Yes, I have been to Southwest Missouri many times. My dad grew up on a farm on “the prairie” during The Great Depression. He was the eldest of five children and was raised in the house his grandfather built. The house isn’t there any more. His brother inherited it and he and his family lived there for many years until they moved the house and built a new one in its place.
A half mile from the house, the country church my dad attended still stands along with a cemetery. They recently annexed some nearby pastureland to enlarge the cemetery. That’s where my brother is buried along with my dad and generations of our relatives. The paved road ends just past the cemetery. There are cows grazing on the other side of the fence. You won’t find a more peaceful final resting place any where.
During my childhood we visited the area often, driving from wherever we lived at the time to spend summers with our aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers. We’d go to that little church on Sundays and afterward visit the cemetery to pay our respects to deceased family members.
My mother was from a nearby town. She was the youngest of seven children. I always thought it was odd that I had cousins who were almost as old as she was. She became an aunt at age five. Her family was not nearly as fruitful as my father’s and there was only one cousin our age who lived nearby.
My grandmothers were both wonderful cooks. To this day no one has duplicated my grandmother’s homemade cinnamon rolls. I used to love to watch her make them. She never needed a recipe. I remember big family dinners with lots of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with thick white gravy and sliced tomatoes fresh out of the garden. We’d spoon sugar into our iced tea but it never dissolved. You’d drink the semi-bitter tea, but when you got to the bottom of the glass, that was the best part. There was always a homemade pie or cake for dessert. Sometimes we’d make homemade ice cream in one of those old ice cream churns you put ice and rock salt around and you’d crank and crank and crank and the ice cream never quite froze but came out runny and soft. Still, all us kids took our turns with the crank. After dinner and the ice cream churning, we’d chase lightning bugs or play hide and seek.
One grandmother lived “in town” but she had a pasture and barns behind her house, and she raised chickens. I learned how chickens were slaughtered and dressed for the market. (Yes, she’d sell them to the local grocery store.) I remember watching fascinated as my grandmother would use a curved wire contraption to grab an unsuspecting hen around its neck. She’d drag it to a chopping block, chop its head off and it would flop around for awhile. Then my aunt would dunk it in scalding water. I helped pull the feathers out. My aunt told me once if helping dress chickens was going to make me hate eating chicken not to do it. Evidently, I had no strong feelings about it one way or the other.
There used to be a bustling town square before the highway came along. There was a drugstore with a soda fountain. My mother took me there for chocolate ice cream with marshmallow sauce. Yum! In the middle of the square was a park with a bandstand that was probably used on a regular basis back then. The square is still there, but it’s not bustling like it used to be and some of the old buildings are gone now. It’s sort of sad.
When I return to the area now, what I see is change. One of my uncles built his own small two-room house along the highway that runs through town. It was torn down last year. The house where my grandmother lived is still there, although she’s long gone. The little towns seem more run-down than ever. My extended family continues to dwindle. The only thing that seems to prosper is the cemetery.
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Have you been to where your parents were born? What was it like?