Henry’s sister married Tom Arrowood at a young age. Brice described Aunt Maggie as “a meek woman, and she was not healthy,” maybe her heart. “She married a man kinda like her father, a no-nonsense man, stubborn as an ox. Granddaddy helped them build a house across the hill, right above the old mill near where he and Granny lived.” Maggie and Tom had five children.
Brice recalls a story told about when he was an infant. “We had gone to Spindale to see my mother’s family. We were late coming back, had run out of gas and had a flat tire. You can’t expect much from a Model T Ford all loaded down with people. So we were late, and Tom was waiting in the road for us with a gun. He made Daddy stop the car” and Maggie get out to walk home. Granny jumped all over Daddy, but he said, “I woulda got killed. He woulda shot me.” Tom didn’t scare Granny. “The next morning bright and early, she gooses right over there and got a handful of her son-in-law.” (Note to self: maybe the meek shall inherit the earth because the strong protect them.)
Nora added, “She gave him a piece of her mind.”
Brice said, “She could do it. She had the grit to do it.” She had to keep up with Captain Sprouse. “She was a good woman.”
Being good doesn’t help when it comes time to bury the young. Miz Nor had to bury her daughter in 1929 in the Macedonia Church cemetery, and three years later, Maggie’s son John Wilson Arrowood was buried close to her. He was thirteen.
While world events drew attention to conflict on foreign shores, young Brice was centered on his own world on Brackett Town’s only road. One day “we went to Spindale and came back at dusk. Grandpa wasn’t nowhere around. We unloaded and started looking for him. We had a swinging bridge, and he fell off it into the creek. He was sloshing around looking for his glasses. Daddy went down and got him out and carried him to the house. Course, Daddy curried him down for being drunk. Grandpa said (in his Scotch-Irish brogue) some of the black people up the road came along and got him all tanked up and he fell in the creek.”
Nora adds, “From the stories I heard, he worked a lot of the folks who lived here in the community. They thought a lot of him because he had jobs for them, and so they would come see him and share a drink or two with him.”
Brice laughed. “And he’d get all tanked up and fall in the creek.”
“When he got older, Grandpa had a heart problem so he couldn’t work long at a time. He’d go over (to the mill) early in the morning as soon as he got out of bed. He said he’d go to run the water down. There was a dam above the building that would only hold so much so he’d go over and grind the corn, till the water got too low, then he’d come home, eat breakfast, kill an hour or two, then he’d go back, grind more corn then he’d go back after the mailman come and go in his tunnel and read the paper and his mail. Have a few drinks, and it was time to go home. At the mill, “the dam came into a fobay box, four foot wide and four foot deep that carried the water out the top of the wheel. We had a 16′ overshot water wheel and the water come out of the dam and run through this box over the wheel and poured out over the wheel and made the wheel turn. We had a walkway that went up there and had a board across that fobay box wide enough to walk across. We come home from Spindale one weekend and couldn’t find him. He was sitting in that fobay box, drunk, and he had his arms hooked over the sides, and he was up there whistling. Life was so grand.” Brice and Nora were both laughing now. “Daddy went all to pieces. Grandpa had lost his glasses again.”
JJ Sprouse died in 1938, and he was as prepared for that as everything else he faced. Above the cabin on the hill, he blasted a gravesite for himself in the granite and built a shelter over it. Brice said, “Solid block concrete and got a Ready Mix truck to fill it up. JJ said, ‘When ole Gabriel blows that trumpet, gotta blow it loud or I ain’t gonna be able to hear it.’ And he left instructions for cementing a vault when it came time for Miz Nor to join him. They had no trouble digging her grave, but Daddy said ‘If anyone else is buried up here, they’ll have to come dig their own grave cause I’m not diggin’ no more.’ So far, that thing is holding up, ‘bout like a vault. Concrete wasn’t too expensive back in those days.”
Together this couple had seen an amazing change in this country. From the isolation of a home in the wilderness to crowds of people in the gold era back to a small group of survivors from all genres. From wagons and mules to automobiles. From oral history shared on front porches to the magic of the telephone. From fighting among brothers to a united front against other countries that threatened hometown freedoms. Their generation had the wisdom to adapt gracefully to new circumstances without losing core values. There was a global battle for individual freedom that would always begin with good relationships among neighbors.
The introduction of Grapes of Wrath quotes the author John Steinback in an 1939 radio interview. “Boileau said that Kings, Gods, and Heroes were the only fit subjects for literature. The writer can only write about what he admires…and since our race only admires gallantry, the writer will deal with it where he finds it. He finds it in the struggling poor today.”
The Sprouse mill was damaged by a storm in the 1940’s and not repaired because JJ had died, and Henry used it only occasionally. The blacksmith shop
survived longer. Nora remembers the big bellows and hearing the sound and seeing the flame. Her father worked hard to support his family on the farm, and sometimes the days were too short for the labor required. Nora said, “Granddaddy’s mill house is filled in where the hole was, but the outside was all rock where the wheel was. The grinding wheels are up by the house.”
There was still a large family around to share the daily load.
In 1943, Miz Nor was laid to rest next to JJ near their cabin. The people of the community hovered around, and at the end of the service, they sang “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” honoring the strong woman who had taught many of them to sew. When Henry’s children were young, the women had cooked for the grandparents and the younger ones. “They were like part of the family,” said Nora. It was a different time and place where individual contributions were treated with respect and not lumped together in a demeaning category. When people stood together against a common foe of starvation and appreciated a helping hand, there was only one team. Somewhere we have forgotten the blessings of working together as communities. Divided we fall.