Little Lady from Lickskillet
Little Lady from Lickskillet:
SOUTH WASHINGTON, Indiana.
My mother claimed to have been born in Lickskillet, Indiana. Her Birthday was March 10th, 1915, a little over one hundred years ago. While researching the community name, and its authenticity, I discovered there were indeed many small rural communities, throughout the United States, known as Lickskillet. According to legend they were economically challenged areas, where locals were observed feeding their dogs the scraps of their left over dinners in the skillet they were cooked in. Thus, the name Lickskillet became more of a euphemism for poor town.
From historical documents of Daviess County, Indiana, “Lickskillet is situated on the Petersburg road, one mile south of Washington, and has 150 inhabitants. Its population is nearly altogether made up of the employees of Cabel Kaufman’s coal mines. It draws its supplies from Washington, and has no post office, nor church building, but one of the township school buildings is located here. Thirty-two lots were laid off at the site of the town by Levi D. Colbert, in 1874. Ministers of the Christian, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches sometimes preach here. The place is commonly known by the euphonious title of Lickskillet; given it in days gone by, before it was dignified by the name of South Washington.”
As noted above, a Levi D. Colbert in 1874 was stated as having laid off 32 lots in the towns location. This is remarkable because my Grandmothers maiden name was Colbert. So, just because there may no longer be a sign, doesn’t mean it didn’t or doesn’t still exist in some form.
At some point, while my mother was still a young child, my grandfather moved the family out to Maysville, which was southwest of the city of Washington. It was here, on the farm that became the family homestead, that I spent my summers during my childhood.
Maysville was laid out in 1834, only 18 years after Indiana became a State, by John McDonald, on the land of the late Charner Hawkins. It contained seventy-two lots, its situation being on the Wabash & Erie Canal, four miles southwest of Washington. During the days when the great canal flourished, Maysville was the most important business place in the county, but it went down with the canal, and today nothing remains but a few tumble-down houses, relics of a once thriving town’s departed greatness. It was the advent of the railroads that rendered the inland canal systems obsolete, thus realigning commerce and population centers as it grew.
The greatness of Maysville never existed for my mother. She was the middle child of five surviving children, all girls. Five other children were born but lost to diseases of early infancy. It was a time before the antibiotic penicillin, the wonder drug, surfaced. During her youth my mother suffered the ravages of rheumatic fever, leaving her with a weak heart and a total loss of hearing in her right ear.
In 1931, at age sixteen, after finishing her sophomore year at Washington High School, the little lady from Lickskillet decided she had had enough of Maysville. Living under the firm hand of religious parents (she hadn’t yet attended a school dance or movie theater), a social life outside of church activities was unknown to her. My future Aunt Inez, my Mothers older sister, beckoned her north to live with her in Detroit. With the country in the middle of the Great Depression, Millie of Maysville, headed for the lights of a big city. It was a courageous move on her part. She took a train.
Ten years later, in early 1942, as an orphaned one year old, I would be placed on John and Millie Harts porch (so to speak), at 5217 32nd Street. Within my Dad’s family my mother would be referred to as the “hillbilly bride.” She was well liked by most family members, so it wasn’t as negative a connotation as it may sound. It was the natural way people talked within the bigoted society that existed then. It was part of the accepted regional vocabulary. There were the Pollocks, the Irish, the Spicks, the Italians, the Blacks… I can’t bring myself to say the derogatory “N” word as it was used then, and gratefully, not so much now. Each of these ethnic groups had their own neighborhoods and they were all competing for the same auto industry jobs, so that rivalry was provoked regularly in conversation. I might add… the bigotry is still alive and well in the region today and for me difficult to be around. Now Arabs, with their displaced populations from the Middle East, have entered the regions employment competitions as well. I wouldn’t want to listen in on those conversations at the moment.
The Indiana Territory, before becoming a state in 1816, was known as “Land of the Indians” or “Indian Land.” Indiana is now home of the Hoosiers, formerly known as “Back Woodsmen”, Rough Countrymen or “Country Bumpkins.” The latter goes well with “Bug Hollow” and “Quail Knob” not to mention the hungry dogs “Lickskillet,” which is where it turns out, my Mum was from.
As a child, I was introduced to my Mothers physical disabilities stemming from her childhood experience with rheumatic fever. I was told often, “Ronnie, I don’t know how much longer I am going to live?” I lived with that revelation for a very, very long time. Friends and family lived with that revelation for a very, very long time. Fortunately, as I grew older, I was able to ignore this malady she used for gaining empathy. As it turns out, it was much the same way her mother had professed her long life potential. As I knew her, I recall, my Grandmother Amann, always sick in bed, lived well into her nineties. As is said often… “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” What’s good for the Grand Goose is good for the Goose.
My mother, The Little Lady from Lickskillet, Mildred Ann Hart, with her rheumatic heart… lived to the ripe old age of 87 and died on my Birthday in 2002. And may I say, without prejudice or ill thought, bless her “Little Hart,” and that would be me!