After the Depression, the Russells Make a Home



e were having a Depression in the land, and my father and mother Mike and Erma Russell lived in Searcy.

Dad decided to move his family to Chicago so that he could find work.At that time our family consisted of my parents and one daughter, Reba.

          My sister Mary Ella was born in April 1935 while they lived in Chicago. I was born on September 8, 1936. It was snowing and cold, which was unusual for September.We lived in Park Ridge, Illinois, at the Murphey Trailer Park during the summers and Dad would find work wherever he could, and during the winter we would return to Searcy.  After my brother Artie was born, Mom said “No more of this,” and we moved back to Searcy permanently.  We rented a house on East Race Street, and my sisters started to school.  My grandparents Marvin and Molly Russell lived on West Pleasure Street, and there was a vacant lot behind their house. 

          Dad decided to build us a house on it with the help of Leo Aunspaugh.  We had a Ford flatbed truck, and since I was at home all day and Artie was a baby, Dad decided to take me with him every day while he worked on the house.   I was just 4 years old but I remember how the house was constructed.  The house consisted of four rooms with a front porch and back porch.  The house had lap siding on it.  Three rooms were finished out inside and one room was left for storage, and it did not have the ceiling finished or paper on the walls. 

          We had an outhouse bathroom and a faucet in the yard for water.  I think we did have water in the kitchen but no hot water tank.  The house was constructed of rough-cut planks.  It had a 2x4 on top and a 2x4 on the bottom.  Then 1x12 planks were stood up next to each other down the wall.  The cracks were covered with 1x2 strips of wood.  The outside was covered with tarpaper.  I remember one day I was there while Dad was working and it was cold. He built me a little fire to keep me warm.  I had on my striped overalls and coat.  I needed to go to the outhouse but Dad was busy, and I had a hard time trying to get my coat off and my coveralls unzipped.    That was the only bad part of going to work on the house with Dad every day!  I enjoyed watching him build the house.

          We moved into the house in 1940.  Sometimes, I would look over at Grandpa Russell’s house and see if they were outside. 

          Grandpa was a very tall man with a mustache.  He had long legs and wore suspenders.  He was kind and always told us stories about when he was a game warden in White County.  He let us help him in the garden when the vegetables were ready.  I can remember his chopping block where he made his kindling to start the fires in the mornings.  He died in 1951.   My dad would drive Grandpa’s car for him sometimes.  It was a Model T.  Grandpa would tell us about arresting people for hunting and fishing and going over their limit.  Fur was good money in the winter.  Possum and raccoon were big in those years.  Most of the roads were dirt and in the winter they were mud.    Mules and teams were the mode of travel for some. Grandpa Russell was a good man and a good father.  He had a thick Georgian accent.  He raised 14 children, 8 boys and 6 girls.  He wasn’t real stern, and would ask the grandchildren to do rather than tell them what to do.  After we moved into the house, I remember waking up on Monday morning to the WHACK WHACK of Grandma’s washday.  She had a big black pot on the fire and would boil her clothes in the pot.  Then they were put on her “Battling” block where she hit them with a big paddle.  You could heart his for blocks.  She made her own soap using fats and skins, and she would let us kids eat the meat skins.  They were good!

          I remember us skating on a pond in front of our house.  It might have been 12 inches deep but good ice when it would freeze over.  We were all small children.  I remember the day my cousin James “Rusty” Russell broke his arm.  He was skating on the pond and using a broken wooden chair, pushing it and then jumping on it.  He wouldn’t let the rest of us children use it because it was his.  He soon fell off the chair and broke his arm and had to be taken to the doctor.

          I started to school while we lived behind Grandpa and Grandma Russell.  The school was one-half-day long and I had to walk one and a half miles to get there. This seemed like a long way for a little boy to walk.  I came home at noon and would walk with a little girl that I called my “friend.”  Her name was Anita Hart [Fuller].  Some days we would sit on Grandma’s porch and watch for the iceman who came to deliver ice to Grandma.  His name was Hosea, and he drove a horse and wagon.  Grandma had a sign that she put in the window to tell him how much ice she wanted that day.  This saved him a trip to the house.   He had a big metal tong that he used to carry the ice.  Grandma would wrap the ice in newspaper to keep it for the week.

          We liked living close to Grandma and Grandpa Russell because we cold get in all of the family get-togethers on Sundays.   In the afternoon, Grandma would get all of the grandchildren together in the front yard and make us look up at a tree branch. She would stand on the porch and use a broom to shake the limb, and all of this good candy would fall out of the tree! We loved Grandma and her magic tree.  She died in 1951 after working all day in her collard patch.   She had gone inside to rest.  Grandma was a special lady, and although she had 14 children she loved fancy dresses and having her hair fixed and her makeup and lipstick on even when she went outside to wash her clothes.  Later, when World War II was going on, we moved to Honey Hill but that is another story. 


(Submitted by Mary Russell Collins, a WCHS member and sister of the author.)