MY HOMETOWN

Many people say they would never live in a small town
because "everyone knows everyone else's business."
While this may be true to some extent,
I believe growing up in a small town
is a good experience. I grew up in a little
Sante Fe railroad town, Baring, Missouri,
(population 208....probably counting the pets).
To me, the town was a place of security
and a place where you were
cared about by the townspeople.

The same people doing the same things
seemed to make my life more
secure. Things like us kids playing ball
in the big alley across the road in front
of my house on Sunday afternoons,
Irene Mayer sitting in her porch swing
shelling peas, or Gladys Moore's cow
loose and running away again.

Sometimes, on summer evenings, all the kids
in the neighborhood would come over to
my house and we'd play "kick the can".
This was a game similar to hide and seek
except it was played after dark. Then there
were times that we would use the whole
town as our playground as we
played "mark the corner" which was a game
of leaving clues with chalk on the sidewalks.
Sadly, the world we live in today is not
always a safe enough place for our
children today to play such games
without adult supervision.

One of my earliest memories is of going to
Grandma and Granddad's house which was just
up the road from our house. Grandma had
worked as a nurse for many years and
although she had retired from that work,
I still remember the stories she told of how she
would be called to assist a doctor and
would go to the house of the patient where
she would often stay until the patient had
begun to recover.

Grandma fixed breakfast early every morning
for Granddad and Billy. Billy was an elderly
neighbor and bachelor. Although he was
getting up in years, Billy still followed
his occupation as a horse trader. Billy was
a shrewd fellow and I never did hear
of anyone out-bargaining him on a
horse deal. Billy always called me "Little Lady".
He occasionally would ask me how
I was doing financially and when I would
proudly produce a nickel in the palm of
my hand as evidence, he'd say, "Little Lady,
"that nickel looks awful heavy for you to carry",
and then he'd trade me a dime for the nickel.
Later, he would laugh and boast
to others about how I beat him in a trade.

When I was older Billy would let me ride
some of his horses.  He was always careful to
tell me which ones were gentle.
Occasionally, he would choose one for me
that wasn't as gentle as he expected and I
would get thrown. Billy was a loyal
horseman and always took up for his horses.
He'd say,  "Little Lady, you know that horse
had a fly under the saddle for sure. That horse
would never throw you on purpose. Why that
horse wouldn't hurt you for anything in the world!"

Across the big alley lived Mrs. Addie Slocum.
She was known to me and most of the townspeople
as "Grandma Slocum". She was an incredible lady
who was respected and admired
by the whole town. She was in her middle 80's
when I first remember her and she lived to be
nearly 100. Grandma Slocum
attributed her longevity, in part, to exercise.
She once told me, I walk to church every week.
If others would do the same, they
would feel better!"

Grandma Slocum was known for her cookies
especially by the neighborhood children and I
never knew her cookie jar to be empty.
(Her cookies were a molasses-type but to
this day I cannot duplicate them). Grandma was
also known for her flower gardens
and she spent a lot of time working in her
flowers. One of the flowers I remember
were her peonies which she pronounced "pineys".
I was never allowed to leave her house
without cookies or a bouquet of flowers.

Grandma Slocum's son, William T. Slocum,
a widower, lived with her. He was a railroad mailman.
He loved children and I began walking
across the big alley to see "Willie" from
the time I was three years old. When I would ask
him what the "T" stood for in his middle name,
he'd always laugh and say, "Trouble".
He never did tell me his middle name. Willie
chewed tobacco and would ask me
if I wanted some "chewing gum" and he
would produce a tobacco pouch
from his pocket. I'd always make a face at
his "chewing gum" and then he'd laugh and
hand me a stick of real chewing gum from
his other pocket. Willie tried to teach me
how to spit across the porch rail but I never had
much success. Willie also tried to
teach me how to plant a nickel and grow a
tree which would produce nickels. A "Nickel Tree"
he called it. I was always a little
skeptical about this and would plant the nickel
only to dig it back up before I left for home.

Willie had a yellow tiger cat that he called "Precious"
and he'd expound upon the virtues of his
"Hybrid Cat" as he called him.
He'd tease that his hybrid cat was too good to
keep company with my ordinary alley cat.

Willie's best friend was "Jap" Green. There was
a special comradeship between these two
old friends with a sense of humor that
is rarely seen. Jap would drive up in
front of the house and the
good-natured exchange of words
would go something like this:

"Well, Grandpa, "think you're up to
goin fishin' today?"

"Who are you callin' Grandpa?
You get your cane and
we'll see who's up to goin' fishin!"

"Are you goin' to bait yer own hook
this time or do I
have to do it for you again."

"Have to give you something to do,
otherwise your
scarin' all the fish off!"

This give and take would continue until
one of them got the last word and then they
would be off to their fishing.

I remember going down to see Granddad
at the feed store that he ran.  I would watch as
they tested the cream the local farmers brought
in or sometimes I was allowed to candle the eggs.
Almost every visit I would get on the big feed
scales and weigh myself.

Across the street from Granddads store
was Goldie's Restaurant.
Goldie was by far the largest lady in town
and I remember how she
suffered in the summer heat before
anyone in our little town had
air conditioning. My brother, Jerry, and I
would go across for an ice cream cone or a
tenderloin sandwich. I remember the
tenderloin would stick out all around the edges
and I would always
eat all the edges around the bun first.

Sometimes we would go a little further
down the street to Delaney's Restaurant and
for 15 cents we would have a plate of
mashed potatoes and gravy (and folks these were
REAL mashed potatoes that didn't
come out of a box.)

There were two churches in Baring, St. Aloysius
Catholic Church and Baring Community Church.
I remember the big brown house next
to the Catholic Church where Father Carew
lived. I used to roller skate back and forth in
front of the house and church because it
was the best sidewalk in town and excellent for skating.
Father Carew would sometimes walk by
and he would always speak
to me. I always liked to hear him talk
because he was from Ireland
and didn't speak like anyone else I knew.

The other church, Baring Community Church,
was where I attended and I remember especially as
a child the big bell that rang every
Sunday morning calling us to Sunday School.
The first pastor I remember was Rev. Archie Cooper
who drove to Baring every Sunday
morning from Kirksville, for services and
would occasionally have lunch at our house
after church.  But most of all, I remember
it was at this church that I came to know God through
Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Living in Baring was being loved and learning
from others.  I learned from Mildred Clark to be
a "doer and not a hearer only."
Mildred was a woman active in her church and
community. I learned from Callie Mayer to be
considerate and to think of others as I
watched her do the little things she did
for her family and neighbors.

I learned about life, tragedy, and I learned
about death in Baring.  I remember asking my parents
as a very small child why the Catholic
Church bell rang so sadly some mornings with
a long pause between each ring of the bell and
mother explained to me about death and
funerals and that the bell meant someone had died.
I learned about tragedy when my brother's classmate died
and it seemed the whole school and community
was "one" together as we all grieved.
Yes, I learned about caring from a town
of people who cared;
who always "turned out" in a time of
disaster, sickness, or death.
 

When I hear people say they would never
live in a small town
among all the gossip where people
know everything about you,
I only smile to myself and think how they
have only seen one very small, petty part
of living in a small town.
Or maybe they have never had a "Baring" to
grow up in.  I am thankful for the opportunity
to have lived among people
who had time to spare for a little girl.

By Pamela Perry Blaine
 Copyright, 1984