Old Mack’s Tales

March 13, 2008

Why’d we leave Oklahoma, Ma?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 7:17 pm
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“It’s a long story,” She said the first time I asked.

For many years that question was stuck in the back of my mind, unanswered.  I’d asked each of Ma’s sisters the question; they’d shooed me out of their kitchens, told me to go milk their cow or feed the chickens.  All of the sisters knew the answer, but none would tell me.  After a while I quit asking, assuming there was something about our leaving they’d sooner forget.

I finally got my answer in 1990, while pumping Enfamil from a syringe into the nasal tubes going into Ma’s stomach; the tumor in her throat prevented her from swallowing, yet she was still able to talk.

“First off, your father quit the Army.  He got discharged over at Fort Sill.  Times were hard.  So we hitched to North Carolina, up in the mountains where his people live.  No jobs there either, but Claude and his brother, Jim, went up with the CCC to make trails and build a cabin on what they called ‘The Appalachian Trail.”  Meanwhile, Jim’s wife Virgie and I hiked round to cabins in some very remote places to teach grownups to read and write; I loved Virgie and it was fun to go off with her and meet those people.  But I was pregnant with you, and it got to be a chore.  Sissy stayed down at Granny Laura’s cabin all that time.

“Your Granny was the sorriest cook I’ve ever known.  That woman put a handful of hog lard in everything she cooked.  I nearly gagged on her cooking.  So one day, while she was up at the corn crib, I cooked up a mess of butter beans with a ham hock.  You know how I love butter beans the way I cook ‘em.  Well, that old biddy came in and scooped a handful of rancid lard in my pot of beans.  That was the last straw, son.  I took you kids and hitch hiked back to Marlow, back to Papa Calhoun’s.

“The hard times were there in Oklahoma too.  But on top of that there was the drought.  Papa Calhoun was down with dust pneumonia, and Momma Calhoun was beside herself, worrying about Papa—his sons. . .well, they were kind of nasty towards Momma, but that’s another story.

“You were born, just like Sissy.  Doc Barnes delivered you too.  I couldn’t pay him.  I didn’t have a red cent to my name.  I still owed him a dollar for delivering Sissy, so he refused to make out a birth certificate on you until he got his money.  Funny how Doc Barnes had changed in so short a time; it was the Depression, I’m sure; it affected everybody, even the nicest folks.  Doc Barnes died and never collected what I owed him, in case you’re wondering why you have no birth certificate, honey.

“Well, your father came traipsing in, about a month after you were born.  He’d been to Detroit looking for work, hadn’t found any, so he rode the freight trains back to Marlow.  He had a bit of money, not much.

“We chewed grit in every mouthful of food we ate.  Dirt storms were terrible.  Dust sifted through hairline cracks round the windows and doors; it covered everything.  You can’t even imagine it, honey.

“A man from Kansas had been out buying up cars at the auctions from farmers going broke.  He had ten cars.  He had them hooked together in pairs with tow chains and he was looking for people to drive them out to Los Angeles for him.  Your daddy paid him ten dollars so we could drive a pair of his cars in a convoy.  Claude drove the tow car; I steered the one being towed.  You and Sissy rode with me.  Most of the way the roads were dirt and the dust wasn’t much better than what we’d left.  But it was kind of fun in a way.

“We’d all pull off the road in some pasture at night and just like the Pioneers we’d circle those cars and build a bonfire in the center of the circle to cook on.  God knows we ate a lot of rabbits and prairie chickens on that trip.  You were still nursing, but Sissy had to eat what we had.  That’s probably why she hated bologna sandwiches when she started carrying her lunch to school; light bread and bologna is mostly what we ate when we were on the road.

“Your father got a Mexican to drive the towed car when we got to my sister Sylvia’s house in Redlands, because that’s where we got out.

“That fellow who owned those cars tried to charge Mack for something, and I reckon he got nasty about it.  Mack slugged him and nearly killed the man.  So the first thing we did, after he got back to Redlands, was to climb into Dale Wright’s hay truck and skedaddle up to Tracy.

“Truth is, the Santa Anna winds blowing across the desert ain’t much better than the dirt storms we left behind.”




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