A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Mother's Story
by Gordon Eskridge (Nov 2012)

July 14, 1929, and at 6 p. m. it was still about 100 degrees hot. At ten years old I was a skinny girl with light blue eyes and dark brown pigtails. I was dressed like every other kid in Hartshorne in my feed sack tee shirt, hand-me-down fading blue bib overalls with the cuffs rolled up to my knees, white socks and brown high top shoes. I had just run out on to the side porch of the house with the screen door slamming shut behind me, when my grandmother, Margaret Ridge, known to one and all as “Mammy,” was sitting in a chair on the porch hollered out, “Hey, there sis, stop right there, and go back and shut that door quietly.” Mammy was as big around as she was tall, four foot eight inches, and chewed snuff, so her kisses always smelled like tobacco. “Yes Mam,” I said, and I returned to the screen door opened and shut it as quietly as I could.

Swirl tap, swirl tap, Mammy was churning cream skimmed from the milk my folks got from our cow this morning using a wooden pole about half the length of a broom handle and with a wooden “X” attached to the bottom. The churn was a cylinder shaped crock with a removable lid with a round hole in the center. The pole was churned up and down, and turned around and around through the cold cream and we would soon have fresh butter for dinner.

I ran toward the edge of the porch and Mammy looked up in time to see me flying through the air with arms outstretched jumping off the porch. It was only about three feet off the ground. When I landed with a crunch on the gravel sidewalk I continued to run with my arms outstretched, but now they were pumping up and down to fly like a bird. Mammy called out, “Child, you best not jump off the porch like that you might break something.” I laughed and hollered out, “Yes Mam,” and hurried on toward the back yard.

The house had been cool and the covered porch had shade in the afternoon with a breeze blowing over it, but out here, the sun beat down on you like a hot wet blanket so I quit running and quickly came to a walk. I ducked under the clothes line that stretched across the back yard from the garage to the maple tree, with a board stuck upright in the middle to keep the clothes off the ground. I walked past this side of the garage, with its doors leading to the coal and tool storage rooms. I was watching my shadow leading the way and it always took a step when I did. I rounded the corner of the garage and stepping into its shade, and say, would you look at that, my shadow has disappeared.

Hearing a faint noise from above, I looked up and saw my sister Gertrude hanging upside down from the limb of a sand plum tree. Sand plums are cherry sized, and dark pink when ripe. They are a great favorite of our family. Sand plums are harvested in June and make great homemade jelly or jam.

“Gertrude, mom said to get out of that tree and get ready for dinner, Daddy will be home soon.” Doing a back drop off the limb she landed on her feet and the dust erupted from the ground where her feet hit. “I thought mom told you to water those trees.” Gertrude responded,” I was just getting one of the last sand plums on this tree and it tasted great. While I was eating it, I dreamed that I was on a trapeze in a circus swinging back and forth.” Well you had better turn the sprinkler on when we get to the faucet or we won’t have any sand plums next year.”

After turning on the water, we ran to the porch and hopped up the three steps like bunnies. Hopping past the porch swing we waved at Mammy and opening the screen door dashed into the kitchen. Mother looked up from the stove where she was stirring something in a pot and said, “You girls, get your face and hands washed for dinner, daddy will be home soon.” “Yes mom,” we said in unison.

Our father would be coming home from his Mobile Oil Filling Station. It had a huge round white sign out front that said Mobile Oil with a picture of the flying Red Pegasus Horse on it. Daddy and his brother, Charles B. Bookout owned the station and auto repair shop. Sometimes they would let me pump the gasoline up into the glass bowl on top of the pump and then let it drain down the hose into the tank of the my Uncle Bob’s brand new 1929 Model “A” Ford.

While Mother was cooking dinner, my sister Ruth and the other girls were setting the tables. One table was for the adults and one was for the children. My Grandfather Thomas Alfred Ridge and my Uncle Bob Bookout were sitting in the central room of the house in front of an oscillating fan trying to stay cool talking about old times. My Sister Jewel who was thirteen years older than me was in the spare bedroom to my left sewing something on the Singer treadle sewing machine.

My father honked the horn of his car when he arrived home, and Gertrude and I ran out to the garage and opened its two doors and watched as father drive his four door Buick into the garage. When, daddy came out of the garage, he stood tall, over six feet, slender with strong hands and arms. He was dressed in his gray short billed mining cap that covered his blond hair and shaded his light blue eyes. He wore long sleeve overalls with the sleeves rolled up, brown high top shoes, and he was carrying his lunch pail with one hand and a block of ice held with ice tongs in the other.

We closed the garage doors behind him. He smiled and said, “Thanks, Girls”, and setting his lunch pail down he would tousle our hair or give us a little hug. After that Gertrude picked up his lunch pail and carried it into the house, where father put the ice in the ice box, turning around he leaned over and picked up mother who was standing behind him waiting. She was four feet eight inches tall and weighed about one hundred pounds; he greeted her with a great big hug and a kiss.

She protested, “Put me down, John, the girls are watching.” Daddy, laughed and set her down where she straightened her dress with a blush and a big smile on her face and she walked back to the stove, pushing her hair back into place. Daddy turned around with a snort and went to the kitchen sink where he washed his hands while he told her that he would go out and milk the cow. We asked “Can we go with you Daddy?” And he said with a smile, “Sure, you girls will be a big help.”

He crossed the room and picked up the milk pails from behind the door of the kitchen and headed out to the barn with Gertrude, Ruth, the sister of ours who was between Gertrude and me in age, tagging along behind him. As we came out of the hot bright sun light entering the cool shade of the barn, we could smell the hay and hear the chickens cackling nearby. Bessie, the Jersey cow was tan and white and smelled like a cow, a little like leather, dusty hay and barn yard. She was a good milk cow and very gentle. Daddy filled the cow’s food bucket half full of cow feed and poured it into the trough for the cow that was already standing there in her stall waiting patiently.

He patted Bessie’s side and neck and talked to her, she looked back to make sure it was him and shook her head as if to say ok. Then he brushed her back and lifted up my sister Ruth and sat her on Bessie’s back. He placed a large shallow pan on the floor for the cats. Picked up the milking stool and placed it beside the cow and the milk pale under her. By the time he had set down on the milking stool both of the barn cats had shown up mewing. So while the cow fed, he reminded us how to milk the cow. Having washed and rinsed off the cow’s udder then he dried it with the clean red bandana he always kept in his right hand hip pocket. He had me change places with him and grip two of the teats on the cows utter and alternating squeezing them gently pulling down squirted some of the warm sweet smelling milk from the cow in to the milk pail.

When I had about a quart of milk in the pail he had me stop and he poured the milk into the anxiously awaiting cat’s pan. Then he allowed Gertrude to have a turn milking the cow while I took Ruth’s place on Bessie’s back. After we had each had a turn milking and sitting on the cow, he finished the milking. We helped him carry the sweet smelling, warm milk with its light golden cream floating to the top while walking on the way up to the house.

The cats followed us all the way to the house walking on their tip toes mewing for more milk. The cats left us near the porch of the house and returned toward the barn. We arrived at the kitchen, then holding the screen door open for dad, we were greeted by the smell of warm fresh baked bread, apple pie and other great smells of the dinner to come. Daddy set the milk in the ice box then Daddy, Gertrude, Ruth and I washed our hands with homemade lye soap at the kitchen sink and dried our hands on the feed sack kitchen towel.

The table in the dining room could seat ten people and the adults and older children would sit there while the younger children would sit in the kitchen at a folding table. After the food was set on the dining room table the family was called to the dining room where father said the blessing on the food and the family. The younger children’s plates were filled and they returned to the kitchen table and chairs to eat.

After dinner the older children helped clear off the table and the men moved to the side porch where they all took turns turning the handle on the ice cream freezer. I made sure the hole near the top in the side of the wooden bucket was kept open with a stick to allow the salty water to escape so that it would not backup into the ice cream. We would periodically add more ice and salt to the bucket until the handle was too hard to crank and then we knew the ice cream was ready to eat.

Father removed the crank and then pulled the metal mixing bucket from the ice bucket and took it into the house where the dasher was removed from the ice cream. While the adults were getting desert ready in the kitchen the rest of the family moved out onto the porch and soon we were all eating hot homemade apple pie with cold vanilla ice cream on top. It was great.

The sun had gone down and the ladies returned to the kitchen to finish the dishes. The men pulled out their cigarettes and sat on the chairs or the porch swing to talk and smoke. We kids ran around in the yard chasing lightening bugs and collecting some of them in glass jars. Soon we were tired and mom called us in to take our baths and get ready for bed. We crawled in bed and had just been told for the third time to “Quit talking and go to sleep,” so we turned over facing away from each other and went to sleep.

The community of Hartshorne was named for Dr. Charles Hartshorne the railroad official that built Hartshorne, Oklahoma. The town is in Pittsburg County, and was the home to 2500 people. It is located fifteen miles east of the county seat, McAlester, Oklahoma

During the time that McAlester was experiencing a coal mining boom, Hartshorne became a major economic force in the area. With abundant coal in the region, and easy transportation through a trolley system to McAlester, Hartshorne was both a vibrant and ever-expanding community of immigrants. In fact, Hartshorne could boast of the largest and best equipped coal mine in the state of Oklahoma. The Rock Island No. 8 featured advancements in the coal mining process that had never been seen before.

As coal mines opened in the mid-nineteenth century, mine operators recruited immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, and other countries to the area. Workers had to be imported because the local Indians would not work underground. The coal mines brought the four Bookout brothers to Hartshorne, John Marion, Richard, George Robert and Charles B. Bookout.

By 1902 electric lights were furnished to the town by Westinghouse. The Jones Indian Academy located five mile north east of town was lighted with incandescent lamps and heated by steam switched to electricity. Two distinct cultures co-existed in Hartshorne. While one group boasted of the heritage of European nations, the other heralded a heritage of the Choctaw Indian Nation and their African slaves. Each group had its own lawyer, police officer, youth clubs, eateries and was essentially self-sufficient.

The first school opened in Hartshorne was a one room log house, and in 1897 the town built a four-room school. In 1909 Hartshorne upgraded to a three-story, brick school building, with a full basement.

When summer was nearly over and fall was fast approaching, we girls went to school in the three story brick school house down town. The Bookout girls all wore starched white pinafores. Johnnye who was four years old was at home. Tommie was in the second grade and I was in the fifth grade, Ruth was in the ninth grade and Gertrude was a junior in high school.

Ruth reminded me that when she was in the fifth grade she had purchased a Fudge Sickle at lunch time and wanted to save it for later so she stuck it in her desk. About a half hour later when she opened her desk to get the fudge cycle it had melted all over her papers so she wiped them off with her white pinafore. When she got home Mother had made her hand wash her pinafore until the fudge stain was gone then Iron it.

Because Ruth was now in high school she often went around the house singing the high school song over and over.

Cheer, Cheer For Ol' Hartshorne High
Give Three Cheers For Ol' Hartshorne High
Loyal, Faithful, Brave And True
We'll Always Be In Love With You
You Taught Us Wisdom We'll Ne'er Forget
Year After Year We'll Still Love You Yet
You'll Always Be Our Ideal School
So, Rah Rah For Hartshorne High!

The baseball, basketball, and football teams were small but mighty and their mascot was the Miner. We knew all the players, which made the games more personal and so we went to many of the games.

After Ruth graduated high school she went to the Wright’s Business school in Oklahoma City to become a secretary where she met John Haws and in 1936 she married him and they moved to Tulsa.

After I graduated from High school in 1937 there was three major jobs for women at that time, you could be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse. I moved to Oklahoma City to go to Saint Anthony’s nursing school. Mrs. F. M. Beaty was Superintendent at the time.


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