My Little Town 20110608. Ma

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you who read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or 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 rarely write about living people except with their express permission, but may make an exception or two here because it might be important to talk about some of her decedents who still breathe.  None of those references will be derogatory.

Ma was my maternal grandmother.  I shall explain the origin of her name in due time.  Elsie Roberts was born 19030628 near Hackett, Arkansas.  Think about this for a minute.  She was born before the Wright Brothers made the first aeroplane flight!

There will be many entries about Ma, because she was one the most important persons in my young life, and lived long enough to see me be married, be graduated from both undergraduate and graduate school, see me have children, and still be lucid at over 100 years of age.  You can bet that I am glad to have 25% of HER genes!

Here is a picture of her circa 1992, when she would have been around 89 years old.


Ma was one of eight children born to Mart Roberts and my greatgrandmum, whose name is lost in the fog of history.  Mart was a hard worker, but there are some things about him that are not good, and which I choose not to share here.  That is family business, and none of anyone else’s.  Please forgive me for leaving it out here, but I can assure you that including it would not make her saga better.

Let us thing a bit more about current events in 1903.  As I said, the Wright Brothers were getting to take off at Kitty Hawk, and an upstart businessman named Henry Ford had come out of several bankruptcies and had begun to produce the Model “S”, the forerunner of the wildly popular Model “T” Ford automobile.  Ma did not see an actual automobile until she was 11 years old, in 1914.

She had LOTS of sisters, all of them my Great Aunts.  Orrie, Agnes, Jack, Edna, Lily, Ester, and the sole boy, who died at age two were her siblings. I shall have individual posts for each of those, except for the boy, because I personally KNEW each one of them, and still remember them well.  But this is about Ma.

Her people were from Alabama, moving to western Arkansas just after the Civil War.  Why they went there I do not know, but I suspect it had to do with the boom in coal, but that did net really happen until the early 1880s, so it is still sort of a mystery to me.  In any event, they were members of the very rural community by 1879.  They brought lots of Confederate money with them, the collection being one of my prized possessions.  Most of it is Alabama issue, but is of great historical interest, and not a small amount of value.

Ma told me lots of things about growing up on a rocky farm near Hackett in the ‘teens.  They were subsistence farmers and ranchers, and that is stretching it.  They were POOR!  When she was a girl, say in 1915, a nickel was a huge sum of money!  She often told me that she and the family would take the team of mules to “town” and her father would give each girl one cent to buy candy.  You would be surprised how much candy that one cent would buy then.

I should time warp a little here to explain the term Ma.  It really has nothing to do with me, but rather my brother who was born in 1943.  After the war, they all moved back to Hackett (the story about the intervening years is yet to come), and my father and mum began to work off of the farm, leaving my brother in their care.  He was just little, and started calling my grandfather (who died years before I was born) “Daddy” and my grandmum “Mommy”.  My grandfather finally sat him down and told him that he should call only his actual parents by those names, and, as I quote Ma as she told it to me, this:  “Your Daddy is your Daddy.  I’m your Pa.  Your Mommy is your Mommy, and Elsie is you Ma.  Do you understand?”

I am crying like a baby relating this story.  My brother NEVER deviated from Pa’s direction, and by the time that I was born, she was just Ma.  No other name ever.  I loved her more than anyone when I was young, perhaps even more than my own mum.  It is hard to say, because we were very close as a family, except for my father, who was a bit more distant, at least for me.  He was very close to my brother, but I have not one scintilla of harsh thoughts about that.

Anyway, back to the early 1910s.  My Great Uncle was no more, so the cabin was filled with young girls (some getting older, and undergoing puberty, but I promised not to elaborate about Mart), and it was just what we would call a shack now.  The floor was full of gaps where the rough wood did not meet, as were the walls.  There was no ceiling, just the rafters for the roof.  The girls usually slept in what we would now call an attic, sort of unstable.

In the summer it was HOT, with no fans except for hand fans.  Electricity was unknown.  They did have kerosine lamps, and used them after dark for a few minutes.  The word for kerosine at the time was “coal oil”, pronounced “cuhl oil”.  They farmed, raised chickens and hogs, and a couple of dairy cattle.  They used mules for power, because horses ate lots more food for the same output of work.

At the time, winter was brutal.  It got a whole lot colder then than it does now, and the house was not sealed at all.  I remember Ma telling me about her mum cooking for all of them on a wood fired range.  It would get hot, but the draughts in the house kept everything beyond ten feet COLD in the winter.  They DID have ham that they had cured, lots of eggs, and were able to buy enough flour and salt (and baking powder) to make biscuits.  That, along with the gravy from the ham, was their breakfast.

Ma used to tell me that it was so cold in the “house” that as soon as the food hit the plates that the gravy “went to sleep”, meaning that it got so cold that it essentially was frozen.  They ate it anyway, because that was the only food that they had.  It was a very miserable way of life, winter or summer.  But she lived through it.

Actually, it is a miracle that only the one sibling died in infancy.  If ones looks at the statistics for that period, infant mortality rates were well over 50%.  To have only one out of eight die early is phenomenal.  I think that he likely had polio, from what Ma told me about him, but this is just a guess.

Anyway, Ma met a nice man and, when she was 16 years old, in 1919, married Floyd Sandlin, the maternal grandfather that I never met.  He died in 1953, four years before my birth.  Ma was fleeing Mart, and once again I will not elaborate about Mart, except to say that he was NOT a nice man.

In 1921, Ma and Pa had a daughter, Geraldine Sandlin (no middle name).  She is (well, was) my mum.  They were still dirt farmers, but it got a lot worse when my mum turned twelve years old, because the Great Depression was bottoming then.

I think that this is enough to give you an idea about Ma, and certainly to see how she got to get the monicker.  I have many, many more installments about here, all in good time.

If you have stories like this one, please add them in the comments.  The older that I get, the more that I understand that these kinds of forums are replacing folks sitting in the front yard, communicating with each other.  By the way, I do that with my dear neighbors almost every evening.

Warmest regards,



    • on 06/09/2011 at 03:03

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


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