It was only eight and one half miles, but it seemed that it would never end. It was a hot July day. July in Missouri is always hot, but on this day the sun seemed to be baking the road. The soles on my worn out shoes were so thin that my young feet felt the heat and also each rough place on the road. The walking was much worse for Papa. He was almost sixty two years old, broken in health by the years of hard farm work. The Great Depression, the years of drought, and the blinding dust storms had aged him in spirit and body. Now he was plagued by a left foot painfully swollen by gout. Because he was unable to wear his shoe, Mama had bandaged his foot and made a denim cover for the bandage. Sometimes he would gasp with pain and I kept being afraid that he would give up the trip to Cross Timbers and turn back.
The year was 1936 and I was seventeen years of age. The week before the trip, I had read in the county newspaper, that a county case-worker would be at Cross Timbers the next Monday to accept applications from boys age seventeen and older to enroll in the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Kaiser, Missouri. It seemed to be a glimmer of hope for me and I asked Papa if I could enroll. He didn't like the idea but he had just about run out of options. The corn crop was dying in the drought, droves of grasshoppers were eating up the pasture, and the mortgage payments were in arrears. Another disaster had hit, Lois, our oldest horse died, and now we didn't have a team for farm work or for going to town in the farm wagon.
I had dreams as a boy of going to college as my cousin Elmer had. He became a geology professor at the University of Texas. I had graduated from eighth grade at the head of my class, but there was no money for my sister, Odessa Mae or me to continue in school. I had looked forward to getting married some day, but probably, no girl would marry a poverty stricken farm boy like me.
It took us about two and one half hours to walk to Cross Timbers on that hot July day in 1936. There was very little traffic and no one offered us a ride in their Ford Model A. We arrived tired and very thirsty. After filling out a lot of paper work, Papa signed an agreement for his son to go to the Kaiser CCC camp. I believe that he felt that I was too young to leave home.
In the CCC, we built roads with pick and shovel, fought forest fires, worked rock quarries and built park buildings in the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. I soon got a job as a tool clerk. One evening a week I attended night class and this started me on a road to recover time lost from school. Twenty five dollars each month was sent home to my parents and I received five to spend. Remembering the dark days of the great Depression, I tried to save some money each month.
My life since the days of 1936 have not always been easy days. I have milked cows, pitched hay in 100 degree temperature, picked cotton and somehow survived a five day raging storm while on a destroyer in the Pacific in WWII. Some time later, I survived the stress of a large company that tried to make life so unbearably hard for their older employees that they would quit, and many did quit. Those that did quit had not walked the road to Cross Timbers as I had. The days of the Great Depression had served to make a man out of the boy. The trials that seemed so vast to some of my friends have sometimes been small trials to me.
Today in the twilight of my life, I have a wonderful wife, children, and a grandson. I have everything that I ever dreamed of because of the road to Cross Timbers sixty one years ago.
(Typed for the Henthorn/Bolerjack project by Diane (Black) Wilson.)
Email Dick Henthorn: Rhenthorn1@aol.com
Posted: 23 Sep 2009