“God, what is poor?” – Chapter 6

This final chapter of Esther Cotton’s memoir is poignant for me. Since the early 1930s, my grandparents lived on Peart Road at the base of the Casa Grande Mountain and my father’s closest friend was Cline Sligh, Mary Rugg’s brother, who became my father’s Best Man when he married my mother on November 30, 1947 at Calvary Baptist Church. Bill Rugg was my father’s mentor and partner for many years, farming and ranching. 

Nadine Turner Hackler is my dearest friend, a woman of strength, character, and compassion, who has made a very real difference in my life. Born in Prescott, Arkansas, her family moved to Casa Grande in 1938. Each time I have wanted to confirm facts about Casa Grande’s history for articles I have written, Nadine, without fail, has been my source of details and information. Her memory is as sharp as her wit. We also share a deep love of sunsets.

Nadine’s parents, A.L. ‘Buck’ and Effie (Machen) Turner married in 1923 in Camden, Arkansas. Buck was a dirt farmer, logger, grave digger, cabinet maker and carpenter. They raised four children: J.T. (John Thomas, known to his friends as ‘Buck’), Nadine, Esther, and Opal Lavone (Bonni). Effie’s father was a Confederate in the Civil War; Veteran. J.T. retired a Colonel in the U.S. Army, serving in WWII and the Korean Conflict. Esther became an LPN and X-ray technician and has lived in Bisbee since 1951. Bonni worked as the office nurse for Dr. J.B. Tucker for many years and lived in Casa Grande until her death in 2000. Growing up, music was always part of their lives; Buck was “an old fashioned hoe-down type fiddler,” J.T. played the guitar and Nadine played the organ and piano by ear. To this day, they remain a close-knit family.

In the early 1970’s, Esther, began writing for her children a memoir of her life in Arkansas and Arizona. In keeping with Nadine’s wish, Esther is sharing the following excerpt from that work. 

Finally, the Turner, Hackler and Cotton families have been important influences in my life. I recall my grandfather fishing with Buck in the White Mountains. Buck built cabinets for our home on the farm. Effie taught my little girls to crochet. Nadine lovingly cared for my daughters when we first moved back to Casa Grande in the early 1980’s…playing the piano with them, singing, baking bread, nursing them through chickenpox, teaching them scriptures and values and having sleepovers. Those memories are filled with joy, sadness, wisdom, trust and love. Nadine and my mother, by then a widow, spent many long hours visiting, usually on the phone. Esther’s visits to Casa Grande were always a time of happiness and reunion. I am so grateful that they have, again, shared their lives with me and now with you.

– Georgia Schaeffer
Casa Grande native and Associate Broker at Coldwell Banker ROX Realty


by Esther Turner Cotton

In fond remembrances of Mother and Daddy
Dedicated to Nadine, my sister

Chapter 6

We were renting a small house from Bill and Mary Rugg who also managed the Alfalfa Fee Mill (later known as the Arizona Flour Mills). They lived in the house next door also on the mill grounds.  Daddy worked for Bill at the mill. Mary Rugg is special, a kind and generous person. She was a registered nurse and worked at the Eleven Mile Corner Government Hospital. My mother helped in Mary’s home with housework. Her parents had died leaving three teenage children*** before starting their own family.  I remember especially one of the many kind things she did for us. My sister, Nadine, didn’t have stockings to wear at her eighth grade graduation and Mary gave her a pair. This past February, 1983, her five children and her brothers and sister had an open house for Mary’s 70th birthday. I was unable to attend but mother and Nadine went and said Mary is still smiling and enjoying a pleasant life.

That same year, in the fall, daddy bought a brand new car, our first ever. It was a 1949 Chevrolet sedan and with his trade-in and some cash it was all paid for. We moved to town again. This time we lived at the south end of Florence Street. I don’t know why we made this move.  Probably because daddy didn’t work at the Alfalfa Mill any longer and they needed the house for their employees. Maybe because Nadine and J.T. were both in high school and it would be more convenient.  The house we moved into wasn’t any bigger or as nice. I have to ask mother the reason we moved.

I don’t know if we were better off financially or if our parents were just working harder at pulling us up. Mother bought her first complete set of pots and pans (and is still using them). They bought us a new piano and we started taking piano lessons. The lessons were short lived however. My sister has a fantastic ear for music and plays well. I would practice diligently, then Nadine could sit down and play every note she had heard. Mrs. Scott, our teacher, finally gave up and told mother she wouldn’t be able to teach Nadine. Well, I got my feathers ruffled and decided if she wouldn’t teach my sister then I would quit also. I realize now I only hurt myself in the long run. This was the summer I decided to go to work.

My eighth grade homeroom teacher, Mr. Casey Bussell, and his family had moved into a new home over in Evergreen Addition, the elite section of Casa Grande. His wife had just recently had a new baby, their third child, and needed a mother’s helper. It took a lot of pleading and cajoling but daddy finally said O.K. and I moved in with the Bussells for the summer. I didn’t realize how homesick a person could get being just across town, but I stuck it out working five-and-a-half days a week, getting Saturday afternoons and Sundays off.

Our family had two setbacks this year. First, I had a serious illness. I had my tonsils removed two-and-a-half years prior. Dr. Charles Nevins had done the surgery in the old two-story Lincoln Hospital located at the corner of First and Florence streets and across the street from where Don’s Market is now located.  I had a recurring throat infection which finally developed into Strep throat. There were no antibiotics such as Penicillin and the sulfa drugs were just becoming the major treatment for infections.  It took many days to overcome this illness.

Before I became ill, our eighth grade class was planning to do the operetta, “Tom Sawyer”. I had auditioned and got the role of Becky Thatcher and I was thrilled. But with the illness, I was unable to practice or be in the performance. We didn’t even get to see the final performance. This was a great disappointment, but not as big as the one mother and daddy had shortly after.  J.T. had asked to use the car to go to a football game and dance at the high school. Like a lot of teenagers, he went over the allowed limits and left town with some friends in the car. South of Coolidge and Florence on Highway 89 there is a big sandy wash. The guys were probably driving very fast and lost control of the car and rolled it. It was a total wreck. Unfortunately, daddy did not have insurance (it was not mandatory) so the accident was a terrific financial loss. However this too passed and we survived.

We moved again. Now we lived on west First Street – three houses west of the old San Carlos Hotel and only half a block from where Mr. Ethington had his business years earlier. Daddy had steady work, mother was still working at the laundry and J.T. was working for Les Bennett as a meat cutter. I was 13 years old and had obtained a Social Security card and was working at Martin’s Drugstore downtown at the corner of Fourth and Florence streets.  I was a soda jerk and loved it. Nadine got a job as an usher at the movie theater a few stores down the street from the drugstore. Times were getting a little better.

This was 1941 and now that I have read books and historical accounts as to what was politically at home and abroad, I know why the economy was getting better. The big W.W. II was brewing.

December 7, 1941 started out as a quiet day at our house. Nadine, Bonni and I had gone to Sunday School at Calvary Baptist Church. Since mother and daddy worked, they spent Sundays catching up at home. They didn’t go and J.T. had stopped going with us.

After church we had Sunday dinner, then Nadine and I went to the funeral of Mr. Stevenson who was the father of Marion “Jughead” Stevenson who was a class friend to J.T.  Nadine and I had been asked to sing at the service.

While at the funeral, news came over the radio about Pearl Harbor. The impact was the same on us as it was across the nation – first terror, then anger.

Each of us did the usual things to help the war effort. J.T. went into military service in the Eighth Air Force and served well. Daddy worked on government building projects – one being the internment camp at Rivers near Sacaton where the Japanese refugees from the West Coast were housed. We collected bacon fat, tin cans and other needed items.  Nadine and I were involved in amateur entertainment shows and we bought war bonds and stamps.

The record of our country gearing up to help support, fight and win a war is history and the economy soared to new heights but – the bottom line of this book is – for our family and many others – the depression wasn’t over until the war started. Sad to say, but true.

God, is it poor…to have parents who worked all their waking hours at giving us pride, character and values that would see us through life?  Is it poor…to have had grandmothers around us, while we were young, to give us their wisdom in basic values?  Is it poor…to have known the Riley Moodys, The Mixon family, Ella Thweats, Peter Ethingtons, Wiley Hintons, Carl Haisington and Mary Ruggs who gave of themselves, encouragement and material aid through the years?

If you measure poor with eating steak or always having shoes or a big white warm house, then we were poor.  But poor in important values of life, God?…Never!