"My 8th Grade"
About 14 years old
I was back in Heaven! My dad got another teaching contract in Monegaw Springs! That means we moved back to my private heaven, where all my buddies lived! Soon after we moved back, I heard on the radio that my friend, Joe Jimmie Talbot in Appleton City, had been killed in a car wreck. My parents took me to his funeral, it was a sad day for me. I was approaching 15 years old, and had visions of owning my own car. Joe Jimmies untimely death put a damper on this idea as far as my parents were concerned. Besides, I was only 14 and you had to be 16 to get a driver's license.
But I was back with my old friends, Chop Carter and J.D. Weant. We had quite a reunion when I moved back to Monegaw! We camped out, we coon hunted (using J.D.'s uncle's hounds), we squirrel hunted with our own dogs, we were inseparable. We thirsted for a car. Any kind of car. We were "too old" to be riding bikes, we thought.
Our First Car
It so happened that there was a fellow who lived about 5 or 6 miles northwest of Monegaw. His name was Alva Puffinbarger. He was a bachelor, living with his parents. He was very old (like 40 maybe) and had a fondness for strong drink. One day we saw Alva and his face was all cut up something awful. We asked him what had happened, and he told us this story. "Me and my good buddy were in Osceola last night at the beer joint. Well, my good buddy and I got into an argument. The beer joint threw me and my good buddy out on the street. My good buddy and I went to my car, and started fighting inside it. My good buddy got to pounding my head on the gear shift lever sticking up out of the floor. It would not have been so bad, but the gol-danged shifter did not have a knob on it".
A few days later, we saw Alva's car out front of our house, and found Alva laying in the ditch with about 4" of water in it. He was "out of it". It being near winter, it was cold, and we didn't want him to freeze to death, so the three of us boys picked him up and put him back in his car. We went on to the local store (the only one, in fact), and goofed around for an hour or so.
When we left, it was dark, but we saw Alva was out of his car and laying in the ditch again! This time we put him in the back seat of the car, drove it around to the back of an empty bakery building, and wired the doors shut so he could not get back out when he woke up. The next morning, we went to see how Alva was, and he was awake and wondering how he got there, and why he was wired inside his car. We told him the story, and he thanked us very much for probably saving his life.
Alva went on to say that he was in no shape to own a car, that he was going to sell it before something bad happened. It was a Model A Ford. We asked him what he wanted for it, and he said he would take $10 for it. Our eyes bugged out, and we thought we had hit pay-dirt! We sealed the bargain right there. No papers, no title, no tag, no insurance, and worst of all, no $10. Alva said we could pay him later, which we earned by cutting fire wood with a cross cut saw and selling it for $4 a rank, delivered.
We took this prize Model A and cut the top off with a hack saw even with the bottom of the windows. We beat the fenders off with a sledge hammer. My dad had 5 gallons of old red barn paint, and we painted what was left of that car with a brush. It ran. We drove it all over that town, the adjoining roads and timber. It was like our first off-road vehicle!
Alva Puffinbarger's Music
Alva Puffinbarger was a strange person. I remember him as a gentle person, who liked music. He also liked hard liquor. He's the one who sold us our first car, a Model A Ford. But, what I remember most about Alva was his fiddle playing. After us kids got some wheels, and did not have to walk, we would frequently go to Alva's place and have a spontaneous concert. We would have some girls from our pack go along. They knew all the current popular songs, and could they ever sing! Yes, they could. Alva was a self taught man with a fiddle. He could make that instrument talk! Between him playing, and the girls singing, I can't imagine any more beautiful music. We would just drop in on Alva and his parents without notice every month or so. We all had a very good time. They were always glad to see us, and made us feel right at home.
Goldie Starts Smoking A Pipe
The only store left operating in Monegaw was a small general store, next door to our house. The store was owned and operated by Aaron and Goldie Weant, uncle and aunt of J.D. We spent a lot of time hanging around this store - it was the main meeting place in town. When any of the three of us buddies came into any money, we would buy a sack of "Dukes" smoking tobacco in a cloth bag. It came with a small pack of papers for rolling-your-own smokes. It cost 5 cents a bag. We all shared the sack which would last for a few days. If we really fell into any money, we would buy a pack of ready-made cigarettes, which cost around 15 to 20 cents. We used these when we wanted to impress the girls. None of us was supposed to be smoking, so we had to hide our vice from our parents.
One day, I had enough money to buy a very small pipe. Not a corn cob one, a real factory made job. Man, did I like that pipe - it was no longer necessary to roll-my-own, just dump some Dukes in the pipe and puff away. One day I was in the general store, just me and Goldie in the building. I was sitting on a counter, smoking my pipe and visiting with Goldie. To my horror, I saw my mother walk across the store front porch and start into the store. Without thinking, Goldie reached over, took my pipe, and started puffing on it as my mother came in. She asked Goldie, "Goldie, when did you start smoking?" And "Why are you smoking a pipe?" Goldie told her that when her husband was away, she got bored, and had taken up the habit. I really don't think my mother believed this, but I escaped punishment.
Gunfight at The Old Park
Aaron had a brother, Rusty. One day Aaron and Rusty had a little too much firewater, and they got into a big argument right there in the store. They were not doing too well fighting, as they both were way over the top on booze. Rusty picked up an empty pop bottle and threw it at Aaron. It hit something (not Aaron) and broke, bounced of the floor and hit Goldie in the leg. She was bleeding profusely.
Now Aaron was really, really, mad, so he went upstairs (they lived on the second floor of the store building) and got his 22 rifle. Rusty took off in a big hurry to get his rifle. Well, the two of them spent some time down in an old park that was overgrown, but had a lot of big water oak trees. They shot at each other several times, but no one got hit. I doubt either could have hit the side of a barn, anyway. Later in the day, after sobering up, they were great friends again. And Goldie's leg got wrapped up and was no longer bleeding.
Our First Zip Line
My parents owned the land surrounding the school house on three sides. This was the acreage my dad had bought from Mrs. Cleveland some years before. Therefore, my dad (the teacher) would let us kids do a lot of things in the timber around the school. We could hunt squirrels or rabbits during lunch, or after school. We could cut down trees to make "forts" or "log cabins". We could cut down trees to make firewood or wood fenceposts to sell for spending money. His only rule was that we had to pile the left over brush - not just leave it scattered all over the place.
We had an 80 acre playground. In one place there was a pretty deep gully with a smooth rock bottom. This gully had no water about half the time. On one side was a big old oak tree which was easy to climb, and on the other side was another tree of some kind. It so happened that the single phone line that had run between the Cleveland Hotel and the Thompsons ran thru this property. Now, the Hotel had burned down, and that line had not been used at all for several years, so us kids got the wise idea of tearing down that phone wire, and by using several strands, making a "cable" out of it. We did. Then we tied this cable way up near the top of the big oak tree, across the gulley, and to the bottom of another tree. We found an old well pulley for use with a rope, made an axle for it, put a handle to hang onto, and we had our first "Zip Line"! Great fun. We used this zip line for several days, and had a lot of fun with it.
One day J.D. was zipping down when the cable broke. He fell straight down to the bottom of that gulley and landed flat on his back on solid rock. Several of us ran down to see if he was dead. He had the wind knocked out of him, and after awhile he recovered with only bruises. Nothing broken, and I still don't know how he survived that.
'Coon Hunting Turned out Badly
While we played most of the time, we did spend some time doing serious hunting. We hunted 'coons, 'possums, rabbits, squirrels, set traps for muskrats, etc. None of us three boys ever owned a hunting hound, but J.D.'s uncles, either Aaron or Rusty, would allow us to use theirs.
One night in winter, right after a big rain, the weather cleared off and promised to be a very cold, but good, night for hunting 'coons down in the bottoms along the river. It was about 10 degrees, and we all dressed accordingly. I had on knee high boots, and Chop and J.D. had on regular leather shoes. The dogs were chasing a coon and we were running trying to catch up, when we came to a slough that was probably 8 to 10 inches deep, about 20 feet across, and it had a skim of ice about 1/4" thick on it.
The dogs and the coon had crossed it, and we wanted to. So I, having the only waterproof boots, stomped thru the ice making a path to wade across. Then I went back, got Chop on my back, and carried him across. I went back again to get J.D. in the same way. We were about half way across when a floating piece of ice tripped me, and both J.D. and I fell face down in that ice water. We were soaked completely to the skin. J.D's clothes and my clothes began to freeze immediately. We were way too far from home to get there without freezing. We were scared!
Finally, Chop found some dry stuff in a hollow tree and started a big fire. J.D. and I stripped to the buff and hung our clothes on sticks, while we stood as close to that fire as we could. Chop was kept busy finding enough dry wood to keep a big fire going. After an hour or so, we decided our clothes would not freeze, and we dressed and went straight home. We never did know if the hounds treed that 'coon or not. And, we never caught cold, either!
I had another friend, Frankie Wayne Keeton, who lived a few miles outside of Monegaw. Although he did not live right in the town, he was part of our pack some of the time. He, J.D., Chop and I used to go 'coon hunting quite often. Frankie lived on a farm with lots of timber, a creek, and altogether a nice place to 'coon hunt. Along with catching 'coons, we also caught a lot of 'possums. We skined the 'coons and 'possums for their hides to sell. However, it turned out that Frankie's mother was an expert in cooking those 'possums! We would skin them, she would scrape all the fat off the meat, then bake it in her over. I don't know her secret, but when those 'possums came out of the oven, with a mess of biscuts, they were mighty good eating! Yes, I know - most people curl up their lips when told we ate those 'possums. Don't knock it till you've tried it (providing you have a good cook)!
Frankie Wayne had a neighbor a few hundred yards from his house named "Mary Ellen Moore". Being only in the 8th grade in school, I did not pay a lot of attention to this neighbor until later. Perhaps I should have. More about her later in this narritave.
Exposure at the Spring
One of the main attractions for outsiders to Monegaw was the famous spring, a sulphur spring. People from all around came to drink that water. Some would bottle it and take it home, and, when that was gone, they would make another trip to get more spring water.
The spring had seats on three sides, and a canopy roof. People used to go there especially during hot summer weather to just cool off, drink the water, and visit. This spring was about 1/2 mile from the main town, and had a well worn foot path to it. One day, my 'pack' of friends, including of course, J.D. and Chop, along with some other kids which included some girls decided to go to the spring.
When we got to the spring, us boys were leading the pack and fortunately got there ahead of the girls. One of the local no-gooders was there, drunk, passed out, sitting on a bench with some anatomy exposed. We took an empty pop bottle and whomped him on the 'anatomy'. He woke up, cussing, and chased us boys as fast as he could limp. He never caught any of us. The girls never did find out exactly why he was so mad.
Watermelons for Sale
This same no-gooder raised some watermelons on an old overgrown farm a few miles from town. He would load up his old Model "T" pickup with watermelons and park across the street from the store to sell them. He had someone make him a sign (he could not read or write) and the sign said "35 cents each, or two for a quarter". Us kids tried to tell him what was wrong with his sign, but he did not want to change his nice sign. He never sold any single melons, only two at a time!
One day, us three boys went to a farm auction. They were selling two jennys (female donkeys). We bought them probably for a couple of dollars, I can't remember. We were going to train them to pull a four wheel cart we had made. And we were going to ride them bareback. Yea, sure! Those jennys had minds of their own. I jumped on the back of one and she took off down thru the timber going under low tree limbs, grazing trees, running thru brush, and doing anything she could do to make me get off. If I could have without breaking something, I would have gladly gotten off that jenny! As far as training them to pull our cart - forget it. We stood as much a chance at that as trying to teach a cat to dive into water. We got rid of them before they killed one of us.
Failing the Final Test
It so happened that my dad was my final grade school teacher. 8th grade. One of the criteria for graduating into the 9th grade (or high school) was to take a final grade school test to see if we were ready for high school. This testing was to be done the last day of the school year, and there were only three of us in the 8th grade - myself, J.D. Weant, and his cousin, Lovel (Dewey) Weant. The rest of the kids in school did not have to come to school that day, it was only us three 8th graders trying to pass the test. The day was nice, we could hear (or imagine) all the other kids out playing, hunting, or fishing or something. We were told that when we finished the test, we would be dismissed. So what happened? We rushed thru that test in record time. No time wasted sitting there in this old school house, no sir! We did the test, handed in our papers, and left. Now the sad part.
The next day, my dad visited with J.D.'s parents,
Dewey's parents, and finally me. We had all failed the test, and there
would be no graduation! None of us had taken the time to properly take
that test. Dejection overwhelmed us. My dad sent the test results
to the County Superintendent of Schools and in a few days, here the
Superintendant came, looking for my dad. He wanted to know why all
of the 8th graders failed. My dad told him. The Superintendent
told my dad that he could give us the test over, and probably we would all
pass. My dad said, "No, no favorites here by me - they failed on their
own accord, and I'm not going to give them special treatment." The
Superintendant thought this over, and asked my dad if he had any objections
if he would give us the test, and my dad said he had no problem
with that. A few days later my dad drove the three of us losers to
the County Court House, to the Superintendent's office, and left us for the
day. I can tell you one thing without fear of contradiction - we worked,
and worked on that test. We all passed!
We finally got our 8th Grade Diploma at the Court
Sunday School Lesson
Mrs. Brock, the same lady who had lived with us in the old Cleveland Hotel, had bought a house directly across the street from us. In summer, we would all stay outside, kids playing, older folks sitting trying to get a cool breeze. We had no electricity, no air conditioning, not even a fan. One evening my parents and I were outside sitting around, when we heard Mrs. Brock cussing up a blue streak, and we thought someone was in her house that she was fighting with. She was a regular church goer, and things like that just didn't fit the picture with her.
The next night, the same thing. We all heard words that would make anyone cringe. We knew something was wrong, but with her reputation with her shotgun we were not about to go over to see what was happening. The next day, my mother went over to her house, and asked what she had been doing, that we heard a lot of commotion the last two nights. Mrs. Brock said to her, "Nothing was going on here, I spent both evenings studying my Sunday School lesson". O.K.!
Not long after that, Chop, J.D. and I were bored, so we thought we would play a trick on Mrs. Brock. We waited until we were certain she had gone to bed and was probably asleep. I got a spool of thread and we crept ever so lightly over to her house. We found a nail head on the side of her house and hung a tin can with some rocks in it on the nail. Then we tied the thread to the can, and went back across the street stringing the thread behind us. There was a deep road ditch there, and we got down in the ditch. We jerked on that thread. The can banged against her house. We did this two or three times, and she came to the door and yelled out, "Whoever is throwing rocks at my house better quit". "The next time I come out, I'll have my shotgun."
We waited awhile and pulled the thread again. She did come out, and she did have her shotgun. She stood on her front porch for ten minutes or so, but not seeing anyone, finally went back in the house. We decided we had used up our luck, so we crawled up that ditch for a good city block before we had the courage to get back on the road.
The next morning, Mrs. Brock found the can, found the thread, and told my mother what had happened. She said that after she went inside the second time, she took a chair and her shotgun out the back door, and set up under a tree until daylight waiting for whoever was bothering her to come back. My mother put two and two together and knew it was us three boys. So, she made me go over to Mrs. Brock's house and apologize. It was a very hard thing to do, but I did it with a very red face.
The Sale of The Store
One day a complete stranger drove up to the store with his wife and a daughter (who had Down's Syndrome). They went into the store, looked around, looked at us kids just loafing around, and asked Aaron, "How much would you sell this store for? Aaron thought it was a big joke, and told him, "You can have the building, the stock, everything for $4200". In those days, having $4200 dollars was not possible, we thought.
While that family was talking with Aaron about buying the store, us kids were visiting with their daughter who had Down's Syndrome. We had never seen anyone with this disorder, but we got acquainted with her and got along just fine.
After some hours, the family left, and we all figured we had seen the last of them. In a couple of days this family came back and the guy pulled out his wallet, counted out 42 hundred dollar bills, and told Aaron he would be back with his personal stuff the following week! We were all in shock! Aaron had no intent on selling that store - it was his living!
Aaron lived up to his word, he and Goldie moved out of the upstairs quarters and made ready for the new owners. At some point later my mother asked the lady why they had decided to live in Monegaw. The lady said, "Because of our daughter - none of those Monegaw kids ever tormented her, made fun of her, or laughed at her. They treated her with respect, and that's more than we had in any other place."
A New Tavern Comes to Town
Aaron, having sold his store by accident, used that money to build a tavern and dance hall right across the street from the store he had sold. (Which was also almost directly across from our house, as we lived next door to the store). One day a customer got in trouble for some reason in the tavern. (He was from out-of town, therefore he needed to watch his P's & Q's while in Monegaw). The disagreement got serious and some locals told him that if he didn't leave, they would hang him on a big sycamore tree out in front of the store.
Things got worse, so someone sent either Harold or Norman Weant across the street to buy some rope. The kid came back with a length of rope, and the locals told the out-sider they were going to hang him. Not believing them, he said "Sure, go right ahead". They did hang him in that old sycamore tree, but before he quit kicking, Goldie came out with a butcher knife and cut him down. I do not recall him ever coming back to Monegaw. (Later in life, this same guy was a work-mate of mine - he still had rope scars on his neck).
In the evenings my parents and I would sit out in the front yard, listening to the dance music, watching various fights, and generally enjoying being spectators. Aaron's tavern became locally famous. He had a lot of out-of-town customers (who behaved quite well because of the previous hanging). We still had no electricity in town, but he lit the place with gasoline lanterns, but no one wanted much light anyway. Which leads me to the next story.........
Ghost in School House
One night three outsiders came riding in on horses and stayed too long in Aaron's tavern. By the time they left, it was getting dark, a storm was brewing, and they could barely ride their horses. On their way home, about 1 or 2 miles northeast of Monegaw was a country school. I think the name was "Motley" school. Anyway, as they were approaching the school, the storm broke and they hurried up and went into the school house, which was never locked. No need for locks in those days.
They were waiting quietly for the storm to let up, when there was a big flash of lightning which lit up the whole room. Standing on the stage, staring at them, was a woman dressed in a long white flowing gown! They about tore the door off the hinges getting out of there and away as fast as their horses could carry them. They were "not from around here" and did not know that this woman was well known by the locals. She was crazy, and had a habit of wandering the woods at night in her white nightgown. Us kids met her frequently while out 'coon or 'possum hunting. She was no danger to anyone, but those three did not know that!
Tip Rides the Mule
One weekend my parents and I went to see my cousins on the family farm. I always enjoyed that, as we could get into so many adventures. This day when I got there, Jack and Bill told me, "Tip, you gotta see our new mule." "He's the best riding mule you ever saw." We went out to the barn lot, and there stood a nice big mule standing near a high board fence. He looked tame enough. They coaxed me into jumping onto the back of that mule. A tornado turned loose! That mule bucked like no horse I had ever seen. After about 3 or 4 high, stiff legged jumps, I fell off his back, and just before I hit the ground, he kicked me with both feet. I think I did a back flip or two in the air, and came down with a thud. Jack and Bill thought it was funny, and I did too, once I could walk again.
School House Almost Burns Down
One day at noon time at school, several of us boys sneaked off to an old road leading west from the school. Our purpose was to have a good smoke before my dad, the teacher, rang the bell calling us back in for the afternoon session. The grass was long, and dry. Like idiots, one of us tried to build a fire for some unknown reason, and the wind spread the fire into the dry grass. The wind was blowing right toward the school building.
We ran as fast as we could and told my dad that some guy we didn't know walked past us and threw down a match. I doubt very much that my dad believed this story, but he called all us kids to start pumping water from the well, and carrying buckets. The school had an old hand pump, and we pumped water like crazy while others carried water in buckets to wet the grass and leaves around the building. It was a close call, but we saved the building. It scared the heck out of us. My dad never mentioned it again, even tho I suspect he did not believe our story about a "stranger".
My dad always managed to have one or two school picnics during the school year. He would let us kids pick out where we wanted to go, and he would do his best to get us there. One time we chose to go to a rock formation at the top of a steep hill that was known locally as "Buzzards Roost". If there were ever any buzzards there, we never saw them. This formation was about a mile east of town, just off a hill they called "Club House Hill", because at one time there was a big club house there. All that was left of it was a foundation, a barn with some stables, all abandoned.
There were fifty or so kids in the school, and my dad had a coupe car. So, he would put as many kids inside as he could, then a couple on the front fenders, then some hanging onto the running boards, then open the trunk lid and have some of us sit in there. Still, it took several trips to transport fifty kids. On one trip, I was riding in the trunk, and he had to drive really slow due to the load, and the bumpy road.
As a joke, I jumped out of the trunk and acted like I was pushing the car. Well, the road got better, and he sped up. I could not get back in the trunk, I could only hang on to the bumper and try to not fall. I did fall. I got all skinned up, and got no sympathy from my dad - he told me I was a bad example. (He told me this several times, on other occasions, too). I shudder to think what some highway patrol would do if he saw a car loaded with kids like that today!
Peanut Butter Eating Contest
My cousin, Bob Lundy, and his family paid us a semi-annual visit during this year. They came to sneer at our poverty and backward style of living. After all, they had running water, a bath room, and electricity - none of which we had. Bob an I got along fairly well, but it was always touch-and-go, as we would get into fights over nothing quite often. However, this visit was going pretty well, and all the parents were gone somewhere, leaving just Bob and me at home. We wanted a snack. We found peanut butter and crackers and went to work on them.
During this snack time, it occurred to us to have a contest to see which of us could hold the most peanut butter in our mouth at one time. We each used spoons, and started cramming. We looked like two chipmunks, and got tickled at one another, and started laughing. Mistake! You can't laugh with a mouth full of peanut butter. You can't get rid of it very fast either. We started choking. We, for an absolute fact, thought we were going to choke to death on that peanut butter. We were both wild-eyed trying to get rid of it and breathe. We both survived, but we learned that peanut butter is much better in small amounts.
During my 8th grade, with my dad as the teacher, there was a program intended to teach us kids some bible verses. (Some refinement, you know). If a kid could recite by heart 500 bible verses during the school year, they were awarded a week in a summer camp. Of course we learned and recited them one at a time, with my dad keeping score - there was no requirement to remember them after the recitation, so at one at a time it could be done. I had no idea what a "summer camp" was, but it sounded like fun, so I started learning bible verses. Yes, I did recite 500 of them, by heart, and yes, I did get to go to summer camp. Try this in public school today and you would have the ACLU, EPA, REA, NAACP, and many other outraged organizations objecting to this.
I won the trip. The problem was, how was I going to hide my smoking habit while in camp? I carefully packed away some sacks of "Dukes" tobacco and my pipe, and off we went. This camp was located somewhere in Southeastern Missouri and I did not know anyone else on the bus that picked us up. On this trip, about half way to the destination, the driver had to stop to get some sleep. He stopped on the Square in some town and parked. There were about 30 other kids on this bus, and most of them were already asleep. Being hungry for a smoke, I sneaked out the door and had a nice pipefull behind the bus where no one could see me. It never occurred to me that the driver might wake up and just take off with me standing there!
At the camp, I had the same problem. All us kids were assigned to small log cabins, with bunk beds, about 6 or 8 of us in each cabin. I would wait until all others were asleep, slip out the door, get behind the cabin, and fire up my pipe. It sure was a lot of trouble trying to smoke in that crowded camp without being found out. Being run by a religious organization of some kind, I was sure that if they caught me, it would be the devil to pay, so to speak. I never got caught, but I never wanted to go to another summer camp again, either. I was ready to go back to where I belonged!