Just Folks Getting By Part 1

This story is not about my family, but from a time and place when my grandparents struggled to raise their family.  This is a picture of my grandparents Roscoe Gordon Holdaway and Mary Elizabeth Perkins Holdaway when they first married.  Mary Elizabeth Perkins and Roscoe Gordon Holdaway Wedding Pictu“Mama, how come I had to live in that orphanage for a while when I was little?  If you ever told me, I don’t remember.” Jenny sat in a porch rocker nursing her new baby.  Her mother Lucille sat across from her in another, crocheting a blanket for Little Lucy.

Oh, Jenny, I been wondering when you was gonna ask about that.  That like to broke my heart.  I don’t want you to think bad of your daddy.  He was a real good man, but got caught up in some trouble when you was just a baby.  We was a’farming the Henderson Place up in the Panhandle where The Dustbowl was the worst and he got caught moonshining.  You have to understand, back in The Great Depression, things was different.  They’d been a long drought an’ he hadn’t made a good crop in years.  Dust just kept a blowin’ ever’thing away.  It was just awful seein’ them dust clouds roll in, knowin’ we was gonna be a’smotherin’ and lose our crops..  That dust would git down in your lungs and turned to mud.   That’s what happened to your brother Jimmy when you was just a baby.  He died of the dust pneumonia.  Anyway, that’s what got your daddy moonshining.  We was a’starvin’ and then Jimmy got bad sick.  It was real flat out there and he put a still in the storm cellar.  The sheriff seen the smoke and come and broke it up and hauled him off to jail.  I didn’t know what I was gonna do.  Since I’m a’gonna be here a few days, it’d be a good time to tell you.  Now, you got a baby of your own, you ought’a be able to know what a hard thing it is to leave a young’un.  I always worried you’d hold it against me, but if I hadn’t a’put you in that orphanage, you’d a’died like Jimmy.  You almost did anyway.”  Lucille had difficulty speaking through her tears.

“Oh Mama.  I never held anything against you.” Jenny interjected.  “I remember you coming to get me on your days off.  I went there when I was so little, I didn’t know any other life.  I couldn’t wait to see you when Mama Margie and Mama Bertha told me you were coming.  Not many kids ever had anybody to come see them.  I thought I was real lucky, especially when you’d take me out on my birthday and Christmas every year.  Those were really special times.  Most kids never went out except when we all went.  I remember getting to sleep over with you a few times.  Those were the best times, snuggled close to you in your bed in your cute little-bitty room in that kitchen.”

“I’m glad you remember it that way, but that wasn’t a ‘cute little-bitty room.’  It was a cot in the pantry, but it’s a mercy that’s what you thought.  Mr. Jones let me clear out a space big enough for a cot.  Do you remember I had all them canned goods stowed up under the bed?  Till Mr. Jones let me git a cat, I had to set mousetraps all around and they’d be a’snappin’ all night.  I shore was proud of Ol’ Smoky.  She wouldn’t let a mouse stay on the place.  I sure slept a lot better after she come.  She was a good old cat.”  They both got a good chuckle out of that.

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Two Roads Part 8

img_1681They anticipated a bumper crop that August.  Eddie’s forty acres were white with the swelling cotton bolls.  An experienced farmer, he’d been at it long enough to know what his crop would bring.  Even though he’d only be paid for two-thirds of the yield, this should be one of his better years.  After settling up with Mr. Hathaway and the grocer, he ought to be able to put away enough to start renting the next fall.  He had his eye on a farm close to Neely’s mama.  The house wasn’t much better than this one, but at least he wouldn’t be sharecropping.

The whole family picked from daylight to dark for days, only breaking to eat buttered sugar biscuits and rest a few minutes at noon.  Their hands bled from the sharp points on the dried bolls.  Neeley had the oldest two girls trade out watching the baby while she picked. The weather held till they got the drop in.  Mr. Hathaway was there to weigh every bag they emptied before having it hauled to the gin.

After the last wagon load of cotton rolled out, they waited anxiously for Mr. Hathaway to get back to pay them their share.  They knew he was coming early that Saturday,  so they already had the wagon hitched up and the kids ready to go so they could settle their grocery bill and get the kids some shoes.  The little guys had gone barefoot all summer, but with school ready to start and winter coming, they’d need shoes.

Mr. Hathaway and his foreman got out of his truck and walked over to where they waited.  “I got bad news for you folks.  The price of cotton fell and seed cost way more than I thought it would.  Y’all didn’t clear but about fifty dollars on this crop.”

Eddie was stunned, taking long to speak.  “That don’t hardly seem right.  Cotton’s been selling for fourteen cents a pound.  We had a fine crop.  The way I figure it, we got just over three-hundred dollars clear.  You was s’posed to pay for the seed, not me.  We got to talk about this.”

“That’s all they is to it.  You just got a tough break on the seed.” Mr. Hathaway dismissed him and turned to go, encountering Neeley standing between him and his truck.  She had a bull whip in her hand. At six feet and near two-hundred pounds, the enraged woman was an imposing figure, especially to a small, wiry older man.  He and his foreman were trapped between the house and the wagon.

“No, that ain’t how it’s gonna go.”  She looked him in the eye.  “You owe us at least three-hundred twenty-seven dollars and that’s what you gonna pay us.  I’ll whip you if I have to, but you ain’t starvin’ my younguns.”

Mr. Hathaway dropped his eyes in the face of the furious woman with the whip.  Reaching in his pocket, he dug out a thick roll of bills.  He counted out three-hundred fifty-three dollars and handed it to Eddie.  “I forgot you have your own mule and equipment. This will make us square.”  He and the foreman edged their way around Neeley and scurried to the truck.  He called back to Eddie once he was in the truck, “I want you and that woman off the place.  I got somebody else in mind.”

Eddie was still shocked at what his wife had done, so Neeley answered for him.  “Don’t you worry none about that.  We already got somethin’ lined up.”

 

 

 

 

Miss Laura Mae’s House Part 2

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Be sure to go back and read part 1

houseMiss Laura Mae’s stories always held my interest, though they certainly weren’t intended for my ears.
“The twins come about a month after Floyd left. To tell the truth, I was kind of glad he wasn’t there to get me “that way” again right off the bat like he done before. They was a few weeks early, so I was up all hours of the day and night a’nursing ‘em. Floyd’s mama, Miz Barker was gittin’ kind of childish, so I brung her to come stay so I didn’t have to try to watch her, too. Turns out, she was purty good help, a’rockin’ one of them babies all the time instead o’ tryin’ to run off all the time. Seems like it kind of settled her. She was a sweet ol’ lady.

The garden was a’comin’ in an’ we had plenty to eat without buyin’ much groceries. Miz Barker, Floyd’s mama told me I could git her pressure cooker to do the cannin’ and that shore helped, not havin’ to worry about my beans and tomaters goin’ bad no more. I had got a check or two, so I was able to get a kerosene stove and git rid of that ol’ wood stove. I got Joe Smith to set it up out in the yard so I could do my cannin’ on it. It shore was better not heatin’ the house up.

I had always took in ironin’ at a nickel a piece to help us over times when Floyd was drinkin’. I was real careful to go straight an’ pay on my grocery bill soon as I got paid so Floyd couldn’ git in my ironin’ money. Sometimes that was all that was comin’ in. I got Betty Lou, Myrt, and Glomie started ironin’ as soon as they was tall enough. I tried to let’em keep a quarter a week of the ironin’ money when I could. I’d let ‘em play about an hour after school, then soon as they was through with their homework, put ‘em to ironin’. We’d all listen to the radio while we was ironing long as the batteries lasted. Purty soon, they was savin’ their part of the ironin’ money for batteries.

Things was good till Jody got burnt. He follered Jimmy out to burn to trash and caught his clothes on fire. He was burned bad all over his back, big ol’ blisters everwhere. Doctor Garnett come out to see him and gave me some salve and pain syrup and told me to keep them burns covered. He couldn’t say if Jimmy’d make it or not. It was right in the heat of the summer. Pore little Jimmy suffered so. I had all I could do takin’ care of him and them babies. I don’t know what I’d a done without Miz Barker a’rockin ‘em like she done. With Jimmy so sick, I couldn’t nurse ‘em all the time like I needed to, so I got ‘em on the bottle some to help out. Mr. Jones down at the store let me run my bill up purty high a time or two when I had to keep Carnation Milk without complainin’ a bit. The girls kept right up with the ironin’, never passin’ a word when I couldn’ give ‘em nothing.

My sisters Oly and Ory helped the boys keep the garden goin’ and when it come in, they done most of the cannin’, leavin’ me to take care of Jimmy and the babies. Bessie an’ Joe Smith took to milkin’ the cow in the mornin’ so I didn’t have to get up before daylight after being up so much at night. I don’t know how I’d a’made it if I hadn’ had all that help. In a month or so, Jody was doin’ purty good. By that time, I had them babies purty much on the bottle, and I was able to pick my work back up. I don’t know what I’d a’done without good neighbors, but I was so glad when I could pick my ironin’ and my garden back up and take care of my own young’uns. I was proud for the help, but ever’body needs to make their own way and not be worryin’ other folks.

To be continued

Hard Times With Mettie Knight Swain

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Five of Maw Maw’s seven children.  My father, Bill Swain is the little boy with wet pants holding the cap.  One more child was born after this picture was made.  It is likely someone just happened by with a camera and snapped this shot. Continue reading