(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Those of you that read this irregular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
I never write about living people except with their express permission, so this installment is about two long dead denizens of Hackett.
Mr. and Mrs. Chandler were old, even by my grandmum’s standards when I first met them. They rented that little house that my grandmum owned just to the south of her place. They moved in around, I guess, 1965 or 1966, give or take a year. Things were much different then.
First, I need to describe the house. It was really like what we now would call a shack, but it did have a rock foundation, and, as a I remember, four rooms. It has a big front room, a small kitchen with a pantry, and two bedrooms (or one and a large closet). It was not a shotgun house, since the bedrooms were opposite each other by a short hall. In a shotgun house, all of the rooms are in a single line, making the term apt, since if you shot a shotgun in the front door, the shot would go through all of the rooms and exit the back door.
It was also not what was called, at the time, a modern house. It did have electricity, just for lighting, but that was it. It had NO indoor plumbing of any kind. No water service, no bathroom, except for that second bedroom with a freestanding bathtub and a dresser with a large bowl for washing and shaving, with a mirror behind. Did I say that there was no indoor plumbing? Getting this renovated nowadays would definitely mean bringing in a plumber to connect EVERYTHING together, so a pretty big job. They would have to get the best professionals like this plumber near me so it can be a fully functioning home. Anyway, that’s for the future builders to decide.
The restroom stood around 35 meters from the back door, just outside of my grandmum’s chicken yard. It was a two holer, meaning that two people could “go” at the same time. The waste fell under the structure, and had to be cleared periodically. I shall write a separate post about outhouses another time.
The roof leaked badly. Since I stayed with my grandmum often, and since we often visited there, when it rained it was my job to take the pans that were getting full and dump them outside, replacing them with newly emptied ones in the meantime. These days, a landlord who rented a house in that condition would be brought up on charges! But Mr. and Mrs. Chandler were thankful to have even a leaky roof over their heads.
They were poor, dirt poor. Welfare, as it was called at the time, pretty much provided what little money that they had. At that time, there was a USDA program that provided actual foodstuffs, like cheese, flour, cornmeal, butter, and other staples to poor people, and most of their diet was from the commodity program. By the way, that was one which should be reconsidered. It put real food into poor peoples’ mouths.
They did have a stove, so they could cook. At that time the only fuel, other than wood of coal, that was available was propane, they did have a propane range and a tank. They also used free standing propane heaters to provide some warmth in the winter. In the summer, cooling was provided by a couple of box fans that local churches bought for them. Folks, they were POOR! My grandmum realized that the “house” was not very good, and rented it to them for almost nothing. She probably netted $10 a year off of it, after taxes.
Mr. Chandler, as I always called him, as was the custom at the time for kids to call elders (Gene and Katie were exceptions, from a previous post, because they were like adopted parents for me) was a really, really nice and kind man. As I said, he was OLD, and I am guessing probably around 75 years of so. In the early 1960s, 75 was OLD. He was about 5’7″, with a pretty full head of grey hair. He had a few teeth. Mrs. Chandler, Etta, (all of the adults called her “Etter”) was about the same age, around 4’10”, long grey hair sort of bunned up a bit, and toothless.
Mr. Chandler and I would sit in the back yard, or on the front porch, and he would spin stories about this and that. I never remember him having an unkind word for anyone. His stories were about how he worked all of his life and had little to show for it. I actually do not remember any one of them in detail since I was so young. But I do remember that he was never bitter about anything. He was happy to be breathing.
Mrs. Chandler, on the other hand, was hell on wheels! I well remember sitting on the back porch of my grandmum’s house, (Uncle David, the nice one to whom I continually refer) had “boxed it in” so that is was protected from the weather, so it was a nice place to sit when it rained, much better than moving and emptying pans of water! Her continence was not nearly so forgiving as Mr. Chandler’s. Look at this through the prisms of the 1960s and that of being a woman at the time, and being old.
Here are some of her phrases, directed at folks in town, or from her past, whom she thought might have slighted her, and also to the political folks at the time. I forgot to mention that they did have a radio, but no TeeVee.
“That Godda***d bast**d! He is a son of a bi**h! I hate that dam**d woman! Profanities would roll out of her mouth like the breath out of mine. My grandmum always turned red, but would not, out of politeness, stop her. After all, even though Mrs. Chandler was a renter, she was my grandmum’s elder. Etiquette required respect, and Ma (I am not going to use the term “my grandmum” ever again in this series) just was prohibited from correcting an elder.
So I got a double blast of profanity when I was little. If you look back to my previous post, you will see the other. Those two, Arthur and Mrs. Chandler, accounted for over 80% of my profanity learning.
But she was acutally a very nice person, just rough around the edges for her time. Even though she was very poor, she would help anyone if she thought that there was need. Ma never got used to the “cussing”, but also understood that Mrs. Chandler was a nice person in her psyche.
They had a Chihuahua dog, named Dutch. He was old, too. Everything about them seemed old to me, as a child, and even with almost 5 decades of retrospect, still seem old. Dutch was a snaggletoothed dog with a nasty disposition. He got along OK with Mr. and Mrs. Chandler, but not with anyone else. He would growl and bite at folks, but never did any real damage. I did not like Dutch, and tried to say away from him. Usually I succeeded, unless we were on their front porch, when Mr. Chandler would let him run. Dutch did not like me either, so we kept the peace by keeping our respective distances.
Ma was dreadfully afraid of the weather (and everything else!), so she saved up a little money and had a storm cellar installed just south of the rent house. Arkansas is in Tornado Alley, and although it does not have as many tornadoes in sheer numbers as does Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the like, has more per capita killer tornadoes, on a ten year floating average, than any other state.
The cellar was a about 8 by 8 feet on the floor, and about another 8 feet underground. It had a sliding steel door, and steps to get to the bottom. There were a couple of benches where folks could sit. It always seemed to me to be a death trap, since it had no air intake nor any water vent. But she liked it.
We all went into it many time. Ma, me, Mrs. and Mr. Chandler, and Joyce Long (a person for a topic for a later post: Joyce was my dear friend!) We would all climb down there to await the end of the storm. Of course, Ma would bring her Bible to “keep us safe”, like a talisman. Joyce just came and would sit, but Mr. and Mrs. Chandler would bring Dutch. Dutch had the annoying habit of sneezing about every 30 seconds, spraying his nasal discharges over everyone by the candlelight. I have no innate animosity against animals, but Dutch is still on my list of least favorite ones.
He was old, and started to act oddly a year or two later. Knowing what I know about medicine now, I believe that he was experiencing epileptic events. He would collapse, then stiffen, with his eyes rolling up, and salivate vigorously. After a quarter of an hour, he would be pretty much OK, but the episodes got more frequent and more severe. Finally, he did not recover from the last one.
Mr. and Mrs. Chandler were devastated. It was like they lost a child. Already old, they both aged in an accelerated fashion and finally moved away from Ma’s rent house, most likely because that was where Dutch died, and they could not bear to live there any more.
I have more memories about them, but none of any note. Most were just mundane things, mostly because they were nice folk to me who sort of took me as their own, and NEVER had any ulterior motives, except just to be nice to a little kid. I remember them fondly. I do feel a bit guilty that I never knew about their demise. When one feels such a loving bond, it is only proper to try to find out how they ended. I have no idea, and I would bet money that there is no record of them on the net.
One final note: Mrs. Chandler knew that I liked to collect coins, even when I was little. She had ten rolls of 1940 era dimes, and sold them to me for face value. She told me that she did not need the cash, but that she wanted me to have the coins with no loss to her. I was not so little then, and Dad floated me a loan to buy them. I still have all of them, and do not think that I will ever cash them in for the silver content. Each one of them has her salty language imparted on it, his gentle being, and, UGH!, likely Dutch’s snot on them! LOL!
Perhaps it is because of the Chandlers that I have become a raving liberal, more than anything else. Those folks were OLD, and no shelter to speak of, even if you consider the shack that Ma rented to them. We need to do better for our old folks. I will be one, if I live in a century or two, so look out for me then. LOL!
Seriously, the way that a society takes care of the ones who can not take care of themselves is definitive. I try to stay optimistic, but with three military incursions into places where we should not be, at a cost of millions of dollars per day, optimism is hard to maintain. That money would be better spent helping out the Etta and Roy Chandlers, here at home.
Please feel free to add your own experiences from your youth. The comments are always the best part of my posts.