Image from photos of The Great Depression
Sharecropping was a big come-down after losing the farm. Neeley felt it every time she saw family or bumped into a neighbor in the store. They’d been extended credit again since the boss-man vouched for them, but it was humiliating when the owner’s wife, Mrs. Hathaway saw Neeley admiring fabric and snidely remarked, “Now don’t you go runnin’ up the bill with fancy stuff like that. You gonna have to be savin’ since we vouchin’ fer you.”
“I ain’t gonna cost you nothin’,” Neeley assured her. “I got enough sense to know what I owe, but it don’t cost nothin’ for me to look.” With that, she asked the storekeeper for two yards of unbleached muslin, the cheap stuff women used for their monthly needs. She turned to the storekeeper. “Please take this out of my egg and butter money, an’ got each of the young’uns gits a peppermint stick.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” the storekeeper said. He was amused at Neeley’s spunk, having seen plenty of Mrs. Hathaway’s hateful attitude toward her husband’s workers. He cut Neeley an extra yard and grinned.
“I didn’t mean no harm. I just didn’t want you running up no big bill for us to got stuck with. ” Mrs. Hathaway tried to turn the awkward situation around.
“You don’t never have to worry about me.” Neeley looked her dead in the eye. “Save your worry for somebody else.”
Eddie was loading feed as she came out of the store. “Now don’t you go crossing Miz Hathaway. We don’t need them throwin’ us out.”
“Huh, they need us worse than we need them. You ain’t seen nobody lined up at their door looking for a place, have you?” she queried.
All spring Neeley worked alongside Eddie, helping him get the cotton crop in. A few weeks later, she helped him chop the weeds out. Because Eddie furnished his own mule and plow, Mr. Hathaway allowed him an acre for a vegetable garden and let Neeley’s cow graze in with his cows. Eddie built Neeley a chicken house out of scrap lumber to shut her chickens up at night. They ran free all day. Once the cash crop was in, they got their own patch planted. Many landowners didn’t allow their croppers room for a garden, so this was a boon. The landowner was to get one-third of the cotton crop, Eddie two-thirds.
The crop was thriving. They were hopeful they’d clear enough to get far enough ahead to rent a farm with their share. Eddie still had his mule, equipment, and wagon. By now, Cassie was back in Neeley’s life. She and her third husband had settled a few miles away with their twin boys and little girl. The two older boys were out of the house and working. It was a comfort to have Cassie nearby. She had settled down some as she aged, though she and her husband still managed some pretty good fights. It probably helped that men didn’t pay much attention to her as she “lost her looks.” Neeley had even started calling her “Mama” after Ma died.
Things were going a lot better than Neeley expected until her milk dried up and she realized she was pregnant again. Damn, Eddie! Why couldn’t he leave her in peace. The baby was only eight months old! She wouldn’t need that unbleached muslin for a while, anyway. Counting Clara Bea, this would be her sixth child and she wasn’t even twenty-five. She didn’t think she could stand it.