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Early Days of Recollection
By: Joe C. Watts
I am Joe C. Watts, th e children born to Harry Otis Watts and Sarah Ellen
Wilkerson. Dad was born on Oct. 21, 1899, in Oran, Mo., and mothe was born on Oct. 21, 1899, in Sharp Co.,
Ark. on June 19, 1905. They were married on May 20, 1923. I was born one year later on
May 2, 1924. During the next nine years (following my birth) my mother had five more
children. They were: Sarah Elizabeth, born Oct. 19, 1926, died Oct. 21, 1926; Cecil Riley,
born April 27, 1928; Opal Maydella, born Feb. 12, 1930; Nadine Virginia, born March 1,
1932; and Lorene Ellen, born March 9, 1933.
Apparently something went wrong during the birthing process a my mother died
following the birth of Lorene Ellen at the home of her parents, Byrd and Nettie Wilkerson
What a sad time it was -- the men and boys in the family going all around the area looking for
a doctor who could save my mother's life, perhaps, but to no avail. There was no money to
pay for the services of a doctor as it was the height of the Great Depression. I still recall how I
and the other little ones were brought to my mother's bedside and she told us she was going to
heaven. She passed away and then my grandfather began the process of making the coffin out
of black walnut. She was buried the next day in Baker's Cemetery.
After Mother died, all of us children lived with our grandparents Wilkerson. Times
were really bad. There was no money and no way to make a living except by day labor for 25
cents per day. When these events transpired, our grandparents had five children of their own
still at home. Taking in five more children was more that they could handle, money wise, so
the probate court took us from Dad and sent us to the Arkansas Children's Home in Little
All of my sisters and my brother were adopted quite soon but as most people wanted a
younger child, I was not. I did. however, go to foster homes during those days. Things in
those years were not regulated as they are now and many foster homes used children for work
purposes rather than for wanting a child. This was my case.
The family to which I was sent was very abusive to me and also made me work too
hard for a 9-year-old boy. I would have to plow behind a team, which once ran away with me
and got me into trouble. I also had to hoe strawberries, and to this day I do not care for
strawberries! I had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to do a long list of chores before going to school. I
was frail and developed measles and whooping cough at the same time and was very ill. I
recall the doctor coming to the house at this foster home. We put on long handles in the fall
and wore them until winter's end.
Before I go on further with my reminiscences, there are several other accounts of my
early childhood that I wish to elaborate on and want my descendants to hear about.
I can remember back to about the time my brother was born. We were living in
Williford, Ark. We used to go see our Wilkerson grandparents who lived up on Boothe's
Creek, on property known as the Old Wilkerson Place. It was a hewn log house. I remember
my grandmother making hominy and using ashes to remove the husks from the corn. They
would cook it outside in a big iron wash pot. I can remember Aunt Hazel and Uncles Nathan
and Earl playing in the creek. We had lots of fun playing there and passed many hours doing
this. We, at one time, moved to Nettleton, Ark. to where our grandparents had moved. The
State of Arkansas built a new concrete highway by our place, and a man used to come by
selling fruit and vegetables. As a young boy living back in those hard times, a nickel looked as
big as a gallon syrup bucket lid, but the bananas looked twice as big as they do now. You
could buy one banana for a nickel -- if you had a nickel.
MAR CH 199004
Texas State Genealogical Society. Stirpes, Volume 34, Number 1, March 1994. San Antonio, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth39868/. Accessed May 31, 2016.