Editor’s Note: Julie at the Ranch is, as we speak, somewhere in northwestern Oklahoma enjoying some time with friends. Incidentally, she and I will be driving to south-central and northwestern Oklahoma tomorrow. We’ll check in from time to time with information about what we found. We’ll be talking to people, seeing places, and working on developing the RDC just a bit more. In the meantime, please accept this post as a substitute for her regular, “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch” work. ~ RDK
On November 13th of this year, I posted a short “Simple Sabbath” entry and described a project I had been working on for a while. It entailed typing up my grandmother’s handwritten memoirs she recorded over a period of about twenty-two years in order for us to have a sense of our family history from her perspective. I finished the first draft and provided her a spiral-bound copy for a Christmas present. She will be reviewing the draft for any inaccuracies and then I’m going to go over it with an editorial eye for the final draft. I asked her permission to begin sharing some of her memories with you, our RDC reading community, and she replied, “Oh yes, of course, honey. That’s fine.”
And so, with that permission tucked away in my head, here is the beginning entry of her work. I plan on publishing an excerpt on Tuesday evenings as a follow up to Julie’s posts. I haven’t decided whether or not they will come out weekly or bi-weekly. One more note…my grandmother wrote just like she talked. I may keep much of this style intact, so if you see very few periods or commas, you’ll understand why. Thanks, Kelly
One Voice of the Oklahoma Prairie: My Grandmother’s Memoirs
Chapter 1 – Grandmother’s Earliest Memories, Just Prior to the Depression
The Life of Emma Lee Coward Bomgardner Bennett
I was born March 27, 1922 to Edward Reeder Coward and Bessie (Crouch) Coward a mile east, a half north of Tuttle, Ok. I guess you would call me the middle child; there were three brothers and one sister – older, then two sisters, a brother and I – younger. We didn’t have much material wealth, but a lot of parental love and care; they were concerned about our well-being and moral guidance. Being a large family we spent many hours playing together making our own amusement and using our imagination. I want to jot down a few happenings in my life that I can remember of my early years up to now at the age of sixty-six (1988).
When we lived east of Tuttle, I guess we lived there until I was past three years old, I can’t remember the exact time. Mom hitched up our horse to the buggy. We were going to our grandparents’ house, Sherman and Atlanta Crouch. They lived one half mile north and two miles west of us. When reaching within a fourth mile of my grandparents’ we had to cross a bridge against which the horse balked to cross. I can still remember how frightened I was! I guess Mom finally coaxed it across, I can’t remember that part.
I look back and wonder how mom ever managed to sew, cook and take care of us all. One time I remember my brother Charles, sister Mary Elizabeth and I going to the cotton field with Mom. We being the younger ones at that time, she had to take us along because we couldn’t stay at the house; don’t know where the older children were unless they were picking cotton too or [at] school. We would set on Mom’s cotton sack, then she would pull us up and down the rows as she picked; guess we didn’t ride there all the time because we had a big tub in the field for Mary Elizabeth to set in and we were to look after her. It began to rain. My brother Charles and I had to carry her to the house since mom had to help cover up the cotton so it wouldn’t get wet. (As she could best calculate, she and her brother were only just over three and four or five years old at the time – K)
While we lived there (Tuttle) I had the mumps while it was blackberry season. I liked berries so well would eat them and cry because it hurt my jaws.
My Dad sold Rawleigh goods, all kinds of spices, salves & etc; my parents thought there were no better products. He had a Model T Ford truck fixed with a trunk on the back to carry them in.
About the year 1925 or 26 we moved to Bethany, Ok. There papa operated a feed store, gas station and ice dock. Kept him quite busy; by that time the two older boys were big enough to help some. One time a gypsy family drove in for gas. I was sitting in the swing. My sister Catherine told me they were gypsies. I didn’t know what that was but I was frightened so ran in the house and looked out the screen door to watch them.
One day my brother Charles got a quarter out of the box where my parents kept their money for the business. We walked to the grocery store, probably a block up the street. He bought a quarter’s worth of peanut butter kisses! We went over behind the interurban track, (an interurban is sorta like a trolley car runs on a track with an electric wire above and a connection on top to make it run), we ate all of the candy we could hold, and threw the rest away. In the meantime the man at the grocery store called Mom to say we had bought a quarters worth of candy which was a great deal in those days. When we came in Mom wanted to know where the candy was; we told her so we had to go pick it all up and take it home.
We had a neighbor by the name of Mrs. Bales. She took quite a liking and interest in my sister Mary and me. She would fix food for us put it on a chair and let us eat it standing by the chair. One particular time she had made a chocolate cake; I can still remember how good it was. (Catherine said Mom was pregnant with Willa May couldn’t help with the business).
I don’t know why but my Dad decided to sell out and move to a town about twelve miles south of Enid, Okla. I don’t believe we were at Bethany more than a year and a half. I know we lived in Waukomis in March of 1927 because there my sister Willa May was born; there was snow on the ground. My Dad sold Rawleigh goods while we were there. My oldest brother Ashton had scarlet fever so we were quarantined. I still remember the red sign over our door; no one was to come in.
My Dad lived in the garage so he could go on with his work. [His place of work] was at Waukomis. I started to school; went two years there.
We had cousins at Lahoma, Ok. who we looked forward to playing with; they were children of Uncle Herman and Aunt Edna Coward, a brother of papa’s. They lived on the farm. We loved to go there to play; they had horses to ride. We girls like to play house in the silo. Aunt Edna could make the best ice cream and fried chicken; they even had water in the house! It was rainwater from a cistern; they had a pitcher pump on the cabinet by the sink. It was fun to pump water that way. Uncle Herman’s boys were regular horseback riders. One time we were there [when] one of the boys fell off, a horse stepped on his head they rushed him to the doctor, guess he wasn’t hurt too bad but we were all scared.
Mom and Pop would go to Enid to the Kress store and shopping at Penney’s. We children stayed home; we could hardly wait until they returned because they always brought us candy, nearly always corn candy, peanut butter kisses, or chocolate kisses. Grandpa Coward had us spoiled too. He lived at Fairview, Ok. [He] would come to see us in a Model T Ford one seated car. If he didn’t bring the candy in when he came, he would go out to his car to “see if he brought us any.” I never knew my grandmother Coward; she was a midwife and she passed away in 1920 at Fairview, Ok. Grandpa was a jailer there. I can remember him taking us to the jail with the bars; I was frightened to see the prisoners.
One highlight was to get to go around the Rawleigh route with papa; we got to take our lunch and eat with him. He only took one of us one at a time so we were made special. He always had a stick of gum to give the children on the route. Times started to get harder; it was nearing the depression years of 1929 and 30. The customers didn’t have money to pay for their Rawleigh goods. Papa would take anything that was given him. One woman gave him a gasoline cook stove; Mom was afraid to use it thought it would blow up.
I’ll stop here. I toyed with the idea of enhancing my grandmother’s narrative, but I think it’s better to leave the story in its current form. I could add adjectives and craft transitions…however, my “flesh on the bones” might not be hers. And, this way you can take what you wish of her story and connect it with what you wish of your own…or of a newly constructed narrative of “one voice on the Oklahoma prairie.” Until next time, Red Dirt Kelly
1/16/11 Note: Check for all the posts using THIS LINK.