By Becky Benedict as told by Stevie Hannah Hatcher Oldham
The little red-haired, brown-eyed baby girl was born to a twenty-one year old mother, at home in a small three room house located in Batson Prairie, Texas on September 24th, 1927. The old family doctor had been delivering babies on the Prairie for forty years to the young women in several small towns that dotted the area where the people mostly counted on farms for their livelihood.
The Mother's name was Eddie Willie. She had been named for the old doctor who came to their house and delivered her, as it was common in those days for women to give birth to children at home. Her mother thought it would be a good thing to name her baby after the doctor. (Eddie later changed her name to the more feminine version of Edda W. Johnson). So, Eddie decided to name her newborn baby Stevie after the baby’s daddy, Stephen William Hatcher. It was a good day for the couple and, it seemed, a very special day for Eddie. Eddie was a charming young woman who had already been married and had two small daughters when she and Steve married. Now she had a baby with this man she loved so much and she thought he would love her even more because of this child, who now carried his name.
This man, Eddie's husband,Steve, was older than her and had lived a lifetime before he met Eddie and married her. Steve had already been married three times; he had a way with women that they couldn’t resist and he never turned down the open arms of a pretty woman. Then he fell in love with the beautiful Eddie Willie and never looked at another woman after that.
She could have never been called "beanpole" for a nickname, but she had a fine figure with nice curves just in the right places. She was very neat in her dresses and hose and always wore a little make up on her face. That came first thing every morning so she would be ready to face the day. Eddie had a nice smooth voice that was pleasant to the ear, too. She used words that complimented her dignified manner - four letter words were not part of her vocabulary! Even her walk was one of regal manner, holding her chin up and her back straight. She would tilt her head, looking at Steve through her eyelashes, and give him a sweet, flirty smile that promised him more. He loved it and her.
Life had not been an easy one for Eddie but she had the spirit to face each day with a smile and determined to be the best she could be. But this was a happy time in her life! She had a husband who worked faithfully and who loved to come home in the evening and spend time with the family he loved. For a time she lived in a life of the blessed. But it was only to be so for a few short years for her and Steve and the three little girls.
As time went on the little red headed girl grew into a crawling baby. She would meet her daddy at the door when he came in from work. Eddie kept her hair in curly ringlets down her back and when it was time for Steve to come home in the evening she made sure Stevie had on her prettiest little dress and was ready to greet Steve with a big hug. Eddie felt like having the baby with the red hair would seal their marriage even more than before.
The child’s father was not a farmer but was a day laborer at a sawmill where he ran the saw. He stood in front of the lever that controlled the carriage that held the big long log while it was being cut into thin one inch boards. That carriage carried a man who controlled the turning of the log. Every time the sawyer pulled the lever and made a cut the man on the carriage would flip the log with a tool called a “cant hook.” Being the sawyer made Steve the head man on the team that cut the beautiful logs that were brought in by the many loggers who went to the woods every day to gather the huge pines and hard oak trees. The carriage would go back and forth for hours at a time. Back and forth, back and forth. One could hear the musical rhythm almost like music playing a magical tune. Back and forth, back and forth.
Going forward the big round saw would cut into the log and make an inch board and when it was cut through the length of the log it fell onto the roller that rolled it down away from the saw and then was stacked onto a pile of fresh cut boards to be loaded onto trucks and then sold to lumber buyers.
He was the father of the little red-haired baby girl born to the lovely woman back at the house on the prairie. Oh, how he loved the lovely young woman who gave birth to his little red-haired baby girl! The baby’s father was 44 years old when she was born. Eddie was 22. So, life went on for three years of joy for the little red-haired, brown eyed little girl named Stevie Hannah. She was the princess.
Two months before Stevie turned four years old, Steve and Eddie took the three little girls, Freda, Lula and Stevie to see a “medicine show.” It was very dark on that special night but lights were hung around on the trees to light up the area around a trailer made with a stage on the side of it for the show. The family’s car, along with others’, was parked close to the stage and a crowd of people were sitting all around on the hoods of the cars and on quilts they had spread on the ground. Afterward, Stevie didn’t remember the show itself but what she did remember was the people coming out among the crowd to sell small bags of roasted peanuts and bottles of medicine. “How exciting to be here!” Stevie thought.
But the excitement didn't end at the conclusion of the show. That night after the family had settled in at home a little baby boy was born to the Hatcher family. The family, with their three little girls and precious newborn baby boy might have lived happily forever in that area of Batson Prairie where they enjoyed a simple, uncomplicated life, but it was not to be so; instead, their lives were forever changed. When the old doctor came that night to help Eddie with the birth of her little boy he must have been shocked to see that the baby had feet that were twisted backward into what people called club feet. Both of his feet were twisted completely around and his toes faced where normally the heels were! It must have been difficult to have to tell the young mother her baby would never walk. How heartbroken Eddie and Steve were on this occasion which should have been a time of great joy!
The days and years ahead would be a paradox of difficulty, excitement and extreme complexity for the little red headed girl and her family, but it wasn’t only the birth of this little baby boy that would make it so; he just happened to be born in 1930, the year the world exploded into chaos and turmoil.
On October 29, 1929, the trauma was felt throughout the nation and around the world when the New York Stock Exchange experienced the worst financial panic the country had ever seen. Almost overnight, it seemed, millions of jobs had been lost because of business shut downs in the shadows of the crash on Wall Street. Men, who had been known as rich, began to commit suicide in their despair. There were few pay checks to provide food for families and men were walking the streets hunting for work. Small towns felt it the worst, if there was one place worse than the other. By 1930 men were leaving home for larger towns looking for work; they were riding freight trains because there was no money for bus fare. There were no Federal assistance programs. There was no Social Security to assist the elderly. The county governments responded by giving out small rations of cornmeal and powdered milk. People were to learn to live on food made from the cornmeal – cornmeal patties and cornmeal gravy for breakfast, dinner and supper.
And the little baby boy, Buddy, was born into this troubled time. Eddie and Steve had never heard of a child being born like this one, but it was a truth they had to learn to accept. World affairs took a back seat to the heart ache going on right in their own home. The fact that there were no jobs and food was scarce was not so important to them now - Eddie and Steve had come to realize that their little boy would never run and play like other little boys.
This was how the beginning of the story of my life was told to me, the little red haired, brown eyed girl. My first hand account of life from here on out continues now from my own memories.
The #GreatDepression was upon us. Life for the next ten years was to bring desolation and despair to millions of Americans and people the world over. But our life would be piloted by basic needs: help for my little brother, food for the table, shelter over our heads.
My Daddy loved to keep up with the local politics and the national and international news as much as possible, but it was difficult; even the price of a newspaper was hard to come by. The little news that was heard through the local grapevine and by bits and pieces from radio or other resources, was not good. He and the other men of the community would sit for hours talking about the world events as they knew them at the time, but to me, the little red haired girl, and the rest of my family the world was still a small one; I felt safe and secure, with a close knit family and a good mother and daddy. Mother was always at home and Daddy was always around to make us feel secure (there was never a job for him to go off to in those early years.) Although life seemed so simple then, looking back, I remember it was not without lots of interesting and exciting times!.
Mother and Daddy openly showed how much they loved each other. My mother would kiss my daddy and I’d wonder how she could kiss him and not get snuff in her mouth. My daddy dipped Garret snuff but mother didn’t dip snuff, although it wasn’t uncommon for women to dip. My daddy’s sisters, Aunt Amey, Aunt Emma, Aunt Molly and Aunt Hannah all dipped snuff but I never knew this until I was a teen age girl. They all were very clean with their dipping. They wore long sleeved dresses and kept a handkerchief tucked in the cuff of their sleeve to keep their mouth clean and free from signs of the snuff in their mouths.
The first time I actually remember dipping snuff was at age four. Since my daddy dipped snuff, I decided I’d dip a little snuff too. On that day mother had taken Buddy to a doctor in Houston and left the rest of us children with Daddy. My sister, Lula, was going to do this with me, since we were best friends and we wouldn’t tell on each other, but we couldn’t let Freda know because she would have told on us and we’d have been in trouble with Mother. So we sneaked daddy’s snuff box and went to our outside toilet and sat on the double toilet seat and started dipping it. We dipped a spoon into the box of snuff, pulled out our bottom lip and put a spoon full of the snuff in the hole inside our bottom lip. We would run our tongue around the snuff and make spit to spit out between our front teeth. We watched Daddy through the cracks in the toilet walls as he worked on a small trailer he was building. If he had started to the toilet we would have spit out the snuff into the toilet hole and got it out of our mouths. But that didn’t happen, so we had great fun dipping the forbidden snuff! It was very addictive and we liked it. Now, thinking back, I don’t think Daddy really cared if we dipped but he hated to see a woman smoke cigarettes. I remember him talking about how awful it was to see a mother nursing her baby and smoking and dropping the ashes on her little baby.
After the first shock of seeing Buddy’s crippled feet Mother and Daddy just accepted the fact but their hearts were broken. Buddy was such a smart little baby and was a pretty child who liked people and the world around him. News about him spread far and wide among the community.
One day a man named Mr. Carnes came to our house to talk to Mother and Daddy about Buddy. He told them that he knew a hospital in Galveston that could help children who were born with feet like Buddy’s. Mother and Daddy didn’t have a car so Mr. Carnes offered to take Mother and Buddy to the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston to see if they would try to help Buddy. Of course, Mother was thrilled but Daddy was scared. Daddy was afraid of doctors because he had a baby girl who had died while a doctor was attending her during a sick spell. That child was from his first marriage. She was named Mable and also had red hair. Daddy never got over loosing that little girl. He lived with a fear of doctors the rest of his life and it was with him all the years that Buddy was in the care of doctors for his feet.
A date was set and Mr. Carnes came and took Mother and Buddy to Galveston. When they got there they found the hospital to be just one big red brick building close to the beach. They took Buddy into the hospital with hopeful hearts but were told by the hospital staff they didn’t have room for another child. What a sad day that was for all of us.
A few days later Mr. Carnes came back to our house and told Mother and Daddy about a hospital in Houston called the Herman Hospital. It was a hospital, funded by the Shriners, which provided free medical care and treatment for crippled children. So, a day was planned for him to take Mother and Buddy to Houston. The people at this hospital gave Mother hope for her little eighteen month old baby boy who could not walk. What joyous news that was for our family and our friends! The doctors put Buddy’s feet into huge plaster casts that went to his knees. The casts added many pounds of weight to an already heavy little boy and Mother and Daddy had to adjust to this, since his condition meant that he had to be carried in order to move around. It would have been easier if Buddy could have gotten the treatment when he was younger - at his age it was hard to force the bones to change their growth pattern. When they would go in to Houston for a treatment the doctors would take off the old casts, force his feet to unbend a little bit, and recast his feet and legs. The process was very slow, but it would eventually make his bones grow correctly so that his toes would point forward. It was also very painful for Buddy and I remember Mother walking him back and forth to comfort him. He was a big child but Mother was a strong willed woman -she had to be in order to have the strength to carry out what was necessary in those years, but I never heard her complain. She must have been just so glad to do what was needed to help him get well.
Mr. Carnes had continued taking Mother to the first few treatments for Buddy but eventually she had to start getting other people to take them to the hospital in Houston. Mother and Buddy had lots of new experiences going to Houston and back that we other children were not a part of because we had to stay home with Daddy. We lived simple country lives out on the prairie and hardly ever even went to the store, but I was learning new things too!I learned to dress myself and put on my own socks and tie my shoe laces by myself because Mother was busy with my baby brother. Meanwhile, Buddy was having exciting times on these trips with Mother and whomever she could get to take them to Houston; he could name off every car driving down the highway, he was meeting lots of new people (including many doctors and nurses) and eating food away from home!
For Mother and Daddy this was a time of great stress. Just having money for gas was a huge challenge in those days of the #GreatDepression, but for a year Mother was able to get friends and neighbors to take her and Buddy to Houston for his treatments. On one occasion, Buddy had to be hospitalized to continue his treatment and Mother had to return home to take care of the family; then she had to find transportation to return to the hospital a few days later to bring him back home. Eventually, Mother and Daddy decided it would be better for our family to move to Houston. That decision would bring brand new ways of life for the Hatcher family and this move would change our lives forever. Together, providing for their family as best they could, Mother and Daddy would live out the next ten years of the #GreatDepression but it took a mighty toll on them both and formed forever the lives of five little children.
I have fond memories of my daddy from a young age. Somehow he’d gotten a finger cut off of one of his hands and I was so used to it that I never wondered why and never asked, but he could still play a fiddle and loved good music! Unfortunately, he didn’t own a fiddle so when he wanted to see me dance or I wanted to dance he would clap his hands in rhythm and I’d dance like a whole band was playing. He clapped his hands from side to side instead of straight together as others would do and I loved to dance to the rhythm of his hands.
He had worked in the oilfields of East Texas in his young years and then as the sawyer at the mill when he was older. But, at almost fifty years old, there were no jobs available for him, so my daddy started doing anything he could to earn a little money. One of the things he would do is cut up car bodies with a double bit axe into small pieces of iron that he could haul in our car and take to the junk yard and sell. I remember playing around when he was cutting up a car and looking under the seats and cracks for a penny. One day I found a thin dime in a crack of the floorboard of an old car and thought I was rich. That was the only money I ever found but I was thrilled! I don’t remember what we did with the dime. Some of the other children also found money from time to time, but not much. We found just enough to keep us looking.
My daddy had a plan to create a home on wheels for his family to live in with a few tools that he had on hand. He had a manual hand saw and a hammer with nails and probably a crow bar to pry with. Maybe he had a level and maybe not. And with these tools he began building on an axle that had two wheels and we watched him work willingly to do what he had to do. He was a calm and good natured man who never gave up on a job. He worked around us kids and we never seemed to be in his way. The few days’ work Daddy could find helped with money to buy lumber and material for the project. He was also able to buy a car to be used to pull our home on wheels to the exciting city of Houston, Texas.
I remember watching him build that trailer board by board. He used one by fours to make the frame. He covered the frame with large sheets of asbestos siding to make it weather proof and keep out the rain and dew at night. The trailer was about twelve feet long . It was just wide enough for a mattress to fit on the frame he built in one end of the trailer; this was where he and mother would sleep. He built the bed frame high enough that he could put a mattress on the floor underneath it and that is where we girls were to sleep. Buddy was to sleep with mother and daddy on the top bed. Daddy made a table and hung it on hinges so the one leg held it out ward when we were using it and when we were finished with our meal mother would pick it up and hook it up against the wall to give us more room in the trailer.
My mother had met people on her trips into Houston who told her how they would go from house to house selling different kinds of household needs to housewives at home. She had it in her mind to do the same thing once we were in Houston.
Finally, the day came when daddy finished our new home and we were ready to move to Houston where an influx of people were coming in every day from the small hurting towns around Houston. Freda was nine and the oldest so she was expected to be the example for the younger girls - that was a big order for one so young! Lula was eight and had a servant nature and she was grateful for everything. I was the little red-haired girl at five and I was of a feisty nature and in to learning about everything. I had a nature that led me to believe “I can do it by myself” and I always tried to. Buddy was the boy who was well loved and spoiled and smart. The many trips he had made into Houston had given him more exposure to life than we girls ever had - so he was already used to the travels and trips and seeing new people and places. Mother was twenty eight and daddy was almost fifty and our whole way of life was just fixing to be turned upside down and sideways!
What great adventures awaited us! Our mother would not have to make any more hard trips to Houston and back, dependent on others for transportation and she would not have to leave Buddy in the hospital again, because we would be living in that great big city all the time! Mother and daddy loaded our clothes into the trailer. They put our mattresses in place and loaded what food we had and we were ready to go! Daddy backed his car up to the trailer and hooked it on to the trailer hitch. Freda and Lula sat in the back seat of the car. I stood behind the front seat and could hold on to the back of the seat where mother and daddy were sitting. We left Batson Prairie behind and never looked back! As we traveled on the highway toward Houston, Mother was holding Buddy in her lap and, as I stood behind the front seat, I was watching the trees fly past our car and I saw cars coming toward us that were moving very, very fast! I felt a thrill in my stomach that was going to last a long time. What a happy day and a scary day in the life of one so young.