Friday, October 24, 2008

The Intruder

A Time to Remember
The intruder
By Ronnie Powell
During the summer of 1967, Father, stricken with Parkinson disease had become bedfast, totally dependent on Mother. Nearly every evening my wife, the children and I arrived at the old farmhouse to help in any way we could. Mother distraught by the added burden of caring for Father, and him despondent by the terrible affliction welcomed our presence, especially the children.
The farm or so it appeared to me huddled without purpose around the old house. The pastures and fields deserted; the milk barn dark and dusty. The flowers Mother had taken great pride in drooped as if resigned to an untimely end. The farm had become a lonely place and even the Whippoorwill that came each night to sit in a high branch of the oak tree outside the kitchen window calling, sounded especially forlorn. A dreadful reality had befallen this place of memories. It was not a good time for any of us.
Mother informed me a few weeks earlier that someone was sneaking around at night pilfering through the outbuildings including the cellar taking things, tools, jars of canned goods and perhaps even other items she was not aware of. She of course was angry, but worse frightened that the intruder or intruders might break into the house. She did not inform Father of the situation, but he knew, I could sense it, but no longer able to communicate clearly he said nothing. There was little the law could do, short of remaining at the farm every night.
One evening near midsummer as usual the family and I arrived and took up our watch, helping Mother and sitting around visiting. I went to the bedroom where Father, lay propped up on pillows, talking to him and trying to understand his replies. The evening had faded into night. The mercury vapor light mounted on a pole above the garage below the house awakened with a soft glow pushing aside a bit of the darkness.
Sometime later, Joyce quietly informed me that she and mother had heard what sounded like a car door shutting somewhere near the house. Each of us cautiously peered out a window trying to locate the sound, but to no avail.
Mother was understandably upset and since my parents had no phone, I decided to have a look outside. I left the house under protest from Mother and walked as nonchalantly as I could down a short path to the garage where our Chevy sat near the yard light. I saw nothing amiss, but entertained a feeling that I was being watched and decided to go to the Chevy where on the front seat I had left a revolver. It lay where I had placed it, glinting dully in the shadowed light. I quickly took possession of the firearm, carrying it loosely, dangling from my right hand. Reasonably certain there was nothing to be concerned about I started back up the path toward the house.
I was wrong.
I cannot say what prompted me to look into the garage where my parents Ford set; perhaps it was instinct, a detached primeval force inherent in all creatures. Standing there half in shadow and light I saw a man, staring intently at me. I will never forget the eyes, wide with fear, in a face pale and drawn. He suddenly moved out into the light, bringing up his right hand rather quickly appearing to be holding a long barrel, nickel plated handgun. Mere seconds passed and I don’t remember bringing up the revolver I held in my hand, firing it once, but I heard the loud report and the bullet’s impact hitting the fellow. He screamed like no other person I have ever heard before, clutching his left side, dropping the object he’d held in his hand, ( a long, nickel plated screw driver) and ran, still screaming, hitting a barbed wire fence, catapulting over it.
Mother and Joyce had stepped out of the house onto the porch. Mother screamed, a piercing sound reverberating against the night. I stood in stunned silence listening to the rapid footsteps of the intruder and then heard the sound of an automobile speeding away.
The Sheriff at the time said only that I had been justified in firing my weapon and the incident ended there. The intruder remained unknown along with the severity of the man’s wound.
It was not that I lay awake during the following nights, guilt ridden by what I had down, but the memory of the man’s eyes and face and sound of him screaming haunt me even today. I concluded he wanted only to escape and did not intend to hurt me, but the price he paid for being a thief, surely haunts him as well, if indeed he is still alive. Adios

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I heard an old man ask another one day. “Why is everyone going to California? They never write to let me know what’s going on. The farm is growing up in weeds, the fences are down and I don’t see so good no more. Tell me if you can, what’s out there?
Why is everyone going to California?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Auburn Rubber legacy

A Time to Remember
Auburn Rubber Toys
By Ronnie Powell
I often, when shopping at Wal-Mart or any other store that has a toy section wander through it amazed at the abundance of toys, especially automobiles and trucks. Most are made of cast metal or plastic and make all kinds of noises and movements, leaving little to the imagination. Yard sales are full of discarded toy cars and trucks that can be bought for a quarter and in some instances a box full marked free. I do realize there are certain kinds of these toys that are collected, but even so the vast number of them is staggering which leads to another time.
Rubber toy vehicles came on the scene in 1935 flourishing quite well until World War Two that a brought a halt to most toy production. It was not until the end of the war that Auburn and Sun Rubber Companies resumed production of rubber toys. Many were prewar models along with a few new representations. The rubber toy vehicle would be relatively short lived and by the mid-fifties the market declined due to competition from foreign plastic toy companies.
One of the great American institutions’s that is all but forgotten are the five and dime stores and was located in just about every town and city. I remember most vividly when entering the Ben Franklin Five and Dime in Buffalo, Missouri, the tables and counters stretching from the front to the rear of the building displaying a wonderful variety of items from oil cloth, candies, phonograph records and toiletries and much more, but most important to me at least was the toy section displaying an unimaginable array of playthings. Rubber vehicles of every make and model were my favorites and second were the assortment of cap pistols. Nothing was sealed in plastic and could be picked up and held or rolled along the counter.
My first purchase at the Ben Franklin Store was a Lash Lure cap pistol for twenty cents. Four Royal Crown bottles retrieved from a road ditch and sold for two cents each and pennies saved were proudly laid down on the counter for the gun.
After World War Two, iron, tin and rubber toys were again manufactured but it did not matter, for we were too poor to buy such luxuries. My twin brother and I while living in Kansas City before the war were provided with a few toy cars, one being a blue Auburn Rubber pickup truck. I was very small at the time and my memory of the toy is a bit vague. I have a photograph of my brother and me with two toys and the Auburn Rubber pickup is one of them.
During those lean years on the farm any toys that came our way were usually hand-me-downs from a city cousin and most were in poor condition. I remember receiving two celluloid automobiles as gifts, but they were very fragile and did not hold together well beneath the shade of an oak tree above the house.
In 1946 I received a green rubber Desoto convertible as a gift from an aunt. It bore the name Auburn Rubber Company. It became a prized possession, guarding it selfishly for a number of years, until when absent for a time from the house it mysteriously disappeared. I never saw it again.
Several years later while looking through a flea market I came up on an Auburn Rubber convertible exactly like the one from years before. I do believe the lady at the counter thought me a bit strange for carrying on so about the toy.
After acquiring a computer I began looking through the Auburn Rubber section on E-Bay and behold, I found a blue Auburn Rubber pickup truck identical to the one I had played with in 1940. I of course posted a rather hefty bid and won the auction. Both toys are now proudly displayed and even though not the originals from that long ago time, they are reminders of my childhood and deep appreciation of such precious items. Adios

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Ozark Path

A Time to Remember
The Path
By Ronnie Powell
It is apparent to me at least, in life’s journey whether it be short or long there is a moment, a place, a mortal being, dog, cat or fellow human that is etched forever in memory. The very young often react positively or negatively to a seemingly unimportant gesture or occurrence that may remain in a dim memory throughout life. They are shadowed reflections, a dusty mirror in the mind and at first glance revealing no specific time or place.
My Grandfather Charley Powell passed away when I was nearing two years of age and I have no memory of the man, except for photographs or so I thought. One day many years later I mentioned to Mother that I occasionally recalled sitting on the lap of a man while holding in his hand a large acorn.
Mother looked at me rather questionably and replied. “Son you couldn’t possibly remember that, for you were only two years old. It was in the autumn of 1936 and you were sitting on Grandpa Charley’s lap. The Chinquapin acorns were abundant that year and you were quite fascinated by them. He sacked up a few and we took them back to Kansas City for you to play with. I was afraid you might swallow one and threw them away. How strange you remember that day to be as young as you were.”
There is another memory I visit now and again that begins with a path leading through a forest and at the time I first set foot on that obscure trace I found it to be a mysterious place fraught with wondrous uncertainties, fears and beauties.
During the first few weeks after our arrival at the farm and while Father was still in Kansas City, there was little money to buy even the essentials, such as fresh milk.
Approximately a half a mile or so east of our place, the Miller Farm lay along the Dousinberry Creek. A day or so after our arrival, Mister Miller stopped by to welcome us and said. “Minnie the boys need milk; send one of the twins or both a couple of times a week with a gallon lard bucket to fetch milk. There’s a path through the woods at the bottom of the hill. They won’t get lost.”
“Thank you Mister Miller,” Mother replied. “I appreciate your offer and expect to pay you for each gallon.”
Mister Miller shook his head. “No Minnie, if you don’t mind I’d rather not take pay for the milk. It is a gift to the boys.”
The next morning, bundled up in about all the clothing we had, Donnie and I set out down the hill, accompanied by Grandmother Carrie to the road ditch where we would begin the short journey to the Miller Farm.
“Stay on the path boys,” Grandmother said. “Do not wander off it.”
I scampered up the bank, holding tight to the bucket, then turned and helped Donnie up. We stood at the edge of a forest deep in winter shade. A pale sun shown between the branches of huge oak trees and birds flittered about on the ground beneath the trees, feeding noisily. Shadows darted to and fro further on in the timber. Frost lingered along a narrow path leading into the woods. The barren trees, swayed in a cold north wind.
Too young I suppose to fear the unknown I turned and yelled. “See you later Grandma.”
“Be careful,” she laughed.
A bend in the trail took us beyond sight of the road. A wisp of cloud covered the sun momentarily and suddenly we were alone in the dark woods. The trees seem to move closer to the path and beneath our feet the crunch of autumn leaves prompted a faster pace along the path.
“Hurry up Donnie,” I shouted, taking long strides, but came to an abrupt halt. A large horse on boney legs stood in the path.
Look at that,” I said to my brother, “a beautiful horse.”
“It ain’t beautiful,” he replied. “It looks old and might be grumpy.”
The horse ambled slowly along the lane and stopped an arms length from me. A very tall animal, a ragged brown, very skinny and I sensed no danger and reached out to stroke the long nose.
“I bet it belongs to Mister Miller,” I said. “Help me up, I’m gonna ride it the rest of the way.”
“No you ain’t.”
“Yes I am and if you don’t help me I’ll find a way to get on.”
Mister Miller appeared surprised upon seeing the three of us coming down the hill. The old gelding carrying me nonchalantly passed a chicken house, an outhouse and came to halt at the back gate.”
“Good morning boys,” he greeted us smiling. “That horse is at least twenty eight years old and nary a tooth in his head. “I don’t mind you riding him, but treat him kindly, he’s like family.”
“I will Mister Miller,” I replied.
From that day on, until the gelding died a couple of years later, it took but a call from me to bring him down the path to the road ditch where upon his arrival I held out a lump of brown sugar.
The forest became a playground especially for me, after discovering Robin Hood and his Merry Men along with a few Indians.
The forest was a quite place of immense beauty with mossy knolls, a Red Tail Hawk that usually sat on a high limb of a sycamore tree. It was a secret place where lived the shrews, field mice and crickets. Squirrels chattered from the big trees in the spring and feasted on acorns in the autumn. It was a place of solitude in the cool shadows near a spring where ferns grew in abundance and old toads sat warming in the sun. It is a place of memories where the bones of an old horse lie beneath the leaves.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Glimpise into Indian Prehistory Along Niangua River

A Time to Remember
Journey into the Underworld
By Ronnie Powell
High on a bluff near the North edge of Moon Valley overlooking the Niangua River there is cave that has harbored a legend for many years. A stone coffin it is said bearing the remains of a man and his wealth of gold lies hidden, sealed behind a false wall of natural stones so elaborately constructed as to make it undetectable. The story has been fragmented, sketchy and makes little sense. But of course over the years many have tried to find the coffin, destroying much in the cave. The spacious floor has been excavated repeatedly and taken out were priceless artifacts left behind by Prehistory Indians.
Much like other caves in the area a spring flows from deep within the cavern, reduced at the present to near nonexistent. Large stones lay around the entrance and I suspect were once a part of a huge overhang protecting the entrance from inclement weather, shielding it from view of the river. The entrance is approximately thirty feet across and perhaps the same distance in height. The main cavern is quite large twenty feet in width and about forty feet from front to rear. The spring channel is about ten feet wide cut well below the habitation area. The stream’s past descent is visible the entire hundred feet or so down a steep slope to the base of the bluff. It would have been an ideal shelter for the Indians of long ago: a virtual fortress against the most aggressive of enemy.
The breath of the cave was cool at the time of my first visit in 1963 suggesting perhaps another entrance deep within the dark twisting tunnels. The spring flow was impressionable at the time flowing out of the cave tumbling down the slope. I found remnants of Indian artifact which consisted of potshard, flint or chert arrow points, most were incomplete A massive ash bed had been excavated and screened near the entrance where lay hundreds of charred turkey, deer and other unidentified bones. Near the wall of the dry area I noted several exposed bones; most were animal remains with the exception of one a small frontal fragment of a human child’s skull. The destruction and removal of the cavern floor was at least ninety percent and the stream bed was clogged with discarded stones and other debris including beer and cola cans. The wanton devastation of this natural treasure was a dreadful sight one of many voids left by pothunters and other thoughtless people with no concern for the great knowledge cast aside.
I returned to the cave again in 1969 to explore the upper level of the cave but upon finding too many narrow passages decided to try and penetrate the stream bed. It is not wise and perhaps even more foolish to go alone on such a quest, nevertheless, I began the journey along the damp gravel trace. It wasn’t long and I was forced to walk bent over and soon began crawling on all fours through shallow pools of still water. The carbide light mounted on my cap kept banging against the ceiling and ultimately blinked out. One of two backup flashlights was brought into service. The water deepened after passing through a shallow riffle and soon I discovered I could again move along on my feet although in a crouched position.
I cannot say with exactness how far I had traveled when moving into a long body of water nearly chest deep. I bobbed along striking the ceiling with my head from time to time. The channel had narrowed to a width of no more than thirty six inches and the water was very cold and crystal clear. I kept moving selecting points ahead to stop and search the water for life and or to undertake an attempt to turn back.
The first observation of life was in the form of a small blind crayfish lying on the bottom next to a large stone. The creature appeared to be nearly transparent. A tiny fish darted from the bottom ahead of me and quickly disappeared from view.
After passing through the deep water I came to a short waterfall and crawled over it into shallow water that came up to my waist. The ceiling was very low at this point providing little room to raise my head. I began crawling on my belly again moving rather quickly a hundred foot or so up an incline, digging my feet in the sand and gravel and forced to lower part of my face into the water. The channel width had become alarmingly narrower making it nearly impossible to hold the flashlight out of the water or to move with ease. I could no longer see more than five or six feet ahead and then I arrived at a wall or so it appeared. Water flowed down the wall at intervals as if sloshing over the edge somewhere above me.
I decided it was time to go back and began turning around, bringing my knees about, flashing the light upward, surprised at what I saw. I was lying under an opening of such great expanse the light could not penetrate the distance. I slowly stood up and then reached up as far as I could and felt the top edge of the wall. Numbed by the cold water and barely able to stand, I managed to secure a hold on the top edge of the wall and painstakingly found footholds, slipping back again and again.
When at last I stood peering over the top, bringing both arms up I swept the beam of the flashlight across the top once again and saw a wide basin of water before me, perhaps ten feet across and nearly as deep. I could see a small cavern on the other side and the continuance of the cave ascending into the darkness beyond. Water dripped steadily from the ceiling hidden in the dark abyss above me. It was truly an incredible sight, but considerably beyond my reach.
I had been in the cave close to three hours, weary and extremely cold I turned back, moving as rapidly as I could, losing the second backup flashlight in the process.
Upon arriving at the entrance I quickly stripped off my shirt shivering uncontrollably, managed to light a fire in some dry tinder and sat for awhile soaking up the blessed heat. I even entertained the thought of returning sometime and attempt another excursion deeper into the cave but it would not happen for the property changed owners and entering the cave is strictly forbidden and has once again become a secret place of legendary lore.
I am often reminded when thinking back; the underworld to some Indians is the origin of all life on earth, emerging into the sun never to return again. The underworld is beyond a doubt a unique and wonderful space, yet as fragile as the summer flowers or a snow crested mountain. It is a sacred dwelling, not only to the descendants of Native Americans but to all who cherish this planet we live on. Adios