My Daddy’s name was Thomas Monnie Woods.
He had a fraternal twin brother by the name of James Lonnie Woods. I was
only three when my father died so I barely remember him. Uncle Jim, as I called
James Lonnie, was a different story. I knew him very well and spent a lot of
time with him in the years I was growing up.
Uncle Jim was in the Army during the time of World War I. He never talked about it and I never asked. I regret that,
for I’m sure he had some good stories to tell. Below is a picture of him
in uniform. My brother James always reminded me some of Uncle Jim. They were quite a lot alike in temperament ... both easy going, friendly and well
liked by most everyone.
Someone dubbed Uncle Jim, Colonel, I suppose because of his army service and
quite a few people called him that. But to many people he was affectionately
referred to as “Big Jim” Woods, whereas my Grandpa, James Alonzo Woods was called “Mister Jim” Woods.
Reagan Gentry wrote the
following poem. Reagan is the younger brother of my good friends Roy Kelley and
the late Jimmie Russell Gentry. Uncle Jim was the closest neighbor to the Gentry’s
and, had a great influence on Reagan. Reagan captures Uncle Jim’s personality
in his poem.
"Big Jim Woods"
A tribute to James Lonnie Woods
By: Reagan Gentry
As a boy I had a friend next door,
Who was so good to me.
He's gone now, God rest his soul,
But not his memory.
I can see him as he sat on the porch
In his old rocking chair.
A barefoot boy, I'd amble up
And find him sittin' there.
"Why, hello Duggin."
"Hi, Big Jim."
"Boy, I'm sure glad you came by
So's we could cut a watermelon.
Now, pick you out a fine one,
And I'll go fetch a knife."
Next time I'd be a helpin' Mama,
Like maybe sweep the yard,
And I'd just be messin' 'round,
"Cause I was awful tired.
And Mama, well she's fussin'
Cause I was too dern slow.
Good ole Big Jim would come by and say,
"Going' to the store son, you wanna go?"
Guess I never helped Mama like I should,
But, her knowin' Big Jim,
I think she understood.
Why, in my mind I could taste the cream cone
I knew he's gonna buy.
He never let me down, not once,
Nor did he ever try.
Some morning's I'd be sleepin',
And be awakened by a row.
I'd hear Big Jim askin' Daddy
"Can Duggin help me catch a cow?"
Never did I let him down
For rewards were sure to be
Like cream cones, and watermelons,
And friendship, yes siree.
Well, years went by, and I grew up
With Big Jim as my friend.
Like other things that mean so much,
They finally have to end.
The day was on a Sunday,
a day so warm and fair.
Big Jim waved as I drove by
From his rockin' chair.
That's the last time I saw him,
Cause the evening of that day,
The Lord called him home again,
And Big Jim passed away.
Uncle Jim owned a farm about a mile from Brooks School. A county dirt road ran in front of the old house that was in just fair shape, about
like ours I guess. The house faced south and was just about equidistant between
the east and west property lines. I don’t know for sure how many acres
there were in the place, but I would guess about a hundred. Mr. Roy Gentry owned
the farm to the east. Mr. Dennis Jones owned some of the land to the west and
I don’t know who owned the other, but the Waits land bordered on the north.
The Waits land was given to Miss Blanche Waits by her parents. When she married Mr. Charley Bridges, they moved into the small house just up the road from us. That portion of land that joined Uncle Jim was a forested hill that lay in between his place and ours.
There was a wagon road from our house up across our pasture to a gate in the fence at the northeast corner of the Waits tract
that gave access to a road that curved through the woods and came out into Uncle Jim’s place. There was a gate in that fence too. Just as you went through
this gate and left the woods the road went by an old spring. We called it Uncle
Jim’s spring. The output of this spring was not great, but it was enough
to keep water standing in a marshy area about forty feet across and provided water for the cattle, horses and mules that grazed
Past the spring, the road continued across the pasture and into the woods
that covered most of the west half of Uncle Jim’s farm. The road passed
through these woods and came out at Uncle Jim’s barn. From our house, it
was about a mile and a half over the hill and through the woods to Uncle Jim’s house.
The road was well defined by fairly frequent use. During the years I was
growing up I traveled this road many times. Usually it was by walking but sometimes
on horseback or in the wagon. I don’t remember how it came to pass, but
when I was very small I walked, alone, from Uncle Jim’s house to our house after dark one night. It must have been about the time I started to school, but the occasion escapes me. I do, however, vividly remember going through the woods. After
passing Uncle Jim’s spring and going into the woods on the Waits place; there was a section of the road that went through
a dense growth of saplings. They were almost like a tall wall on each side of
On the night I describe the weather was clear and warm. Of course I had no light of any kind and was just following the road in the dim glow of light from the
stars. The human mind is capable of wild imaginations. The night sounds of which I was completely familiar became somehow wild and threatening. Shadows from the trees in the dim light became monsters of all shapes and sorts. My heart was beating hard and fast and I couldn’t resist the urge to run, and run I did. I ran all the way through the woods, expecting at any moment to be grabbed from behind. Did I really believe I was in danger? I don’t really
think so. I was not afraid of much of anything, especially not the dark. But I was overcome by that hysteria that is common to people when in dark or strange
places. When I came out of the woods and saw the light of our lamp at home; glowing
as a beacon in the night to steer me to the safety of hearth and home, my fears subsided and I felt extremely foolish for
having been afraid at all.
In later years one of Uncle Jim’s horses waded out into the marshy area
of his spring and bogged down. He had struggled trying to get out until his legs
were all the way into the mire and his belly was down in the water and mud. No
telling how long he had been there when Uncle Jim found him and came and got me. There
was no hope of getting the horse out alive and Uncle Jim wanted to put him out of his misery and then pull him out and that
is what we did. Uncle Jim was a tender hearted man and just couldn’t bring
himself to shoot the horse and he asked me to do it and I did. Uncle Jim had
tears running down his cheeks and perhaps I did too. It was a hard thing for
me to do, but I did it. Then I hooked the team to the wagon and pulled the carcass
out of the spring. I can still see the horse in my mind and that is not one of
my favorite memories. I think the horse knew what I was about to do. That bothered me for a long time….still does for that matter, but I knew that it was something that
had to be done. Later Mr. Roy Gentry told me that, in Texas, it was against the law for an individual to kill a horse that was not his own,
but I didn’t expect the Sheriff was coming for me.
Uncle Jim was not in the best of health.
His feet always bothered him, he was overweight and he wore a truss for a rupture (hernia) that he had. Given his physical condition and the state of the market for farm produce, it is easy to understand that
he was not a successful farmer, but he tried.
There was a mortgage on his farm and he couldn’t meet the payments and
they took his farm. He, Aunt Gladys and their son Drew had to move about a half
mile south to a little house at a road intersection about a quarter mile east of Brooks School. We called it the Ernest Gentry house. Right after
they moved we went to see Uncle Jim. He was a defeated man and he sat there in
the dim light inside the house and cried like a baby. I was very saddened and
felt so sorry for him. He seemed an old man to me then, but I guess he was only
about forty-five. He had nothing much at all and I don’t know really how
they made it, but they did. I guess the same way we did, with a few chickens,
a few head of livestock and a garden.
I spent a lot of time with Uncle Jim during the war years. I helped him some with his farming and his garden, and also helped him cut and haul wood for their cook
stove and fireplace. We got alone very well.
I don’t recall him ever giving me a hug, even when I was a little guy and he never spoke any words of affection. That was not a manly thing to do in those days, but I knew he loved me never the less,
and I loved him too. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice except
maybe to a cantankerous farm animal. He was more than an Uncle to me, he was
also a friend and a father figure. I learned a lot from him.
Uncle Jim and his family lived in the Ernest Gentry house for several years. It was there that I set an all time world record for high jump for my age bracket. Since it was not a sanctioned event my feat was never recorded, but it did happen
anyway. Let me tell you about it. The
Gentry brothers Roy Kelly and Jimmy Russell, the sons of Mr. Roy and Miss Billie Gentry were my good friends and we spent
a lot of time together. I was a year or so older than Roy Kelly and about three
years older than Jimmy Russell, but we got along real good together and had many good times doing boy “stuff”.
On this day we were visiting at Uncle Jim’s house. He had a hog pen out behind the house and alongside of the side road that went by the house. He also had a large sow with a litter of young pigs. He had
taken me into the pen and showed them to me earlier and I wanted to show them to the other boys. We went out there by ourselves to see the baby pigs. To get
a better look, I climbed over into the pen to pick one of the pigs up to show the other boys.
The old sow was lying on her side nursing the pigs when I picked one of the pigs up.
The pig squealed and when it did, the sow came up off the ground like a flash and wheeled toward me. I had never before seen an angry sow. She roared and charged
with her huge mouth open, dripping foam and spittle. It was clear to me that
she meant to kill me if she could and out-weighing me by ten to one, no doubt she could have.
I was nimble of foot and with a great charge of adrenaline, I took off running with her right on my heels. I don’t know how many times we went around the pen, but the sow was roaring and snapping at my heels. I could literally feel her breathing down my back and felt she was gaining on me. I don’t suppose I thought about it at all, but when I got to the corner I didn’t
turn to make another lap, but catapulted into the air and sailed over the fence to freedom.
The Gentry boys said I cleared the four-foot fence by three feet, so I figure a seven-foot high jump by a twelve-year
old ought to be a world record. I confess I haven’t looked it up.
After World War II, Uncle Jim’s son, my cousin Drew, bought their home
farm back and moved his mother and dad back to their farm. Uncle Jim was a proud
and happy man to be going home. Drew also hired our cousin Clarence Brooks to
build them a new house and he did. I hired out the summer of 1946 to Clarence
to help build the house. I believe Uncle Jim losing the farm was a great motivating
factor in Drew’s life. What was in Drew’s mind I never knew,
but he must have been influenced by the trauma of loosing their home and farm. Drew
was smart and a hard worker, and he had a tremendous drive to be successful and he was.
His success made it possible for his mother and father to live out their lives in relative ease and comfort and I was
always thankful for that.
I turned sixteen that June of 1946 and was very happy to have a job making
a little money. I think Clarence paid me $2.50 a day and I worked hard and made
him a good hand. Mama cooked enough extra food for me to take for lunch. She put the food in pint jars for me. A
serving of peas, a serving of potatoes, maybe sometimes a piece of cold chicken or a cold fried perch, a slab of cornbread
and a jar of milk made for a substantial and filling meal.
I walked over the hill and through the woods to Uncle Jim’s house with a
spring in my step. I was proud to have a job and to be learning some new skills. Clarence was a skilled carpenter and I learned a lot from him that summer. He sent me into Carthage several times in his car to get things that he needed for the job. I think he had a ‘41’ or ‘42’ Ford sedan and I loved to drive it and was always
happy to make the trip. Uncle Jim mostly just sat in the shade of the big oak
trees and talked to us while we worked. He was in a happy mood in those days
and for the rest of his life.
Uncle Jim’s new house was a really nice one, for that place, and that time. It had no central heat or air or indoor plumbing, but it did have electric lights. And it had a nice front porch. It was
one of the first area homes to have a concrete front porch. Uncle Jim really
loved sitting on that front porch when the weather was nice. He had a rocking
chair there on the porch that he sat in, and every day after lunch when it was nice, he sat out there and waved at those who
passed that way. On a warm Sunday afternoon in 1956, Mr. Ray Waldrop, a long
time friend and neighbor, seeing Uncle Jim sitting in his rocker, stopped by for a visit.
He did this frequently and oft times found Uncle Jim taking a nap. It
so happened this time, but it was not just a nap, Uncle Jim had gone to be with the Lord just one week past his 65th birthday. Mr. Ray said that Uncle Jim had a smile on his face.
No doubt he was having a pleasant dream when the Lord took his hand and called him home.
“The Bumblebee’s Nest”
When I was about nine years
old my brother Lloyd took me on a squirrel hunt. I carried the old single shot
.22 cal. rifle that we had during the years that I was growing up. He carried
a shotgun of some uncertain origin and description. I was always excited about
going anyplace with my big brothers and this was no exception. We hunted for
the pleasure of it, of course, but our primary motivation was to supplement our diet with some game of some type. We wouldn’t eat just anything, but almost. Anyone who
will eat roast Opossum has pretty lax standards…….and I guess that was us.
On this day we started out up the trail to the spring and
into the woods. We hunted back toward the southwest. I don’t believe we had a squirrel dog, but maybe we did. I
was just along for the ride, so to speak and happy to be there. I dutifully followed
my big brother, as a matter of fact I would have followed him anywhere. Had he
gone into the lion’s den, I would have been close on his heels. Maybe we
got a squirrel or two, maybe not. My memory is dimmed by what was to follow.
We hunted into the little creek bottom just north west of Uncle Jim Woods’ house and had
actually crossed the creek. It was late morning and I was getting tired of walking
when we turned back toward our house. There was a large log lying across the
creek and Lloyd used that way to go across. He stepped up on the log and walked
to the other side. I followed. When
I reached the far end of the log, I jumped down to the ground and was immediately met by a swarm of very angry bumblebees. The hollow log we used as a footbridge was their home and they meant to defend it
against intruders. Lloyd had aroused them when he crossed, then I had triggered
the attack when I crossed.
For a moment I didn’t know what was happening except
that I was being stung. I yelled and began running. I lost my rifle. I stumbled and fell, sticking two locust
thorns into my back. I jumped up and began running again and Lloyd grabbed me,
pulled me up against a small pine sapling and began to violently shake it and swing it back and forth to drive off the bumble
bees. It worked. They left us and
went back to their nest. But for Lloyd’s quick thinking and assistance,
I could have been stung to death, likely would have been. I was much the worse
for wear. I believe I had only six bumblebee stings, but it seemed like more. I was scared, hurt and a little disoriented.
Lloyd sent me to Uncle Jim’s house and Aunt Gladys gave me what meager assistance she could. I don’t remember what that was. Maybe just a little
sympathy, but it sure made me feel better.
I believe Aunt Gladys gave me something to eat before I went
home. I guess I was a sight to see. One
of the bees popped me on the side of the head near my eye and that eye-swelled shut.
One stung me on my hand in between my thumb and forefinger and my hand swelled up so tight I couldn’t bend my
fingers. I didn’t know about the thorns until later when my back got sore
and Mama found them. This episode had a tremendous impact on my enjoyment of
the outdoors. I was so afraid of getting stung again that I was very careful
about where I went and what I did. A bumblebee packs a real wallop and I had
no desire to meet up with any more mad ones. And I don’t believe I ever
"My First Squirrel Hunt”
I believe I was eight years old when Lloyd took me on my first
squirrel hunt. All my life I had seen my brothers bringing game home and I was
excited about being a part of it. Lloyd had a squirrel dog of some kind and he
carried a shotgun, while I carried our old single shot .22 rifle.
I don’t recall the path of our hunt, but it was a pleasant
day and I was filled with the expectation of taking my first squirrel. Our hunt
took us to the north side of the Joe Williams’ hill. This was a large prominent
hill of the area and it peaked just to the north, northwest of Mr. Joe Williams’ house.
The road crossed this hill about two hundred yards south of the crest of the hill.
Mr. Joe farmed the West Side
of the hill to his property line, the south side to the road and the East Side down to his house. The north side of the hill was
in timber, mostly mixed hardwoods with a number of large hickory trees and several large trees with hollows used as den trees
by the squirrels. When Mr. Odie Williams married, he built a home on the eastern
toe of the hill facing the lane to the Kelly place.
This hill was almost always on the itinerary for a successful
squirrel hunt and this day was no exception. In a relatively clean open area
of the timber, the dog treed and we began to search for the squirrel. Lloyd spied
him about twenty feet up on the side of a tree. He was fully exposed and had
flattened himself out to try and blend in with the tree so as not to be discovered.
Unfortunately for him, Lloyd saw him and pointed him out to me. He said,
“O.K., this is your squirrel. I want you to shoot him.”
Now I had shot the .22 many times at the house and was a pretty
good shot. I loaded the rifle, and took aim, the best as my shaking with “buck
fever” would allow, and fired. The squirrel didn’t move. Lloyd said, “reload and shoot again”. I did and
again I missed. I continued to reload and shoot at the squirrel and he just hung
there as if daring me to shoot him. Finally when I fired the eleventh
time, the squirrel was galvanized into action. He ran up the tree, out on a limb
and jumped to another tree. No doubt on his way to the security of a den tree. Lloyd interrupted the flight to freedom with his shotgun. When we retrieved the squirrel, Lloyd found a place on one leg where the skin had been grazed by my last
bullet, causing the squirrel to run. Later on that morning I had another chance
at a squirrel and got it with my first shot. And I never had buck fever again.
"The Galloping Ghosts”
As the story goes: In the days following the Civil War, a doctor
by the name of Williams came to the East Texas County of Panola and settled about seven miles west of the town of Beckville. He built a large home and began the practice of medicine. Being a focal point for the community, his home became a United States Post Office for a time. We have a copy of an envelope mailed by my great, great, Uncle Francis Marion Woods from Birmingham, Alabama, to my great Uncle Thomas Seth Woods in 1904 that is postmarked “Sugar Hill, Texas”.
My Mother and Father purchased a part of the Williams land
on which the house stood and I was born in the home that had been the Sugar Hill Post Office.
There were ghosts living in that house. I’m sure they were there
before I was born and they remained during the years I was growing up. Well,
they weren’t really ghosts. We were accustomed to them and paid them little
mind, but to overnight guests they were somewhat frightening. We knew what they
were because we lived with them. They were in the attic and we down below and
during the night one could hear them rushing about. I don’t know what they
were doing, but they were frequently very noisy doing whatever it is that rats do in a dark attic during the night. I’m sure many people were alarmed by the sounds, but we were not disturbed.
There is always food around a farm for rats and they always
get their share of it. You might ask why we didn’t do something to get
rid of them? Well we had at least one cat all the time that I’m sure got
some of them. And, on occasion we would raid them in the barn and kill a few,
but what were we to do? There were no effective poisons as there now are. At least we didn’t know of any, and if there had been, we had no money for such
things. So, we co-existed. They
had their space and we had ours. Did they ever invade our space? I expect they did. As they say in England, “they must have done”. Did
they not harbor diseases that we might contract? I expect they did.
Mama was a good housekeeper as my sisters became. They kept the food put away out of reach of the marauders. We
had what was then called a “safe” in the kitchen. This was a cabinet
of fairly simple design with two sections. The lower section had two doors behind
which there were shelves for storage of utensils and supplies. Just above this
section, there were two drawers on most models for storing flatware and above was the upper section. It also had two doors with shelves behind them. These doors
were sometimes screen wire or sometimes, thin metal sheets with many small holes. The
perforations were usually done in some kind of attractive pattern. Our kitchen
safe upper doors were screen-wire. The doors were designed to allow ventilation
for the food and at the same time keep out insects and vermin.
Leftover food or food prepared
in advance of a meal was usually kept in the upper part of the safe, or frequently, during the day, it was left in the center
of the dining table and covered with a cloth. Why didn’t we keep the food
in the refrigerator? The answer is simple.
We didn’t have one. We didn’t even know anyone who had one. We did have a cooler where foods needing refrigeration were kept. What was this and how did it work. Simple!
The cooler was made of metal posts supporting metal shelves
designed as shallow pans. The sides of the “pans” were about 1 to
1 and 1/2 inches deep. A heavy sheet of canvas
formed the walls of the cooler. The upper edge of the canvas was folded over
into the upper “pan” which formed the top of the cooler. The lower
edge of the canvas rested in the bottom of the lower pan that formed the base of the cooler.
By filling these pans with water, the canvas would stay wet by siphoning the water out of the pans. Evaporation of water from the canvas lowered the temperature inside the cooler by several degrees. Was it enough to really make a difference in the quality and spoilage of our food? No, not really I would think. In the
summertime it merely changed the temperature from real hot to hot. You might
count that as a plus.
Also in our kitchen was what we called the “flour
box”. This was a wooden storage box that was free standing with a top lid. It was really a chest on legs that stood up about cabinet height. The lid opened to reveal bins for storing flour, cornmeal and sugar.
No canisters for us, we went first class. The flour box also served as
a cabinet top for preparing food. Mama used the box for rolling out dough when
she made cookies, pie crusts, dumplings and things like that. Mama used a bottle
for a rolling pin. The following is a story that Mama wrote. I have a copy in her handwriting in a recipe book that my sisters compiled of recipes also in her handwriting:
“There was a catastrophe in my kitchen today. That would seem a
trivial matter to one who doesn’t know the history of the old brown rolling bottle that I broke. It had been used for almost one hundred years for rolling cookies, dumplings, and pastry. An old lady gave it to my Mother when she started housekeeping in 1891.
This old lady had raised a large family and used it through the years she had kept house. Rolling pins were almost unknown in those days. If the old
bottle could talk, what interesting stories it could tell! What were its first
contents? Maybe medicine for someone who was ill, or liquor used by some forbears
for celebrating Christmas. How many little boys and girls have watched with eager
eyes, their mother or sister roll cookies to bake, dumplings for a chicken pie, or pastry for a pie? With tears near the surface, I gathered up the fragments of the old brown bottle and carried them to the
trash pile. To others it is just a broken bottle, but to me it held memories;
happy ones and sad ones that I will always cherish.”
Signed BEW (Bessie Edna Woods), October
25, 1945, Beckville, Texas.
My Mama was a wonderful woman.
She put up with hardship with a smile, I’m sure many times when she felt like crying instead of smiling. Her kitchen was a wonderful place too. If
I close my eyes now, I can imagine I smell those teacakes (kind of a cross between butter cookies and sugar cookies) that
Mama made so well. It was the favorite room in the house, I expect, for all of
us. In the wintertime it was always the warmest room in the house and we spent
a lot of time there on cold winter days.
Mama could, and on many occasions did, make a really great
supper from a ten-cent can of jack mackerel accompanied by some of her delicious biscuits and a bowl of hot cream gravy. She blended some things with the mackerel, such as cornmeal, eggs and baking powder,
then made the mixture into patties and fried them nice and brown. Salmon of course
was better than mackerel, but it cost more so we usually went the cheaper route. A
couple of patties, a couple of biscuits with gravy and maybe a hot buttered biscuit with cane syrup for dessert comprised
a very tasty and satisfying meal. Mama could make something out of almost nothing
and we were always thankful for it.
I never knew of the “galloping ghosts” from our
attic to invade our kitchen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t happen, on occasion.
Pickings were slim indeed for them because what we didn’t eat was securely stored out of their reach, so their
impact on our lives was small except for the terrible noise they made at times racing about and sometimes squealing in our
attic. It was our way of life!