VIENNA — Mary Joyce Helton said in the 1940s and 1950s when she was growing up, it seemed as though almost everybody who lived in Maries County was in about the same financial situation. There …
VIENNA — Mary Joyce Helton said in the 1940s and 1950s when she was growing up, it seemed as though almost everybody who lived in Maries County was in about the same financial situation. There didn’t appear to be people who were a lot better off than the rest of the people because mostly they all were poor.
Mary Joyce, 79, of Vienna, was raised on a farm down Paydown Road near the Gasconade River, a daughter of Ernie and Edna (Gray) Spratley. Her mom was a school teacher and taught at Paydown School. To get there, she had to go down to the river where she kept a boat. Each day she rowed the boat across the Gasconade to get to the other side where the school was.
Mary Joyce said she lived near the river and never saw it get big like it has in the past few years. She tells the story about the slough there and what they called the island with the river on the other side. One time their cows got to the island. She remembers the cows having their babies with them on the island and the river was getting bigger. It was a dark night and they took a lantern in a boat and crossed the slough and ran all the cattle into it. She remembers the baby calves running into the water along with their mothers and every one of these cows came out of the water and made it to land.
Their home at Paydown was a log house with two rooms up, and two rooms down. They didn’t have the modern luxuries we all take for granted such as electricity and running water. Water came from a cistern and was brought into the house in a bucket. She remembers their first refrigerator. It required them to buy a 50 pound block of ice from Frank McDaniel’s store in Vienna, which they wrapped up. That chunk of ice would last about two weeks in their ice box.
Washing clothes required elbow grease of a sort as the washing machine had a pedal they stepped on to get the gasoline motor to run. The wash was done in a tub on a bench, ran through a wringer and the clothes were hung on the clothes line.
She met Warren Helton at the Maries County Fair when she was 13 years old. He was 17 years old. The two went together for four years before they got married in May 1958. They’ve been married for 62 years and a couple for 66 years.
Warren Helton, 83, is a son of Vernon and Dorothy Helton. He was born in a house along Highway T. He lived a lot of places throughout the county, but when Mary Joyce met him, he lived in the Flat Top area in Maries County. She says in those days, people married people from their area, close to where they lived. She mentioned Melvin and Marcie (Buschmann) Wansing as a couple they knew who like them, married someone from their community. This was common practice.
Warren was from a big family of six children, and his father had six children before his first wife died. The story goes that Vernon married a Miss Martin and had six children. Then, a set of twins were born. One twin died one day. The next day the mother died, and then the other twin died. It was three funerals in one week for the family.
Warren’s mother was Dorothy Helton. She and her siblings were orphans as their mother and father both died during the tuberculous epidemic. All those little kids were adopted out to other families. Dorothy was very young and went to live with the Ike Helton family in Iberia. That’s how she ultimately ended up married to Vernon Helton and having six children of her own. Mary Joyce said Dorothy and her siblings went “here and there and it was years and years before they found each other. They were all good people.”
Warren had a good home life, working hard all the time. Dorothy was a wonderful cook, Mary Joyce said. He didn’t get to go to high school, but he had a gift. At age 9 he learned to play the fiddle, mostly teaching himself. His father played the fiddle, too. All who knew both of them and heard them play, said Warren was the best fiddle player. “I miss it so much,” Mary Joyce says about the sound of her husband playing the fiddle that she no longer can hear because he has alzheimer’s disease. That gift has slipped away.
Mary Joyce said she loved to listen to her husband playing the fiddle. Her feet almost had a mind of their own as they would start moving, and she would dance, taking a dance step on every note the fiddle played. Some of the best times of their married life were when they traveled with Warren’s talented sister, Leona Williams, and her husband Dave Kirby and also Leona’s son, Ron Williams. Warren played music with them. They traveled to Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Arkansas and more. Warren went to 29 different states in one year and she got to go to a lot of those places with him. The kids stayed in Vienna with her mom. “Our kids were always good,” she said.
At the shows, Mary Joyce would sit in the audience and enjoy the music along with everybody else. But, sometimes, the traditional and country music moved her to get up and on the stage and she would dance her heart out. The audience would respond and Leona would say, “She stole the show again.” Mary Joyce said Leona and Dave were their best buddies and they so enjoyed their time together.
Warren played other places as well and is well known in his community for being from a musical family and for being one of the best fiddle players around. About his alzheimer’s Mary Joyce said, “Its pretty sad to see it now, and see the change, even from a year or two ago. As long as I don’t get sick I can take care of him.”
Warren eats a good breakfast and that’s about it and mostly he watches TV and sleeps. He sits on the porch. He walks around the yard and comes back and sits, “All give out.” His best buddy is his brother Roger Helton. “He’s so good to Warren. They are really close.” They like to fish together. Back in the days the two worked hard together in the timber business. If she needs to go some place, she calls Roger and he is always there for them. Their children are a big help as well and keep a good eye on them.
Mary Joyce likes to call Leona, whom she calls “Sunshine” because not one time has she ever heard Leona say anything bad about anyone. Taking to her perks up Mary Joyce as things in life are not always without their troubles and she needs someone nice to talk to. She talks to Warren’s sister, Joyce as well, and they call each other every week.
They are fortunate to have a wonderful family and are close knit bunch. Their children are Wilma Rowden, Virgil Helton, Gene Helton, Linda Edwards, Lorie Fussner and Laura Mitchell. Right now, they have 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren with five more babies coming this year to three mothers. Laura’s son Tanner is expecting’s a set of twin boys in October, Curt Rowden and Brook are expecting a baby boy this month, and Audrey and Tyler Holtmeyer are expecting a set of twins, a boy and a girl. This family just keeps getting bigger. That’s enough to make any grandparent smile.