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Growing Up in Rural Phelps County

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Growing Up in Rural Phelps County

I grew up in Rolla, Missouri during the 1950’s-60’s. We lived on a small 17-acre farm on F Hwy outside of town. I have the most wonderful memories of the rural “neighborhood” near Dry Fork River. The river was our favorite spot to swim during the summer. We, also, would have camp-outs with neighboring farm kids and catch fish for our supper.
Neighbors were the best neighbors then. When someone was ill or someone had passed away in your family, the neighbors from all around would bring fine food and desserts to express their concern and caring. They’d even help out with the field work if someone was behind in getting their crops in the ground or if hay was ready to be baled.

Those were also the days when you had to grow as much of your own food as possible. My dad was an avid gardener, even while holding down two jobs to make the mortgage. He would hand till and plant approximately three acres of fertile green gardens – everything from green beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, and the list goes on. We even raised our own meat – hogs,calves, and especially chickens.

I was in charge of gathering the eggs. It took a lot of courage at the age of 5 to reach into the hens’ nests and take out those eggs! Often, the hens would peck at me displaying their unhappiness about their eggs being taken. We even had Banti roosters that would chase me! I would pick up a nearby rock and quickly toss it their way while high-tailing it to the farm house.
I’ll never forget our sweet neighbor, Lucy Snelson, who came one day to show my mom and us kids how to butcher chickens. My two oldest brothers were in charge of “putting the chickens to rest” — a hatchet was their tool of choice is all I need to say! My duty was to pluck the chicken feathers once the chickens had been scalded. It was hard work on butchering day, but the fried chicken that resulted from a hard day’s work sure tasted good!

Prissy was our Heinz-57 farm dog. She had a rather large litter of puppies to nurse. We had been given a very small runt piglet by a neighbor. We named him Hercules. That piglet took to nursing on that mama dog! When it was meal time, those puppies would get tossed in the air as Hercules rooted for his favorite spot! That runt turned out to be a rather large pig and never left that dog’s side. Sometimes, the neighbors would call up and say, “I think your pig is over here in our field. He’s following an old dog around.”
I attended Dean School from kindergarten until fifth grade – a small two-room school house on F Hwy. We drew our daily water from a well, and we brought our own lunches . There were, also, outhouses. To let the teacher know you had to use the outhouse, you had to hold up two fingers to indicate your need. She would have been busy teaching a small group in front of the room and would nod her head if it was okay to use the outhouse.

We had only one teacher, Mrs. Smallwood, who was the world’s most wonderful woman! I remember that on rare occasions when her hired hand didn’t make it out to her farm to feed the cattle, Mrs. Smallwood would load us all up in the back of her pick-up truck, and the day was spent at her farm tending to the animals. Our parents knew Mrs. Smallwood would love and care for us like her own children.

Finally, the day came when they had to close Dean School due to only 11 students attending. We were then bussed to “town school” and overwhelmed by the many changes we had to make.
Growing up in rural Phelps County was a total delight, and the fond memories live on in my heart. – Connie Henson-Smith

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