Story of my Life

An Interview With My Grandpa Moss

This is the latest installment of a series about family history interviews.

In my last blog post, An Interview With My Grandma Stafford, I shared the notes of an interview I did with my maternal grandmother before she passed away.  This was a follow-up to the original post, Something You Won’t Regret, in which I discuss family history interviews.

This post is to share a similar interview that I did with my paternal grandfather a few months before he died.  It’s been edited a little to make an oral interview make sense in written form.  This interview focused more on stories because we already had most of the pertinent dates of birth, full names of parents, etc.  Just to give you some context, he was born in 1916 and grew up around Willow, Oklahoma before moving around during the Depression and ending up living most of his adult life in Monahans, Texas.  His father was a moonshiner, hence the references to how to make whiskey.  Enjoy the stories!

Roy Moss at home O

Memories by Roy Lee Moss Sr.

As recorded by Regina Moss in April 1991.

I turned 14 in December of 1930 near Willow, Ok.  There were 8 brothers and sisters at home.  Daddy was a farmer and made corn liquor and also was a horse trader.  Times was real hard.  We moved to Delhi in 1932.  You couldn’t get a job, and if you did it didn’t pay anything.

At 17 years old I decided to go to the West Texas Oil Fields.  I nearly starved.  At 18 years old, in 1935, I got a job washing dishes for $5/week.  I got a job milking cows by hand, getting up at 4:00 am for $5/week.  I also worked on a ranch for $15/month.  I got a job on a pipeline, but I can’t remember how much that paid.  At about 20-21 years old, I got a job with the state highway department for 28¢/hour.  I stayed with this job for 2 or 3 years.  I got a job in a machine shop and learned how to run machines until 1942 for 65¢/hour.  In 1942 I went into the air force for 42 months.  Some other things I did was I worked on a tank farm tearing down 85,000 barrel oil tanks in Wink and Pyote.  I worked on drilling rigs all over West Texas. I killed hogs for meat as well as cows and chickens.  I pulled bolls (cotton) for 35¢/100 pounds.

I lived in rented rooms in Monahans, Pecos, Orla, Pyote, Sanderson, Wink, and Hobbes.  Sometimes I ate; sometime I didn’t.

I got married on Oct 15, 1941.

I got my first car in 1938.  It was Model A Ford.  It wasn’t worth 35¢.  I loaned this car to Ed Cox for his first date with his wife.  He’s now a multimillionaire, and I have $100 too.

A loaf of bread was 5¢.  A 1/2 gallon of milk was 10¢.  The price of a Bull Durham sack was 6 for 25¢.  Gasoline was 8¢/gallon.

The government bought cows and came and butchered them to can the meat and give to the poor.  It was very good.

I had a job most of the time after age 19 (which was Dec of 1935).  Everyone was in bad shape.  During the dust bowl, my mom would wet washcloths for over our mouths.  That was in Delhi.  Sometimes we couldn’t see (from the dust).  I had one pair of good overalls.  At home I would take them off.  For lunch I took a biscuit, sorghum, and sausage.

Moonshining – You put mash in a barrel.  When it’s through working, you put the mash in a copper still.  You wrap the top of the still in cloth sacks and flour paste.  A copper tube coming out of the top of the still coils through a wood keg filled with water.  The vapor goes through the tube and condenses into liquid (whiskey) caught in a jar.  We were doing this in barn with me sitting in a window at the top of the barn watching for T-men (a special law-enforcement agency of the US Treasury).  The top blew off the still and blew me out the window.  It was about a 15’ drop.  I was age 15.  Daddy bootlegging sold the whiskey in pint bottles.  He cut a trap door to hide the whiskey between the floors.  The T-Men caught on and searched the house one Sunday and found it.  Daddy knew they would find it so he took off.  He was gone several days that time.  I knew where he was so I took him some food.  In all the years, the T-Men never caught him.

Daddy was nicknamed “Fox” because of a game “Fox and Goose” & no one could beat him at it.

Daddy used to buy wild horses and mules and we would break them.  I used to be ticklish and Dumas, my brother 4 years older than me, would get me down and tickle me.  Papa wanted a well dug in the middle of the horse lot.  Dumas had tickled me unmercifully that morning in the barn where papa couldn’t see it. When Dumas was down in the well, about 12’ deep, I pulled up the ladder and got a bunch of rock to throw at him.  I nearly beat him to death that day.  I was probably 12 and he was 16.

I killed 26 rattlesnakes 1 summer on Haystack Mountain (in Greer County, Oklahoma).

Every Saturday, a bunch of us went to Willow and some boys from Granite would come over to whip us.  We had a fight every Saturday night.  Sometimes we won.  Sometimes they did.  This was our entertainment instead of going to a picture show.  Willow was a big place then, probably 1,000 people.  On every 180 acres there was a family, and they would all come to town.

 

To read another blog about my Grandpa Moss, go read A Tribute To (My) Grandparents.

Story of my Life

An Interview With My Grandma Stafford

OllieStafford 18 OIn my last blog post, Something You Won’t Regret, I mentioned interviewing my maternal grandmother before she passed away.  Following is most of that interview.  It’s been edited a little to make an oral interview make sense in written form.  As you can see, it helps during the interview to have someone who knows enough about the person’s life to ask leading, open-ended questions.  This interview focused more on stories because we already had most of the pertinent dates of birth, full names of parents, etc.  Just to give you some context, she was born in 1912 and lived her whole life in and around Morris, Oklahoma with the exception of the few years during the Dust Bowl that they went to California for work.  Enjoy!

The following is a transcript of tapes made by Ollie Mae Hurt Stafford on January 2, 1998.  Interviewed by Barbara Stafford Moss and Regina Moss Beardsley. 

Q.  What games did you all play back then?

A.  Flying Dutchman.  Did you ever play Flying Dutchman?  You would have two strings of people, one on one side and one on the other, facing each other.  You would hold hands and somebody would call for someone to come over and break the string (Note: If they could not break through, they had to stay on the side where they couldn’t break through.  If they could break through they chose someone to go back over to the other side.  They kept going until everyone was on one side.  This game is also known as Red Rover.)  We played hide and seek and Annie Over, a game where some would stand on one side of the house and the others on the other side.  They threw a ball over and the one that threw it would try to get it and run around to the other side before they would get caught.  Sometimes the older ones could play Rack Jack (maybe Rap Jack?).  They would cut switches; Mr. Vaughan would keep the switches cut for them.  They would form a ring and if they caught anyone out of that ring they would hit them with that long switch and put him back in the ring.  Ola Faye Vaughan used to play it; Albon Vaughan and all of them.  They would hit them around the legs.  It was too rough for me.  Of course Gayle Vaughan and Albon Vaughan was in on it; Daddy (“Pete” Stafford) and all of them; Zelan and Ola Faye Vaughan.

 

Q.  What is the story about the Limburger cheese?

A.  It smells like when you go to the bathroom.  Someone put some on Bro. Hamilton.  I wonder where the Hamiltons went?

 

Q.  How old were you when you got married?

A.  I was 17.

 

Q.  How did you two know each other?

A.  We were raised up together, just across the field.

 

Q.  They didn’t move there until Daddy (Pete) was a good-sized boy?

 

Q.  Did Aunt Fannie get married before you did?

A.  Yes.   Me and Lucy stayed with Fannie when Alma was born.  She was born on Christmas Day.  She was a doll.  She was so sweet.

 

Q. What was the story about Grandma falling off the car into the mud?

A.  A long time ago after we got into the church, Dad and all of us, were wanting to go to church one night, and Dad didn’t know if we could make it, so he said, “I’ll go out and see how muddy it is.”  He went out and we didn’t have a sign of a light.  We had those old mag lights.  It wasn’t a battery light.  They wouldn’t last very long.  The roads were real bad, the ruts and all.  Dad hadn’t been driving very long, and he went just as fast in a crooked rut as he did on a straight road.  We were going from one side to the other in the car.  Momma said, “I’ll tell you what we can do: We have a lantern.  I can shine the glow in front of the car and I can stand on the fender and hold the lantern.”  We wanted to go to church that bad.  People now don’t want to go that bad.  Well, we started.  Mud, my there were big mud holes between our house and the church.  We were going down the road.  Dad was jerking us from one side to the other.  The roads were crooked and like I said, he went just as fast down a crooked road as he did a straight.  So Momma was on the fender holding the lantern.  Of course Dad was going, not paying any attention.  Well, she fell off in a big mud hole, lantern and all.  So Dad kept right on going.  I said, “Dad, Momma’s away back there.”  He said, “Where?”  I said, “Away back there.  She fell off.”  He didn’t even know she fell.  The lantern was in the mud, with Momma right on top of it.  Well, she got up.  We always carried a bunch of rags so when we got to church we could clean our feet off.  We didn’t want to go in there with mud all over us; our hands too.  Well, so Dad finally stopped.  He just hadn’t learned to drive very long.  Finally, he stopped and backed back to where she fell off.  She got back on again and held the lantern.  She wasn’t going to be outdone.  Well, we made it to church with her holding that lantern.   Now, don’t you know that was a light from that lantern. Dark.  We got to church and cleaned our feet off.  We all went to church and had a good meeting.

 

Q.  I wonder how you got back home.

A.  Roy Wesley (Grace’s husband), he was working for the cotton gin here in Morris and he happened to come down to church.  He said, “Did you all make it all right, and dad said, “Yes, we made it,” and he said “I can drive you home without any light,” so he did.  He drove us home without a sign of a light.  He said, “I can see,” so we made it home that night.

 

Q.  One time did Grandma Stafford fall out of the car?

A.  It was Gussie and Jake.  They went to church.  They had to pick up something at the store.  They were parked there on the side of the street.  Jake had already gone in there and Mrs. Stafford kind of leaned on the door and it came open and she fell out.  And Gussie fell out on top of her.  After they went to church they both got tickled in church and they both had to get up and go out and stay there until they got their laugh out.

 

Q.  Did one time Grandma Stafford go to church without her shoes?

A.  She forgot.  She went without her shoes in the wagon.  She wore her dresses clear down here (Note: to the floor).  I stepped on her dress tail many a time.  She said, “Oh, I don’t have my shoes on.  I don’t care.  I’m going on anyway.”  So she went on without any shoes and I don’t guess anyone ever noticed it.  Yeah, people had a time then, but they went just the same.  I’ve seen Momma lift the back end of that old car by herself and Dad was just pulling.  Of course he would kill the engine and stop right in a mud hole.  He didn’t know too much about it.  Momma would say, “Quit killing your engine.”

 

Q.  Was it Grandma who got in it and Grandpa was sitting by the porch?

A.  Momma said, “I believe I can drive that thing” and Johnny said, “Well, get in it and I’ll get in there with you.”  Dad was leaned back against the corner of the house reading his Bible.  He always got out there late of the evening and read.  So Momma did real good.  She drove around the house and when she came back around she just made a straight lunge for Dad.  He was leaned back, looking up and saw her coming and took his chair, his Bible and all and away he went and that car hit right in the corner where he sat and skinned a place on the house.  If he had sat there it would have mashed him.  He sure went.  He saw her coming.

One time he was driving and we had to go down a lane with a fence on each side and he was headed for the fence and he hollered, “Whoa, Whoa,” like he was driving the horses.  He was used to driving the horses.  We had a time, but we made it.

 

Q.  Name off your kids and the dates they were born.

A. (Note:  To respect the privacy of those still living, I have left out this section.)  (The last two children were twins weighing 9 lb 2 oz and 8 lb 4 oz.)  I could hardly walk before the birth of the twins.  Daddy had to bring water to me.  Jr. had to tie my shoes.  We lived out in the country.  All of our children were born at home.  I had a Dr. when they were born.  (Her second child, Raybon Dale, died at about 14 months old)  We thought Raybon Dale was healthy but he was hydrocephalic (they called this condition water head baby then).

 

Q.  Did you get sick after the twins were born?

A.  Part of the afterbirth did not come; part of it was left, and Dr. Burnett confessed he goofed.  Dr. Burnett fixed it in his office, which was very painful.

 

Q.  Was there a time when you were blind?

A.  Yes, it was when Bro. and Sis. Parks were pastors.

 

Q.  What happened?

A.  I don’t know.  I just got to where I couldn’t see.  I don’t know what was wrong.  But then I went to the doctor when I was able to go and he didn’t know either.  The pastor and his wife and a bunch of the people from the church prayed all night nearly one night, and the next evening I got to where I could see, so I have been through it; just a little bit.

 

Q.  Tell about Junior and the Korean War.

A.  He was drafted.  He was about 18, just a boy.  He got hurt really bad.  He went right to Korea after basic training.  While in Korea he stepped on a land mine.  It blew up.  Behind him a soldier was killed, and the soldier would have gotten to go home the next day; he had a little girl.  It broke both of Jr.’s arms and legs and tore one of his toes off and tore one of the muscles out of his upper legs.  They took him to Okinawa Hospital.

 

Q.  How did you find out about it?

A.  They sent telegrams notifying me.  I got more than one telegram.  One of them was notifying us of a minor injury.  One of them arrived while we were out in the cotton field picking or chopping cotton on Charlie Schultz’ land; (we had that land rented).  I don’t know who brought the first one; maybe George Adkins.  He brought the telegram and he said, “Don’t worry.  I’ve already looked at it.  He’s going to make it.”  That was when he just had a minor injury.  George Adkins brought the telegram when he got hurt bad.  I said “Good or bad?”  He said, “Well, good and bad too,” and then that way I had hope that he was still living.  That’s bad, I’ll tell you.  While he was in the war I lost weight down to about 128 lbs.

One night while he was in Korea I had a bad dream.  I said “Daddy, there’s a monster on my bed.”  It had big eyes and claws, and I don’t know what all.  I said, “What are we going to do?  I see something that’s going to get me,” but it didn’t.  I was worried so bad.  I would just go to bed at night and I would say, “Lord, you know where he’s at and you know you can take care of him,” that’s what I’d say.  He did His part.

 

Q.  Tell about the tornado.

A.  It was in 1984.  I hunkered down all right.  I was scared to death.  Daddy was too.  We were just squatted down on the floor.

 

Q.  How did you know it was coming?

A.  We heard it coming; from the Southwest.  We were standing on the front porch of the little house that blowed away where this one is now.  Daddy said, “I don’t know what it is, but I hear something coming,” and we came in the house and we sat down by the big buffet, right flat on the floor, next to the wall.  Dishes were falling from the cabinet and busting wide open.  I don’t want to go through that again.

 

Q.  Did it blow the chickens away?

A.  It blew away my chicken house with all the chickens.  (Note: none were ever found.)

 

Q.  Did it blow your house away, too?

A.  It took part of the roof and blew part of the windows out.  The dishes would fall out of the cabinet and bust and I thought, “Well it’s our time next I guess,” but it didn’t.  Daddy was praying and I was too.

 

Q.  What happened right after the tornado?

A.  We got a big house in Okmulgee with Sheron Kay and Freddie; a big old house.  We all lived in it until they could get our new house built.  We had a good time over there; all of us and Joey.  But we were wanting to get back over here.  It was about 3 months until the house was finished.  After that Daddy had a cellar built.

 

Q.  In the confusion in getting up in the middle of the night you got your dress on inside-out didn’t you?

A.  That’s what it was. I didn’t know it until the next day.  Somebody noticed it, and I said I hadn’t noticed it.

 

Q.  You were on TV, weren’t you?

A.  I told the man who was talking to us that we hunkered down by a big old buffet when the tornado came.  He said, “You hunkered down?” and I said “Yes.”

 

Q.  Tell about the Red Cross helping.

A.  Yes, they did.  They came and they said, “Have you had anything to eat?” and I said, “Yes, we had a little something to eat.”  Of course, there wasn’t any grocery store.  It was gone.

 

Q.  So the Red Cross helped you out?

A.  The Red Cross gave us $75 and some new sheets and things like that for the house.  I never was so scared so bad in my life.

 

And one more story:

A.  A long time ago we were moving to a different house.  I had all of my dishes in a big tub with towels around them to keep them from breaking.  I had them in Johnny’s pickup and we were following behind him in the car.  He was going about 90 miles an hour and the tub tipped up.  He would go over a bump and a plate would fall out.  He would go over another bump and a bunch of glasses would fall out and Daddy couldn’t catch him.  When I got home I didn’t have hardly any dishes.  Hazel (his wife) said, “I said Johnny, slow down.”  He lost all of  my dishes nearly and I had to buy some new dishes.  I got home with some knives and forks.  They were the heaviest.  They fell to the bottom.

 

Notes in parenthesis are added for clarification.

In this narrative, “Dad” is Ollie’s father, Josiah Hurt.  “Momma” is her mother, Georgia Weaver Hurt.  “Johnny” is her brother.  “Grace,” “Lucy” and “Fannie” are her sisters.  “Jr.” is her son.  “Daddy” is her husband, Arvey Olen “Pete” Stafford.  “Gussie and Jake” are “Pete’s” sister and her husband.   “Grandma Stafford” was Pete’s mother.

 

To read another blog about my Grandma Stafford, go read A Tribute To (My) Grandparents.

Story of my Life

Something You Won’t Regret

Dewey & Ollie Hurt 1927 Oimages

Listen up!  I’m about to tell you something that you will not regret, and you’ll definitely look back on it and thank me for nudging you to do it.  Are you ready?  Here goes, but first let me tell you a little story.

When I was a senior in high school I took American History.  I had a teacher who certainly wasn’t my favorite for various reasons I shall not go into here.  But he did something for me for which I will be forever grateful: he assigned extra credit.  This was wonderful not because of the few extra points it earned me, but because of the assignment itself.  The assignment was to interview an older person about their life.  The lucky thing about this assignment was that my paternal grandfather happened to be visiting us at the time from Monahans, Texas.  He came for a few days twice a year, and luck was on my side.  Since my grandmother had passed away the previous year, this was one of his only trips by himself.  I say “only” instead of “first” because as it turned out, he passed from this life unexpectedly a few months later and never made the trip again.  He seemed healthier than ever at the time of this interview.  Anyway, it just made perfect sense to interview him.  I think that at the time extra points were my focus more than any motivation to preserve the family history.  The post An Interview With My Grandpa Moss contains that interview.

Several years later, as my maternal grandmother started to succumb to dementia, I sat down with her to do a similar exercise.  The post An Interview With My Grandma Stafford contains that interview.

Both of these lovely human treasures have now passed from this life, but I have some marvelous jewels written down from these two efforts: dates, names, and mainly stories.  These are stories that couldn’t be made up; they’re much better than anything that could be made up.  In the next couple of posts I’ll be sharing some of the great true stories they told me.

So how does this affect you?

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up.  Chances are, in the next month and a half, you will see people from your family that you haven’t seen in a long time and may not see again for just as long.  This may even be the last time you see some of them.  So, as you gather with loved ones this holiday season, please take a few minutes with a matriarch, a patriarch, an elder, and let them talk to you about “the good old days”.  There’s a good chance you’ll wonder why in the world they’re called “good old days”.  You’ll likely hear some amazing stories.  Some will be funny, and others sad, amazing, heroic, and surprising.  You may even find a skeleton or two in the closet.  Whatever the case, record those memories on an iPhone or on a piece of paper or some other way of recording these priceless gems.  It doesn’t really matter how you do it.  Just do it in a way that can be saved and passed on.  Most people, especially older ones,  love to talk about their lives and will be glad to have someone listen to their stories.

Below are some possible questions to ask.  (Many more can be found with a quick Google search of “Family History Interview Questions”.)  These are meant to be simply a starting place.  Add other open ended questions to get them talking.  If you don’t already have them, get birth dates of siblings, parents, and grandparents.  I personally already had most of than, and the personal stories were what I was looking for.  If you are young, it may help to have another person older than you (maybe a child of the person being interviewed) sit in on the session and help by feeding leading questions such as “Tell us about the time that you…”  But if nobody is available that fits in that category, do it anyway.  Here are some questions to help you along your way.

What is your full (maiden if it’s a woman) name?

What is your date of birth?

What is/was your spouse’s full (maiden if it’s a woman) name?  When and where were you married?  How did you meet?

How many brothers and sisters did you have?  What was your birth order: were you oldest, youngest, or in the middle?

Where did you live?  What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like?  How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?

What kind of games did you play growing up?  What was your favorite toy and why?  What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?

What world event most impacted your childhood?  Adult life?  How did it impact your life?

What was your final level of formal education?  What was your profession?  What was your first job?  How much did it pay?

What were your parents’ full names?  What were your grandparents’ full names?  What did they do for a living?

Tell me some funny stories that happened to you or someone in the family.

What else would you like me to know?

Come back and comment on this blog and tell me how it went.  If I forgot something, tell me that too.

Then share it around.  If it’s in an audio file, transcribe it or get someone else to.  Make copies.  Pass it around.  And you will not regret it.