He struck up a conversation with us on his own, commenting on how cold it was (about 27-degrees out that day). We were at the laundromat in Marshfield, Missouri, and he was telling my wife that it was nice to be there as the dryers made the place warm and he had no heat in his home.
His name is John, John Hoochman. He is a lifelong resident of Marshfield having been born there “the old way” and raised there on a farm where he and his brothers, one of whom is his identical twin, slept in a loft that “felt just like if you were outside” according to him (one reason why the lack of heat in his home didn’t bother him). John attended school in a one-room schoolhouse his family apparently owned and has his high school diploma.
The only time he spent away from Marshfield and the surrounding area was when he was drafted into the Army to serve in the Viet Nam War. He was a supply driver, and he once drove a jeep for President Richard Nixon. He was in Viet Nam until the end of the war and then he returned, unharmed, to Marshfield.
John remembers Niangua when the trains still stopped there. He says that when the trains stopped servicing the town, the old white warehouse by the tracks was converted into a feed store and that a grocery store “not as big as WalMart, but a good one” operated out of the big red warehouse that is now the Asher Auction House, City Hall, Police Station, and recently closed antiques store.
In 1972, John had an accident with his own tractor and lost his left leg up to the knee. Laying there hurt and bleeding out he cried out to God and promised that if God would spare his life that he would work hard all the rest of his life. On February 2nd, John received his wooden leg and on the 3rd he went to work in a dairy farm. A few years later he went to work at a steel mill in Seymour, Missouri, directly south of Niangua and Marshfield, and he retired as a welder from there 35 years later. John told me that you have to keep a promise that you make to God, “it never goes right when you don’t.”
Nowadays, John lives in one of three farms owned by him and his brothers. He says he had a wife and a couple of daughters “but, when the daughters grew up and left the house she decided it was time for her to leave too.” The brothers raise beef cattle (they used to raise cattle for dairy as well but have stopped doing so commercially, only using the dairy for their own needs now).
John told me that if I saw him around to be sure to say hello, but to first make sure it wasn’t his twin brother because his brother looks exactly like him “but 15 minutes older,” and he made sure to invite me to hang out with him sometime at the WalMart where he goes just about every morning (I’d know he was there just by looking for his little red pickup truck). As he finished his laundry, he showed me his thermal underwear and fleece-lined jeans that keep him warm in his unheated home.