Memories of My Dad – Walter James “Jim” Stephenson
By His Daughter Carolyn Louise Stephenson
April 7, 2017
Daddy was born January 18, 1918 at home in McAdoo, Texas, Dickens County. The earliest I can remember at this time is living in McAdoo in a house that Daddy built with the help of a family friend, Raymond Brown. I went to school at the McAdoo school which was just down the road from where we lived. I was terrible in math. Daddy would have me at the chalk board at home writing my numbers. He did the same thing with Jenk and Linda. He would give me a long list of numbers to add. That’s where I learned the word “naught” which is the same as the number zero. Daddy was very good in Math. He could add a lot of numbers in his head and would have the answer before I could add them all up and I’m the one with the chalk. Daddy always had us do our school work before we went out to play and Mom always insisted that we change our clothes and get our homework done.
Daddy always worked hard to provide for us. He would go to bed early, sometimes at 7:30 p.m., but mostly by 8:00 p.m. He would get up early, and I mean early, sometimes I would hear him in the kitchen cooking breakfast at 4.oclock on a Saturday morning. When breakfast was ready, he would come in the bedroom and tell us to get up; it was time for breakfast. It was Saturday, one of the few days we could sleep in. Since we had to get up at 6:00 in the morning to catch the bus to go to school, I always looked forward to sleeping in Saturday and Sunday morning. I was not too happy about having to get up so early. Mom always told him that the weekend was the only time we could sleep late. There were times that if we did not get up, he would tell us that if he had to come in again, it would be with a glass of water; that water was not for drinking either. He would stand at the door and throw that water on us. Sometimes he missed and sometimes he didn’t. We were always up before that second glass come around. He believed in getting work done.
We lived on a farm and the cow had to be milked, eggs had to be gathered, but the boys did the outside work. Linda, my sister, and I had to wash the dishes and clean the house. That was not my favorite thing to do; I would rather be outside with the boys and helping them. Daddy always could find something for the boys to do, from digging postholes for building a lot for the barn, or digging holes to set out fruit trees, painting, picking up irrigation pipe at Paducah, or chopping cotton. I remember working in the fields, although I didn’t do as much work as Jenk, and Mom. They were pretty fast chopping weeds down their cotton row. Sometimes I would get behind and either Jenk, or Mom would catch me up. Linda and Tom were chopping right along with the rest of us. Henry and David were too small. They would ride in the planter boxes on the tractor as Daddy plowed. Many times they would just fall asleep. We would be out in the field by sunup, break for lunch about noon and then go back out in the field about 2 or3 in the afternoon and would come in about dark. We were dirt tired. Mom especially, cause she cooked supper for us all after we came home, and of course Dad and the boys would feed the animals before coming in for dinner.
There were days that Daddy would come in from plowing all day covered in dirt. He would come in and take his sunglasses off and he would have an outline of dirt around where his glasses set and around his cap. His face was sunburned from the hot sun barreling down on him. He would wash his face in the wash pan washing all the dirt off. I still have that white wash pan-its in the garage hanging on the wall. (We did not have indoor plumbing. Daddy had to haul it.) He would throw that pan of water out the kitchen door and fill it up again, then he would wash his face again. After that, he would wash his hands and then all the way up to his elbows. He would smell like wet dirt or grease if he had to work on the tractor. That’s a good memory, because I can still remember that smell. He would lay down on the divan to sleep until Mom had food ready. We did not have air conditioners so during the summer days, it was very hot. We would raise the windows and open the front door for a cool breeze to blow through.
Getting back to Daddy, the tractor Daddy drove had no cover to block the sun. Farmers then, drove tractors with no protection from the heat. Today, tractors are built with cabs and air conditioners and some farmers have CB radios and cell phones. Farm life, today, is a lot easier.
Daddy was an honest man. He never cheated anybody out of anything; instead he would take the loss too keep from stirring up any trouble. He always paid his debts; although he was always in debt, but he never skipped out on any. Many times he would help his older sister, Aunt Edna, or his brothers (Uncle Charlie, Uncle Nath) His other brother, Uncle John, lived in California and we only saw him maybe once a year during the summer. His adopted brother, Roland Waldrop, although, never adopted legally, lived in Arkansas and still does. They all looked to Daddy for help like buying a few groceries, load up a trailer of goats and taking them to the auction barn, painting or anything they needed done. Daddy was a welder, farmer, mower and painter (painting houses and mowed while he worked for the city of Lubbock) and he worked at the Cotton Gin in McAdoo, Texas. His favorite snacks were cornbread and milk and popcorn. He also liked drinking buttermilk. Sometimes he would take a notion to make some peanut brittle. He made good peanut brittle.
For entertainment, he loved playing the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, and yodeling. He also enjoyed playing dominoes. He did not allow playing cards in the house. Mom said he associated it with gambling. He loved dancing and danced as much as he could. I danced with him a few times at the Old Settlers, but I was always out of breath. It was hard to keep up with him. Every year on the last weekend of August, we would go to the Old Settlers in Roaring Springs, Texas. It was for three nights (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and Daddy would go all three nights. Uncle Nath provided the music by playing the fiddle along with family members or friends helping him out. He played for the Old Settlers 33 years. I remember many times going with my family and coming back very late at night; Daddy driving, Jenk and Mom in the front seat, and the rest of us in the backseat, all five of us. Riding in the back seat with four other siblings could get crowded, I remember Tom getting up over the back of the back seat and going to sleep. Cars are not made that way anymore.
Daddy smoked cigarettes when he was young; smoked cigars and then as he got older he smoked a pipe. He loved chewing tobacco and was always spitting. One night coming home from the Old Settlers, Daddy forgot the window was rolled up, so he hocked the back of his throat and spat he thought through an open window, but it was closed. I remember what he said “GotDog!” Then he took his handkerchief and wiped it off. Don’t remember him ever doing that again. He always carried a handkerchief in his back pocket. Sometimes coming from the Old Settlers late at night Daddy would not be able to drive because he had a bit more beer than what he could tolerate. Jenk would drive us home even though he was at a young age and before he got his driving license at age 14. Drinking too much beer always made Daddy sick so he did not do that very often. He was not a drinker.
During the summer months sometimes we would make homemade ice cream in our ice cream maker. Mom would make the cream mixture and put it in the cylinder can to go inside the ice cream maker, then ice would be put around the cylinder and we would take turns turning the crank. Ice salt was put around the top of the ice as we turned the crank to make the ice cream get really cold. It would take about thirty to forty five minuets to make ice cream. It sure was cold and yummy. I still have the ice cream maker. It is also in the garage. I never saw Daddy lose his temper. But when he told us to do something, we did it, because he would pull his belt off and come after us; then we knew he meant business. I remember Henry who was about 5 years old and had on his brand new boots and ran right into a puddle of water. Mom yelled at him to get out of that water. Henry just stood there and laughed and thought no one could catch him, but Daddy walked right into that water and picked him up and carried him out of the water. Can’t remember if he got a spanking or not. Jenk was always there to save him from getting a spanking.
I will always have good memories of my Dad. He loved my Mom, even after he left her. Although he married 3 times after divorcing Mom, he always came back. When Mom was in the hospital for the last time, I remember hearing Mom tell Daddy that she loved him. He was standing at the window looking outside wiping his tears away with his handkerchief. He turned around and said “I love you too”. They were married 33 years.