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
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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.

Sarah Bridges Wren Letter

“I was born in Green County Ga the 19th of April 1813.”

Sarah Bridges, my great-great-great-grandmother, was born 19 April 1813 in Greene County, Georgia.  Her parents were Herod Flourney Wren and Margaret “Peggy” Ware.  When she was fifteen, Sarah married George Washington Wren in Putnam County, Georgia, where she lived until the early 1850s when several branches of the family moved from Georgia to Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Sarah and G.W. Wren had nine children, including my great-great-grandfather, Alonzo Dossey Wren.  Dr. A.D. Wren, born in 1841, married Georgia Frances Vickers shortly after the Civil War in Minden, Webster Parish, Louisiana.  Georgia and A.D. Wren had ten children of their own.  When Georgia and A.D. Wren became grandparents, they were faced with the age-old question of what to call the grandparents.  Sarah Bridges Wren was called “Great” while Georgia Vickers Wren was called “Little Grannie”.

Late in Sarah Bridges’ life, her daughter-in-law asked her to write down a little bit of her life so that the family would have it.  After all, Sarah Bridges Wren had seen a lot of history.  I have that letter in my possession.  It’s at the top of this post.  The following is a transcript of that letter.  As near as I can tell from what the letter talks about, it must have been written in the fall of 1903.  I’m including it just as it’s written.

To Mrs. Georgia Wren

Dear Daughter I send you this little history of my life which I have hastily writen, it is short and meager but I don’t supose that any one would be interested in much that I could tell, although I have seen a good deal of this world.

With love I remain your mother Sarah Wren

I was born in Green County Ga the 19th of April 1813.

Went over into Morgan Co where we lived until I was 6 years old, when I was caried to Putnam Co wher I grew to womanhood.

Was converted and joined the Methodist church in July 1828. was maried the 4th sept the same year to GW Wren of South Carolina. We settled in Ga where we remained until 1850 when we removed to Louisiana in Jan 51 where Mr Wren died in Augt 29th 1884 and were 5 of  our 8 children have died. I was Gloriously sanctified at the Rock Springs camp meeting in  Putnam Co, Ga in 1849 which bless the good Lord I still claim and hold on to t[his] [day] [He] has always been very merciful and good to me and has given me many special answers to prayer.

My blessed Lord has watched over me now for 90 years & 6 months and nere denied me one blessing that was best for me to have. He has given me good friends every where and never permited any serious harm to befall me. I feel that his abiding care has always been with me and in me to bless and comfort me and now in my old age and infirmities he has not forsaken me, but gives me the abiding witness of his Holy Spirit to comfort and sustain me. Glory to his name.

 

Feed Sacks and Embroidery Floss

This past Sunday, I sat behind my friend Kristin Heiden at church. She’s our Associate Minister for Adult Discipleship at Roswell United Methodist Church.  She was wearing her robe and stole to assist in serving Communion and I particularly noticed her stole.  It was a simple, white, coarse cloth, with simple embroidery on it.  She told me that she got it when she was in Jerusalem.

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Front: Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie), Norvelle Wren; Back: Hudson Wren, Mildred Wren Whitten, 1968

But, it reminded me of some other coarse, embroidered cloth that I had seen.  My great-grandmother, Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie to us), and my great-aunt, Mildred Wren Whitten, made tea towels forever.  They lived out in the country, in Nevada County, Arkansas and learned to be thrifty and not waste things.  They would take old feed sacks and bleach and iron them smooth and clean.  Then, they would embroider simple patterns on them.  Rather than doing this by hand, since you need lots of tea towels, they used the old treadle Singer sewing machine.  They would wind embroidery floss around the bobbin instead of the spool and do things upside down, since they wanted the stitching to end up on top of the towel so you could see it.  Just wanted to add a little splash of color and care to something very mundane and ordinary.

I have a bunch of these towels. I don’t use them any more, but I don’t see any reason not to.  Grannie and Mildred certainly didn’t view this as making a keepsake.  But, I like to keep them to remember them and remember being with them.  Grannie was already sick by the time I came along and not able to be up and around much.  But I never saw Mildred without a big smile.  She kept close track of her family and friends, recording births, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, who was sick and who was traveling in her diary.  She ministered and looked after all of her folks.

So, Kristen’s stole reminded me of Mildred and Grannie and their tea towels. And Mildred reminded me of another towel: the one that Jesus used to wash and wipe the Apostle’s feet at the last supper.  That big circle made me realize how appropriate it was for someone who had committed her life to the helping ministries by being ordained a deacon to have a simple, coarse stole, like Jesus’ towel, to signify her role and mission.  Thanks, Kristin for the memory and reminder!

I Wish My Iris Looked Like This

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Hudson Wren and Jennie Wren Johnson looking over the iris at Hudson & Mary Jim Wren’s home, Marie, Mississippi County, Arkansas

I wish my iris were as nice as Nannie’s.  My grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren (everyone but her sisters called her Mary Jim) grew and hybridized iris.  For a couple of weeks every year, all around her yard, there were hundreds and hundreds of them.  You see them in almost every picture of the house.

Nannie had all sorts of varieties.  Mom recently gave me her log book of what she had, where she got it, and when.  Also in the log were the results of her mixing and creating her own hybrid iris.

When Kathleen and I bought our house, I got a bunch of the iris.  I bought a bunch of other fancy varieties, too.  For a few years, they really looked good.  The spring was a burst of color.  But, the rest of the year, there were only a bunch of fronds that got overgrown and scraggly looking.  Then brown spot and borers and bunnies came.  Then travel came.  I never had the green thumb or patience that Nannie had, so my iris never looked, and still don’t look as good.

Iris are basically weeds.  They grow and make tons of babies.  Every four or five years, you have to dig them all up, split them, and plant no more than 1/4 of what you dug up.  Last summer was a digging time.  I actually took out a couple of beds and dug and split a couple of others.  I sent boxes and boxes of rhizomes to my family.  And my yard is still overgrown with iris.

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White Flag of Spring, 2016
But, every year about this time, I watch them carefully.  There are a couple of little patches of iris still in the yard that are special to me.  Nannie always called this little white one the White Flag of Spring.  It’s small, never more than about 14 inches high.  But, without fail, it blooms right a the end of March, or at the latest the first week of April.  And right on schedule, it bloomed this past week.  It always makes me think of Nannie’s house and all her iris.  And then I smile.

Easter in Wilson

I would be remiss if I did not share these pictures of Easter at my grandparents’ house in Wilson, Arkansas.  Little kids can have a great time in an egg hunt.  I think there are some pictures of Marcus from this egg hunt, as well.  I just can’t find them right now.

I think Nannie’s iris had the same problem mine do – rabbits infesting them.  At least Yellow Bunny didn’t eat them all down to the ground like the ones who live at my house do.

Of course, if you have a good egg hunt, everyone needs to get in on the action, kids and grandparents alike.  I think all of those folks on the Wilson Arkansas Facebook page ought to take a look here at Mr. Wren with his Easter basket and Mrs. Wren hiding eggs from a basket made out of a bleach bottle.  They would appreciate the joy for living that they had.  I think that eventually, you get too old for the egg hunt but don’t want to give it up, since that’s the path to all the Easter chocolate!