As told by: LeRoy Sparks Turner
Part I
Introduction:
Aunt LeRoy was born in 1917.  Her biological father, Lee Roy ďBudĒ Gash, was killed in a coal mining accident in 1917, shortly after LeRoyís birth.  Her biological mother died the following year.  LeRoy was adopted by John and Eliza Sparks when she was 11 months old, in the year 1918.   While reading her "rememberings" you will notice she refers to the Gash's as Daddy and Mother and the Sparks' as Momma and Pappa.  It can be a bit confusing unless you know about her adoption.  You may, or may not, find parts of this interview interesting.  LeRoy talks about what life was like in Johnson County when she was a young girl.  Leroy has a wonderful, contagious laugh.  I find it difficult not to tease her a bit.
Enjoy!

Interview with Aunt Leroy
Date:  Sept. 14, 2001
Conducted by:  Rebecca Webb Knox

[If you have ever tried recording a conversation with one or more persons, then you will know how they talk up a storm until they see you push the record button.........]


RK:        The recorder is on.  DONíT TALK!
LR:         What do you want me to tell you?

RK        Tell me the story about when your Daddy (Gash) died in the coal mining accident.  You were how old?
LR         I was three weeks old when he was killed.  {see newspaper article detailing the coal mine accident)

RK        The coal mine was where?
LR         In Spadra.  Then it was Spadry Coal Company.  There are a lot of coal mines there.   And my Dad was ...... well I cannot
              remember the name of the Coal Mine company but I know he worked in the coal mine there in this little camp.  There were a whole
              bunch of little houses there.  Rows of houses that belonged to the coal company.  And after my Dad was killed, the company moved
              my  mother up there in one of those little houses to live.  You know, compensation.

RK        This was before Welfare, right?
LR        Right.  No welfare.  The community took care of each other.  There was no other way.  She had four little kids.  Everett was 9,
             Opal was 6 1/2, Raymond was 3, and I was 3 weeks old.  Raymond said he could remember riding a train, one time, with our mother.
             That is the only thing he could remember about our mother.  He did not know if it was when they came from Bauxite up to
             Clarksville for the funeral or if it  was after the funeral to get her stuff to bring it back to Clarksville.

RK       Where is Bauxite?
LR        It still exists.  It is southeast of Little Rock, AR.
             *note: Bauxite is known for aluminum mining.

RK       That is quite a ways away.
LR        Yea.  My Dad and my uncle had gone down there and bought this land and they were planning on building houses there.  Actually, they
             had just two tents.  They had built  up about 4í high and the tents were the top.  They were trying to get enough money together before
             winter.  I was born in June and I think it was the 7th of July he was killed.

RK       According to the newspaper article I found states the accident happened July 7th, 1917.   Even though I like to say you were born in
             the  year 1817!
LR        No honey, not 1817!  {laugh}    My mother got back up to Spadry (Spadra), after she died all us kids were there and somebody had to
             take care of us.  So my daddyís half brother, John Gene Gash, [pit boss at the same coal mine] had us all at his house.  Well he had
             family and little ones and four more kids at that time was a lot of mouths to feed.

RK       No food stamps to fall back on!
LR       Right.  No food stamps.   So my Pappa, John Sparks, was working in this tipple in the coal mine and he saw my Dad, Delbert and a
            whole bunch of them were in the cage in the coal mine.  One goes up and the other goes down.

RK      Like counter balance?
LR:     Yes.  And they were bringing out a machine.  And when they pushed the machine off the cage at ground level, Delbert and some of the
           rest were there to help get it off, my Dad was on the cage and when the weight of the machine went off the cage the other cage went to
           the bottom and this one went to the top and it threw my Dad off across the slate field.  When they got to him he was dead.  Delbert and
           my Pappa, John Sparks, was in the tipple and saw the accident happen.  In May of 1918 my Mother died (Mrs. Gash), that left four
           orphans.  I was 11 months old.  I do not know why they (John and Eliza Sparks) decided they wanted me.  Maybe it was because they
           knew that Uncle John Gene could not keep all of us and that somebody was going to adopt some of us.  So Momma & Pappa made up
           their minds they wanted me.  I donít know why; Momma & Papaís kids were all grown.  Dice was their youngest child and he was
          16years old.  So why would they take an infant?

RK     Probably because they knew that I was going to come along some day and need an Aunt!  {bright kid huh?}
LR     Oh I bet that is it!

RK     Didnít Eliza, have a baby about the time you were born and it died?
LR     Yes.  She had a baby in December or Nov. of 1916 before I was born in 1917.  It was a several months older than me.

RK    So she would have already had a baby a 1 1/2 year old child any way.
LR    Yes.  Since she had Lillie, Delbert, Charlie and Dice.  Like I said, Dice was 16yrs, Charlie was 18yrs.  I was brought home on Charlieís
         18th birthday, May 18th, 1918.

RK    Charlie died 3mo later in the Spanish Flu epidemic.  So I guess everything worked out the way it was suppose to because there you
          were.
LR    There I was!  I was loved.  I was petted.  But I was not spoiled.

RK    Yeah right!
LR     {laugh}

RK     Didnít you say you once lived in a house that Dice or Delbert lived in the other side.  Something like there was a hallway separating the
          two living areas?
LR    This house we lived in when Momma (Eliza Sparks) died was a great big house.  It had a living room, a hall, and another room.
         The living rooms were 20x20 and across one side were side rooms.  After Momma died Dice and Elsie were living with us and they
         moved in to the one big room and little kitchen room.  Pappa and I lived in the other four rooms.

RK    And you were 13yrs old when she died?
LR    Yes.  13 years old.  She died the 12th of August and I started school in September.  I did the cooking, washed the clothes and I know for
          a fact it rained every Saturday from September to May!  Every Saturday.  That was when I had to do the laundry.

RK    Your dryer does not work on Saturdays when its raining does it?
LR     No.  But in the winter time we had this big pot belly stove that stood real high and set right in the middle of the living room.  I took the
          quilting frame and laid them on 4 chairs and that is how I dried the clothes in the winter time.

RK    No electric dryer either?
LR     No.

RK    Couldnít go down to the laundry mat?
LR     No.  There wasnít such thing as a laundry mat.  {laugh}  Now it is all I can do to go out put the clothes in the washer and turn the knob.

RK    You were gripping about that too werenít cha?
LR     Of course.

RK    When did your Momma, Eliza, die?
LR    1930.

RK    That was at the start of the Great Depression.  Did you know you were depressed?
LR     No.  {giggle}

RK    That was the year before my Ma (Martha Gray) was born.  She was born in 1931.
LR     I was just 13yrs so it was 1930 when my Momma died.  When I start telling that I had to walk all the way from home to Hays Chapel to
          school....

RK    Yes.  Up hill both ways.  Iíve heard that story.  Many times {groan}
LR     What are you trying to say?

RK    I have been to Hays Chapel a lot and I have been looking for that hill.
LR    {tolerates smart niece very well}  Now you know it was not 5 miles but it  was a long way for a little girl.
RK    If it was raining it would seem like you were walking 5 miles.

RK    Was your place over by Skaggs Road? {Skaggs road is off Hwy 64, west of I-40 exit in Clarksville}
LR    Yes.  A red house now sits were our house use to be.  I use to walk down to the old black bridge.  It is not there any more.  They have it all
         fenced off.

RK    I remember the little bridge.  You could cut across and head toward the Spadry.  When it rained a lot you could not get through.  Most of
         the old road was lower than the land around it.
LR   And it was just a dirt road.  When they built the 64 highway through there and paved it we were really in high cotton then!  Pappa had 2 or
         3 teams of mules.  The highway was built with mules.  They didnít have graters and all that stuff with engines in them then like they do
         now.  And when they got so far down from Skaggs, east, they boarded the mules there at our place.  Over by were Murielís house is.  We
         fed them, water them and in the morning the men would come and gather up their mules and go back to work.  When they got past Hays
         Chapel, that was getting a bit far for them to work mules from our place, they moved the mules further up the road.

RK    Poor mules.
LR    Pappa did that when they built the railroad track out the Green Persimmon mine.

RK   Your Pappa was a man of many trades.  Add Mule Sitter to the list.
LR    And Pappa farmed.  We always had cotton.

RK    Did you have to pick cotton?
LR    No.  I did not have to pick cotton.

RK    You were too busy washing clothes.
LR    Going to school and washing clothes.  Cotton picking was about the time school started.

RK    Wasnít that convenient!
LR     {laugh} Oh yes!

RK    My mother said she use to have to pick cotton.  Maybe that was because she did not have to walk to school up hill both ways.
LR     Could have been.

RK    I remember her telling about digging up potatoes and getting chiggers.
LR    You get those from picking black berries too.  Between where I lived if you went across the field about a mile toward Hess & Lillie lived
         there was a creek and along the bank is where the black berries grew.

RK    The creek behind Murielís place on Skaggs Road?
LR     Yes.  Between Lillie and me we would decide to pick black berries and I would meet her there and she would bring Muriel and whatever
          kids that wanted to come along and we would pick black berries.  Wild black berries.  They sure were good.

RK   Skaggs road is named after the people who had the grocery store on the corner.  I do not remember the grocery store ever being open
         for business.   It was shut down when I was a kid.  Now the building is gone and a car lot is there on the corner.
LR    Yes.  The Skaggs family.

RK    Is that where your boyfriend Pretty Boy Floyd showed up? {laugh}
LR     No.  Across from Skaggs was another store.  Eddy Hart was this mans name and he was kind of ďmoniedĒ.  So he had a beautiful home
          built there and a grocery store.  Eddy worked at the coal mine and he hired someone to run the store.  One time we were up there at
          Eddy Harts store and that is when Pretty Boy Floyd came in.  Harts was a real nice store.  Skaggs was just, well, they had a little building
          and then they built on and added more.

RK     A project in development?
LR      Yes. And at Harts is where Pretty Boy Floyd came in.

RK     You saw him?
LR     Yes I saw him.

RK     Was he pretty?  ĎCause the pictures I have seen of him he didnít look none too purdy.
LR      He wasnít all that pretty and I was scared to death.

RK     You knew who he was?
LR     Yes.  We knew who he was.

RK    But you didnít have TV.  Did you recognize his picture from the radio?
LR     Yes {laugh}.  Silly!  The Wanted Posters.  They were all over the place.   Really.  I was honestly scared to death.  I just knew he had come
          in there to rob the place.

RK    What did he do?
LR     Came in there and bought some pop and gasoline.  Back then they put the gas in for you.

RK     WOW!
LR     And he came in while they were servicing his car and bought some pop.

RK     Did he give you a pop or candy?
LR      No, No he didnít.

RK     Bum!  Isnít that amazing how a gangster like that can just walk in to a store and buy something and just go about their business when
           they have a price on their head?
LR      Yes.

RK     And didnít he think someone would do anything?
LR      I guess not.  When he died, I donít remember how many years later, he was finally captured, but when he died they had his services in
          Sallisaw (his home town) and Bud Ross had a big truck with a bed with side boards and he took a whole truck load of people up there to
          Sallisaw to Pretty Boy Floyds funeral.  I didnít get to go. I donít remember the reason.

RK     Why did they want to go all that way?  Just to say they had been there, done that?
LR      I guess so.

RK     Not that they felt a great loss.
LR      No.  But you see he was the guy who was like Robin Hood.  Robbed the rich and gave to the poor.

RK     He did?
LR      Supposedly.

RK     But he didnít give you any candy when you were in the store!
LR      I was over to one side!  But we all knew who he was when he came in.

RK     Who was there with you?
LR      Whoever was running Harts store and several other people.  Calvin Junior Gean was one of the guys because he was the one I went up
           there with.   It was a big deal.  We would walk up there in the evening and get a pop....

RK     How old were you?
LR     Well, probably 16 or so.

RK    And you Pappa let you walk out with some guy with three names?
LR     Yes!

RK     .....to the grocery store to get a pop?  You should have been home washing clothes or doing your homework.
LR       I really do not know who all was in there but I know Calvin Junior and I had gone there to get a pop.

RK     No movie theaters?
LR     No

RK    When did they get a movie theater?
LR     We had a little show that came to Hays chapel school certain nights a week, one or two nights a week.  And they would should 8mm
          films on a sheet on the wall.  It was before they got talkies.  They would have this little thing of what ďsheĒ said and over here would be
          what ďheĒ said.  They were doing that when I was so little I could read one but not both.

RK    Couldnít pick up on what they were both saying?
LR     That was so boring to me.

RK    Confusing!
LR     They probably had the same thing in the Clarksville theater.  They did have a theater downtown.

RK     Didnít that building catch on fire?  Didnít they tear it down recently?
LR      If Iím not mistaken they have rebuilt a power plant or rather their offices there.  But when they got that down in Clarksville, when I got to
           go to THAT show, Pappa would go to town every Saturday to take the milk and eggs that would be our spending money.  The theater
           was 10 cents.  I would get 10 cents to go to the movie while he was trading in the afternoon.  They he would give me another dime for
           pop or candy.
RK    That is about what it is now.  Costs as much for the pop as it does the movie.  Maybe more.

RK     Did you attend your entire school career at Hays Chapel?
LR      No.  I went 8 years out there.

RK     Hays Chapel just went to the 8th grade and then you went to another school?
LR      Yes.

RK     Where?
LR      Clarksville.

RK     My Ma went to Hartman.  She said Clarksville was too big for her.
LR     When I started to go to Clarksville.  I kept thinking the city kids would make fun of us country hicks.  I just knew I did not have clothes fit to
          wear down there and wouldnít know how to act.  I swear I was better dressed than the majority of the Clarksville kids.  I donít mean I was
          the best dressed kid in school.  All the little country schools around there were bussed in to the high school.

RK    THEY HAD BUSSES!?!
LR     YEAH!

RK     What about those mules?
LR     {laugh}  Well they didnít have busses to take me out to Hays Chapel to school thatís for sure.

RK    Couldnít get them to go up hill both ways.  So you got to ride a school bus to school.  Wow!  I didnít even get to do that.
LR     You had to walk?
RK    Yes...I had to walk.

LR     Oh gosh!  Well, I had to walk to Sid Skaggs.
RK     With that guy with three names?
LR     Yeah.  And then I went on to Clarksville high school and graduated.  You wouldnít believe it now.

RK    Hey, you do crossword puzzles!
LR     I do! And I enjoy doing them.  I have always done a little bit of cross word puzzles.  Even when I was going to school.  I donít know if I ever
          told you this but after I got out of high school I would read novels and make book reports for other kids.

RK    Ummmmmm {shame}
LR    Of course you would not want to tell Mr. J.B. King or Mr. Agee that.

RK    Where they your teachers?
LR     Yes.

RK     They did not recognize the handwriting?
LR      No.  The other students would re-write them.  But you see I liked to read.  When I got home from school, fixed dinner, cleaned the dishes
           including the dishes from breakfast because there was no time to clean up in the morning.  You didnít open up a box of cereal and drink
           a glass of milk for breakfast you had to have biscuits, eggs, hog meat, gravy and the whole nine yards.  Any way, after I got all that done
           and my lessons for tomorrow I would sit and read until bed time.  I was always a night owl.

RK     How would you read? OOPS dumb question.  I mean what did you use for light?
LR     A lamp sitting on the library table.  Kerosene lamps.

RK    Ah so kerosene had been invented.  You were not using olive oil.
LR     {laugh}  Really, we had a kerosene lamp.  Eventually we got a gas light that hung from the ceiling that had these manuals on it that you
          put gasoline in it and pumped it up.

RK    That sounds dangerous
LR     Yes.

RK    Ka boom!
LR     It was hanging up about this high {points to forehead} because one time I went running  through the house and knocked myself out.  Fell
          over on the floor.

RK:   BOING!
LR:   That was before Momma died and she put this library table under this lamp. I still have the library table.  Pappa made it out of an old
          wooden bedstead.

RK     He liked to work with wood, didnít he?
LR     Yes.  And my cedar chest I have out in back, there was a cedar tree behind our house and it blew down in a storm and Pappa took the
          trunk of the tree and made cedar chests.

RK    My Ma had a chest he made.
LR     It was made from the same tree.

RK    When did you graduate from high school?
LR    1937.  And they had high schools back then!  {uh-oh sheís on to me!}

RK    When did you meet Uncle Gene? (Eugene Turner, LeRoy's future husband)
LR     I knew him my whole life.  He went to school at Hays Chapel when his Daddy would let him go.  Geneís brother Joe were the same age
         as me; Gene was about 5 years older.

RK     We would have been related even if the Sparks had not adopted you.  The Turners and Sparks are related.
LR      Yes.

RK     You see...you still would have been stuck with me!
LR     Yes.
R       Hey!
 

Until next time...........

Rebecca Webb Knox
aka PvtSparks
 

Return to main Johnson County Page
 

Martha Marie Gray Webb, daughter of Lillie & Hess Gray, mother of Rebecca
Muriel Gray Reeves, oldest daughter of Lillie Belle Sparks and Hester McKinley Gray
Hes(ter) Gray and Lillie Sparks; Lillie was oldest daughter of Eliza and John Sparks
Delbert Sparks, son of Eliza and John Sparks