Regarding Uncle Claude Argata Enkey
(May 22, 1902 — September 27, 1981)
Wally Lee Parker
(all rights reserved by the Enkey-Parker Family History Newsletter)
In early March, 2000, Jack Willis, eldest grandson of Claude and Olive Enkey, sent the Enkey-Parker Family History Newsletter a cassette recording containing some of his memories of his grandfather — one of my uncles on my mother's side. Below is my highly revised transcription of that cassette. After reviewing the text for accuracy, Jack Willis approved this distillation of his words.
Reprinted from the Enkey-Parker Family History Newsletter
May/June, 2000 A.D.
… Some Stories about My Grandfather …
… as recalled by Jack Willis …
Before I moved to Utah, my family — my father, Marvin Willis, mother Opal Beatrice Enkey-Willis, my brother Larry, and sisters Carol and Patty, — lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Back then our family would try to visit other members of the family at least once a week. We’d generally end up at grandpa Enkey’s farm, about ten miles from Hulbert.
For several years, while attending school at Northeastern State College, I lived with my grandparents, Claude Enkey and Olive Freeman-Enkey, on the farm granddad Enkey called ‘the Prairie’.
Grandpa originally had two places. The other was on ‘Fourteen Mile Creek’. Bill Enkey, that’s grandpa’s second son, lives there today.
Claude Enkey couldn’t read or write. His wife Olive had a college education. My grandfather was very physical, very boisterous, very much a showman. My grandmother was quiet, a little bit of a conniver, and very, very bright. Life together must have been an interesting challenge for both of them.
Grandpa Enkey’s home was tiny, with only three rooms. Over the years, instead of adding on to the building to increase its size, Grandpa would find some old building, then, using wagons and his tractor, he’d pull that building up next to the existing house. He wouldn’t exactly attach it. There’d be a gap, six inch to a foot between the two buildings. But that was his idea of adding on.
We use to sit around the cast iron stove in the farm house living room, sometimes till two or three in the morning, roasting home grown peanuts and listening to grandpa’s stories — stories ‘bout coon hunting or this event or that happening, but always some unique adventure or the other. In the telling he would absolutely slaughter the English language. When he’d tell stories about the family, he’d keep asking grandmother, “Ollie, is that right”? He’d go on till every one of us had given up, gone out to one of the adjoining bedrooms — adjoining buildings — and gone to bed.
None of the adjoining buildings was ever heated, so I hated going to bed. I’d crawl into an ice cold bed, cover up with four or five denim quilts patched out of bit of worn out Levi’s, and freeze until the bed heated up.
But being there was always worth it.
The typical meal was unique. Sometimes — though it was considered a trash fish by most — we’d have Alligator Gar. The fish might have been fifty or sixty pounds. It didn’t have the usual backbone. The backbone was cartilage. It’d be cooked as steaks — an inch to an inch and a half of thick white meat, and maybe six inches wide. I didn’t like the possum — too greasy. Sometimes there’d be raccoon. And I loved the squirrels and rabbits grandpa Claude would apprehend through his own special methodology.
There was always fried okra, and, on occasion, fried green tomatoes. Grandpa Enkey loved turnips. And so did my grandmother.
Grandmother Olive would make a wonderful dish that I called Texas sheet cake — chocolate brownie like cake that was only an inch to an inch and a half thick, with chocolate icing all over the top. And she made the best black berry cobbler. I’ve tried ever since to get her recipe for that cobbler.
Most always there was cornbread. I really think grandpa’s favorite meal was nothing more than spooning up chunks of days old cornbread that he’d softened by stuffing torn off chunks down into a glass of raw milk.
And every time we left the farm, we always left with something. Maybe a jar or two of this or a bunch or two of that. There seemed a lesson in that. They’d lived through the depression, the dust bowl — some really bad times. But there was always food in their cellar. So no matter how bad things might seem, there was always something to give.
The physical characteristic of grandpa I remember best were these giant hands — rough hands. Physical strength was a big part of his life. Grandpa also had a temper, and was not accustomed to backing down.
He had two work horses — huge horses. Polly, white with black spots, was reasonably well behaved. The brown and white horse, Mae, was quite temperamental. Grandpa, whenever his John Deere tractor was broken down, would use the horses to work the fields.
On one occasion, Mae made the serious mistake of kicking my grandfather. Within an instant, in a fit of anger, I saw him pick up the hind legs of that horse and throw it on its side.
When I told my father, Marvin Willis, what I’d seen, he said, “That’s nothing. I saw him reach under a horse’s belly, picked the horse up, all four legs off the ground, and throw it.”
I think Claude Enkey delighted in intimidating his son-in-laws. He would take them hunting — all night long. If they didn’t learn their lesson the first or second time — if they agreed to go with him a third time — I’m sure at some point they all learned that he was a far stronger and physically capable individual then any of them.
He was very proud of his physical presents, of his strength, and of his ability, even at an older age, to do acrobatic stunts. He was still, in his sixties, doing hand springs, cartwheels, and flips. When my sister Carol would take a boyfriend to visit the grandparents, Claude would be out there, showing the boyfriend that he could do anything the boy could do — and probably do it better. I did see him pick up the front of a car once, just to show some of my friends from Tulsa how strong he was.
There was the right way, the wrong way, and my grandfather Claude’s way. This was especially apparent when grandpa treated himself rather than going to see a doctor. He had a concoction, a mixture. Coal oil, gunpowder, and something else — I can’t recall what — was one such remedy.
I remember him having a large hole in the top of his thigh where a tick had bit him. You could literally stick your thumb inside this hole. It had become infected. So he poured his coal oil and gunpowder mixture into the hole. I know it hurt. I watched his eyes roll back as he let out a moan. A week later the sore was healed.
If he got bit by a copperhead he wouldn’t go to the doctor, he’d pour this stuff or some other on and cure himself.
Anyway, I always enjoyed visiting with grandpa, his stories were so colorful. Stories of him hand catching eels in the creek. Coon hunting. Running hounds. And how he would stick his hands into — not just squirrel nest — but into holes in trees, stick his hands in not knowing what kind of animal was inside. It was very common for him to pull his hand out of a tree trunk clutching a possum or some other critter — and you ought to know a clutched possum is something just meaner than hell.
But grandpa was up to that. When he was younger they had a big celebration in Tahlequah — a fair, rodeo, or something. Grandfather said they had an event called the ‘greased pig contest’. They would grease a pig up, let it loose, and all the men would try to catch it. Whoever could hold onto the pig won some sort of a prize. Grandpa and a black man grabbed ‘hold of the pig at the same time. My grandfather reached over, grabbed the black man by the leg, and bit him. The man let loose. Grandpa won the contest.
As I said, grandpa had a temper, and was not accustomed to losing. And he could deliver on just about anything that he said. He was a very intimidating individual. Although I loved him dearly, it was well known that he could back anybody, or any group, into a corner. And believe me, people listened.
One of the best stories about his temper is told by my mother, Opal Beatrice Enkey-Willis. Remember this — I have never known my mother to lie. That’s not something she does. So this story just has to be true.
One time, when she was young, the family was traveling in a Model-A Ford when one of the car’s tires went flat. Grandpa got out and went about changing the tire. I don’t know how many lug nuts held each wheel of those old cars on, but a safe bet would be at least four.
Now Grandpa — before he, in his later days, became religious — was quite the ‘cusser.’
At any rate, when he got ready to put the wheel back on, he went looking all around the car. Then, thinking they’d somehow lost the lug nuts to his wheels, got very upset with the kids. After a thoroughly good cussing to all of them, he found the lug nuts, every one of them, right where he’d put them for safe keeping — in his mouth.
One time, when I stopped by to visit my Grandpa — he must have been in his late fifties or sixties then — I couldn’t help but notice that the skin on his right arm was literally shredded. It looked like somebody had taken one of those cheese shredders to it. I asked what had happened. Grandpa smiled. A gleam appeared in his eye. And when I saw that gleam, I knew I was in for a great story.
Seems that the day before he’d been out fishing — but not in the typical fashion. Seems he’d been ‘noodling’.
‘Noodling’ is something of a southern art. I don’t know if it’s unique to Oklahoma, or to Okie’s, but it’s something that my grandfather was apparently really good at.
Anyway, to ‘noodle’, grandpa would step into a creek or river, walk around in the shallow water near the bank till he found a partial rock outcropping or some other overbanking ledge under where a fish might be hiding. Then he’d get down and feel around, reaching underneath into the shelter. The gentleman practicing this art, when he felt a fish, would find the mouth with his fingers. At some point the fish, in this particular case a catfish, would need to open its mouth to force water through its gills. When it did, grandpa would stick his hand in the fish’s mouth, and either grab it by the gills from the inside, or force his hand down unto its gut. And then he’d pull the fish out and throw it up on the bank.
Catfish have very raspy mouths, as rough as sandpaper. And I saw the particular fish of this story. I know one number was four and one number was five — and my memory tells me that that catfish weighed fifty four pounds, but surely not less than forty five. And that’s what shredded the skin on his right arm.
Gramps never had any money. When we’d go fishing he’d always take one of his old trucks, and, to save on gas, when we’d come over the top of a hill, he’d shut the key off and coast down. Because he’d leave the gears engaged so he wouldn’t have to ride the brake down the hill, raw gas would build up in the exhaust pipe. Near the bottom of the hill he’d turn the key back on, and most every time the backfire would blow the muffler off. Still, he thought he was saving money.
Perhaps my grandfather was best known in the Hulbert area for his sorghum molasses. He grew the sorghum, then, with a crusher powered either by one of his horses walking circles around it or by the power-take-off from his John Deere Tractor, would process the stems — would squeeze the watery juice out of the stems.
He kept his ‘boiling vat’ in a hut. The hut was just a wood frame with canvas thrown over it. The vat was a rectangular metal trough, about eighteen inches deep and maybe eight feet long. Under that he’d build a hickory wood fire. The watery juice from the crusher was poured into the vat and boiled down to syrup.
Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are from the times we spent sitting in this hut, boiling the excess water out of the sorghum. The juice — it had a slight yellow tint — would boil down as clear as honey. Granddad gauged the cooking process by taste and texture. He’d ladle out a sip; get a gleam in his eye, and say, “Smooth. Real smooth.”
He was always taking some farm implement that had worn itself out and redesigning it. It was nothing for him to have a tractor seat on a thrashing machine, or a model T Ford front end on his tractor. His place looked like a junk yard. But he had a plan for everything that was there.
I remember him on his John Deere tractor, with that light front end bouncing, and those big rear wheels turning, doing wheelies over the banks of his ponds. He was scooping out dirt, deepening the ponds, to make a fishing place for the grand kids. He would stack the crushed sorghum cane against the sides of the ponds. I guess there was something in the stems that would feed the fish. We’d catch hundreds of perch and catfish. And it was nothing to catch a perch that was a foot long.
Early one morning, sometime in 1967 I think, we got a call that grandpa’s ‘prairie’ house was on fire. We rushed to the farm to find nothing but smoking embers. Grandfather had failed to keep the chimney clean, and it had caught on fire. With tears in his eyes Grandpa Claude said, “You work your whole life, and everything that you’ve ever worked for is gone in an instant.”
I know they had some beautiful old family pictures and a lot of other family relics in the house — all gone now.
At that time granddad was batching it. Several years earlier Grandma Olive had moved out to California to live with one of my aunts. After the fire, the home gone, grandfather was forced to move away from the Oklahoma Ozarks too — out to California to be with Olive.