The Summer Petey Bob Turned Fourteen
Paul Marion Fleetwood
© Copyright 2021 by Paul Marion Fleetwood
If you haven't read Petey Bob's Train Ride then you need to read that story first. Click Here and you can.
It is a short story about how I got to Missouri on a train from Texas to visit my Grandmother in the Summer of 1944 when I was 13 years old.
When I got to Grandma Happy's house after the train trip and the long walk from Neelyville, I settled in with Grandma and my Uncle Paul Simon. I was named after my uncle Paul (nicknamed Pete) but I insisted on being call Bob when I was a baby learning to talk. Every time mom would call be Paul I would say "uh uh Bob". So they gave up calling me Paul and called me Petey Bob untill I was around 10 or 11 years old. After that they cut the Petey off and just called me Bobby or Bob. And that name has stuck with me for my whole life.
Grandma Hattie and her eldest son Paul were living on the old homeplace farm in Ripley County Misssouri about 10 miles north of Doniphan. Doniphan was a small town of about 2000 souls. Ripley County had around 10,000 people who were mostly farmers and timber workers except for the people who worked in town. Doniphan is located on the banks of the beautiful clear and rocky bottom Current River. A river that many many years later helped to lure me back to where I built my retirement home.
My uncle Paul and his brother Uncle John ( who everyone called Dick) Ran a small two or three man sawmill a couple of miles from home. They also had a farm where they raised corn and hay to feed the livestock. but they went to work at the Sawmill everyday during the week and till noon on Saturday when they would shut down the mill and everyone would go to town to buy their groceries, feed, drygoods, etc, and maybe take in a movie at Hunt's theater or the Princess theatre. Hunt's theatre was owned by Garnet Hunt White's Father Garrett Hunt. Garnett has written many stories that are now on Storyhouse.org.
During the week, at first, I was left at home with Grandma Hattie. I called her Grandma "Happy" because I couldn't say Hattie when I was little. Grandma had a big garden and a bunch of chickens but she had gotten old and couldn't take care of the chickens like she used to. The chicken house was so full of mites that the chickens were roosting in the barns and the trees and running wild.
So I decided to clean up the chicken house and try to get the chickens to roost and lay eggs where they were supposed to. It was quite a job to clean up. I used old motor oil to put on the roosts to get rid of the mites. I put fresh straw in the nests and fed the chickens in the house until I got them all to come back.
I wondered where they had been laying eggs. I found nests in different places and under the old barn wooden floor boards I found a nest with almost a tub full of eggs. Of course most were old and rotten. Grandma was so proud of me and really bragged about how Bobby did such a good job. I also would chop wood for the cook stove so she would have plenty to cook with.
Grandma Happy was and still is the best cook I ever knew. She had a little pantry off of the kitchen where she would make fresh yeast bread and buns almost every day. Her yeast bread and buns were the best ever. Her cornbread was really good too. She would make a big pot of great northern beans seasoned with ham from the smokehouse. Green tomato pickles, homemade bread, fresh sweet milk that was kept cool in the cistern, fresh veggies from the garden, and all of the home grown trimmings. Makes my mouth water just to think about it.
Well let me put it this way: When I first arrived there from Texas I was 13 years old and weighed 97 pounds. I was 4 feet and 10 inches tall. I don't want to get ahead of myself but at the end of that Summer I weighed 135 pounds of solid muscle and was 5ft 4inches tall. I never grew any taller or felt any better in my whole life.
As I grew and got stronger, I started going to help at the sawmill. I would buck slabs, shovel sawdust, and roll logs on the skids. I had unbounded energy and I could run forever without getting tired. If I could feel that way again I would be in Heaven.
Some days I would help out on the farm. I would bring the cows in from the woods pasture and feed them hay. Sometimes I would ride one of the cows back to the barn and give them some hay.
One day I was riding this old cow along with the other cows back to the barn. I was just sitting up there while the old cows were just walking along when I didn't notice that my uncle Paul was up in the hayloft and had started throwing out loose hay for the herd. Suddenly the cow I was riding bolted and started running to get some of the hay. I fell off but managed to hang on around the cows neck. I knew if I turned loose she would just run over me so I hung on for dear life. When I couldn't hang on any longer and just as I turned loose she stopped and dropped me on a pile of loose hay. I had a lot of adventures like that during the summer with the mules, cows, and sheep. Some were pretty scary.
World War 2 was in full swing then. I remember when I would turn on the old battery operated radio and get it on the right station so uncle Paul could listen to the news when he got home from the sawmill late in the evening. I can still hear the old newsman Gabriel Heater telling the news about the fighting in Europe and Japan. He always started off with a line something like this: "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea ........" Uncle Paul always listened intently to he news.
I remember my cousin Gilbert Emmons came back from overseas then. He had been wounded with shrapnel in his arm. He and his cousin Ron Emmons worked in the timber sometimes. They would cut down pine trees with a crosscut saw that we refered to as "old gappy". Several time I went with them and helped cut the logs and load them on Uncle Paul's ( we called him Pete) Tie truck. The logs were sawed into lumber and crossties and then Uncle Pete would haul them to Doniphan or Grandin where they would be loaded on the train for transportation to the market. Back at the turn of the Century, Doniphan was known as the tie capitol of the world. Grandin Missouri which was a few miles North of Doniphan had the biggest sawmill in the world. Ties from this area were used to build the train tracks across the country all the way to the West Coast.
I worked at the Sawmill for awhile helping to "buck slabs" and "doodle sawdust". It was a loud and sweatly job but I learned a lot. The sawmill was a small one. My Uncle John Simon ( nicknamed Dick") was the sawyer. He was the one that "set the blocks" and made the carriage, that held the log, move past the big circle saw that cut off the board and slabs. A friend and neighbor Phillip Davis was the off-bearer. He would take the slabs, boards and ties off of the saw and put them on the proper piles.
Uncle Paul would take care of business and at lunch time he would sharpen all of the teeth on the large circle saw while the workers would eat lunch. I would shovel sawdust out from under the saw and sometimes roll the logs down the skids to the carriage.
Working around a sawmill is one of the most dangerous jobs there is. I almost saw uncle Dick get killed when a slab accidently got caught in the teeth of the saw. It threw the slab up in the air and you could see it was coming down right on top of the saw. When it hit the saw the teeth of the saw threw the slab like a spear and it hit right between Uncle Dick's legs. He could see what was happening but but it was so fast he couldn't move out of the way. I watched him trying to move and it was like slow motion. He was pawing away and couldn't move.
I grew up that summer and I had my first big love affair. My uncle Paul was dating a young woman named Wanda Fields who lived on highway 21 which was the way to town. He had a date to take her to the movies in Doniphan. I asked him if I could go along and he agreed. Uncle Paul drove an old 1933 Ford tie truck on his date. I rode on the back standing up and leaning on the top of the cab. Well it turned out that Wanda had a 13 year old little sister so she went along too. She and I rode on the back and got acquainted on the way to the movies and back.
Well I think we were together almost everyday for the rest of the Summer. I turned 14 in July and was all grown up. I was crazy about Mary Anne and she seemed to be crazy about me but a couple of weeks before I had to go back home to Texas she seemed to lose interest in me. Of course I was heartbroken and tried to make up with her but it didn't seem like things would work out.
One night a young man named Gordon Claussen who lived a couple of miles away down near Greenville Ford on the Little Black River, came by in his old tie truck. It had a big flat bed on the back for hauling ties or lumber. He had gone around the neighborhood picking up kids to just go riding around. My cousin Jetty and I were there with maybe a dozen kids including Mary Ann. There was competition between me and old Moss Rainbolt. Everyone was sitting on bales of hay as we rode around. We both wanted to sit by Mary Ann. After some pushing and shoving I challenged Moss to a fight but Jetty and Lois Davis got me down and sat on me untill we cooled down.
Just a few days later I had to return home to East Texas where I lived near a small village called Clayton. Soon after that Mary Ann's family moved to Wheaton Illinois. I figured that would be the last time I would hear from Mary Ann. But except for that it had been a wonderful Summer that provided a lot of great memories. I had grown up to be a young man. Little did I know the challenges that lay ahead of me during the next few years.
After a couple of years we moved to DeBerry Texas where I would ride the school bus to High School in Carthage Texas. During my Senior Year I came down with Rhumatic Fever and was bed ridden for awhile and the Doctor's in that area were unable to diagnose my illness.
While I was still bedridden one day I got a letter from Mary Ann. She had written my Grandma Happy and got my address so she could write to me. Naturally I was surprised and I wrote her back. We exchanged a couple of letters before I got well enough to go outside and play ball. I did'nt have time to write anymore after that. But I was digging through my old keepsakes several years ago and found that I still have one of her letters. Let's see, I'm 90 years old now and 14 then. That's about 76 years ago and I can still remember the emotions from that young love affair.
I will never know what finally happened in her adult life adventure. I hope it was a good life. Mine sure has been.
A lot of other things happened that Summer that would take too long
to write about. At least for now anyhow since it is 11:30 at
night and I need to go to bed so I can get up for Church
Goodnight Children, your old Pawpaw loves you!!!!
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