Just Folks Getting By Part 5

flour-sack-underwear-poemhttp://suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-flour-sack-underwear-poem.html#links

“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.

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/just-folks-getting-by-part-1/

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/just-folks-getting-by-part-2/

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/just-folks-getting-by-part-3/

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/just-folks-getting-by-part-4/

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/just-folks-getting-by-part-5/

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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.

Two Roads Part 5

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Image pulled from internet

Though Neeley’s marriage to Eddie did not start with love, they were good people who needed each other.  Both considered themselves damaged goods.  Neeley got a home and a father for her child, Eddie, a wife and mother for his young daughter.  They both had healthy appetites for life and love which made for a solid marriage.  Neeley loved little Clara Bea from the start, knowing how abandonment felt.  Both got a better deal than they expected.  During those days, divorce was almost unheard of.  Eddie had despaired of finding a decent woman to marry after his wife abandoned him.  He’d never even thought of approaching a young woman since she’d left.  It was remarkable that Neeley was the child of a divorcee who married a divorced man at a time when most people had never even met a divorced person, much less have a close link to two.

Since there was no whisper of Neeley’s liason with Joey, it was assumed Neeley was a foolish young girl who’d fallen for an older fellow.  Though it made for interesting gossip, it was not a real scandal since he’d made an honest woman of her.  Then, as so often through life, society felt the woman fell short, not the man.

In the Deep South of that time, a great majority of people still made their living as farmers.  Large landowners with sharecroppers or tenants were on the top of the heap. Small farm owners came next. About the least a man could support his family on was forty acres.  He had to have a mule and equipment. The rental farm included a house.  He most likely had to borrow money for planting and had debt at the grocery store most of the time and just scraped by.  Should they fall on hard times and not be able to maintain their credit, their only option might be to become a sharecropper.  Sharecroppers were set up by landowners and split the crop with owner.  It was often unfair and kept farmers in debt.  Many had to sneak off in the night when debt got too high.  Sharecropping kept farmers bound to place.

Eddie owned a small farm and had very little money long before The Great Depression.  They raised most of what they needed.  Along with their garden, they had a cow, hogs, and a flock of chickens and cultivated a few acres of cotton for cash.  The occasional sale of a hog and Neeley’s butter and egg money helped out.  All they really had to buy was coal oil for their lamps, coffee, sugar, flour, baking soda, a few clothes for Eddie, and shoes.  Women’s and girl’s clothes came from feed sacks.  Flour sacks were reincarnated as underwear.  Their’s was a subsistence life, not by choice.  It was the life Neeley was raised to expect.

 

 

 

Something for Nothing!!!!

Click on this image on the right for a link to get this ebook free from Kindle Saturday or Sunday only.  Please share!Book for orderI grew up in a family of competitive storytellers.  A little thing like a stubbed toe gets us started.  “Do you remember the time Grandpa cut his ingrown toenails out then fooled around and set his toe on fire?”  That is not a hypothetical example.  It’s beloved and oft-repeated tale. 

At family dinners, wild tales start as soon as we’ve said Grace and the food is being passed around.  “Remember that fifty-two pound turkey Daddy brought home to fatten for Thanksgiving on year!”

Someone else breaks in, “That old turkey was the meanest thing that ever walked!  We couldn’t even walk out in the yard without him flying over the fence and flogging us.  Mother was looking forward to him teaching those terrible Downs kids a lesson the next time they came out trying to tear the place up!”

The story is snatched away, “Yeah, and then………….”

It goes on and on.  I’ve always looked forward to getting these stories down before they were lost, and after I retired, I got serious about it, knowing there was a possibility I might not live forever.  Mother is hale and hearty far into her eighties, so with her help, I got down to business.  The icing on the cake is that Mother illustrated the stories.  Everything Smells Just Like Poke Salad is the result of our collaboration.  It is available as an ebook on Kindle, in a full-color illustrated edition for family and friends and in a black and white print edition on Amazon.  For the next five days, as a special promotion, it is available free on Kindle.  Please take a look at it.

 

Your Money’s No Good Here!

 


It’s good to compare notes with your family.  My brother just told me my dad helped his brother-in-law counterfeit quarters back in the 1930s.  Daddy’s oldest sister, Aunt Jenny, married Uncle Chester, a bona fide reprobate, a rabble-rousing drunk who enlisted Daddy to help with his quarter counterfeiting business.  I don’t know if Daddy would have even qualified for reform school if he’d gotten caught, since he was just a hungry little kid trying to win a place at Aunt Jenny’s table for a few days. Mama and his younger sisters were about to starve since his own father was sick in bed at his mother’s house.  Grandma wanted nothing to do with her daughter-in-law and the grandkids, though she was willing to care for her son.  The boys were pretty much working for room and board anywhere they could.

At any rate, Uncle Chester made pretty good quarters, a time-consuming job requiring a steadier hand than his, since he was rarely sober.  According the Daddy, Uncle Chester made impressions of both side of quarters using Plaster of Paris casts lined with onion-skin paper.  The steady hands were needed to line the molds up and glue them together, leaving a tiny pour-hole at the top, where they could pour in Uncle Chester’s special melted alloy.  Once the ragged quarters set, a little artistry work was required to finish them off.  Voila!  Quarters!

Babbittquarter

Uncle Chester had no trouble passing his bogus quarters at the grocery store, the mercantile, and the hardware store. The problem came at the bar.  Though he was normally stingy and careful, one night he got a snootful and wanted to buy a round for everybody in the house.  Indiscreetly, he brought out a bag of quarters to pay his tab.  They didn’t ring true when he poured them on the counter.  The proprietor objected, Uncle Chester tore into him, and Uncle Chester ended up in Leavenworth.

That really wasn’t so bad.  His cell-mate taught him to make twenty-dollar bills.  Before long, Uncle Chester was out, but wasn’t able to pass his twenties because he couldn’t get the color just right.  After a number of frustrating attempts, he poured up some quarters and headed back to the bar.  When he poured his clinky quarters out on the bar, just as Uncle Chester anticipated, the bar-tender objected.  “Are you telling me my money’s no good?”  A fight and arrest ensued.  Uncle Chester went back to Leavenworth for a refresher, polished his craft, and never had any more counterfeiting troubles.

All’s well that ends well.

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.

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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.

Don’t She Look Natural

Aunt Ellie's Funeral
My mother was raised during The Great Depression. This is her story and illustration of her Aunt Ellie’s funeral.

The events surrounding Aunt Ellie’s death were a real treat for me since the two of us hadn’t invested much affection in each other. The wake was unforgettable with all its glorious food: fried chicken, peach cobbler, deviled eggs, bread ‘n butter pickles, dainties not seen outside “dinner on the grounds.” Sprinkled with carbolic acid, Aunt Ellie lay in a pine box stretched across two sawhorses in our living room. Folks tiptoed through, speaking in reverent whispers, “Don’t she look natural?” and “Ain’t she purty?”

Luckily for me, Mama couldn’t read minds or I’d have been eating standing up the next couple of weeks. She might ‘a been purty a hunnerd years ago, but I hadn’t never seen nothing “purty” ‘bout ‘er, bony and wrinkled as a prune, ol’ dry snuff ‘round ‘er mouth” Her ol’ crazy hair stuck up like a nest ‘a sting worms. She’d a skeert a person to death had if they’d ‘a met ‘er in the dark. Least she smells better dead.’

All the family came. The men sat with the body round the clock to protect it from the horror of desecration by varmints or house cats. Women-folk bustled in the kitchen, initially sharing woeful tales of death and illness, before branching off into ever-lasting business of child-bearing. New brides and rosily pregnant young wives studied snaggle-toothed old women, either dried-up and stick-thin, or walking barrels with pancake breasts hanging to their waists sure, they could have never been young or pretty enough to catch a man’s eye. In return, they were rewarded with horrifying tales of five-day labors and gruesome deformities, enough nightmares for the rest of their pregnancies. Folk sat around talking and parents weren’t quite as likely to run kids outdoors. Perhaps “not speaking ill of the dead” relaxed the old standby “children should be seen and not heard.” Old family stories were dusted off and embellished for the new generation. The best storytellers theatrically saved their best till the moment was right: Grampa Holdaway and his starving buddies roasting an unfortunate turtle over a campfire as they were marched to a Union Prison Camp in Illinois; Uncle George gored by a stampeding Longhorn cow; Daddy and Uncle Jim tossing cats and dogs off the roof of the Primitive Baptist Church during revival, making folks think the rapture had come. Kids hung on every word, never realizing their own great-grandchildren would beg for these same stories long after their ancestors were dust.

Ah, the funeral! Up till now, though I’d attended dozens, I’d never enjoyed the prestige of being a “member of the family,” though I knew the order of the funeral service by heart. The dearly departed lay in state on altar, surrounded by all the flowers the community could heap on them. The front pews were saved for “the family”, their grief showcased to best advantage. All eyes followed as they somberly took their places in the seats of honor. Strong men supported those most devastated, either by love or guilt, a topic of open debate by attendees. Following a eulogy so lovely the honoree couldn’t have recognized him or herself, the saddest hymns known to Christendom, and exhortations for the lost to mend their sinful ways. Next, the community filed by to pay their last respects, ostensibly leaving the family to their last private moments with their loved one. In fact, many intrigued guests filed back in and took their seats to see how the family “took it”, noting every utterance, cry, or wail to interpret at leisure for those unfortunate enough not to have made it to the entertainment. With any luck, mourners shrieked, fainted, rent their clothes, climbed in the coffin, confessed their sins to the corpse, or just generally made it worth the time it took to go to a funeral. Just once, I’d tried to join the line that circled back to see “how they took it” but Mama convinced me not to try that again. She usually towed me out the door to the home of the mourners to red up for the after funeral dinner and often left as soon as the family got back without even a bite of the luscious fried chicken or a crumb of chocolate cake. ‘Boy!! Was Mama mean!!’

Finally, finally, I was a fully qualified mourner, a member of the family, entitled to a front pew. Of course, Cousin Katie got the seat of honor, with that mean Johnny, right next to her. Daddy, Aunt Ellie’s only living brother was next to Johnny, then Mama, where she had a straight shot at me and John if we even looked like we might wiggle. For as long as I could remember, Margaret Lucille, the preacher’s little girl and Sarah Nell Bond had run up and down the aisles during church services as much as they pleased. Sometimes their mamas sat together and the girls giggled and played together, digging in their Mama’s purses till they were separated. Then they’d put their heads in their mama’s laps and go to sleep, showing everybody their bloomers. I’d always admired them, and one Sunday morning worked my nerve up to join them. As I leaned forward to slip off the pew, I felt a fearsome presence next to me and an iron grip on my arm. I looked up and Mama pinned me to the pew with a deadly look, shook her finger, and hoarsely threatened, “MAY YOU BUH!” I was never foolish enough to rock the boat to later to ask what “MAY YOU BUH!” meant, but it had to be terrible. . I’d never tried to roam during church again, but Mama still didn’t trust me. Years later,when I got the nerve to ask Mama what that fearsome phrase “May you buh!” meant she had no idea what she might have really been saying.

Sitting still throughout the long church service was usually torment, but today I made the most of being “a bereaved family member” and concentrated on looking sad and pale. I considered trying to faint but figured Mama would warm my britches up for me if I messed it up. I’d never kissed Aunt Ellie when she was alive with snuff in the wrinkles around her mouth and wasn’t about to start now, even if it would make a good impression. ‘That was just creepy.’ I hoped the neighbors didn’t notice how much Cousin Katie looked like a purple eggplant as she stood before the coffin, supported by my poor, skinny daddy. I caught my breath when Katie leaned over coffin to kiss Aunt Ellie. Thank Goodness, she didn’t flop like a fish in front of the coffin like a fish, thrilling the neighbors. I’d always enjoyed watching other people clown around at funerals, but didn’t want people poking fun at my family.

After the service, folks filed out to the cemetery for the graveside service, usually an anticlimactic postscript to the funeral: a brief message, a sad hymn or two, and a prayer, but today, Margaret Lucille livened things up a bit. She’d brought her beautiful colored baby-doll along for company, and decided to conduct a funeral of her own off to the side. As always, her parents pointedly ignored her behavior. I seemed to be the only one who noticed. Margaret Lucille dug a little hole in the soft sand nearby, buried her doll and sang along with Aunt Ellie’s service. In fact, she enjoyed the singing so much, she kept right on singing after everyone else was through. Her song only had one verse and no apparent tune. The longer she sang, the louder she got. Her daddy, Brother Sanders went right on with Aunt Ellie’s service, patiently raising his voice to be heard over Margaret Lucille’s caterwauling. Not to be outdone, she sang louder. Each time he raised his voice; she sang ever louder. After a few competing rounds, Brother Sanders gave up and concluded his service as Margaret Lucille enthusiastically sang on.

“OH! My poor little baby’s dead.

My poor little baby’s dead.

I ain’t never gonna see my pore little baby

No more! No more! No more!

As the service ended and mourners filed away from the grave, I looked backed, hoping Margaret Lucille had left the doll buried, planning a grave robbery. No such luck. That baby came straight out of the ground and went home with her. Of course, Mama dragged me home with her as soon as the funeral was over. That night in bed, the two funerals, Aunt Ellie’s and the beautiful colored baby doll’s replayed in my mind till I went to sleep. Even though I knew I’d seen Margaret Lucille disinter and reclaim her baby doll, I still had to go back to the cemetery first thing the next morning and check to be sure. I wasn’t concerned about Aunt Ellie.

The Threat of Typhoid Tomatoes

This is a story from my mother’s childhood.
R G Holdaway Family with Johnny Bell early 1930's

Mama kept me close to her side we when were home alone. If she did let me go in the yard on my own, I had to be close enough to come running in an instant when she called. The only exception was a trip to the toilet. Since it wasn’t polite to answer from the toilet, I kept quiet knowing, she’d be watching for me to come out before mounting a search. She always warned me against falling through the hole in the seat, but that was a concern she could have spared herself. I’d have sprouted wings and flown had I felt myself falling into the quagmire beneath that toilet seat!!

A well-worn path led down the hill to the toilet located far enough to cut the odor and avoid contamination of our well. Mama was vigilant about sanitation and shoveled lime into the pit to aid decomposition and screened the open back to foil her chickens who considered the flies and maggots a tempting buffet. Chickens are not known for their discriminating tastes. Any chicken Mama planned to butcher, was penned up and fed a fine diet of grain and table scraps for several days prior to its date with the axe, till Mama was convinced it, “clean.” I now realize my brother didn’t bother with the long walk to the toilet at night, since a healthy crop of tomatoes had volunteered beneath his bedroom window. Mama noted the size and beauty of the crop, but said we couldn’t eat them. “They might not be clean.” They looked as “clean” as the ones from the garden, so John and I slipped off and enjoyed the finest tomatoes of the season, which had apparently benefitted from the trip through his digestive system. When Mama noticed the stripped plants, she whirled around and quizzed me “What happened to those tomatoes? You didn’t eat them did you?” My guilty look gave me away. “You did, didn’t you? Oh, My Lord, you could get typhoid from those nasty tomatoes.”

My heart fell. I knew this had to be serious since Mama said, “Oh, My, Lord!” I had no idea what typhoid was, but I did understand I was about to die.

“John ate most of them. I only ate a couple of little ones but nothing was wrong with them. They tasted real good.”

“Being raised in filth wouldn’t make them taste bad. They could still make you sick.” She went on about her business as I prepared to die.

I worked up my nerve. “Mama, will typhoid kill you?”

“It could, but maybe you won’t get it. I had typhoid when you were a baby and nearly died.” I already had a keen conscience and knew I deserved punishment as I waited anxiously all afternoon for typhoid to strike me down. I attributed everything to typhoid: a ringing in my ears, a rapid heartbeat, feeling hot and thirsty as I played listlessly in the shade that July afternoon. My last day dragged. Mama didn’t say any more about typhoid, but I knew it was only a matter of time. I dreaded going to bed that night since I wouldn’t be waking up tomorrow, but certainly couldn’t confide in Mama, since I’d brought all this on myself. During bedtime prayers, I got cold shivers reciting the line, “and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Knowing tonight would be the night put a whole new light on the situation, especially since I’d disobeyed Mama. It hurt my feelings a little when she tucked me in as matter-of-factly as usual on my last night on earth. I fought sleep, but couldn’t hold it off forever. I bounded out of bed, thrilled to find myself alive and ravenous when I awoke and smelled dry-salt meat frying, biscuits baking, and coffee percolating before daylight the next morning. Typhoid would have to wait for another day!

Feed Sack Dresses

image image image image image image image image image imageClothing made from feed sacks was a great boon to the economy of the cash-strapped depression.  Farm wives eagerly collected and traded these pretty printed bags.  Three would make a nice ladies dress, provided the skirt was not too full.  Two would make a short-sleeved shirt for a man when plaids and stripes came in.  My mother was born deep in The Great Depression and remembers her mother showing the store-owner a scrap and asking him to  “Try to get me one more of this nice rose print if any come in.”  Crisply starched and ironed, they made sturdy, attractive dresses.  Fading was a problem.  Hems were deep so they could be let down.  Her mother frequently used rick-rack to conceal the fade line when the hem was dropped.  The tie belts at the waist made it possible to adjust for longer wear.

Underwear was made from the soft cotton flour bags.  As often as not, my grandmother used strips of rubber cut from inner tubes for elastic.  It was not unknown for the rubber to snap and bloomers drop to the floor, humiliating the wearer and delighting onlookers.  Fabric remnants went into a scrap bag to be made into patchwork quilts.