My Little Town 20120229: Old Buildings and New Realazations

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Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

This piece is mostly about two old rock buildings near Hackett.  One of them was the “old schoolhouse” to which my mum and dad met each other as first graders.  Their story was actually a love at first sight one, and that is actually, literally true.  My dad fell in love with my mum immediately, and their love affair continued to produce two sons, me being one of them, several grandchildren, and a circle of friends that still continue, although most of them are now gone.

The secondary story is about the consequences of posting about people.  I got a very irate email from the granddaughter of one of the men that I described months ago, just day before yesterday.  She was upset about the way I described him, and rightly so.  We communicated further, and became friends.  I shall show everyone what she said, my responses, and the consensus that we finally came to that resolved the issue.  I plan to continue this series, but will be a bit more considerate in future.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  ALL OF THESE PICTURES WERE TAKEN MY MY VERY GOOD FRIEND AND FELLOW KOSSACK topfireplug.  I give him many, may thanks.  His family live near to where I grew up, and he sends me contemporary pictures often.

My mum and dad met on the first school day way back in 1925 or 1926.  Looking at their ages, I would guess that Dad (this the first time that I have ever used the personal term here) was in second grand and Mum was in first.  He was born in 1919, and she in 1921.  I know that is sounds silly, but he fell in love with her at the first meeting.  That is similar to how I fell in love with the former Mrs. Translator, love at first sight.  Those of you who are skeptical are just wrong.

As I have said, Hackett was mostly a coal mining town, but it also produced (and still does) some of the best structural and decorative sandstone known from the entire north American continent.  Here is a picture of the old school, built likely in the 1880s, from that very stone.

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When I was a kid, it was abandoned and decaying.  For a while after the new school was built of brick across town, the old building was the Masonic Lodge, but then it was just left to go to pot, and it did.  I remember trees starting to grow from it, both inside and outside.  I was way too scared to go inside at the time, but it looked like it was ruining.

If you look closely at the picture, it now has been restored and has a new sheet metal roof, air conditioning, and electricity service coming into it.  The windows appear to be new as well.  I am not sure who renovated it, but that is a building that deserves to be preserved.  Perhaps it was the Masons.  I am not sure.

Here is the plaque that replaced the school one when it was decommissioned those years ago.  I am not fluent in Masonic, so I hope that folks reading can decipher it for me.

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In any event, I am happy that this building existed, because if it had not it is quite likely that I would not ever have been conceived to write this piece, decades after Dad and Mum met.  I plan to write more about them, because I just recently came into possession of not just a few love letters that he wrote to her when his family moved over 1500 miles away.  They are touching, and I am much too emotional to post them tonight.

What a remarkable transition from just about ruins when I was little to well preserved now!  I am glad.

Not all buildings have preserved so well.  That is sad, but true.

Long before I was born, my grandfather built this little rock building on his farm.  He, at the time, ran his own coal mine, and Hackett coal was in great demand because it was he best coking coal just about in the nation.

My grandfather on my father’s side mined coal, on his own property.  He was a one man company.  At the time there were no income taxes to speak of, and no 1099 forms.  You just took the coal to the company store (I am fortunate to be in possession of the solid mahogany desk that the company story owner had 100 years ago) and he would give cash for it.  There were not many questions.

To mine coal in underground seams at the time meant blasting powder, a sort of slow cousin of black powder.  It was shipped in wooden, 50 pound kegs and needed to be kept dry.  Here are a couple of images of my grandfather’s powder building, but when he used it it had a tight roof and no tree growing in it.

It is not a big building, perhaps 20 by 20 feet on the outside, maximum.  Since that sandstone blocks were around eight inches thick, it was smaller inside.  At the time that my grandfather used it to store powder, it had a wooden floor to keep the powder off of the damp ground.  By the time that I first saw it, that floor was long decayed.

Here are contemporary pictures that my aforementioned friend took of it.  There are four of them.  Over 30 years ago I cut a tree out of the building, but more have just come back.

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After the Great Depression struck, the coal business, except for local fuel usage, pretty much dried up because Hackett coal was used primarily in the steel mills because it made excellent coke.  My grandfather moved his whole family to Montana to work in the rich copper mines.  The copper industry was not hurt as badly as the steel industry, partially due to the effort towards rural electrification, a federal works program that employed thousands and actually worked.

When I was small there was little coal mined around Hackett because oil was cheap and lots of new electricity generating capacity designed to burn petroleum.  As I mentioned earlier, many people had heated their homes for years and years with coal, and the local market, although not large, was steady.  However, when the Arab Oil Embargo occurred in the early 1970s, coal mining came back.  However, by then most of the shaft mines had stopped working and surface mining, aka strip mining, was used.  The coal in the region is fairly shallow, so it was easy to strip it.

Strip mining had been used in some areas around Hackett decades before, and our farm was pockmarked with strip pits.  There were huge hills of mostly shale overburden beside the pits themselves, and we had fun playing on the hills and in the pits.  Around Hackett, most of the pits would not hold water so were just big holes in the ground.  One remarkable thing that happened was with the new mining, a tax was collected to restore not only newly made pits, but the old ones as well.  The farm now is in better shape than it was when I was a kid.

Now for the secondary story.  Some time ago, I posted this story about one of the denizens of Hackett, Bed Boggs.  You are free to read it before continuing here.  On Monday I received this email from his granddaughter (I have stripped her name for her privacy).

Mr. Smith,

           I found your article on my grandfather Ben Boggs rather negative and uninspired.  I’m sorry that all of your experiences with him were during his times of depression and drinking.  He didn’t drink himself to death however and lived out his years with his daughter in Charleston until he was quite old.  He quit drinking in 1976 cold turkey and I remember him very fondly although I am only 37.  He was hard working and sacrificed more than you will ever know to his country and family.  I remember him mowing his yard with the push mower having to leave the crutches behind and hop around the whole yard; I’d have to bring them to him if he ran out of gas.  He had a big garden every year and liked to fish.  I don’t know if this changes anything but I at least wanted you to know that while you may have found him a sad old man, I saw him as a hero.

Regards.

I felt bad for two reasons.  First, I just assumed that Ben never dried out, and it is incorrect to assume.  Second, I realized that I could have used a more positive tone about Ben.  Unlike Aurthur Holloway who was really a bad man, Ben was a nice guy that had a problem when I knew him.  This was my reply to his granddaughter:

Dear,

I sincerely apologize for having offended you.  If you would like, I would be happy to reference your letter to me and link it to the original piece that I wrote so that you can get your contribution heard.

I lost touch with Ben about the time that you mentioned, because I was courting and got married in 1977.  Apparently my parents lost touch as well, because I never heard about him after that.

Are you Jenny’s child?  I always thought that she was a nice person, and I liked Rocky a lot too.  Rocky and I spent a lot of time with each other back in the day, but I never dated Jenny, just thought that she was nice.  She was also pretty.  Finally, we might be related by marriage because my grandmum married a Mackey.  I would like to know more about you, as part of my history in My Little Town.  On a more positive note, you will not be offended by the one that will post this coming Wednesday, about some of the old sandstone buildings around town.  I hope that you become a regular reader and contributor, and getting a user ID at dailykos.com costs nothing.  I would appreciate your insight since we grew up in just about the same place.

In my defense, please note that I NEVER portrayed Ben as a bad man.  When I knew him, he WAS a sad man.  I liked Ben, and he was always kind to me.  Sure he had his problems, but we all have our demons.  None of us are exempt from them.  Please consider my offer, because I think that you should have your say, if you wish.

Once again, I sincerely apologize for hurting your feelings.  Note that I did NOT say weasel words like, “I apologize IF I hurt your feelings”, “If anyone might have been offended, I apologize.”  I know that I offended you personally, and I regret that.

Warmest regards,

She replied thusly:

David,

Thank you very much for your response. It means a great deal to me that you took the time to do do. I hoped you would as I read several times that you thought fondly of him. For future reference, please remember that in this digital age we live in your audience grows everyday. I’m very glad that you for the most part stuck to the facts and didn’t speculate on what you did not know. Your story may be of a sad man at that time, but I believe his situation improved. Although I was slightly offended by a few remarks in the article and some speculation about violence, I can’t deny who he was in those days. Him and Claud Slavins were two of the worst I guess.

My mom is and my dad is [names redacted].  Both living. We actually lived in that rock house when I was a kid, probably around 1977 or so. I heard a story that a man accidentally shot his wife (could be the other way around, can’t remember) because they thought it was a burglar. They say the bullet went through a window frame and the hole was still there when we lived there. Somebody wanted to go search through the remains of the house after it was bulldozed to see if they could find it. Not sure if they did or not. I haven’t thought about that in a long time. The cops picked me up on the highway once (hwy 10 spur I think) when I was only 2. I guess I was walking down the road? I was naked as the day I was born. Cop had to knock on the door! Ha. My dad says mom was watching me and visa versa.

Anyway, I’m glad we talked. I feel better. I accept your apology and wish you well.

What she did not realize is that the shooting was very near to me.  I replied to her:

Hi,!

You do not even know!  First, I am glad that we have come to terms.  That means very much to me.  Second, our conversation might me the genesis of a piece about me talking about others, but only if you agree.  I promise not to use names unless you agree.  But there is more, as they say on TeeVee.

One person who comes to mind is [name redacted].  I knew him quite well.  His kids were pretty much neer do wells, but [name redacted], one of the youngest, tried to stay away from drink for a long time, but finally succumbed to it.  When he was just smoking pot, he was pretty much nice.  I could go on, but should not.

Now about the rock house.  My grandfather built it, essentially by himself, using an “A” frame scaffold and a Model “T” for the motive power to lift the rocks.  He did it with pretty much his own hands.

I have written about this piece of family history, but will summarize it for you.  Years before I was born, my granddad, who I came to know well, and my grandmum, who died before I was born, lived there.  They were both from Birkenhead, England, for the record.  In any event, they were very paranoid about thieves, although they were quite poor.  Here is the story, as my grandfather told me when he was a very old, broken man.

“David, something was not right.  I went to the window and saw an object coming there, so I took out the pistol and shot it!  My God, it was Liz!  I killed her!”  Indeed he did, and that is why your folks lived in the house.  He could not bear to be there any more.  The inquiry found him not to blame, but he always blamed himself.  I think that he should have done so.  To kill the one that you loved with all of your heart, without malicious intent, must be hell on earth.

He could never live in that house that he built for her ever again.  He built several crude ones and tried to keep on living, but his soul was gone because of the guilt.  By the way, I still have the pistol that he used.  It was turned back to the family when the inquiry determined that the shooting was accidental.

Now only you know the entire story.  May we collaborate on one, with you getting full credit for your recollections?  I think that it might me the most important one in this series.

My point is that I shall in future use more discretion when I say negative things about people, although my intent was not to ridicule the memory of Ben.  Obviously I offended his granddaughter, and I am glad that she took the time to tell me so.  I am also glad that she and I came to an understanding and that there are no long term hard feelings betwixt the two of us.  She handled the situation with dignity and grace, and I am grateful to her for accepting my sincere apology.

That does it for My Little Town for this evening.  Please add any recollections about growing up, whether or not in a little town, in the comments.  The readers and I enjoy seeing them.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and

firefly-dreaming

1 comment

  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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