REMINISCENCES OF ELLA HIGGINBOTHAM GIBBS, 1968

January 21, 1895 - November 26, 1975

 

Transcribed by Louise Busby Gibbs

 

Reminiscences of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs is dedicated to her grandchildren whom she dearly loved.

 

 

Why this little story? I want my grandchildren to know something of the customs and people as I knew them, to see them through my eyes.

I am Ella (Higginbotham) Gibbs, the only child of James "Jimmie" Perkins Higginbotham (1869-1900) and Minnie (Rice) Higginbotham (1870-1915).

Minnie Rice Higginbotham

and

James Perkins Higginbotham

(Parents of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs)

 

 

PARENTS' WEDDING

Mother, Minnie (Rice) Higginbotham, was born February 2, 1870, and was raised in Whitehall, Kaufman County, Texas. Father, James (Jimmie) Perkins Higginbotham, was born November 6, 1869, and was raised one mile north of Elm Grove Church and Cemetery in Van Zandt County, Texas.

Theirs was a home wedding during the summer of 1887 with friends and relatives attending. She wore a floor length embroidered ivory lace dress with a high neck and long sleeves. Reverend McClerkin officiated, and there was a reception and supper in the home following the service. There were no wedding showers then. She was given a cream colored palomino horse, a quilted black leather side saddle, and a bridle as a family wedding gift or heritage as was the custom of the community. The bride and groom rode to their new home on their horses.

Mother was one of a big family and used to a crowd. Soon a crowd went to pick cotton. Mother wanted to go be one of them. Her mother-in-law, Susan Ella, insisted she not go because if she worked in the fields now, Jimmie would expect her to work in the fields the next year and every year.

Mother would rather have been with the crowd for she had nothing to work with at the house. She would change papers often in her cabinet, a box nailed to the wall with a few dishes in it. She scoured the two bare floors often for something to do. There was no linoleum at that time. No man ever liked a fresh scoured floor. Once when I was about four, Mother said, "Don't say a word about scouring the floor." When papa came home I yelled, "Mama, your floor is about dry."

A few years after their marriage Mother's palomino mare had a colt that was Mother's pride and joy. She saddled the horse and tied her with a slipknot to a swinging limb while she ran into the house for something. She was gone only a minute or two. When she came out, she found her beautiful palomino horse and colt both dead from strangulation. The colt had become entangled in the rope, causing the suffocation. Mother never mentioned it without big tears coming into her eyes. She would say, "I lost my heritage by carelessness." Over and over she cautioned me to never tie my school horse May with a slipknot, not even for a minute. I want to press her statement on to you. Guard your heritage handed down from your ancestors; develop the good points; forget the bad of the culture, tradition, home, whatever the birthright, etc.

Grandmother Perkins Higginbotham (my father's mother) died in 1892. My mother and dad moved into the home to cook and wash for my Grandfather and my uncles, Ben and Earn, who were young men. They kept house for them until Ben married Ara Wren, and he and Ara moved into the house with Grandpa. My mother and father moved to the farm that he bought two or two and one-half miles east of there. They were very pleased to get into this new place, new home, and new surroundings. It was here that I was born seven years after my parents were married. Their new house was near completion when he died.

While Mother and Father were living with Grandpa Higginbotham after their marriage, Grandpa brought my mother a conch shell. In fact he brought several, but they took this one conch shell, sawed off a little horn and made a real horn, a blowing horn, and this horn, this conch shell that he gave her before I was born is what she blew each noon or when necessary to bring her men in for their noon meal or any other time it was necessary. So I cherish this horn that has been used low these many years. Now I use it as a flower arranging project. I cherish this piece of property that I have that no one else would ever think about or like.

 

CHILDHOOD HOME

I was born January 21, 1895, one mile north of Elm Grove Church and Cemetery in Van Zandt County, Texas, on the place my father was raised.

(Ella Higginbotham and her mother, Minnie Rice Higginbotham)

 

The road that came by my childhood home ran east and west; it was the Prairieville and Snider Springs Road. Both places were noted.

Snider Springs (present day Phalba) had perpetual springs where people drove their cattle for water every other day during a drought.

Prairieville was the big town with wool carding, a gin, a drug store, general stores, and medical doctors. Dr. Watkins came on horseback as far as Elm Grove.

Snider Springs Road was a public road. It was worked, but like all county roads it went the way of least resistance in the woods and was trimmed out and made straight only out of necessity. The roads were worked by men who lived on or near them, one being called the overseer who was the one responsible. Each person carried an ax and shovel and cut the bushes and filled the ruts and ditches. They ate at the homes along their section of road, usually about six men to a section.

During the settling of this country most all rural people of necessity had plum thickets or plum orchards near their homes. They were used for screen, hiding, food, and privacy for an outdoor toilet. They were easy, quick, and natural to grow because they were native plums and grew as natives grew. They were brought from place to place as the pioneers moved from place to place. So God prepares many things for us to use if we only look for them.

Mother drew the plans and cut and nailed our first toilet. It was made out of dried oak lumber. She called me to come help her stand it up when I got home from school. It was very heavy.

Father didn't have the kitchen, front porch, or chimney completed when he became too ill to complete them, so Mother had a mud cat chimney built like the children of Israel in Egypt. They made the frame work of lumber, then used a certain kind of clay to make a thick mud and mixed hay or grass with it, making the mud cat about 12 - 14 inches long and about 8 or 9 inches around, securing these on the framework. They were careful to cover all wood for protection from rain outside or fire inside.

Uncle Ben told me they had put my kitty in one of those mud cats. He got me hunting my kitty.

Mother hired a professional painter to paint our house white with maroon trim. Not many houses were painted at that time.

 

MAILBOX ROAD

We eventually got a mail route out of Stone Point. Mother carried a post and buggy wheel to the southeast corner of the George Jeter homeplace. When the road turned north, she left a note for our Stone Point Rural Route postman to put the wheel where it would be most convenient for him. We dug the hole, put in the post, and attached about five mail boxes to it.

Mailbox Road held many pleasures, mysteries, and adventures for me. Our little neighborhood road wound between huge post oak trees where only smaller bushes had to be cut (the way of least resistance to pioneers). It had rabbits, squirrels, and birds. We had bluebirds and orioles among the green trees and moss. There were the prettiest violets in early spring followed by white and blue daisies and yellow buttercups. There were hickory nuts in the fall in the bone graveyard where we carried the old man's horse when he spent the night (as people traveled, you were obligated to feed and room them overnight if they reached your house later than mid-afternoon).

 

ELLA'S FATHER

I remember very little about my father. When I was five, I went with him to a neighbor's house. He stood on their porch and pulled acorns from a tree for me to play with.

My father said I was his little baboon, so Uncle Earn and Uncle Ben called me Bab.

He carried me to Murchison to a tanning yard where cow hides were tanned into leather and products such as shoes were made from the leather. He had a special pair of shoes made for my burned feet. They were square-toed shoes.

He took me with him to Roar's Mill (named after the owner) about 12 miles away, driving Lightning (Light), a white race horse, and Caxy, a draft horse. Light was flighty and would run. He had been trained to race. I guess I wanted a drink on the way down. Father stopped at a farm home and handed me a drink. While he was out of the wagon, Light ran away, pulling Caxy and the wagon through the yard and garden before they were stopped.

At Roar's Mill he had our and our neighbors' corn ground into corn meal. He carried all our neighbors' corn with ours to have it ground into meal at the big water mill. Water flowed into the buckets built on the big wheel. The weight caused the mill to turn as the water made the big wheel turn. The miller would take his toll from the corn before grinding it. We stayed overnight at the mill to get all the different sacks of neighbors' corn made into meal. He must have loved children to carry me on an overnight.

My father bought the Albert Taylor Rice place and the adjoining Flowers place the year I was born (1895). They were old settled places. He and a hired hand cut trees, split rails, and built fences, the crooked rail fences that we had all through the country at that particular time. We had no wire fence on our place. Yes, we did. We had some wire, too. He bought another piece of land, 228 acres, and was building us a new house when he contracted tuberculosis or "galloping consumption" as some people called it because it was of short duration. He didn't have the kitchen, front porch, or chimney finished when he passed away. He had all but two land notes paid off.

Some said he became ill because he didn't take care of himself what with working so hard to get the land all fixed just so.

Doctors sent him away to a health resort when I was five. I remember he left our gate on our white horse, Lightning. Mother just cried and cried. We went down through our orchard and just walked and walked.

We wrote him that our family horse, May, had a solid black female colt. He wrote me to name it Ribbon, and it would be my horse. He made me necklaces and bracelets of brass wires and colored beads while he was resting there. They were very pretty, and I was very pleased with them.

His disease was advanced, and he didn't stay long because he had waited too long to go and possibly would not have done much better if he had gone earlier. We will never know.

I remember little about him as I was so young. He said the worse thing was that he could not love Mother and me like he wanted. He was afraid he might give us his tuberculosis.

On September 14, 1900, when he got worse, Mother wrote and pinned a note in my apron pocket and sent me to the field where 12 or 14 people were picking cotton. I fiddled along, picking a boll of cotton here and there to fill my two pockets. When someone saw me coming, everyone dropped their sacks of cotton and came to meet me. They knew something was wrong and asked all kinds of questions. Finally someone found the note, and everyone started for the house. I sauntered along and came in later. My father died in a short time. I couldn't understand all the commotion.

My Uncles Earn (his brother) and Blake (his half-brother) bathed and laid him out in clean underclothes as was the custom in those days.

It wasn't long before the neighbors began to come. Mother just couldn't stop crying. She would speak to them but would still be in tears, and she wouldn't let me go play with the children who came. I couldn't understand that either.

Later the children and I were in the playhouse making mud pies, and Mother came after me and took me with her. I wanted so much to make those mud pies since I was having such a good time and had someone to play with.

We went to the funeral in the back end of a covered wagon, and the children sat on quilts while the adults sat in chairs behind the spring seat. Aunt Ada Peace, Father's half-sister, and her family were along. Abbie Peace was a grown girl and sat in a chair. She had a beautiful handkerchief that I thought was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, and she cried in it. I was so afraid that she would ruin her handkerchief. I was so young I couldn't compare the value of the handkerchief and the value of my father. I couldn't even compare those in my mind.

In the wagon on the way to the funeral, we stopped at Aunt Minnie Hyde's (Father's half-sister) house. She was sick in bed so the men took the coffin (all coffins back then were homemade) out of the wagon and into her house for her to see Jimmie (as she called him) for the last time. They then put the lid on and put it back in the wagon, and we went on to the cemetery. I don't remember anything about the funeral, not anything. I was so young I couldn't understand. I don't know that we ever get to where we understand. We can't understand death anymore than we can understand birth or the mysteries that come on every day of our daily lives. Who can explain so many things - the heartbeat, the breath. Only God can figure it out and make it so.

 

FEET

My feet were burned while I was learning to walk. I was about a year old. Mother had finished our outdoor washing except for hanging out the colored clothes. While Father was resting after lunch, he would see after me, and she would run hang them. This time I followed Mother outside. No one knew until they heard me cry out as I was standing in coals of fire and ashes holding to the big, black, iron washpot. Father carried me to the house. Part of my toes fell off before we got in the house. Mother saved the tiny toe bones. I had to have care for six weeks. Mother had a continuous fever part of the time.

Father requested Mother have my feet operated on just as soon as she could manage it after his funeral. As soon as the crop was gathered and the cotton sold, she did.

Mother carried me to the hospital for foot surgery when I was five years old. Uncle Blake went with us. All toes of my left foot were burned off, and the right was badly burned. The big toe had to be removed. After I was settled after surgery, she asked me if I would be satisfied for Uncle Blake to stay to bring me home. He could carry me, and she couldn't. Mother's money was going fast, so both of them couldn't stay. I was happy for Uncle Blake to stay for I was sure I could get more attention from him and get him to buy me things. I found out later that Mother paid for them.

I was in the hospital on Christmas. I have never spent a nicer Christmas. I was given a number of gifts and really had a good time. I remember a felt redbird that the doctor gave me sitting on a fifteen inch wire frame that would rock back and forth, back and forth. The same doctor gave me an elaborate paper doll set that had pretty dresses and hats and a wonderful wind-up toy car that I could show the woman in the next room after getting permission from the nurse. I would crawl on my knees, holding my feet up off the floor. Once a bandage came loose, so I pushed a chair to my bed and climbed up to ring for a nurse. She scolded me for being trouble.

When my feet got well enough to wear good, bought shoes, I took the old square-toed ones and threw them away. I never wanted to see them again. I thought people were making fun of me when they were only looking at my funny shoes.

 

Grandfathers

My Rice and Higginbotham grandfathers both stayed at our home at the same time together. Grandpa Rice had accidentally shot his toe off while shooting owls catching their chickens.

One year Grandpa Higginbotham lived with us and raised lots of turkeys. He fed the little ones clabber milk with black pepper on it.

Grandpa Higginbotham had a horse named Glenko (Glencoe), a short-gaited, fat animal, gray in color, and a dog named Buck, a short-haired hound. Buck and my dog, Jack, had many fights over who was the owner or "king" of the place. The men usually poured water on them or put a big shuck basket over one. That fight was over until the next trip.

Grandpa Higginbotham and someone went to Houston in a wagon. His dog Buck went wherever he went and followed them to Houston. After they got to Houston, they went into a cafe and a screen door cut the dog back. He didn't like any such treatment, so he started home. Some few days after the men had returned from Houston, Buck came walking home. He was alone, of course. His feet were very, very sore, and he was pretty road worn, but he lived over it.

Uncle Ben, Father's brother, broke his leg at Roddy, two and one-half miles away. He sent word for Grandpa Higginbotham to come get him. He had to catch the horses and hitch the wagon but first said, "Let me light my pipe first." Grandma started right then walking. A neighbor came along in a wagon, and she rode the rest of the way.

When I was older, Grandpa Higginbotham had a topless buggy. On the back of the seat and on the seat, he had sheepskins with wool still on them for the softness, as he was older at that time. He smoked a little bitty, tiny, clay pipe. One day in the sunshine, he felt the day was awfully, awfully warm, so he looked to see why he was getting so warm. His little clay pipe had set his pants and his wool sheepskin on fire. He had to stop the buggy, get out, and put the seat of his pants out and then put his sheepskin out before he could go on.

We children would have liked to have gone with Grandpa Higginbotham some, but he wouldn't let us drive. We couldn't make Glenko trot. Glenko never trotted under Grandpa's care either. He wouldn't let us drive, and it was just the same old slow walking. Glenko and Grandpa and Buck were inseparable in their travels.

Grandpa Higginbotham took morphine, a poison, thinking it was quinine while I was telling him it was poison and Bee Hyde (14 years old) was begging him not to take it. I went to the garden after Mother. She called Dr. Hartin at Roddy, two and one-half miles away, who said to give him strong coffee and to keep him walking until he could get there. He ran his horse. Bee went after Uncle Earn in the fields. I walked Grandpa who got so drowsy he could hardly walk, but we saved his life.

 
James Russell Higginbotham

and

Susan Ella Perkins Higginbotham

(Parents of James Perkins Higginbotham and Grandparents of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs)

Albert Taylor Rice

and

Elizabeth Cartwright Rice

(Parents of Minnie Rice Higginbotham and Grandparents of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs)

 

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES

To help me sit alone, Mother braced me with a horse collar, and to keep me put, she put my dress hem under the bedpost.

My Grandpa Higginbotham had a big orchard, mostly apples. He brought me the small pretty crab apples to play with. He put my feet between the cradle bars and gave me one at a time. When it hit the floor I would say, "POPS, POPS." Grandpa gathered them back up, giving me one at a time again to throw and say, "POPS." Grandpa never called me anything but POPS the rest of his life. Other pet names for me were "Sugar Foot", "My Little Baboon", and "Miss Bab".

While Mother was sewing on the machine one time, I played with her button box which was closed (she thought). Later in the wash she found 24 buttons I had swallowed. Then she was scared that was not all I'd swallowed.

I might have been less than five when Effie Parker Taylor and I wanted to play dolls. I got into Mother's scrap box where she kept the pieces of material left from her sewing. She was a good seamstress, helping many with their sewing. I carried out a bunch of scraps, and we began to see how big the pieces were in the little bundles. I found some money, so I divided it - here is one for you, one for me, one for you, one for me. She was older, so she carried her money to show her Grandmother Taylor (Mr. Willie Taylor's mother). Well, Grandmother Taylor gave it to Mother. They became quite excited looking for my part. I was confused helping them look for Mother's money. We looked and looked. Finally, Mother said, "What is that in your pocket, Ella?" "Well, this is MY money." It wasn't my money long.

One day I heard Mother and Uncle Earn say they were going to put their money in the bank (they'd never used a bank before). I went to Mrs. Gallaway's and told her my mother was going to put her money in the potato bank. I got lots of razzing about that for years.

There were no banks near. All people hid what money they had, mostly silver. Mother, when the first crop was gathered, wrote the holder of our two land notes that she was ready to pay both of them off. They came out to our place unexpectedly. Mother told me to stay there and entertain the men and she would be right back. Well, I was six then and wondered where she had gone so mysteriously. I followed her and found her digging the money up in our hen house where she had buried the exact amount. She nearly whipped my pants that time. She explained the men might think we had more money and come back and kill us making us get it for them.

My first tree I really loved was a huge, old, apple tree that was "king" of an old orchard. It had a fork on two limbs about two and one-half feet from the ground that made a good seat to sit alone and make-believe play.

When Mother would call Elll - laa, it sounded just like our big rooster crowing, and that got me in trouble several times.

Hunting nuts in the fall was such wonderful sport. I'd take a bag or a sack and go to the woods to hunt hickory nuts and walnuts - hickory nuts mostly in our part of the country. You could find such pretty leaves and such wonderful acorns to play with. I was always a nature lover and entertained myself. I thoroughly enjoyed going through the woods.

Since I rode to school, Mother gave me many lessons on the care of the horse. One cold morning she saddled May but couldn't get the buckle in its regular place, so she tried again. May bit Mother's arm. It would have been quite a serious wound had she not had a cape on. Mother thought May had colic causing her to bite.

Once we had several bales of cotton on the wagon going to the market at Kemp. The horses, Lightning (Light) and Caxy, ran away down through the woods.

Another time we had Aunt Ada Peace's family and others in the wagon going to Aunt Minnie Hyde's. The Maness dog ran out and barked. The horses took off, making such an exciting noise that my buggy horse, May, tried to run, too. I cried bloody murder. After stopping the horses, Mother asked where I was hurt. I was not hurt, but my stiff brim, black sailor lady's play hat had the brim broken. I thought Mother was going to whip me for adding to the commotion.

Once Mrs. Parson fell out of my buggy driving May to visit Holly Springs kin folk. She turned around and came right back home.

I burst a gun barrel shooting at doves to keep them from eating our peanuts as they came up. Mother taught me to shoot some as well as other lessons. She laughed when the gun first kicked my shoulder.

Mother and I sold cotton, peanuts, and a cow now and then. Once, after the cotton sold, we counted and rolled silver dollars. I never saw them again. We picked geese and sold feathers to make beds and pillows. We raised and sold fryers and eggs. I would want dress material, and Mother would say, "Wait until the hens lay it." I waited. She was a good manager of money, energy, and time.

She bought an old cook stove to heat our sod irons out in the shade in the yard to do our ironing in the summer. We would hang a sheet or a quilt on the clothes line for a windbreak if the wind dried out the starched ironing too fast.

Aunt Minnie Hyde, Father's half-sister, included me and mine with all her family for Christmas. All carried food, and we made pictures.

I don't know the details, but Uncle Blakely Higginbotham with his one hand (one hand was cut off near the elbow in a gin accident), cut and built a brush fence around his turnip patch near our home. It was just wonderful to watch him work with his one hand. I always marveled how he could do so many things with one hand. He petted me, and of course I loved him.

Superstitions were plentiful. Mother sewed for many of our neighbors, and I always heard, "Don't cut out on Friday unless you can finish."

When Father realized he could not get well, he talked to his brother Earn about his business and asked him to see after Mother and me. Uncle Earn must have made the crop with the hired help when Father died as he and the others were living with us.

When I was ten or twelve, I heard Mother often insisting that Uncle Earn establish a home of his own with a wife and children to help him out in his old age. He had the land. He would always say, "Ella will keep me when I am old." Mother's answer was always, "Yes, Ella will be willing to help you in any way, but we don't know about the man she will marry, if he will be willing." Earn would say, "I promised Jimmie to care for you, and I plan to keep my word until you have someone else."

Mother had several suitors. One came from Canton on horseback. He was kind of a pioneer cowboy type. She was teased about the cowboy.

When my mother passed away, I had no one to share my heartaches. I had no mother, no sister to tell my troubles. I didn't tell my troubles to neighbors (her mother died in 1915, one month after Ella married).

 

NEIGHBORS - THE GALLAWAYS

The first family that I remember was the Gallaways, William and Fannie and their seven children. They were our neighbors and lived east of us.

There was a little Indian trail that went from our house across the pasture. I would crawl through their fence and enter their pasture, and this little trail kept going until it reached their house. We would use this footpath to go back and forth. They would always know when I was coming because they would see my dog, Jack, first. Jack was a black, longhaired, medium large Newfoundland, and he was my bodyguard whenever I went outside.

This trail passed by a little tank where Grandma Blew, who was Mrs. Gallaway's mother, fished a lot. It was a very small, shallow tank, and if she caught any fish, they were very small. She was very happy sitting there in her chair, fishing. Some child would always come along to watch after her.

Homer Gallaway, the middle boy I guess, rode a jenny burro two and one-half miles to the Roddy Post Office to get their mail and all the neighbors' mail as well (my mother had me ride the burro, too). He seemed to invariably buy ten sticks of candy. There were so many of the Gallaway children and members of his family, but he would especially give me a stick of the candy. I expect I had more candy in a month or two than they ever had, me being an only child and there being so many adults in our family.

I sure learned lots of things from this family. They taught me sharing, cooperation, and sharing responsibility, especially for the younger children and the animals as well. Little babies were kept in their cradles and were never ever left in a room by themselves. Always there would be a dependable child or adult in the room with them.

The Gallaways lived an entirely different life from Mother and me with only our hired help. It was necessary for them to live a different life because there were so many children of different ages, and they had to learn about give and take.

They had two cultivators on the farm, and everybody worked. The little children even did what work they were capable of doing.

They raised pigeons for food, eggs, and squab (they had a colony of them). They were sure unclean about the place.

Mother did lots of sewing for Mrs. Gallaway and her children. Clara was a grown girl, and Mother especially helped her with her clothes. They would pay Mother back in different ways. That was the custom. Neighbors did for each other and would never take money. Luke, not the oldest but dependable, would drive me to school as a preschooler. Mother gave him suspenders and Clara a dress. And one time the Gallaways cut some blocks to go in Mother's kitchen to repay the work Mother had done for the women. That was the way they traded out. If there was sickness in the home, everyone would help out in many ways.

When they had a new baby, Mother would go over early mornings to help them. When the mother came to the table to eat she brought her baby, and she fed the baby coffee with biscuit crumbs in it. Then as the baby got older, she chewed for it. The vegetables and food that she ate, she would chew and divide with the baby - no germs. That was the way of most of the pioneers at that time.

One Christmas Santa Claus was coming, and Homer Gallaway was going to stay up and see him come down the chimney. They tried to get him to go to bed, but he wouldn't. They told him if he tried to stay up to see Santa, he would only get a bundle of switches. "Ah, he's not going to do that either," said Homer. Everyone went to bed except Homer who sat on the floor in front of the fire watching for Santa. Everything got real quiet. There was no light anywhere except from the fire that had been banked with ashes for the night. He started to hear something, an unusual noise. Homer became wide awake and started looking. Well, at first one switch came down the chimney, then two or three switches came down, and finally a bundle of switches came down the chimney. Homer hurried to his bed and covered his head. He wasn't to be seen or heard from anymore that night.

For toys the children used what they had or could find and made their own. My playing house was made of Mother's carpet strips, and the balls were made from string. The Gallaways had what they called a flying jenny. It was a pole that went around and around on a small stump. It was balanced with a seat on each end of the pole. Someone would get on each end, and they would start it going around and around by pushing it. It was quite exciting. Sometime you would land way out at the edge of the woods, but it was fun to get up and try it again.

 

SCHOOL

My first school was a preschool at Phalba, but they had too many pupils and all preschoolers had to quit. Dependable Luke Gallaway (not the eldest) drove me to Phalba school as a preschooler. He would not take money, so Mother gave Luke suspenders and his sister, Clara, a dress.

I was old enough next year, so I went to regular school, Mono, across the creek from Elm Grove Cemetery. Mother hitched May to the buggy. I drove to Mrs. Gallaway's where Clara took over. Clara and Luke hitched up May to come home. They rode to their house, then May and I went home. May didn't have to be guided. She was smarter than I was. I tell you, she was smarter and learned more than I did. She was short-legged and short-gaited, but she really loved to run cattle. She dumped me over the fence many, many times.

I missed the "give and take" of groups of school children walking along together, visiting, and eating the leftover food in their dinner pails.

For one or two years, Emmett Barnes cared for May and drove me to school for his room and board.

Abbie Hyde drove one term. She went home on Friday after school and came back with me Monday night. I made it after that. I surely had bad luck if it was cold and freezing weather, though. I could hardly get May hitched. Then, if she wanted to gallop all the way home, I didn't care.

We had a shed with a trough and a hay manger in a little wire lot made for her. When May was contrary, she would not back under the shafts that I had propped up.

In school I used half a pencil on a string around my neck. Mother did all the sharpening to make it last longer.

I liked every teacher. I think they liked me.

 

CHURCH (CHILDHOOD)

Elm Grove had people of four denominations when the first church was built: Missionary, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist. So the deed was made that way. Now each one paid a fourth of the expenses. In later years, they had some rough spots, some ups and downs, like families have.

The Martinite Baptist and Campbellites tried to take over, but were not allowed to use the building - they used an arbor during the summer.

There have been times when the Methodists and Baptists wanted separate buildings because of denominational differences.

The Campbellites and Baptists held debates for years, between Whitton and J. W. Crabtree's home usually. The arbor was on Crabtree land that joined our George Jeter homeplace on the north and Kunbreel land.

Mother must have been a person with a big heart. She attended whatever the denominational meeting of her friends. Many people say debates never saved anyone; they only caused hard feelings between friends. The preachers always parted as friends, adding hurt and anger to the members.

At 13, I was converted but was disappointed. I wanted something spectacular like "tongues of fire" or "Day of Pentecost" or "shouting religion" like some I had seen at Elm Grove and other rural churches. Mine was very quiet. I could never make an interesting short talk.

The Rice family were Baptists. The Higginbothams were Presbyterians. The Gibbs and Grays (very religious) were Methodist.

Mary Jane Gray Gibbs

and

Christopher Calhoun Gibbs

(Parents of John Cullen Gibbs and parents-in-law of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs)

Mary Jane Gray Gibbs

(Mother of John Cullen Gibbs and Mother-in-law of Ella Higginbotham Gibbs)

 

"If I could have been the person I desired to be, who would I be? -- Cullen's mother." -- Ella Gibbs

 

I joined the Methodist Church after my marriage to raise our family together. Cullen was Sunday School Superintendent. There were always children's day programs to plan and practice for or a picnic where everybody came, carried food, and spent the day. Most of our Methodist years were spent in our three denominational Sunday School.

I was Sunday School teacher for many years at Elm Grove and after we came to Mabank. I think I liked adult Sunday School teaching best of any work in the Church. I learned more that way. I really studied the work.

 

CULLEN AND ELLA

Cullen and I lived in the same Elm Grove community and attended Mono School through the 12th grade. We went to the same Sunday School but not the same class. He was with an older group. He was the best dressed boy with his hair slicked down in place. I always thought he was older until he wrote me a note asking for a date to attend singing at Phalba. I had my first real date at 18.

Elm Grove had singing one Sunday evening and Phalba the next Sunday, so we had entertainment. Sometimes someone would let us meet at a home to sing as a group. I loved to sing, but Cullen did not sing. He just went along. Those were horse and buggy days. There were some play parties, but Mother didn't let me go to all of them.

After Cullen and I were engaged some time, I thought it might be possible for me to have a baby with deformed feet or club feet and Cullen would blame me for it. I decided to show Cullen my burned feet. If there was to be any change of mind, let it be then.

We had our home, 228 acres (my father had the 228 acres paid for except two notes when he passed away in 1900), a few horses, and cattle. Cullen kept adding to the land, horses, and cattle. Cullen's crop didn't pay out our debt the year we married.

John Cullen Gibbs

and

Ella Higginbotham Gibbs

(Wedding Photo 4 December 1914)

In our younger days, our family worked hard and played hard. We diversified our crops and animals to have several sources of income. If one failed to make a profit, the others would pay off our land note that fall. It seems we always had a note to pay each fall. We were always paying on land notes and buying fertilizer. I was never willing to invest in anything but land. As the 40 acre mule farmers moved to town, we bought their farms adjoining ours.

We started out on a small scale, using a wagon and mules, but grew to be quite successful as our knowledge and means grew, selling wholesale with a guarantee of good quality.

We raised several crops for sale - cotton, potatoes, melons, peaches, chickens (1,500 at one time), sometimes taking syrup and honey from our winter supply and pecans for the Christmas stockings. We had to carry our water from a bored well. Sweet potatoes and melons and other produce were hauled by wagon with Jude and Jin, a good mule team we raised from Ribbon, a black colt my father gave me by letter in 1900. She was 14 years old when we married. May, my school buggy horse, was her mother. We hauled produce to Kemp, Kaufman, Ennis, Corsicana, Waxahachie, and the surrounding territory.

Cullen would come in after the children were in bed, and we would load the wagon. He would leave before daylight lots of times. The field hands would dig a load while he was gone. That kind of living is why you wear good clothes and go to college.

I begged for two of the hogs that we were fattening, and I picked out the biggest. With the money from them I bought a tin cistern and had water run into the kitchen. Cullen paid the remainder.

I raised turkeys two years. All I have to show for them is what I call my $15.00 chime clock.

We had a milk separator one time. I had the most of the work of it. I traded it to my Uncle Earn Higginbotham for pasturage.

I saved dimes to buy things for Christmas. It seemed like it didn't cost so much when you planned ahead.

Cullen and I never lived alone. We always had a hired hand to cook for. We boarded gravel haulers. I made good money and had Granny Gibbs and our four children's pictures made.

Cullen and I were very happy when our babies came. We had them christened as we made our pledge before the public in church to raise and train them as best we knew how. The kinswoman I chose to help at my first child's birth refused.

Cullen and I had window curtains trimmed with rick-rack. Our children's pajamas and sheets were made of feed sacks.

A most exciting experience happened when our stallion, Cleve, was fighting a horse over the fence, tearing it down. One of our neighbors, Dudley Parsons, came to my rescue. We got Cleve back into his stall and the door fastened. We soon traded him off.

Cullen, when he became commissioner in the later years, had to appoint the overseers in his one-fourth County Precinct No. 2. I was his main secretary. I remember balking on the job when he appointed Mr. Deadman (around Pleasant Glade) because he wanted me to write to a dead man. How things have changed for the better.

Cullen made the money. We both saved it. If we had not saved, my children would have to care for me now, buy my food, medicine, hospital, funeral, etc. I guess I've liked to have my money all my life. I don't believe I've ever been without at least stamp money, even when Cullen borrowed for fertilizer, cattle, and land. I wanted my children while in college or anytime away from home to always have some "mad money" for an emergency. I still like the idea.

Cullen and I believed in education so much. We thought giving $4,000.00 to you 11 grandchildren for college work would be better than putting it in your hands. So by making and saving, each of you got $4,000.00 for four years of college. We hope the old cow don't die in the creek. (Cullene: Mom related many times when discussing future college for me the story of Granny Gibbs [Mary Jane] waiting for Granddad to go to sleep and searching his pants pockets for money to send to sons in college at North Texas Normal. I cannot remember who was attending except Dad [John Cullen])

 

OUR CHILDREN

Our kitchen was two rooms from the front room where we had a fireplace. We bought a baby buggy to carry Andrew to the kitchen with me so I could see after him. He could lay down to sleep or sit up and play.

Neighbor children pushed Andrew for miles and miles out on the bermuda pasture around the house. Pap, Earl, Lucille, and Minnie Flowers came real often. Their mother had passed away, and their father was one of our farm hands. Pap, 10 years old, was the mother, housekeeper, washer woman, cook, etc.

Donald, as a crawling baby, got fastened under the footboard (iron bedstead) of the bed while reaching for a ball. He cried himself to sleep, and so did his brother Andrew. I was attending the evening chores such as milking the cows and shucking corn for the hogs, while Cullen and the hired help were plowing in the fields. One time we found Don asleep at the cow barn.

I caught mumps from Marshal Flowers while Donald was a breast nursing baby. He was so fat we couldn't tell if he ever had the mumps.

One time Uncle Earn Higginbotham brought our children a baby Fox Terrier puppy. It cried so much we named it Music. We soon loved it dearly. Once he treed a squirrel in a big tree in front of our house. Music, hearing the children coming from school, met them and led them to the tree. After looking things over, Donald climbed the tree and put his hand down into the hole in the tree to be met by a swarm of bees that stung him many times before he could get away. What a big head he did have.

Grandmother Gibbs gave Andrew (10) and Don (8) each a trunk that once belonged to her sons. They couldn't wait to bring them home to put their possessions in. So here they come, Andrew carrying one trunk, and Don and Allegra the other one. They came the short way but had to crawl through a wire fence and get those trunks through. They stopped to rest often. I wish I had a picture of that for you to see.

If Andrew went over a wire fence, Don went over and Allegra went over. If Andrew went through a wire fence, Don went through and Allegra went through, sometimes with a badly torn dress.

One Christmas Allegra got a sleepy-eyed doll. It was the first and only thing she saw on the tree. She sat in the little rocking chair to rock her baby. She never looked at anything else.

Our children got most things they really wanted, but their father refused to get them a Shetland pony. He said if they could ride a pony, they could ride a horse.

I remember losing Allegra. I found her asleep in a tub with some baby puppies. The mama was on the ground - no room for her.

Don put a broken fruit jar on Allegra's foot and said, "Dump, Wega" (jump, Allegra). She did.

Cullene fell out of a plum tree and was knocked unconscious. We held her head under a tin cistern hydrant.

 
Andrew Gibbs on horse at the John Cullen Gibbs and Ella Higginbotham Gibbs old home. The house became the home of Andrew and Alene Gibbs

 

GRANDCHILDREN

We had a big sandbox for the grandchildren to play in with their Easter buckets and shovels.

Donna would come over to watch a children's program on TV just so she could see herself dance and play in a convenient mirror. She came often but stayed only a short time, saying, "My mother told me to come right back." She would want attention, get into drawers and closets and yell, "Grandmother, I'm not meddling."

Phil and Donna were at my house when Don came over to tell them, "I saw that your cat is dead, possibly poisoned. Don't touch it." Later they went to look at it. I heard a tractor start, went to see, and they were on the tractor going around and around hunting the cat. Phil had never driven a tractor before. He was standing up to reach the gas. I never was more frightened. Of course, I went for them at once.

Phil was a loving child, and he loved everybody, including the animals. He would divide his Easter eggs with all - would divide anything, knew everybody's name, and would talk to anyone.

Once, Phil went to spend a week with Ola, his mother's sister, but called his mother to come get him.

In 1952 Phil and Andrea were mascots of the Mabank Band. They performed with the others at every football game. I thought they were top performers.

Mike and Phil slept with me for me to read to them while they were little. I have so many precious memories of them.

I have memories of Mike playing with a little truck in the sandpile, riding tree limbs, and climbing on the swing.

Mike, about five, decided to go with his father. He was climbing over the cattle frames on the trailer, unknown to Donald. His neck caught between the frames and the eaves of the barn as Donald started moving the trailer. When Don heard his crying, he stopped just in time to save breaking his neck. He had scars on his neck from the incident.

When Mike was about five, he was bitten by a rabid cat at the North Barn and took shots from Dr. Jennings. Many people noticed and sympathized with him. He was quite brave.

One hot summer day, Mike about eight, played "soldier" in trench warfare in street ditches in his father's raincoat and army helmet with a broomstick for his gun.

Mike made high grades in school work. He married his classmate, finished college, and is practicing law in Dallas.

Bettie and Andrea went with Cullen to see about the cattle in the pasture. They kept trying to tell him something, but he couldn't understand. He finally understood that they were praying for their Grandmother Gibbs who was in the hospital following foot surgery. They asked Granddad, "Don't you ever pray for Grandmother?" They asked him to pray, too. Bettie was so little, standing up on the front seat. Their hands were folded before their faces in an attitude of prayer. He never forgot those prayers.

Karen spent her first birthday with us while her father was in the hospital (about three weeks). She and Mike played with her birthday cake. Later she used an Easter bucket and scoop to feed it to a neighbor's dog and cat. We made pictures of them.

Karen would feed my Colony brooder chickens their grain to watch it fall through several compartments onto the ground. She was a very busy little girl.

Karen and Bitsy, her little Chihuahua, came home with Andrew, Alene, and me from Grandfather Kirby's funeral. A week later Dale and Cullene came from Cohoma where they were teaching school. Karen had the measles. We had Dr. Jennings out a couple of times. Eunice, our neighbor, made a measles picture of Karen. Dale and Cullene made arrangements to buy their home in Lometa with Cullen at this time.

Delena was born when we were expecting Andrea. She up and beat her. She was the most giggly, pleasant baby.

Lisa was a very sick baby. Finally, as a last resort, we carried her to Ft. Worth for cortisone (experimental) treatment.

At their first home in Corsicana, Kay tried to climb a tree to follow Judy. The telephone repairman plugged in to call their mother. Kay was about to fall and was crying for help.

In 1964 Judy and Kay spent Saturday night and Sunday with me. They didn't have Sunday clothes with them, so they stayed home from church. I came home expecting them to rush out to meet me. When I couldn't find them in the house, I reluctantly went to the car house (it had just been one week since we found Mrs. Foster hanged in her car house). Judy and Kay were bound and tied fast, each to one of our steel stools that were on top of the picnic table. Not a word did they say until I asked what they wanted for dinner. Then Judy whispered, "Hamburger." "Judy, can't you talk?" "No," whispers Judy. "We are from Mars, and we are prisoners."

 

TRIPS

I spent a while in the Barnes home in Carizzo Springs when Kay was born. She came in November after her Grandfather Gibbs passed away on February 20, 1955. Mother got a baby girl named Kay, and Judy got a baby kitten named KoKo and a new doll with a blanket.

Their English-speaking maid had a sick child and sent over her sister who only spoke Spanish. We had a time understanding each other as I spoke no Spanish. She brought me a dictionary so I could learn her language. I was so afraid I would offend her while Allegra was in the hospital. Later when I left, she begged me to stay. She liked me.

I made Carol a dress while I was there.

I enjoyed all the grapefruit trees in the yards and orchards. The woodpeckers or jaybirds ruined lots of fruit by boring one hole in the grapefruit for the juice, then another and another. Friends gave Oliver bags of the damaged fruit.

I had no sense of direction in Carizzo. I got lost each time I left the house. I would drive until I found a certain filling station, turn right and go to a white picket fence, turn left, and then get back home.

On July 27, 1968, I went with Judy and Kay to St. Louis to meet their parents who were attending a U.S. meeting of Farm and Home Administration leaders. This was Judy's and Kay's first trip by plane. Judy was quite excited and sure enjoyed taking pictures from the plane. She never could find the Red River. Kay looked around a little, then interested herself by reading a book.

We all went from St. Louis to Mabridge, South Dakota, by car. It was a very nice trip, even if Kay's bag did stay on the plane to Boston. Judy was nice to share her clothes.

We saw the Big Steel Arch over the Mississippi River and visited an old cathedral during a wedding. We saw such pretty parks and went to an outdoor theater and saw "Annie Get Your Gun".

The pastures at Mabridge could not have been prettier. Lots of rain, tall grass, and no weeds were showing. Those big rounded hills - don't see how they ever find their cattle.

The couple living on the place was very friendly. She served us coffee, a big serving of pretty cake, then a thick slice of sourdough bread like they make at the chuck wagons. She fished with the girls and Allegra, then gave them a loaf of sourdough bread to bring home. It sure was good toast.

I paid Kay one penny for each small cone that she gathered under the spruce or fir tree on our side of the neighbor's tree. They brought in nearly 500 their first trip.

I bought Mrs. Parmer some honey and the children some Kansas copper spoons.

I had a good time. Thanks to the family for letting me tag along.

On one tour, while in France some of us women had our hair done by a man masseuse. We all wondered why the several operators were not crowded. Our hair was washed and rolled, then they told us there was an electrical strike on and to go out and sit in the park until our hair was dry and then come back. We got the most comfortable chairs to sit in. Hardly had we sat down until here comes a collector for rent. The more comfortable chairs were higher than the stools. We finally went to the hotel to wait and repack our bags. When the lights came on, we hurried back to the salon to dry and get a comb out in time to catch our bus. Several men worked on each person. The one that washed couldn't roll or dry it. The main hair stylist combed it. Their equipment is years behind Claudean's (in Mabank).

 

LIFE'S MEANING

I like to read. I didn't, maybe, when I was little, but now I like to read. I'm never lonesome. I go from one thing to another; when I get tired of one, I pick up something else. I am very happy in what I call my work now, but no one else would call it that.

The first need of every worker is to like the work he happens to be doing, even though he may be planning something better. If he likes it, toil becomes play and success the natural result.

There is no better therapy for body and soul than gardening.

Raising children is probably the most important thing we do in life, and next comes trees and plants because these are living things.

Daily prayer and daily exercise are the best tension relievers. Since tension is modern man's destroyer, those are most wise who seek and find ways to relax. Give daily prayer and daily exercise a year's devotion, add two daily long walks outdoors, and you will truly stay young.

We must be friends with God and people.

In everyone's life there are mountains. Some are real; others may be symbolic, but all of them can be inviting, forbidding, tempting, and mysterious. Often we have to repair our faith like Peter. Life is a patchwork of smiles and tears, each emotion fertilizing and enriching the other.

Joy increases as you give it and diminishes as you try to keep it for yourself. Think joy, talk joy, practice joy, share joy, and you will have joy all your life.

Think on the good, see and appreciate the good and disregard the bad. The only way to live happily with people is to overlook their faults and admire their virtues. Every person has some good quality.

Appreciation pays off. Never fail to express appreciation for any virtue, grace, or kindness. Everybody responds to appreciation. Learn from your mistakes and make fewer.

History turns on small hinges. So do people's lives.

The people who helped me the most were Aunt Minnie Hyde's family.

If I could have been the person I desired to be, who would I be - Cullen's mother, Mary Jane (Gray) Gibbs.

My interests and hobbies: Sunday School teacher most of my life, church, yard work, nature lover, genealogy, and travel.

My future: be a good, worthy citizen, friend, and grandmother.

 

MY GRANDMOTHER

November 13, 1967

by Andrea Gibbs

 

(Ella Gibbs copied this in pencil and saved it)

 

My ideal person is my Grandmother Gibbs. I have never heard anyone say anything about her that was not a compliment. Whatever she does, she does it because she wants to and not for praise she receives. She is the most sincere and honest person I have ever met. She always has something in common with the person she is talking to. She has a way of making them feel at ease. She is a remarkable person and even though she is my grandmother, she is my ideal person.