Saturday, April 21, 2007

Early Memories--Growing Up in Harrison 1921-1933

I was born December 25th, 1921 in Harrison, Arkansas at the corner of South Maple Street and West Newman Avenue; the fourth child of William Newton and Mabel Womack Nicholson. Dr. Frank Kirby was the attending doctor; and, of course, at that time there were no clinics or hospitals in Boone County.

The first memory of my childhood was waking up to the crowing of the neighborhood roosters when I was about two years of age. Harrison was a hamlet of about fifteen hundred people at that time, and my father ran a partnership general mercantile business with my Uncle Roy and Granddad Amzi Nicholson. The business was located on the south side of the square and 'that was before there was any paving, sidewalks (concrete) and curbing around the square.

Another early memory is of the neighborhood children and my older brother and sisters playing doctors and nurses, and using me as their patient in performing a tonsillectomy. They didn't hurt me, but I remember that they scared me to death for the fact that I thought the baling wire instrument was going to be stuck down my throat. I am sure that I screamed and mother came running to the rescue.

Another memory of that early period was that one night my brother, Eugene had the whole neighborhood looking for him. Gene was about eight years old, and when the folks discovered that he was missing from his bed, they searched the entire neighborhood, with the help of most of them., to no avail. The next morning at daylight, he came walking out of one of our neighbor's woodsheds. He had been delirious with fever the night before, and had walked in his sleep to a newfound bedroom. He was all right and had no ill effects from his venture, but it surely did scare Mom and Dad.

When I was about three years old, Dad sold his interest in the store business to Uncle Roy and Grandpa Amzi, and we moved to my Grandma Womack's farm south of town. Dad started a small dairy operation and was milking 15 to 20 Jersey cows by hand twice a day. He would bottle the milk, load it onto a buggy, and deliver it to people around town. Although Gene was only nine or ten years old, he would help milk, but Dad really had his hands full. The dairy business lasted Dad about three years and he decided to sell out the herd and move-back to town.

In 1928, after we moved to town, Dad bought the American Cafe, which was about half a block off the square on East Stephenson Avenue. By this time, we children, all five of us, were enrolled in school, and we were living on North Maple Street. Uncle Roy was still operating the store, and he and Uncle Riley Womack (the painter) made me a shoe box and stocked it with polish and brushes and I would spend the summer shining shoes in the courtyard for 5 cents per pair. This was when I was from seven to nine years old and I could save enough nickels to help Dad pay my school tuition and buy school supplies. In addition to shining shoes, boys could earn spending money by gathering up burlap sacks and selling to the feed stores for reuse, gathering used medicine bottles and selling to the drug stores for reuse and gathering aluminum and copper wire and selling to the salvage yards. By either of these enterprises or by running errands and doing lawn work and odd jobs, we could make our spending money for the Saturday afternoon "shoot'em up" and the continued serial which we could not afford to miss.

In 1930-31, Dad had sold the cafe and was working for the city as night watchman on the police force. About this time, my Uncle Hubert Brown started Lone Oak Dairy in partnership with his brother, Carl, who worked also for the railroad. He gave me the job of bouncing on the milk truck. I would ride the fender, except when we had falling weather, and place the milk on the porches and pick up the empty bottles, while he drove the truck on the milk route. I did this until I was about fourteen years old. I had to quit because I developed a limp from jumping off the truck and Dr. Henry Kirby said I would become a permanent cripple if I continued. Hubert sold the milk for 10 cents per quart then and he paid me 10 cents at night and 15 cents in the morning for helping him deliver. During the depression, in the thirties, pennies looked as big as dollars now. In about 1932, Dad was no longer working for the city as a policeman and he was glad to do any kind of work he could find for ten or fifteen cents an hour. He always raised a huge garden and he would work it before and after any other work that he could find. I do not ever remember a day that he did not work from literally daylight until dark. He could never earn enough to supply his children with any luxuries but with us children helping to buy our clothing, he supplied the food and shelter and for a family of seven in that day and time, that was a lot. In 1933, he got a job as a day laborer on the WPA making twenty five cents an hour helping to build the old levee along South Spring Street and down Central Avenue between the creek and the square. In the fall of 1933, my sister, Evangelyn, who was eighteen months younger than I, became ill with rheumatic fever. There were no clinics or hospitals in Harrison then, so mother had to nurse her at home. I spent the winter with my Uncle Riley and Grandmother Womack because mother and my two older sisters had their hands full taking care of my baby sister. There was very little that could be done for her medically, and she developed a leakage of the heart and died the following spring.

Uncle Roy had gone broke in the store business in 1931 and had started operating a company owned service station on the corner of Cherry and Stephenson arid Aunt Mittie had a little lunchroom adjoining called The Goblin's Den. This was just across the street from the high school and Central grade school, so in addition to Aunt Mittie selling hamburgers, chili, candy and school supplies in the Goblin's Den, Roy also had the concession to sell candy, popcorn, gum and soft drinks at all of the athletic events both in the gymnasium and the football field. So, he gave me the job of helping him sell from the concession stands at the ballgames. Dad was also helping Uncle Roy with the service station work, and I would also help at that part of the time, I remember that we sold hand pumped gasoline for as low-as eleven. cents per gallon, kerosene for seven cents a gallon, motor oil in bulk for ten cents a quart, flats repaired and grease jobs for a quarter and batteries charged for twenty nine cents. Business got so good for the Southland Cut Rate Station that Roy was operating, that in 1935, they decided to build another one; so they built the station that is on the right of the highway on the curve at the south end of the Krooked Kreek bridge and hired Dad to operate it for them. By this time I was in junior high school and was helping Dad in the station what time I was not in school. Dad operated the station for Southland until in 1938, when he went to work for the Arkansas Highway Department, helping to service and maintain their vehicles and road equipment. I worked about a year part time for Paul Lee, who was operating the Barnsdall service station on the corner of Stephenson and Pine Streets, when I was a sophomore in high school.
I guess you would think that I had no time for playing while I was growing up? Not so!!! We lived along the banks of Krooked Kreek, and we spent a lot of time swimming and fishing and even skating on its ice in extremely cold weather. Yoyos, tops, marbles, horseshoes, shinney, rubber guns, beanflips, hoops and tire rolling, football, baseball, and basketball and track events were all inexpensive ways of having fun and we never had any trouble of finding plenty of playmates to participate in any and all activities. Oh yes, there was also horseback riding, bicycling and tennis. I had a pony until I was eight or nine years old.

1 comment:

Elisabeth J. Nicholson said...

Hello Ed,

My father is Rodney Nicholson, the son of Eugene Nicholson -- the one who frightened everyone so in the first few paragraphs of your father's memoirs.

I've been searching the web for info about the Nicholson family, and was amazed to find this blog. I'm pretty sure I visited you, your father Jim and mother Fern at a Nicholson family reunion around 1990.

I live in Canada now. I'm married with a beautiful daughter and would love to pass along to her some of the history of her Arkansas cousins, but don't know where to start.

Jim Nicholson is my great-uncle. If there are any other closely-related Nicholsons out there who can tell me more about the Nicholson family, especially Eugene's family, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Elisabeth J. Nicholson