Swinehood vs. Socrates

I know that I don’t have the writer’s gift that my aunt Linda Ridener Dickson has, nor that of my grandmother Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.  The two of them set a high bar that I can only aspire to.

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Susan Louise Bailey, age 6, and her cow, Blossom

Susan Louise Bailey was born in October of 1919 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  She was the youngest of Charles Council Bailey and Viola Tennison’s ten children.  The farm where she was born and grew up had been in the family since 1840, purchased by Charles’ grandfather Francis Baker Bailey.

(I am convinced, though I have not yet proved, that the family was in Arkansas just prior to statehood.  It appears that some of Francis’ sons claim to have been born in Arkansas with dates of birth that predate statehood, but the census is never a great source.  Another post for another day.)

bailey-docs-0929-p1-v00I think things were often tough on the farm.  Through the Depression, I find lots of cases, especially after Charles died, where the farm was always under a lien for back taxes.  Money appeared to be really tight.  It wasn’t a big place and could never do more than scratch out a living on it.  No one was going to get rich there.

With a rural and difficult childhood, you might be surprised to see Susan not only go to college, but also to get a Masters degree, so that she could grow in her career as a teacher and help take care of her family.

dickson-1493-f-v00-SusanDickson-CommencementGrandmother was a teacher for a number of years in Southside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, teaching Math the whole time.   She was a special teacher to many students, taking time with them and helping them to understand the concepts that often seemed beyond their grasp.  So appreciated was she that she was recognized as Teacher of the Year.

I think she could be a tough teacher, expecting a lot of her students in terms of academics and in terms of behavior.  But she could also be a lot of fun.  She was always willing to go out of her way to support her students, attending football and basketball games and helping out with various activities.

And she could be an enforcer in class.  She would growl at her students.  It was a low, rumbly growl like an aggravated bear.  They knew to behave when they heard her growl!  But if that didn’t work, she kept a bullwhip on her desk!  I don’t think she ever had to use it.  Somehow, I think both of these are pedagogical techniques not commonly used in the classroom today.

But back to the gift for writing.  Dad shared a brief essay that Grandmother wrote for a class at her funeral.  This must have been in a freshman English class, based on the date – January 1938.  The class was English 103a.

In an assignment on Appearance, Mechanics, Style, and Content, the students were asked to address the question of whether you would rather be a live pig or a dead Socrates.  Here is Susan Louise Bailey’s classic answer to that question:

Sue Bailey
English 103a
January 13, 1938
Appearance, Mechanics, Style, Content

Swinehood vs. Socrates

I must confess that to be either a live pig or a dead Socrates would not be very desirable to me; however, being a swine might have some merits.  In a discussion of the subject a short while ago, a person said “at least Socrates is dead.”  This statement cannot be disputed; but, dead though he is, I am sure that Socrates is unable to sleep peacefully because of the beratings of harassed students struggling with his philosophy and teachings.  After an unhappy existence on earth, troubled with a scolding, brawling wife and stupid children, as well as many scornful enemies, to be troubled even in death by the chiding of one’s victims would be absolutely unbearable.

The swine, on the other hand, has few troubles in life and none in death if he has been a well-behaved swine.  He has nothing to do but doze in the warm sunshine.  If the sunshine becomes too warm, he has only to go to the shade to doze.  He does not have to go to school because there is nothing which he needs to learn.  It is unnecessary for him to work because he is provided with food and shelter.  This lucky swine has no diet to be observed religiously because obesity holds no terrors for him; in fact, the more obese he is, the more admiration he receives.  Most people, in considering the choice of a pig’s life, raise their hands in holy horror at the thought of the food given to swine.  Of course, such food is very repulsive to human beings; but we must remember that the swine does not know anything about our mode of living and is, therefore, content with his lot.  Some might object to the fact that the pig will soon be killed for food.  Since this is true, the choice is not between being a live pig or a dead Socrates, but a choice between being a dead pig or a dead Socrates.  After the pig is dead he is appreciated more than while he is alive, because people enjoy eating the pork roast and ham sandwiches into which he is transformed.  Instead of cursing him for having ever lived, people think kindly of him and his spirit rests peacefully.

As I said before, neither idea appeals to me; but if I were forced to make such a choice, I would rather be a live pig who lives in indolent contentment and by his death brings pleasure to human beings.  I hope that, after my death, I will be as kindly remembered as the swine is.

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More on Hudson Wren

wren-0551-f-v00-HudsonWren-ProgressiveFarmerAfter I posted a bit about my grandfather, Hudson Wren, on the 111 anniversary of his birth, my aunt shared with me a brief autobiography and memory that he put together.  It’s interesting to hear about farming in northeast Arkansas in the Depression and during World War II, so I thought I would share it.

This was written out on 3 pages of the yellow legal tablets that Papaw always used.  I have a number of Sunday School lessons written the same way.  I think this may have been written as background when he was selected Man of the Year by Progressive Farmer magazine.

But, here’s a bit about Hudson Wren, in his own words, emphasizing the some of the things he thought were important.

Hudson Wren
Wilson, Arkansas

Born: July 18, 1906
Hill farm in Nevada County, Arkansas (Prescott, County Seat).
Graduated: Prescott High School
College: University of Arkansas – degree in Agriculture
Football – University of Arkansas Razorbacks 1927 & 1928

Upon graduation entered Vocational Agricultural field working with High School boys. First job was the establishment of a new Vocational Agricultural Department at the Portland High School (Ashley County) Southeast Arkansas Delta area. [1930]

Three years later (1932) came to Wilson, Arkansas as Vocational Agricultural Instructor.  Worked closely with the management of Lee Wilson & Company.

In the spring of 1933, the Roosevelt Administration came into into office and implemented a program to plow up each third row of cotton because of oversupply and low prices.  While still in Vocational Agriculture was pressed into temporary duty as inspector for Federal plow-up program.  Traveled Northeast Arkansas where got to view much fine farm land and meet many wonderful people.  This program known as Agricultural Adjustment Act was the forerunner of ASCS.

In 1934 succeeded Stanley D. Carpenter as County Agent of South Mississippi County. At that time the Federal Agricultural Adjustment Program was administered by the County Agricultural Extensions Service.

Shall never forget some of the headaches incident to this early program, especially in 1934 when there was a difficulty in securing the “Bankhead Certificates”, a type of permit necessary for a farmer to have before he could either gin or sell his cotton.  The crop was early (August) and the certificates were late (September).  Farmers were broke and disgruntled because of the unnecessary delays cause by Government red tape.  Such was indeed a critical time for the farmer.  All were greatly in dept, the creditors were pushing them for payment, there was a good cotton crop in the field opening fast, but the Government procedure was obstructing the normal operation procedure.

With the help of an excellent County Committee:  J.F. Thompkins: Burdette; Rufus Branch, Pecan Point; and Clay Ayers, Osceola; South Mississippi County did manage to be the second county in the State to receive their allotment of “Bankhead Certificates” and were able to gin the cotton slightly late, but much ahead of any other group of farmers except Pulaski County.

A little nostalgia:
At the time of the plow-up campaign of 1933 the idea was so novel that farmers could not imagine such action.  Cotton was celling for 4c-5c per pound.  “The bank holiday” of March 1933 was fresh on the minds of everyone.  Banks were going broke, Insurance Companies were being forced to foreclose on mortgages, entrepreneurs were jumping from tweleve story buildings, as this county was in the depths of the greatest depression it had known.

Henry A. Wallace was Secretary of Agriculture and reluctantly he decided to take some remedial action after the Plow-Up was announced and it became evident that it was going to be generally accepted the price of cotton increased from 4c-5c per pound to 5c-6c per pound.  Not much in dollars but that one cent represented a 20% advance.  By 1934, the time of the “Bankhead Certificates”, the price of cotton had increased to a whopping 7c per pound – $35.00 per bale.

In 1935 the USDA began a rather comprehensive action program in this County.  USDA leased 12,000 acres of farm land and moved “Rural Rehabilitation clients” onto this tract in an effort to help see them through the depression.  At about the same time the Federal Government bought 16,000 acres of cutover timber land and started a project of development.  This was the beginning of Dyess, Arkansas having taken its name from W.R. Dyess of Luxora, Arkansas who was the guiding spirit behind this undertaking.

[Little Rock] In the fall of 1935 I joined USDA as State Farm Management Specialist. Later became the Regional Farm Management Specialist.  In 1938 I became Arkansas State Director of Farm Security Administration within USDA.  During the ten years I was with USDA I held the positions of Assistant Regional Director FSA, at Raleigh, N.C., and later Regional (seven southeastern states) Director of War Food Administration at Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1945 I returned to Mississippi County as a practical farm operator.  My position was Unit Manager of 12,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Marie, Arkansas.  This involved taking over a tract of land which had been leased out and allowed to grow up by the former operator.  All equipment had to be purchased at a time of strictest rationing and controls.  This involved bartering, trading, and even dismantling a railroad, trading the steel to a farm implement company for farm tractors with which to farm the land.

In 1951 I became Vice President of Lee Wilson & Company, a diversified agricultural-industry operation in South Mississippi County, with operations in Crittenden County, Arkansas and Elko County, Nevada.  There are sixteen departments or divisions within Lee Wilson & Company, representing a wider diversity of interests.

Civic affairs:

  1. One of the original incorporators of Mississippi County Soil Conservation District and a member of the governinging board since its foundation.  Served as President of the Board two terms, a total of eleven years.
  2. Past Chairman of Rural Development Authority that authorized original survey of Mississippi County, its needs, and helped formulate plans that have served as a basis for water-sewer development in rural areas.
  3. Past member of State Board of Economic Education, State Department of Education
  4. Past President (1972-1973) of Arkansas Soybean Association.  Now serving as Chairman of Research and Extension Committee of Arkansas Soybean Association.
  5. Member of Board of Directors of Bank of Wilson
  6. Member of Board of Directors of Mississippi County E.O.C. Inc.
  7. Church affiliation: Methodist.  Member of the Official Board of the Wilson United Methodist Church.  Two terms as Chairman of the Board.
  8. District Representative of Methodist Children’s Home, Little Rock, Arkansas
  9. Mayor of the Town of Marie, Arkansas

On This Date – 18 July 1906

Today would be Hudson Wren’s one hundred eleventh birthday.

On this date, July 18, in 1906, my grandfather, Henry Hudson Wren, was born in Nevada County, Arkansas.  Everyone always called him Hudson.

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Mildred, Hudson, Norvelle Wren

He was born out in the country near Sutton, Arkansas, the youngest of Sam and Pearl Hudson Wren’s four children.  His three sisters, Mildred, Norvelle, and Marion doted on the baby boy.  He grew up with a love for farming and a love for his family.  Norvelle, Mildred, and Hudson (Papaw) always called each other Brother or Sister and hardly ever called each other by their given names.

As a young boy, Hudson participated in his father’s love for horses and raising prize winners.  Later on, he tried hard to get his grandchildren to share that love of riding.  I think it worked for the granddaughters, both of whom are accomplished riders, but not so much with me and my brother.

Papaw was a very smart and very wise man, but I really don’t think he was much of a student.  I have is report cards from elementary school and I think even some from college and they bewren-0549-f-v00-HudsonWren-Footballar this out.  Based on the number of secret societies and fraternities he was a part of at the University of Arkansas, maybe there were other things on his mind besides schoolwork.  Hudson played football both in high school for the Prescott Curley Wolves and he lettered in 1927, 1928, and 1929 for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  He played the line on both sides of the ball.  These were in the days before really good pads and helmets.  I remember him saying that by halftime, he sometimes really didn’t have a good idea what was going on, he had been hit so many times and was so tired.

After marrying his college sweetheart, Mary Higgs, he and Nannie moved around a bit.  Portland, Arkansas to Little Rock to Raleigh, NC to Atlanta, GA, and finally back to Wilson, Arkansas.  Hudson was working his way up through the Department of Agriculture.  By the time he got to Atlanta, during World War II, he was in charge of the War Foods Administration for the southeastern United States.

Coming back to Wilson, Arkansas, he took a job with Lee Wilson & Co., a huge cotton plantation in northeast Arkansas.  Eventually, he worked his way up to being the Executive Vice President of the firm and was running over 65,000 acres of cotton, along with the rest of the business that made up Lee Wilson & Co.  His work led to his being selected Farmer of the Year by Progressive Farmer magazine in 1976.wren-0551-f-v00-HudsonWren-ProgressiveFarmer

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Bette Carole Wren, Jennie Wren, Hudson Wren

That’s all well and good.  He was very successful and respected in his field, but Hudson was my Papaw, and that’s how I remember him.  I remember he was crazy about his two daughters.

He was crazy about his grandkids.  And all of them were crazy about him.  He taught us that yes means yes and no means no, and not to talk back, and to say “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am.”  And at the same time that he was willing to get down and play with us at our level.  We would walk down the long driveway to the Marie ditch and see what we could see.  When Papaw would come home for lunch, he would honk for us as he crossed the first cattle guard and we would run out to ride the rest of the way in to the house in the car with him.

I remember how much I loved getting up early on Sunday to go to church and get things ready – turn on the heat, make sure the Sunday School room was ready, stuff like that.  He taught Sunday School in the Wilson Methodist Church for years and years and years.  I am so happy to have some his notes from his lessons.  If only I could find copies of the Cokesbury Adult Bible Study quarterlies from the 1970’s so I could know what the notes went to!

Papaw was always trying to show us things about the farm, I think hoping we would take a real interest.  I guess I was just too young to catch as much as I wish I had.  I remember going out to the grove farm where he worked to teach me to recognize different trees.  I can still do a little bit of that. We would drive the farm on Saturday or Sunday afternoons to check on how things were growing and what was going on.  We went into the cotton gin and the other processing plants to see what went on there.  And then we would play “little rabbit”, hide and seek, in the chest-high alfalfa fields.  After riding around, we would often go over to Dyess, Arkansas to visit the Blue Eagle drive-in for an ice cream cone.

Papaw died in 1978 after fighting cancer for a while.  He was really young, only 72, when he died.  Nannie lived another ten years.  And I know that there are so many people who miss them.  I know I do.  Even more, I know there are so many people whose lives were touched by Papaw and Nannie – people who had a tough time that he gave jobs to, people he helped out in different quiet ways – and his children and grandchildren who learned about love and grace and dignity and hard work and humility from a great man.  I remember him not as the executive of a huge farm and successful businessman.  I remember him as my Papaw, sitting at the end of the dining room table after dinner, smiling and talking and just being in the moment.

Wishing for a black plate

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4 Generations – 1967

It’s been way too long since I added to this blog.  I have lots of ideas but little time.  I will try to do better.

This evening, I was walking up 2nd Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street, when I happened on the Buttercup Bake Shop.  Since it was time for a bit of something sweet to finish off dinner, I stopped in.  They had a great selection of cakes and cupcakes.  I was waffling between German Chocolate and Lemon.  I asked and they said that the lemon had a layer of pineapple glaze under the icing, so I went with it.  Sounded good to me.

But, you know how it is with cake.  As good, and soft, and sweet, and lemony as the cake was, there was one thing missing – ice cream.  All cake is improved with ice cream!

When I was little and would go to Wilson, Arkansas to visit my mother’s black-rim-salad-dessert-plateparents, we would have cake for dessert.  When we did, Nannie would always ask if we wanted a “black plate”.  Seemed kind of strange to me.  What difference could the color of the plate make?

Turns out, years and years and years before, it seems that my grandfather’s mother, Pearl Hudson Wren, had two sets of dessert plates.  The everyday plates were great when you were having a piece of cake or a piece of pie.  But, if you needed a little something extra, like ice create with your cake, you needed different equipment.  Grannie had another set of dessert plates that were a little larger and could easily hold both the cake and the ice cream.  And guess what!  They were black!

So, if you wanted a black plate, you wanted cake and ice cream.  Mystery solved and tradition started.  So, even though my Nannie did not have a set of black plates, asking for a black plate still got a nice scoop of ice cream with your cake.  Even still works sometimes at Mom’s house today.

The cake was really good, though.  If you’re on 2nd Ave in Midtown, stop in to the Buttercup Bake Shop.