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Jeff Manes: Country life provides colorful memories

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



“No sane local official who has hung up an empty stocking over the municipal fireplace is going to shoot Santa Claus just before a hard Christmas.”

— Alfred E. Smith (American governor, 1873-1944)

Hettie Abbott was raised a farmer’s daughter in Newton County near Lake Village and Roselawn. In 1964, she and her second husband, Bill Abbott, moved into and opened up a mom-and-pop grocery store called The Farmer’s Market on U.S. 41 in Sumava Resorts. Sadly, Bill is now deceased and The Farmer’s Market sits empty.

For the last 18 months, Abbott, 91, has lived with her daughter, Lois, in Rensselaer. Hettie has raised four children. She doesn’t drink beer anymore, but still smokes. The staunch Democrat says smoking is what keeps her going.

* * *

Hettie, bear with me, I jump all over the place with these interviews.

“That’s the only way I can talk,” she said.

I remember when you were the justice of the peace for Lake Township in Newton County. Probably married a few couples during your tenure, huh?

“Oh, yes. Lots of people.”

Did you ever meet Fern Hale, the JP who lived in Enos?

“Many times. Fern had a bunch of motorcycles in one night, maybe 30 or 40 of them. I don’t know what the charges were, trespassing, probably.”

Fern made a great homemade ham salad sandwich at her tiny grocery store. Yeah, Sumava was the Big Apple compared to Enos. Your store was a little bigger than Fern’s, too.

“Yep, Fern dealt with the bikers. I took care of the truckers.”

Truckers? What were they charged with?

“Visiting a house of ill fame. I had 29 of them stop in; it took all evening to mug ’em and fingerprint ’em.”

Where was this house of ill repute?

“The nudist colony in Roselawn. It made national headlines in the newspapers at the time; I believe it was in the early 1970s. I know it was a Friday night because I’d eat fish at Lukes Restaurant on Fridays and they messed up my dinner plans.”

Hettie, Roselawn has had nudist colonies for close to a century. Why did those truckers get fined?

“Because they weren’t there to worship the sun. Two ‘waitresses’ were brought to me as well. I found all of the truckers and one of the women guilty.”

But Roselawn is Lincoln Township, why did they bring the truck drivers to your office in Sumava?

“You take whoever the police bring you. Ralph Knapp, the JP of Lincoln Township, might not have been available at the time.”

Knapp — wasn’t he the original owner of the nudist colony back in 1920s?

“You’re thinking of Alois Knapp. The nudist colony started about the time I started school — 1927.”

The year Babe Ruth swatted 60 homers. You mentioned Lukes Restaurant. You must remember the place in the early days.

“The first time I ate there was in 1931; there was a big rally going on. Al Smith was hoping to get the Democratic nod in the primaries against Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Smith was a Catholic, wasn’t he?

“He was an old drunk.”

During part of your childhood, you lived east of Lake Village near the area known as Blue Grass.

“Yeah, Blue Grass was known for bootlegging. Annie Duchler ran a bootleg place near Indiana 10 and Old (U.S.) 41.”

Did you go to Mount Ayr High School?

“For three years. I graduated from Morocco High School.”

Ever bump into any of your classmates?

“I’d have to go to the cemetery to do that.”

Life on the farm?

“Dad farmed 40 acres. We raised corn, potatoes, strawberries ... . Truck farming more or less. We lived off the land. There were 12 of us kids — two died. We were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor. It was the Great Depression.”

Let’s talk more politics.

“My father was a devout Republican. And you know what? My father and I never saw eye to eye.”

I knew you were a Democrat because I remember you and my ma representing the party when you worked the polls together on Election Day.

“Your mom and I were talking astrology 50 years ago. She knew how to do charts way back then.”

Yeah, I remember when the Baptists would knock on our door and warn her to change her ways, that astrology was evil.

“And what would Karen say to that?”

Ma would remind them the Magi were astrologers and close the door. What year did you first run for political office?

“I started in 1960, when John Kennedy was elected president. I was the Democratic county chairman for eight years. I also was vice president and district secretary.”

Let’s switch gears. Do you still like to gamble?

“Oh, yeah. My sister and I used to go down to Arkansas every year and bet the horses. We had a lady friend who tended bar in the hotel. She invited us for a couple of beers after the races.”

A bar is a logical place to have a beer.

“It was Election Day. All of sudden about 15 men came in through the back door and ordered drinks. Soon after, the feds came in and asked what we were doing in the bar on Election Day. I told them we were thirsty. One of the feds said, ‘I’m going to have to haul you all in.’ ”

Then what?

“Well, one of those 15 guys who was drinking at the bar said, ‘I don’t think so; I’m running for governor of this state. These are my friends and we’re going to have a few drinks.’ The Fed said, ‘What about these two women?’ Soon-to-be Gov. Bill Clinton said, ‘They’re with us.’ ”

* * *

The Farmer’s Market was a place where you could buy a quart of blueberries, a can of yellow wax beans or a box of red worms. And every riparian ragamuffin who stepped foot in that store always received a free piece of gum or candy from Hettie Abbott.

Later, when we got to be in our teens, The Farmer’s Market is where we’d pay our speeding tickets. Most of the time, she would let us off the hook.

Hettie Abbott has always maintained, “When you go out on the town, wear red and sit in the middle of the room.”

That’s comin’ from a beautiful, progressive woman who was born in 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was passed.



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