Chaptr Three- The Smackover Connection
Chapter Three -
The Smackover Connection
|Lura, Loys, Charles & Jimmy Bales|
My Grandmother, Lula Bales, lived in Smackover, Arkansas. She
had four houses on one large lot. She and my Uncle Bill (William Otto
Bales) lived in one of the houses and she rented the other three when
she could. My Uncle Bill built all four houses. Bill was primarily a
paper hanger but was also a good carpenter and plumber and did concrete
and brick work as well.
When my Father got on one of his extended drunks he had usually
lost his job by the time he sobered up. He was always penniless and out
of a job before he would even attempt to quit drinking and sober up. He
would somehow find a way to take the family to Smackover and leave us
until he found another job and worked long enough to get enough money to
rent a house and come get us.
The problem with being dumped in Smackover was that my
Grandmother and Uncle Bill were poor and had enough problems taking care
of themselves. Three or four more mouths to feed was a real hardship.
Grandma never complained if Daddy left immediately but Uncle Bill
complained long and hard and let us know he did not like it. He would
get infuriated if my Mother gave me a dime to go to the movie. It was
not a short complaint. It went on for days and days. My Mother would try
to sneak me a dime so Bill would not know but he always found out one
way or another.
Daddy dumped us in Smackover one time and there was just no food
and no extra blankets and we were all hungry. My Mother went to the
relief agency and they told her she should not have come from
Mississippi to Arkansas and to go back to Mississippi and ask for relief
there. We were desperate. My Mother called Washington, D.C. and asked to
speak to Franklin Roosevelt and was told he was not available. She got
insistent and she says she did talk to him personally. Perhaps it was
him or maybe someone in desperation told her he was President Roosevelt.
Regardless, a few hours later a station wagon arrived at my
Grandmother's house and they unloaded canned vegetables, canned beef,
cheese, potatoes and many other grocery items. A little later they came
back with blankets, quilts, sheets and clothing. The man who came said
it was by direct order of President Roosevelt. My Mother adored
President Roosevelt and anyone saying anything bad about old Franklin
got cut down by her real quickly.
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On one particularly bad trip to Smackover Daddy found my
Grandmother had a house vacant and stayed. He decided to open a grocery
store in Smackover. Capehart's Grocery was in the next block and there
was a vacant lot next to it. Daddy talked the owner into building a
grocery store and then rented it and somehow got it stocked - on credit
I am sure. The most used form of advertising was to get flyers printed
and send small boys all over town delivering them. Daddy waited until
Capehart had his flyers printed and then used the same items with lower
prices. Mr. Capehart had new flyers printed with lower prices and so did
Daddy. The next week the same thing happened and the week after that Mr.
Capehart came out with flyers with lower prices and Daddy lowered them
even more. Finally Mr. Capehart had really ridiculous prices and many
more items on the flyer, so Daddy cut his prices to the bone and showed
some items as free. Mr. Capehart did not deliver his flyers and posted
Dad's flyers all over the store and if people tried to buy from him he
told them to go next door and get it free or almost free. That broke
Daddy and he had to close the store. What made it rough for me was that
Sonny Capehart was my best friend in Smackover. However, Mr. and Mrs.
Capehart treated me like their own son and never had an unkind word to
say about Dad.
I had other friends in Smackover. Junior Princehouse lived
across the street. His father was a doctor and he had a jigsaw puzzle
with dinosaurs on it and we put it together so many times we started
putting it together with the plain back side showing to make it a little
harder. They had a storm house in their back yard that was lined with
steel and had food and water stored in it. Everyone else had a storm pit
but they all had dirt floors. I was very impressed by such affluence.
One day a car ran off the bridge over Smackover Creek and Doctor
Princehouse arrived there just as they pulled a woman out of the car.
She was covered with oil as a lot of crude oil was dumped in the creek.
Doctor Princehouse worked on her more than an hour trying to revive her
and finally realized there was no chance. He cleaned her face off and
found it was his daughter he had been working on. I was always impressed
that he did not continue to try and revive her. It indicated to me that
he had given all he had when he thought she was a stranger.
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Smackover. The
people were kind to a ragged-ass little boy who had nothing more than a
burning desire to survive and succeed. I had nothing to give, I was a
taker, and they gave to me love and friendship. Maybe it was because
this was the only town we ever lived in when I was a kid that we lived
on the right side of the tracks, I don't know. I never remember even
having a pair of shoes when we were in Smackover. The streets were
mostly all dirt and in the summer they were powdery soft layers of pure
dust and when an occasional car went by the dust billowed high and took
a long time to settle. When it got that bad they would bring in truck
after truck of crude oil and finally there would be several inches of it
until the car wheels beat it down to an appearance of cheap asphalt. I
would run across that crude oil, blazing hot from the sun, until my bare
feet were coated with it. When I got home my Grandmother either had a
great perception or had been watching for me because when I opened the
door all I saw was a hand come out with a pan of soapy water and a rag.
She would tell me to sit down and scrub till I got every dab of it off
my feet before I came in her house.
Tommy Patterson lived two houses from us and his Dad had an old
nehi bottling plant behind their house. It was no longer in operation
but it was a very tall structure with all kinds of neat places to climb.
We could also pretend we were running a bottling plant. We played in
there hours and hours, day after day. The house between his house and my
Grandmother's was a cottage usually rented out and one time it was
rented to Charles Chapman, a well known bank robber. There was an old
trunk outside and we were playing there one day and opened the trunk. It
was half full of bullets and shotgun shells. Mr. Chapman came out and
told us to get lost and if we told anyone about the trunk he would track
us down and slit our throats.
I was told that they were looking for oil in Arkansas and had
tried many places with no luck. They had been at that particular site
several times but had not tested it. Finally someone did test it and
discovered the largest oil field in the world. Someone remarked they had
looked all over the state and had been smack over it all the time, so
they named it Smackover. I have also heard that this story is not true,
that someone just made it up. Smackover is about 12 miles from Eldorado,
Arkansas and I have met several people around the world who told me they
lived "near Eldorado." I always asked them if they meant in Smackover
and they were always astounded I had heard of it, and yes, that was
where they were from.
Smackover, Arkansas was somehow a sign of defeat for us as we
only went there when there was no other place to go. However, I have
many precious memories of Smackover and the kind people there. I
remember it now as a more pleasant place than it seemed at the time.
To Chapter Four