I Remember When . . . .
Great Stories about growing up in the Horntown, Oklahoma area!

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Hard Times

     There were houses built in Oklahoma long before there were any roads. Later, when the counties were surveyed and roads were built on the mile sections, a few such houses were located far from the road. George lived in such a house. Three miles southwest of Horntown, the trail to George's house left the county road and wound down the rocky hillside, eventually crossing a creek bed that was dry for much of the year. The trail continued up the far hill, leaving the rock behind and becoming deep sand. The land on either side of the trail was thickly timbered with scrub oak. Some called them post oak, others called them Black Jack. They were scrawny trees that matched the area. The trail ended a quarter mile from the county road at George's house. It has been at least fifty-five years since I was there, but I can still see it today. There was a roof across the front porch which sagged badly. The porch floor was even worse. Some of the floor boards were rotten, others were missing altogether. As I tiptoed across the porch, I noticed that the porch posts were rotten. I wondered if the roof would fall on me.
    The living room was small. A wood stove took up most of the usable room. There was a sofa/cot//bed, (thing) against the wall. It was made of  used boards on four apple crates. It served as a place to sit during the day and a bed at night. To the left was the lone bedroom. I did not go into that room, but from the door, I could see only one bed. I remember wondering how George, his wife and their children could all sleep in this little house. And the problem grew worse. George's brother-in-law Dave, Dave's wife and their children also lived in this house. I could not understand how that many people could find room to even take a blanket and lay on the floor.
    A black and tan hound lay by the front porch. His back and ribs showed. He looked hungry. A brindle milk cow with large horns roamed around the house. She was rail thin and  looked hungry. I did not see a fence anywhere. There were sandburs and a few blades of grass growing between the scrub oak, but not many. The brindle cow ate the leaves from the low hanging limbs. As poor as she was, she provided milk for the two families. Some years, cottontails were abundant; other years, they were not. Jack rabbits were extremely hard to catch and the big swamp rabbits were far to the south on the Sandy creek bottoms. Very few squirrels lived in the scrub oak. There were always a bunch of little, ragged children playing around the house. They, too, looked hungry.
    Most of the people in our neighborhood didn't know who the house and land belonged to. None of it was worth farming or grazing. Someone said that it might be part of an oil lease that belonged to some rich oil man who lived far away from Hughes county. But that was only a guess. No one knew for sure.
    Neither George nor Dave had a job. Not a regular one, anyway. Sometimes, someone would drive out from Holdenville and pick up George or Dave. They always met at the country road. People were afraid to drive their car down that rocky, wooded trail. The job would last from a few hours to a few days. They sometimes walked the ten miles to Holdenville and stayed there until the job was finished. In such cases, they slept wherever they could. Often on the ground.
    But even those jobs were not always available. Days, weeks and even months went by between such jobs. I recently asked someone who knew them better than I did how,  exactly, did George and Dave feed their children?
    "They carried tow (gunny) sacks", he answered.
    "What does that mean?", I asked.
    "They gathered up things", he said.
    "Like what?"
    He explained to me that they daily walked the country gathering up anything they could eat, sell, burn or use.
    I could not imagine anyone so poor. They were the only people I had ever known who were poorer than we were. It is undeniable that one of the reasons for their poverty was that they were black.
    They were friendly, likable people. Everyone said they were excellent workers. But opportunity was not as available to them as it was to others. Opportunities were extremely scarce for everyone at that time, but opportunities were nonexistent for George and Dave. I do not recall any racial bias. No one ever criticized them. But things were this way because...well...because that's the way things were. It was tradition. A bad tradition.
    It was sometimes said that some of the things George gathered up along the road were perhaps across the fence from the road. Someone said they had been up and down those roads for fifty years and had never found twenty-five ears of corn lined up in the road. Someone else suggested that they had never found a nice, ripe cantaloupe laying in the road either. But no one knew for sure from which side of the fence these things were found.
    Having been raised in a strict fundamentalist Baptist home, these remarks troubled me. I asked my father about this.     He said, "Son, you have to realize that the man's children are hungry."
    "But you would never take something that didn't belong to you, no matter what," I said.
    "Yes", he replied, "If my children were hungry, I probably would."
    I was stunned. My Father was the most strict moralist I knew.
    "Never judge a man until you fully understand his circumstances," he said. "And only God fully knows their circumstances."
    And then the brindle cow died.
    George had an old Model A ford, though it was rarely used. At nineteen cents per gallon, gas was too expensive. It was cheaper to walk to Holdenville. But on this Saturday morning, George cleaned out the trash, put water in the radiator and got several family members to push him down the hill. He let out on the clutch and on the second or third try, the car started. The Model A bounced almost violently over the rocks in the trail.  Once on the county road, the going was easier. When he reached the 270 highway, he sailed on toward Holdenville at a brisk thirty miles per hour.
    The Hughes County sale barn was a beehive of activity each Saturday morning. It did not take long for George to find what he was looking for. The little jersey cow had a gentle, dished face, horns curved over her head and had recently freshened. She was carrying milk.
    She was too skinny for the packers, all bones and belly. Showing some age, no one wanted to take her home as a milk cow. She was a small cow, but that was an advantage for George.
    Most people still agree that George was the only one to bid on the jersey. Some say he bid ten dollars. Others say he only bid seven fifty. Everyone agrees that his was the first, last and only bid on the little cow.
    George got a piece of worn out well rope from the Model A and tied it around the jersey horns. She led as obediently as any old work horse. He took her to the model A. He had already removed the back seat. He opened both doors and ran the rope through the car. People standing by and watching the show, quickly volunteered to help. One man pulled on the rope while George and another man put their shoulders to her hips and pushed.
    She went in pretty well until she was in to her stomach. But they pushed, shoved and twisted until even that was inside the Model A. But it soon became apparent that the whole cow would not fit in the back of the car.
    The passenger side door was closed and the rope passed through the window. With more pushing, shoving and grunting, soon the cow was in the car. The driver's side door was forced closed. The cow was obviously in some discomfort, so George jumped into the car, several people pushed him through the parking lot until the motor started, and George headed back east toward Horntown.
    There is some disagreement today about whether the jersey's head was doubled back into the front seat or whether her head was out the window. A neighbor who lived near George recently told me that the cow's head was definitely out the passenger side window. At least that's the way she was when she came by our house, he said.
    The cow reportedly lived several more years providing milk and meat for the two families. She always seemed to annually have a good calf that looked a lot like Elmer Lankford's Hereford bull. That was difficult for some to understand since, as far as everyone knew, she was never exposed to any bull. Someone suggested that she might have had some help getting through the fence late at night. Who knows?
    This whole matter was troubling to me as I wrestled with conscience and compassion. It is troubling for a young child to be taught one thing and see something different being practiced. I often wondered, if the needs of these two families were so dire that they used compromising methods to feed themselves, should it not have been the responsibility of everyone in the Horntown community to help them?
    My mother was, perhaps, the wisest person I have known. On several occasions I asked her about this. No matter how busy she was, she always stopped, dried her hands on her apron, faced me, looked me in the eye and always recited the same answer.
    "There is so much good in the worst of us,
     And so much bad in the best of us,
     That it ill behooves any of us,
     To talk about the rest of us.

     Right on, Mama.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954 (Clayton attended Moss 1942-53 and graduated from Holdenville - 1954)

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