“The child in the middle is somewhat a riddle - a little of that and of this. Sometimes she’s thoughtful and sometimes a handful, this fun-loving, dreamy-eyed miss.”

Time has a way of flying, of slipping past while nobody is looking. Time takes with it many honored values, lifestyles and beloved people. When all these are gone, memories remain.

A hundred years ago in the little community of Etta, 15 miles or so southeast of Tahlequah, Levi and Edna Latty celebrated a happy event: The birth of their second daughter, Susie. She was the little sister of 6-year-old Alice and the big sister of Georgia and Henry, who were to come along later.

Susie was the middle child. She was the dark one, the one who showed her Cherokee ancestry. She was the one with the impish sense of humor, who tipped a spoonful of soda into the open mouth of her brother-in-law when she caught him napping. She loved to play parties and taffy pulls and camping out with family and neighbors for a fish fry on the Illinois River. But give her a good book and she would curl up in a chair beside the fireplace and by the light of the kerosene lamp, reading until her mother insisted it was bedtime.

Susie grew up on her parents’ farm. The farm of her grandparents, Ben and Tep Willis, joined the Latty farm. Uncle George and Aunt Etta Forrest (for whom the community was named) lived within sight of Susie’s home. These farms depended upon the fertile land bordering the Illinois River, and the land did not disappoint them. Levi grew corn, cotton, and of course, his own hay. For a time, he and Ben Willis also grew their own tobacco.

Edna always had a big garden and a flock of chickens for eggs and for fried chicken or chicken and dumplings. Ducks stayed at the spring branch, which ran behind the barn. And guineas had the run of the place. Cows furnished the Latty household with milk, cream and butter.

Levi plowed his fields and harvested crops with the aid of two patient and gentle mules, Barney and Jude. He had horses, but these mules were the ones he depended on most.

Susie and her brother and sisters grew up in a world that was much more peaceful and much less riddled by crime than what we know today. People still talked about the Civil War. In fact, Ben Willis’ father, Pickens, served in the Confederacy. World War I touched the Latty family, too. Susie’s brother-in-law, Charles Vanderpool, joined the Army. Levi joined the Home Guard. When peace was declared, the Latty family rejoiced. Susie never forgot the tears of relief and gratitude when they heard the news.

They had no radio, television or daily newspaper. News came by way of the mail carrier or word of mouth. In the spring, when stormy weather threatened, there were no weather bulletins to warn them. However, they read signs in nature. When the day was extremely hot, no wind blew and the horses and cows sniffed the air and seemed very nervous, it was a good indication that a storm was on its way.

The Latty family would have been amazed at today’s talk of clean air and water. They knew nothing else. The Latty farm was blessed with three springs. The closest and most important was the spring, which supplied the household with water. Levi built a little house over it. Edna kept milk, butter, and cream within its cool walls. The from the spring ran off to join another little stream, which ran through the farm toward the river. Ducks, cows, horses and mules all enjoyed this clear water. The Illinois River was free-running and clean. Pollution would have been anathema to them. Who would want to pollute the irreplaceable, vital elements that only God could give?

Susie and her family welcomed spring. But Edna had a rule: No one shed flannel petticoats or long stockings until May 1. On that day, they could even set their shoes aside (except for special occasions) and go barefoot. Ah, the joy of feeling sun-warmed rocks beneath her feet and feeling the powdery dust puff up between her toes! Spring was always Susie’s favorite season. She loved being outdoors and much preferred gardening to housework.

The Latty farm welcomed many visitors through the years. One special arrival was Grandma Bohannon. As surely as the flowers, she appeared every spring. She stayed with her Latty friends for a time, then moved on to visit with another family. Grandma Bohannon was not related to them, but Susie and her family loved her dearly. Grandma was almost blind and could hardly hear, but she was cheerful and helpful. One of her favorite things was sitting in front of the fireplace on cool spring nights and watching the hearthfire. She could not see much, but she could see the bright flames and feel the warmth.

Easter meant the Easter egg tree. Edna saved eggshells for this special event. The Latty children carefully colored the clean, empty shells, pasted strips of paper across for handles, and made tiny shell baskets. Then they popped corn to fill them. Levi cleared an area south of the house that was always known as the Easter grounds. Alice hanged the baskets on a hawthorn bush growing there. Then, all the youngsters in the Etta neighborhood came for an egg hunt. Everybody got at least one shell basket, then they played games and ate popcorn to finish the party.

A prosperous farm requires hard work. The Latty family worked long hours and were grateful for life’s blessings. They cherished time spent with friends, whether it was around a quilt hanged in the living room, harvesting summer crops or visits on the cool front porch on hot summer days, a glass of buttermilk or lemonade in hand. They made time for having fun, too - the honest, homemade variety devoid of anything that might be considered questionable.

Susie grew up surrounded by the security and love of her family. Those years at Etta shaped her. Love, integrity, faith and optimism were the vital components of Susie Latty Day. These are not diminished by the swift passage of time.

“God made the flowers, the sunshine and showers; and surely God must have smiled, when he fashioned this keen one, this come-in-between one, the lovable middle child.”


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