Ozark County Memories: Tin foil stars and sleigh rides through the hills
This story by former Times staff member Marilyn Tilley, sharing the late Laina Owen’s Ozark County memories, is reprinted from the Dec. 26, 1991, edition of the Times. When Mrs. Owen died in 1997, her obituary noted that she had attended the Lottie Hollow, Odom and Elijah schools in Ozark County and married Edward Owen in 1923. It also said she was “a writer of many ballads, gospel songs and poetry,” and that many of her poems were published. She also made many beautiful quilts and crocheted pieces. She is buried in the Ball Cemetery.
To everyone, having more does not necessarily mean being happier.
Laina Owen, 84, of Sycamore said, “When I look back, I really think we enjoyed Christmas, and other things too, more than what kids do nowadays. We didn’t have as much, but we enjoyed it more.
“Back then, we didn’t have all these ornaments and things like you have now. We’d string popcorn and save all the foil we could get and cut out little stars. We’d go out and get a cedar. We thought they were just beautiful. Mom always made lots of popcorn balls and candy and pies. She always baked for days before Christmas,” Laina said.
She also remembered one of her favorite times while growing up while living at Elijah. “Dad was a blacksmith while we lived there. One winter, he made two big sleighs. We went through the whole community and gathered up all the kids to go sleigh riding whenever the snow would come. We had lots of fun. They were big sleighs with flat beds. We took straw and quilts on them and kids sat all over the sleighs,” she said.
“We made our own fun back then. We had a lot of different things we’d do. The boys would go out in the woods and cut off a sapling – off about so high (about two feet or so) and trim it down and make a spindle, trimming the bark off. Then they’d cut another pole, put a hole in it and put it down over the other one. They called it a ‘flying Jenny’ and we’d get on that and just go around and around.”
But it wasn’t only the good times Laina remembers. She also remembers when the men went off to fight for their country during World War I. Laina said, “I remember when the soldier boys came by. I was about 11 or 12 years old. We had a big spring at Elijah where everyone got their water. Elijah was a little village then, two stores and several houses. The boys started out from Gainesville on trucks and stopped by our spring to rest and eat lunch. I went to the spring to get water while they were all there. My teacher, Leland Epps, was among them. I remember crying when I went back to the house. They went on to West Plains and caught trains to wherever they were going.
“I can also remember that when the war ended, Dr. Beach lived just up the hill from us. His wife got out on the porch and sang, through a lamp globe, and you could hear it all over the settlement. The lamp globe really carried her voice over the whole settlement,” she said.
Laina was just 15 when she got married. She knew she was too young but said, “We knew how to cook and wash and scrub and do anything there was to do by the time we were 10 or 12. I really wasn’t old enough to get married, but I was more mature than what most kids are nowadays.”
She added, “My mom was almost a doctor. She had a big thick doctor book. I don’t think I could have raised my family without her. She’d go out in the woods and gather roots or tree bark or berries or whatever and make teas. She could take care of anything. She always knew just what to use.”
Laina has seven children: Anna Marie Martin of Baldwin, Archie Owen of Bridgeton, Ed Owen of Sycamore, Samuel Owen of St. Louis, Jerry Owen of Rogersville, Larry Owen of Palm Springs, California, and Sonya Mitchel of Springfield; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.