This family history tells about three generations of Seiters on their farm in Arkansas. It comes from my mother, Mary Magdalen Mammoser née Seiter, who told me many of her memories from childhood.
My grandparents William and Crescentia Seiter had eight children, three sons and five daughters. My mother Mary Magdalen was the second youngest. The eldest was Ann, followed by Elizabeth (Aunt Betty), Genevieve (Aunt Jenny), Andrew (Uncle Andy), Herman, Martin, my mother, and Mildred (Aunt Millie).
My grandmother, Crescentia Marie Neuman, was the oldest daughter of Michael and Anna Neuman. She had 2 sisters (Agatha and Rose) and 4 brothers (Michael killed in WW I, Frank, Joseph and John). Michael Neuman was born in Baden in the Rhineland. He came to Arkansas as a young man. He had two brothers. Anna Geisbauer was born in Passau in Bavaria.
Anna likely came to Arkansas with her family while in her late teens. She had at least one brother Richard Geisbauer, though my mother never met this great uncle. Before she married Michael, she served as a domestic for the MM Cohn family in Little Rock, who were department store owners. My mother recalled how her grandmother Anna always set the table in her home so well and how she had a very well kept home.
The Neuman and Seiter families lived in the area around Morrison Bluff and Scranton, little towns near the Arkansas River. They were farmers who lived in a rural area largely populated by German Catholics. The families may have received their farms as land grants from the government in return for clearing and cultivating. They all spoke German as their first language at home and in church. My mother usually refers to this area as ‘Scranton.’
Their parish was Ss. Peter and Paul in Morrison Bluff. The parish priests were Benedictines from the Subiaco Monastery nearby. All of my mothers’ grandparents (my great grandparents), Seiters and Neumans, are buried in the parish cemetery in Morrison Bluff. She recalls that the Seiters lived close to the parish church in a large farmhouse. The Neumans lived further away, at least an hour by horse-drawn carriage.
Anna and Michael were married in Ss. Peter and Paul parish church. They raised their family on a small farm in the area. They had six children, my grandmother Crescentia being the first born daughter. She was born February 16, circa 1897. The farm was of perhaps 100 acres. They raised cattle, hay, corn, and some cotton, which was a good cash crop. They had some dairy cows, chickens and eggs to sell.
Eventually, one of my grandmother’s brothers, John, and her sister Rose Werner, moved with their families to Idaho and became successful potato farmers. Many years later my mother, living in retirement in Arizona, learned of an Anita Newman (anglicized from Neuman) still living in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
My grandfather, William Eugene Seiter, was eldest son of Joseph Seiter and Julia Frederick. He had four brothers (Charlie, Joseph, Anthony, and Louis) and three sisters (Mary Weisenfels, Francis Weisenfels and Steffanie Wewers). Mary and Francis were married to brothers. The Weisenfels were another family around Morrison Bluff. My mother remembers the men of that family were soft spoken and kind, in contrast to her father.
Joseph Seiter and Julia Frederick were born in Baden in the Rhineland. Their families came to Morrison Bluff on the Arkansas River where they received grants of land and cleared this land. The Frederick family eventually moved on to Little Rock. My mother can’t recall her grandmother’s siblings, although there were several. The Seiters remained as farmers in Morrison Bluff, although some also moved on to Little Rock and Fort Smith.
My grandparents, William and Crescentia, were married in Sts. Peter and Paul parish church in 1919. My grandfather had served in the US Army near the end of World War I. He may have served as a translator although he was not sent to Europe. Apparently, he married my grandmother upon his return from the Army.
Joseph Seiter helped his sons get some land along the river – a lot of their land was called bottomland. When the sons married they received a gift of land to start their own farms. My grandfather and his brothers all had farms. There was a big sawmill in Morrison Bluff where the families could saw the lumber from their land for building their houses.
My mother Mary was born in Scranton in 1935, the second youngest of eight children. Her older brothers were Andrew, Herman and Martin. Her sisters were Elizabeth, Ann, Genevieve, and younger sister Mildred. My mother recalls that they farmed corn and cotton in river bottom land. The house was a pretty wooden farmhouse with a large kitchen and big porches. It probably had three bedrooms. The kitchen had an ice box and a wood burning stove. They would have had a big kitchen garden near the house. There was a big red barn. The bathroom was an outhouse.
My grandfather’s farm had some woods with cedar trees. He sold some of this as lumber. He kept some of the cedar wood to make four cedar chests, he had a carpenter make the chests and he kept them, and when the older daughters were married they each received a cedar chest.
Ultimately, my grandfather and his brothers would leave this land due to the river flooding, because the land was low in the floodplain of the river, their crops were often washed out. They were able to sell the farms because a levee had been built to prevent the flooding. All of the brothers moved to Fort Smith or to Conway.
My grandfather sold his farm to the Kleck family, who later turned it into a chicken/egg farm. The farm was later sold to the Weisenfels family to allow them to expand their landholdings for dairy operation, although the Kleck family still owns six acres and the house. The farmhouse is still there in Morrison Bluff. Mrs. Kleck who is quite elderly, or one of her sons, still lives there now.
My grandfather’s brother Charlie married Mary Enderlin of Conway. She inherited a cotton gin and some land, so Charlie moved there and married her and worked the cotton gin and a large farm. Charlie invited my grandfather to move to Conway and he moved to Conway in ’41 when my mother was about 6 years old and Aunt Millie was very small. Aunt Ann and Aunt Betty didn’t move to Conway with the family because they were pretty much grown up by then and already living and working in Fort Smith.
House and garden
My grandfather purchased about 85 acres of good land south of Conway. My mother and her sister Millie and their brothers worked on both my grandfather’s and Uncle Charlie’s farms growing up. My mother recalls picking cotton as a child, although being very young she was not a real good picker and mostly helped her father weigh the cotton picked by field workers. Grandfather brought a large scale to the field for the purpose of weighing bags of cotton. When she was older she worked every day in the dairy barn.
The house was a large red brick house, larger than the house in Scranton. It rested on a slight hillside. It had four large bedrooms and big porches front and back. It had a large kitchen with a wood burning stove and a gas cooking stove. It had indoor plumbing and one bathroom. It had a large walkout basement with a laundry area and storage room. There was a wood burning stove down there for grandmother to use for canning in the summertime. The basement opened to a root cellar that had been dug into the hillside under the house. In this cellar Grandmother kept all the canned goods she prepared along with root vegetables that were kept all winter.
The kitchen was in the rear of the house and back behind was a very large garden, one side of which extended almost to the highway (Highway 65 to Little Rock). Down in front of the house by the driveway was the dairy barn. Also down there was a chicken house and coops where the chickens roamed about.
In the garden was at least an acre of cantaloupe and watermelon and a half acre of potatoes. Also lots of vegetables and berries – Lavaca berries (blackberry + boysenberry), which were not seedy like blackberries but sweet and mild for good pie, cobbler and jam. They picked berries every Sunday during berry season so they could be sold in the market next day.
Sweet corn was planted along the edge of farm crops, along the hay, 2-4 long rows of sweet corn. Also there was a wonderful orchard down in front of the house by the highway, with peaches and plums, about 25 peach trees, a couple plum, a couple pear, and a couple apple trees that as my mother recalls were McIntosh apples.
My grandmother liked to make apple pie and sauce. Sometimes friends from town would come out to buy peaches. They sold a lot of peaches and plums, although not the apples and pears which were kept for home consumption. The peaches were white and yellow peaches. They kept three bushels of peaches for the home, and grandmother might buy a bushel extra of yellow freestone peaches to have a different variety of flavor. Grandmother would can the white peaches whole. She would can pears to keep for over winter.
She cut the pears in half and removed the seeds, then put them in the mason jars, covered them with sugary hot water, sealed the jars and placed them entirely in boiling water on the wood fired stove for a long time – a preserving method known as ‘water bath.’ All the fruits were canned this way. Meats and vegetables were preserved in jars in a pressure cooker.
“We ate fruit instead of salad in the winter because there was no lettuce available,” my mother told me, as she fondly remembered the pears. “They were so beautiful when they came out of the jars,” she said.
My grandfather’s farm was of very good, tillable land and he grew cotton for many years. There was a small area of woods on the farm where he harvested lumber which helped to pay for the mortgage on the farm. Grandfather kept about 20 head of cattle and three horses. They grew alfalfa for winter feeding the cattle and horses. They also grew oats for the animals. And they would thresh and have straw for the barn in the winter.
There was a large red barn that my grandfather painted occasionally to keep it nice and red. He had a team of mules which would sometimes pull a plow if extra help for that was needed in the fields. They had hogs. They raised a lot of chickens for meat and for eggs. They also raised a couple turkeys to slaughter for holiday meals, and some geese as well.
They had good water wells on the farm. There were big drinking tanks for the animals, one in the barnyard and another in the pasture. Every day in summer they would pump the water to fill these for the animals. They had lots of compost for the garden and lots of manure to spread on the fields.
“We worked in the garden, in the fields, we worked every day,” my mother told me. She had to take water out to her brothers and farm workers in the summer, riding on a bicycle with four gallon jugs.
She remembers one terrible job that was reserved for her three brothers. It was cleaning the manure out of the barn every spring, piling it up on the manure wagon and carting it out. It must have been horrific, she says, and probably drove the boys off the farm.
After her brothers left the farm for the Army and to learn trades, my grandfather turned the farm into a dairy farm. My mother was about 14 then, sometime around ‘49. They had 20-30 milking cows and good grazing pasture, not large but good pasture with good grass for hay. For some years he kept a bull for breeding until artificial impregnating of the cows became common. Milk was picked up every morning and taken to Deans Dairy in Conway.
Grandpa had one Ford tractor. Sometimes his brother Charlie would lend him use of one of his tractors when needed. He was a good farmer, my mother recalls, rotating the crops and carefully contouring the fields.
Cotton would come in August, corn in the fall around end of September. There were about 10 acres of field corn hand-picked as late as Halloween. There was a crop of oats in the fall. They gathered and baled straw for winter, some put in the barn and some piled in different parts of the pasture. They also grew and baled alfalfa hay for the barn. There was a community threshing machine and the farmers would help each other during the threshing season. Grandfather had a big field of maybe 30 acres of oats and a few acres of alfalfa. Mr. Moix would come, and Mr. Halter would come too to help Grandpa and Uncle Charlie. The favor was returned for their farms.
My mother and her brothers shared in the work, although my mother was not required to work on the other farms. Sometimes they had to hire a couple workers as well. After the thresher went through they raked the straw and hay in long rows to dry. A bailing machine pulled by a tractor went over these. It had seats on it and my mother and Uncle Charlie often sat on the baling machine working together. My mother would insert wire into two slots while Uncle Charlie grabbed the wire on the other side, wrapped it around and tied the bales. These fell off behind the machine, which later the boys would collect in the field on a long flatbed trailer.
That job was quite hard on the back and the hands, my mother recalls, as was work in the cotton field. My grandfather would drive his pick-up out to a small community of black folks near Conway, where he hired women to help with the cotton picking. They carried long bags, 5 – 6 feet long with a strap to hold the bag on the back. At the end of the day my mother’s job was to help weigh the cotton on a big scale, my grandfather weighing the bags and my mother recording it. Sometimes the women would come in at lunchtime to weigh it when the bags got heavy.
They earned a couple cents per pound. Picking a hundred pounds in a day was considered a good day’s production. Grandpa would pay them at end of the day before driving them home. On really hot days he would stop off to let each worker take a watermelon from the field, as they always had plenty of watermelons.
The worst job ever, my mother remembers, was the fence posts. One summer my grandfather had to rebuild a fence on the farm and he got hold of a big machine, a post hole digger for the metal posts. My mother had to sit on this awful contraption to help steady it during the digging.
“I was helping Daddy build a fence one summer,” she recalls. “It was a real dry, hot summer and the ground was hard and the thing just shook me all over the place.”
My grandmother learned of this and was not pleased, so she told my grandfather to take her off that job, which he did. Mom can’t remember how he ever finished building that fence, but it was her last summer on the farm anyway. “Thank goodness,” she says.
Feeding the family
Almost all foods came from the farm. They spent cash for sugar, coffee, flour, yeast, baking powder, margarine and salt. Butchering hogs rendered lard for baking. “We just worked at preparing food all summer long,” Mom told me.
The older daughters helped grandmother until they left home. Aunt Millie helped her with a lot of the housework and kitchen work. My mother, being a little older, helped more with the outdoor farm work and also did more of the sewing.
My grandmother baked pies every day and four loaves of bread every other day. During the threshing and hay baling season she baked four pies daily for the family and workers. She used a huge pot for cooking ears of corn and cooked 50 ears a day to serve the threshers.
Grandmother made cottage cheese. She made butter until, ironically, they turned the farm into a dairy farm. Then they saved the milk to sell and bought cheap olio margarine instead! The olio was white, it came in a plastic package with a button of yellow food coloring. My mother says it was flavorless and rather greasy in texture.
The garden gave forth a profusion of vegetables during the long growing season. They grew beans, peas, lettuce, cabbage, squash, red and white and (especially) yellow onions, sweet onions, potatoes, okra, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes of many varieties and sweet corn. They planted a large area of melons and about a half-acre of potatoes to last the year. They grew Lavaca berries for jams, cobblers and pies.
Most produce was for home consumption, although Grandpa took some to sell in the farm market in Little Rock. He took berries, watermelon, and any leftover tomatoes and other vegetables to the market. He also sometimes took cantaloupe. He took leaf lettuce, beautiful heads of it red and green, to Simon’s grocery store in Conway. He sometimes also took cucumbers to Simon’s.
Onions and potatoes went in the cellar, where there was a big potato bin. There were shelves for keeping canned foods in the cellar. Onions were tied in bunches and hung from the rafters. My mother remembers the good flavors of the vegetables from the garden, especially the tomatoes. “The tomatoes would be ‘this round,’” she told me. “They were huge.”
They would butcher four chickens every morning. Everyone came in for lunch, which was the main family meal served about 12 – 1 pm. One hired hand Jack could come in the house for dinner. Grandmother made fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. One day a week she might cook a roast. She served green beans, peas, black-eye peas in the fall, fried okra, and a big platter of sliced tomatoes with thin sliced onions over the tomatoes. She served the bread from the oven.
They raised lots of chickens, hens for eggs, selling the left over eggs, and frying chickens. They also raised a few geese and turkeys. They butchered a turkey for Thanksgiving and a goose and turkey for Christmas. They had a lot of hogs to take to market.
They butchered a beef and 4-5 hogs for the family every fall. There was a smoke house to cure the hams, bacon and sausage. Grandmother would can the meats, make pot roasts and can the meat with gravy. She also canned pork sausages, cooking the long sausages in a skillet, then slicing them in shorter pieces and canning them.
Grandmother canned four bushels of peaches each year. She made peach, plum, and berry jams. She made pickle relish and a corn relish of corn, bell peppers, onion, salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar. She would can green beans, peas, corn cut off the cob, corn relish, all with the garden onions to flavor. She canned something called chow-chow which consisted of green tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and celery seed and maybe a little garlic for seasoning.
“Mama was really good at seasoning,” my mother says. “When the boys ate meat they would add a big serving of the chow-chow or corn relish. They loved it.”
They had an ice box in the kitchen. An ice man came every other day until they got a refrigerator about 1955. Later, there was a big freezer company in Conway and they rented some freezer space. Fruit and meat would go to freezer. My grandfather would go to the freezer once a week to bring back meats. My mother remembers beautiful thick steaks and ribeye, spareribs and back ribs and pork chops.
My grandmother liked the freezer. She would parboil corn on the cob and put it in plastic bags for the freezer. She washed the slaughtered turkeys very carefully, made sure they were thoroughly clean, then sent them to the freezer. And these were retrieved just before the holidays for cooking. She thought the bird from the freezer tasted better, that the moisture was better retained. “We always had the best turkey, so tender and delicious, not dried out,” Mom says.
“She was way before her time on freezing,” my mother says of her mother. “She understood how the freezing preserves nutrition.” Later grandmother even went to a big kitchen at the University of Central Arkansas, which was available to farm women to preserve food. There she learned to preserve fresh corn in metal cans. She and her daughters would spend a whole day in the UCA kitchen for this, carefully removing the kernels from the cob, sealing the cans and placing these in a big vat for preserving by a boiling method. My mother remembers the canned corn being quite good and tasty.
“She always learned to do things well,” Mom says. “I had great respect for her and her cooking abilities.”
They butchered every year on the farm, a beef and 4-5 hogs. The beef cow was butchered in fall to send the meat to the freezer. Hogs were butchered in the coldest part of winter. They would carry buckets of water from the well. My grandfather heated the water to boil the heads, cook the brains and the liver. They would clean all the entrails, scraping down the intestines to be thin and clean, then filling with sausage, blood sausage and pork sausage. Nothing was wasted. They used the blood for blood sausage. The soft organs were used, kidneys and liver for liverwurst, intestines for the sausage casings. Also the brains, grandmother made a brain dish from the beef brain. Grandmother made pickled tongue and pickled pigs feet which were tender and delicious. She canned these and sometimes placed a bowl of pigs feet on the table with a lot of its own gelatin around it. Ham hocks were prepared too.
Hams, shoulders, ribs and sausage went into the smoke house, which was a small peak-roofed building (about 12’ x 12’) with a small chimney down by the driveway. They used hickory wood from nearby trees, keeping a small fire smoldering with lots of smoke rising all the time. “During the winter the smoke house was filled,” my mother recalls. “Boy did it smell smoky around there in winter, and even in summer!”
They hung hams and smoked them until the hams looked real brown. The sausage would hang in the smoke house a couple months. At some point, old sausage that hadn’t been eaten would go bad, so grandmother cooked it and canned it. She would sterilize the jars and lids with boiling water. She had a “canner,” a great big metal thing that held a dozen jars, to boil the filled jars and preserve the meat.
The main daily meal was dinner, while supper was served in the evening about 7, sometimes later in the busy planting season. Supper often consisted of leftovers and what my mother remembers best are the wonderful fried potatoes. Grandmother would make mash potatoes for dinner, then she used the leftovers to make potato rolls or pancakes for supper. She added salt, pepper, onion, a little flour and egg, then pat out the little pancakes, brushed on a little butter and put them in the oven, turning them to brown on both sides until they got nice and crispy.
She also made potato noodles by putting a little bread in them and boiling in chicken broth. She made spätzle of flour and egg. She made sauerkraut, a big crock of it every year, to serve with the potato pancakes, noodles and sausages. She made gallons of apple sauce in fall when the apples were ripe, putting it out for dinner and supper. On Lenten Fridays she made delicious French toast for supper.
Fried okra was frequently served at dinner, as was yellow “crooked neck” squash boiled and sautéed. Grandmother made a casserole of squash, tomatoes, onions, later on zucchini, maybe added a little cheese – never much cheese, that was expensive. Sometimes for supper in the winter there was fried baloney, that was a treat. Grandpa would bring it home from the grocery. Grandmother would fry and make sandwiches, sometimes putting an egg on the baloney with homemade ketchup.
Grandmother didn’t make or buy mayonnaise, it was too expensive, though Grandpa would buy some yellow mustard. She made a lot of ketchup with the garden tomatoes. She made potato salad dressed with bacon grease, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar – never measured – she was good at seasoning. She made whipping cream to serve on desserts and custard for ice cream in the summer.
Bread went into the wood burning oven, except on warm summer days when Grandmother would bake it in the gas oven. My mother remembers with a little amazement how she knew instinctively the precise measurements of flour and yeast, using just the right amount to make the loaves. She kept yeast in a large, tightly sealed jar.
The flour went into big metal or crockery mixing bowl, big enough for a dozen cups of flour. She would put some yeast, just the right amount, in warm milk to dissolve. Then she would make a little hole in the flour, pour in or work in the yeast, and let it rise, putting it on the stove covered by a dish towel. That took a couple hours. Then she would knead it a bit and cut the bread into loaves. These were set in a big black baking pan, side by side, for another hour or so of rising. The baking took about 40 minutes.
Making bread took a lot of time. On Saturdays grandmother also made cinnamon rolls for Sunday morning after church. And most Saturdays she made a white cake for Sunday dinner, called Lady Baltimore cake from a recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook. For Christmas she made Prunkuchen – a special sweet bread. She made little cookies rolled in cinnamon and sugar, which everyone calls snickerdoodles.
A big Sunday dinner was served about 1 o’clock on Sundays. The family attended mass at St. Joseph’s in Conway. The boys went to the last mass. In the morning they took Grandpa’s old car and pickup truck to carry cans of milk to Conway for a milk delivery, then go to mass. Later, dinner might consist of fried chicken, baked chicken, baked ham from the smoke house, roast beef and, rarely, good T-bone steaks cooked quickly in a skillet with just a tiny bit of shortening.
Fish was also served at lunch and supper, whenever they had it. There was a pond on the farm but that wasn’t good for fishing although it was for swimming. Grandpa and his sons went fishing on the Arkansas River and on Lake Conway.
Grandpa and the boys also went hunting and killed rabbits and birds. Grandmother cooked them well, she made a good rabbit stew. There was lots of quail and she roasted birds. Uncle Herman always kept a couple hunting dogs.
Grandpa grew wine grapes in the garden and made a couple gallons of red wine every year. He would crush grapes in late summer, putting this pulp in a big barrel to ferment, then draining the juice into a big crockery for aging. When ready it went into glass jugs. The wine had a strong flavor. It was a little less sweet than most people would have liked, according to my mother.
After the boys left the farm my mother took on a lot of responsibility in the dairy barn. She had to be in there for milking daily at 5 in the morning, and again at 5 pm after school. She’s forgotten how many were milked every day but it was something around 20. Grandmother continued to can tomatoes, tomato juice, and peppers for flavoring for many years. She made homemade bread until Grandpa died.
Cleaning and sewing
“When Mama wasn’t cooking she was cleaning, washing or sewing,” my mother told me. She thinks Grandmother got a little time to rest after dinner when everyone was working outdoors. But even then she would sit down to the sewing machine, she would sew for hours in the afternoon.
Grandmother made clothes, shirts for the boys, dresses for the girls, under clothing, towels and bed linens. My mother was her ‘seamstress’ helping her and learning how to sew. She had a Singer treadle sewing machine, non-electric, powered by foot on the little treadle plate. It was easy to use, Mom told me.
She could buy fabrics for 25 cents a yard, a girl’s dress could be made from a couple yards of cloth. She also used the cloth of flour sacks, feed sacks, fertilizer sacks (potash and lime), she would bleach them and make linens, towels and shirts. She would sew whatever she thought the fabric was useful for. She didn’t have a store bought sheet in the house.
One fertilizer company put its fertilizer in cotton ‘floral bags.’ They were of bold prints of flowers, which Grandmother used to make dresses for Mom and Aunt Millie, maybe curtains too. She sewed from patterns, sometimes made her own patterns, she could adapt them to any dress, in any size.
My mother recalls that grandmother made a lot of shirts. Sitting in the evenings she would mend clothing. She would buy socks and the denim jeans for farm work. My mother would sometimes wear the boys’ old jeans. Grandpa always wore overalls.
Grandmother later added an electrical attachment to power the Singer sewing machine. My mother, working as a nurse in Chicago, used her first paycheck to buy a Singer electric sewing machine.
Grandmother had an electric wringer washer. She filled it with a hose somehow, put in some cold water, and she would boil a big kettle of hot water on the stove to have hot water for washing linens. She would put the wet clothes through the attached wringer, which may have had a hand crank, my mother can’t recall.
She washed and ironed on Mondays. The girls would help with the washing and hanging wet clothes out on the clothes line to dry. There were at least four long lines for drying. There were also tubs and a scrub board for washing very dirty clothes after potato digging and such. She used soapy water with her homemade lye soap and clear water for rinsing. She made soap, boiling it with lye to make it. She made soap for everything, hair, body and clothes. Everyone brushed teeth with baking soda.
Grandmother never had a dryer. She got her first automatic washing machine about 1960 after they moved to the house on Fourth Street in town.
“When she got finished washing the clothes were very clean,” my mother told me. She would hang them carefully to dry, all the pants were creased, even work pants! “She was amazing,” says Mom.
On Fourth Street
My grandfather sold the farm in 1954 to the Goins family from Texas. He and my grandmother moved to the little house on Fourth Street in Conway. Grandpa worked on the road crew in the summertime. My mother had finished at St. Joseph’s High School, there were 19 in her graduating class. She then went to nursing school in Little Rock.
Later about 1960 the farmhouse in Conway burned down. My mother was working as a nurse in Chicago then, and she was very saddened upon learning, in a letter from my grandmother, about their family home having burned. The farm was later sold off and is now built up with houses.
My grandparents had saved money from sale of the farm and bought the house on Fourth Street. They had enough money to live comfortably. My grandfather died in 1976 and my grandmother in 1990. Each of the eight children inherited $6,500, which helped to pay for the grandchildren’s college education.
My parents married in St. Joseph’s in 1963 and returned to Chicago to raise their family. I will always remember the house on Fourth Street where we stayed with our grandparents on some holidays and many summer vacations, making the long drive down to Arkansas. My grandfather was quite old then, he sat in his big chair in the front sitting room, ashtray stand by his side. My grandmother’s chair was next to his though she was quite a bit more active. She worked in the big garden and did her canning and washing. The home had a wonderful old odor of her pantry, a wood-lined closet across the hallway from the bathroom with shelves of jarred tomatoes and beans. The garage in back, separated from the house by a short gravel path, had the rich aroma of my grandfather’s oil-stained workbench with heavy wooden drawers holding his old tools. In the rear was a concrete slab on the dirt floor for storing sacks of potatoes. He kept his old Chevy or some type of car in there.
The little front porch was lively in the warm evenings as my father and uncles sat out there on lawn chairs chatting and sipping beer. We kids and our cousins had fun running around in the big yard where the garden was. My parents stayed in the front bedroom which was nicely shaded and cool during the daytime. My brother, sister and I slept on a big bed in the back bedroom, where we listened to the loud crickets and told ghost stories as we fell asleep.
There was some sort of holly tree with prickly leaves in the front yard before the porch and a great pecan tree in the side yard shading grandma’s clothes line. My father recalled the day of my grandfather’s funeral, when we returned from the cemetery and he saw this tree full of kids. My uncles often took us fishing on Lake Conway and the Arkansas River, where we caught pan fish and brought them home to clean and my grandmother fried them.
My grandmother served lunch every day about one o’clock. I remember most the thick slices of tomatoes she set out on a plate. And fried okra. And glasses of water and iced tea. I’ll never forget the good flavor of those tomatoes from her garden.
My cousin Andrea Seiter Hall organized a cousins’ reunion, and we met last summer on a warm day in June at her brother Mark’s house in Conway. We attended mass at St. Joseph’s and then went to Mark’s for dinner. My cousins came from various, I came down from Chicago. My mother flew out from California.
Andrea, the youngest of Uncle Andy and Aunt Cathy, and her sister Margie, and Melinda, and brothers Mark and Malcolm all live in or near Conway. They lost their sister Marian, sadly, last year. They live in and around Conway, and Conway is the place where the family returns for get-togethers.
After our cousins’ reunion last June I took a long drive through the ‘Delta’ region to Helena, where Mark’s wife Terry comes from. That was a fascinating trip through the rice growing lowlands of Arkansas and over the Mississippi River, and then to Memphis and on to St. Louis. I gradually made my way back to Chicago, visiting friends and cousins along the way.
I suppose every family has a gathering place, where the family comes from and its deep roots lay. For my Mom’s family that place is Conway. I like to visit my cousins in Conway and I intend to return again, perhaps this summer.
– Alan P. Mammoser, Jan 21, 2019