Sawdust piles and Moonpies

By Tammy Curtis Nov12,2023

Tammy Curtis, Publisher

Childhood for a young girl in the Ozarks was a daily adventure, from throwing frog eggs at one another to gathering dry fall flowers and catching fireflies. We witnessed the births and deaths of animals and life renewed each spring. We may not have been the richest family, but we sure didn’t know it. Among my fondest memories were that old sawdust pile just beyond Jimmy Don Hall’s sawmill at Ash Flat. My Daddy worked there for many years. As was with most families in those days, we only had one vehicle; so, often we would have to pick him up after work. 

I could barely wait to jump out as we rounded that curve on the old dirt road and race my brother to the top of what seemed like Mount Everest. We would playfully roll to the bottom and climb back up and do it again. Thinking of it today makes me itch. Our little bodies and hair were covered with sawdust that took its place in every nook and cranny, yet I don’t recall itching. Momma would beckon us down the heap where years of the men’s hard work had accumulated to head home. We just wanted one more roll down that old sawdust pile. Daddy always waited and let us go, often several times. 

Reluctantly getting in the car, I vividly recall seeing and smelling how nasty he was, covered with sawdust sticking to the sweat of his body. His eyebrows and sideburns dulled with the brown matter with a sweat ring around the bill of his hat as he waited patiently on us. He was undoubtedly ready to get home and get cool and clean only to wake up and do it all over again.

Something about the smell of sawdust has always tugged at a heart string with me. It was my daddy’s smell, not the cow manure or bleach from his later years as a dairy farmer. It was not a special cologne he wore to church, but the simplicity of the smell of sawdust that epitomized his simple life as sawmill man. 

Every day I watched as my mom packed his lunchbox. It was one of those black, metal barn shaped ones with the robust latches that made a distinct cling when opened, signifying lunch much the same as a dinner bell. In the winter it housed his large green thermos of coffee. The smell of the bread from the countless Wonder bread and hand sliced Holly bologna sandwiches seemed to remain forever entombed within it. 

That lunchbox contents seldom varied. Each item was as simple as the man who ate them. It was usually either bologna or Vienna sausages and oatmeal pies or moon pies.

I look back and think how hot it must have been sawing lumber all day. With the sun beating down on him and the loud and constant whizz of the saw that was slowed a few times by finger or wrist and being covered with the itchy remains of the logs, he worked just to get by. Having little to eat but those few things and only water and an occasional coke to drink, I am still amazed at the toughness and grit of that generation. 

That old lunchbox even housed our yellow, wall mounted telephone a few times. Times, I failed to end my conversation in an allotted timeframe. He would simply unplug it and take it to work. We only had one, and a party line at that.  If we had an emergency, I don’t know what we would have done, but that lunchbox sure served its purposes. I guess looking back, we were probably poorer than some who tried to raise a family in the backwoods of Sharp and Fulton Counties.  But, to us we were rich, we had fun playing in the water hose, harvesting food from Momma’s garden, climbing trees, watching her can food and sew many of our clothes.

I guess that is why it always amazed me to pop open that black metal lunchbox …his lifeline for energy during the day, and sometimes, see an uneaten Moon Pie.  In those days, we didn’t get a lot of extras, but when one remained I was secretly happy when he said, “You can have it.”  Quick to gobble down that chocolate, marshmallowey goodness before being required to share with my siblings, I somehow never wondered why he wouldn’t have eaten it himself. 

Somehow God blessed us with hindsight to reflect and more appreciate the things we may not have in our younger years. We all make sacrifices, sometimes it’s just the little ones that get overlooked. It’s hard not to shed a little tear or two every time I eat a thick sliced bologna sandwich. Looking back I realize, he somehow knew I had an unexplained love for sawdust piles and moon pies.

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