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Past Remains Part of Present

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August 22, 2011 by wcobserver

Photo by Terry Ropp - Martha Hamilton of Winslow poses with a quilt her Grandmother Rose made for her when she was a child. She has many fond memories of times she spent with her grandmother and her house if furnished with treasures from a bygone era.

By Terry Ropp

Generally speaking, people think of the Depression and World War II eras as being very tough times in this country. A recent conversation with Martha Hamilton, who has lived her whole life in the Winslow area, revealed what she believes was a softer, more innocent time. Like so many Arkansans, she lives up and around a rough gravel road in her own private corner of the land. Her home is quaint and filled with treasures of bygone eras collected not only by her but by her grandmother Emma Rose as well, and it was her Grandmother Rose who made those difficult times seem honeyed.

When speaking of her grandmother, Martha’s face warmed with happiness.

“She was always a joy to be around,” Martha said adding that they walked many places together and sometimes stopped in town for brunch. Walking to town was an eight mile round trip, but Martha didn’t mind because “Grandmother time was good time.”

Occasionally they went to the general store and bought a pint of ice cream with a free wooden spoon which they shared. They also bought several slices of bologna cut to order from the store’s large loaf and some crackers. Then the two of them took their feast to the nearby stream where they used her grandmother’s collapsible metal drinking cup for water.

“The best part was eating the ice cream first so it wouldn’t melt,” said Martha, grinning.

On some of their trips, Grandmother Rose carried a hammer. When walking in the forest, they hunted for what Grandmother Rose called “sand rocks.” Martha described the rocks as being hollow inside with loose sand in the middle. When they found one, Grandmother Rose cracked it in half with the hammer and carefully collected the sand. When they got back to Grandmother Rose’s house, the sand was then used with a stiff broom to remove grease from the kitchen floor and to burnish the wood to a nice shine in the process.

Like most grandmothers, Grandmother Rose made special foods that no one else could make as well. While potatoes with macaroni, milk, and black pepper were one of Martha’s favorites, the best of all was a pear preserve gone wrong.

“One day Grandmother was cooking the preserves on an old woodstove and fell asleep. When she woke, the pears had cooked so long they became like taffy. I always asked for more, and I have tried to make some like that but they never turn out the same.”

Because people walked everywhere, shoes were special but would wear out way too soon.

“Those early years weren’t easy, and you cherished every item you possessed because you didn’t have much,” said Martha.

She said shoes were so highly prized that children went through town with their shoes on because that was the proper thing to do and then take them off and walk barefoot the rest of the way. On the way back they would stop outside of town and wash their feet in the stream, wait for them to dry, and finally put their sandals back on until they were through town. Then they would go barefoot the rest of the way home.

On one of their many trips Martha recalls visiting her Grandmother Rose’s good friend, Maud Duncan, who is an intriguing figure in Winslow history. Maud Duncan was not only the town’s first female Mayor in the 1930’s, but was also both editor and publisher of the local weekly paper called Winslow American. The paper started in 1908 and ran for about forty years.

She remembers they walked to town to renew her grandmother’s subscription which she thought cost about a dollar. Martha said what she remembers most was clicking of the press as it ran in the dark, cave-like atmosphere of the print shop. The odd atmosphere and the adult conversation rather bored Martha so she sat in the doorway and waited as patiently as a young girl could. Though Martha wasn’t much impressed at the time, she has deep respect for Maud and her accomplishments now.

“She was a woman in a man’s world back then and did well.”

“One day when walking in town we ran into one of her friends, an old man named Charlie Sevour,” Martha recalled. “Grandmother Rose walked up right up to him and planted a big kiss right on his lips for the entire world to see. There was nothing sexual about it. It was just a way to greet someone you were really happy to see.” She added, “People just don’t do things like that today because the times are so different and a kiss is no longer just a kiss.”

Martha said she and her grandmother shared the value of keeping mementoes and the past as part of the present. As a result, Martha still has many treasures that belonged to her grandmother. Among these are a handbill for the 1895 Brentwood picnic and a ledger in which her grandfather kept of all of his financial transactions. Martha smiled when she explained that her grandmother pasted obituaries over most of the pages after her Grandfather Joe died so she didn’t waste paper. Martha read the old obituaries and commented that Maud’s obituaries were always gentle and included very personal information such as hobbies or favorite activities that make today’s generic obituaries seem sterile and cold.

“Even though I saved them, I removed some of the obituaries because I wanted to see what Grandfather wrote underneath.”

She found entries, dating 1886 and 1887, that covered a wide range of finances including the cost of seed and the $1.25 price for selling five railroad ties. Another of Martha’s treasures is a small quilt she calls a dog quilt that her grandmother made for her when she was a child.

Martha needs only to look around to conjure up more memories. In her enclosed porch she has an antique cupboard filled with knickknacks that span the years of her life, an old woodstove she sometimes still uses in winter, and racks of thriving plants that bring the beauty of nature inside. In one box she even has a stack of old Observers from the seventies. The biggest treasure, of course, is Martha herself and her ability to bring the past into focus for us.

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