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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Faces & Places: Nadra Hice - An Ozark Original

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nadra embroiders quilting squares in the morning, then moves out on the porch to create her quilts in the afternoon.
Nestled in a two story, bright blue house in Koshkonong, Mo., sits 91 year old Nadra (Jewell) Hice, surrounded by her beautiful handmade quilts and three generations of her family: daughter Etta, granddaughter Natalie, and great-grandson, Wyatt, along with her son-in-law, Dale Harrison.

You see, it's always been a family affair at Nadra's house, with friends and family coming and going, and everyone in the community invited over for Sunday supper.

"Could be three, could be 30 for Sunday dinner, you just never know," said Hice. "So you put on a pot of this and a pot of that, and then later in the week we eat the leftovers til next Sunday comes around."

Nadra Hice's childhood home near Grand Gulf State Park is still standing.
In addition to hosting Sunday dinner each week, Mrs. Hice spends her time embroidering and quilting, something she refers to as "a good pastime." And her favorite part of quilting? "Getting it done and looking at it," said Hice. "I stay busy, embroidering and quilting. Part of the quilt is the embroidered blocks with the pattern on them and I start from there. But if I don't have those, I have an old fan pattern I make from putting safety pins in the string and scooting the string up to create the fan. I embroider in the morning until it warms up and then I quilt in the afternoon and when it gets dark, I come back inside and embroider some more. Practice makes perfect, let me tell you. I can get one out in a week's time by just sitting and not doing much else. I do sell a quilt once in a while, but I give a lot of them away."

Mrs. Hice has also passed on the skill of quilting to several generations. "She's taught her daughters and granddaughters all how to quilt and embroider, even my wife. She's got everybody quilting and embroidering now," said Harrison.

Mrs. Hice was born near Grand Gulf right before the great depression, and came from a good sized family.

"I think you'd call it a pretty big one," said Hice. "There were nine of us kids, and there's two of us left. We had a lot of fun growing up, as well as a lot of fights. There were a lot of switches too. My oldest brother had to go pick one out one time and he cut a notch in the switch, so it broke when Momma used it. He got into trouble over that."

Some of Mrs. Hice's favorite memories are of her grandmother, who lived on down the road a piece from her house, between Koshkonong and Grand Gulf.

"My granny and grandpa's house was a little closer to the road that goes into Kosh. They've made a barn out of it now. We used to just love to go down there. She was a little bitty woman, and she had some cold biscuits that she'd throw some sugar on and we'd eat those on the way back to Momma's house. We went to church at the Shiloh Church every Sunday and Wednesday night. We'd sing and pray and visit. That's where everybody went at that time."

Mrs. Hice points out that to get around back then, you pretty much had one solid option as a kid -- your own two feet.

"Well now, used to be you'd walk everywhere you went," said Hice. "There weren't many cars around; in fact, I can think of just two people I can remember having cars when I was a kid. We went up to school in Battman, called the Battman School, and when we walked there, them cars would be parked on top of the hill and watch for my sister and me to come up, because they'd scare us half to death, and we'd run and hide behind big trees. That was around the time that Edward Hickman kidnapped Marion Parker and we just knew that there were kidnappers in all the cars. We were scared of cars."

On Dec. 15, 1927, 12 -year-old Marion Parker was abducted from her Los Angeles area school by William Edward Hickman, who called himself The Fox. He was later convicted of her murder and hanged at San Quentin Prison in February of 1928. Her murder has since become the subject of folk songs, some of which Nadra remembered. "They had a song made up about that and we all knew the words to it back then."

As cars became more prevalent, Mrs. Hice gave in to her fears and finally took her first car ride. "Momma's brother, Uncle Jack, used to come over to our house in a car and I think that's the first car ride I ever had was with him," said Hice. "I thought it was fun, and went much faster than you did with a horse and buggy or horse and wagon. That's all we had to go to town in, was the horse and wagon. One of my favorite memories of growing up is going to town and having a nickel to spend on candy. One time we came up and we were walking and my aunt picked us up in the wagon, and she bought me an apple -- paid a nickel for it. I cried, and hugged that apple just as long as I could and finally I took a bite out of it. We didn't have much money to spend when I was a kid. I was thinking the other day, how did they make a living with all of us kids to raise: Daddy didn't work out and Momma didn't work out. It was just what they could sell a cow for, or chickens, or eggs. We lived off of our garden, and Momma canned a lot. She'd put up kraut in a big old 10 gallon crock. They were workers. They sold eggs and cream. You couldn't sell your milk, but you could separate the cream and sell it, and you gave your milk to the hogs."

Mrs. Hice's mother was able to earn some additional money for the family by assisting others in the rural area with childbirth.

"Now Momma was what you might call a midwife, as she and her sister both helped people have babies," said Hice. "She helped her sister deliver babies and her sister helped her deliver us. She delivered quite a few babies in her time. I delivered one of mine. We had started to the hospital and got about half way and the baby decided it was time. I said, 'Keep driving honey, keep driving, the baby is here.' I had an extra gown in the car and I wrapped the baby in it, and sat there and held the navel cord while Granville, my husband, drove us on to the hospital. They started to bring out a gurney for me, and Granville told them, 'You don't need that, the baby is already here,' so they brought out a wheelchair and wheeled me in, and they let the baby stay in the room with me. All of my children were born at home or on the road. With my first baby, my older sister Juanita was staying with me while Granville went to fetch Momma. The baby was born while he was gone, and my sister said she didn't know how to tie a navel cord, but I'd read in a book that my neighbor gave me that told you to cut at two inches, so I told Juanita to bring me a string and a pair of scissors and I cut the navel cord myself. I have four babies buried at Shiloh, and three buried in other places. They told me I'd never have one to live, and they wanted me to have surgery so I wouldn't get pregnant anymore, and I said 'No' and just kept on until I managed to have five babies."

Mrs. Hice met her husband Granville in Thayer in 1937. "I met my husband when I was 17 years old and I was 18 years old when I got married. I can remember me and my sister and Genevieve Marr were all at my Momma's house, and they got to talking about Granville. They said he was a cowboy, wearing his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, and they'd seen him somewhere, and I remember jumping up and down on the floor and hollering 'he's mine, he's mine.' At that time, I was working for a lady in Thayer doing housework, and I had gone by the blacksmith shop and he came out and talked to me and asked me for a date. Of course, I wasn't supposed to start dating til I was 18, and Gran was in his 20s, but I was heading home the following weekend so I invited him to come on down to the house with me. I didn't know how Momma and Daddy would take it, but he walked me down to the house and he asked me to marry him and I told him he'd have to ask my Momma and Daddy if they cared first, and he said 'I will.' Well I thought yeah, I bet you don't, but he did, and I remember Daddy sitting down and asking Granville, 'Well, do you drink?' and Granville said 'Once in a while.' And Daddy said, 'Well okay, but you need to wait til Sunday to get married.' So we waited til Sunday and got married at my grandparents house."

Mrs. Hice shared with me the Ozark tradition of the shivaree, or "wedding night serenade" as some old-timers call it. Wikipedia explains a shivaree as: "an American term for a clamorous salutation made to a newly-wed couple by an assembled crowd of neighbors and friends." In plainer explanation, during the newlyweds' first wedding night, after the lights go off in the house to which the newlyweds go to spend their first night together, a whole passel of friends and neighbors would surround the house and begin banging on pots and pans, ringing bells, blowing horns, singing out of tune songs, and demand that the bride and groom make an appearance with treats before the gathering and participate in the good-natured fun. Anyone who didn't come out and present the revelers with a gift would then be unceremoniously dumped into the nearest body of water, no matter what season it was.

"I remember thinking that they won't be shivering me the first night I get married," said Hice. "I heard them after church making plans for the shivaree for us, so we went and hid, but they didn't show up until the next weekend when we weren't looking for them and they got us then. I remember us trying to take my sister Juanita and her husband Fred over to the pond at Momma's house for their shivaree because they didn't have a treat for us when we showed up. We got them down below the barn, and they were making such a fuss that we decided to let them go."

When Mrs. Hice's oldest grandson was about to be born out in California, she got to do three things she had never done before: fly in a plane, see the ocean and visit California.

"I thought the ocean was beautiful," said Hice. "I loved flying. I told (my daughter) Etta, 'I want to be right by the window so I can see.' And you know, everything down there looks just like a patchwork quilt."

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