My Little Town 20110504: Francis Worthen

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular 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, but since these folks are long gone, they are fair game.  They were actually very nice folks, but had some huge quirks, as most folks in my little town did.

Francis Worthen is one of those people.  I did not know her as well as I did many of the others in town, but well enough to write about her.  My memories of her are sort of skewed, as you will see as you read the piece.

Francis Worthen was a widow in my little town, about Ma’s age.  She drove a Studebaker Lark, a white one if I remember correctly.  She was always easy to spot, since it was the only Lark in town.  She used the same hairdresser as my mum and Ma since Mildred (a piece on her later) was the only one in town, everyone used the same hairdresser.  Did I mention that my town was little?

Hackett was like many little towns at the time in that it had railroad service.  Although there was no passenger service (you had to go to Fort Smith to catch a passenger train), it did have two freight lines.  The Midland Valley line ran just about a quarter mile south of my house, and it mostly hauled coal and did not make a stop in Hackett.  The Rock Island line was about a mile or so to the north.  It provided general freight service, and Hackett had a depot!

Ma (my grandmother, called Ma for reasons to be explained in one of future pieces on her) and Francis were both widows, and both had an interest in the same man.  He was John Mackey, and I did a piece on him not long ago upon the death of the last American World War I veteran.  John had been a doughboy, and I honored him in that piece.  Not many of us ever knew a doughboy, let alone knowing one quite well.

In any event, the house that Ma lived in was not “modern”, in that it had no water nor septic nor sewerage service.  The restroom was about 35 meters from the back door in the back yard, and the “bathroom” had a basin with and a bathtub, both with drains to a ditch in the back yard, as did the kitchen sink.  That is not really that unsanitary, because the greywater from dishes and bathing is not filled with pathological bacteria like the effluent from a commode is.  The water was gotten from a well right inside her rear sitting room, a nicely lighted, delightful room where we would sit (she took care of me during the day, and after school because my mum worked in Fort Smith).  I remember the “well bucket”, a galvanized cylinder about a meter or maybe a little longer with a strainer on the bottom to keep out sand.  It also had a valve device that would close when being pulled from the well, and a trigger at the top to open the valve to release the water into a conventional pail when the water was drawn.  It was pulled up by a rope attached to the top of the device and wound around a pulley from the ceiling.

To get hot water, Ma would take the well water and put it in a large vessel and heat it on the stove.  By that time propane was in vogue, so she did not have to use wood or coal, although she heated her house with coal.  Hackett was a source of excellent coking coal used in the steel mills up north, so there was plenty of coal to be had on the local market.

On or around 1964, my Uncle David modernized Ma’s house (the “City” of Hackett had just installed a public water system), running lines to the room with the tub and basin, adding a commode, and Ma hired a contractor to install a septic tank and field lines (it was years before a sewerage system was available).  He hooked up everything, except there was no water heater.  Ma ordered one from Sears, and they sent it on the train.

It arrived one day, and Ma got the call from the depot that it was there.  As fate would have it, Francis Worthen ran the depot!  So she knew that Ma was getting a “modern” house.  Some people already had them, and I do not know if Francis did.  My parents did, but they had a deep well with a pump and pressure tank.  They were significantly better off than Ma, but she was catching up with them.  Their house was modern before I was born in 1957, and they were amongst the earliest ones to have a modern house.

Ma called Uncle David (he lived just across the street from me, but I was of course at Ma’s anyway, and he drove over (a two minute drive, maximum, I TOLD you that this was a LITTLE town), and off to the depot we went.  That took around three minutes, because there were several turns to make, the the extremely heavy traffic delayed us.  Uncle David had to wait at two of them for other cars to turn.

So, Uncle David backs up to the loading dock to load the water heater onto his pickup truck.  Then he and Ma noticed that the fiberboard box had a huge hole in it.  They, with Francis watching, decided to inspect the water heater for damage.  Sure enough, there was a really big dent in it!  Ma was really angry (she was very mercurial anyway), and knew that if that heater was broken that it would take at least a week, maybe more, to get a new one sent.

Ma had a tendency to pound her open palm on a surface when she was angry, and she was pounding it vigorously on Francis’s desk as they went to reconcile the paperwork.  Obviously, Rock Island was liable, so that was not an issue.  There were two other ones, though, very important to Ma.  One was that it would take a week or more to get a new one, even at no cost to Ma.  The other, bigger, one was that Francis, competing with her for the same man, was the agent of the evil forces that ruined her water heater.  She took it personally, and even she never said anything like it, I would not be surprised if Ma believed that Francis herself took a sledge hammer to the device just to spite her.  Obviously, Francis did not do that (or did she?  She and Ma were very catty), but that did not matter.

Then it happened.  Ma was still livid about the damage to the water heater, and Francis said, “Well, I’m sorry.”  Ma became extremely distraught.  “SORRY!!!”, she ejaculated, and slapped Francis square in the face!  I was hiding by that time (I was only six or seven), and Uncle David, always the voice of reason, stepped betwixt them and stopped the violence.  Uncle David, still with us, is not a large man, but he is extremely strong for his age.  I very much hope that I do not write pieces devoted to him or to Aunt Joanne for a very long time, because I write only about folks who are no longer with us, except for glancing references like this one.

With Francis and Ma safely separated, Uncle David went to examine the water heater.  It turns out that the dent was cosmetic, only compressing a bit of insulation, and not damaging the glass lining of the water heater.  It was fine, just with a superficial dent.  He advised Ma just to take it and use it, since he could install it that day.  She agreed, and after Uncle David loaded it onto the pickup truck (the depot did not have any workmen, since it was being phased out), tied it in place, and took it to Ma’s house.  He did install it either that day, or the one after, and Ma had hot and cold running water, a real toilet, a real bathtub, and finally a modern house.

Just a little more about Uncle David.  He is sort of a Renaissance Man.  He has a graduate degree in mathematics, was an excellent teacher for many year, an outstanding grade school principal for many years as well, a musician, a farmer, a carpenter (he designed and built TWO houses that he and Aunt Joanne occupied, the current one in which they live was designed and built by him) plumber, electrician, and likely the most dedicated father and family man that I have ever had the honor to know.  But this is not about him.

Well, Ma and Francis did not have many more social contacts after that.  Francis was a Baptist, and Ma a Methodist, so they did not have to see each other every obligatory Sunday attendance.  Ma would watch for the Lark, and not stop if it were near the store.  Finally, Ma won overbeat Francis insofar as John was concerned, and they married.  They lived together until John died, I believe in 1973.  He was a buddy to me, I shall do him justice soon.

Please use the comments to tell us your early memories.  It is not necessary for you to have grown up in a little town.  For a child, all communities are, or should be, little, as we learn to socialize with others.  It starts small, and grows.  Now I socialize with an international community, and am very happy that several folks choose to socialize with me.  At the risk of seeming rude, I do ask that you limit your comments to those memories from your relatively distant past, when you were 16 years of age or younger.  Facebook is there for what we all did ten minutes ago.  However, if a distant memory interfaces with a recent happening, there are no restrictions.

Warmest regards,



  1. old recollections?

    Warmest regards,


  2. You know that I appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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