My Granny Vantine was a neat woman. She was sweet and gentle, and loved to play card games of any kind. Her eyes always had a twinkle in them. We used to play a dice game together called nikeo. She would sit at the table by herself and practice rolling the dice. She had practiced so much that she wore the ink off a magazine cover! After this, she could roll the dice and get whatever numbers she needed — until we made her start putting the dice in a cup. She wasn’t too happy about that.
Going to Granny & Papa’s house as a young boy was a real treat. Papa, clad in striped overalls, a blue oxford shirt, and black dress shoes (his daily attire) usually sat in his recliner and watched television. One framed photograph sat on the console T.V. It was a portrait of Papa’s daddy, John Quincy Vantine.
Granny was always in the kitchen working on something or other. She would always find something to give us as a surprise whether it be a piece of candy or a few coins out of her purse. My face would light up, and of course, hers would too.
A large framed print hung above the kitchen table. It was a still life portrait of a cast iron pot full of beans and a basket of biscuits sitting on a hay bale. I now have this.
Granny was born 8 May 1921 to Robert Charley Winton and Myrtle Argen Hill near Springer, Carter County, Oklahoma. She gave birth to eight children in ten years, and had a very hard life.
She died in February 2002 in Lawton, Comanche County, Oklahoma. She is greatly missed. Granny and Papa had been married for 63 years.
Before her death, Granny sat down with her daughter Mary and told the story of her life. Aunt Mary typed up the tales and named it “The Life and Times of Ruby Winton Vantine.” Here is an excerpt (my additions are in brackets):
The reason I want to tell my story is to put some of my memories to paper for my children and grandchildren. Some of the memories are sad, some are funny, and some are simply beautiful red apples from the barrel of life. They run the gamut from major events to insignificant moments. I hope these next pages will be informative and entertaining.
My grandmother Hempe Cook was married to J. T. Hill [James Tolbert]. They had six children: Etter, Myrtle (my mother), Lily, Perry, Minnie and Herbert. When mama was about eight her mother was heavy with child. She sat on a big rock out by the pond to watch her geese. After she died in childbirth, Mama would sit on the big rock so she could see her mother. [Hempe died in 1909 from complications with a breech birth. A doctor could not be found to come to her aid.]
My mother, Myrtle Argen Hill, was fourteen years old when she married Robert Charley Winton in 1914. He was 37 and brought to the marriage six children by his deceased first wife: Leona was 16; Alfred, 14; Loy, 11; Willie, 9; Ethel, 8; and Dustin, 5. Mama played “dolls” with her stepchildren. She went outside to play with them and often forgot to cook supper. Together they had six children: Irene, in 1916; Geneva, 1919; Ruby (myself), 1921; J. D., 1923; Emma Ruth, 1925; and Zol, 1927. Daddy was a well-digger. He owned two farms in Carter County, Oklahoma and had horses and cattle. We drove them under a big bridge from one pasture to another. I remember that one day Daddy came home with $1,000 cash. Geneva and I walked to the bank to make a deposit for him. Daddy went bankrupt twice. He paid lots of money trying to find a cure for Loy who had infantile paralysis. He finally bought a horse and buggy for Loy to get around in. We lived in one of Gene Autry’s old houses about three or four miles southwest of Milo, Oklahoma. Irene, Geneva, J. D., and I started first grade at the same time. This embarrassed Irene and she often played “hooky”. When she played “hooky” the rest of us would too. Usually we hid out at Grandpa Hill’s house where he was living with a woman who had two children, Theodora and Hayes. In March 1931, Daddy received internal injuries when a log fell on him when he was laying logs across a cellar. He developed pneumonia and died.
[I had always heard that he burned to death. The story is that he had been working with machinery on that cold wintry day and had gasoline and oil on his clothing when he came home that evening. He stood close to the fire to warm up and he caught on fire. He ran outside to jump in the horse tank to put himself out and it was frozen solid.]
After daddy died the family was destitute. Going hungry was normal. Sometimes Mama did not eat but divided a biscuit among us kids — our only food for the day! A local farmer gave us skim milk from his separator. Geneva and I walked to Raleigh High’s farm every day to collect our skim milk in a syrup bucket. On our way home we became so hot and thirsty we had to stop and drink a few sips of the milk. There was a gate we had to crawl under. One day we found two dimes under the gate. As we walked into Milo to pick up our mail a bread truck threw out bread and rolls for us.
Soon after Daddy’s death, Irene married Pat Scott. Pat’s mother, Hattie, had a brother, James Edward Sims who lived in another state with his wife and four children: Ira, Otis, Lois, and Audry. After his wife divorced him and moved to California with the children, Ed came to Milo to visit Hattie. There he met Mama. After corresponding for a while he returned to Milo and married Mama. He actually saved us from starving to death. He was a religious man and was stern, but treated us with respect. In the fall of 1932, we moved to Cotton County to pick cotton. We lived west of Walters and attended Pecan Grove and District 221 schools. Ed and Mama had four children: Elmer, Virginia, Ray, and Dewayne.
In 1936, we moved “down under the hill” southwest of Walters. We went to Pleasant Hill school. I often cut school. I was a nature girl and enjoyed being outside. I carried a 50-lb. flour sack, folded to fit in my pocket, a knife, twine, fish hook, etc. and headed for the creek or woods. I stayed all day, and hunted for berries, pecans, fruit, etc. Sometimes I cut a tree limb for a fishing pole, rigged it with line, hook, and cork; dug worms or caught grasshoppers for bait; and took a stringer of fish home for supper. When I returned home “after school” I was carrying a bag full of food for our family. One time I bet Geneva I could knock a bird off a limb with a rock. I hit it and the bird fell to the ground. Geneva ran over and picked it up, chastising me for killing the nice little bird. The “nice little bird” was only stunned and bit her hand, drawing blood!
We were neighbors of several large families — the Joe Copelands, the Charlie Langfords, and the Quincy Vantines who had three sons. Era Copeland was dating Boyd Vantine, Jessie Langford was dating Sam Vantine, and Lee Langford was dating Geneva Winton. Mrs. Vantine (Jocie) gave a New Year’s Eve party for the young people of the community. I had not met the Vantines and didn’t intend to go. About 8 o’clock that evening Era knocked on the door, and said, “Get ready! We’re going to a party.” After getting Ed’s okay we went out to the car with Era (assuming that Boyd had brought her) and were quite surprised to find Odis Vantine behind the wheel. Geneva and Era jumped into the back seat, leaving me to ride in front with Odis. I was embarrassed. At the party, everybody paired up. I suspected that Odis was interested in me. When he won a prize, he gave it to me. The prize was a big candy bar — a real treasure back then.
We usually “double-dated” with Geneva and Lee. Odis had the only car – a 1927 Chevrolet. One Saturday we went to the preview in Walters. It rained while we were there. The roads were flooded and we had to drive the car through water. The car got stuck a few miles from the house. We tried to push the car out but only managed to get terrible muddy. It was still raining and the lightning and thunder were so bad. We pulled off our shoes and sharing one blanket, the guys walked us home. We tried to be quiet so we wouldn’t wake Mama and Ed. But nobody was home. They had gone to the cellar at the schoolhouse. That night, Odis kissed me for the first time. The next morning, Geneva and I got up early to wash our dresses before Mama and Ed saw them. They had big muddy handprints on the backs of them.
Odis courted me for a year and a half. Our dates were often community activities. Someone was always giving a party. In April 1938 Odis’ car broke down. Carl Langford loaned his car (a 1928 Whippet) to Lee. The car only had a front seat, but there was room in the back for somebody to stand. We were returning from a party at Winnie and Oliver Copelands. Odis and I were standing in the back. While riding down the road out in the country, Odis proposed to me.
When I asked Ed if I could get married, he said, “You can wait until you’re 50 and still get married.” I retorted, “Did you?” Geneva and I had earned money by working in the fields shocking wheat. We walked into Walters to buy my wedding dress. I wanted pink but she recommended blue or white. My wedding dress was dark blue silk, midi-length, with short sleeves. On Saturday morning, June 11, 1938 we went to the studio in Temple and had our picture made. After lunch, we drove to Preacher Head’s house and said our vows. Geneva and Lee were our attendants.
Since Odis helped his parents, I moved in with them. Sam and Boyd had teased me, and I was nervous about my wedding night in the household of in-laws. Shortly after arriving at my new home, Jocie took us upstairs. She had prepared a private room for us with a pretty quilt, candles, and everything. She had a friend for life! I loved her dearly. And she loved me. I was the daughter she never had. I was very small, weighing about ninety pounds, and she held me on her lap.
Odis and I moved into our own home (the McCaig place) about six months after our marriage. When I became pregnant, Jocie was thrilled. She just knew the baby was a girl. However, she had uterine cancer and died only two months before March 18, 1939 when I delivered my first born, John Robert, named for his grandfathers. [My grandfather.]
After Jocie died, Mr. Vantine (Quince) moved in with us. In 1928, Quince had had pneumonia. He never recovered. He was weakened with asthma and emphysema and easily developed pneumonia. He “rolled his own” and smoked Bull Durham cigarettes.
Irene and Pat Scott had a baby boy, Levi. He did in infancy. In 1938 they divorced. Irene went home to Mama and Ed who lived in Marlow at that time. In Marlow she met Edgar Cochran. I begged her not to remarry because she couldn’t have babies and she was shortening her life. They married in 1940. After she learned she was pregnant, they lived with Odis and me until the baby was born. The baby girl, Mary Sue, was delivered in our home by Dr. Jones. She was sickly and wouldn’t nurse. I worked with the baby for three days, feeding her with a dropper, but she just couldn’t swallow. I think she probably had a cleft palate. I dressed her after she died. She is buried in Randlett cemetery. Later Edgar went to work in San Diego, California. Irene followed him. In September 1943 she gave birth to Steven Robert. When Steve was three months old, Irene became ill. In the hospital, they withheld water from her. She drank from the flower vases. She was on bedrest; a nurse surprised her in the bathroom; Irene fell and died later that night on December 27, 1943. Edgar brought her body back to Oklahoma by train. She is buried in Walters cemetery.
Emma Ruth had gone to work in California after the war started. She tended Steve during this time. When Steve was four months old Emma Ruth came by train to deliver the baby to Mama in Walters, Oklahoma. However, in route, he contracted chicken pox, and she left him in Marlow with Edgar’s parents. One week later, she returned for him but they wouldn’t let her have him. Later she returned to California, and has not returned to Oklahoma. We tried to see Steve at different times through the years but were denied. When Steve was 18 he came to us. He learned of us through mutual friends. I told him about his mother. I also mentioned Emma Ruth’s kindness to him. He joined the Navy and while stationed in San Diego, found Emma Ruth.
In 1944, Ed went to Tulare County, California and started a job with the government. He later “sent for” his family. There were seven who rode the train: Mama, Emma Ruth, Zol, Elmer, Virginia, Ray and Dewayne. Geneva, J. D., and I were married and remained in Oklahoma.
The year after Jocie’s death, we had moved from the old McCaig place to the Gower place in the West Cache Creek bottom. Boyd, Sam and Odis farmed on halves with Houston Gower. They farmed with four mules, a turning plow, lister, go-devil, cultivator, harrow and two wagons. Sam and Boyd were both married. When the war started, Boyd went over to fight. We continued to farm the land for several years, even though we had to move out of the bottom because of Mr. Vantine’s asthma. These were good years! We milked two cows – a Jersey named Bell and a Brown Swiss called Brownie. Brownie gave eight to ten gallons of milk a day. Of course we fed them well — ground corn, cottonseed meal, cake and hay. Every year we bought three or four hogs to feed out for butchering. We bought fifty to a hundred baby chicks each spring. We killed the young roosters to eat but kept the pullets for layers. We had a vegetable garden, but I didn’t “can” back then because I was usually pregnant and had the small children to care for. We picked up pecans, hunted squirrels and fished on the creek. The creek overflowed often. We were between two branches of the creek. When it flooded we had to leave in a high wagon with the kids and clothing. Sometimes we had to stand up in the wagon and hold the kids out of the water. We turned the mules loose, and they always went back to Houston Gower’s. While we were there we never lost our cotton crop due to flooding.
Odis worked at the refinery at Duncan. After helping me milk the cows, separate the milk, and “slop” the hogs, Odis walked into Temple every morning to catch a ride to the refinery. One day fog was so bad he carried a lantern across a plowed field with watered terraces. He got lost. He blew out the lantern, and finally found the railroad tracks. Though he didn’t know which direction to take, he realized he had chosen correctly when he walked into Temple. He was in time to catch the big truck that hauled the men to Duncan every day.
It was late fall when we butchered hogs. The night was getting late and we were exhausted. We decided to put the hams on top of the house to keep the animals from them. I handed one of them up to Odis. Something started slapping me in the face. It was dark and it took me a while to figure it out. It was a tail left on the ham! We got so tickled we could barely lift the rest of the hams.
We were milking. Every time Odis put out feed, the dame ornery old cow stuck her head into the trough. Odis picked up a two-by-four. The next time the old cow put her head in, he was ready for her. However, the cow moved and a chicken flew in. Odis’ reflex was so good, he splat the chicken!
While on the Gower place Myrtle Jociephine (named for her grandmothers) and Cora Lee (Mr. Vantine named her for an old girlfriend) were born at home, June 23, 1940 and August 27, 1941, respectively. I didn’t even have a doctor present with Cora’s birth.
One day I was doing the wash. While hanging out the clothes, I overheard a very pleased John say, “Dinah, you look just like a little nigger.” They had crawled through the trap door of the chicken house, and John had dipped Myrtle in a five-gallon bucket of a creosote mixture we had used to doctor the chicken roosts. I ran to the house with her and quickly bathed her in one of my wash tubs. She never did blister!
Odis Eugene (Emma Ruth named him for Odis) was born February 26, 1943. My babies were usually big, but he was my biggest! He weighed over thirteen pounds. Gene was born at home and the doctor wouldn’t put his true weight on the birth certificate.
When I was pregnant with Jim, I lad down with Gene who was a baby to take a nap. Later I went to check on the older kids. I was quite startled to see our placid old cow coming from the barn. She was harnessed with three small “cowboys” on her back — John, 5; Myrtle, 4; and Cora, 3. The cow was headed for the stock pond. If she went into the water, the would drown. I was a “sight for sore eyes” running with my big belly. But I caught the cow. The kids were just thrilled!
James Louis (named for Ed Sims) was born in Walters Hospital on February 8, 1945. He was a colicky baby. At three months of age, Jim developed pneumonia. We finally put him on cows milk. Throughout his childhood, he went to sleep anywhere – usually after crawling under something. Many times we had to search for him. We would find him asleep under a tree in the yard, or wrapped in a quilt under the porch. One time he pulled a blanket off the clothesline, crawled under it and went to sleep.
We took care of Mr. Vantine (Quince) for six years. He was a man of small stature and few words. Myrtle loved to help wait on him. She became the “apple of his eye”. I nursed him to the end. He told me, “Ruby, I will probably die when we are alone but don’t be afraid of me.” He died before dawn one morning in May 1945. When the funeral home employees were carrying him out, Mr. Vantine’s arm fell off his chest. When I reached over to put it back under the cover, the funeral director said, “Oh, Honey. You don’t have to do that.” I responded, “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve touched him and bathed him for years.” Boyd was on a ship returning home from the war and couldn’t be reached.
On Saturday, March 9, 1946 I knew the time was near for me to deliver my sixth child. Odis did the laundry and I helped him hang it out. My back hurt all day. We got supper “out of the way” and Odis went to get Dr. Hostage. The doctor immediately turned the baby and Mary Ellen (Odis named her for school teacher’s young daughter) was born. Two hours later, our weekend guests arrived – Uncle Joe [Vantine], Elsie, Bill and Allene.
In October 1947, I was in Walters Hospital with complications of pregnancy. We were living across the road from Elmer and Mildred Caulkins. When Odis visited me I noticed that his hair and eyebrows had been singed. He explained to me that our home had burned. Though we lost everything, the children were okay. He had gone back into the burning house to find Jim who had a very strange sleeping habits. A healthy baby girl, Ruby Ann (Mildred named her for me), arrive three weeks later on October 22. [It has been said that many old family photographs were lost in this fire.]
On Jim’s fourth birthday, I made him a cake. He wanted to lick the frosting bowl. I pulled him to me and whispered, “If you’ll be good, I’ll get you a baby brother or sister tonight. It’s our secret so don’t tell anybody”. The next morning while feeding the children their breakfast, Odis announced the arrival of the new baby brother, Ronnie. Jim said, “Me know it! That was me Mommy’s secret!” My last child, Ronald Leon (nurse name him; the kids wanted to name him Homer Lee but I nixed that!) was born at Walters Hospital on February 9, 1949.
As in most large households, we had our share of childhood diseases… the worst being whooping cough… all at the same time. Another bad time was when living at Beaver Creek Station everybody caught the flu and Odis developed pneumonia.
There were also accidents… three-year-old John’s broken leg, six-year-old Ruby Ann’s lost finger, seven-year-old Mary’s broken arm and severed foot.
Throughout these early years of our marriage we worked very hard. During the winter Odis got out of bed every morning and built the wood fire. While I cooked breakfast, he put the kids’ shoes on them and kept them entertained. We shared the chores. After he went to work, I bathed the children, starting with the baby first, and then worked my way up to the oldest child.
The best Christmas I remember was in 1949. We had recently moved to the Ernest Hoodenpyle place. Ern had asked us to move there to help keep the small rural school which his wife Ruth taught. Odis worked for Ern, farmed the Edgar Davis place, and also did construction work in Lawton. We had planned to drive to Randlett to have Christmas dinner with our lifetime friends, Sam and Ida Spinks. However, right outside of Walters, we met them. They had come to have dinner with us. Ida brought homemade pies in a large suitcase! Their teenage children, James, Don and Bernice were with them. We played basketball all afternoon. We agreed that it was a great Christmas.
In January 1951 we moved from Cotton County to the Leticia community in Comanche County. Our children attended Fairview, a small rural school. Later they attended Central High School. We lived there for eight years. In August 1958 we moved to Sterling where our six younger children graduated from high school.
Another highlight in my life was when I became a grandmother for the first time at the age of thirty-eight. I now have twenty-four grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.
My mother had black curly hair. She liked to look nice and always wore hosiery and pumps. She had diabetes in her later years. She died on November 14, 1962 in Lindsay, Tulare County, California. Geneva and I took our first airplane trip to her funeral. I was claustrophobic and wanted the stewardess to open the window so I could get some more air. Needless to say, she wouldn’t. I passed out and they couldn’t bring me to. The pilot called ahead for emergency medical personnel to be on standby. Dock and Clara were waiting to pick us up at Bakersfield. There was an ambulance backed up to the plane. When it was announced that there would be a short delay for an emergency, Dock said, “It’s Ruby!” Geneva brought me back on the bus.
Geneva died following surgery in May 1980.
[Her story ends here. It is possible there is more to this story that my Aunt Mary has.]
Granny passed away in Lawton, Oklahoma on February 26, 2002. That day she told her doctor, “I’m so tired. I’m just so tired.”
I love you, Granny.