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Neal's Story Room

Nothing Wasted

We didn't have monthly bills after we moved up on Holson Creek. I didn't know what a phone was. I did know what electricity was, but we didn't have it up there. We used wood for cooking and heating, and we had coal oil lamps to study by. We drew the water we needed out of that old dug well.

As soon as we moved up there, my father started harvesting the pine timber and selling it for pulp wood. He bought two old used two and one-half ton trucks and an old Case tractor and hired whoever he could to help. They would go to the woods every morning and cut a load, load it by hand (there were no chainsaws or loaders those days), then haul it to Fanshawe and unload it by hand.

He used that old tractor to skid the trees to the trucks before cutting them up so they would not have to carry the sticks so far. I don't know how much he earned, I only know that we always had plenty to eat. He bought pinto beans by the 100 pound sack and during the winter we ate them every day.

When spring came, he stopped cutting pulpwood and started farming that 90 acres of bottom land with a team of horses.

He would plant corn, peanuts, cotton and watermelons, and would make up for not allowing us to go to the woods where he was cutting pulpwood by making us go help with the crops. If we were not chopping cotton or corn, we were cutting sprouts with a chopping ax, then picking the cotton to take to Poteau to sell, or gathering the corn and peanuts to put in the barn. The melons we would eat and share with the neighbors.

After the spring floods were over, he would take Mother's two wash pots and rub board to the creek about one-quarter mile from the house and set them up on rocks to level them for her, and me and my brother, R.C. would look forward to wash day because he would tell us to help her instead of going to the field. First, she would load all the dirty clothes into an old square wash tub along with a bar of lye soap, knife and a lunch. We carried it to the creek and spent the day.

First, we would carry water from the creek and fill the wash pots, then build fires under them from the driftwood which was always plentiful.

When the water was warming up, she would take the bar of lye soap and start slicing it off in pieces about as thick as a potato chip, and by the time the water started to boil, it was good and soapy. She would put the clothes in and spend the day washing them on that old rub board, rinsing and wringing them out to take home, while me and R.C. played and swam in the creek. The worst time was when she said it was time to go home, because then we had to dump those old wash pots and rinse them out, return them to the rocks they were sitting on, then hang the rub board and bucket up in a tree. Then carry that old wash tub home with the damp clothes in it. That made them a lot heavier, but it was still a lot better than choppin' cotton.

We would see an airplane two or three times a year and when we did, we watched it til it was out of sight. It was a big event and we talked about it for days, never thinking we would see one up close.

One fall day as we were eating supper, Earnest Johnson came to our door with a man we didn't know. Now, Earnest had a job manning one of those forest service towers on top of Blue Mountain, and about mid-evening, he saw a plane crash to the ground about a half-mile from his tower and about 100 feet from the road. The plane was torn up bad, but the man in it was okay. It had started to rain, and soon the creeks and Blue Branch would be hard to cross, so he brought the man to our house to see if we could help get his stuff out of the plane and then over the bluff to town.

He said he had a load of cured bacon that we could have if we would help him. One of Dad's old pulpwood trucks was an old surplus G.I. truck with front-wheel drive and stood high off the ground and was about the only thing in that valley that could cross the creeks in another hour or two. So he, Earnest and the man got in the old truck and took off. We did not see them until the next morning after they had delivered the man to Wister so he could make a phone call to his family, after taking him back to the top of Blue Mountain to get the stuff out of his plane. I don't know if that man paid them any money or not, but we and Earnest had cured bacon to eat for a while, and Dad took all of us kids and Mother up on Blue Mountain to see the plane a few days later.

It was blue and white with numbers on it, and there was a wing here, a motor there, bent up, and I decided it was okay to watch from the ground but I never wanted to ride in one.

We did not have trash. If every family on that creek put what they had, it would not make a sack a year combined.

We did not use Pampers. The mothers used diapers and would wash and reuse them, and nobody used baby bottles and canned formula. They fed their babies at the breast. I never even saw a baby bottle until years later.

If you found a beer or pop bottle in the ditch, you could return it for two cents, so there were few of them thrown out. Coffee, Prince Albert, snuff and lard were the only things that we bought that came in cans or buckets, and we would use the coffee cans to dip feed. The P.A. and snuff cans we used to put fish hooks, bullets or worms in. Cow feed came in toe sacks as did pinto beans, and toe sacks were always in demand. The shoes we wore out, we could cut the sides and tongues to make sling shots and repair harness, and the soles made good hinges for the crib doors.

Flour sacks were print patterns and made of cotton, so Mother made dresses out of them. When we wore our clothes out, Mother would salvage the buttons and zippers and use the cloth for quilt tops or wash rags. Lard buckets were used for milk buckets. Mother saved paper sacks for our lunches and to put quilt scraps in. We never bought anything wrapped in plastic and as we had no electricity, we didn't have burned out light bulbs to dispose of.

The batteries for Dad's radio were about the size of a computer keyboard and about four inches thick and were dry, so they never leaked. They were wrapped in heavy cardboard and made perfect booster chairs for the small children when put on the bench at the eating table. As he just used one or two a year, they were always in demand and never thrown away. They were just considered part of the furniture. If we ever had a piece of cloth too dirty or worn out to use, or a sack we needed to get rid of, we just pitched it in the fire.

I had many chores in those years, but one thing I never heard from my folks was, "Come take out the trash".


This book is a collection of short stories about Neal's growing up years in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; ongoing events in the same rural neighborhood; and his personal views on various issues concerning Choctaws.

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