hurried to add. As she spoke she defiantly shook her small white head Still, she had married Eddie, and she admitted she was satisfied with that. But marrying him wasn’t the easiest thing she’d ever done. It took some doing – two trips to the preacher’s house before that man of divine calling succeeded in joining them as man and wife.
“The first time,” Eddie began recounting the two occasions with eyes alight, “the preacher asked me, ‘Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said to her, ‘Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?’ She didn’t say anything. I looked over at her and she had fainted.”
Both laughed then, Eddie more than Edna, and when he had laughed enough he resumed his story. “So I took her home,” he said. “And I fed her some vitamins, and when she was strong enough I took her back to that preacher. And I told him, ‘Now Preacher,’ I said, ‘Don’t ask any more of those damnfool questions. Just tie the knot and get it over with.'”
The marriage ended an on-again off-again romance Eddie was having with a girl named Sally Skinner. In those early days in rural Monroe County young and old folks alike derived much of their social entertainment from attending Sunday and week-night church services. So that they might be together, Eddie and Sally had attended their share. At one of them they became separated. Eddie recalled the incident in this manner: “They were all asingin’ and ajumpin’, and I was alookin’ for my girl. I bumped into the preacher. He looked at me and said, ‘Son, are you alookin’ for sal-a-vation?’ I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No, Preacher, I’m alookin’ for Sa-l-l-y Skinner.’
“When I first started goin’ with Sally,” he went on, “I asked my mother one night what I ought to say to her when I went to her house. My mother said, ‘Son, just say somethin’ soft.’ When Sally answered my knock on her door and said, ‘Why how-do-you-do -‘” Eddie had raised his voice to a falsetto to affect the sound of a woman’s voice “- I said, ‘Mashed potatoes,’ which was about the softest thing I could think of right then.”
Although he had been to Louisville, Eddie had never seen Indianapolis. A homebody, travel seemed of little importance to him. He enjoyed life in Harrodsburg and seemed very happy being there. He traveled only to where his job as a house painter took him, and where his music might take him. He was a good house painter, and he was able to earn a livelihood in that line of work.
Festus remembered a story Eddie used to tell when asked how he became a house painter. “Dad and ‘Herk’ Hazel worked at Claude Smallwood’s General Store in Harrodsburg,” he recounted the tale. “One day a lady came in to buy some hose, but she didn’t know exactly what size she wore. So Claude gave her a pair of stockings and said, ‘You take these into that side room. There’s a chair in there. You sit down and try them on and see if they fit all right.’ Then he turned to Dad and Herk and he said, ‘And if I catch either one of you peeping in there you’ll be fired.’ And then Dad would say, “‘After I lost that job I went to painting houses.'”
Although he was a good house painter, Eddie Crum was best known, and loved, for his music, and appreciated for his unpredictable sense of humor. The memorable dead fish caper was one of his pranks. After someone had given him an enormous dead carp he attached it to the line of a fishing pole and sat angler-like on a concrete abutment over a dry ditch at the Harrodsburg turn-off and State Road 37, across from Fowler’s Garage. Each time a car approached on the highway Eddie gave a yank on the pole, flipping the big fish up in the air where it appeared to be very much alive and struggling to unhook itself. To passing motorists it was a stunning, if incredulous, sight. Eyes popping in surprise, some drivers even whipped their heads around for a second look, nearly running their cars off the road. After a few near accidents, Eddie wisely quit the little game.
When she learned of that prank, Edna shook her head in dismay and exclaimed, “He gets worse all the time.” Which is what Jenny Tillie must have thought. Miss Tillie taught school at Harrodsburg when Eddie was a boy. “She asked me to recite somethin’ one day, and I didn’t want to recite nothin’,”
Eddie recalled during our visit. “And she forced me. So I said, ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke a ten-dollar bill, and Jill picked up a dollar and a quarter.’ Miss Tillie got awfully mad, and she said, ‘I’ll tend to you after school, young man.’ And she did.” He paused a moment, then added, “A dollar and a quarter is what the preacher got for marrying us. After he tied the knot I said, ‘Preacher what does the law allow you for a marriage?’ And he said, ‘One dollar.’ So I gave him a quarter and I said, ‘Here, this’ll make you a dollar and a quarter.'”
Six children were born of Edna’s marriage to Eddie, one of whom died in infancy. At this writing the remaining five were still living in the Harrodsburg-Bloomington area. They are Clayton, Festus, Edward, Forrest and Phyllis.
“One doctor delivered all of the kids but me,” Forrest said during a visit with her some years after the loss of her parents. “The one who delivered me had served in France during World War I, and I was supposed to have been named after a sweetheart he left over there. Somehow the name turned out to be Forrest, and I’ve had problems galore with it ever since.” Then displaying a characteristic typical of her father, she added, “One time I was admitted to the hospital and I was given a bed in a men’s ward. Of course I said, `Hey, I’ll stay!’ I saw nothing wrong with that arrangement. But they wouldn’t let me. But you wouldn’t believe the trouble I’ve had with that name.”
Forrest remembered that her father was something of an insomniac, and to while away sleepless hours he would turn to music. “He’d get up and take a banjo, fiddle or guitar down from the wall where he kept them hanging, and he’d play,” she said. “Many were the times I woke up in the night and heard him just playing away.”
Eddie had a collection of songs he could call to mind as easily as he could the time of day. One of his favorites was “The Burglar Song,” a tune he wrote and once presented at a command performance one afternoon before Judge Nat U. Hill and office workers in the circuit court room of the Monroe County Court House, in Bloomington. The lyrics, which brought laughter and applause from Eddie’s listeners went something like this:
I’ll sing you a song of a burglar, who went to rob a house.
He come in at the window, he come quiet as a mouse.
Under the bed this burglar went, his face ag’in the wall.
He didn’t know it was an old maid’s house,
Or he wouldn’t have had the gall.
He thought about all the things he would get
While under the bed he lay,
But at nine o’clock he saw a sight
That turned his whiskers gray.
The old maid came in at that hour of nine,
“Oh, I’m so tired,” she said.
Thinkin’ everything was all right
She didn’t look under the bed.
She took out her teeth and a bum glass eye,
And a wig from off’n her head;
And the burglar had forty-nine fits
When he looked out from under the bed.
He never said nothin’, nary a word,
He was quiet as a clam.
She said, “Thank God my prayer’s answered,
I think I got me a man.”
The burglar came out from under the bed,
His face a total wreck.
The old maid bein’ wide awake,
She grabbed him around the neck.
She stuck a revolver in his face,
And to this burglar she said,
“Young man, you’ll marry me
Or I’ll blow off the top of your head.”
The burglar looked around the room,
He saw no place to scoot.
He looked at her teeth and her bum glass eye,
And he said, “For God’s sake, SHOOT!”
“He wanted all of us kids to play music, too,” Forrest resumed the memory of her father. “And he had a special way of getting us interested. When he left the house in the morning he would tell my mother loud enough for all of us to hear, ‘Don’t let those kids touch a damn one of those instruments while I’m gone.’ Since we were forbidden to touch them we naturally did, and we learned to play.”
There came a time when Forrest would go far beyond what Eddie expected of his children. She had been pestering her father to buy her a bicycle. Unconvinced that she needed one he more or less ignored her. “Well, one day,” Forrest recounted, “I guess I was thirteen, here come Sam Chambers, riding his bike, and I called out to him. I said, ‘Hey! How would you like to trade that bike for a good guitar?’ Sam said, ‘I don’t know. Let’s see it.’ So I took him into the house and showed him Dad’s guitar, where it hung on the wall. I said, ‘How about that one?’ And we traded. When Dad found out I got a licking. Did I ever get a licking!”
The bike was much too large for Forrest, “Or,” as she recalled, “I was too little for it.” Still, she persisted in trying to ride it. One day while she was thus occupied, and the bike had a flat tire, she got into a wreck and suffered a number of injuries. Eddie, fearing for her future safety, and probably still angry that she had traded his guitar for a troublesome bicycle, took an axe to the two-wheeled vehicle.
“He just chopped it up in pieces,” Forrest said.
There were other sides to Eddie and still another of them was revealed by his son, Festus. “My dad was a man who didn’t covet another man’s possessions,” he recalled. “It wouldn’t bother him a bit that one of his neighbors might have a big, fine automobile. My dad would have been satisfied with a horse and buggy, and he’d never say a word about what the other fellow might have. He lived his own life, and he didn’t try to run the other fellow’s business. Mom was the same way,” he said.
Festus remembered that his father did have an automobile in the early days. “I think it was a 1923 model touring car that he might have driven sometimes. But Dad wasn’t a driver. I remember that in 1930 I worked a hundred days for Wyatt Fowler for a Model-T Ford. A 1927 model. Dad said, ‘You can’t drive that car until you’re old enough.’ You had to be sixteen to drive a car in those days. You didn’t need a license, but you had to be sixteen.
“One Sunday he drove it. He took Mom for a ride in it,” Festus continued. “Somewhere west of Harrodsburg a car hit him and knocked the car plumb over into a ditch. I went to Fowler’s Garage later and looked in a window and there hung my Ford on Wyatt’s wrecker. Boy that was some sight. And I had worked a hundred days to get it. Lucky, Dad and Mom were not hurt.”
Edna was nineteen when she and Eddie were wed. During the long years of their marriage she was devoted to him. Petite, at seventy-five pounds and under five feet in height, she nevertheless was hardy and resilient. Her children were born in Harrodsburg. At the time of their births neighbors Oma Lowery and Arabelle Crum came in and “did” for Edna until the doctor arrived. After he went away the women took over until the new mother could do for herself.
“I was never in a hospital in my life,” Edna remarked to me with a smile one day, several years after Eddie’s death. “People don’t know nothin’ now to what they used to know. Mercy! We were able to make do without all the comforts. I had a family before I had electric lights.”
The reason for this visit with Edna was her eighty-eighth birthday. Still tiny, blue-eyed and white-haired, she was vibrant and attractive in a peach and lemon check, below-the-knee morning coat, and somewhat burlesque in low cut white sneakers. “I got eighty-six birthday cards,” she bubbled, her eyes clear and bright. “Two more and I’d’ve had the same as my age.”
Asked to enumerate the members of her entire family, Edna raised small, fragile palms in my direction. “Don’t ask me that,” she laughed. “I don’t know. I’ve got children. I’ve got grandchildren. I’ve got great grandchildren. I’ve got great-great grandchildren. I’ve got a step-grandchild, and I’ve got a foster grandchild.” She shook her head and dropped her hands to her lap.
At this time her home was high on a hill overlooking the newly constructed four-lane highway between Bloomington and Bedford and, in the distance, the community that had been her home and Eddie’s home for so many years. She enjoyed sitting before a large picture window to drink in that view. She had no dreams, no plans, no illusions about a late knight in dimming armor. She was happy in her solitude, happy with her memories, happy with being who she was, and happy to be where she was.
Eddie Crum, as his son Festus had observed, was also content to live his own life, to be his own man. Yet, by his very nature he was everyman’s man, his natural talent and irrepressible drollery brightening their days with generous amounts of song and laughter. Aglow with the light of happy recollection, Festus related how his father had once again brought humor to the people of Harrodsburg.
“The Ingram boys had a big hog farm about two miles south of Harrodsburg, and they gave Dad a pig,” he said. “Well, Dad put a collar on that pig, and a leash, like you would on a dog, named it ‘Arnold,’ and led it around town. He’d walk it over to Fowler’s Garage – that was the main highway before the new four-lane was built – and he’d buy a bottle of soda pop and feed it to that pig. Just tip up the bottle in its mouth, and the pig would drink it. He gave people a lot of laughs with that pig. He kept it until it died.”
When torrential rains once overflowed the ditch where Eddie had played out his dead fish caper, the Crum home, which was nearby, was inundated. He later was interviewed by a newspaper reporter about the incident. Asked to recount how he and his wife had escaped the flood waters rushing into their home, Eddie replied, “We just got in the bathtub, and while we floated around we sang, ‘Over The Waves.'”
An overstuffed chair that was in the yard at the time of the flood was washed away by the racing tide. Festus explained why such a piece of furniture was outside. “Mom picked up a cushion that was on that chair and there lay a coiled snake under it,” he laughed. “They just carried the chair and snake out to the yard, and it was there when the flood came.”
Eddie was a drinker. A sporadic one, but a drinker nevertheless. Except for Edna, who, on moral and religious grounds disapproved of alcohol, he hurt no one but himself by his imbibing. He was cursed with a stomach ulcer, and while he may have been happy in the bottle, he suffered painfully when he crawled out of it. Loving him as she did Edna preferred that he abstain. He either wouldn’t or couldn’t. When the desire to drink gripped him he drank. After a spree he invariably would bring a bottle home with him that he would hide in an outbuilding, or someplace else on the property. Wise to his ways, Edna would set about looking for it until she found it. She would pour its contents on the ground, leaving Eddie without the proverbial sobering hair of the dog that had bitten him.
Instead of trying to outwit the cunning Edna when he came home tipsy after one such outing, Eddie sneaked the bottle past her and into the house. Out of sight of his wife he made himself comfortable in an easy chair. While she was busy searching the outbuildings and the rest of the Crum property for the whiskey she was certain he had brought home with him, Eddie reclined in the comfort of his own home, leisurely taking periodic pulls at the bottle under his coat. He was a rascal, to be sure, but a precious one.
Eddie was eighty-five one May and he died the following November. The year was 1971. In its November 19 issue of that year, The Herald Telephone, a Bloomington newspaper of that period, carried the following five short paragraphs in its area obituaries:
Eddie Crum Sr., 85, of Harrodsburg, died Thursday afternoon at Bloomington Hospital.
He was a retired painter and musician, and a member of the Harrodsburg Church of Christ.
Survivors are the wife, Edna; two daughters, Mrs. Otis (Forrest) Wright and Mrs. Phyllis W. McPike, both of Harrodsburg; three sons, Clayton, Festus and Edward Jr, all of Bloomington; fourteen grandchildren; twenty-one great grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren.
Services will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Greene and Harrell Chapel, with Brother Floyd Bounds officiating. Burial will be in Clover Hill Cemetery (Harrodsburg).
Friends may call at the funeral home from 7-9 p.m. today and from 2-9 p.m. Saturday.
Ironically, the lead obituary in the paper that day was that of another painter, a Brown County artist. He was not a native Hoosier and his reputation locally was limited. Eddie Crum, by comparison, was known to scores of people in the newspaper’s circulation area. Yet the lead obituary appeared under a two-column headline and was accompanied by a one-column photograph of the deceased artist.
As Festus said of his father, Eddie wouldn’t have begrudged anyone anything, not even an unknown painter a bigger obituary than his own. And anyone who knew Eddie was aware that he was an artist in his own right, and that was sufficient for local memory.
Eddie, who pretended to nothing more than what he was himself, was born within two miles of Harrodsburg. He grew up in the small community, lived there, died there, and his earthly remains are buried there. His son, Eddie Jr, related a story about Eddie that seems to prove that Harrodsburg is where Eddie always wanted to be.
“He was talking with several people at Fowler’s Garage one day when a northbound Greyhound bus stopped there,” Eddie Jr remembered. “The bus always stopped there to pick up or discharge passengers going north or south. Dad had been drinking and was so caught up in the talk that when the others got on the bus he just moved right on with them. He kept right on talking until the bus got near Bloomington. Then he leaned over to the driver and he said, ‘Drop me off at Harrodsburg.'”
CLOSE TO HEAVEN
A contemporary maxim nurtured by some Crawford Countians suggests that anyone who cannot get to heaven ought to at least go to English, the county seat.
So I went to English one bright, sunny day in August, 1989. In response to my knock on a strange door there I was welcomed inside and greeted with warm words and soft hugs (in that order) by two beaming, smiling ladies.
Nothing like that had ever happened to me, not even at home, and I wondered if I were not in heaven, or pretty close to it. Had my welcomers been a few decades younger I might have believed they were cherubim.
“Which one are you?” they chorused through the laughing salutations and cordialities of our meeting. Before I could respond one of them added, “You don’t look like any of the rest of us.”
For some reason they had assumed that I was a long-lost relative. Since I wasn’t, they were entitled to a responsible explanation. I offered the only one I had brought with me.
“No,” I began, “I am not a relative.” I looked directly at one of them, whom I learned was Ilene Jones, and said, “Your son, Red Jones, in Bloomington, told me about you. Said if I ever got to English I ought to look you up.”
And to her companion I blurted, “I thought you were Red’s mother, he looks so much like you.”
More laughter. “I’m his aunt, Norma McKinney,” she explained when she was able. “Ilene’s sister. I live just over there.” She leaned to one side and pointed past me in the direction of the open door.
We were still standing in the middle of Ilene Jones’s living room. “Sit down,” she invited. “Sit down.”
From the comfort of an overstuffed chair I further explained my visit, that I had a car serviced at Red’s Auto Repair. It was there, too, I informed the two ladies, now seated opposite me, that Red had one day told me about his mother, and that it was from him that I first heard the saying, “If you can’t get to heaven you ought to at least go to English.” There was more laughter.
In their eighties, the two sisters, both widows, were together much of the time. They slept at Norma’s house at nighttime and, except for visits with their families, they passed the days together at either Ilene’s house or at Norma’s.
“We cling pretty close,” Norma said. She smiled at Ilene and added, “I don’t know what we’d do without each other. I guess we’ll stay with each other until the Lord takes me home.”
“That’s the only thing that’ll separate us,” Ilene affirmed.
The two had clung pretty close the night of a tornado warning, the memory of which was still fresh and which they related to me through tears of hilarity. As they remembered the incident, they’d heard on television that a funnel cloud had been sighted ninety miles away. But Ilene and Norma were taking no chances because it was already storming and hailing in English, and conditions for a tornado there seemed over-ripe.
“They tell you to take cover if a tornado is coming,” said Ilene.
“Yes,” Norma agreed. “They do. So we got under the kitchen table.”
That was the start of a problem. When either of the two sisters got down she needed help to get back up. Norma, it seems, got her help a lot sooner than she expected, and long before the all clear had been sounded.
“I was all hunkered down under the table when I took a cramp in my leg,” she explained. “Tornado or no tornado, I had to get up.
“We laughed and laughed over that,” she said. “Then I saw Ilene crawling out from under the table toward a chair to help support herself so she could get up. And we laughed and laughed some more.”
The continuing memory added to their shared mirth, and I, having more than once suffered a cramp at the darndest times, and in the darndest places myself, was having the best laugh I’d had in weeks just from being within view of them and earshot of their infectious laughter.
As the story goes, the preacher visited a few days later and Ilene gave him a play-by-play account of that amusing episode.
“As she began telling it I got tickled again,” Norma, in the grip of laughter again, spoke through tears of glee that ran down her cheeks, “and we laughed and laughed again.”
Because we were all in the mood, the three of us laughed some more. So few people enjoy healthy laughter nowadays that my visit with Ilene and Norma seemed an unusual event. For me. But apparently not for them.
“We always have a good time,” Norma assured me. “We enjoy being together. When we’re away from each other for a few days we’re so glad to see each other when we get back.”
On the return drive from English to my office in Bloomington I was aware of a sense of lightheartedness. Deep inside myself I felt cheered and gladdened. Could it be really true, I asked the bespectacled image that glanced back at me from the rear vision mirror, that there is something more than words to that old saying, “If you can’t get to heaven you ought to at least go to English?”
When the “milk of the wild cow” was still dripping freely from hidden copper boilers in the hills and woodlands of Lawrence County, two men murdered each other in a gun duel, the details of which are still steeped in mystery.
It was speculated at the time by O.D. Emerson, who then was county coroner, and Tom Brinkworth, the county prosecutor, that Ben Pierce, thirty-eight, and Brooks Collins, twenty-eight, had shot each other to death in an argument over moonshine. But the actual cause of the December 21, 1927, shooting was never learned.
There was a possibility that Ben’s wife, Margaret, knew the reason or reasons behind the deadly duel. She confused the initial official investigation by hiding Ben’s pistol in a bureau drawer. However, she admitted nothing.
Ben and Margaret Pierce lived in a tent in the rolling hills near Fayetteville, about ten miles west of Bedford. Brooks Collins lived a short distance away on a twenty-eight acre farm with his wife and two children.
Public records of the shooting revealed that on that Wednesday before Christmas, Ben and Margaret returned to their tent from a trip to Bedford sometime during the afternoon. According to Margaret’s testimony, which she gave at a hearing on the matter, Ben took up a bucket and said he was going to a spring across the road for water. Several minutes later she heard shots, she testified, and when she investigated she found the two men dead.
When Emerson and Sheriff Harry Gordon arrived on the scene they found the men lying about forty-five feet apart. Ben Pierce had a bullet hole over his left eye, Brooks Collins was shot through the heart. The only weapon found was a .32 caliber Colt automatic, the property of Brooks Collins. This led authorities to presume that murder and suicide had been committed. But on the following day Gordon and Brinkworth rechecked the scene and Ben’s tent. They found a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson revolver in a bureau drawer.
Margaret subsequently testified that she had removed the revolver from the death scene. It was on the ground, she told interrogators, between the legs of her dead husband, where he had fallen. This admission unravelled Emerson’s autopsy enigma brought on by the discovery after the shooting of a single weapon at the scene, that had been fired once, and the presence of a .32 caliber bullet found in each of the bodies.
Newspapers and wire services around the state played the double murder as a moonshine killing and a still-owners’ dishonesty. Emerson, Brinkworth and Gordon made no attempt to discourage the reporting. When “rows of little brown jugs” were later found behind Brooks Collins’ house, and it was learned that the two men had “run off a batch” of moonshine a week earlier, and had argued over its distribution, the three officials joined the papers in calling the shots as they appeared.
The record shows Ben Pierce and Brooks Collins argued over that batch of moonshine or the money it brought, and they ended their differences permanently. But there was more. Brinkworth learned that Margaret and Ben had had a tiff some weeks before the deadly duel, and that they had separated for a period of time. Whether it was the product of his imagination, or if he had heard whispers to lead him to believe such a thing, no one will ever know, but Ben Pierce, Brinkworth learned, believed Margaret had been consoled by Brooks Collins during that separation. This led authorities to suspect a triangle had become a possible contributing cause to the fatal shootings.
There was still more. The record notes that on the Saturday night after the Tuesday that Ben and his partner had run off the batch of moonshine, there was great merrymaking at the Collins home. A number of men from the Fayetteville area were there, and, after much drinking, a fight ensued. Collins, for some unknown reason, reportedly got into a fight with a “boy” who was there. He was beating him severely when Ben Pierce intervened and pulled him off the youth. Witnesses reported Collins telling Pierce, “No one will ever do that (interfere) again.”
Were one to examine the activities of the still partners on the day before they allegedly killed each other, none of the reported facts in the case makes much sense. To wit: on December 20, 1927, Ben Pierce and Brooks Collins cut and gathered Christmas trees which they planned to sell, and split the profits.
The killings were long the major topic of discussion in Lawrence County. In the telling and retelling, the story of the Pierce-Collins duel lost some of its reported facts, and it gathered some strange distortions. Still, the backbone of the story was kept intact, and the recounting of it continues in hand-me-down style. Most of its narrators, however, omit a strange fact.
When Ben Pierce left his wife in their tent to fetch a bucket of water from the spring across the road that fateful day, he did, in fact, go to the spring. And he did fill the bucket with water, for it was found at the spring the next day, its contents frozen solid.
Was it after he had filled the bucket that Ben Pierce himself decided to seek out Brooks Collins? Was he surprised in the midst of that innocent chore? Was he called away from it? Was he carrying a revolver? The investigation answered none of these questions.
When Clem Tolliver was alive he used to say the road that climbed and twisted for a mile and a half through Martin County wilderness between the Jones’ place and the Freeman house was the longest “street” he ever saw. Clem ought to have known. He’d walked the distance many times on his visits to the post office, which, depending on the whim of voters, was either at one end of that road or the other.
“When the Democrats were in,” Ruby Tolliver, Clem’s widow recalled one day, “the post office was in my father’s store which was at one end of that road. His name was Richard M. Jones. When the Republicans were in control Charlie Freeman had the post office at his house, which was at the other end. And it moved that way from one end of that road to the other.”
Mrs. Tolliver and I were seated at the table in the kitchen of her “Windswept Farm” home near the community of Rusk, in Martin County. “This place is really windswept,” she said of the name she had given the farm more than a quarter century earlier. “When everybody else is burning up with the heat this place is the coolers. The wind really sweeps through here,” she pointed beyond the picture window to the swaying trees outside.
The thought of being cool added to the comfort of the indoors, for it was a very cold, windy February day on the other side of the kitchen window. I had come to interview Mrs. Tolliver about a family history she was compiling. In it she had given her father the distinction of having been the first postmaster at Rusk. He was a “hot” Democrat, she said of him, and Freeman was an equally hot Republican, but they remained good friends and neighbors, and attended the same church.
“Dad settled in Rusk with my mother, Mary Waggoner, and opened a store there after their marriage in 1891. The post office was established and he was made postmaster a year later,” she’d began a brief synopsis of her work.
Rusk, which is in Lost River Township, was the home of Audrian and Chloe Phillips, cousins to Mrs. Tolliver. Though Audrian was often referred to as “The Mayor of Rusk,” the real star of the settlement was Ruby’s father, she said.
“He had the store,” she added, leaving the impression that by virtue of this position he was given special standing in the community. “The mail came there three days a week. At the back of the store he had a little drug store where you could buy quinine, castor oil, and asafetida, and where he kept whiskey for snakebite and snorts. He was a blacksmith, he operated a grist mill and telephone exchange, and he was also the dentist.”
Richard M. Jones was more. In 1910 he was admitted to the Indiana Bar, and he practiced law at Rusk and in French Lick. “He believed in pushing ahead,” his daughter said of him. To illustrate this and the extent of his education, she said, “He had all the McGuffy readers when he was in school, from the first through the sixth one.”
Recalling her father’s early practice of dentistry, Mrs. Tolliver recounted that forceps used for extracting teeth were called “pullicans.” When as a little girl she would see them resting in their glass enclosed case in her father’s general store, she would shudder in fear.
“Dad would take dental patients out into the yard, along with a kitchen chair, where they could spit,” she frowned as she spoke. “He didn’t give them anything, not even a snort. He’d just pull their teeth. Oh, I’ll tell you, when I’d see those pullicans in that case I’d just shake from fright. And when I watched him pull the neighbors’ teeth I was always so happy it wasn’t me.”
Mrs. Tolliver was born in Rusk in 1901, one of six Jones’ children. In those early days there were three modes of travel into and out of the settlement: afoot, horseback, or by wagon. “My first car ride was in 1914,” she remembered. “Dad bought a Model-T Ford on the Third of July, and after supper that night we went for a ride. I was so happy. I can still see myself sitting in that car, all smiles.”
The next morning Mary Jones fixed a picnic lunch and the family drove off in the new Model-T to the much advertised Fourth of July Celebration at French Lick. “That car would die on the hills and Dad would have to get out and crank it,” Mrs. Tolliver laughed. “And backwards we would go, down the hill.”
In spite of their father’s several talents, the Jones kids of Rusk grew up poor, she said. “And so did everybody else. But we’d sit around the dining room table at night and my father would read a chapter or two from the Bible, and then we’d sing together. We really didn’t mind being poor. Our main dish at meals was a pot of soup. Sometimes we had cornbread with milk over it. We had a relative who loved cornbread smothered in onions and soaked in grease fryings, right out of the skillet. We went to Quinn School, a one-room school with eight grades. I taught there after I became a teacher, and at another one-roomer named Hawkins School, and then at a school in French Lick Township. When we went to Quinn we took our lunches in a six-quart bucket – the six of us – but we wouldn’t eat with each other at school. I remember one time we had ham, sorghum, cookies and blackberries. We had to climb a rail fence on the way to school and I spilled my lunch. My bread and cookies were soaked with blackberry juice,” she laughed.
Mrs. Tolliver then told me about the witch’s ball. Uncle John G. Jones and his wife, Sarah, lived in a remote place called Peggy Holler. They kept sheep, and when they sheared them they stored the wool in the tiny attic of their small woodland house. Later, when they made preparations to take the wool to a carder, they were surprised to find most of it gone. All that remained were several small wool balls. Examining one, Uncle John pulled it apart and found a cocklebur at its core. He tore another apart, and another, and each wool ball was wound tightly around a cocklebur.
Uncle John and Sarah lived in a period when many people were superstitious and were easily frightened by the slightest mystery. Sarah was one of them. She confided her fear to Uncle John. “My mother,” she intoned to her husband, “never said that she believed in ghosts or such things. But my mother said she had seen strange things in her time, and my mother was never known to tell a lie. And this is strange.”
Whatever Sarah might have said in addition to that, if she said anything at all, has been lost in the retelling of this story. It is known that the woman’s foreboding led to the destruction of all except one of the wool balls. They were thrown into a fire Uncle John had built in the yard. The single survivor was placed in a clay pitcher and covered with a lid. Sarah related the story of shearing sheep as often as the opportunity presented itself. Each time she told it she would make some reference to witches. And each time she told the tale she would end it with a moving account of the burning of all but one of the wool balls. She would then lower her voice and in hushed tones tell her listeners that the single wool ball was safe in a covered pitcher in her home in Peggy Holler.
Though she never said so, it was assumed that Sarah believed a witch in the guise of a wool-covered cocklebur was imprisoned in that clay pitcher. One day when Uncle John returned to Peggy Holler from a trip to Shoals, he lifted the lid of the pitcher and saw that it was empty, the wool ball was gone. He called to his wife. “Sarah,” he shouted, “where is the witch’s ball?” When Uncle John showed her the empty pitcher Sarah nearly fainted. Later, as he set out to do his evening chores, Uncle John shouted to his wife from outside the house. “Sarah, here it is, right here on the ground. How did it get out here?”
Neither she nor her husband could answer that question. How that ball got out in the yard is still a mystery. Frightened, Sarah watched from a distance while Uncle John returned the wool ball to the pitcher and replaced the lid. She had all but predicted that something like this might happen. She was certain now that the wool ball was a witch. In the days that followed, the story goes, Uncle John would find the wool ball in the yard, in the barnlot, the barn, the garden – everywhere. Sarah would always watch from a safe distance while he returned it to the clay pitcher and replace the lid. The continued mysterious escapes of the wool ball became too much for Sarah to bear. She presumed upon Uncle John to build another fire in the yard and throw it into the flames. “It was the only way, you know,” Sarah would often say later, “that a witch can be destroyed.”
Peggy Holler, a lengthy north-south depression in the earth flanking Lost River, supposedly got its name from an incident that occurred there many years ago. A matron whose name was Peggy, reportedly was murdered there. The story has more than one version, but this is the one told me by Mrs. Tolliver while we sat in her kitchen.
Peggy and her husband lived in the small two-room house with a lean-to kitchen which later became Uncle John and Sarah’s home. There were no witnesses, but it was presumed that a back-peddler climbed the rise to the little house one day and knocked on the door. It was speculated that Peggy was so charmed by the pots and pans and the spices and yard goods and tablecloths the man carried that she incautiously opened her door to him. When her husband returned home that evening he found Peggy lying on a blood-spattered floor, her head severed from her body and nowhere to be found.
Crazed by the sight and his subsequent fruitless search of the house for his wife’s head, Peggy’s husband fled into the night calling repeatedly, “Peg-eee! Peg-eee!” There were few homes in Peggy Holler at that time but eventually the searching husband arrived at one, and by dawn the entire countryside had learned of the woman’s violent death. Peggy’s husband refused to accept the headless corpse as the body of his wife. And until his death some years later he could be heard nightly as he trekked the long hollow calling, “Peg-eee! Peg-eee!” Those who heard the plaintive calls would sadly observe to one another, “Listen, he’s still hollerin’ for Peggy.” It was just a matter of time until the place became known as Peggy Holler.
Strange things began happening in Peggy Holler after that. For instance, tall and gangly Bruce Reeves was walking home one midnight when a limb suddenly snapped and fell off a tree. He ran the whole length of Peggy Holler, getting out of there as fast as he could. A Union soldier from French Lick looking for Civil War deserters was shot to death there. The Archer Gang allegedly traveled there, and many tales have been told about those passages. Because of their superstitions, people were frightened of Peggy Holler and it took little to get a tale started about the woodsy place. Hazel Bullard who enjoyed playing tricks on people and making them laugh used to take a shortcut through there to visit Inez Shipman. One day, just for the fun of it, she dressed in strange looking clothes before setting out to visit her friend who lived on the other side of Peggy Holler. On the way she saw a gang of timbermen at work. Recognizing some of them she approached at a slow walk. As she neared one of them, he raised an axe and threatened, “You git!” She knew the man but it was obvious he did not see through her disguise. Before she could say anything the man again threatened her with the axe. “You git, or I’ll kill you!” he shouted. Still at a safe distance, Hazel stopped and in as spooky a voice as she could muster she droned, “You can’t kill Peggy Holler!” The frightened timbermen dropped their axes and saws and fled.
As girls Mrs. Tolliver and Inez rode bareback on big draft horses through the hollow. Mrs. Tolliver couldn’t remember having seen any witches, but she did remember that it was a scary experience. She insisted that I see the place for myself and we climbed into my pickup truck. We drove into Peggy Holler from the north, and at its south end she showed me where she used to live, on Powell Valley Road, on the banks of Buck Creek. We stopped at what was left of the old Hawkins School, and Mrs. Tolliver said she had taught there in 1924. I took a photo of her standing in front of the old hulk.
With Mrs. Tolliver’s knowledge of the trail, we were able to get past all the witches and the haunts and scary things in Peggy Holler without incident. But when she directed me to drive high above Lost River, on a tree-lined ancient roadway covered with ice, I was just about as spooked as anyone had ever got there.
Folklore had it that if a stranger wanted to find the Old Dutch Church, which is situated in rural Monroe County between Ellettsville and Stinesville, he should, to facilitate that undertaking, ask directions of “any teenager with a girlfriend.”
The implication being, of course, that the remote churchyard was a favorite sparking place of young lovers.
On a January morning in 1978, a morning suffused with bright, frozen sunlight, I was unable to find such a guide. So I settled for what I decided was a half loaf; I stopped at Stinesville to ask directions in the Bob Summitt Grocery Store.
“It’s right over here, on Red Hill Road,” Bob said, gesturing, it seemed to me, toward both the rear wall and the ceiling of the store simultaneously.
“Just go right out here,” chipped in store lounger Don Taylor, former fire chief in Stinesville and fabricator of circular iron stairways. “Right out there, that way,” he said, carelessly flinging out a hand and pointing, I thought, toward the ceiling.
“You’ll come to a railroad crossing,” he continued. “You’ll go along until you turn over another one, and then you’ll go across this concrete swag – you’ll have to ford the creek – and then you’ll be there.”
I studied both Bob and Don for a time, wondering the while if I shouldn’t wait for some teenager with a girlfriend to come along. In my rovings around rural Indiana I had received better directions to remote places from horses and cows that were safely separated from me by barbed wire fences. Those guys were on the loose.
It was not my first time in the store. While I stood there trying to make up my mind about Bob and Don, I noticed that the heart of Stinesvlle – the store – had been remodeled. The place seemed smaller, with a dropped ceiling, and a larger post office. The smaller area and the dropped ceiling, I was told, served to cut by half the cost of heating the store.
The enlarged post office, however, contained the same one hundred and five boxes the smaller, previous room did. There were one hundred and three families in town, two more than in 1963. Because there was no home delivery, ninety-six of them, give or take a few, rented boxes in the post office.
Seeking to be of further help, Bob volunteered that, “If Maudeline Duckworth has finished with it – she has all my stuff on that old church. You could read it . . . ”
Before he could finish telling me much more about Maudeline Duckworth and his written information about the old church, there was a racket at the door and a man walked in. He was shouting that Indiana would beat Iowa by ten points in that night’s basketball game. In the same breath he added that Indiana would take Illinois by eight points in the following Saturday’s game, and that – by golly – Indiana wouldn’t lose to any Big Ten team “this season, and does anybody want to bet that I’m wrong.”
It was quite a mouthful, and also quite startling, him bursting in and shouting like that. Bob looked at me, he looked around at the gathering of loungers, then back at me, and he said, “Meet Cedrick Walden. When Cedrick says they’ll do it, they usually do it.” Cedrick agreed, and added, “But sometimes I have to bet awful hard for them to do it.”
I then learned that Cedrick (prounounced ked-rick) bet Bob so hard on the Indiana-Illinois game two years earlier that the Hoosiers won by twenty-eight points, eight more than Cedrick had predicted. Bob was so impressed that within two minutes after the game had ended he took his losings over to Cedrick’s house, opened the door, threw the money inside, and drove away.
“I was sitting there on the bed,” Cedrick recalled his surprise. “I hadn’t even got the television turned off yet, it was that soon after the game. I could see him driving up. Then he come up and he just opened the door and throwed that money in. And I heard him holler, ‘Here it is!'”
Bob’s unexpected action was about as surprising to Cedrick as was the backside blaze of Ralph Parrish’s coveralls was to him when he got too near the stove. Ralph had come to the store earlier. So had six year old Mikey Taylor. The little boy put a nickel on the counter and asked Bob, “What can I get for this?” Bob, ignoring an opportunity to enlighten the youngster on the effects of inflation, suggested the youngster tilt up his forehead and he would give him a kiss on it.
In just a few minutes I learned more about Cedrick. An avid Hoosier fan, he attended games at Assembly Hall when he could obtain anything better than a seat in the bleachers. He was sixty-five years old and had retired from working in limestone quarries. He’d grown up in and around Stinesville, and as a boy in junior high school, played basketball for teacher-coach Orla McPhetteridge. As a young man he helped to haul the stone for the old Stinesville school’s gym, in 1926. The entire structure, school and gym, was destroyed by fire in 1934. Kids attended classes in the town’s homes and stores until the loss could be replaced.
Basketball was once played on the first floor of the Odd Fellows Hall, the space occupied by Bob’s store, exactly where we were talking and lounging near the counter. The “Liar’s Bench,” Cedrick informed us, was the bleacher section. Since we were gathered on hallowed planking, the talk, which was periodically interrupted by the desultory announcements of new arrivals, naturally kept returning to basketball. Big Ten stuff.
Cedrick was in the mood to make a comparison. “The rest of the Big Ten teams are just ordinary,” he said. “And Indiana is so tough no ordinary team is going to take them.”
When he was told that this column would not reach print until after the Iowa game, and I therefore could not make public his prediction before then, Cedrick said I shouldn’t worry. Indiana would get right in there and play, anyway, and do as they’re told, and win, and that their coach could take any team in the Big Ten and make them “as good as Indiana is right now.”
Jerking his chin down in an affirmative motion, he added, “He’s that smart of a basketball man. He eats basketball. He sleeps basketball. He dreams basketball. He’s got a basketball head on him. And that won’t make him mad if you tell him that ’cause it makes him the best coach in the whole United States.”
Last season Cedrick called every game but three, and he lost each of those by only one point. After that everybody backed away from challenging his opinion, his faith in Indiana, and his money.
The front door kept opening and closing and among those who joined the gathering were Winifred Prather and Norman Walls, as well as Gary Summitt, Basil Walden, and Danny Bowman. Little Mikey Taylor, who at last had decided to refuse a kiss on his forehead, had successfully traded his nickel for a grape flavored lollipop. By this time I was biting into a store-made sandwich of Old Fashion Loaf with cheese and pickles, and swigging a soda and had concluded that Cedrick was some kind of local prophet to be reckoned with. As someone had said, he was not only good at picking winning basketball teams and coaches, he was also hard to beat at shooting craps. And I was cautioned against having any truck with him.
Maudeline Duckworth was not at home, or she at least did not answer the telephone when Bob dialed her number. After more pointless directions from the gang in the store, I left there and was lucky enough to find Red Hill Road. From there, two men, an old one and a young one, who were cutting brush along the roadside, directed me to the Old Dutch Church Road. I crossed the railroad tracks and found Don Taylor’s “swag” across muddy Jack’s Defeat Creek. Eventually, I came to Old Dutch Community Church, and what was left of a frame building that was the old church, and the cemetery beyond.
I had learned from an aging newspaper clipping that the old building was constructed of logs in 1845, and was known as St. John’s Lutheran Church. The windowless remains showed evidence of having been covered at one time with clapboard siding, then yellowing with age. In better times the building was used by various denominations, “So long” I quote from the aging newspaper clipping, “as God dwelt there.” From what I saw of the place He apparently abandoned it for the newer concrete block church after it was built. Probably because it was warmer in there than in the windowless older building.