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.
Few people are fortunate enough to stay alive for as many years as Delbert and Hazel Mathews were married. It was December 4, 1913, when Uncle Newt Dixon tied the two together at his Tunnelton home. They’d traveled from Budah, a few miles west. As Hazel Greene, she’d grown up in that neighborhood, the youngest of a family of four brothers and two sisters. Delbert also was reared near that small community, in the area of Dixon Chapel. Uncle Newt, in addition to being a justice of the peace, taught music, and Hazel was one of his pupils.
At age eighty-five, and after sixty-eight years of marriage, she was the pianist for the sing-alongs held at Hospitality House, in Bedford, where she and her husband lived. “I play the organ, too, and I used to play piano and organ for the services at the White River Baptist Church,” she said. “And I used to also call square dances. I got to be pretty good at it, too, I liked it that well.”
She came by calling naturally. Her father, John Greene, was probably one of the better square dance callers to ever raise his voice in eastern Lawrence County, on either side of White River. As a girl, Hazel danced to his calling, as she also did in later life. “I loved to square dance,” she said looking fondly back over the years. “I loved it so much, and I got to be such a fool about it, I’d square dance every time I got the chance.”
Delbert was there with her, enjoying the fun too. But he shook his head at the memory stirred to life by his wife’s words, and claimed awkwardness. “That was my problem,” he said. “And I was never too much of a dancer because of it.” When children visited the residents of Hospitality House, Hazel often played the piano for them. If Delbert felt up to it, he played along on the harmonica. “But,” he shrugged, “it takes a little more wind to play one of these things than I have right now to keep it agoing.”
Delbert, who was eighty-nine when we talked, reared his family of six children on a forty-acre farm, with an assist from his talents as a carpenter. “That’s what I did most of, carpentering,” he said. “Until I got too old and stiff to be any good at it anymore.” While he carpentered, Hazel and the children farmed. One of those children, Chester Mathews, recalled the family’s early years.
“We raised our living on that place,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work. I remember one time that Dad put out four acres of beans – white beans. When they were ready, we harvested them by the bush and put the whole thing down in a sack. When the sack was filled we beat on it with a stick, or anything else we could find. We actually beat the beans out of the bushes. Then we dumped them out on a bedsheet and separated the beans from the chaff and dust.” Chester also recalled plowing four acres for corn with a six-inch breaking plow pulled by a single horse. “We were a big family,” he said. “We had to work hard, every one of us. But we all had a good time.”
Delbert and Hazel agreed it was a good time, raising a big family. “There were some ups and downs,” Delbert said. Sickness, hard times, lean times. And there was World War II that took the four Mathews boys away from home. One served with the Marines, one was in the Army, and two served in the Navy. After the war they returned safely. Son Leon lived at Budah on the family farm, Vernon had retired and lived in Florida, Clyde was in Marion, and Chester lived at Guthrie. Each of the brothers had a wife named Mary. Their sisters, Ilene Mathews Jenkins and Helen Mathews Holt resided in Bedford and Avoca respectively.
What is it like to spend sixty-eight years – a virtual lifetime -in marriage, with one man or one woman? “What a question?” retorted Hazel. After a moment’s thought, she added, “I’m proud of it.”
Delbert had his own answer. “I just never paid much attention to it. Time just goes on, and I take it as it comes,” he said.
One thing, sixty-eight years is enough time to reach some conclusions. With the benefit of hindsight would the Mathews, if they could, have changed any part of their lives together?
“If I could?” Hazel asked, totally aware of the futility of such a thought. “I suppose a few little things,” she said finally. “I’d marry Delbert again. He’s been a good husband. And we’ve had a fine time in our lives.”
Delbert pondered the question for some time, then drawled, “Well, I don’t know what I would change. I worked hard all my life. And I spent all the money I could get ahold of.” He looked at Hazel and smiled. “But I don’t see where I’d do any different than I’ve done. There’ve been a lot of good things happen to us. The best has been just living together in this old world.”
Joseph D. Pennington made his way from North Carolina to Indian Creek Township in Greene County, Indiana, as a part of a wagon train. Along the way he had many experiences. One, an incident at a trading post one night, he passed on to his grandchildren. One of them, Fred “Bud” Pennington, recounted that incident to me.
“The man who ran the trading post said to a man in the wagon train when they got there, ‘I’ve got a present for you. Been waiting for you to come along so I could give it to you,'” Bud began.
Cautioning the trading post owner that he’d never before been that far west the man from the wagon train insisted that a mistake was about to be made. “You can’t have a present for me. And you couldn’t have been waiting for me,” Bud quoted from his grandfather’s account, “because I’ve never been here before and you don’t even know me.”
“I know that,” the story continues with the trader’s response. “But a salesman came in here months ago and sold me a whole lot of things. He gave me a big bean pot and he said, ‘I want you to give this to the ugliest man you see as a present from me.’ And mister, you are the ugliest man I ever did see, and the bean pot is yours.”
At that point in the story Bud paused to laugh heartily. Then he continued: “Grandfather used to tell that story, and he’d say, ‘Every time we cooked beans on the trail after that, someone would holler to bring out the ugly-pot.'”
At this time Bud was two months from marking his seventy-fourth birthday. He was a cheery, rotund man with bright blue eyes. His wore an old, blue and white striped billed cap, time-worn Big Mac bib-overalls and a faded khaki shirt. The latter two were patched in a half dozen places with scrap materials of various colors, all revealing Bud’s own crude hand stitching to hold them in place.
He had paused again to dig his fingers into a paper and foil Peachey Chewing Tobacco pouch and stuff some shredded sweet-smelling tobacco into his mouth. He worked it around with his tongue until he had it placed exactly where he wanted it. Then he began recounting the story that had brought me to his home on Moores Creek, where he “batched” and cared for a sickly younger brother, Desmond.
“No, it wasn’t grandfather who killed that bear over there in Greene County,” he began. “You see, grandfather was a bootmaker. That was back when they put soles on with wooden pegs and used hog hairs dipped in beeswax to tie the inner sole to the boot tops.
“Well, one night this man knocked on grandfather’s door,” Bud said. “He’d been on his way there to pick up a pair of boots he had grandfather make for him. He was pretty excited, and he hollered at grandfather, ‘Do you have any torches ready?’ They used torches then instead of lanterns when they went out at night, you see, and they generally had some made up ahead.
“Grandfather told him he did, but he wondered what all the excitement was about. This man told him, then. He said, ‘I was making my way over here and a big bear grabbed aholt of me and very nearly hugged me to death. He wasn’t mad, but he was akilling me to eat. I somehow got my hand into my pocket and got my pocketknife out and opened it with one hand. Then I just pushed it into that bear and he let go of me and fell dead.’
“Well, they got their torches lit and went back out there, and sure enough, along the trail the way that man’d come, they found the dead bear. And that’s about all there is to the bear story. Except that for a good while after that they ate bear meat, for they took all the meat off’n that animal that was fit to eat,” Bud said.
“After Grandmother died, there in Greene County,” he continued unexpectedly on a different subject, “Grandfather learned of a young widow living over by Smithville who had several children. He rode over there and suggested to her that it would be a convenience to both of them if they was to get married. That’s the way some people got married and remarried back then, you know. When she asked him how old he was, he took off about twenty years. She found out about it much later. But at the time Grandfather pointed out that it was so far from Greene County to Smithville for a courtship of any kind that if she was agreeable to it they ought to get married real quick. So she really didn’t have time to study about his age much before they got married. I guess Grandfather was a young looking man to have got by with that. But we was kids then and we thought he was old.”
A vogue of early Hoosiers was to wear boots that “skreeked,” Bud observed. “People’d have the bootmaker fix them so that they would make a skreekin’ sound. Grandfather would take and fill one goose quill with sulphur and fit another over the open end and put them between the outer and inner soles of boots or slippers. And every time you took a step they would skreek.” He smiled while he took a moment to finger fresh Peachey into his mouth.
“I was born right over the hill and up the holler a little ways,” he pointed toward the east, “on Baxter’s Branch. I remember when we was kids what we’d get for Christmas – a striped stick of candy apiece. They was nine of us, but one died of brain fever. At least that’s what they called it in those days. You know,” he paused to spit Peachey juice on the ground at his feet. “There was a feller here from the folklore place at the univers’ty one time. He wanted to know what the most exciting thing was that ever happened to me.” Bud ran the back of a hand over his chin, below a broadening grin. “I told him that knowing tomorrow I was going to town to get new shoes for winter was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. If I knew that the night before we was to go to town I wouldn’t sleep all night, I’d be so excited. Another feller from over there came with a tape recorder and asked me if I ever saw any witches. I said the only ones I ever saw is them that rides on brooms in pictures.”
Bud’s age and the years he spent in rural Monroe County made him an attraction for folklore students. They called at his home each school year and pumped him for as much old Indiana as he could remember. One was a Lebanese girl, the only person ever to write and thank him for his assistance.
“She wrote and told me that it was good to be back home with her family and friends in Lebanon. But she said she still loved Americky, and that she’d always remember me and my hospitality,” Bud said.
Five years before my visit with him, Bud was taken to Bloomington Hospital for emergency surgery. “I can’t expect to have the best of everything,” he confided his feelings to a nurse after his arrival there. “I’m an uninvited guest, and uninvited guests shouldn’t expect the best someone has to offer.” Then he said apologetically, “If I get hateful, it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing.”
If his hosts were dubious about what to expect from him they soon learned what everyone who was ever around him for any length of time already knew. Bud Pennington was a fine person who loved easily and was easy to love. By the time he had recuperated enough to leave the hospital, he had so ingratiated himself that his departure brought tears to the eyes of some of his nurses; they were that sorry to see him leave.
He had spent most of his life caring and cooking for himself and his brother Desmond. Until he found a commercial mix that was satisfactory, he made biscuits daily from scratch. “But now,” he said, “I buy a lot of Marthy White’s mix and just add a little water. I grease my pan, of course, and they just fall apart, they’re so good.”
He still could read the newspaper without the aid of glasses. “And,” he spoke of more good fortune, “I can hear as well now as when I was five. See here.” He pulled the package of Peachey from a pocket in the patched overalls and extended it toward me. “I can read the fine print on this, and the sun ain’t even very bright right now either.”
We were standing in Bud’s yard. Some weathered gray sheds, four or five of the stand-up, walk-in kind, were stacked from back to front with firewood. There were stacks of firewood around the yard. Across the road from us a pile of seasoned firewood rose from the green of a field next to Bud’s large garden patch. “I’ll bet I’ve got enough firewood to last five years,” he said. Pointing to the many trees that grew on his place, he said, “When I don’t have anything else to do, I cut wood, and I’ve got six power saws that I cut it with.”
He led the way around a neatly stacked rick of wood to the corner of one of the outbuildings and pointed to one of his power saws, a bow saw hanging from a tree. “Got three of them and three crosscut saws,” he said, again squirting Peachey juice on the ground. “And it takes a lot of power to operate them,” he laughed as he went into a Charles Atlas stance. “Believe me,” he said.
Bud had no car, no truck; he did not drive and depended on his two legs to carry him miles to a grocery store. A friend sometimes took him there in his car. There was a time when he didn’t have to worry about going to the store. What people didn’t grow in their gardens, a huckster brought in his wagon, and later in his truck, to their doors, he said.
“I remember that they used to carry three kinds of chewing gum. One would break up in little pieces in your mouth, and you had to chew it real fast to make it stick together in a wad. But there was another that was called ‘Kiss Me If You Will,’ and the huckster always had fun out of that when the women would ask for it. Then there was another that was called ‘Long Tom’ and it was nothing but paraffin,” he said.
Until the old man’s death a few years earlier, Bud doctored with George Mitchell. A physician who lived into his nineties, Mitchell had a small office in his home at Smithville. From there he enjoyed a wide practice in rural Lawrence and Monroe counties. Bud remembered an ancient dentist’s chair that was in the doctor’s office. “He told me one day many years ago, ‘I got that chair from old Doc Simmons, and it’s going to run me through.’ And it did. He had it there until he died,” Bud said. He then related a story told him by Dr. Mitchell. “He told me there was these two families living across the road from each other, and the one family was always acalling him to doctor their kids. The other family, he told me, never called him. He said those children were always out, like pigs in the cold, rain, snow and sunshine. When it was cold they’d have lambs legs hangin’ from their noses to their mouths, and when it was hot they’d be covered with flies. He said the woman across the road from those kids asked him one day, ‘How come I try to take care of my children and they’re always sick. And those kids across the road run like animals and they’re never sick?’ And old Doc, he said, ‘Lady, that’s the trouble with your children, they’re getting too much pertection.'”
Bud hurried to add to that story that he was not giving advice to mothers of young children. Advice, he observed, doesn’t necessarily have to be good, or bad. To illustrate his point he told this little story. “Two fellers, bums, sitting by the road one day atalkin’. One says to the other, ‘I guess I should’ve taken all the advice people tried to give me. Maybe I wouldn’t be sitting here by the road right now.’ The other fellow looked at him and said, ‘I don’t know. I took everybody’s advice, and I’m here too.'”
Before the coming of Lake Monroe, Bud farmed more than a hundred acres in Perry Township and another hundred acres in adjoining Salt Creek Township. Most of the land is now under water. “I can remember when we used to have to keep fires aburnin’ around the fields day and night to keep the wild turkeys from eating our crops,” he said. “There was even a turkey trap up the ridge near Baxter’s place. They called that place Turkey Pen Point.”
Like the healthy children of Dr. Mitchell’s story, Bud, as a farmer, was always outside in all kinds of weather. A passerby stopped one time to say, “I see you crawlin’ around in your garden. I see you cuttin’ wood. I see you out in the rain and in the snow. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get sick.” Bud quelled the man’s fears, and then he told him, “I don’t work hard, but I work steady. If’n I’d quit I’d not last no time.”
In addition to working the live-long day around his place, and doing the cooking for himself and his brother, Bud also helped his neighbors with their butchering. His talents were widely known, and many sought his help at butchering time. Since he had early in our visit recounted a story about his grandfather killing a bear in Greene County, Bud probably figured he should end our visit with the story about his father, Samuel Pennington, killing a wildcat in Monroe County. At any rate he pushed right on with an account of it.
“He was riding on horseback coming home from a grist mill in Smithville with a sack of meal slung across the horse’s back behind the saddle,” he began. “All of a sudden, from out of a tree, this wildcat jumped on him. It was winter, and they had awful well built clothes back then, but the cat’s claws cut right through those clothes and tore my father’s shoulder.
“Well, the horse bolted,” he continued, “and my father hung on all right, but the sack of meal fell off. And that cat filled up on it. My father got home and got some men together and they went back and killed that cat. He was so filled up with meal he was too lazy to put up much of a fight.” Bud emphasized the animal’s lethargy by leaning to one side and directing another stream of brown Peachey juice to the ground.
As I prepared to leave him Bud asked if I’d like some radishes, and I said I would. We walked across the road to his big garden. There I saw purplish-white bulbs about the size of softballs with lush green tops jutting up from the ground. “Those sure are big radishes,” I exclaimed. Bud looked at me sorrowfully and said with disdain, “Them’s turnips.” So that I would see and forever know the difference, he gave me both radishes and turnips to take home with me.
There probably have been few nights in the quiet, sparsely populated Whitehall neighborhood as tense and expectant as the night Charlie Keilbach’s black angus cow underwent a Caesarean section.
Charlie and his wife, Helen, lived on Ind. 48, across from the Richland Church of Christ. Their home, a two story farmhouse with Indiana limestone columns and balusters across the front porch, and pine trees filling the yard with their dark green boughs outspread in welcome, gave the place a warmth of invitation and temptation to any curious passerby. In a sideyard barnlot a collection of farm wagons, tractors, plows and White Rock hens was clearly visible.
“I’ve never lived on a farm, but I get the feeling that I’m coming home every time I approach this place,” I told Charlie and Helen in their living room after satisfying months of curiosity and gnawing fascination by knocking on their front door one morning. “I’ve always wanted to just turn into the driveway and come in.”
I remember Charlie as a pleasant man; a big man with large, powerful forearms and hands, who had spent a lifetime working as a hooker in limestone quarries. He still held a job as hooker, and he also worked the farm. Looking at him it occurred to me that the out-of-doors that surrounded him on both jobs – the sun, wind, rain, the cold, but mostly the sun – was etched in the flesh of his face.
Neither he nor Helen minded me knocking on their door in the middle of the morning. Of course, Helen complained that “The house is in a mess,” a reaction of most women who are surprised by company. But what may have appeared a mess to her was to me the warm lived-in appearance of a house without which a visitor is constrained by a stiff awkwardness, even fear.
But she was an enjoyable hostess, and she could attend past tragedies with touches of humor, such as a serious operation, or the time the hogs got out and she stepped in a hole while trying to corral them and ended up in a cast for a year or more. There were no hogs on the farm when I visited there.
There were about forty-five chickens, most of them White Rocks, and four roosters. Charlie and Helen had butchered about a dozen roosters a few days earlier and stored them in a freezer for future use. They did have one little red hen. Not the one that found a bag of flour and had tried to carry it home by herself; a little red hen that laid little green eggs. Counting those, the couple were collecting about twenty-six eggs a day from the flock. But the hens didn’t all lay every day. Helen informed me that hens will go for long periods without laying. “They get laid out,” she explained.
Like most farms this one had its dog, an attractive mixture of shepherd and collie named “Laddie,” a very intelligent animal. It was limping and Charlie asked the animal – yes, asked Laddie – to lie down so that he might examine his paw. The dog lay down and Charlie began checking the sore paw. Laddie growled softly, a deep-down sound, to let Charlie know that it hurt each time he touched the paw. It was like a doctor-patient communication, with Charlie, the doctor, softly asking questions, and Laddie, the patient, responding in the only way he knew how – the deep-down sound. Charlie and Helen also had some cats – Fluffy, Missy, Tom and Snowball.
And, of course, they had Aberdeen Angus cattle, thirty head at that time, since Charlie had recently sold thirteen. One of the thirteen was the cow and another was her calf who, together, had brought about the tense, eventful night for the Keilbachs. Helen kept saying that it all happened because the cow was bred when she was too young. Whatever the reason, it became apparent to Charlie that night that the black cow could not calve normally. He telephoned veterinarian Drew Stewart.
“When he came out,” Charlie began recounting the ensuing events of that night, “we rolled her over on her back and tied her legs to the barn rafters, so she couldn’t move. `Doc’ Stewart had the rope; he carried all that kind of stuff in his truck. Then he gave her a shot, and then he cut that cow open and took the calf out of her.”
Helen interrupted his narration. “He wouldn’t let me come to the barn and watch,” she said of her husband. “We had to stay in here and play euchre while all the excitement was going on.”
Charlie smiled and resumed his story. “Then he sewed her up. There’s three layers of skin to sew up on a cow. It took him a right-smart. He charged me seventy dollars. But we were out there several hours. Then, when he got in his truck to leave, he called his wife on his radio and said, ‘It’s a boy. Mother and son are doing fine.'”
Helen nursed the new bull calf for a few days from a bucket with a monstrously large nipple sticking out from its bottom. “But, he wanted his mommy,” she recalled. And, animal nature being what it is, the cow recovered fast enough for the new calf to obtain its milk from her.
“I thought I’d lost money on that calf,” Charlie said with a shake of his head. A smile broke over his weathered face and he added, “But you know, when I took those thirteen cattle to market that little dude fetched me a hundred and forty-four dollars.”
Ray Goodman once said Earl Turner’s store in Needmore couldn’t begin to hold all the Granger pipe tobacco that Jot Diehl smoked in his lifetime. For many years Jot would walk down the hill from his white frame house above Earl’s store just about every day. He’d select one of two backless benches there, pick out a shiny spot, and sit with his back against the wall. Then he’d take out his pipe, fill it up, light it up, and strike up a conversation with Earl, or with another lounger like himself. Depending on how long they talked, Jot would relight the pipe a dozen of more times.
“I’m seventy-one, and I knew that man all my life, and he always smoked a pipe,” Earl said from a space he himself occupied on one of the benches one summer afternoon many years ago. “There’s no telling how much Granger he’s smoked in that time.”
“This store,” Ray then waved a hand around the small grocery store and gasoline filling station, “could never begin to hold it all.”
“I’ll tell you something else,” Earl continued. “There wasn’t a nicer guy in all this world than Jot Diehl.”
“He was a fine man,” Ray agreed, his chin moving up and down in affirmation.
Before going any farther with this it ought to be made clear that I’m not writing about Jot Diehl because he did some spectacular thing in his lifetime. I’m not and he didn’t. Unless, of course, you might want to imply that working in a stone quarry a whole lifetime is something spectacular. Few people would believe that. You might want to say that being a father is spectacular, which Jot was. But there are those who will hurry to say fathers are all over the place, so what’s spectacular about that? No, unless you insist on making something else of it, this piece is just about a simple quarryman who once lived in Needmore and smoked a large quantity of Granger. And about love.
Most of the years he spent in stone quarries Jot operated a noisy, hot, smoking, Ingersol steam channeling machine. Unless you’ve seen one, or several of them, doing what they were built to do, this probably won’t make much sense. A channeler looked like – well, an oversized, black hot water tank that stood upright on a rectangular chassis with two miniature railroad wheels front and back. A smokestack stuck out of its top, and a door at the bottom opened into a firebox from which the machine derived its locomotion and power.
Mounted on one side, and plainly visible to the operator, a tall diamond tipped steel plunger blade rose vertically. A channeler moved horizontally over small gauge tracks in runs from sixty to as many as two hundred feet. As it moved on its tracks the vertical blade noisily pounded a two inch channel in the homogenous stone. It took three men to keep one going; the operator, a fireman, and a tender.
There is a black and white photograph of Jot on a channeling machine hanging from a wall at the Day and Carter Mortuary in Bedford. When we talked several years ago, Jot speculated that it is probably the only one of its kind. The black and rusting hulks of a couple such channelers are stored behind the chain link enclosure that surrounds the old school buildings on Hoosier Avenue, in Oolitic. They are mastodans of a past industrial age.
Recalling his years on them, Jot modestly observed, “It wasn’t sich awful hard work, but it shook you around a little.”
Most of his years were spent in the PM&B Quarry, south of Needmore and north of Oolitic. Until the Ruel W. Steele four-lane highway was built and old State Road 37 at that point reverted to its original owner, the Indiana Limestone Company, the quarry was visible to passersby on the old roadway.
Jot continued working there long after the channeling machines were replaced with more modern methods of removing stone from quarries, taking his retirement, finally, at age seventy-three. When I visited with him he was a tall, slim, handsome man of eighty-seven. He wore an old style navy cardigan over a light blue shirt opened at the collar, neatly pressed navy trousers, black socks and high-top black shoes.
Jot’s people came from Diehl Holler, situated east of Oolitic, but he was born on a farm near Judah. He completed the six grades offered at McFadden School and, after trying his hand at several jobs, began life as a quarryman at age eighteen. After a few years he decided he wanted to be a farmer. He and his wife, Sophia, packed their belongings into two wagons, along with their two sons, Murray and Wilford, and with two teams pulling, moved to Tunnelton.
“Took a whole day agoin’ over there,” Jot recalled.
While they were there Sophia gave birth to their only daughter, who later became Mrs. Thanna DePierre. Because he “didn’t fancy farm life,” Jot soon returned to Needmore, a trip that “took another day acomin’ back,” he said. Attempting to pinpoint the date of his return he smiled and said, “I can’t remember no longer than my arm, anymore. But it’s been a right smart awhile ago. I imagine it’s been fifty years. Bound t’be.” Murray and Wilford played basketball at Needmore High School. Sophia, who died five years before this meeting, rarely saw them play because, she complained, the game was too rough to suit her. Her husband did not attend games because, “I never did think of basketball no more than nothin’,” he said.
His dislike for the game, however, did not spill over to the kids who played it. Jot had an especially tender spot for kids. One of his four grandchildren, Beverly Wilson, said of him, “I never saw a child who didn’t love him.” His daughter, Thanna, remembered that, “We knew that love when he patted us on the back. He’d pat us on the back and we knew that love was there,” she said.
Thanna recalled the special warmth he held for her because she was the only girl in the family, and the baby at that. “I always waited for him at the end of our lot at suppertime, when he’d come home from work,” she remembered. “He’d come up the hill past Earl Turner’s store, lunchbox aswingin’. And I’d be there because he always saved me something from his lunch. Maybe it would be a piece of cake he wouldn’t eat for lunch, so that he would have it for me, or maybe a piece of pie. But there was always something for me in that lunchbox. And I was always there at the end of the lot, waiting for him to come home.”
The recollection swept over her in a wave of emotion. Her throat constricted so that she was unable to talk. She looked at her father. From where I sat I could see that her eyes were irridescent with welling tears. Her whole face was alight with an inexpressible love for him. And Jot sat quietly, smiling at the memory of it all.
Thanna and her husband, Richard, and Murray and his wife, Thelma, and Wilford and his wife, Annetta, all lived close by. Ever since he’d been widowed Jot had taken turns eating with them each night. Except Saturday, which was his day to fix his meals, “And that’s generally a sandwich,” he said.
Quarrying is a summertime job. Looking back on the days when he and Sophia had to keep their family in food, clothing and shelter in summer and winter on summertime wages, Jot commented, “We didn’t have to have too much, and it didn’t cost too much to get what we had to have.”
Jot’s full name was William Jot Diehl. In a moment of nostalgia he revealed how he had come by his middle name. “I was named after an old storekeeper near Guthrie whose store was along the Monon Railroad tracks,” he said. “He told my father that if he would name me after him he’d give me a suit of clothes. Boy, he dressed me up like a doll. Jot Tincher was his name.”
When Jot was not down at Earl Turner’s puffing on a pipeful of Granger, or eating at the home of one of his children, he just might have been sitting on his small front porch. It was from the comfort of a swing, suspended from the porch ceiling by chains, that he would talk to a visitor, feed the birds, or pat the head of an old neighborhood dog named “Feller.”
Yes, except that he worked in a stone quarry, there was nothing spectacular about Jot Diehl. Unless, of course, you do as I sometimes do: stop in Needmore at suppertime to watch him, lunchbox aswingin’, come up the hill past Earl Turner’s store to a little girl awaiting him there.
THE RIGHT PLACE
Although severely injured and nearly killed by her “experience” of October 24, 1980, Wanda Johnson declared with a bright smile on her pretty face, “I was in the right place at the right time. Thank God!”
Except that she did some pre-Halloween shopping in the afternoon, that Friday had begun ordinarily enough. At Applacres, in Lawrence County, she had purchased caramel candies, cider and apples, for the season’s trick-or-treaters. Later, in Bedford, nearer to her R. 1, Norman home, she had shopped in three grocery stores.
At home, later, she put away the perishables and left the Halloween things on the kitchen table. It was time to pick up her eleven year old son, Matt, at basketball practice at Heltonville School. Changing from a colorful crocheted poncho to a hooded sweater for the short trip, Wanda stood before a full-length mirror and buttoned it up, examining her appearance while doing so. That was the last she was to remember until the following Tuesday. Wanda had made a strange journey to what she later said was “The right place at the right time.”
While driving her 1971 Monte Carlo on U.S. 50, three miles from home, an approaching Blazer went out of control and struck her head-on. With the aid of a power extricator, and with the help of Shawswick Township volunteer firemen, it took Bedford firemen an hour to free her from the wreckage. While she was trapped, Wanda apparently was conscious – rescuers reported she spoke with them while they worked.
At the Bedford Medical Center where she was taken by ambulance, Wanda’s injuries were determined. She had a compound fracture of the left knee, her right knee was cut at the cap, her right arm and right ankle were broken, she had a fractured rib, her spleen was severely damaged and she was bleeding internally. Her face and forehead were cut so badly some sixty stitches were required to close the wounds. It was feared that one facial injury would result in the loss of her right eye. Fortunately it didn’t. A doctor at the hospital commented that in another hour Wanda might have become a corpse. As it was she remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit for little more than a day. However, it was not until the next Tuesday that she knew where she was.
“When I realized where I was, and after I learned what had happened, I had a talk with God,” Wanda said. “I told Him how happy I was that I had been alone at the time of the accident, and that Matt nor his father was with me.”
Frank Johnson, unaware that his wife had been in a traffic accident, had seen the passing ambulance carrying Wanda to the hospital on his way home from his job in Bedford. Minutes later he arrived at the scene of the wreck and recognized her Monte Carlo.
“I was the only one hurt,” Wanda continued her recollection of her talk with God that Tuesday. “And I was so happy that I was I said, ‘Thank you God!'”
A visitor who came to see her then interrupted that talk and stood in awe of a strangeness she said she felt in the room. “I can feel the presence of God in your room, Wanda,” her visitor had said in breathless greeting.
“I know,” Wanda had replied happily. “That’s because He’s here.”
Wanda believed God came to her on two more occasions: November 24, when she said the rented hospital bed in her bedroom was bathed in a golden light; and on the following March 16, when she said God had encouraged her to stand on her healing legs.
“Therapy was the most difficult part of my recuperation,” Wanda said of her effort toward walking again. Initial therapy was begun during the sixteen days of her hospitalization. After she was dismissed it was continued at home with the aid of her sister, Peggy Kunkle, of Heltonville, who had moved in to help.
“But on March 16, God spoke to me and said, ‘Wanda, you can stand up!’ I had tried before, and I almost fell on my face each time. But after I heard Him I clasped my hands in my lap and stood up. I sat down then, and then I stood up again. Then I just went up and down and up and down in that chair, and crying and crying and crying and saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’ I was just so thankful,” she said beaming.
Wanda had been a church member for ten years. Her husband also attended church regularly. Matt, too, was a believer. But since Wanda’s accident and her subsequent visits from God, their lives had changed.
“Everything is so beautiful now,” Wanda tried to explain. “Ever since my natural father died, when I was six, there was a part of me that was always alone. Now my life is full. I never feel alone. And I’m constantly thanking God for everything,” she said.
Church – everything – began to mean more to Wanda. She attributed the change to the accident, or “the experience,” as she preferred to call it.
“If God were to come to me today and say He wanted to take me back to October 24, and have me leave the house just ten minutes later so that I could have avoided what really did happen, I would say, ‘No,'” she said. “I would not trade the experience for anything. God allowed me to come back with a smile, and He has come to me. He has changed my life. There is no way that I’d want to change what has happened.”
Wanda’s legs were still not as strong as they needed to be, at this time. She still had some difficulty climbing steps, but she worked at her therapy daily. “Nothing can stop me,” she declared. “I will eventually whip this. All of it. Because God is with me.”
She smiled knowingly, a beautiful smile in a pretty face that gave little or no indication of the painful experience of October 24, 1980.
After the blizzard of 1977-78 and plows had opened a single snow-banked lane of blacktop roadway leading to it, I drove to Alvin and Ethel McQueary’s store. A small, compact establishment, it sat in a sharp bend of the road in rural Brown County popularly known as McQueary’s Corner. The winter storm had descended on southern Indiana on a Wednesday. It wasn’t until the following Sunday night that the single lane on State Road 135 was opened, and McQueary’s Corner could again be reached from the outside world. When I arrived Alvin and Ethel were still incredulous at the amount of snow that had fallen and drifted there.
“It’s hard to believe,” I remember her saying, “that we got this,” and she raised her chin toward a window and the high snow drifts outside.
“We’ve seen bad drifts before,” Alvin said of the snow covered corner and its history of severe winter snows of other years. “But we’ve never seen anything like this.”
The storm struck in the first month of the McQueary’s twenty-eighth year as Brown County storekeepers. They lived in a house that was within walking distance of the store and when the onslaught of the storm subsided they dug their way to the establishment. For four days afterward they kept it open to those residents who for miles around were caught short or completely without the daily necessities of life.
Displaying great strength and endurance, people began arriving at the store by late morning Thursday. They came on foot, down from the surrounding snow-covered hills and up from the wooded hollows. They struggled through huge drifts, some walking for miles to reach McQueary’s Corner. One of two boys who had accompanied their father collapsed into a chair after reaching the safety and warmth of the store. “We’ll never make it back home,” he gasped. They did. They took to the fields on their return trip; the snow had not drifted as much there. Some who arrived at the store were overcome with fatigue and cold and were unable to speak until after considerable rest. They brought gunny sacks and pillow cases in which to carry their groceries. When they left the store for the return trip home they carried them slung over their shoulders.
By virtue of her position as lady storekeeper, where she daily heard news of people who lived for miles around the store, Ethel McQueary knew which families had babies and youngsters. She was able to share the store’s supply of fresh and powdered milk proportionately with them, until it was gone. She did the same with the store’s supply of eggs. When one weary slogger arrived too late to share in the store’s supply of eggs, Ethel could not deny him. She walked the snow covered path to her own refrigerator and brought back six of her own family’s ten eggs for the man.
After the Sunday night opening of one lane of State Road 135, milk and bread and egg deliveries began arriving at the small store. Isolated residents of the surrounding rural area found walking the plowed lane easier than struggling through the drifts. A few four-wheel drive vehicles began appearing, and their drivers were generous with rides for the walkers. A few more days and life around McQueary’s Corner returned to normal
A mid-April return there found the snow gone. In its place were colorful flowers, green grass, fruit tree blossoms, bloomed magnolia trees and green pines. But memories of winter still lingered.
“I can just close my eyes and see all of it again,” Ethel said. “There’s a lot of last winter left in my mind. I’ll never forget it.”
I recalled that the winter day I had arrived there it was rumored a man had died of exposure near Houston. Ethel said the report proved groundless. She added that another man who had lain out in that blizzard suffered frozen hands and feet, which later had to be amputated.
“When we have a beautiful day,” she said, “we just naturally start talking about last winter. It seems that we appreciate more our ability to get out. The winter comes up, too, when one customer will see another in here and say something like, ‘Well, I know it’s spring, since you’re out.'”
The McQueary’s came to Indiana from their native Kentucky. They lived in Columbia, Kentucky until the spring of 1950, when Alvin helped some relatives move to Indiana. Driving around in rural Brown County he got lost and stopped at the store, which then was the Bill Smith Grocery Store, and asked directions out of there. He said something to Smith about Brown County being good looking country, and that he liked it. Smith told Alvin that it could all be his, for a price. That was Monday, April 30, 1950. Alvin returned to Columbia where he told Ethel about what he’d found in Brown County, Indiana. Two days later they arrived at Smith’s and purchased the corner lock, stock and sixty-acre farm that went with it.
“It’s like the place we came from,” Ethel said of the rural area. “I love it here.” Their children, Linda, Marge, Leon, and Robert, shared in their parents’ enjoyment of that place.
Alvin and Ethel bought additional ground until they owned a total of one hundred ninety-seven acres. Christmas trees covered several acres. Although much of the crop was marketed annually to wholesale buyers, scores of the trees were sold to individuals. Countless people in Brown and surrounding counties will remember McQueary’s Corner as the place where they used to “chop down” the family Christmas tree.
THERE WAS A SPARK
The whole world seemed to rock and tremble at about ten minutes till four o’clock the afternoon of May 1, 1968, and a mushroom cloud, black and angry, rose high enough into the sky above tiny Helmsburg to be seen from as far away as Columbus. It was not an earthquake, as Verna Rushton, at her home a quarter mile away, had thought. It was an explosion. And it remains a wonder that it hadn’t blown or burned the Brown County village off the map.
“We’d seen smoke earlier,” Verna said. “Evelyn Cornelius had pointed it out and said, ‘Something’s burning.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s probably Buck Brummett burning his tires again.’ Later, when the big explosion happened, it was just like an earthquake, the ground trembled so.”
Verna and her husband, William (Rusty) Rushton, were at home at the time enjoying a break from Rushton’s Super Service, the town’s gasoline filling station. But Rushton’s was more than an ordinary filling station of that period. From the time the couple had bought the place from Clyde Brown, four years earlier, they had been reinvesting every dime they earned in the business. A forerunner to convenience stores Rushton’s provided Helmsburg and surroundings, and passersby on State Road 45, complete filling station and auto repair services, auto parts and accessories, wrecker service, groceries, sporting goods, ammunition, fuel oil delivery and free coffee. In the four years that they had owned it Rusty and Verna Rushton had more than doubled the station’s annual gross, increasing it to six figures. “And we sold a lot of gasoline,” Rusty Rushton said.
It was a delivery of gasoline that had precipitated the fire that caused the smoke seen by Evelyn and Verna, and caused the subsequent violent explosion. Wesley Eugene Steele, then forty-two, had driven a tanker loaded with seventy-five hundred gallons of gasoline onto the station’s drive. After transferring a portion of the load into underground tanks, Steele backed the tanker to an above-ground thirty-five hundred gallon storage tank. A gravity flow conduit allowed the gasoline in that tank to be transferred into the station’s underground tanks when they needed refilling.
To make the transfer into the above ground storage tank, Steele used an electrically operated portable pump. The only electricity available to operate it was from a receptacle in the station’s large auto repair garage, and Steele had backed the tanker close enough to its open doors to make the connection. During the pumping process the garage filled with the, pungent fumes of gasoline. Unknown to Steele at the time, a faulty hose connection was spewing raw gasoline over the drive. It wasn’t until some time later, when station patron Oral Voland, then county surveyor, told Steele he smelled “a strong odor of gasoline” that the leak was discovered. Steele then made a common error, and, this time, a costly one. Instead of using the emergency switch to shut down the pump, he pulled the plug from the receptacle, interrupting the flow of electricity. There was a spark.
“That spark,” recounted Chelsea Sisson, who worked in the Chitwood Hardware and Furniture Sales store across the highway from the filling station, “ignited the gasoline on the ground and the flames raced up the back of the truck to the station building.”
Flames then ignited the fumes inside the forty by eighty foot adjacent garage and Helmsburg heard its first of several explosions that afternoon. Just that quickly Steele’s clothing was ablaze. At the risk of their own lives two bystanders, Ernie Pate and Rodney Southern, rushed to his aid. At the same time, Carolyn Southern, Rodney’s wife and the Rushtons’ daughter, ran to a telephone and dialed the operator for the Nashville Fire Department, some seven miles distant. The telephone operator, Carolyn said, apparently misunderstood what she said and asked if she wanted to be connected to Nashville, Tennessee.
In the meantime some fifty to sixty quart cans of oil in the garage began exploding. “They were going off like popcorn,” said Verna Rushton. Firearms ammunition in a steel container was also exploding like gunshots. Pieces of burning rubber rained down on the roof of the hardware store. Flames engulfed a nearby sawmill owned by Ben George and Charles Richards. The fire jumped a gravel road and incinerated the home of Ruth Hamblin. It appeared that all of Helmsburg would go up in flames before someone finally got through to the nearest fire department, in Nashville, Indiana.
At long last the wail of sirens could be heard in the distance as fire trucks from Nashville, Fruitdale, Gatesville and Bloomington made their way to the scene. Following them were scores of curious people in automobiles and other vehicles. By this time the center of Helmsburg had got so hot that, “When firemen sprayed water on the propane tanks at Chitwood’s, across the road, it sizzled,” Rusty Rushton said.
Some people said the fire raged out of control for forty-five minutes before the above ground gasoline storage tank blew up. “I was up getting pieces of burning rubber off the roof of the hardware store when that thing blew,” Sisson remembered. “The force of the explosion knocked me down and burned the side of my face.”
Clarence Chitwood, co-owner of the hardware and furniture store with his wife, Goldie, was behind their establishment on another street near Long’s Grocery, and the blast burned him. Goldie, who was in the hardware store at the time of the explosion, remembered that it broke out windows, “And it cooked the paint on the side of the store, damaged trees and scared us to death.”
Bob and Libby Roudebush looked down on the fiery scene from a hillside a half-mile away. “Pieces of burning things landed in the field around us,” Libby said of the force of the explosion. While it may have seemed that hell itself was raining fire and brimstone down on Helmsburg, it was the awful explosion itself that snuffed out the fire and actually saved the community. It also left the above ground gasoline storage tank “mashed flatter than a fritter.”
Steele, who was the only person seriously injured survived. At some time during the fire, Rusty Rushton took enough smoke into his lungs to aggravate an asthmatic condition. Several buildings were damaged and three were totally destroyed. Damage was set at a hundred-thousand dollars.
Since I’ve been sitting here Tony has shivered a few times. Each time I asked if he were cold, and each time he shook his head from side to side.
When I came into the ward and approached his bed he spoke one word, my name: “Larry,” he said. Since then he’s been trying to clear a congestion from his throat. He has asked twice for ice. Twice the nurse told him it was coming.
I’m writing this at his bedside. We are in Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is an intensive care unit, and there are three other children who are being treated here besides Tony. In this ICU the nurses and patients are on what they call a one-to-one arrangement; a nurse, each of whom is an RN, to care for each of the four children.
Tony’s nurse is busy with the paraphernalia of the sick that fills this ward. I am seated on a backless stool. Only members of the family are allowed here. That’s what his nurse said when she saw me. “Only family – mother, father – you know.” She added sincerely, “I’m sorry.”
I looked at her nameplate: Rosemary Gibson, RN. Then I looked past her pink and white young face into her blue eyes. I’m family,” I said. Her eyes fell softly on Tony’s dark skin, his black kinky hair against the hospital-white pillow slip under his head. She turned them toward me as a sudden flush rose to her cheeks. A little smile touched her lips. She shrugged her shoulders. I knew then that it would be all right to stay.
Tony weighs about sixty pounds now, I wrote, a mere slip of the boy who was stricken last August and who has been seriously ill on and off since then. Under a patch-quilt his body seems very small. Yet, if he could stand, the top of his head would reach my shoulders. That’s pretty tall for an eleven year old.
Tony has had a lobectomy of the left lung. A fungal pneumonia, slow in responding to medication, pushed its way into an artery and caused him to hemorrhage. There was no time to lose. The youngster was rushed to surgery where he remained for almost five hours, and where he left a portion of that lung. He was on life supports for about seven hours until, according to his physician, he made an amazing recovery and was able to sustain his frail body without assistance.
Tony has coughed up some thick yellow-green phlegm. Wiping his mouth with tissues I’ve noticed the phlegm is streaked with blood. That’s how they knew he was bleeding internally before he was rushed to surgery; he was coughing up blood. The appearance of it frightened me, and I called it to the attention of the nurse. I was told not to worry, that everything is all right, that it is not unusual for a person suffering from pneumonia to spit up blood.
Tony awakened briefly. “I want to go home,” he whispered to me.
At home, in Bloomington, Indiana, Tony has a new bicycle, a BB-gun, and a pool table – gifts from readers of the newspaper I work for – and from his fifth grade classmates at Grandview School. In good health he’d be having fun with those gifts, but it may be days, weeks, before he can return to them.
He has the ice now, brought to him by Alton Kessinger, a Naval Reserve hospitalman third class who prefers to spend his drill weekends at this hospital, as do many other volunteers. “I’d rather do this than sit at the reserve center one weekend a month,” he said. As he spoke he fed the ice to Tony from a spoon. The ice makes crunching sounds between Tony’s teeth.
The youngster is one of many children in the U.S. who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The disease is still in research, and in reputable hospital centers across the nation like this one, children, like Tony, lie waiting and hoping for a cure. Last summer, during school vacation, Tony had no warning that he would become sick with the disease, and that in just a few months he’d be looking for a miracle to restore his body to health. It had happened overnight. One day in early August he became ill, and in a matter of hours he was in the hospital. He was later moved to this one for treatment of leukemia. He isn’t the first child to be stricken in this manner, nor will he be the last.
The ice has made him cold, and he has asked me to pull the quilt up around his thin, ebony shoulders. He shivers visibly. His physician, Gerald Vladimer, has told me that Tony is fast becoming the pet of the floor. He’s been here for more than seven weeks, this trip, and almost everyone who works on this floor has come to know him. When he was taken to surgery many day-shift employees returned to the hospital that night to check on his condition, to help the nurses then on duty.
Vladimer, a pediatrician, is a fellow practicing under Dr. Beatrice Lampkin, chairman of this department, and Drs. K.Y. Wang and Ralph Gruppo. Vladimer wears his dark hair long, in the fashion of the day, and has a thick well-kept brown mustache. His collar is unbuttoned to reveal a turtle neck undergarment. He explains leukemia to me. His words and phrases are technical, cryptic. I don’t understand. I am able to view Tony’s illness only as a demon that defies the exorcism of research.
While he is speaking a little black boy approaches Vladimer. There are tears in the child’s eyes. His speech comes out of his mouth in a series of strange noises; no words. Spittle hangs in shiny strings from the corners of his mouth. Vladimer takes the child into his arms, embraces him as a father would embrace a son. He coos to him, pats him on the head, the shoulders, touches his lips to the little dark wet face. The child rests his head on the physician’s shoulder, his face starkly black against the white of the lab coat. He is quiet. I feel a swelling in my throat – Vladimer is white; twenty-eight.
He expresses a hope that Tony can go home soon. “It is important, even in his condition, that he be returned to a normal life,” he said. “It is also important that Tony is not judged by other children, or adults, in terms of the leukemia he has. He is no different from any other child. He needs to be allowed the same considerations allowed any other child, including a return to school.”
Tony’s home is a gold and brown mobile home at Heatherwood Court, on the southwest side of Bloomington. It was there, while he was enjoying life as any normal, healthy boy enjoys life, with his mother, Hazel Chapman, his two sisters, Dorothy and Sharon, and with his neighborhood friends and schoolmates, that he was stricken. He was brought here for bone marrow transplants when he developed the infection in his lungs. It was a heartbreaking setback. His physician discussed the problem with him, “man to man,” and told him how it would delay the transplants. He also told Tony that the medication to cure the infection would be something less than pleasant to take. The conversation at the time between Tony and the doctor and Tony’s mother went like this:
Doctor: “This medicine, if you take it, will make you very ill. So ill that you’re going to wish you were dead. Can you take it?”
Tony, looking up at his mother: “Mom, can you take it?”
Mrs. Chapman: “Yes, Tony. I can take it.”
Tony, turning his eyes back to Dr. Vladimer: “Don’t worry, doctor. We’ll take it.”
From Vladimer, as well as from nurses, particularly blonde, blue-eyed RN Donna McAffee, who was spokesperson for the rest of the nurses, I learned much about Mrs. Chapman. “I can’t say enough about this woman,” Vladimer told me. “She’s been staying here with Tony. When the parents of these other children -” he gestured toward the twenty-four-bed division of hemo-oncology “- go home she takes over, walking the kids up and down the halls, carrying the little ones, answering their calls for assistance, for water, or whatever.”
Vladimer said that Mrs. Chapman, during these last seven – almost eight – weeks while her son has been hospitalized here, has hardly slept. That among the patients and staff of the division she is becoming better known as “the ward mother” than by her own name. “She’s always ready to help, and she gets along so well with all the patients,” said nurse McAffee. “She looks after the little ones, especially. She’s just the best person. You don’t see a lot of parents like her coming in here. We have a lot of respect for her.”
Mrs. Chapman has remained inside, around the clock, each day. “As long as my son is here I will stay here,” she said. She rests in the division’s waiting room when the ambulatory little patients will let her. When she can afford it she eats in the hospital’s cafeteria. Her two older children are staying with friends in Bloomington. I have received many letters at the newspaper from readers expressing their admiration for Mrs. Chapman.
Tony has become the most popular patient in the hospital. Many cards, letters and gifts have been arriving daily for him, many of them from other children. Patients and doctors and nurses, have asked me, “What Kind of place is Bloomington, Indiana?” I have answered them all in the same manner. “Not only Bloomington,” I told them. “Tony’s friends come also from Spencer, Bloomfield, Smithville, Harrodsburg, Lawrence County, Brown County, Orange, Washington, Jackson, Morgan and other counties in Indiana. And from places beyond them.” But the question is always put, “What kind of place is Bloomington, Indiana?”
Tony loaned me a few letters from children to run in this column for your pleasure. Here they are, beginning with one from Bloomington.
Dear Tony: You don’t know me, so I will tell you about myself. My name is Jim Van Horn. If I met you I know I would like you. I go to Templeton School. I read about you in the newspaper. I know your wish to come home will come true and I hope you get your wish soon.
Dear Tony: I don’t know you very well and you probably don’t know me. My name is Larry Edward Knabel. Some kids call me King Edward The First, and I say that’s right. Do not forget me, Tony. I’ll have to say Good-Bye.
Dear Tony: I am in sixth grade at Cardinal Pacelli School. Get well soon. From Margaret Stenger.
Dear Tony: I’ve enclosed a card for you to give to your nurse friend, the one that’s getting married. Our prayers are with you. Your friend, Betty.
Dear Tony: Hi, how are you? I am fine, my hobby is horses. My name is Charlie Matlock. I made a picture truck for you. I hope you like it. I am in the fourth grade. Your beloved friend, Charlie Matlock.
Dear Tony: Don’t get a broken heart, we still care. Get well soon. Your friend, Mark Zando, (Cardinal Pacelli).
Dear Tony: My name is Tommy and I would like to tell you a poem. Roses are red, violets are blue, someone is special and that is you. Your friend, Tommy.
Dear Tony: My name is Gary, I am ten. I hope you get well. I hope you like my letter. I hope you can come to see us. I like math and IU. I like football and I like to read about wars. Your friend, Gary Whaley.
Dear Tony: I like you. I hope you get out of the hospital soon. You seem nice, what school do you go to? I wish you were going to our school. I think that you would be a nice friend. Would you be my friend if you would come to our school. I like baseball? I like to play tag. (This one had no signature.)
Dear Tony: I would like to be your friend. From Louis.
Dear Tony: I like to play cops and robbers, do you? I hope you will get well soon. Your friend, Tim.
Dear Tony: My name is Ricky. I hope you get to go home from the hospital. I wish you best wishes. I hope you can walk again and get over your disease. Your new friend, Ricky Abbitt.
Dear Tony: I am a girl. I know your mom. My name is Jackie Smith. I read in the newspaper about you. Our family is going to give your family some food. I hope you get well. Just hang in there. Get well soon. Your friend, Jackie Smith.
Dear Tony: I hope you get well fast. I think I would like you. It is going to be summer soon. Love, Frankie McGill.
Dear Tony: I hope you get better. Then you can go back to school and play with your friends. I like to play football and baseball. From Robert Webb.
Dear Tony: Here is a joke. What is the difference between a teacher and a train? The teacher says spit out the gum and a train says chew-chew. Hope you feel better. From Susan Graves, (Cardinal Pacelli).
Calling Tony: We still care about you even if you haven’t met us. Your friend, Mike Finn, Cincinnati.
Tony: I hope you’re feeling better. Do you live in a big family. I do. I live in a family of twelve. I have seven sisters, and two other brothers and parents. Is the hospital nice? Have you met any kids in the hospital. Well I hope so. From Libby Crane.
From a youngster who apparently has been hanging around an older crowd came this query: Dear Tony: Well how the hell are you . . . ?
One rainy Saturday afternoon two youngsters arrived at the cubby-hole that is my office at the newspaper. They carried with them a couple of glass jars filled with money they and some little friends had collected for Tony.
“You collected this from door to door in this rain?” I asked incredulously.
The little girl – she is ten – smiled. “Yes,” she said.
“Gee,” I said, “I don’t know how to thank you.”
She replied with the wisdom of the ages: “You just say ‘thank you’, that’s all.”
That, then, is the message of this column. Thank you. From Tony’s bedside, thank you. You have done much. So much that the disbelieving mother of another young patient should exclaim, “I never knew there were people in this world like those in Bloomington, Indiana.”
From the onset of his trial you have been giving Tony the will to live, to slow the dogged leukemia that weakens him. In his happiness he is aware of the miraculous healing of goodness. That awareness now is torn asunder by the nausea that apparently precedes internal and external hemorrhaging. The precious memory of that goodness is burned out of his body by a raging temperature and searing pain from an old surgery that will not heal.
Because you have been so kind to him, and because you have in your kindness become a part of him, you should know that his condition has been better. You should know, too, that Tony does not weep for himself, and because he doesn’t, you should not weep for him. Pray for him, that is his wish, the wish of his mother, his sisters, his doctors and nurses. Continue remembering him with cards, letters and gifts and, yes, with the understanding empathy you must feel for him. Do not pity him, for Tony’s courage is of noble origin, where pity could not thrive and cannot now take root.
If you can, remember the good times – the joy you took from making him a funky T-shirt, the fun you had putting together and wrapping a package for him, the special feeling you put into the cards you made for him at school, and all the wonderful words you wrote on them, the satisfaction you got from sending the dollars to pay for food for his courageous mother, and his sisters, and the so many more good things you’ve done for Tony and his family. Remember those times, and take joy from them. Remember, too, that Tony’s needs, the needs of his family, are only beginning.
While here, I was introduced to Ray Speelman, a patient from Greenfield, Ohio, who is one of Tony’s friends on this ward. Ray is one of two youngsters who benefitted from a successful blood donor drive held in Bloomington. Until so many kind people donated hundreds of pints of blood in response to a plea for blood for Tony and others here, Ray’s parents were saddled with a more than five-hundred dollar blood debt they were unable to pay. Ray asked me to take his thanks to you when I leave. To understand the depth of his appreciation you’d have to look into his large eyes.
It is time now for Tony to go to X-ray. They place him in a cart-like wheel chair. I whisper in his ear, brush his shiny black cheek with my lips. He nods his head; they move him away. I look up to keep the gathering moisture in my eyes from spilling down my face. For the first time I see pasted to the ceiling above each of the four beds in this ICU a colorful paper animal cutout. Above Tony’s bed there is a yellow bear – a smiling yellow bear.
* * * *
Incredibly, Tony Chapman’s condition improved. Early in April Dr. Yong, announced that Tony’s leukemia was diagnosed under control, that it was in remission. It was great news for Tony, for his mother and sisters, for his many friends. He was released from the hospital and returned to his home on Good Friday. But the child was far from total recovery. Yet, it was expected that with good food he would add pounds to his tiny frame and gain needed strength. To accomplish this, and to maintain his state of remission, he had to return to Children’s Hospital as an outpatient for weekly medication.
There was pleasure in the returnings, for each visit was an opportunity to renew friendships with those youngsters whom he had left behind. Those trips also saddened him. They brought back memories of Allen, Ray, Michael, Angie, John, and Matthew, who, during his long stay there, had left Ward 4-West at Children’s Hospital, in Cincinnati, “for the Ward 4-West in Heaven.” Tony wept for each of them for “passing” (his metaphor for death), and for himself, because, he told me one day, death frightened him to a point beyond his ability to tell.
Weeks and months went by and Tony’s condition seemed always in the balance. Yet it was a good time for him. His star had climbed and glowed brightly from a surprising height. During that period doctors’ orders were that he should be allowed to do anything he wanted, to eat anything he desired, and to go anywhere he could afford to go. Tony complied wholeheartedly. He did his utmost to live a fun life, enjoying everything, especially being out of the hospital and on his own two feet. Then one day Tony’s high-riding star plunged downward. He was again admitted to Children’s Hospital, in serious condition.
A column I wrote about this sad turn in Tony’s life, and his need for more blood evoked several letters to my editor that appeared in our newspaper. One, signed by three prisoners at the Indiana State Reformatory, appeared in the paper July 23, 1976. In part it read, “With heartfelt compassion, we read about little Tony Chapman, victim of leukemia, who is now in the Children’s Hospital, in Cincinnati, Ohio. There in the ward, seeing the deaths of his young friends, Tony naturally fears the future, where hope is troubled by doubt. Yet that little guy stands strong, not stumbling under the heavy burden that he carries.
“The prayers requested by his mother, we freely give, because God does answer prayers, and we know that in him there is nothing impossible . . . We extend our hand of strength to Tony by offering him our blood . . . There are only three of us who are writing this letter, but there are other inmates in here who feel as we do, (and) can donate three or four hundred pints of blood to Tony now, and more in the future as it is needed. Our prayer is that the blood we give for Tony will be the buffering wind that turns the tide for him. If through our aid, his life is extended for one year, one month of even for one day, then it will be worth-while.”
Tony knew that he was in relapse and seriously ill. But he preferred being at home. Physicians at Children’s also wanted him to be at home, if he so desired, and they wanted him to enjoy every second of the life that was his to live. So he was allowed to go home. Soon his condition worsened, and on September 9, 1976, I had to write a story I had been dreading to put down on paper. It follows:
Tony Chapman is dead.
The frail boy who struggled so valiantly to live these past two years died peacefully at his home at five minutes before five o’clock this morning.
His death marks the end of a long, painful battle with leukemia. Stricken August 3, 1974, the youngster was reported near death several times, but he somehow managed to rally each time, surprising his physicians at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, and sending a new thrill of hope through his family, and his many friends and well-wishers back home. But the disease slowly, relentlessly took its toll, and Tony’s strength, his ability – even his desire – to fight back, weakened with each new onslaught.
What was to be his final struggle surfaced on Sunday, while he was attending church services. Under siege during previous attacks, Tony himself would announce that he was going back to Children’s Hospital for treatment, and would direct preparations for the long car trip to Cincinnati. This time his mother began making plans to return there, but he told her, “I want to stay home.” With a sinking heart Hazel Chapman knew then that her son could fight no more.
In the meantime, Mrs. Patricia Hague of Dayton, Ohio, the mother of one of Tony’s friends from Ward-4 West at Children’s who had also died of leukemia, arrived at the Chapman home to help care for Tony. At four o’clock this morning, Bud and Wanda Baker and Mrs. Darlene Cochran, all parents of other Ward-4 West friends of Tony’s who also died of leukemia, arrived from Covington, Kentucky, to help Tony’s family with his care.
About five minutes before five o’clock, Tony asked for a drink of water. He drank thirstily, for a lengthy fever had dehydrated his body. Then he turned to face his mother, taking her hands in his.
“I love you,” she smiled down at him.
“I love you, too, Mama,” Tony replied, and he closed his eyes.
As the first gray light of day paled the windows of the Chapman living room, Tony, just ten days short of his thirteenth birthday, was carried away from his home for the last time.
* * * *
Three days later I prepared the following for our editorial page:
The life of Tony Chapman was brief, but not so brief that it did not touch the lives of countless persons in his hometown of Bloomington, in cities and towns in Indiana, in the City of Cincinnati, in Illinois; Arkansas; California; Florida, and in other states, cities and towns in the U.S.
It would almost seem that his life, and his death at age twelve, were directed for divine purpose. Stricken with leukemia two years ago, the child’s courage during the long, painful illness, his determination to live – to live happily and without complaint – inspired, warmed and encouraged those who came to know him.
“If Tony can be brave,” an afflicted adult murmured of him one day, “I can, too.”
“The kid’s got guts,” a laborer said after reading about one of Tony’s several returns to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. “He sure is teaching me a lesson.”
One may only guess at the nature of that lesson, but perhaps a white minister speaking at the loveable little black boy’s funeral Saturday, gave that lesson an interpretation.
“For a little while we forgot ourselves,” he said. “For a little while we forgot our prejudices. We are all better people because Tony Chapman lived. He was more than just a friend, he was my brother.”
This, then, was the impact of Tony Chapman’s brief life. Because of him – his life, his illness – we were able to see beyond ourselves, beyond our personal needs. We saw so clearly that at his passing last Thursday tears of sorrow shut down a Bloomington plant’s assembly line, and still other tears of sorrow were shed in other places at the news of his death.
Indeed, Tony Chapman took away with him when he died something of each of us who came to know him. But Tony Chapman left behind something that need never be lost – the ability to forget ourselves, and our prejudices, and the knowledge that we can be a brotherhood of better people, if we so desire.
Yes, the life of Tony Chapman was brief, but the truly significant messages of history have all been brief – so that they might better be remembered. – LInc.
* * * *
I often think of Tony, as I do my children who have died. A photo of him is tucked in the frame of a large Josef Israel print of children at some foreign, sandy shore – with pictures of kids and grandkids – that hangs in our family room. On a shelf in my den is a Timex wristwatch he gave to me as a gift a long time ago. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Suspended from a rawhide thong on the wall over the head of the bed in our master bedroom is a small wooden cross Tony carved and gave to me as a memento of our friendship. Across the face of the cross he printed in capital letters the word “LOVE.” In a shoe box of sentimentalities I keep under my bed is the following note he left me. I want to share it with you.
“I know a man who writes a column in our daily paper. His name is Larry Incollingo. He is a good friend of mine. He has done many things for us. When I was sick he drove straight to the hospital, walked through the hall and stepped into my room.
“Boy was I surprised! It was good to see him. We talked about how thin I was getting. The people from Bloomington were always sending money and gifts with him. Being sick has not been fun, but because of him I have met so many nice people and have lots of new friends.
“He has written many articles about me, even had my picture in the paper. Sometimes when I go to town people will say, are you Tony Chapman? I guess this is a hard way to get famous. HA! HA! HA!”
It is signed, “Love, Tony Chapman.”