'background:white'> GROWING UP AT CROSBY IN THE 1940S.
A Farm Boy’s Memories
'background:white;'> Crosby in the 1940s was a thriving little farming community with a grocery store, a church, a school (grades 1 - 8), a post office, a blacksmith shop and a railroad (the Missouri & North Arkansas Line) with passenger service on a gasoline-powered railway motorcar known as the Blue Goose. Of all those former businesses and institutions, the only remaining link to the past is the Crosby Baptist Church.
I was born in Crosby on May 3, 1937, to Robert H. and Elma Finch, and lived there until I was 10 years old. Crosby is about five miles west of Searcy and about two miles north off Highway 36. My Dad was a cotton farmer, and we rented and worked a place on the King Farm. The farm consisted of 400 to 500 acres owned by Tom King of Memphis, with four tenant farmers working the land on “thirds and fourths.” The farmer renting the land gave one-third of the proceeds from the cotton crop and one-fourth of the corn crop to the landowner as a rental fee. Most farmers also planted and harvested potatoes in the spring – for food and much-needed cash. Some farmers also grew strawberries and took them to market in Bald Knob. We kids were always excited when we could pick strawberries and make a little spending money. Also working the King Farm land along with us were the Earl and Beulah Finch family. Earl was Dad’s first cousin. When Earl and Beulah moved away around the end of 1945, the Berry and Flossy Nelson family rented and worked that place. The Ben and Bernie Crockett family and the Ed and Mabel Harrison family worked the other two farms.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Mom, Dad and five children made up our household when we lived on the King Farm. Two more children were born after we left the King Farm. My brothers and sisters in order of birth are as follows: Lee Finch, retired Air Force senior master sergeant who is an aircraft systems tech writer for Lockheed Corporation in Fort Worth; Shirley Finch Hughes, medical transcriptionist, White County Medical Center in Searcy; Barbara Finch Walker, homemaker, Fort Worth; Linda Finch Scott, RN, White County Medical Center, Searcy; Kattie Finch Rumfield, high school Spanish teacher, Searcy; David Finch, who works for Coca-Cola Company and lives in Searcy.
'background:white'> We grew most everything on the King Farm that was needed to sustain a family of seven. In addition to a wide variety of vegetables that we raised and canned for food, we also had a large flock of chickens for eggs, fryers, roasters and one of the country favorites, chicken and dumplings. We had five or six mixed-breed dairy cows that provided plenty of milk. We processed cream by hand-cranked separator and shipped it in five-gallon metal containers by railway from Crosby to creameries in Michigan and Wisconsin. We butchered a hog in the wintertime and sometimes a yearling for beef. We had no refrigeration so Dad had to make sure the weather was cold enough before killing hogs.
'background:white'> One of my fondest memories on the King Farm was following along behind the horse-drawn cultivator as Dad plowed corn in the fields alongside Panther Creek. I would gather grubs and earthworms from the furrows behind the cultivator and collect them in a Prince Albert tobacco can. Once I had a good supply of bait, I proceeded with my cane-pole fishing rig to the creek where I would catch sun perch, goggle-eye, catfish and occasionally a turtle. Another fond memory is coming home from school to find a fresh-baked coconut cake sitting on the dining table. It was made from a fresh coconut, the meat of which Mother had ground on the sausage grinder. My brother Lee and I could usually talk her into letting us have a slice before we went off to do our chores.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Converts and other new Christians from the Crosby Baptist Church were sometimes baptized in Panther Creek. The pastor and the congregation were always glad to have people coming forward to make professions of faith. But sometimes their baptisms had to be delayed because of temperatures or the water level in the creek.
'background: white; text-indent:.5in'>My first five years of formal education were at the Crosby School, which included 1st through 8th grades. All the kids walked to school. I used to tell my daughter that I walked three miles one way through the rain and snow. Many years later when I returned to Crosby, I learned the walk was only about a half mile – not three. And it wasn’t uphill in both directions, either! Part of the old school building is still standing, as a private dwelling, across the road from the Crosby Baptist Church. As a school, it had three rooms. Grades 1 - 4 met in one room and were taught by Mrs. Erma Welch. A male teacher whose name I have forgotten conducted grades 5 - 8 in a second room. The third room of the building was used for storage and as a place for recess on rainy or snowy days. The school term was a split session. We started around mid-July and attended until around the end of August, then took a break of four to six weeks to help our parents pick cotton. In the wintertime, the kids would go into the nearby woods and gather twigs during recess and stack them behind the large wood heater in the classroom to be used as kindling. Mrs. Welch came in early every morning to get the fire going.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Lee, Shirley and I attended Crosby school. The other siblings were too young to go to school or were born after we moved away from Crosby.
'background: white; text-indent:.5in'> During recess we played marbles. We drew a circle in the dirt and each player anted up x-number of marbles. We then lagged with our taw (shooter marble) to see who could get closest to a straight line drawn in the dirt. This determined the shooting order. The taw was flicked off the thumb knuckle and index finger in an attempt to knock a marble or marbles out of the ring. Marbles knocked from the ring went into the pocket of the shooter and you got to keep shooting in succession as long as you were knocking marbles from the ring. When the bell rang for classes to resume, the players would sometimes just dive into the ring, “ grab stakes” and run. The worst thing that you could do was to get away with another player’s taw, and occasionally there would be a fight.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> We also played mumblety-peg, flipping our pocketknives from various positions to get the blade to stick in the ground. Sometimes an errant flip resulted in a slight nick or cut but nothing serious. A third game was called “King of the Hill.” One of the boys stood on top of a huge pile of ashes that had been carried out from the wood heater in fall and winter and dumped on the corner of the schoolyard. The object of the game was to charge up the pile of ashes and push the kid off who stood at the top so you could be “King of the Hill” briefly before someone pushed you off the heap. We really messed up our clothes playing this game, especially when the ash pile was wet. This game was eventually banned, either at the request of our mothers who grew tired of washing clothes or on the initiative of Mrs. Welch who didn’t like us sitting in class smelling like ashes.
'background:white'> The two favorite games of the girls were hopscotch and jump rope. I never really knew much about these games since you would never, never find a boy of eight or nine playing hopscotch or any other girl’s game.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Peer pressure to out-dress or match your classmates did not exist at Crosby School in the 1940s. The family budget took care of that decision. The boys wore mostly bib overalls. The girls wore dresses or skirts. This was long before the advent of shorts or slacks for female wear. Many of the girls’ clothes were homemade as were the boys’ shirts. Occasionally, you would see one of the older boys in the 7th or 8th grade wearing his dad’s or older brother’s World War II uniform shirt. That was “cool” as we say today.
'background:white'> My entire time at the Crosby School was during the WWII years. Mrs. Welch placed a lot of emphasis on patriotism and taught us old standards such as “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” “Grand Old Flag” and of course “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When World War II ended in 1945, the students from all grades marched in a victory parade through the surrounding neighborhood, waving American flags and singing for the people who came out of their houses or stopped what they were doing to watch us and cheer us as we went by.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> The old country store at Crosby in the 1940s was and had been a landmark for decades. The proprietor in the ‘40s was Will Stracener. Mr. Stracener was a generous and kind man who sometimes gave us kids candy when he knew we had no money to pay. He also let customers buy groceries on credit when times were hard. I remember, too, that Mr. Stracener was allergic to eggs. Most other country stores would take eggs in trade for groceries, but not at Mr. Stracener’s because of his allergy problem. He carried only a basic line of grocery staples such as flour, corn meal, coffee, tea, cooking lard in a bucket, dried beans, potatoes and assorted canned goods. He also had one of the most essential consumer goods – kerosene, or coal oil as we used to say. There was no electricity in the Crosby area and we used kerosene for our lamps and lanterns and to help start the fires in our wood-fired cook stoves and heaters.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> The Armstrong Springs Post Office was located in the Crosby store and Mr. Stracener was also the postmaster. People from outlying farms would drop by the store once or twice a week to pick up their mail and any grocery items that were needed. The store was a social gathering place where the farmers talked about the war, upcoming elections, their crops, the weather, rabbit hunting or whatever might be on their minds at the time. Incoming and outgoing mail service was provided by the Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) railroad line that ran through Crosby until it went out of business in 1946. My grandfather Calhoun Black, who lived near the store, would carry the outgoing mail in a canvass bag across the road from the store to the railroad where there was a steel post alongside the track. Grandpa would hoist the mailbag up the post. The train with the mail car didn’t stop but reached out with a mechanical mechanism and grabbed the mailbag. Grandpa would then pick up the incoming bag of mail that was dropped off from the train and carry it back to the store where Mr. Stracener would sort it into the individual mailboxes. Grandpa’s salary for carrying the mailbag to and from the train was $10.00 per month. He was also the Justice of the Peace and, although in his 60s at the time, worked at farm labor when available.
'background:white'> Three of Grandpa’s four sons served with distinction in WWII – Raymond, Joe and Dub. Uncle Joe fought as a member of General Patton’s Third Army as a tank driver in one of the armored divisions. Uncle Dub was in the 35th Infantry Division as a rifleman and involved in a lot of combat, including the battle of Saint-Lo. W.J. “Dub” Black returned to Crosby after the war and became a Baptist minister. Over the years, he pastored several churches in White County. Uncle Raymond was a career Army soldier who entered the service as a teenager and rose from private to lieutenant colonel and retired with 30 years of service. Grandpa’s fourth son, Uncle Ramsey Black, served in the Army after WWI and was over the age limit for military service when WWII broke out. Uncle Ramsey learned Morse code as a boy in Crosby and went on to a career with the railroads that spanned more than 40 years.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Let’s go back to the old country store for a moment. People liked to sit on the front porch of the store and watch the trains go by, especially the one with the mail car that reached out and grabbed the mail pouch. Dad pulled his team and wagon up to the store one hot summer afternoon and went inside to check the mail. It was hay season, and there was a hay frame mounted on the wagon, which was empty. While Dad was inside talking with Mr. Stracener, one of the freights on the M&NA came through, huffing and puffing and belching black smoke from the smokestack, and its whistle blaring. Dad’s horses Frank and Nell spooked and took off through the neighborhood with the empty hay wagon. Bouncing and bumping along behind, it only served to frighten the horses even more. After awhile the team ran under a clothesline, knocking out an anchor post and coming to a stop after becoming entangled in the barnyard fence.
'background: white; text-indent:.5in'>More than 55 years have come and gone since I lived on the King Farm and went to school at Crosby. There are no longer white fields of cotton in the fall, no horse-drawn wagons lumbering along dirt roads, no haunting whistle of a freight train moaning its way to Joplin. And there is now a baptistery in the church. But memories of young boys and girls who lived in Crosby in the 1940s will be told and re-told to children and grandchildren and treasured for a lifetime. vvv
'background:white'> The author is a retired Army warrant officer who served in Vietnam. He finished out his career in federal civil service as a personnel director with the Army and now resides in Stafford, Virginia.
'background:white;'> Our grandparents Calhoun and Stella Black lived about a mile away from our place on the King Farm at Crosby. I learned to count sitting on Grandpa Black’s lap, counting buttons on his shirt while he listened to the radio. He had an old battery radio, which he used only to listen to the World War II news since he had sons Joe and Dub in Patton’s Army in Europe. He would sit in a cane-bottom straight-back chair right beside the radio in order to hear the reception better. I can still hear Edward R. Murrow giving the war news. My grandparents lived across the road from the Crosby schoolhouse. It was a treat to spend the night with them when it rained, rather than get wet walking home with my brothers.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> Virgie Shourd and I shared a big wooden double desk and seat in our first year of school. We were second-generation schoolmates. Our mothers Elma Black and Ludie Shourd had gone through all eight grades together at Crosby. Erma Welch was our first grade teacher, and when Virgie and I reached the 10th grade in Searcy High School Mrs. Welch was our teacher again for World History. She was one of my favorites.
'background:white'> Boys were creative when it came to thinking of ways to skip classes. When churches had revivals, there would usually be a morning service around 10 as well as a night service. Crosby Baptist Church was right next to the schoolhouse. Students were allowed to skip classes and attend this morning church service if they had permission from their parents and came back to school when it was over. Can you imagine little boys wanting to go to church instead of school? My brothers did this, and then tattled on me that I just skipped school and slept during the service.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> For Saturday night entertainment we had Grand Ole Opry gatherings with the Ben Crockett family. The family with the newest battery for their radio would determine whose house. The parents would listen to the music and the kids would play games, pop corn and make sugar cookies.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> For Christmas in the ‘40s we would cut a tree somewhere on the farm and make most of our decorations. We gathered red berries in the woods and strung them with needle and thread. We also made popcorn chains and paper chains. There were no lights on the tree because there was no electricity in our area. Mother made real mincemeat pie with meat in it preserved from the hog-killing day. One year Santa brought me my first “open and shut eyed” baby doll. I loved that doll and was fascinated over those movable eyes. My brother was very curious as to the mechanism of those eyes, and after a few months he said, “Shirley, I know what we can do to find out what makes these eyes work. We can take a stick of stove wood and break open the head to find out.” Having the greatest admiration for my older brother’s intelligence, I said, “Okay.” So, he took the stick of wood and busted the doll head open. And, sure enough, we found the eye mechanism. We thought we had done a really smart thing until I went running to mother with the set of movable eyes. She gave us both a whipping for tearing up my doll. This mechanically minded brother is still curious about taking things apart and putting them back together.
'background:white'> Kids learned to work and handle responsibilities. When my oldest brother was about nine years old, Dad rigged up a drag of wide boards with a big rock on top to weight it down. This was used for breaking up clods of dirt on the plowed ground, making ready for planting. My brother would sit on to this contraption while a gentle mare named Dollie pulled it over the clods. One day he let me ride with him. The mare cut too short at one end when turning around and the whole thing flipped over on top of us, rock and all. Fortunately we weren’t hurt but we ate lots of dirt. I got it in my eyes and never did ask to ride again.
'background:white'> Sex education for children had not been thought of yet but we had a way of figuring things out. We had an old red cow named Flossie that was so ugly, she frightened me. One evening when I was about four years old, my dad was sitting on a stool milking her. While I was watching I said, “Dad, she is so ugly, I’ll bet someone has used her for a bull before.” I was serious but he went into the house and told my mother and they both laughed. I didn’t understand what was so funny.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> The roads at Crosby were extremely slick and muddy after a rain. William Baughn would have a sack full of money if he had collected a dollar every time he pulled us out of the mud when our car bogged down or slid into the ditch. He was always kind and helpful. As a teenager, I was wearing a new pair of shoes one December day when Dad got stuck in the mud. To save the shoes, I had to take them off and go barefoot to push the car. The road grader was our local weather forecaster. Right after the grader stirred up the dirt is when it would usually rain, and then we had piles of mud. As teenagers on the farm, even we girls had chores we had to do. My two older brothers were in the military. My dad worked at a public job and didn’t get home in time to milk the two cows we had. So, my sister and I had the job of getting the cows milked at night. If I had a Friday night date, the cow got milked at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, because I wasn’t about to let my date see me milking the cow.
'background:white'> We attended Crosby Baptist Church. We would ride in a wagon from the farm and tie the horses to the trees in the church “parking lot.” One Sunday night a snake spooked our horses and Dad had to get a light and go settle the horses down. At certain times of the year the wasps would come down from the attic of the old white frame church building and attend services with us. I was terrified by them, and stayed awake and alert when they were around.
'text-indent:.5in;background:white'> I am thankful for my family heritage, moral and spiritual, much of which began at Crosby since I was a member of the third generation living at Crosby in the 1940s. vvv
(The author is a member of the White County Historical Society)