Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grandma Cozette

   My mother, Cozette Sinor Tunnell, had an interesting childhood, at least from my perspective. At several different times in her life she lived with her paternal grandparents on their small subsistence farm in northern Arkansas.  I guess thats a rather formal way to say that she lived with her hillbilly grandparents in the Ozarks. This gave her an interesting window into the past as the Ozarks tended to lag behind much of the country when it came to modern conveniences. With a few minor exceptions, like their wind up radio, I don't think her grandparents lived very differently than their grandparents had lived. I've wanted for some time to write some stories about her growing up in the Arkansas Ozarks. I'd like to eventually put them into a book to preserve those stories for her numerous grandchildren.  Until I get around to doing enough stories to warrant self-publishing a book, I think I'll do it in a serialized format on my blog. I guess serialized would imply some sort of order and these will be somewhat random. Anyhow my first installment is the following:

  Cozette Sinor (on left) with her brother and sisters 

The Two Mile Cornfield – Part I

Grandpa Enos had only cleared about 5 acres of his 80 acre farm. The rest of his property was still woods.  In order to raise corn for his horses and Grandma Lillie’s cows he needed to rent a field.  Usually fields were rented for a share of the crop produced like the hayfield Grandpa Enos sharecropped at the Don Caldwell place.  He harvested the hayfield and gave a third of the hay crop to Don Caldwell.  However, Grandpa found a real bargain when for just $10.00 he leased two miles of railroad right of way as a cornfield.
It was wide enough for Grandpa Enos to plant six rows of field corn that ran the entire two miles.  The section of right away ran along the fertile river bottom of the White River about three miles away from Grandpa Enos’ farm.  One end of the cornfield was next to a cornfield belonging to Uncle Don.

One Saturday afternoon, early in the summer, Uncle Don stopped by to talk with Grandpa Enos.  When Uncle Don walked into town he often stopped by and talked to Grandpa Enos or Grandma Lillie on his way home.  He was Grandma Lillie’s first cousin and he was married to Grandpa Enos’ sister.  However, this time Uncle Don hadn’t stopped by just to rest or to be neighborly.  He had a proposition for Grandpa Enos.

“Enos, would you be willing to weed my cornfield down by the river?  I’ll pay you  $1.50 a day.”

“Well Don, I’d be willing, but you need to remember that I have a helper.  Are you willing to hire Cozette too?”

“Cozette’s a good worker”, Uncle Don agreed.  I guess I don’t mind hiring you both.”

“So we’ll weed your cornfield and we both get $1.50 a day”

“That’ll be fine”, Uncle Don agreed.

As Uncle Don walked up the hill towards his place, Grandpa Enos called Cozette into the house.  “We have some things to get ready”, Grandpa Enos told Cozette.  “We’ve been hired to weed your Uncle Don’s corn field down by the river.  We’ll weed my corn by the railroad tracks after we finish Don’s field.  It’s too far to walk every day.  We’d be wasting a good part of every morning just walking to work. Instead, we’ll camp down by the river.  You need to pack a change of clothes and make up a bedroll.  You might want to bring something to swim in.  It’s pretty hot work weeding corn.  A dip in the river might feel pretty good after a hard day’s work.”

Cozette replied with some hesitation. “ I don’t know how to swim Grandpa.”

“That’s no problem’, Grandpa said.  “I can learn you how to swim.”  A girl your age ought to know how to swim.

Grandpa set right to work gathering the things they would need.  He brought in an old olive drab army tent and two fold-up army cots he kept out in the barn.  He then brought in a rectangular steel plate, one foot by two feet, about ¼ inch thick.  “This will make a fine camp stove”, Grandpa declared.  Grandpa then collected various pots and utensils, and a large square metal can with a lid.  “This will be our larder,”  Grandpa offered. “ It will help keep the critters out of our food.” Grandma Lillie provided Cozette with a pair of quilts that she and Grandpa could use for their bedrolls. In addition to the tents, cots, and bedrolls, Grandpa Enos also brought in two hoes, some rope, fishing line, and fish hooks.  “We’ll set out a trot line to catch catfish, “ he explained.  Catfish will be a nice change from just biscuits, cornbread, and side meat.  Once the gear was collected it was all loaded into tow sacks and set aside.

 On Monday Cozette and Grandpa spent most of the morning making trips between home and the river until they had hauled all of their gear to their camp.    Grandpa was a very early riser and liked to start work early.  He didn’t want to waste a good portion of every morning walking to work.  They hauled enough food to last them  the entire week.  This included flour, cornmeal, some bottled fruit, two dozen eggs, and a slab of home cured bacon. Grandpa Enos always referred to the bacon as “side meat” because it came from the side of the hog.  They stored their food in the metal can in camp. Grandpa chose a flat spot about ten or twelve feet from the railroad tracks for their campsite.  This put them on the on the same side of the tracks as Uncle Don’s cornfield and the white river and  on the opposite side of the tracks from Grandpa’ cornfield.  There was a high wooden trestle about 100 feet away from their camp where the tracks crossed the ravine where Cunningham Creek flowed into the White River.  The creek had been named after Jonathan Calvin Cunningham, Cozette’s second great grandpa. The railroad trestle marked the start of Grandpa’s cornfield.  He set up the tent so that the door faced the little ravine of the creek. After Cozette helped Grandpa set up the tent, she unfolded the cots and laid out their bedrolls on the cots.

While Cozette was arranging the beds, Grandpa set up the fire pit.  He found some large flat rocks, which he carefully placed around the fire pit. Finding flat rocks was an easy task as flat rocks were very plentiful in that part of Baxter County.  He then placed the sheet metal on the rocks. After a few minor adjustments for level, Grandpa’s camp stove was ready to use. They had worked up quite an appetite making three trips between home and the camp, a total of 15 miles, carrying all of their gear in tow sacks.  It felt good to sit down on a log while they enjoyed a lunch of biscuits and sidemeat left over from breakfast. 

After a cold lunch Grandpa and Cozette walked over to see Van Haney. He was Uncle Don’s brother and therefore also Grandma Lillie’s first cousin.  His house was only a hundred yards away from their campsite in the opposite direction from the ravine.  As they approached the house they saw Van Haney sitting in a chair on the front porch.  After a brief exchange of greetings, Grandpa got down to business.

“Would it be all right if we borrowed your boat some over the next week or so?” Grandpa asked.  “We’ll be camping over by the trestle while we hoe Don’s cornfield and then my corn along the railroad tracks. I’d like to set out a trot line and get some catfish.”

“Shoot, I don’t mind if you borrow my boat,” Van replied.  “I haven’t used it much lately.  If you do real well, I wouldn’t mind a few catfish myself.  You know where I keep the boat.  Just go on ahead and help yourself.” 

“Thank you, Van”, Grandpa replied. “I have one more favor to ask you.  Could I trouble you for a few jugs of milk?”

“No trouble at all”, Van replied.  “You know we have plenty.  I’ll get you a few jugs and you come back when you need more.”  Van turned and went into the house.  He emerged a minute later with two earthenware jugs of milk, which he handed to Cozette. 

“Thank you kindly, Van” Grandpa said.  “We appreciate your help.”

“Come see us if you need anything!” Van hollered as Grandpa and Cozette turned to walk back to their camp.

Once they had arranged for the boat they set out to collect some bait.  Grandpa took Cozette down to the creek next to their camp and showed her how to dig up the freshwater mussels in the sandy bottom near the mouth of the creek.  They took the mussels back to their camp and put them in a pot of water on the camp stove.  As the water heated and began to simmer, the mussels would begin to open.  Meanwhile, Grandpa Enos busied himself preparing the trotline.  He tied each fishhook to a piece of heavy cotton fishing line, about two feet long.  He attached a lead sinker to each line, about 5 inches up from the hook.  The lines were then tied to a half-inch diameter rope.  The rope was about thirty feet long and the hooks were spaced several feet apart along the length of the rope. By the time the trotline was completed the water was hot and the mussels had started to open their shells.

Grandpa Enos said “We need to look those mussels over pretty carefully when we take them from their shells. You remember that pretty pink pearl tie tack your Daddy has?  He found that pearl in a White River mussel just like those in the pot.”

Cozette did remember the tie tack.  The pearl was perfectly round and as big as a pea.  Grandpa and Cozette then set to work removing the mussels from their shells.  Cozette looked each mussel over very carefully before it was placed on the hook. She wanted to make sure it didn’t have a pearl hidden in its shell. Cozette had no such luck this time.  There were no pearls hiding in these mussels.  In a short time the trot line was coiled and ready, each hook covered by a juicy piece of mussel.

Cozette and Grandpa Enos walked back down to the river and got into the boat.  The White River is about a hundred yards across at this point.  It was far enough across that you could see a man on the other bank, but you couldn’t recognize who it was.   Grandpa Enos rowed them out to a little island that was just the right distance from shore and secured one end of the trotline to a tree limb.  As he rowed them back to the riverbank, Cozette carefully uncoiled the trot line which trailed out behind them.  Grandpa Enos then secured the other end of the trotline to another stout tree limb on the bank. 

            They returned to their camp and cooked their dinner on Grandpa’s metal camp stove.  Grandpa cooked more sidemeat and baked some corn bread in a little metal oven he had that sat on top of the sheet metal stove.  He used it to cook biscuits in the morning and corn bread in the evening.

            As soon as it began to get dark they both turned in for the night.  Grandpa Enos always went to bed early and got up early.  Grandma Lillie always said the Grandpa went to bed with the chickens and got up with the chickens. Cozette felt safe with her Grandpa sleeping in the tent.  She listened to a soothing serenade of crickets, frogs, and Grandpa Enos snoring as she drifted off to sleep.

            Cozette woke with a scream to the loudest noise she had ever heard.  The earth shook as a piercing whistle filled her ears.  After the initial shock, Cozette realized the noise was the whistle of a train approaching the trestle. Her heart felt like it would jump out of her chest as the train rumbled past.  Grandpa Enos told her, “Don’t fret Cozette.  That train comes through every night at one in the morning.  They blow their whistle to warn people to get off the trestle. You’ll get used to it after a bit.”

            Grandpa Enos was sure right about that.  They camped by the train tracks for the next two weeks.  After hoeing corn all day, Cozette was so tired that she slept right through the train’s nightly whistle.  There is nothing like hard work to help a person to sleep well.




  1. How old was Grandma Cozette in that story? It is a really cool story.

  2. I love all the don't know if I'd be able to recall events like that....

  3. Grandma Cozette was about 13 or 14 years old at the time of this story. The detail is the result my mom's willingness to endure a series of lengthy interrogations. She wasn't able to recall the specific conversations so I've tried to come up with dialog that is consistent with the events she recalls and the way they talked.