Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Monday, November 25, 2013

3319 West 38th Street

I can't talk about Big Mom without talking about her house. I have vivid memories of visiting her there when I was little, and then of course, I lived there myself for over 25 years. The house still sits right across the street from Park Elementary School, which was the original site of Red Fork High School, and I still visit it in my dreams.

House in the 1960's
The first census in which the Castles are living there is 1930. In addition to George T. and Florida Castle, the other residents of the home were son Goldman, son Warner, daughter Jessie, son Tommie, and widowed daughter Georgia with her daughter, Marilou. During the 1930's when Grandpa was on strike from the refinery, he and my grandmother and the twins lived in Big Mom's house. On the 1940 census Uncle Harry (Goldman), Aunt Betty, and their son John were living with Big Mom. 

House about 1928
Modifications were made to the house at different times to accommodate the family members living with Big Mom. She added a second front door and a side entrance. The two upstairs bedrooms were wallpapered with planes and cowboys for Daddy and Uncle Mack. All the family were welcome to live there when they had need, and someone always seemed to.

House showing added back bedroom
My family would move there in 1962 when our house at 2717 W. 42nd St. had to be demolished to make room for the Red Fork Expressway, but before that we were often at the house on 38th St. What I remember from that time was the front porch--almost always the place we sat to visit; Big Mom's scratchy horsehair sofa, tabletop radio, and red-letter Bible; the curtain that hung on a rod between the living and dining room; and the narrow, creepy, boxed-in stairs that led to two bedrooms with sloping walls because they were under the eaves of the house.

After one of our visits, when my brother was about 2, Big Mom called in a panic to say that she had found an empty container of aspirin in the bedroom where Tim had been playing. We were ready to rush him to the emergency room when somebody thought to unzip his snowsuit, and the pills came rolling out!

Big Mom died in 1962, and soon, by chance, my family was looking for a place to live. After looking at several houses, my grandmother decided that we would just move into the house on 38th St. We made our own modifications to the house, including the addition of a mantel and gas stove in the living room, shelving in the doorway between the living and dining room, closets and doors, opening and widening the stairs to the upper floor, and modernization of the kitchen and bathroom.

Mantel we brought from the house on 42nd St. and shelving in the doorway
According to the History of the State of Oklahoma, written by Luther B. Hill in 1909, John I. Yargee was a prominent Creek Indian whose land adjoined the community of Red Fork. He was married to Nannie Porter, who was the sister of Pleasant Porter. (See my post, "Pleasant Porter Elementary School.") He was particularly known for the quality of his land and his livestock, and the land was platted as a residential addition in 1907. The legal description of Big Mom's homestead was Lots 9, 10, 11, and 12 of Block 1 of the Yargee Addition to the Town of Red Fork.

The property backed up to Red Fork Hill, and a large area at the back of the lots was fenced for the Castles' livestock. Big Mom raised cattle and chickens there, and later my brother would raise bantam chickens, pigeons, and a particularly rambunctious goat named Sugar.

When I remember the house on 38th St., I am as apt to remember the yard as I am the house. Trumpet vines and honeysuckle grew over the chain-link fence and the stump of an old tree near the front porch. (I wrote an especially syrupy poem about the stump when I was in junior high.) We had room to play softball, designating various trees and bushes as the bases, and I remember knocking a pitch from Aunt Jessie right into one of the living room windows. We had a playhouse in the back yard that had originally been the office at one of Uncle George Beebe's parking lots in downtown Tulsa.

My grandmother and the stump
Me and the stump

But what made a bigger impression on me than the yard or the house was the hill. There was no fear in those days for kids playing outdoors, and I often climbed the hill by myself and enjoyed the woods. After I read Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, I planted flowers on the hill in a not-very-successful attempt to recreate the sanctuary that Freckles built in the woods.

The hill was also the scene of the most terrifying experience in my life as a mother. When my son was about 4, we were living in a house in Carbondale and came over to visit my grandmother one Saturday. Jason mentioned the hill as we drove up to the house, but I told him to stay in the yard while I went in to tell my grandmother we were there. Four hours later we found Jason a mile up the hill, sleeping in a dry creek bed with my dad's dogs. In his interview with Channel 8 News, he explained, "I was jus' chasin' the dogs." And taking ten years off his mother's life.

After that brief excursion into independent living, I moved back home with my grandmother and dad, and Jason went through 5th grade at Park Elementary School--sent every morning and welcomed home in the afternoon by my grandmother. After she moved into a nursing home in 1990, it got harder and harder to maintain the old house. My brother and I finally sold it. I drive by now and then, but it's just not the same.

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