Mom’s family was a combination of Johnson and Wallis. The Wallis kin came from the Tennessee hills, moving to Indian Territory in what is now Boone County, Arkansas in the mid 1800’s. The Wallis’s homesteaded on top of Boat Mountain, clearing the trees with a cross cut saw, hewing the logs to build the log cabins. The cabins were pretty rough stuff, and usually started out being one room, and as the family grew and the kids got a little bigger to create the workforce needed, they would add on to the original structures. The one room cabin would become two rooms with a dog trot space between them and sleeping lofts upstairs, big fireplaces in both rooms for heat and cooking, with an overhang across the front to form a porch. Yes, the Wallis clan were early Ozark pioneers, growing up mighty rough, tough, hard working, fiercely independent, good and honest people. I only saw my “Great” grandfather Wallis one time, and to tell the truth, it was pretty scary.
(Rewind back to late Fall in the year 1940)
|My four year old self was totally absorbed in watching the rough, rocky road up the mountain, with wash out holes you could almost lose the ’39 Ford Sedan my dad, Big Stan Hitchcock, was driving. I got my name from my dad and grandpa Ed Johnson, Stanley Edward Hitchcock, although no one called me Stanley Edward except my Mom, Ruby Ann. I was sitting on my knees between dad and mom while in the back seat we had my Aunt Betty Johnson, and my grandpa Edward Lincoln Johnson and grandma Effie Lula Wallis Johnson, grandpa Ed smoking his old pipe, stuffed with Prince Albert Smoking Tobacco, in the red tin container he carried in his top overall pocket, along with the long kitchen matches he would strike on the metal fastener of the overalls to keep the pipe lit.I was fascinated by the deer, wild pigs, timber rattlers, a bob cat and other wild animals jumping, running and slithering across the old rough trail of a road. Now we probably had most all of these same animals up where we lived, in the Missouri Ozarks, but up there we had more population and the animals were not so free to jump in front of the car as down here in the remote Arkansas Ozarks.
We were heading up this almost impassable trace of a road to visit my “Great” grandpa Wallis. Now I wasn’t real sure just what a “Great” grandpa was, but I figured it must be pretty important to come all this way. We finally got up the mountain and in sight of the Wallis homestead, which by now, almost a century after the first log was laid, had been covered by cypress lap siding. It might have been whitewashed once upon a time, but you would be hard pressed to have found any white on those old grey cypress boards now, Out to the side of the house there was a big old log barn that looked to be in better shape then the house. It was surrounded by a split rail fence and I was drawn to it like a magnet.
“Great” grandpa Wallis’s first wife, Sarah Jane, mother of grandma Effie, had died years before and he had remarried. This second wife, “Great” step-granny, was standing in the front door, looking out across the porch at us pullin’ in. She was standing, arms folded across her bosom looking kinda like a puffed up Banty hen, in her homespun dress and apron. She had a corncob pipe stuck between her teeth and looking like she hadn’t seen many motor cars come up this mountain, which made us even cause I never had seen a woman smoke a pipe before. As we got out and walked up to the porch, me holding mom’s hand and trying to stay behind her as much as possible, “great” step-granny’s greeting was a simple nod of her head and moving aside so we could get through the door.
As we gained entrance to the living space of the old house, it was hard to make out details because of the smoke from the fireplace in the room. With the small fire flickering against the shadows, the only other light being from the two small windows on either side of the room. The floor was wide hand cut boards that had been worn down over the years and creaked every time we took a step on them. Finally my eyes adjusted, the smoke kinda cleared, and I saw “Great” grandpa. He was a big man, probably in his late 70’s, in faded blue overalls covering his long johns, and a snow white head of hair and a long white beard that came down to the center of his chest. I say “white beard” but really it was multicolored in shades of brown and grey from the tobacco juice that escaped from the side of his mouth when he would spit. He sit there looking at us in a hard way, then turned and spit his tobacco juice about 6 foot into the fireplace. PSSSSSSST! The juice sizzled when it hit the fire, and that sound has stuck with me all these years. He then turned his head back toward us and said, as way of greeting, “Effie, get me a cup of coffee to saucer.”
I was trying to figure out what was so “Great” about this old man, and ended up deciding it must be his multicolored beard and his ability to spit that far, which I have practiced and practiced and still cannot even come close.
While the folks were gathering around the fireplace to visit, I slipped out the half-open door and headed to the barn. As I got closer I noticed some pretty bushes that had prickly shells hanging all over it that I figured held nuts inside. Getting a couple of rocks and bashing the coverings I found indeed they held nuts and they were pretty dang good. My introduction to Ozark Chinqupens, which at that time grew plentiful in the deep Ozarks but have since pretty much disappeared. I played around the barn, climbing and exploring about every inch until the old tattered billy goat in the lot chased me out and over the rail fence and I went back to the house.
Coming back inside, I stood and watched the old man they called “Great” as he continued to spit in the fireplace. He would look at me, in the semi-darkness, staring from under a wild growth of eyebrows in a very stern way, but never said a word. Finally we all got ready to head out back down the mountain and it’s only in later years I have studied on the old original Ozarkers, and “Great” grandpa in particular. They were a rough, tough tribe, the early settlers to the interior of our country. They had to be tough, to survive the hardships. They were rough because all the sentiment and softness had been burned out of them by the life they had to lead. I realize now that “Great” grandpa’s and grandma’s truly were great by their nature to keep moving West, prove up the homestead and raise a group of children that would number sometimes up to 10 or 15 on a hardscrabble hillside farm in a remote section in the back of beyond. Those generations of “Greats” will never be seen again in this country that they founded, settled, built, improved and worked their selves to death to “do” for the family. Reckon that’s where we got the term “making do”. “Great” grandpa, I never got to really know you, but dang I wish I could spit like you. Thank God for the old ones that came before and left it better….for us to come.