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My Grandparents' Ozark Love Story

MizBejabbers has been a professional writer/editor for all of her adult life. Before that, she was just a little girl storyteller.

The lovely young lady in the back row is my maternal grandmother. This looks like it may have been taken at a church supper. No family member has been able to identify the other three young people in the photo, but neither man is my grandfather.

The lovely young lady in the back row is my maternal grandmother. This looks like it may have been taken at a church supper. No family member has been able to identify the other three young people in the photo, but neither man is my grandfather.

Family tales intrigue me

I love telling tales on my family, especially if they are funny, unusual or interesting. I think my maternal grandparents’ love story qualifies for all three.

This is their story as my grandmother told it to my mother. I got it second hand from Mom.

My grandmother and an unidentified friend or relative.

My grandmother and an unidentified friend or relative.

They were Çountry Folk

My grandparents were named Clarence Oscar and Ora Edith, but he preferred to be called C.O. With a name like his, who could blame him? Their courtship got off to a rocky start, according to my mom. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to verify the story or to ask for more details because she told it to me after both grandparents had died.

C.O. and Ora grew up within a few miles of a little wide-spot in the road named Optimus, which was about 12 miles north of Mountain View, Arkansas. Mountain View is world famous for its folk and bluegrass music, and for its folk center established by the late Bluegrass artist, Jimmy Driftwood. Being a musician himself, C.O. was an avid participant in the music and festivities of Mountain View, but Ora couldn’t have cared less. But I digress, let’s get back to the meat of the story.

He was the New Schoolmaster

Like a lot of young couples, my grandparents got acquainted in school, but they were not schoolmates. He was the new young schoolmaster, a bachelor, and she was a senior. A very bright one, I might add. Sixteen-year-old Ora was completing her senior year at the little schoolhouse in the Ozark National Forest, which, I think, was a one-room affair, when she set her bonnet for C.O.

It is unknown whether the two were already acquainted because there was a six-year age differential. He was born in 1889 and she was born in 1895. It’s possible that in the past she might have peered at the older boy from her parents’ buggy and considered him too old for her to be interested. Nevertheless, as the end of school and her graduation approached, Ora had missed her chance, and the handsome schoolmaster was about to get away. Not on your life!

Had C.O. noticed her? Maybe, maybe not. Don't know. He seemed oblivious to her flirtatious efforts and feminine wiles. He was a tough nut to crack. Ora made sure that he wasn’t courting anybody, but I'm not sure whether or not it would have stopped her determination. Ora was beautiful, and she had let her interest be known, but he simply was not responding.

Then she found out that he would be teaching at the normal school at Mountain View that summer, which meant that he definitely would not be leaving the area. Ora was happy to learn that he was planning to return to Optimus when the fall semester began.

Definition of a "normal school"

Definition for you new kids: A “normal school" was a college dedicated to the training and certification of teachers. At that time teachers were not required to have a degree, but they were required to be certified and keep their skills up to date to retain their certification.

There were many of these schools around the state, which enabled teachers to stay up-to-date without leaving home to live in a dormitory to attend summer classes. As a result, many teachers attended classes at normal schools in the summertime. Most of the professors at normal schools did have college degrees. C.O. had a teaching certificate, but not a degree, so for C.O. to teach at one without a degree meant that he was very intellectual. So how did that happen?

Ora did some sleuthing and found out that when C.O. had attended the normal school, he was the only one who could solve some the particularly difficult problems in the math curriculum. Not even the instructors with degrees could solve the most advanced of the problems, but C.O. could figure them out. When the students encountered those lessons, he usually ended up taking over the class anyway. This particular year someone made the suggestion to cut the middleman and hire him as the math instructor. C.O. was turning out to be a multi-talented guy. He was coming back in the fall and Ora would be ready!

Ora came up with a plan

Ora was in love, and she wasn’t going to let this fish get away. She hatched a plan. When September came and classes took up in the little schoolhouse, there Ora sat. At a desk. Down in front. I don't know how C.O. reacted, but I can just imagine the conversation.

“Ora, what are you doing here? You graduated last May.”

Blink, blink, those beautiful dark blue eyes. “Because I can’t go away to college. You are so smart, I know that you can teach me so much more.”

C.O. probably blushes at this point. “I still have to follow the lesson plans, Ora. I think you’ll just get bored.”

“Oh, no, I’m sure that a teacher as enterprising as you can find something challenging for me. Pleeeze.” Batting those eyes some more.

By this time he probably was hooked on the flattery. All we know is that he agreed to let her repeat her senior year.

Ora, as the story goes, let her emotions overrule her head and became very disruptive in class. C.O. expelled her.

Her plan worked

Here is where her chase ends. Ora's little escapade worked because C.O began courting her, and at some point he fell in love with her. Who knows, maybe he was in love with her all along. Men can be so stubborn at times! They were married, and I do know that he truly loved her because he made it known in my presence. I would end the story here, but it didn’t have the happiest of endings, so I’ll continue. At this point the united duo become "grandfather" and "grandmother".

Grandfather and grandmother had eight children in all, but one, a younger sister, died of childhood scarlet fever. My mom was child number three, and she and the other children survived when the fever ravaged the household. She was born while grandfather was teaching at what is now the historic ghost town of Rush near the Arkansas-Missouri border. When Mom was four years old, they moved to Evening Shade where he taught school for a few years. And yes, dear reader, it was the Evening Shade made famous in the TV show by that name starring Burt Reynolds. The town is still there going strong. (In 1920, Evening Shade boasted a population of 290, and the 2010 census listed its population at a whopping 432.)

C.O. Partee

Grandfather in his dandy new suit he bought for his graduation from barber college.

Grandfather in his dandy new suit he bought for his graduation from barber college.

Grandfather had a change of plans

By that time the family was growing and grandfather couldn’t support his family on a schoolteacher’s pay, so he left teaching and went to barber college. After graduation, he established his own barber shop in the larger town of Batesville, about 25 miles down the road from Evening Shade. He became a very popular barber and musician in that town, which later became my own hometown.

Then came the Great Depression. Mom said that it was a trying time for everyone, but they managed. Mom frequently reminisced about family time after supper. For entertainment they had an old Philco radio to which they listened on many evenings, but she loved it most when they played their own music. Grandfather taught his sons to play guitar and banjo and his daughters to play mandolin. Sometimes after supper they would gather around and play music and sing along, mostly bluegrass and old hymns. This family was a raucous bunch, and I can see them just a pickin’ and a grinnin’. Neighbors up and down the street would hear them play and come to the house to join in or just listen.

Everybody sang, even the neighborhood. I nearly forgot to mention that grandfather conducted singing schools in which he taught people to sing by using shaped notes. These notes were not only round, but had other geometric shapes like triangles, ovals and squares that instructed the singer. Grandfather was great with an instrument, but his singing voice wasn’t pleasant to me. It was typical country, high-pitched and nasal, but that was the country style of the day.

The Great Depression

The family was fortunate that they did not suffer from hunger like many city families. Grandmother raised a vegetable garden in the back yard. She and the girls canned all the vegetables that they didn’t eat fresh, and although grandfather didn't hunt, meat was fairly plentiful. You see, Southern men have a lot of pride. During the Depression if they didn’t have the money to pay for a haircut, they bartered for it. Grandfather brought home a lot of meat, like a side of bacon, a ham or a chicken, just like doctors did when their patients couldn’t pay. Even the poorest men were good hunters, and sometimes he brought home a dinner of squirrels, rabbits or quail. The times they were a changin’.

So was grandmother’s personality. In those years she changed from a beautiful vivacious young woman into a serious lethargic housewife who depended on her daughters for a lot of work that went beyond doling out chores. In fact, some people thought she had become lazy. Mom said that she began to sit around and read books and magazines while the girls did most of the cooking and the housework and tending their two little brothers. She lost interest in family activities and stayed at home when grandfather went out to play music, but, truth was, she wasn’t lazy, she was very ill.

When my Mom and her older sister were in college, a tumor finally grew large enough for her doctor to find it. At that time the medical term was "a growth in her belly." Grandmother was dying of colon cancer. Mom dropped out of college to come home and care for her mother. Grandmother Ora died in 1939 at the too-young age of 44. I wish I could have known her because I feel very privileged to have known my grandfather.

Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs Play Bluegrass

Was Ora brazen or innovative

© 2018 Doris James MizBejabbers

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