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From the Memoirs of Edward Lee Comer
Born 31 Oct 1898 in Guthrie, Logan Co., OK
Died 15 Mar 1981 in Kansas City, Jackson Co., MO
(transcribed from a letter by ELC
by his granddaughter, Rowan Fairgrove ,
with the help of her father, Ralph D. Comer.)
Please enjoy this story of my grandfather's youth
please do not make copies except for personal use.
© 1999-2002 Rowan Fairgrove All rights reserved.
Our childhood was a bit tough in Oklahoma. Wages were low and everything else
rent, groceries, etc., were also . Coal oil lamps. Outdoor jon. Bath in a wood tub. Stuck tie beds. Wood stove. (We burned river wood and corn cobs.) Kept a cow. We had chickens, and once I remember a pig.
Dad had home made boats on the river. Dad set trot lines in the river, 100
hooks a piece. Never less than other (terr?) Cash and I seined minnows and crawdad by the 100 (re?). Fished up clams (with our toes below the riffels in the sand bottom. Caught fish by the bushel, sold them to the neighbors and the colored people on weekends mostly. A 2 pound cat or carp 25 cents. Rented the boats 50 cents a day.
We lived on 7th and Oklahoma Avenue and south of 7th the Colored lived. It was
called the elbow. Several reasons for that. Jim Crow law was in effect.
Cash and I fished and swam all summer, went barefoot, and wore farmer straw hats. Scrounged up chicken feed, cow feed too that was cottonseed hull. From all the emptied cars at the Mill where Dad worked. We always had a little money. We would sell some of the grain to a few customers we had. We picked up metal and iron and sold it to Izzy Goldberg too.
Which leads me to the incident of the box car coupler. It weighed about 60
pounds. Izzy wouldn't buy R.R. iron. He told us to dump it on the river bank, but we didn't get across the Noble Avenue bridge that crossed the Cottonwood. We decided to throw it in the river. It went over with a splash, hit the 14" water main (cast iron) and busted it. Water gushed up and bubbled for an hour. We thought that it was still going down. It drained the stand pipe way up in east Guthrie. Set up a fire hazard and drained the whole town of water supply. People were carrying water from the river and bringing water tanks from several small towns. There were few mains on our side of town, the west side. Lots of dug wells, but fire hazard was dangerous. It was August and drought time, awful dry. An article came out in the paper about 3 boys were seen to drop the missile. They never knew. We never told Mom and Dad for about 3 weeks. Gus
Hawkins, Cash and I were the 3. That secret didn't keep.
Cash and I took our lunch and dinner bucket, fried our own fish and always had
a big time. Got a lot of stubbed toes, cut feet and stone bruises. I almost cut one big toe off on a broken crockery jug. Its a wonder I didn't bleed to death. Mom and Dad went to Aunt Net and Uncle Elzie's place in Nash to harvest the wheat every year for about five years.
Now comes the escapades of 2 green, inexperienced kids and their buddie,
George Hoffer, and I and the big drunk, the ruination of a big politician bootlegger, the loss of my little sweetie pie, the wash water that came down the Cottonwood, the day we really learned to swim, the breaking of the town water main. No real harm or destruction intended.
The finding of a woman's head in a piano box behind the Grand Leader, a dry
good store in town. It turned out to be a mannikin. We were searching for rubber bands and pins to shoot. Got a big write up in the newspaper, called the police man. (Old Round Heels with billy club) like the old movie cops. Scared the h**l out of Cash.
Seined up a negro baby in a gunny sack in the (ruffel?) seining minnows for
dad's trotline. Police and a big crowd gathered. More notoriety.
Crawled up a 20' corrugate tunnel under the road to clean out all kinds of
grain, a big sack full. We must have made 3 bucks that day. We sold it all to a neighbor with chickens. Didn't take any home this time. It was then we started buying tobacco. You could get a sack of Bull Durham or Old Hillside for a nickel. We had graduated from catalpa bean, coffee grounds, grape vine, etc. (About 9 or 10 years old.) Still peddled papers and junked, always had money, kept it and the tobacco too.
It was about that time that we burned down the Cotton Gin across from the Flour Mill where Dad worked. (R who? ) block long dock of cotton in big bales 4x4 by 6 ft tall with steel straps and burlap cover stored on an open Dock. We struck a kitchen match (old red head sulphur matches) that snapped and threw sparks that lit and caught the burlap and cotton, one spreading flame like gasoline. Whipped it out of control and destroyed the whole thing. Heavy machinery fell three stories to the basement with a big crash. We watched it all. Firemen fought it, police got there, but they never knew how it started.
We kept that a secret until 1912 when we came to Rosedale. Then one day I asked Mom what would happen to two little boys if they knew that they had set that gin on fire. She says you little devils did you do that? We intended no harm or loss, but that smoking event took its toll.
We hit a bonanza in the Cob Rile from the Mill, a conveyor had gotten diverted
and was sending white corn down the spout instead of cobs. We took 4 big sacks of pure white corn home. We finally told the elevator man what was happening so he stopped it. That was something we hadn't figured on. Mom made boiler after boiler of hominy out of it and Sis and I had to take it in gallon jugs and peddled it 25 cents a gallon. Every kid in the family had new shoes, new overall, new gingham dress and Mom and Dad a new hat. We were in the chips for a season.
That summer we had a flood. The cottonwood got out of its banks and drowned a
night watchman about 2 miles south of Guthrie, at a cotton gin. Cash and I were fishing at a street car railroad trestle about a block from our house. The pilings made a trap for driftwood (det?) because it formed an X in the
river. We saw a book sticking up and it turned out to be the watchman.
The flood a week before got in our house about 2" deep all over the floor.
Suburban outhouses, mud and silos caused a lot of damage, polluted the wells and drowned our chickens. Dad took the old cow out and we went to higher ground for the night to a friend on the hill. that also set up a health
warning and all the wells had to be drawn or pumped dry and before they could be used for drinking, the water had to be boiled, that took at least a month.
The Swimming incident and how it happened.
We lived right on the banks of the Cottonwood River (100 ft wide and blue and
deep). Walt Ellenger, Cash and I were down in the swimming hole, all belly busting from the bank to a drift about 10 or 12 feet out. There had been rain, lots of it, south of Guthrie at Seward, OK, a cloud burst. So down this river comes a wall of water about 2 feet high, hit the drift and we were all on it. We learned to swim real good right quick. The drift turned loose and we made a sudden departure too. But be it known to all concerned we could swim from then on. Well that was one of only two secrets that I can remember.
Dad, Cash and I always went down the Cottonwood to the mouth of the river of
Sundays. Dad took care of old Bill Coyles picnic ground at the mouth of the river where it flowed into the Cimmaron River (a salty water stream). Coming back we were close to home and at the swimming hole (we went in raw) not this day though. I says to Dad I'd like to go in there just for fun so Dad says well go ahead but that water is deep.
But I stood upon the back of the boat and dove off head first and went down
and came up at the back end, and held onto the boat. I didn't show up, I was hanging fast to the back to see what Dad would do. He d*** near knocked Cash out of the boat shedding his clothes to come in after me. So I popped up and said I fooled you didn't I Dad. Then I swam around the boat for about 10 minutes. He said what the h**l, I should have known you could swim when I noticed that beautiful dive you made. Then we had no more secret about swimming, but Mom and Dad never worried about us on the river after that.
Right here I have told you one you won't believe. That was Sunday when we came
up the river, and on Monday morning a cyclone or tornado wind came up, it must have sucked up water from a (riffel?) in the river, and it rained fish (little minnows and perch in our front yard. I picked up a hand full and fend them to the chickens.
The incident of the first big drunk
It was really an accidental exploration of a neighbor boy and I. My George Hoffer. His Dad was a politician in Guthrie (Bone Dry, OK), a bootlegger with political protection. George and I (we were some age under 10, had all learned to swim (I told you about that too) and smoke. We had raised passed the grape vine, catalpa bean, coffee and what now and were now at it with tobacco. (A nickel would buy a big sack of Bull Durham Dukes mixture, or Old Hillside. We rolled our own in the fine corn shucks.
But to get to our drunk. We had gone to his basement. There in a shipping barrel was bottle beer. (Temperature must have been about 70 degrees) too warm to drink but we did - bottle a piece. Then to a pony keg suspended from the ceiling with a rubber hose attached, so we took it down, sucked down and a surge and it kept on coming, so we kept swallowing to keep from spilling. George finally pulled the hose out. A small hose about a quarter inch diameter.
We managed to get out in the yard to the horse shoe pits. He on one peg, me on
the other. A muddy and rainy mess from a big rain the night before. We pitched to each other until we were a muddy mess. George pulled up his stake, came to me and hit me over my right eye., raised a good egg but I couldn't feel it.
Then I attempted to walk to the top rail (a 2x4) of the picket fence. I got up ok, but fell off right away. Caught heel in between the pickets and bumped my head on the ground at the edge of the sidewalk. Didn't feel that either. I must have been there stuck for a bit because I hollared for help. Of all
people, the little girl I sat next to in school, Minne Lee Zebara. (Lavender eyed, curly haired doll) We held hands coming home from school, carried her books, so I called her my girl. She unstuck my foot. I was hanging head down. Then when she bent down to wipe the mud off, she got a whiff of the Boy
Drunkard. That did it. I lost my first love (puppy that is).
But it didn't end yet. George got sick and his Mom found him in the yard when
I hollared, she called the Dr. When he came he called the ambulance (horse drawn, had a bell). They pumped his stomach. He almost died.
I managed to stagger home (about a block). All this was on a Sunday evening.
When I got home Dad was down a the well with a tub and the boiler to draw wash water for my Mom on Monday. He said Son, get a hold of that handle, we had to carry it about 10 feet to the porch (ground level). Made that one loop legged, tried on the boiler, got my legs crossed, went down and spilled it all over me. It was then Dad caught on. He said H**l Son, your drunk. Where did you get that?
Then the trouble really began. The police got in on it after the ambulance bell tolled. The neighbors came in droves, so did the cops. Hoffer got pinched for bootlegging, ruined his political career and went to jail. They later moved away.
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