Growing up in a Shotgun House: Happy Childhood on a Small Family Farm

An Oklahoma woman relates stories about growing up in a modest shotgun house and playing with her siblings on their small family farm

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I was 10 years old when our family moved to the country. We had a three-room (shotgun) house. We had no electricity, water or plumbing. We did have a wood heater, kerosene lamps, a cookstove, and a path to the outhouse on our little family farm. Both my parents had to work in town that summer, and I was left in charge of three younger siblings. We had a neighbor a quarter-mile away, so I knew there was help nearby if I needed someone.

That summer was the best memory of my childhood. There were so many new experiences to be tasted. A shallow spring-fed creek flowed nearby, which afforded wading or sitting in the cool water looking for special rocks, as well as the fun of trying to catch minnows. We were watchful of crawdads. We had been warned they could pinch, so no pinches. However, we discovered a few ant hills that could make us dance.

In a grove of persimmon trees, among the young saplings, we played cowboys and Indians. We climbed on those trees and rode them like horses. Up and down we went; even my 4-year-old sister would squeal with joy.

My mother helped me plant my first flower bed that summer. I had the most beautiful "Old Maid" zinnias. In my memory they are the prettiest flowers I've ever grown. Mother also began to teach me to cook. Corn bread and pinto beans were my offering to the table on Saturdays. On Sundays after church our aunts, uncles and cousins came for dinner. We sat under shade trees, watched ball games or games of horseshoes or played hide-and-seek. Those were fun times.

One day late that summer when I was looking forward to the beginning of school again, my brother came running to the back door. He was shouting, "I found a cat, I found a cat!" We girls all followed him out to the little barn that stood on a few large supporting stones, leaving lots of open space underneath. We all got down on our hands and knees and sure enough, we could see movement there in the shadows. My brother said, "Let's throw rocks at it and chase it away." A new adventure! We all picked up a rock. Several rocks hit the side of the barn and a few actually went underneath, none of which hit the target. However, we did alarm our adversary, which turned out to be a skunk, and he let us know that the war was over. We quickly retreated, and I guess the skunk went the other way. Fortunately, none of his scent landed on us.

Thinking back on that first summer in the country, it always brings such a rush of feelings – love, companionship, the cool wind on our faces as we rode our tree horses, the sheer joy of splashing in the water, the feeling of pride when Daddy said "that corn bread is almost as good as your mama's," and oh, I wish I could find some "Old Maid" zinnia seeds.

For me, the summer I was 10 held new smells, sights, sounds and the experience of having my work turn into pretty flowers or a pan of corn bread. Perhaps the joy I felt then set my heart to singing and gave me a good start on my life as a country girl.

Anna Brumback
Stilwell, Oklahoma

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.