Stranger, Then Friend
Freeman is on the top of my list of strangers, even though he wasn't a stranger for long.
This list is really about people I have met and never seen again. But I have to make an exception, here.
My encounter with Freeman in 1977 is an example of how you can strike up a conversation with someone you don't know and it can turn into a friendship...even when that someone is 4 times as old as you!
Freeman at Home
I met Freeman when I was with fellow college students, in a small-town cafe in the Missouri Ozarks. We struck up a conversation and he bragged about his cattle. Next thing you know, I was milking one of his cows. (An accomplishment that had been on my bucket list!)
After that initial visit to Freeman's farm I visited him many times. He always whipped up noon "dinner" on his 585-pound wood burning stove. Spinach, okra and poke greens from his garden...biscuits with homemade jellies and freshly churned butter...and cow's milk!
Acting His Age?
Freeman was 79 and I was 19, when we met. I wasn't used to having much in common with someone of another generation. But I observed and I was in awe of what a man his age could accomplish. What was even more surprising to me, was how Freeman spoke, when he got past his funny stories and began to reflect on the past. I felt like I was talking to a peer. He talked about the strength of his wife who had died years before. He spoke about the ability of women to change the world. He pondered about religion and how people abused it. It was honestly the first time I respected an older person as a human being, not just as an elder.
Freeman and I wrote letters till he died, in his 90's. Sometimes he wrapped up okra or berries or even butter and mailed it to me in St. Louis.
When I married, he sent a wedding gift. It was a quilt, made by women of his town, made from the cotton material of flour sacks.
Years later, I returned one last time to Eminence with my two year old daughter, Heidi. Freeman was moving a little slower and he had replaced his straw hat with a trucker's hat. He drove us out in his truck to see his cattle, but he didn't bother to get out this time. He just hollered from his window, "HOOOOWEEE!"
I think about Freeman so often, especially when I see cows. I can almost hear that high pitched old voice, hollering out to his cattle!
You weren't a stranger for long. You changed my view of "older people." I will add a new "Stranger Memory" to my list each week, but none will be quite like you. Like the others, though...I will sadly never see you again.
4/9/2012 11:35:35 pm
Beth, this is such a beautiful story, brought tears to my eyes to see the pics of this sweet man...how wise you were at 19 to appreciate him, and trust in a friendship with a stranger. He sounds like a special person and your lives were enriched by that encounter so long ago. Thanks for sharing such a lovely story.
Jennifer Hughes Anderson
2/8/2013 09:40:05 am
Beth, I found your blog post when I was researching some family history. Freeman was my great, great uncle and I visited him as a child. I didn't know him well, but his letters over the years to my parents were full of personality and interesting details. Thanks for sharing!
Linda Hughes Seevers
8/30/2013 11:48:32 am
Jennifer, how are you related to Uncle Freeman. I'm the granddaughter of his brother Steve.
9/3/2013 01:00:22 pm
Freeman was the brother of my great, great grandfather, John C. Hughes. He had two sons, John and Robert Hughes. Robert's son (also Robert), is my dad. We visited Freeman a time or two when I was young.
9/3/2013 01:05:03 pm
Whoops, I meant Freeman was the brother of my great-grandfather. I accidentally added a generation!
Linda Hughes Seevers
8/30/2013 06:20:00 am
This is my great uncle.
8/30/2013 11:12:24 pm
I received an email from my cousin Linda about your site. Freeman Hughes was also my Great Uncle. He was quite a character and we exchanged letters for sometime when I was in high school. I very much enjoyed what you wrote about him. Thank you Debbie Keller
8/31/2013 12:25:44 am
Debbie and Linda, what a wonderful surprise to see your messages! I was so delighted when I first heard from Jennifer and learned of her connection to Freeman... and now I know of 2 more nieces! He was such a special person and I'm thrilled to know you both have memories or at least heard stories about him! Thank you so much for letting me know.
8/31/2013 12:32:09 am
Also, I think I mentioned to Jennifer...although I don't see my reply... But I also wrote a short piece about Freeman in another blog (thebethlists) in the Barbie Bucket List Blog entry about milking a cow. Feel free to email me if you want to see anymore photos or you have questions. Thanks again.
8/31/2013 12:33:38 am
8/31/2013 03:34:53 am
Hi Beth, Uncle Freeman was my great uncle. I am Debbie's sister and Linda's cousin. He was definitely a character! When we used to visit Eminence, my favorite thing was to visit his farm and see the cows and the hogs!
8/31/2013 04:14:06 am
That must have been so fun, Elaine. I never had any relatives who had farms when I was young. I was envious of those who did. Thanks for sharing!
9/1/2013 05:10:12 am
9/1/2013 08:33:02 am
Hi Carole! This is so fun hearing from yet another niece! I'm trying to get everyone sorted out and now I'm wondering if Freeman's brother Steve had lived in Eminence,also. As I recall, Freeman's son lived next door. I think I even have a photo of his grandson. I sure wish I could have met Bess. You could tell how much Freeman looked up to her when he spoke about her. She must have been very special. Anyway, I live in the Houston area and am really wishing I could get back to that wonderful area in Missouri. (I used to live in St. Louis) What a fun idea to all meet up! Wouldn't Freeman love knowing so many are remembering him fondly!
9/3/2013 01:08:19 pm
If any of you have birth/death dates for Freeman's brother, Steve, I'd love to have that information. I don't have a lot of family information about any of his siblings.
1/6/2014 06:44:26 am
Freeman is the Uncle of my 1st Cousin 1x removed, Doris E Akers Hughes. Found your website researching the Hughes branch of my Family tree. I wonder if it would be ok to use the picture of Freeman on my tree in Ancestry.com? I would love to hear from other relatives with info on this branch
1/6/2014 07:36:56 am
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To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers