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Family: HENDERSON Moses Uriah / SCOTT Clara Mae

m. 1907


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Life as a Child of Mose and Clara Henderson

Stories of growing up as the daughter of Clara and Mose Henderson, by their daughter Betty J. Hunt.

Note: Betty J. Hunt, one of 12 children born to Mose and Clara Henderson, recalls life in the early 1900's in Oklahoma. Forget the Dust Bowl and the Grapes of Wrath. This refreshingly happy Oklahoma family not only survived, they thrived.

Life as a Child of Mose and Clara Henderson

By Betty J. Hunt, their Daughter

Dad and my brothers hunted all year but we didn't eat rabbits or squirrel much in the summer because of some disease that was more prevalent among them then. I think all of us kids built and baited rabbit traps in the winter, fall and spring. Not many of us escaped the misery of catching a skunk instead, and not finding out until we had a handful of him. However, it was something you did only once.

The choice meat of summer was fried chicken, which stirs my memory of the unpleasant ritual we had to go through just to get to the good part. First, Dad or one of the boys had to choose which chickens and decide on the method of their demise. Then Mom would delegate one of us kids to dip, scald and pluck the unlucky birds. I always hated that job because the smell of scalded feathers usually killed my appetite, at least until I would get a whiff of the finished product in the frying pan.

We never had any reservations about eating what we raised on the farm because we were never allowed to make pets of any of the animals. The farm was nothing more than our grocery store. Unlike supermarkets of today, where everything is wrapped in plastic, paper or foil, our products were wrapped differently. Chickens were wrapped in feathers, pigs in pig skin, beef in leather, and rabbits in fur. No illusions, ever … if we didn't eat those things, we would go hungry. There was one exception to all that for me, just once.

I rescued a small red baby chick after I had accidentally stepped on it and broken its leg. My brothers, Jerrel and A. B., cut off the leg and bandaged the stump. Surprisingly, the chick survived the ordeal and I was allowed to keep it as long as I understood that I was responsible for its care. I named it Little Crip (for obvious reasons). Since he could not hop up onto the roost in the chicken house, I would go out each night and put him there.

One night in the cold of December I forgot. I had the lead role in our school Christmas play and just got so caught up in my "acting debut" that I rushed off to the schoolhouse with never a thought of Little Crip. We found him the next morning, on the floor of the chicken coop, frozen to death.

My brothers tried to lighten the moment by teasing me, saying we would have baked chicken for supper. But when they realized how badly I felt, they helped in making his "casket" and all were there for the service, adding their own shiny trinkets to help decorate the grave. That was my last, and only, personal involvement with the farm animals.

Milking It For All It's Worth

Probably the single most important food we had to rely on was milk. Twice a day, Dad and one of us kids would milk the cows and bring the milk in to Mom. She would strain it through soft white cloths, usually twice, to remove any and all contaminants. It was strained into gallon-size crockery bowls. By the time we were ready to use it, the thick yellow cream would be skimmed off the top. Our own version of 2% or 1% milk would be determined by how much of the cream was left to be stirred into the milk.

The cream was left in the crockery churn until it soured just enough to make butter. Mom also made cottage cheese by letting the milk sour until it clodded, then putting it in a white cloth bag and hanging it outside. Just enough moisture would drip through the bag to leave a nice curdly cottage cheese. Our butter was made in a big crockery churn with a wooden dasher at the end of a broom sized plunger.

I can remember that it took longer to reach the "turning point" for butter in the winter than in the summer. After it turned and gathered we washed it with cool water, salted it, and stuffed it into a wooden press which had pretty flowers carved into the end pieces. During the winter months we produced enough beautiful squares of bright yellow butter to sell in town. That, along with any extra eggs, helped Mom contribute to our money fund, which we needed for things we could not raise.

Nothing ever tasted better with real churned butter than the hot, fresh corn bread we had almost every day for supper. Sometimes, that and milk was all we had, but it never ceased to be a treat. Mom's corn bread was always crisp and crunchy on the bottom with a soft moist center that drank up the melting butter.

My folks were very proud as were most farm people in those times. Once I was sent to a neighbor's place about two miles away with a gallon bucket of milk, because Mom had found out one of their milk cows had gone dry and they didn't have much milk for their large family. She told me to be sure to say that we were only sending milk because we had more than we could use and would have to feed it to the pigs if they couldn't use it.

On the way, I decided to try the trick my brother, Jerrel, had shown me on how to swing a container around overhead real fast and what's inside won't come out. Centrifugal force is supposed to hold the contents inside.

Well, everything went fine until I stumbled over my own feet and spilled all the milk - and some of my tears as well. After much thought and considerable concern about what Mom's response to my little game of trickery would be, I decided to go about replacing the milk. I went to another neighbor (two more miles away) and pleaded for some milk for my own poor needy family.

The neighbor could spare only about two thirds of a gallon, so I thanked her and headed towards my original destination, making a stop at the schoolhouse pump to add almost a third of a bucket of water to the donated milk. Once it was delivered, I returned home on a dead run. I must have covered at least six miles on my errand of mercy. I was so tired that night I could hardly wait for bedtime.

What Caused It?

Most of our time spent indoors was pleasant, since Dad did not allow us to be rowdy in the house, and especially during meals. But Jerrel used to delight in making me laugh at his crazy antics while we were eating, though never where, or when, Dad could see him. Then, I'd get sent away from the table.

We spent a lot of time around the big oak table in the kitchen for all our meals, to do homework, talk about our problems, tease, laugh, cry, or just be together. The kitchen table was the focal point for all of us, maybe because it was the very thing that brought us all together at least three times a day.

I especially remember one time when all of us were sitting around the table and my brother, Herbert, looked over at Mom and sort of snickered, saying, "Mom, how come you had all us kids, anyhow? Didn't anybody ever tell you what causes that?"

Dad pushed his chair out to get up, but Mom held him back as she pointedly answered Herbert's accusing question. "Well son, I did choose to have each and every one of you. Which one of you would you not have had me have? You, maybe?"

There was silence for only a little while until Herbert apologized to Mom, got up and gave her a big kiss.

Mom laughed and said, "It never seemed like too many to me until all of you started eating more than I can cook. Now, I'm not so sure."

Dad smiled and said, "I know what you mean. Look at them. Every time their elbows bend, their mouths fly open. Maybe we should put splints on their arms to slow them down some."

All of us laughed and Mom's fertility was never questioned by any of us ever again.

Swimming Lesson

One of the most important things we had was the cellar. It not only protected our food, but was also our only form of insurance. With the threat of tornadoes ever present, we knew that Mom was going to drag each and every one of us into that damp, smelly, earthen cellar every time storm clouds appeared within viewing range.

The boys especially would complain and try to get out of going into the "spider pit" as they called it. We always remained there until Mom was sure all danger was over. There was one bed, some benches, and of course a kerosene lamp. Once the door was closed, it was dark and scary. You could hear the wind, rain or hail bouncing on the tin covering of the door. But, never in my entire life in that part of Oklahoma, was I ever in a tornado or even near one.

I do remember one time when the sudden appearance of storm clouds caused me to get one of the very few "leg switchings" I ever got from my Mother. She had given me permission to take my little sister, Marie, and little brother, Delbert, with me to visit my girlfriend on a neighboring farm. Her last words to me were "Do not go swimming in their cow pond." I agreed to that, thinking all I wanted to do was play, anyhow.

We were playing in the field near the pond and it was very, very hot. "Let's go swimming for a while," said my girlfriend. "I'm burning up."

I explained that I had promised my Mother not to go swimming and besides, we didn't have any bathing suits.

She solved all my worries by saying, "Well, we won't swim. We'll just play in the water. We can even go in in our clothes. The sun is so hot, they'll dry before you have to go home."

It all sounded good to me, but … once you practice to deceive … as the old saying goes. After only about an hour of "not swimming" in the cow pond, a big storm cloud came up, then many storm clouds, and the nice hot drying sun was gone, and I knew Mom was walking the yard watching for us to get home so all her children could go to the cellar. We were all three hurrying home when Jerrel (Mom's emissary) met us.

By the time I came face to face with my Mother she was already putting together what the wet hair, wet clothes, and wet brother and sister meant. My excuse of "not swimming," but just playing didn't impress her one bit as an excuse.

Even though the wind had worsened and the thunder was rolling in on the heels of electrifying lightning, Mom took time to pluck a switch from the lilac bush and blister my scrawny little legs with it. She then turned to Marie and started for her. Marie ran like the wind and Mom was not gaining on her at all after twice around the house. Either feeling sorry for Mom for causing her so much worry, or maybe just wanting to share this momentous experience with my sister and brother, I voluntarily ran Marie down and watched as both of them got a milder sample of my own pain.

Then we went to the cellar where the next punishment was almost as bad - listening to the lecture of what could have happened to us … lightning could have struck the pond and electrocuted all of us … a twister could have swooped down and picked us up on our way home … a tornado could have blown our entire family away because they were waiting for us to get home before going into the cellar … then we would have been orphans. Soon the storm outside and the storm inside were over and I vowed never, ever to go "not swimming" again.

Mom became quite an expert at judging just how much food would be consumed at each and every meal. If you can even imagine everyday life without a refrigerator or ice box, you would know that cooking only the right amount of food for each meal was extremely important, especially during the hot six months of the year.

The clear, cool water pumped up from our deep well was the coldest thing we had and was used to keep the milk, butter, cream and eggs as cool as possible. At one time Dad built a cooler box after he found an underground spring not too far from the house. He ran a pipe up into the underground spring and framed in around it, leaving a hole at the end so the cool water could flow through without floating everything in the box. This was wonderful and the closest thing we ever had to an ice box. Eventually, the spring ran dry and we were back to pumping and changing the water on our perishables.

Everything that we needed water for had to pumped. One exception to that was water to wash our hair. For that, we had big barrels on each corner of the house to catch the rain. It was soft, pure water and made our hair shiny and clean.

For drinking, cooking and washing hands, we kept a bucket of well water on a stand near the back door. A big "community" dipper was left in it, or hanging nearby. A wash basin sat right beside it and all hands were expected to pass through it before any food passed through our hungry little mouths. Our homemade lye soap would kill any germ that tried hiding under the nails or on the hands.

We all had a bath every Saturday whether we needed it or not. In the summer the big oval wash tub would be pumped full of water and left in the yard to get warm. By evening bath time it would actually be hot. In the winter, the bath water had to be heated to almost boiling in the water reservoir of the big wood stove, then cooled down with cold water from the well. Being a girl in our large family definitely had its advantages. Marie and I always got the cleanest water, because we always got to bathe first.

Washing clothes was a different story. Monday was wash day and it was just that .. an all day chore. The washing was done outside both summer and winter. The equipment consisted of a large black boiling pot to heat the water over an open fire, and three wash tubs. One was for wash water, and two for rinse water. Then there was the gosh awful, knuckle-skinning, rub board that never failed to peel the skin enough for the lye soap to burn like acid.

Wringing water out of overalls was next to impossible, so Mom and I saved that task for Dad or the boys. Getting everything dry before it either blew away or froze was another worrisome part of our washday. The clothesline poles had to be high enough for the clothes to catch the wind, but not so high that the wind would blow them off balance and make them fall, leaving our clothes dragging in the red Oklahoma dirt.

The only thing on earth worse than Monday's wash day was Tuesday's ironing day. We had what we called bushel baskets that originally were meant to hold apples or peaches, etc, but we used them to hold the sprinkled clothes to be ironed. Now, I don't know how many apples these baskets held, but I do know that they seemed to hold at least a hundred damp articles of cotton clothing that had been starched, sprinkled, wadded into a tight ball, and left in the basket to be ironed dry and smooth.

To accomplish this feat, a fire had to burn full blast in the kitchen stove to heat the "sad irons" which we ironed with. That was the most appropriate name for a household tool that I can think of. The saddest thing about them was that they were always either too hot or too cold. Ironing days in the winter were bad enough, but summer was pure torture.

Mom usually baked on Tuesday too, since the oven had to be heated anyway. Marie and I would take turns ironing. Each of us tried to leave Mom's dresses for the other one. Mom wore fairly long cotton dresses that were tiresome to iron. Just when we were sure there was no bottom to the bushel basket we would finish for the day. I'm sure all the boys, out sweating and working in the fields, were thinking Marie and I had it easy back in the house. Oh, if only they knew!

All chores in our family were hard, but since we all shared them we were able to keep things done. Mom and Dad could not have survived the many demands on their time and energy without everybody's help.

The Day Fred Broke His Hoe

There was only one time I can remember when Dad's assignment of chores was challenged. It was the most traumatic event I can remember. Dad had taken all the boys out to the fields to hoe corn, and Fred had resisted going from the start.

However, Dad insisted and Fred went along reluctantly. After only a few minutes of hoeing, Fred had broken his hoe handle. Dad got another from the barn. Half an hour later, the handle of Fred's hoe broke again. This time, Dad calmly replaced it with an iron pipe. Before long, Fred was calling to Dad again, saying this time the hoe blade had broken off.

Dad told Fred to come back to the barn with him. When they got there Dad broke a switch off a tree and told Fred he was going to whip him like a child because he was acting like one. Fred reminded Dad that he was 14 and too big to let him whip him.

"I gave you three chances to do your work and you caused me to miss working myself," said Dad. "Now you will take your punishment and get on back to work,"

Fred warned him. "If you touch me with that switch, I'll hit you, so don't do it. You might as well know I'm not working in no corn field today."

Dad raised his arm and brought the switch across Fred's back and immediately, Fred swung his fist and knocked Dad down. Dad got up, brushed himself off and said, "You're right, son. You won't be working. You'll be moving. Since you've decided you're not going to work here, you'd best move out. Come on in the house and I'll help you pack your things."

"Fine. I hate farm work, anyhow," Fred shouted.

Mom watched all this from the back porch where she stood crying and wringing her hands. None of the children had ever even spoken harshly to Dad, much less hit him. She asked Dad to try to talk to him again and make him understand that running away was not the right thing to do.

"No," Dad said. "He has to decide on his own now what he really wants to do." He put his hand on Fred's shoulder and said, "Everybody who lives here has to work, but if you find some place to live where you don't have to work, please let me know and maybe we'll all move there."

Fred took his suitcase and left. Dad went back to the field and Mom continued to cry as she worked in the kitchen.

The house was exceptionally quiet through dinner and by bedtime all of us were wondering where Fred could be, and if he had a place to stay. We knew he was afraid of the dark. It was the only thing he would admit to being afraid of.

About eleven o'clock that night, Fred came running into the house, put his suitcase down and went to bed. The next morning, he was the first person into the kitchen after Mom had the coffee brewing. "We better get an early start hoeing that corn before the sun gets so hot, Dad," he said.

Nothing more was ever said about the incident until many years later when Dad was dying of cancer. Fred asked Dad to forgive him for hitting him. He said he was sorry he had done that and would give anything if it had never happened.

Dad told him he had forgiven him long ago and he should never worry about it again.

Another chore I had and could finally share with my little sister because of our small hands, was washing the lamp chimneys for all the kerosene lamps on the farm. It was a dirty job but we got stuck with it. The light given off from these lamps was never very bright, but it was all we had and we cleaned and filled those lamps every day.

I can remember wondering why so many of our cousins and their friends from town would come to our house for long visits and never want to go home. It was hard for me to understand why, because in town they had light without kerosene, heat without wood, water without a pump, and a bathroom inside their houses.

Of course I know now that it was the happiness they found in our home and the freedom to be themselves that brought them to us. Dad and my brothers taught them the wondrous adventures of daytime and night time hunting and fishing. Mom stuffed them with all the marvels of her kitchen and always made them feel right at home with us. Even farm chores, which we willingly shared with them, seemed to make them happy.

The open meadows were our playground, our campground, and our highway to imaginary adventures into both the past and the future. Shallow gullies became deep canyons. Every pond was an ocean, every creek a raging river, and every old cow in the pasture became the most evil enemy you could imagine.

There was no limit to our imagination. We could go anywhere, do anything, and be anybody in our make-believe world. But by the time Mom had dinner ready, we just wanted to leave our imagination in the fields and rush back to the big oak table to be ourselves again in our real and happy world. We could remain safe there until we would grow up and have to find our own way in life - a way of life that would be based upon a foundation of the loving examples of our parents.

As each of us grew up and left our home, we all knew that no matter where we went, there was always that place of love that we could return to whenever we wanted. Through our memories we can still enjoy going back home again.

What a wonderful thing it is to grow old but still be able to return to the past through the windows of my memories. To once again see the beautiful smile upon my Mother's face and to hear the calming hum of my father's voice. To remember that wonderful feeling of being a child. Not just any child, but a child of Clara and Mose Henderson.

(Thanks to the Gibson Booze Home Page for initially gathering this information and posting it for all to enjoy. And to Betty Hunt for writing an excellent account of some of her family memories.)

Linked toGibson Booze Homepage; Family: HENDERSON/SCOTT (F46); HENDERSON A.B.; Living; HENDERSON Delbert; HENDERSON Frederick; HENDERSON Herbert; HENDERSON Jerrel; HENDERSON Marie; HENDERSON Moses Uriah; SCOTT Clara Mae

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