Thursday, January 28, 2010

Makin’ Do in Hard Times

Spittin’ & Whittlin’
Years ago, sitting in front of the court house on a bench always assembled a unique group of old men.  My dad once called them the Spitn’& Whittlin’ Club.  As a kid, I always thought it would be a great life just to sit on the square, whittle at a bench, and talk.  It seemed the easy life.  These men, donned in faded overalls, were usually chewing Kentucky Twist tobacco with a sharp knife in hand; they were slowly and methodically carving & shaving small pieces of cedar and pine.  Every so often, on a Saturday, we would stop by for small conversation.  One time my dad asked the club what they were talking about.  An old-timer spat his tobacco juice in a marvelous & perfect stream to the side and chuckled, “Hard times, J.R. hard times…but good uns.”  I would ask their names, but sadly today, I can only remember a few.  Though many of  the men now may be nameless, these clubs were prolific throughout the Ozarks.  As I look back on those days, they were a part of the “Keepers of the Flame” – the traditions & stories – just as my elders were.  There are times I look back with regret and angst because so many of those stories have passed on the other side of this world.  Nevertheless, they will be renewed someday when we are gathered with the ones who have gone on before us.

Makin’ Do
Hard times come and go, but they give opportunity to humble and strengthen or crush & devastate the ones on its' path.  I have heard many stories about the Great Depression and how people in the Ozarks got by.

Recently, I was visiting with my Uncle Sie & Aunt Phyllis, and they brought out a relic that evoked stories I’ve heard that recalled past stories.  These were about the days of rationing.
Everyone had their book, and everyone received their ration of stamps.  Hearing stories of hard times in the past, I’ll admit, it is possible to become callus to the past crisis.  The best story I’ve ever heard was the collection of stray cats in the Ozarks to sell to the Army for testing.  More common were the occasions of scouring the country side and looking for scrap metal to sell for the war effort; it was not for esthetic beauty, environmental quality, or political correctness.  It was a necessity in order to make ends to meet.  Yet, when I picked up and held this War Rationing Book, the realization became all the more clear while looking at the stamps for daily sustenance of bread & fruit.
These are some of the remnants of hard times.

Under the Bed
When I was young, once a month my dad and I would take my Granny Anderson to town to pick up her monthly ration of commodities.  She would get her cheese, peanut butter, and other necessities in a box and take them home.  While driving to town, Granny was always concerned about procuring her cheese. I would always chide in with her because that commodity cheese was a wonderful snack with soda crackers.

Granny always had a special stash where she kept her extra commodities hidden, but the whole family knew it was slid under the bed in the third bedroom.  I remember peaking under the white bedspread many times and spying the canned goods of peaches & pears dressed in the plain tin cans with white labels.

Granny always kept this stash for just in case of hard times.  On many a hot summer afternoons, Granny and I would sit on the front porch swat flies and wait for a breeze while she would talk about the Depression and makin’ do.  One time she told me she knew some of her kids may chuckle at her keeping extra commodities, but she wanted to keep them for anyone in the family…just in case… of hard times.

Tough Ol’ Knot
This is an expression I have heard people use when talking about the resilience of character and stamina of the people in the Ozarks who make it day after day.  They didn’t give up.  The Great Depression made an indelible mark on the mind of the people who lived in the Ozarks because it lingered so long after the economy came back.  One reason is the remoteness isolated its’ populace; yet, this remoteness forged temperament & disposition that made people tough.  If they were going to make it, they could not be lazy or a sissy.  They were just like a piece of old blackjack oak or hickory full of knots at the wood pile. They’re tough to split.  They held together.  A Tough Ol’ Knot

As I look back, I can see two things that brought and held this cohesion.

Faith & Family.

They had a personal faith knowing God was ever conscience of their circumstances, and He would see them through.

There was fidelity in family because we were always there for each other.

Over the years, as many of my generation are grown and moved  from Ozark County, I have seen faith and fidelity tested.  Yet, on occasions, it is always comforting to see an aunt, uncle, or cousin and know we have a still have a special heritage that makes us a part of...the Ozarks’ History.

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