Friday, September 26, 2008

A Queen

My Beloved Christmas

She was a Queen

Pale Moon is Shinning on the Valley

A Time to Remember
“Pale moon is shinning on the Valley”

During my years of searching back through time I have often taken the opportunity to sit and visit a man or woman many years my elder. I came away with bits and pieces of facts, fiction and folklore and of course had to sort through the information to find the obvious truths. Memories are often clouded with hearsay, flavoring a story or an account shared with me. History of course is also salted and peppered to make it more palatable. I have discovered many aspects of the Ozarks that have lain hidden in the minds for many years of older people. Treasures are not always something you can hold in your hand but rather stories and folklore of bygone days. It does not matter, or at least to me many of these old renderings of the past are completely true or not, for they represent a part of America’s heritage.
There are undoubtedly physical treasures secreted away in attics, barns and out building gathering dust at the mercy of dirtdobbers, mice and rats. They are forgotten relics of bygone days or perhaps their original owners have passed on. Much of it is beloved mementoes of families that time has scattered to the four winds. They are mute reminders of people’s lives.
I have observed many treasures of the past piled high on makeshift tables to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Old camelback trunks containing vintage lace, a Stetson hat creased and worn, Depression glass that once added a bit of color to an otherwise drab world of poverty are but few of the items often found in tired old trunks. Many of these items were once prevalent in cabins that stood on the threshold of an ever widening frontier America. The inventory of treasures left behind are fragile from tiny silver thimbles, intricately carved picture frames to diaries revealing intimate details of life and death along the trails of yesterday.
Left behind are vintage guitars, fiddles and banjos and it is not unusual to find one handmade by its owner. The Mountain banjo is a good example of such an instrument and although I’m sure only a few remain they too have crossed the auction block. They vary in flavor and constructions, for some are quite primitive. These old banjos are priceless reminders of our heritage when music was about the only meaningful pastime.
Long before Sears, Roebuck and Company came out with a mass produced fretted banjo, the Mountain banjo rang from the deep southland to the sod houses of Kansas and on westward. The Mountain Banjo was a product of the early settlers of America and unlike the Sears model was fretless and its sound varied from family to family.
Like many other aspects of Americana, the Mountain banjo was born from the innovative spirit of the Irish, Scottish, English and African. The instrument was carried westward on the backs of buck skinners, accompanied families in search of new land and eased the loneliness in the many forts and camp sites scattered across the wilderness. Most folks had time to play whether or not they had time for anything else. The songs they sang reflected hardships, joys and family values.
The Mountain banjo complimented the fiddle, whether in a waltz, a gospel song or a breakdown. Not only was the Mountain banjo an important part of our heritage, but so were the songs often composed on site and sang to the distinct sound of the unusual instrument.
Black Americans while held in bondage contributed much to the gospel sound and the instrument commonly accompanying the words was a Mountain banjo, constructed of what ever material at hand.
Old ballads brought to America from the homeland of immigrants, whether free or enslaved gradually took on a new sound and words and again accompanied by a Mountain banjo ringing out its distinctive clatter.
The roots of country music are deeply entrenched in America’s heart and soul, but time has changed the taste somewhat. Today the sound is amplified and the words frequently reflect broken homes, bar stools and neon lights. There are a few enduring souls, however, who have not lost track of the early sounds of country music and you can find them on the dusty roads through the Deep South or westward though Arkansas to Missouri and beyond. They are still picking the Mountain banjo and singing the prettiest songs you ever heard. Songs like Sally Gooden, Devils’ Dream, Waltz of the Indian and Leather Britches and many others most people have never heard. Some of our music heritage has been misplaced, but it’s still remains, scattered across the country, once the heartbeat and hope of an infant nation and whether from the southland or prairies of the west, they are undoubtedly National treasures to remind us of days long since passed.
“Pale moon is shinning on the valley
That old wagon leans against a stack of hay
Two Graves on the hill side.”
(Author unknown)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Windyville Sunset
Crossroads of the World

Knocking on Heaven's Door

Beautiful Lela, an unpaid model
A Time to Remember
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
By Ronnie Powell
Hay cutting time for me ranks in the top ten of favorite events while growing up along the Dousinberry Creek. The fragrance of new mown hay and later, shocking it in preparation of stacking was second only to threshing. Neighbors came together helping with the cutting, stacking and or hauling the hay to the barn. Mother and friends provided a large noon meal consisting of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, beans and a wide assortment of pies and cakes.
The first hay harvest after moving from Kansas City to the farm took place in late May of 1946. Uncle Clifford Powell, fresh out of the Navy, came early a little after sunup with his team of black mares to start the cutting. I was told to accompany him to the field to help if needed. I led one of the mares to a stump and climb upon the broad back. There was nothing more I needed or wanted as I sat there, reins in hand following Uncle Clifford to the field.
It wasn’t long until four swaths had been cut around the ten acre field, providing safe distance for me to roam about chasing rabbits, for there was little to do except to provide drinking water for Uncle Clifford. Even so I kept a watchful eye in case I was needed and stopped each time he passed so as not to scare the team.
The morning became hot and wearied of chasing rabbits I sat down on a thick swath of fragrant hay near the edge of the field. Propped up on the hay I sat lazily gazing about watching a lone buzzard circling against a broad expanse of blue sky. The rows were noticeably becoming shorter with each turn around the field. I ate a biscuit I had wisely taken from the table and drank a little water, becoming increasingly bored.
When at last I began dozing I decided to get up, considering running rabbits again, but I spied movement in the hay. Thinking it might be a field mouse I moved quietly on my hands and knees with intentions of capturing the little fellow. I bent down peering closely into the dark recesses of the hay where the movement had occurred ready to pounce. After a moment or so becoming discouraged I was about to discontinue the hunt when I came face to face so to speak with the largest spider I had ever seen before. It stood inches away like some great prehistoric beast watching me, flicking one of its many legs. The spider continued its close scrutiny, the dark body and legs nearly the size of my hand, a beautiful creature with unfathomable eyes.
I glanced up to check on Uncle Clifford and then back down at the spider. I wanted a closer look at the creature and slowly got to my knees and sat back on my heels. I looked about for something to prod the spider and picked up a portion of a milk weed plant and slowly extended it toward the now crouching spider. It sprang straight up, retreating to make a stand on a small mound of hay. I waddled forward and once again extended the stalk, closely watching the spider. The spider reacted quickly, too quickly resulting in a blur of movement and felt a sharp prick on the big toe of my right foot. I came apart at the seam falling backwards, yelling, quite certain the spider was clinging to the toe. But the spider had vanished in the hay.
I stared down at the toe fearing the worst, but saw only a small red whelp on the first joint. This was little consolation, for I was certain that deadly venom was now coursing through my veins. My fate would be to die in the hayfield.
The sun now high in the sky bore down very hot and I sank back on the hay, sweating profusely. Calm settled over me. I lay for a time with eyes closed thinking about my impending death and what it would do to the family and my friends.
I wanted water but had not the strength to set up.
The Liberty Church house would be packed, standing room only, I thought. Folks would come from miles around to my funeral.
The sun grew hotter and I began to wonder if there would be anything left of my body by the time Uncle Clifford found me.
It was during this time of peaceful submission I became aware of a shadow passing over me and fearing a buzzard had decided I was dead and had come to feast I looked up into the face of Uncle Clifford.
“What are you doing Ronnie?” he asked, lighting a Lucky Strike cigarette. “Were you a sleep?”
“No Uncle.” Clifford I said. “I think I may be dieing.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked, grinning.
“I was poking at a big spider and it jumped on my toe and bit it,” I replied.
Hunkering down, Uncle Clifford laughed. “I doubt very much if you’re dying. It was probably a field spider like that one standing over there.”
“Where is it?” I asked sitting up.
“Right there, pretty close to your feet,” he answered laughing again. “Some folks call them Wolf spiders or tarantulas, but they won’t kill you.”
I stared at the spider; slowly drawing my feet in. “It sure didn’t like being messed with and came at me faster than you could bat an eye.”
“Of course, she was protecting her young,” Uncle Clifford said. “She’s carrying them on her back. Come on it’s time for lunch. You do have an imagination young man. Are you strong enough to ride or do you want me to carry you?”
“No I can ride,” I replied sheepishly.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Once Home to the fabled Little People

Foxtroting Sunrise Suprise

A Time to Remember
Sunrise Surprise
By Ronnie Powell
Sunrise Surprise, a registered gelded, chestnut fox trotter was two years, three month old when first we met and not under the best circumstances. He stood alone in a pen next to another enclosure of other horses in a sale barn in Buffalo, Missouri. He had been saddled, standing with his head down paying little attention to his surroundings.
I wanted to buy a horse and stopped at the pen and looked at Sunrise, scrutinizing the fine lines and breeding of the gelding. He looked up at me and for a few moments we quietly observed each other. I carefully opened the gate and stepped inside and gently stroked his neck, running a hand along his belly, rump and back. He didn’t seem to mind and I stepped to his head and gently patted his face.
“Ronnie you don’t want that horse,” a fellow said, an employee at the sale barn. “He’s a handful and green broke. He doesn’t like anyone on his back and if I were you I’d not be in there with him.”
After the man left and the family came looking for me still standing with Sunrise, I informed them I was going to bid on the horse. I quietly left the pen and started to walk away when the gelding threw up his head and whinnied. That much pretty cinched it for me, I wanted Sunrise.
Later after many horses had passed through the auction, some bought for the processing of their flesh, a man lead Sunrise into the auction circle. Another man stepped forward, a large gent wearing a wide brim western hat and mean looking spurs on his dirty boots. He took the reins and gruffly spoke to Sunrise and swung up in the saddle.
I swear, (not really) that Sunrise looked toward me and grinned and up he went throwing the man high and wide.
The gavel came down with the last bid and Sunrise belonged to me for three hundred dollars and as I would soon learn it wasn’t going to be an easy task convincing that young upstart of a horse to let me ride him. He wasn’t mean by a long shot; just head strong, stubborn and full of life. On the other hand I too, was stubborn and convinced that beautiful thoroughbred would make a fine mount and companion.
Two other horses joined the family in the days to come. Comanche, a tall palomino fox trotter tand became my wife’s horse. He was the oldest of the trio, a gentle soul and the boss. Lady came next, a quarter horse mare, a beautiful animal, also gentle and became my youngest daughter’s steed.
One evening while riding Sunrise into Windyville, trying to work the kinks out of him and pleased with the progress we had made, I sat tall in the saddle. As we passed along the front of the old Scott Store, Sunrise caught his reflection in one of the big windows and it startled him and he began bucking. Unable to stop the gelding we went out onto the middle of Highway K and he threw me. I hit the pavement on both feet, and broke my left foot in two places.
Sunrise left the scene running over the hill to the north. I started after him fearing he might get struck by an automobile. It wasn’t easy limping along and I didn’t get far when Sunrise came back at a dead run and stopped in front of me as gentle as a lamb.
The situation didn’t get much better for awhile, especially after he ran into the woods one day while I was riding him and bruised a knee pretty bad. Limping on two legs is difficult.
The final ordeal came one morning when the family and I were heading east toward Moon Valley astride the three horses. Sunrise was in the lead and decided he didn’t want to go on. He reared and fell into a ditch. I managed to dismount and whacked him with the reins and then jumped into the saddle and off we went up and down the road. He was pretty tired by the time we stopped and from that day on he and I were as one, riding the hills and old roads. He delighted in taking the lead fording streams, up hills and chasing deer across a field. He often struck out at full trot and it was like riding on a cloud. The stamina of the horse was amazing, faltering only when age began to take its toll on him.
“I never met a horse I couldn’t ride,” said a young man to me while riding Sunrise east out of Windyville one Sunday morning in the month of May.
I dismounted and handed him the reins, an act I would later regret.
The fellow did not hesitate and mounted Sunrise. Sunrise didn’t move, standing very quietly for a moment and then exploded straight up, twisting in midair and came down on all fours. The young man hit the ground on his back. Sunrise ran a wide circle around me snorting loudly and came to where I stood. He nickered shrilly, tossing his head angrily from side to side. He was truly upset with me. I never again subjected Sunrise to another situation as that. No one other than I ever rode the gelding again.
Sunrise Surprise lived for twenty six years and on a cold rainy winter night he stood beside me, the beloved head resting on my shoulder for the last time in agony from a twisted gut. A veterinarian stood nearby waiting for Sunrise to settle down a bit, holding a syringe.
“Ronnie, don’t let him lean too heavily on you,” the man said. “When I put this stuff in him he’ll fall and be dead before he hits the ground.”
The end came very quickly and Sunrise lay at my feet in death.
Memories remain of Sunrise, long rides along forgotten trails and quite moments together while grooming him. My left foot is also a reminder of that feisty horse and a hat band I once made from a portion of his beautiful tail. The old saddle sits gathering dust, a stately thing of the 1890’s.
I like to think that Sunrise Surprise is waiting for me somewhere out there in the heavens and together we’ll wander among the stars a few hundred years or so and then perhaps join the fabled ghost riders. Adios

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Battle of Womack Mill

A Time to Remember
The Battle of Womack Mill
By Ronnie Powell

Dear Ma
There were fifteen of us this morning when we crossed a shallow creek below Fair Grove Town, all members of the 8th Missouri Home Guard. We’d been ordered to try and locate a large band of Confederates said to be bivouacked somewhere south of the town. We were also told not to engage the enemy and to return to camp as quickly as we could upon locating the Rebs. Rain fell most of the night, food is scarce and fearing ambush I dared not sleep a wink. But not to worry Ma, the Captain is a good man and knows what he is doing. I don’t rightly know when I’ll get this letter off to you. Each time we take a rest I’ll try and write a little more.
The creek was swollen a bit from the runoff and a bit murky and before reaching the other side I stumbled and dropped my musket. The Captain yelled at me to come on and leave the dang rifle in the creek and we would find it later. Luckily I’m carrying two pistols and can defend myself if necessary.
Night fog stills hangs over the creek and part of the field lying beyond us, so the Captain called a halt to hunker down in the grass to wait a spell and let it clear up a bit. I’m sure tired Ma and won’t write much this time. I’m gonna lay back in the grass and rest. It has been about an hour since we took cover and the fog is breaking up and I can see the sun breaking through. I reckon we’ll be moving out soon. Above us to the north the old mill is partially visible, grey and ghost like appearing abandoned and that ain’t a good sign.
The call to advance across the field came about fifteen minutes ago and we are near the base of a wooded hill. The hill is still shrouded in fog playing havoc with our imagination. The Captain motioned for us to get down for there seems to be movement up there, can’t tell for sure though, probably fog drifting over the hill. I tell you Ma if it was me in charge I’d go back to the creek where we have a bit more cover. I reckon its all clear though because the Captain is standing up and waving us on.
We’ve covered about two hundred yards and the sun is bright above us, a worrying thought since we’re like sitting ducks for any Johnny Reb up on the hill. The Captain doesn’t seem too worried and says we’re going up to the rail fence about a hundred yards further on. I got to give him credit; he’s a brave lad walking ahead of us like that along side the sergeant. I just hope….”
Ma we didn’t make it to the fence, a cannon above us opened up sending shot screaming down into the field. Two rounds exploded about fifty yards from where I stood, killing three men outright and another lays in the grass hollering something awful. The Captain shouted for us to charge them Rebels, but we didn’t get far when musket fire rattled above us cutting down four more men. A round from their cannon exploded in front of me and I took a hit in both legs and went down. A young Reb, not more than fourteen years of age jumped over the fence shouting and laughing. I took careful aim with Pa’s old pistol and shot the feller dead in his tracks and fired a couple more times into the deep shadows on the hill and heard a man scream. Gun smoke hangs heavy around us, but one by one I see my friends shot dead and then only the Captain and the sergeant are left standing firing bravely at the enemy. Several muskets fire in unison cutting the pair down and the battlefield is suddenly very quite, deathly quite. I’m watching a tall lanky Reb step over the fence and walk sort of cocky like down the hill to where the Captain and Sergeant lay. My revolver has one round left, but I ain’t gonna fire on the man. He kicks them and pulls the Sergeant’s shoes off and continues on to the next fallen man and laughs shooting the feller point blank. One by one he visits the fallen all the while getting closer to me. Hatred boils in me like I’ve never known before. I’ve pulled the hammer back on Pa’s gun and lay there waiting. Ma he’s almost here now, I can see the scuffed toes of his boots and Ma I’m gonna shoot him when he bends over to look at me. Adios

The story of the Battle of Womack Mill is not what it appears to be, but a scripted event of a small reenactment at Heritage Days in Fair Grove, Missouri a few years ago. I have added a bit of flavor for more detail. The only part not scripted was in the final scene when I rose up and shot the Reb as he was about to take my life. The feelings I experienced during the last moments of the event were real, raw emotions lashing out I suppose to the darkness of man’s cruelness to one another, justifying my act of cruelty. The sound of cannon was real; the explosions around us were real set off by remote control. The sound of muskets was real echoing against the hills. Real bullets and cannon balls were not present only a make believe battle for the crowd of onlookers to cheer or jeer to. It was a reminder of past events that nearly destroyed America. Living history is important to provide an intimate view of war, but I wonder, for on the hill that day there were those cheering for the Confederates and others were cheering for the Union, much like a football game. There were no victors, only friends who would later gather and rehash the adventure. Adios

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Loose Connection

A Time To Remember
A Loose Connection

One day several years ago, a couple of friends and I watched a 57 Ford come alive. It sat at the side of the road, no ignition keys in it and the doors were locked. The owner had apparently left it behind for some reason. The first inkling that something was amiss became evident when the horn began tooting and within a moment or two blaring loudly. The windshield wipers began working about the same time the headlights came on, along with the hazard lights blinking wildly. Smoke could be seen rising from under the hood and then the motor started.
To make a long story short we managed to raise the hood and disconnect a battery cable, silencing the Ford. The smoke slowly diminished and soon quit altogether. Closer examination revealed a short or loose connection in the ragged wiring harness.
Loose connections of course are not uncommon and can occur in every aspect of life relying on electricity to make them function and often catastrophic results occur. Perhaps a loose connection is incorrect when it pertains to a human, but I like the term especially since it involves me.
A long time ago when I was but a small lad I soon discovered we were dirt poor. This doesn’t mean we were destitute, just dirt poor. Summer meant no shoes except for attending church on Sundays and going to town on Saturdays. To face each day on the farm, I and my brothers were clothed in overalls, often patched at the knees and seat. The shirts were usually hand made by Mother from cotton feed sacks. I have to admit some of those sacks were quite colorful, but faded quickly when washed a few times. This is not to say we did not have better clothing when appearing in public. New overalls or jeans and store bought shirts hung in the closet.
As the years past we prospered some and by the time I started highschool, my twin brother and I sported two pair of Levis and two flannel store bought shirts each, but the shoes were not right for me and I decided I wanted a pair of black western Justin boots. I hired out one evening to help dismantle a carnival and the next morning purchased the boots and walked eighteen miles home. I was proud.
The years past, I married, raised a family, retired after nearly thirty years with the Missouri Department of Conservation at age 59 and still not aware of a loose connection.
During those years leading up to my retirement and with my wife and I working I began buying western boots, Stetson hats and shirts and beloved jeans. I never gave much thought to my desire to obtain those things until a short time ago when walking out of a mall with two newly purchased shirts.
I looked at my wife and said, “I am a sick man.”
“What do you mean?’ she asked.
“I now own seventy shirts for going places and about thirty for wearing around the house. I have fifteen Stetsons, eighteen pairs of boots, not counting the every day boots and more coats than I care to admit to. I have a loose connection. Let it be known from this day forward, I will not buy another shirt for a year!”
I could just as easily said that since I didn’t have much growing up, or I admire beautiful shirts, or they were on sale and justified the excess of things that I have, but I decided not to and faced my excessive behavior. I have a loose connection. I shudder to think that perhaps it could be genetic and I may have passed it on to my children or grandchildren. I wonder are some of them buying boxes of shoes, armloads of shirts, blouses or jeans. I decided to share some of my clothing with others. Nevertheless I am at peace now enjoying my shirts and all the rest and have come to terms with my loose connection. It is really quite humane this condition, especially since I have become aware of the defect and a year from now, who knows I may be out there again, buying more shirts, Stetsons and boots and loving every minute of it. adios

Truly a Flower of the Sun