Storytelling is alive and well in Miller Grove

�Tales from Miller Grove� preserves community�s history and humanity�

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

June 14, 2007 - Once upon a time not so long ago, before e-mail, chat rooms and instant messaging, people talked to each other. Face to face. They took a break from their grocery shopping to chat, usually around the Coca-Cola box or the pot-bellied stove, depending on the time of the year. They visited around the supper table. They met after church for dinner on the grounds.

Submitted Photo

Author Patsy Johnson Hallman and Brandon Darrow, who assisted with research for Hallman’s book “Tales from Miller Grove,” smile for the camera in front of the Methodist Church in Miller Grove.

And wherever people gathered to visit, there was usually a story to be shared, told or passed on. 

Every community had at least one person, usually a man, who was in charge of the community’s oral history. The storyteller mantel was not easily won. Not only did you have to remember everyone’s lineage, you had to know when to be discreet and when it was OK to embellish just a little.

Patsy Johnson Hallman, Ph. D., grew up listening to the storytellers of Miller Grove. Hallman, who retired as a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, has compiled the stories of Miller Grove and Northeast Texas into a book called “Tales From Miller Grove.”

The book covers the early history of Miller Grove and how a trading post turned into a permanent settlement.

Hallman tells of how one family came from Tennessee, down river towards Jefferson. Their youngest child died during the trip. To avoid having the child’s body dumped in the river, the family hid his body in a trunk until they landed and could give him a proper burial.

There was also the story of Patman Paschall, who buried four wives, had eighteen children and was perceived as “strong-willed, sometimes rough and sometimes hard to deal with.” 

Paschall was on a cattle drive during the “war between the states,” when they came upon a woman standing in front of her house, crying. Her slaves had run away and she didn’t know how to wash her children’s clothes.

So Paschall got off his horse and taught the woman how to “put out a wash.” Pretty nice for someone who was rough and hard to deal with.

One of the most important things about finding a good place to build a house was the availability of water. Miller Grove’s ancestors didn’t find a river, lake or any large pools of water, so they had to improvise. They dug a large hole at the edge of Turkey Creek, creating a large cistern. Miller Grove’s citizens toted water from the cistern by the barrel.

�Good water was a precious commodity and women protected what they had, using it sparingly. A ruined barrel of water was a serious event, and when it did happen it was something to be remembered. Folks still tell the story of how those little rascals, Jimmy Perry and Walter Keith Burns, baptized their new kittens in the barrel of drinking water. Their father, Johnnie Burns, had to come in from the fields early that day to haul more water.�

It’s interesting to see that times really haven’t changed that much. We’re still concerned with water and its availability.

There are stories of good marriages and bad. One woman defied her father, married a rapscallion and ended up alone with a passel of starving children. Her daddy fetched her and the babies back to Miller Grove.

I remember my own grandmother talking about getting her “night work” done. Hallman spends several pages recounting how one child of the 1930s remembered the evening activity at her house.

�Ours was a small farm � 25 acres for house, barns, garden and livestock, and 40 acres for cotton and corn. But even so, there was always work to do in the morning, throughout the day and in the evening. ... when people were visiting friends or relatives, their leave-taking would usually be announced with, �Well, we better git started home; ya�ll come go with us.�

The host would answer, ‘Oh, we can’t; you jist better stay.’

�Well, we�d like to but by the time we git home, it�ll be time to do up the night work.��

The book explains how the folks dealt with death and its many forms. 

One woman died while her husband was on a horse roundup.

�Mrs. Burns (Margaret Matilda) came down with pneumonia. In the days before antibiotics, people often died of pneumonia and that�s what happened to Margaret Matilda. The poor woman was dead and buried before her husband came home. With no way to embalm the bodies, people who lived in remote areas usually buried the body the day after the death. A neighbor or family member prepared the body; a local man made a coffin; and a service was held at the grave site.�

Women also died in childbirth, and children died young. Others died in fires or from infections due to untreated injuries. 

Faith plays an important part of any community’s history. The book tells stories about pastors and preachers who have come and gone during Miller Grove’s history. 

Every small town has its pranksters, and Miller Grove is no different. Some of the “devilish boys” tales are just plain hysterical.

Socializing was important to the hard-working residents of Miller Grove. There were “candy breaking” parties, quilting bees, dinner on the grounds, weddings and funerals. Each event was a reason to tell tales and make memories.

The chapter on ailments and illnesses reminds us how much our forefathers and mothers knew about staying well.

The chapter on “The Way We Said It” will make you long for more colorful language.

v It’s as easy as falling off a log and not half as dangerous.

v They’re as poor as Job’s turkey.

v You did so well, I want to give you a button.

v When hell freezes over.

v He operates just barely inside the law.

v I’m not broke, but I’m badly bent. 

v We don’t stand on ceremony.

The chapter titled “Proverb from Our Miller Grove Ancestors” helps us remember what’s important.

v Clean up as you go; never wait ‘til you are finished to do the dirty dishes.

v Save your good name; no one can take it from you.

v A real lady knows how to behave around menfolks.

v Pretty is as pretty does.

v The only things we take with us are what we give away.

v There’s no place on earth as good as home.

Hallman also provides readers with a terrific timeline at the end of the book. From 1840 through 2000, each decade is broken down into Families, Improvements/Developments, Making a Living and Conflicts. It’s a great overview and puts everything into perspective. 

Dr. Hallman and her young collaborator, Brandon Darrow, have carefully and lovingly gathered the stories of Miller Grove and the surrounding area. “Tales From Miller Grove” is a great way to revisit times gone by.

�Tales from Miller Grove� is available at the Hopkins County Genealogical Society, 212 Main Street, the Miller Grove Farm Supply store, 903-459-3279, the Texas A&M University Bookstore, Commerce, and at Hastings in Greenville.�

The book is also available from Hallman Books, 3502 Windsor Drive, Nacogdoches, TX., 75965 or by contacting Dr. Hallman at phallman@suddenlink.net. Her website is www.hallmanbooks.com.

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