My Life in a Nutshell

by Jimmy Carl Carpenter

It's true that my life has not been very exciting or interesting. I have accomplished no great things, I have never influenced any great people and I never expect to do so. What I have done is to live and learn, so if you read about the things I've done wrong, maybe you can avoid the same or similar mistakes.

But the main reason for writing my story is for historical reasons, mostly family history. During most of my adult life, I have been interested in family history, family tree, genealogy or whatever you choose to call it. Only recently, after retiring, have I had time to delve into it and really collect some information. I talked with my Aunt Ila [ILA] Brakebill about the history of the Carpenter and Harman families. I made copies of her old family pictures and have done my best to preserve them. She was very knowledgeable and her memory was remarkable right up until the time of her death. She told me stories about my father and grand father and on beyond that, and about her childhood in and around Steelville, Missouri, Okmulgee, Hitchita and Verdigris, Oklahoma.

Later, I was able to meet many relatives in the Steelville area that I had heard of but never before known. My Aunt Ila was able to go, with Laura and I, to a family reunion at the Liberty Community near Steelville, MO. It was held June 17, 1989 in the building that now serves as a community Center, but was the schoolhouse, back in 1910, that Aunt Ila attended. We stayed at the home of Barbara Clendenin, a cousin that Ila had known and gone to school with as a child, in that very schoolhouse. That was a great occasion for her because she was able to meet, again, many friends and family members after some seventy odd years....and it was a great pleasure for me to meet the same ones for the first time.

I have collected family information on my computer genealogy program and am keeping a backup in case of hard drive failure, so hopefully, this information will be available to future generations that might be interested. I don't know why anyone would be interested because I have found no greatness in the family, but it seems that many people, including myself, have a yearning to know who went before them and to solve the puzzle of who did what to whom. At the time of this writing, I have found no horse thieves or bank robbers, but who knows what lies right around the corner.

Anyway, lets get to me, since I'm the only one I really know anything about and I'm the one writing this story. What would you like to hear? I'm starting this story in 1999 at age 62.9780821 years. In other words, I'll be 63 in eight days, which will be January 25, 1999. That is due to the fact that I was born on January 25, 1936.

I can't remember anything about my actual birth because I was just a baby at the time. [I know that's an old joke but I couldn't resist] If you are a descendant of mine, you will hope to hear that I was a pretty baby, very intelligent and with good manners and a superb personality. Unfortunately, this was not the case, so I've been told by relatives who were there. Wouldn't you think people would keep things like that to themselves? It could cause a person to develop a complex of some sort to think they were the ugliest baby born that year. Actually I wasn't the ugliest baby born that year. I only held second place because the Oklahoma City Zoo had one that beat me out.

They say I was big, skinny, boney, wrinkled and just plain ugly. Look in the dictionary under "UGLY" and you'll find my picture. [I know that's another old joke, but that's the only kind I know] I soon grew out of the skinny part. I became, big, fat, boney, wrinkled and just plain ugly in no time at all. There are few pictures of me in my earlier years because of camera breakage. I really think that was just a coincidence and had little to do with my ugliness.

My parents had a milk cow and they started feeding me lots of milk until the cow caught a glimpse of me, one day, and immediately dried up. Then they bought some kind of a malted milk drink that you mix with water, to feed me, and I've heard that it took most of their earnings just to keep me fed. But they managed and I survived fat and strong.

I was born southwest of Claremore, Oklahoma and just southwest of the community of Verdigris. Go southwest from Claremore on HW 66 about 7 miles and you will come to the community of VERDIGRIS, spelled just like the nearby Verdigris River. Go on through Verdigris about a mile. In 1999, there is a golf course on your right. At the golf course is an older house that serves as an office. That's where my grandparents, Amos Carpenter and Florence Harman Carpenter lived in 1936. My parents and sister lived in a small house a few hundred yards from the main house, [west, I think], and that's where the big event of my birth occurred. That house is now gone, having been torn down soon after I was born, by order of the Health Department, I've been told.

It was about 8 P.M. on a cold January 25th when I first came into the world. The first sounds I heard were the screams of those present when they saw me for the first time. I'm not sure just who was there . . . as I said, I was just a baby - but I know my Aunt Ila Brakebill was there. She's the one who gave me most of the information I'm relaying to you now. I think it was very kind of her to pass along these vital family facts for future generations.

One story that Aunt Ila told, about that great event, concerned an old man who lived alone, near my folk's place, who went by the name of "Jolly." [If he had a last name, I never heard it.] She said that shortly after I was born, they were all sitting around trying to think who [or what] I looked like. Someone said I resembled uncle so and so, others thought I looked like cousin such and such . . . everyone had an opinion. My dad was silent all this time, hoping no one would say that I looked like him. When it finally came his turn to comment, he said that he thought I looked a lot like old Jolly. Of course he wasn't about to say that I looked like him.

My sister, Margie, was seven years old when I was born and did most of my raising. A few days or a week after my birth, it was noticed that she wasn't cozying up to her new little brother like everyone thought she should. My mother asked her if she wouldn't like to kiss her new brother. She hesitated awhile, then said, "Weeeeeel, if you'll kiss him first." So my mother closed her eyes, held her nose, and kissed me. Then Margie did the same. I guess that broke the ice because after that they all began to be friendlier and started letting me sleep in the house.

I don't remember much about the next three or four years, but I heard they kept me inside most of the time for fear the dog catcher would pick me up and they would have to pay a fine. In fact, I don't remember anything about the place where I was born, and I'm not sure just when my parents moved from there, but it was soon after my birth, probably at the request of the neighbors. We moved to a place on the banks of the Yonkipin lake only a couple or three miles from my birth place. A Yonkipin is some sort of plant, with large flat leaves, about 12 to 18 inches in diameter, that grows in water with their leaves flattened out on the water surface, similar to a lily pad. The lake was full of those things every summer. I didn't think they looked very good and it made the lake look like it needed to be mowed.

To get there, go on further south on HW 66, just before the Port of Catoosa Navigation bridge. There is a tunnel that goes under the railroad tracks, on your right, that goes to the lake. We lived on the south west side of the lake. At that time there was no tunnel, the railroad having been built up high when the new highway 66 was four laned, in the 1950's. Also the house has been gone since about 1942, when it was destroyed and washed away by a flood, which occurred the year after we moved out. More about that later. Anyway, back to the story.

My first memories were around this house on the banks of the Yonkipin lake. My family's names were daddy, momma and sissy. Also there was a big white and brown spotted dog named Bulger. I don't know where Bulger got his name and I don't know where he came from but he is there in my earliest memories. I have heard that when they first got him, he kept trying to bury me in the back yard but that was mostly rumor and happened no more than once or twice.

What I do remember is that Bulger and I became the best of friends and played together every day all around the banks of the lake and in the weeds and woods around the house.

Somehow, without any training from anyone, that I'm aware of, Bulger learned to fetch and he became a real fanatic about it. He just lived to chase things and bring them to me. You wouldn't believe how cluttered the yard became. I enjoyed throwing sticks into the lake and watching him swim out and retrieve them and drop them at my feet. Then he would shake water all over me. I felt secure in knowing if anyone ever threw me in the lake, Bulger would bring me back and drop me at their feet. He was a great dog for a kid. He was never unkind. I never heard him growl and he never snarled nor ever attempted to bite me or anyone else. He was very gentle and playful at all times. He never tried to lick my face. [My sister warned him never to do that unless my mother did it first.] He was a real gentle dog.

One winter day in about 1940, the lake was frozen over. Bulger and I were playing about an eighth mile from the house, through the woods and out of sight of the house or any person. I was having lots of fun throwing sticks out on the ice for Bulger to fetch. I thought it was very funny when he would try to stop and pick up the stick and he would slide on past it. His feet and legs were running in the direction of the stick, but his body kept going the other way. Then he would finally get stopped and head for it again and do the same thing over and over, sliding past it again. Finally, after several attempts, he would get the stick and bring it to me and drop it at my feet. He would look up at me, wagging his tail and barking excitedly, demanding that I throw it again. We would then repeat the process and the fun would start all over again. After several such fun-filled episodes, Bulger was returning with his precious stick, when about twenty feet from shore, the ice broke and he fell into the icy water. He would manage to get his front feet on the ice, to pull himself out, but could not get a grip, so he would slide back in.

The ice was very thin and it kept breaking off in chunks as he tried to climb out. Finally, he was within a few feet of the shore but could go no farther. Near the shore, the ice was stronger and would break no more and he was stuck - so close but still in water deep enough to drown and cold enough to freeze. I remember wondering what I could do to help him and finally I noticed, about 50 feet away, an old, discarded automobile trunk lid that someone had thrown away. It looked like it might have been part of a Model T ford at one time, before it was cast aside. It was made of tin with metal reinforcing ribs running horizontally across it. I ran and got it, dragged it to the edge of the ice and shoved it out toward Bulger, while holding on to the other end. He immediately grabbed it, his toes clutching those ribs, and pulled himself out. He was a little cold but ok and suffered no ill effects from the ordeal. I think we both learned a lesson about thin ice from that incident. I have been on thin ice of a different kind several times since that day.

On summer days, various people, mostly relatives, would come to visit and swim in the lake. I remember being very surprised when my cousin Aubrey [David] Sessions went for a swim in the lake. He dove into the water and disappeared. I looked and looked, and began to worry, waiting for him to resurface. A long, long time passed and still no sight of him. Finally his head appeared about a hundred yards from shore, and I realized he had swum under water all that distance. I'm sure he did it to surprise, or to worry, me and the other spectators that were watching from the shore. That was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. After that, he was a hero of mine.

The lake was very shallow, for on several occasions, I have seen my Sister, Marjorie, who was only about 10 or 11 years old, standing in the middle of the lake with just her head sticking out. I think she was able to wade all the way across without going over her head. At first, I thought she was swimming vertically.

Daddy, also known as Dave Carpenter, built a boat out of wood that we used to cross the lake. I suppose he caulked the cracks to keep the water from coming in for it didn't leak. I have a picture of Margie and I in the boat with her at the oars and me with a fish on a pole. That was lots of fun since she did the hard work. I was about four and she was about eleven at that time. I don't actually remember doing it but I have the picture to show that we did. I don't remember our parents being around while we played in the lake. I think they assumed that Margie would take good care of me - and I think she did. But who did they think would take care of her? She was only a little kid herself.

My Aunt Ila and Uncle Peeler Brakebill, who were employed as caretakers of the lake, lived directly across the lake from us and we would row over to their house often. There was a road that went around the south end of the lake, next to the railroad tracks, but it was shorter and more fun to row across.

I had a cat that liked to visit their house and help eat up the food they put out for their dogs and cats. Since the road was available, he was able to go visiting on his own. [Probably because we never fed him and there was free food available there.] On one occasion, which I don't remember, but have been reminded of quite often, I was at Brakebill's house and aunt Ila told me that she had a board bill against my cat. It was said that I ran home crying my eyes out because aunt Ila had a board that she had built against my cat and I was afraid it would do him bodily harm. My aunt Ila liked to remind me of that incident and laugh about it for the next 50 years. She told about lots of dumb things I did, but I don't recall her telling about any smart things I did. I guess she forgot those.

I guess I'll always remember Jackie and Peggy Sue Whatstheirname. I never heard their last name and I don't think my parents knew it either. But this old couple, who were bums off the nearby railroad or highway 66, came to the house one day asking for food and/or work, or a place to stay out of the weather. I don't remember if it was real cold or real hot, but it was one or the other, being in Oklahoma. We had a pretty good chicken house and few chickens so my parents let them fix it up and stay there. [I still have a picture of that old chicken house] I suppose Jackie and Peggy Sue did some work around the place for their keep but I don't know about that. I don't remember how long they stayed but it seemed like a year or more. They fixed up the chicken house with a bed, so it was cozy. They had whatever my parents could spare in the way of furniture, bedding and other necessities. I suppose my parents supplied them with some food but I'm only supposing. Of course, they always had eggs.

I liked Peggy Sue because she would play choo choo train with me. Sometimes she would be the engine and sometimes the caboose. We didn't have any train cars in between because we didn't have enough people. When she was the engine, I would trail behind with my hands on her hips and we would act as much like a train as we possibly could. We would whistle and hiss and make clackety clack sounds. Then I would be the engine and she would be the caboose, trailing behind with her hands on my shoulders. Together we made a fine choo choo train.

Every day, Jackie and Peggy Sue would go "snipe hunting" over on the shoulder of the highway. I finally learned that the snipes they hunted were cigarette butts that people had thrown out of their cars. They found some pretty good snipes - some were nearly half a cigarette long. They always had eggs to eat, snipes to smoke, and a warm place to stay out of the weather.

One day Peggy Sue was sick and in bed. It rained and the roof leaked right over her bed and water was dripping on her. Jackie heated some tar, went up on the roof, and poured it on the roof to stop the leak. Well, It dripped right through the same hole that the rain was coming through and onto Peggy Sue. She didn't stay "sick in bed" long. She came out of the chicken house yelling for Jackie to stop pouring the tar through the hole. I don't know exactly what was said but she was hot in more ways than one. Actually, I don't remember the event at all but I have heard the story often enough to be able to visualize the whole thing.

But no matter how angry they were at each other, they always got over it, because each other was all they had. One morning we got up and they were gone. They were a nice old couple and they were always good to me. I was sad that they were gone but my parents probably were relieved. I just couldn't run that train alone, so I never played choo choo train again.

Most of my recollections about those days and times are sketchy, just bits and pieces here and there. I remember that I had a little red wagon that I spent lots of time playing with. For awhile, I would get up rather early in the morning and pretend that I was going to work. Bulger and I would take the wagon and go out in the field to a particular tree stump and load up dirt from around it and haul it to another location. We kept that up until that stump was nearly dug up. I guess we finally decided the job was done or got tired of going to work, anyway we retired.

I still don't know how my parents made a living. They did a little farming, raised some tomatoes and sold them at a little vegetable stand on the highway and my dad occasionally went somewhere to work. Some of the time he worked for W. P. A. My dad's brother, James Job [Jim] Carpenter owned an automobile repair business in Verdigris. When our car needed work, it went there to be repaired and my mother would complain of the poor workmanship. Our car was a 1932 Chevrolet, so it was only about eight years old when we finally moved from there, but it seemed like a jalopy.

At last my parents found a farm that they could afford to make a down payment on so they bought it. It was located in the Sageeyah Community, about 5 miles N. W. of Claremore, Oklahoma and about 12 miles from the house on the lake. We moved there on January 1, 1941. It was 80 acres and was known as the "Old Eaton Place." The house was cold and breezy but somehow we stayed warm. My parents lived on that farm the rest of their lives and I lived there until I went into the army in 1955.

I can remember one particular incident during the move from Verdigris to Sageeyah. I don't know the details, but I was in the town of Verdigris--where several small stores and shops were located, when the truck with our belongings went past, heading for our new home. There in the front passenger seat was Bulger, sitting up straight and looking all around and acting just like a human. I was happy to see that he was moving with us.

Chapter Two


Well, it was January, 1941, when we moved into our "new to us" home. Though the house was breezy and cold, we somehow survived until the weather got warmer. My dad patched up the larger holes to keep the cows from walking through the living room. When springtime came, the weather was warmer but stormier. My dad was very much concerned about the storms so one of the first things he did was to build a makeshift storm cellar. He dug a hole about four or five feet deep on the hillside so water could drain out. Then he cut logs and laid them across the hole and covered them with dirt. Somehow he managed to make that dirt roof so it didn't leak too badly. He built some kind of a door on the north side and that was it.

Even though he built it on the hillside and water was supposed to drain out, it never seemed to happen that way. Water accumulated in it so he built a scaffold above the water so we could stay above the water. That worked, except we soon began seeing snakes swimming around in the water below our feet. Besides that we, also, began seeing snakes above our heads in the logs that formed the roof. We needed a place to get away from the storms and maybe the snakes did too, so we just shared it with them. Many times I have shined the flashlight up above my head to see a snake with his head and about 6 inches of his body peering down on us. His head and body would be moving from side to side, looking all around.

My mother, for some reason, stored her fruit jars in that cellar inside a basket. One year when canning time came around, Margie went into the cellar and got the basket of fruit jars. As she was carrying it to the house, she suddenly noticed a snake inside one of the jars. Needless to say, she dropped the whole thing, snake and all and my dad killed the snake. Now, over 50 years later, I can still see that scene in my memory. It was funny but I don't recall anyone laughing at the time.

We used that cellar two or three years and then my dad built a better one of rocks and concrete. There was no place above for snakes to hide but there was still water in it and we had to watch for them under our feet. I don't actually remember seeing a snake in the new cellar but we were always watchful.

As I said before, the house was not in the best of condition though it did keep out some of the wind and the roof turned most of the water if it didn't rain too hard. One thing that the place had was a pretty good barn. It was solid and had a reasonably good wood shingle roof. I think it was that first summer, my dad decided to trade houses with the cattle. He proceeded to convert that barn into a house and to use the house for a barn. There was a kind of transition period when the house was half house and half barn and the barn was half barn and half house, but it soon all came together. Much of the lumber from the old house was used in building the new house. It had four rooms, a living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. The bathroom was about a hundred yards north.

He ordered brick siding from Sears or Montgomery Ward and put it on the outside. He installed new windows and doors, I suppose purchased by mail order also. He built a good chimney of bricks and mortar and installed a big wood stove for heat. There were plenty of trees on the farm for fuel and we had no problem staying warm in that house. There was no insulation in the attic or walls, or anywhere for that matter, but it wasn't missed. When the weather was really cold, we could just throw on another log.

My dad and mother used a crosscut saw to cut the trees down and saw up the wood, then my dad would use the axe to split it. Gradually the old house that became the barn was torn down and a new, but smaller barn was built. The new barn was painted red and it came to be called the "Red Barn." We never called it simply "the barn," it was always the "Red Barn." Now 55 years later that barn still stands and is on the portion of the place that I own, and it is still used for storage. Though it is no longer red, it's still known in the family as the "Red Barn." be continued but not soon.