Rain Brings Rain Lilies

Rain Lillies 07-22-2014I’ve had my share of rain (computer problems) this week, but Matt called early in the morning to say that my computer had copied over essential files and that it had been running all night without crashing. I picked it up and started packing the van.

Just goes to show that if you can put up with a little rain, you’re liable to find your yard is packed with rain lilies when the sun comes out. (If you are a flower fan, click on the photo to make it larger.)

Headed back to Cape Wednesday

Rough draft of Smelterville book by Ken Steinhoff 07-17-2014I’m trying to make it back in town in time for Smelterville’s Vine Street Reunion. I had really hoped to have a video presentation containing the interviews I had done with folks over the past few years, but the hard drive crash cost me too many days.

I will have copies of the latest edition of Smelterville: Community of Love available. Any that are left over after the reunion will be available at Annie Laurie’s Antique Shop at Broadway and Frederick in Cape Girardeau. The price is $20.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the new pages before some of the typos were fixed and some design elements changed.

Bill “Not Billy” Beal

Bill Beal at Turner-Phifer-Underwood-Robinson Family Reunion 07-21-2012I’ve been working like crazy transcribing interviews and editing videos to try to get them ready for the Vine Street Reunion at the end of this month. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed talking with Bill Beal at a 2012 family reunion. (He’s been trying to shed the “Billy” nickname as long as I’ve been trying to retire “Kenny.”)

Bill was one half of one of my favorite photos from Smelterville in 1967. He said he was 10 or 11 when I shot the picture with him, Margaret Turner and a cat. His sister, Fay Beal Powders, said “Not many people had cats, but mother let us have cats because I loved them.” Bill, she said, was a twin, and so was Margaret, his cousin.

Bill and Margaret

Smelterville 06-04-1967 27He dropped out of Central High School when he was 17 and went into the military. “I wanted to get out of Cape and I wanted to better myself. I was a ground pounder [in Vietnam]. Carried an M60 around.”

“A scrawny guy like you carried an M60?” I interjected.

“A big M60 and belts,” he said. “Then I got into sniper. I really enjoyed that. It’s not all what they say it’s cut out to be,” he continued. “When you go into sniper, you might be off in that drain pipe over yonder and you have to sit there for two or three days. You can’t move, and that’s it. I mean, bugs bite you and you can’t move. Snakes run across you and you can’t move.”

“Would you do that part of it again?” I asked.

“Yessir. In a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, I would.”

Dad was a truckdriver

Turner-Phifer-Underwood-Robinson Family Reunion 07-21-2012Bill’s dad was a truck driver for the cement plant until he died of a massive heart attack when Bill was about 8 or 9. When he got out of the military, he thought, “maybe truck driving is in my blood.” He’s been an owner-operator for more than three decades, and “I put three stepkids through college.”

That’s Bill’s sister, Fay, with him.

Happy memories of Smelterville

Bill Beal and "Tube" Wren Smelterville 06-05-1967Echoing the sentiment I’ve heard from everyone I’ve interviewed, Bill had happy memories of growing up in Smelterville: “We didn’t go hungry. We weren’t dirty. We weren’t nasty. We had clean clothes. All the relatives, we lived together. It was like a little community down there like you’d have up in the mountains. Everybody knew everybody in that community.”

Bill is on his bike in the foreground.

“Back then, we didn’t care what nationality you were or what color. We all got along. You’d go out and get into a fight right now, then later on that night, you were all sleeping on a pallet or in a bed together. It didn’t make no difference. You all ate at the same place. If momma cooked something or grandma cooked, or whoever cooked, everybody ate. We didn’t care who you were or where you came from. Even the – they called them hobos that used to ride the trains and such – momma and grandma even fed them.”

Life could be hard

Smelterville 06-04-1967 12“We had the community pump. Later on in life, we actually had running water in the house, once we ran lines into the house. We still had wood stoves. We didn’t have any propane gas or anything like that. We always moved up north for the floods. Then, when the river went back down, we went in and scrubbed the floors and walls, threw the snakes out and rebuilt what had to be rebuilt to make it livable.”

Looking back at the pictures, he said, “brings back memories. After so many years, you don’t remember, but once you start back looking, yeah, it brings back memories of where we come from and where we are today. You know, what we went through to get where we’re at.”

That’s Bill on the left next to his cousin, Mary Jean Phifer. The baby name is unknown. The two boys at the right are Mark Turner, Margaret Turner’s twin brother, and “Jim Dandy” Wren.

Other Smelterville stories


Eugene Beckett’s Smelterville Treasures

Eugene Austin Beckett MapI hinted yesterday that I many have to cut back on blog posts while I rush to finish an update to my Smelterville stuff before the Vine Street Reunion July 25-27 and put together a workshop in Athens, Ohio, in August.

I’ve spent most of the past week editing video interviews. Today I waded through emails and comments from people who talked about Smelterville. That’s where I stumbled across a treasure trove of information. Just about this time last year, I got an email from Eugene Beckett. He said he had some photos of the area in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, plus a map that he had put together showing many of the landmarks. I asked if he could send me the info.

Consigned to the Future Basket

When it arrived, I looked at it hurriedly and put it in my Future Basket. Well, today, I took a closer look and was floored by what he had sent.

It dovetailed directly with my workshop topic. He did everything I’m going to encourage the participants to do

  • 1. Make or collect the photographs
  • 2. Document when they were taken
  • 3. Write a description of what they show.

(Basically all the stuff I wish I had done for the past half century)

He went the extra step of producing the map of an area that doesn’t exist today.

Legend for map

1   –  City Pump. The only water between the railroad and the river.
2   –  Funny Ferrell’ Store
3   –  Ben Cannon’s Church
4   –  Old foundation of the Lead Smelter plant
5   –  Central Packing Co.
6   –  Fish Market
7   –  River Navigating Light
8   –  Blue Hole Garden Barbecue (the old Blue Hole Garden was at the bottom of toll-gate hill where they build the new hwy.)
9   –  Standard Oil Service Station
10 –  Federal Material Co. Office
11  – Kelley’s Store
12  – Sandy Beach.
13  – John Deiteker’s Store
14  – Lane’s Market
15  – Railroad switch house
16  – Booker T’s scrap yard

I told Curator Jessica that she needs to find a Eugene who has done that kind of documentation in the scores of old coal towns in SE Ohio that are ghost towns or merely memories. The goal of our workshop is to encourage people to go out today to start the documentation that will be invaluable in 30 or 50 years. I’m just beginning to realize what a resource my files are, and I’d like to encourage others to produce similar collections.

Living in Houck Woods during flood

Sarah Addie Bequette Houck Wood escaping flood in 1940s courtesy Eugene Beckett_11aOne of Eugene’s photos is of his grandmother, Sarah Addie Bequette in a tent village in the Houck Woods up Tollgate Hill where Smelterville residents fled Mississippi River floodwaters. I’m going to guess this was the Flood of 1943. I had read accounts of that, but here is an actual photograph of one of those refugees. Eugene also wrote an extensive biography of Mrs. Bequette.

Here’s why his detective work and captions are so important: if you look at the photo without the background, you might think she’s on a camping trip or that there’s a tent revival set up in the background. Filling in that detail about the flood places it in historical context.

Thanks to Eugene for sharing his family documentation.

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