Just Folks Getting By Part 5


“I was never so proud of anything as that bus ticket.  I wrote back that afternoon I’d be on the four o’clock bus the next day.  I rushed around and got our clothes washed and ironed.  It didn’t take long to pack your four little dresses, nightgown, flour sack panties, slips and socks in a cardboard box tied up with string.  By that time I was down to two dresses, a slip, and three pair of flour sack panties.  I made room for Mama’s Bible recording our marriage, you two kids’ birthdate and Jimmy’s death. I’d got so skinny, I didn’t get another brassiere when mine wore out.  Aunt Lucy wasn’t able to go to the bus station.  She was down in her back.  I cried when I kissed her, not knowin’ if I’d ever see her again.  We set out walkin’ three miles to the bus station before it was good light, wearing cotton dresses and our only sweaters.  You was draggin’ a little rag doll Aunt Lucy had made you out of a flour sack and a wore-out apron.  Nobody wasted nothin’, then.  Our little bit of stuff got mighty heavy before we made it half a mile down that dusty road.  I had to stop and let you sit on the box and rest a time or two.  I couldn’t carry you, the box, and the sack lunch Aunt Lucy had packed. Lucky for us, Amos Jones came by in his old pick up and gave us ride.  He stopped off at the café and we had coffee, since we’d got there early.  He bought you a glass of milk and gave you the fried egg sandwich he’d brung for his lunch.  I sure was proud.  You’d been too sleepy to eat good when we left Aunt Lucy’s and I wanted to make our lunch last.  When he left, he made me take a dollar.  He growed up with your daddy and wanted to do something for his old friend.  I figured it was his last dollar.  It was for sure my only dollar and I was proud to git it.  I sure hope it didn’t hurt him too bad to give it, but he wouldn’t let me refuse.  It’s funny how folks with the least to give is the most likely to help. 

Amos and his wife had four kids.  Aunt Lucy wrote me ‘bout a year later his wife died in childbirth leavin’ him with all the kids and a sick baby.  About two months later he married a widow-woman who had a baby ‘bout the same age.  A tractor had rolled over on her husband just before her baby was born.  She married him moved right in to take care of his kids and nurse the baby.  She knew folks would talk bad about them marryin’ so soon, but they both had to have some help.  I sure wouldn’t have thought bad about them.  They was just doin’ what they had to to take care of their young’uns.”

Jenny didn’t know anything about that kind of desperation.  “Didn’t she have any family or friends she could have stayed with till she could have gotten a job?  I can’t imagine marrying that quick if something happened to Ben.  You’d need some time to mourn.  They couldn’t have loved each other.”

“Honey, I’m glad you don’t remember nothin’ about a life that hard.  If that woman had folks, they might’a been starvin’ too.  Most men didn’t have jobs, ‘cept farmin’.  A woman had to be powerful lucky to come up with a job.  If a feller had a job to give, it went to a man with a family.  Until your Uncle Marsh found me that dishwashin’ job where he worked, I did any work I could git.  I sat with the sick, nursed new mama’s, helped with crops and canning.  I almost never got a nickel.  I was workin’ for food and a place for me and you to sleep, and lots of time, havin’ to dodge the menfolks.  If I went to milk, I took you with me so you got some milk right off. If I worked in the kitchen, I tried to slip you a little somethin’.  I never threw a biscuit out, even if it was left on somebody’s plate.  That might be all the supper you was gittin’.   I was always scared you was gonna starve.  They was whole families walkin’ down the road with nothin’ but the clothes on their backs.  I was always skeert that was gonna be you and me.  Lots of folks starved.  It was rough!  To this day, I won’t leave a penny laying in the road.  That could end up the last penny I’d git.”

Jenny hugged her little one.  “It must have been awful worryin’ about your baby being hungry.  I’d move heaven and earth to take care of Lucy.  I worry if I don’t eat right so she can get plenty.  I know if something happened to me, Ben would do the best he could, but he’d have to learn everything.  If something ever happened to me, would you come take care of Lucy?”

“Why sure I would, honey, but don’t borrow trouble.  You’ll spoil your milk.  Let’s talk about something happy.  I never saw anybody so proud as you after your daddy got home and Shirley was born.  You thought you was her mama.  One morning she squalled out while I was at the clothesline.   Before I could git in there, you’d got up in the crib with her and took your dress off.  You had her cuddled up to your little flat chest tryin’ to nurse her.  She couldn’t find nothin’ and she was mad as hops.  You was such a little mama.”

“Ooh, don’t tell Ben that one.  He’d carry me high.  I’d never hear the last of it.  How is Shirley?  Have you heard from her since you got here?”

“No, she’s got her hands full with them three little ones, an’ Martin workin’ nights, trying to sleep days.  I never could’a kept y’all quiet.  That’s why I started keepin’ ‘em at my place instead of goin’ over there when she’s teachin’.  Joey starts school next fall, though, so that’ll just leave Betsy and Marty with me durin’ the day.  Them two is a handful.  She’s kind a’talkin’ ‘bout havin’ another one, but I hope she’ll take a little time with it, till them girls is a little bigger. I’m glad you had this one in May so I can stay the whole summer with you.  What are you gonna do when you go back to work?  I wish I lived close enough so I could keep her.”

“Well, I haven’t told Ben, but I’m thinking about staying home with her.  As long as it took her to come along, I don’t know if I’ll be able to have another one. He’s doing really well down at the hardware store. By the time I got somebody in to keep her, I wouldn’t come out much ahead workin’.  You know how that is, don’t you.”  She reached over and squeezed her mother’s wrinkled hand.






Just Folks Getting By Part 4


Both these quilts are are made with fabrics from feedsacks.  I was fortunate enough to be given the treasure of these vintage quilt tops.  Note the beautiful hand work on the Sunbonnet Sue quilt.  All the girls are completely different.  No two squares are alike on either quilt.  All I had to do was quilt them.

imageLucille and Jenny were working together on a quilt top Lucille had started when she first found out Jenny was pregnant.  “See this here pink, flowery piece.  When I was a’carryin’ you, I got two feed sacks and managed to swap my neighbor for another to make me a dress.  I fought you’ll ever have times that hard, but I ain’t sorry I know how to manage when times is hard.  Them chickenfeed sacks was real purty. It took three for a woman’s dress, two for a child, and two for a man’s short sleeve shirt. All you had to do was unravel them, wash’ em, soak’ em in salt water to set the color, an’ git to sewin’.  I had had enough left of this piece to make a collar and cuffs for a little dress for you.  I like to think of Lucy sleepin’ under the same stuff I wore when I was in the family way with you then you wore as a baby.  Who’d a’thought all these years later it would still be around.  If it don’t wear too bad, it could be she’ll be wrappin’ a baby in it one day.  I know I wouldn’t have hung onto a store blanket that way.  Once it got wore, I’d a’throwed it out. 

I’ll have to tell you a funny on me and your daddy.  The first time I made him a feedsack shirt, I put the buttons on the left instead of the right, not being used to sewing for a man.  Well, he wore it over to his Uncle Melvin’s to Sunday dinner and the menfolks just carried him high.  Turns out, he knowed it was wrong all along; he just didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  I told him not to wear it off the place after that.  I didn’t want nobody shamin’ him on my account.  You know he had to be a good man to wear that shirt knowing they was gonna laugh at him.  I made real sure to always git his buttons on the right, after that! Darned, if it didn’t take years to wear that shirt out, with them wrong-sided buttons staring me in the face!”

Jenny considered. “He was a good daddy.  I don’t remember him ever fussing at me.  I didn’t even know him when we all moved back home after I got out of the orphanage, but I do remember thinking I didn’t have to mind him till you straightened me out.  Exactly how did I come to be in the orphanage?  I don’t remember much before being there.”

“Well, you daddy got in trouble for moonshining on his Uncle Melvin’s place.  Him and some of Uncle Melvin’s boys was all in it.  Your Uncle Melvin had about four hundred acres him and his boys was working when your daddy got in with them.  The drought and dust storms started about the time we married and Russ never had a real good crop.  Ever’ year, it just got worse.  Finally, Uncle Melvin come to talk to your Daddy.  He’d borrowed from the bank and they was gonna take the place.  Well, that would git our living as well as Uncle Melvin’s and all his boys.  Luther, his oldest boy had got to running moonshine, and it was good money, especially for them hard times.  Somehow, folks can find the money to drink.  Anyway, Luther set up his own still at a crick on the back of Uncle Melvin’s place.  That crick dried up every summer, but would run pretty good over the winter when it rained north of us.  Your daddy run moonshine for Luther awhile and done real good.  Jimmy was already having real bad athsma from the dust storms, so your daddy put us on the bus and sent us back to stay with Aunt Lucy, meaning to come for us when the dust settled.  Jimmy died a few days after we got there.  That’s where we was when I got the letter letting me know he was going to jail.  If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have wished I was dead.  He got five years.”

“Oh no,” Jenny exclaimed. “I never knew how that happened.  “Why didn’t we stay at Aunt Lucy’s till he got out.”

“Well, we did stay a few weeks till Uncle Marshall come to visit.  That was Aunt Lucy’s younger brother.  He died when you was about six.  I doubt you remember him.” Lucille mused.  “Uncle Marsh never married and we was real close.  He was working two jobs in Dallas.  He was a janitor at a hotel and the Bar and Grill next door.  He knew your daddy and felt just awful about him being in the pen.  He said the Bar and Grill needed a dishwater and he might be able to get the job.  Now, I know that don’t sound like much of a job to you, but I was desperate enough to pray I’d get it.  I couldn’t impose on Aunt Lucille forever.  She was old and already had a widowed daughter and grandchildren living with her.  She got her husband’s Civil War Pension, but it didn’t go far enough to stretch for two more.

My sister Velma was having her fourth baby so I went to help out for a few days, hoping to hear from Uncle Marshall.  Velma’s old man was sorry.  He follered me out to the barn one night, wanting to mess with me.  I hit him in the head with the milk bucket and went in and told Velma we was gonna have to leave.  She got to crying, saying she’d feared it might turn out that way.  She sent word to a neighbor who needed help with gittin’ in her garden and canning and she said we could stay with her a couple of weeks till she could get her garden in.  After that, another neighbor needed help with her mama who’d had a stroke.  We moved ever’ few weeks for a while, just takin’ whatever work I could get.  Of course, I never got no pay, just food and a place to stay, but it got our feet out from under Aunt Lucy’s table. 

Sometimes, I’d git so worried I couldn’t sleep when our work was comin’ to a close, fearin’ I wouldn’t be able to get you under a roof.  I never eat no more than I could help, not wanting to impose.  I got down to one-hundred eleven pounds, which ain’t much for a big woman like me.  I just ate enough to make sure I wouldn’t git down sick.  I always made sure you got enough, even if I was afraid to.  I made real sure to stay shy of the men at the house, not wantin’ to have no problems.  Sometimes, I had to set them straight, right off.  It got to where I’d tell the man and woman right off when I got there, I didn’t want nothing to do with no man.

Finally, I got a letter a bus ticket from Uncle Marsh.  I like to cried with relief.

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.

Andrew and Molly Part 1

img_1700Andrew Wharton was born to be a farm servant like his father and grandfather before him, the line extending back much further than anyone bothered to remember.  His work was not a choice; he was born to work Hampton Grange and expected to die there.  The only surprise was when pretty Molly Peace chose him.  Ecstatic in his luck, he couldn’t believe the rollicking dairy maid favored him above all the hopeful lads pursuing her when he’d done no more than sneak shy peeks at her in Chapel.  The confusion of love and glorious sensuality overwhelmed the young man who’d never contemplated the possibility that life could hold pleasure. Molly saw joy in everything, the sweet breath of the cows she milked, the warmth of the sun on her face, and the sweet sent of the hay she bundled, not seeming to notice the manure in the cow’s tail, the slogging rains, or the sneezing brought on by the hay.

Their life at Hampton Grange offered the couple little beyond a small hovel, milk and cheese from the dairy, a daily ration of bread and beer, the privilege of wood gathering, and scant wages. Once a year, they were due a measure of wool for their own use. Compared to the conditions many experienced, it was adequate under Old Squire John’s management. Left to his gambling heir, it was soon lost to bankruptcy, leaving them adrift.

Andrew and his new wife Molly found themselves standing in the freezing rain wearing all they owned before a pub in Liverpool. After three days’ starving, they were easily persuaded to join an agent for The Virginia Club for food and drink. With no prospects, they were Signed papers of indenture pledging the next four years of their lives in exchange for passage to the Jamestown colony in Virginia. For their volunteer bondage they would receive lodging, food, and clothing, the quality to be determined by their master. They were fortunate in being bound four years. Most were bound seven years. including involuntary prisoners or abductees. At the end of their service, they were entitled to tools, money, and land. Like so many other indentured servants, they could expect years of unrelenting labor and uncertain treatment. In truth, the next few years wouldn’t be greatly different to the life they were accustomed to if they were fortunate enough to be bound to a good master. At least they’d have a start at the end of their time.

Two Roads Part 11

img_1685Image pulled from the internet

Eddie made a good crop that year. Neeley canned and dried all her garden produced. The children cheeks filled out with the good food and all the milk they wanted. Once the crop was put by that fall, Neeley’s brothers Albert and Willie, and Eddie’s cousins came over to help with the well-digging. They’d dug down about twenty feet and were just starting to see water seep in, when Eddie broke his shovel handle and called out for a replacement. As one of the men was lowering it, he lost control and dropped it, hitting Eddie in the head. They dragged Eddie out of the well unconscious and hauled him ten miles to town in the back of a wagon.  He was transferred to Charity Hospital forty miles away by ambulance.  He awoke after a couple of days later, to their great relief, though he was never quite the same. He suffered from debilitating headaches and frequent seizures that left him confused. Worst of all, he raged and had little impulse control. He would have beaten the children if Neeley hadn’t gotten between him and them. Fortunately, she was larger than Eddie and able to control him.

Despite his problems, he was determined to take care of his family.  He’d work till a headache or seizure disabled him, then go to bed and get up and try again the next day.  Neeley’s brothers helped him get his crops in the next spring, hoping he’d rally with time.  Neeley and the children worked beside him, the baby toddling right along behind.  When it came time to pick the cotton, they all picked with the baby either riding along on their cotton sacks or playing between the rows.  Despite their best efforts, they barely made enough to pay the rent for the next year.  They’d be able to eat what Neeley canned or dried from the garden, but there was only enough money for shoes for the the oldest kids, the ones in school.  The others were resoled, reheeled, and passed down.  Neeley always bought brown lace-up oxfords, so they could be worn by boys and girls.  They had fattened six shoats to put in the smokehouse, but decided they’d best sell three for supplies and next spring’s seed.

It would be a hard winter, but they’d squeak by.  Neeley was exhausted from picking up Eddie’s extra load as well as keeping up her own work.  She was relieved to anticipate things easing up till she started throwing up in the mornings and realized she hadn’t had a visit from “her friend” in a couple of months.

Two Roads Part 7


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.





Lessons of a Hard Life

Daddy was a pragmatist with a dim view of positive reinforcement. Throughout his life, he’d seen many of acquaintances make the expedient rather than the better choice. I don’t know whether he considered his choice of associates might have an effect on their decision-making but he did need a fix of low company from time to time, probably feeling they held a lofty view of him. He held himself apart from drinking and trashy behavior, but did appreciate hearing just enough to reinforce his self-view, also providing an opportunity for edification should these “friends in low places” need his help and guidance. They enjoyed his generosity far more than his immediate family. Taking care of one’s family is a thankless task, whereas news of “bread cast upon the waters” may be touted far and wide. Though not a minister, he frequently preached that a person trying to lift himself out of a “life of sin” is to be praised far above those never wallowed. I am sure, this was personal, since he took every opportunity to use his own early behavior and redemption as an example of all he’d overcome. For some reason, he never encouraged us to sample the delights of sin so we could ascend to sainthood as he had, just made sure we never enjoyed the opportunity to mess up.
It was heart-warming to hear of the improved behavior of Josey Johnson, who only two weeks earlier had abandoned a loving husband or wife and little children for the company of a hard-drinking friend. If Daddy could corner Josey and get in a little preaching and Josey came home, Daddy was ecstatic. Josey could count on all kinds of favors, till he or she took off again. Daddy wasn’t bad about letting us know when Josey backslid, but hastened to update us if Josie returned home for some rest and rehabilitation. It didn’t matter that Josey might have been kicked out of a den of iniquity and was roosting at home till something better came along.
Unfortunately, Daddy never understood that not all people seek the low life. Life is full of people who do the right thing, just because it is right. I still wish he’d learned that not everyone falls, given the opportunity. I know his difficult background shaped his attitude.


This photo pictures my father and several of his siblings. He is the boy in the middle holding the cap. I feel sure my grandmother seized the opportunity to have their pictures made by someone who happened by with a camera. They were sharecroppers. It is unlikely she was able to make any preparations for this photo. Times got even harder for the family when her husband died at forty-two, leaving her with five children between three and eighteen. The eldest had already married and left home. The oldest boy, at eighteen was working at whatever he could find. The fifteen-year-old boy went into the Civilian Conservation Corps as soon as he could. My father was thirteen and did farm work and odd jobs to help out till he got on as a night watchman at an oil rig at fifteen. The rig wasn’t too far from the house so he often slipped home to get something to eat and warm up, since he was too poorly clothed to keep warm.


Fried Chicken Gizzard and Cheddar Cheese Sandwich

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Well, I Never….”

Long, long ago when I was a but child-bride, I yearned to please my handsome husband so I dreamed of concocting hearty breakfasts, luscious lunches, and delightful dinners.  This wasn’t to be.  We had wisely married while still in college so were in possession of two things money couldn’t buy, abject poverty and true love.  We were just scraping by.  After about two weeks, about all we had left in the refrigerator was a half-loaf of bread, mustard, a couple of lonely, frozen chicken gizzards, and an old, dry sliver of cheddar cheese.  I fried those chicken gizzards up nice and hard, sliced them as thin as possible, added the slivered cheddar cheese and sat down with My Darling to enjoy the amazing delicacy.  It was the worst thing I ever tried to eat.  The piquant taste of overdone gizzard slathered with mustard was not a good companion taste for the dried out cheddar cheese.  I was never tempted to try that combo again.

Baby Blues and Green Parents


We were a good couple.  Long before we got married, we agreed completely on important things..foreign policy, religion, life plans.  Then we got married.  Life was idyllic.  We were both in college, working student jobs.  Bud had saved over $500 and student loans covered my tuition. Continue reading