The following letter was submitted by White County Historical Society member Leah Dewberry Moss, daughter of Carthel and Mattie Dewberry. It was written by her family’s long-time friend Howard H. Snowden, known as “Uncle Will,” who was owner of Parent-Teacher Supply Company in Little Rock.
unt Cora Armstrong Knowlton, Puden and I left home Friday afternoon after paying Dalton and Preacher, and driving them their Christmas presents, in time to reach Uncle Jim’s about dark. He’s living over at the foot of “Dug-out” Mountain, southwest of Searcy 12 miles, on the road to Floyd. The trip was uneventful, the weather being coolish warm and very cloudy, and the gravel road from Searcy being passably good, right up to Uncle Jim’s.
As we topped the last hill, before reaching there, we saw that welcome lamp light, shining through the windows, and the wood fire smoke curling out of the double-stack chimney. The cows had been milked, horses and mules were fed and housed for the night. Wood could be seen stacked as high as the yard fence, on inside to be near the house.
Of course, we had been blowing “Merry Christmas” on the horn since turning off the road and by the time the car stopped, there was “Aunt Jimmie” with that motherly love for lonely drifters, looking toward her visitors, and then Carthel, the only child of 32 years, and his wife Mattie Lou, all with the Christmas welcome. They were all so glad to meet again we had gotten in the gate before we realized the baggage had not been taken out of the car, leaving the Santy Claus until later, then getting into the house. We met Leah, 6, and Margaret, 4, and Eugene, not quite 2. The girls were shy but determined to show us that they were willing to make friends again. But that husky Eugene would not have any trust with us and kept his distance.
By that time Uncle Jim appeared from someplace and made me feel that I had been missing a lot more than could be realized by not having the good fortune of going to a home of that kind for Christmas, which made stars come to your eyes and the frog gets in your throat.
We were soon ushered out to the dining room, which was an addition to the main house, and found the table stooped with all good things you could want to eat. Boiled fresh pork ham, fried cured ham, backbones, spare ribs, hot homemade biscuits, brown gravy, creamed potatoes, canned snap beans, field peas, potato salad, corn muffins, store-bought light bread, pickles, relish, pumpkins, banana, coconut and chocolate cake, canned peaches, sweet and buttermilk and fresh farm butter.
Aunt Cora being Aunt Jimmie’s sister and our best neighbor in the city, having been reared in the country as the writer had, was so at home there.
Carthel proceeded to switch on the battery radio to get the news. After that “Lum and Abner” came on, and we had the next few hours to ourselves before bedtime. With Uncle Jim sitting on the side of the fireplace, around the corner, with one foot propped on the chimney and the other leg hung over it, reared back in a high hickory split bottom chair, with a nice little quilted cushion, and a needle-worked backpiece with a nibble of Beechnut chewing tobacco.
Later on, Christmas presents were brought in, after the children were all put to bed, along with fruit and candy for the Christmas tree. After hanging up the stockings on the mantel, we learned that Carthel and Jim hung their stocking on the same nail, and Jim was brought to this house when he was 7 years old, three generations having looked for Santy to come down that same double chimney, a real home of family people.
At that, Puden and I were assigned to a side room off the hall, with a large cedar closet filling one whole corner. A real good feather bed and lots of quilts, the room being provided with a oil stove. We got to bed after raising the only window in the whole room, with some kind of jigger for holding up the window, and which we did not set right, as during the night, it gave way and Puden thought some one had blown up the house when the window fell. In the room adjoining us we could hear Cora and Jimmie talking long after others had gone to sleep. They were doing their real visiting, bringing back memories, just like when my mother’s people visited us when I was a kid, and Mother talked late with Grandmother. But sleep put us out as an audience for Aunt Cora and Jimmie.
The first Christmas noises we heard were distant firecrackers and Carthel firing his pistol a few times out in the yard. And it wasn’t long until we were advised breakfast would be ready soon. Puden brings me a pan of warm water for me to shave, and by the time shaving was over, our breakfast was ready with Uncle Jim returning the blessing, with every meal, with the best country sausage you ever ate, real homemade sorghum syrup, which was the best eating in the world, along with their homemade jelly and preserves.
After breakfast on Christmas day, we enjoyed the presents that ol’ Santy had brought the youngsters – color books and cook stoves and doll dishes and truck for Eugene.
By this time Carthel had tuned in the radio, getting the news and then the broadcast of the California cotton pickers, some of them being from our neighbor town of Lonoke. And such statements as those peckerwoods did make about the reason they left their homes to pick cotton out there. More than one from Lonoke stating they had come from the Dust Bowl. Having lost everything by having the dirt blown out from under their crops, and floods, when as a matter of fact, there never has been and never will be a dust menace at Lonoke, as the soil is not of the type to blow. Hearing hese statements made us think that probably the most of the ills of these drifting people only had an imaginary excuse to look for their fortune in new places. Practically all of the ones that spoke over the radio wanted 40 acres, cows, chickens and hogs and, we thought, someone to see after it for them and mail them the check for the proceeds.
After this Uncle Jim wanted to go to Searcy to see a doctor, that had been treating his eyes. The doctor was out of town for Christmas. After seeing another doctor, he gave Jim the desired advice, making our trip finished, we returned home and another sumptuous feed. More visiting about the farm, looking at the fine hogs, cows and calves. The bulging walls of the barn with a thousand bushels of corn, gathered from 26 acres of land, sufficient hay for all needs, and they had harvested 20 bales of cotton. Prices were so low it didn’t leave much profit for “depression years.” Then we visited the potato house. In there we saw a truckload of canned goods, about everything that could be grown and canned on a farm, and Puden informed me that they had as much stored in the kitchen. In addition to this, they sell about $20 worth of raw milk per month, picked up at the gate by a truck line. Besides selling this amount of milk, the family has all the fresh milk and butter they wish at home. After visiting about the farm we believe that if all the farmers had the desire that Uncle Jim and his family have, to live at home, on their own resources, the country as a whole would be in a lots better condition and not be asking government aid.
Another morning flew away too fast with Jim slipping a long canvas sack of sausage in our car. We began stirring about getting ready to leave, and Aunt Jimmie dashes off to the kitchen and before we could get away she would have us back in there to eat again. I know my weight must have gained several pounds during the part of two days.
We had to leave all that wonderful home life behind with the loveliest of home ties, in those three children, to look forward to another year as Uncle Jim graciously said it, I hope we can all be together again next Christmas.