Dad worked at all of his jobs for a while before we finally found a cheap house to live in. It was a small, run down house out in the country. The owner agreed to let us rent it for free if Dad would fix it up. It needed a lot of work, but Dad said he’d do it. When I say a lot of work, I mean a LOT of work. This house was in bad shape, and I really can’t describe with words how rough it was. Mom never liked that house, and I was embarrassed for other kids to see how rundown it was.
All of my friends on the bus called that house the “pig house.” Across the road there was a big pig farm, and when the wind was blowing to the east it would really stink. The house had a lot of junk around it, the roof leaked, and the porch was falling in. The outside was covered with fake brick asbestos sheeting and chunks of it were falling off. It had a small kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom downstairs.
There was one big room upstairs that all of us kids shared. We all slept in an old, brass double bed which was not fun. Getting rest in that bed was hard. You might wake up wet if you were sleeping by Courts, and you might get kicked if you were next to Lottie. It was cold in the winter, hot in the summer and wet when it rained. The girls caught head lice when we lived there so Courts and I had to sleep on the floor for a while.
The bathroom had no door and it was off to the right as you went up the stairs. For privacy, Mom put up a curtain around the toilet. The bathroom had a small space heater to keep us warm when we got out of the shower in the winter. Mom and Dad’s bedroom also had no door because we had to walk through it to get to the bathroom and the stairs. Their room was packed with boxes the whole time we lived there because we didn’t have room for all of our things. Around all of the windows and under the doors there were gaps that allowed cold breezes to come through. Mom tried to fill all of the gaps with rags or rugs to help keep us warm.
Because we were so embarrassed about the house, Lottie and I never invited anyone over. We hated getting off of the bus in front of it, so we would get off about a half-mile away and walk the rest of the distance home so the kids couldn’t see where we lived. Sometimes kids made fun of us for living in the pig house but, in spite of everything, there were a few good things about living there.
This house had a small pond out back, and there were creeks all around that I could play in. I was always down at the creek, out in the woods, or hunting with my BB gun. Me, Lottie, Ruth and Courts would all play house and make forts in the woods. We really enjoyed building forts. Once, I caught over twenty salamanders in the pond. We went ice-skating on the pond in the winter and had a ball playing there in any weather. After living in the desert, I loved the creeks and woods of Missouri. The pig house had plenty of both.
Jetton Family Christmas Tradition
We had a very special way of celebrating Christmas at our house. On Christmas morning, we kids would wake up ready to tear into our presents. Dad, however, would always take his time getting up, and he would tell us that we had to get dressed before we could go downstairs and open our gifts. Once we were all around the tree, I would hand out all of the presents so that each person had their gifts sitting in front of them.
Dad would then open the Bible and read the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus. After that, we would have prayer time, during which we each thanked God for Jesus and for our gifts. Then Dad would close with his own prayer. We opened all of our gifts, one at a time, starting with the youngest.
Dad maintained his way of doing things on Christmas morning until he got older and started letting the grandkids read the Bible story when they were old enough. It’s a good way to keep the focus on the meaning of Christmas. We always wanted to get to the gifts, but we never forgot what Christmas was all about. We did something like this at Thanksgiving as well. Before dinner, we would all hold hands and pray about all of the things we were thankful for that year.
The Big Snowstorm
In March 1979, we had a big snowstorm and ended up with two feet. Uncle John and Aunt Karen were visiting us, and they got snowed in. Our road was closed for almost two weeks. Dad and Uncle John took me for a walk in that snow. I tried to step where they stepped, but I couldn’t keep up because it was so deep. I got really tired on that walk.
The state called the National Guard out to help clear the roads after the storm because people were trapped in their houses. Mom had a lot of canned goods in the basement, and we did some rabbit hunting, so we were doing just fine despite the fact that our road was closed for such a long time. Mom also made snow ice cream a lot. I still love to make snow ice cream when it snows. She took lots of new white snow, Milnot evaporated milk, vanilla and sugar. The snow made it like ice cream and the other ingredients made it taste great. There is still nothing better than a big bowl of fresh snow ice cream.
Working hard at his three jobs kept Dad tired all the time. He would get home late and leave early but I never really understood how hard he was working then. On his birthday, I got him a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and wrapped it with newspaper. I then put it in a huge box to throw him off. I also put a heavy brick in there. He seemed to like it. That’s the year Grandma Jetton gave us each a stuffed teddy bear for Christmas.
Blaming Things on Courts
Once, I was looking for a shirt and went digging through all of the dirty clothes until I found it. I left the scattered clothes all over the bathroom floor. Dad saw the mess and got mad because he’d told us many times to pick up our clothes. He asked who did it. I lied and said I didn’t and everyone else said the same thing. That’s when Dad said, “I guess the phantom did it.” He would always bring up the “phantom” when nobody took responsibility for doing something.
Dad sat us down on the couch and said none of us were going to get dinner until somebody fessed up and told the truth. While he and Mom were eating, we somehow convinced Courts that he had done it and needed to confess. Dad, as usual, told Courts that he was mad about the clothes but even madder about him lying, so Courts got a spanking. I didn’t get in trouble and we all got to eat, but I felt really bad about it later.
Yelling at Grandma Jetton
Dad used to get really mad sometimes when he was working on things. Once, we were putting up a piece of sheet rock on the bathroom ceiling, which was not an easy job. Mom and I were helping him hold it up, but it wasn’t going good. Grandma Jetton was there and she made a simple suggestion, but Dad got mad. He said, “Mom, do you want to do this yourself?” She responded that she did not and he said, “Well, then just be quiet and let me do it.” I had never heard Dad talk to Grandma like that, but she just stayed calm and let it pass.
After that, I heard him say the same thing to Mom, on occasion, when he was frustrated and she would make a suggestion. Like most of us, when Dad was frustrated and working on something it was often better to just leave him to it. I remember him and Mom getting up on the steep roof one time, hanging onto ropes to keep their balance while they tarred the nail holes. That roof leaked a lot. We had buckets and bowls upstairs under all of the leaks, and when it rained we had to stay up and empty them so they didn’t overflow and get the floors and furniture wet.
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