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Nov 17 2011

My Little Town 20111116: My House

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that 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.

Except for three years between 1961 and 1964 I lived in a house in Hackett.  For the three years we lived in a house in North Little Rock because my dad got transferred.  He took a new job in 1964 with Dana Corporation, manufacturer of Perfect Circle piston rings, Spicer power transmission products, Victor gaskets, and other OEM and aftermarket automotive parts.  Since the regional office was in Fort Smith, moving back to Hackett made sense.

My mum and dad did not plan to stay in the metro Little Rock area when he was transferred there by McQuay-Norris, another automotive part manufacturer.  They were both hardcore racists and the black population in western Arkansas was a fraction of the population in central Arkansas.

The reason for the population differential is historical:  people in western Arkansas did not have, for the most part, large plantations because of the hilly terrain precluded growing large amounts of cotton.  No cotton meant no slaves, so the black population was small.  My parents grew increasingly uncomfortable in the metro Little Rock area because of the civil rights movement and just wanted to get back to red neck land.  But I digress.

The house in which I grew up was big and old.  It sat in the front of around 11 acres, and most of that was pastureland (my dad always kept a few cattle) with a pond that had bass and bluegill in it.  It was fun to go fishing when I was little.

Most all of the pictures that I have from my childhood are still in Arkansas with the former Mrs. Translator because we have not gotten around to going through them and dividing them.  However, Kossack topfireplug happened to be going through Hackett last Christmas and took some pictures which he sent me.  Here is one that shows the house, the garage/workshop, and the old barn.

House and barn

If you look at the walk going to the front door, on the right is a papershell pecan tree that my dad planted back around 1953 when they bought the property.  The tree on the left is a hickory.  We used the nuts from both of them for cooking, mainly at Christmas.  The tree just in front of the garage door is a black walnut, and you can see some limbs above the roof of the house from some other black walnut trees.  We used them for cooking, too.

The house was built in 1912 (finished in 1913) by the father of Christina Williams, who I wrote about here.  She was a distant cousin.  It was originally built for the Forbes family, who owned the company store.  Hackett was a mining (coal) town, and the entire economy was based on coal, until the Depression.  The Forbes were rich for the day, because owing the company store meant that you essentially owned the town.  The only two occupations were mining and farming, other than some service work, and mining was big money.

Remember, Henry Ford had revolutionized the automotive industry by applying the assembly line, and with the auto and rail industries booming, steel was in high demand.  To make steel requires coke, a form of carbon made from coal.  Not just any old coal makes good coke, and the high grade bituminous coal from the Hackett area made superb coke.  At the time there were two railroads in Hackett, the Midland Valley and the Frisco lines, and I remember both of them from when I was little.  The MV mostly hauled coal that eventually made it to the steel mills in the Rust Belt.  The railroad actually ran just south of the pasture and when they pulled the rails the easement was released and we added that land to the property.

I regret that I do not have any photographs of the interior, but I can paint word pictures of it.  As you enter the front door, there is a hall with the staircase leading to the top story, a door to the left that went into the formal living room, a door further in

and to the left that lead to another hall, a door to the right that led to a bedroom (my dad converted it to an office), and a door opposite the front door that led to the formal dining room.  There was also a coat closet under the landing of the stairway.

The front door was oak with beveled glass inserts, very heavy.  All of the doorknobs on the lower floor were cast brass with ornate designs and large brass plates on either side.  There was also a cast brass plaque set into the concrete of the front porch that read “Hickory Grove, Home of our Fathers, 1913”.

The formal living room had the door from the front hall, another door to the middle hall, and beautiful French doors that led to what we called the sun porch.  If you look at the very left of the picture of the house, you can see the porch.  It as enclosed and had a free standing propane heater in it.  My parents, after I was a big kid, converted it to a den, mainly by improving the windows and carpeting it.  We began to use it more than the living room then, the living room being used for larger crowds and the Christmas tree in season.  The living room was the showpiece of the house.  It had beamed ceilings in oak, a large bank of windows on the east side (with a window seat the full length of the windows).  All of the ceilings in the house were ten feet, and and transoms over most of the entry doors to allow air flow in the summer.  Remember, it was built before air conditioning was known, and was not wired originally.

To the west of the sun porch was a screened in porch.  I remember that it had a cistern under it to catch rainwater.  Of course, it had been disconnected years before because we used a deep well for water.  More on that next week.  My parents finally enclosed it and added a third bathroom and a large closet for additional environmentally controlled room.

When my parent bought it, electricity had been added but was the really old kind of surface wiring was used.  They had an electrician to come and do a proper (for 1953) job of wiring it, and had the foresight to have a breaker panel instead of a fusebox.  They had to rewire it later to bring it up to code (in 1953 outlets did not have a grounding contact).  Wiring a house that age is difficult, because instead of drywall, the walls were lath and plaster, making it very difficult to pull wiring.  The rewiring was easier because the electrician could the existing wiring to pull the new wire.

All of the downstairs doors were heavy, solid core wooden ones with really thick oak veneer, with the same kind of doorknobs that I already described.  Going from the living room to the middle hall was the floor furnace, the second source of heat in the house when I was little.  It ran off of propane, since natural gas service was not available.  I remember coming inside when it was cold and standing over the furnace to warm us fast.  When natural gas was brought into town, my parents retired the furnace and installed central heat and air around 1972 or so.  The central heat was gas fired, and of course the air was electric.  Before that, we had two big Fedders window units to cool down the place, one in the living room and one in the kitchen.

To the left of the central hall was the bathroom that my parents refurbished when they bought the house.  The old green and white square pattern tile was characteristic of the day.  Until around 1968 there was only one bathroom, but they added one at that time upstairs at the end of the hall that was essentially wasted space.

Heading straight through the hall was the kitchen.  It was a BIG room!  It had lots and lots of cabinets and counter space, and still could accommodate a full size dining table that could seat six.  The stove (originally propane, but my mum insisted on getting an electric one because of grease on the ceiling from a gas one) was an island in the middle, and the portable dishwasher sat to the left of it.  They redid the cabinets around the time that they installed the new bathroom and put in a built in dishwasher then.  The washing machine, and later the clothes dryer, were at the southwest corner of the kitchen, and since the room was so big, did not crowd it at all.

The refrigerator sat to the right of the stove against the north wall, but there was plenty of space between them. My brother (14 years my elder) would terrorize me by sitting me on top of the refrigerator just for meanness, I think.  Remember, the house had ten foot ceilings so there was plenty of room for me up there.

Moving from the kitchen north, there was the pantry and a utility closet.  The pantry was huge, which was a good thing, because Ma was a demon at canning from the garden in the summer.  It also held a full size chest freezer which we kept full of fruit, some corn (both from the garden except for peaches), and beef that my father would have processed from the herd.

After the pantry was the formal dining room, used mainly for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and funerals.  Our extended family was large, so we made good use of the room in times like that.  It had a fireplace and we used it quite a bit during those times.  It had hardwood floors (the entire house did, but my parents had it carpeted in the living areas and vinyl put down in the kitchen) and I remember my mum with the floor polisher and Johnson paste wax.  When I was little enough, she would have me sit on the buffer to shine the floor faster.

The dining room table was oak and huge, being able to accommodate four extra leaves, and had supplemental legs that could be dropped down when the extra leaves were added.  Sometimes we had so many people there that we would have to use the kitchen table for overflow.  At the south end of the dining room was a large buffet on which we would sit the containers of food to keep the table relatively clear.  Except for seasonings and hot rolls, most all of the food itself was on the buffet.  It had lots of storage, so the big tablecloths and other dining items were stored there.  It was also oak, very old, and had a mirrored back.

The dining room also had a built in china cabinet, and also two more antique free standing ones for the “good” china and other, purely decorative items.  It was a big room, too.  As a matter of fact, all of the rooms in the house were big.

This is enough for tonight.  Next week I shall tell you about the upstairs of the house and some of the structures outside.  I enjoyed growing up there and still miss the holiday dinners with extended family.  

Please add stories about your childhood in the comments.  I get lots of feedback from people who indicate that they enjoy your stories as well as they do mine, and I am always interested in your recollections.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and

firefly-dreaming

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