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An Ozark Love Story

It was December of 1976, and Tori sat at the kitchen table of her new family. Tori was 17, recently transported from the streets of Southern California by the oldest son of this large family.

Tori and expecting her first child, and everything she was experiencing was 180 degrees different than anything she had ever known. She was abandoned by her parents as a 12 year old child, not ever knowing the love of a family.

The kitchen table was the center of the social activities of this Ozark household. The makeup of this houseful was Mom (Darlene), Dad (J.C.), sons Kevin 5, Terry 6, James 8, John 11 and Timothy 20. They had 1 sister Ann 19. Timothy was Tori's boyfriend.

Those first months were a wonder of change and experience for Tori. She mainly would sit and listen to the loud and racheous conversation that never seemed to stop in this house.

The house was what they called an old shotgun house, with 4 bedrooms and a cellar. There was no indoor plumbing, no insulation for the roof or walls, but there was always plenty to eat.

Tori spent many nights cold and hungry when she was growing up on city streets, so she was comforted by the endless food supply.

J.C. and Darlene had both come from a poverty that few had ever known about in North America, so they raised their own food. They had a 10 acre garden, cows, chickens, ducks, rabbits and an old horse. There was half a dozen dogs in the yard that were a natural alarm and garbage disposal system.

Darlene was 1/4 Cherokee Indian, and every year she would hunt a few deer to put in their smokehouse. Without that extra food, they would have hungry children. Going out to get a deer was one thing Darlene was able to do where she could go out into the woods alone, and meditate on the Lord. She would pray for the right deer, and always thank God for the sacrifice of the animal for her family.

J.C. and Darlene still did not have a lot of worldly goods, but Tori began to realize they were wealthy with the crazy love that bound them together, and their commitment to caring for their family, and keeping plenty to eat on the table. They barely had electricity, and had a party-line telephone. They went to church three times a week, but they did not have television.

Darlene would play her gospel albums during the day while chasing kids, chickens and "the old man". At night, as they prepared meals, Darlene would be sure and show Tori how to cook her special recipes. Tori was sworn to an oath of death, never to share the secret ingredients.

It was at night, when the kids were in bed, that Darlene and J.C. would sit with Tori. They would play cards, and share their story's. Tori was fascinated by the relationship enjoyed by J.C. and Darlene.

One night after J.C. had gone to bed, leaving Tori and Darlene to "talk your fool heads off". It was that night that Darlene told Tori a story of love that she would never forget:

After James (8) was born, her Doctor cautioned her not to have any more children. Her and J.C. did not believe in birth control, were really hoping for another girl, and the choices at that time were few. After Terry (6) was born, the Doctor assured Darlene she could never get pregnant again. Secretly, she was relieved. When she found out she was expecting Kevin (5), she got depressed, the baby was so big, and could not believe she got with child again. It seemed like she was going to miss another deer season, and their food supply was in danger of becoming low.

At 6 months along, Darlene had been put on bed rest, and on very light duty.

Every morning J.C. would get up, feed the chickens, help the kids gather eggs, milk the cows, strain the milk, and do all of the endless chores of a rural homesteader.

One morning, J.C. was very late returning to the house, and Darlene began to worry. J.C. had an old war injury, and if he ever fell, he would have to be med-flighted out of there, and everything would be on Darlene to carry. As she got around to go check on J.C., she heard the dogs barking happy hellos. When she got to the door, J.C. was standing in the yard with Darlene's shotgun.

"Woman, come with me, I've got something to show you." He knew her well, and anyone who knows her can only imagine the talking to J.C. got just then. After she wound down, he told her to grab her hat, and coat. Having wound down, and curiosity gotten the best of her, she waddled in, got her coat, gloves and hat.

She came back out to meet J.C. in the yard. He wisely kept hold of the shotgun, and grabbed her hand to have her take a small hike from the house. Far enough to where she could have her time alone with God, meditate, and a place where she could harvest a deer for their freezer.

J.C. had found an old kitchen chair on the trash pile in the back acres, and he made a deer stand for his expecting wife.
Knowing J.C.'s disability; it was difficult for him to root around in the old trash pile, and then secure an old chair seat into a tree, low enough for his hobbling wife, yet high enough to not catch the deers eye. J.C. rarely dared doing one thing without talking to Darlen about it. Tori was stunned by the greatest act of love she had ever heard in real life.

In November of 2012, just a few weeks ago, Tori's newly married daughter Kate, moved with her new husband down the road from her Grandmother Darlene, and Grandpa J.C.

Kate always asks Tori to tell her as much of their family history as possible.

Tori's only family was Timothy's family.

On moving day, Tori and Kate walked around their new trailer house located about 2000 yards from Darlene and J.C.'s place.

Considering it a sign of good things to come for Kate and her new marriage to Steve, Tori looked up enough to see, an old kitchen chair seat, secured in a tree. A bit higher these many years later.


Tree Stand of Love

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