Day 81: Family Stories

My paternal grandma grew up around Ozark, AR which is down in Franklin County on the Arkansas River at the feet of the Ozark Mountains. She came from a family of sharecroppers that worked themselves to death over the the course of four generations. My grandma’s family didn’t have a car or electricity until after she was married, and she remembered leaving the land only once, when she was a little girl one of her aunt’s passed away and they traveled a few miles, by horse-drawn cart, to visit the family. My grandma told me a story that when she was a little girl she had a terrible rash on her feet, so bad that she could hardly walk. So her mom and dad took her off to one of my grandma’s  aunts who was supposedly a witch. My grandma said she remembered the woman just looking over her feet, and lightly touching them with her fingers she mumbled some words then said to take my grandma back home, that she’d be alright. The next morning when my grandma woke up the rash and sores were gone. I know without a doubt this isn’t the only story my grandparents have, but getting them to talk about it is becoming more and more difficult.

My great-uncle Bill, one of my paternal grandpa’s brothers, was a wart charmer. I think I’ve mentioned this before. He could buy warts off of you. All you had to do was show him the wart, then he’d say something like “That’s a fine wart, I’ll give you a dime for it.” Sometimes it was a penny, but regardless of the amount you knew to take the money then your wart would be gone within a few days. Uncle Bill had a lot of stories he would tell about growing up in a one-room adobe house in the desert. My paternal grandpa’s family lived in Southwest New Mexico near Las Cruces, in Chiricahua Nation, up until he was married and in the army, after that the family moved back to Goshen, AR to the family homestead. My grandpa and all his brothers had a lot of strange stories about the desert. Uncle Bill told me one time that him and his brother Russell were riding horses out in the desert and the came across this giant patch of scorched land that he was convinced was made by a dragon. “We saw were a dragon had burned the land” he would say.

My maternal grandpa grew up in Paris, AR in Logan County. His father was a coal miner and a drunk who would spend his entire paycheck on booze before he even got it home. My great grandma had to take all the kids with her to the pay office and get her husband’s check before he could. Luckily the foreman knew what went on and so he always gave it to her without question. She would go get food and things the kids needed then go home and wait for her husband to get off of work and beat the shit out of her and the kids. My grandpa grew up living in the back of a bakery that friends of the family owned. He used to say what he remembered the most about the house were the rats that ate the old bread and would bite the kids’ toes at night while they were sleeping. He used to always tell this story, that one morning him and the other kids were sitting at the table in the kitchen eating breakfast when out of the corner of his eye he could see a rat crawling up behind the wallpaper. His mother just looked over, grabbed a knife, threw it, and stuck the rat fast against the wall.

My 4th great-grandmother Nancy Anderson lived in Marshall, AR in Searcy County. As the story goes she was taking care of the family farm and the kids while her husband and the other men were out hunting. One day a group of bushwhackers came through dressed as Union soldiers. Nancy sent the kids out to hide in the barn until the men left. Bushwhackers were known to kill entire families for food and money. Nancy’s grandson John, who was hiding in the barn, saw the bushwhackers torture his grandmother by pulling out her finger nails with bullet molds to make her tell where her money was (or perhaps information.  Her son was Capt. John W. Cypert of J.T. Coffee’s Confederate Regiment.)  So when they had tortured her and killed her, they robbed the house of all the food and things they could carry.  Then they burned the house down with the grandmother included.  Nancy’s husband returned home and saved the barn and the frightened John and other children all watching from their hiding place.  It’s said later in life John’s voice would rise in anger as he mentioned the “Boys in Blue” and he had little respect for the “Northern Gentlemen.”

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