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Foreword

 

This book is not designed to make you feel that you haven’t lived if you haven’t conversed in “Pig-Latin”, jumped hots, or shot marbles, but to share with you some of the experiences and emotions of what some might call “the good ole days”.

 

For some of my characters herein I have borrowed new names, for the sake of privacy, as well as to protect the guilty. I feel reasonably sure that my family and friends will recognize themselves, even though I have told them as I saw them through my eyes. 

 

I apologize for Papa’s foul language but I would be hard put to depict his character without it.

Acknowledgments

 

I want to thank my first son, Robert, for being a good constructive critic, my youngest daughter, Becky Book, for her honest criticism and love for my book, my daughter, Christianna, for being my first listener and encouraging me, my sons Kevin and Jonathan and their sweet wives, for hearing my book and having faith in me. I want to thank my husband, Bob, for supporting me in this effort and for liking my book.

 

I thank Myrkie for the sketch she did of me and for her everlasting encouragement. I thank Sister for helping me remember some of the old sayings that Papa and Mama said. I want to thank my granddaughters Erika and Jenny, and my grandson Robert for their wonderful help. I want to thank my family and friends for their encouragement. I want to thank God for my memory and for helping me along the way.

Contents

Birth, Death and Living

The Layout

Entertainment

Rachael and I

Our Animals

About Our Foods, Mostly

Hog Killing Time

Reminiscing

Excerpts

Uncle Percy

Remedies

On a Sunday

Aunt Nannie Ross

A Roving We Will Go

Waste Not, Want Not

Field Hands and Harvest

Aunt Hett

The Radio and Other Wonders

Papa and the Weather

Lincoln Leaves Us

The Move

Our New School

Life at Our New Place

Spring and a Glorious Summer

Back to School

Friendship

Christmas and Wintertime

Characters in the Neighborhood

Love, Life, Death, and Birth

Growing Up

The Big War

 

Birth, Death and Living

  

  

 

It was a cold day in January here in Dare County, North Carolina. We spent most of the day in the yard, bundled up against the weather. Mama was in the house having another baby. We were usually invited to Aunt Sudie or Aunt Nell’s house and when we came home we had a new baby sister, but that was not the case today.

The neighborhood was upset about Miss Ella, our next-door neighbor just across the field. She had had a baby before daylight that morning and it was born dead.

We gathered on the sunny side of the house to watch our brother, Lincoln, build a pine box to burry Miss Ella’s dead baby in.

Papa and Mister Oliver were no help at all. They had started drinking whiskey before first light that morning. They always did that when a baby was being birthed.

The bigger ones did their best to keep us busy. They had us pig-pen the wood that had been split for the kitchen stove. If we pig-penned it too high, it fell over and we started again. That was all right for a while, but we always wandered back to where Lincoln was building the box. Lincoln was our oldest brother left at home with us. The two older boys, Hodges and Luke, had gone on to sea before I could really remember them living at home.

Hodges, our first brother, had already helped to fight a war. The ship he had been sailing on was sold to the Colombian Navy and he had chosen to stay with it. It followed that the Colombian Navy did not pay him for his work, so he caught a ship to Rio and worked his way back home.

Hodges and Luke didn’t get home very often, so when they did, it was special. We heard exciting and romantic tales. We all sat around the wood stove, the little ones on a quilt near the stove, and listened to the stories of their adventures until we fell asleep.

After Lincoln came Stewart, Sister and Malcom. The last seven of us were girls, soon to be eight. After Malcom came Lillie, Rachael and I. Rachael nor I were never allowed to be nicknamed. Rachael was named for Mama and I for our father’s favorite grandmother. My five younger sisters were called Laura, Minnie, Lucy, Golden, and by afternoon a new baby sister was announced. We dubbed her Dolly.

We never seemed to know Mama was going to have a baby until the day it came.

Now that I remember back, I have heard Aunt Nanny Ross say to Mama, “God never put a bird here that he didn’t put a berry for it”. I suppose Mama must have been telling her, then, of a coming event.

Presently, Miss Lottie called us to the doorway to see our baby. She was a funny, wrinkled, little, pink thing, but she was ours and we knew, right away, we were going to love her. Now we were fourteen children in all. That didn’t seem extraordinary, since most families had a lot of children, those days.

Miss Lottie told us it was best for us to stay outside a while longer to let Mama and the new baby rest, for they had been through a tough job together.

Miss Lottie was a good neighbor, who acted as a midwife when she was needed. She was usually on hand to help Mama when our babies were being birthed, and our good doctor Hale was there to help bring the most of us into the world.

When something was seriously wrong with one of us, Papa hitched up the horse and cart, and went the mile to get doctor Hale. By the time Papa was back in the yard, doctor Hale would come rolling up in his funny, black car, wearing his black suit, complete with weskit (waistcoat), pocket watch and black derby.

He had a peculiar way of driving. He leaned up close to the steering wheel and worked it as though it took all he had to make it. We wondered how he could be such a good doctor and such a bad driver.

We were forever glad to see him. He always came to save us, somehow. He was what some might call an ugly man, but he was so kind he didn’t seem ugly to us. He stayed a long time at our house that day. When Papa sobered up he would take him a bushel of oysters or a toe sack of potatoes for pay. Papa seldom had the money to pay outright for anything. He most always paid in kind.

We all gathered back around the pine box. Different ones came to stand and talk. The tales from one and another were terrifying, yet we were attracted to them.

One told how a baby was born that would fit into a teacup, and a silver dollar would cover its face. Only love and care could save it. It weighed nine pounds at the age of two.

Another told about a baby being bitten by a rabid dog, and how they had to smother it to death between feather beds.

There was not much psychology used on children back then. Mama had never allowed people to tell things around us that might frighten us, but Mama wasn’t always there.

When the box was finished, the boys took it with the horse and cart, and went to help bury Miss Ella’s dead baby in a little graveyard at the back of the field.

It was a welcome feeling to have Sister call us into the warm kitchen, to share a nice supper she had fixed for us. We had stewed osh taters (Irish potatoes), hot biscuits, with homemade butter, and syrup to dip over a crumbled biscuit if we were hungry for something sweet. It was pleasant to be around the table with Sister helping us, after such an odd day, and such an odd meal at midday.

Lincoln had put a pot of beans on the cookstove to simmer during the morning. In all the confusion of the day, the dishrag had been lost. When we went to eat the beans, the lost dishrag showed up in the pot. So we had had bean soup, flavored with dishrag, and cold biscuits to go with it.

Our house was a story and a jump high, with the kitchen sitting separate from the big part of the house. In the big part of the house were the “settin’” room and the bedrooms. The boys gave up their room and slept in the loft when we had company. We crossed a walk to get from the kitchen to the big part of the house. We were glad to cross it that evening and go to Mama.

We crept quietly into her bedroom, a few at a time, so not to wake our sleeping baby. It was a precious sight to see Mama on her bed and our bundle of baby in the cradle beside her. It made the sad part of the day seem far away.

Mama didn’t get many new things for a baby, but Papa had indulged her this time, with a shiny, new piece of brightly printed oil cloth for the baby to lie on. We didn’t have rubber pants for our babies and it smelled bad if the baby wet on the homemade cradle mattress, many times.

In a day or two, Miss Ella came to visit. Mama was already up and in the kitchen. Most of us were around the kitchen with her, including our new baby sister. When the baby began to fret and cry, Miss Ella picked her up and nursed her. We didn’t like seeing our baby at Miss Ella’s breast. We wanted only Mama to nurse our baby. We must have looked at Miss Ella very strangely. She paid us no mind. Dolly was soon satisfied and back to sleep.

I was sure glad that Mama didn’t feed our baby with a black nipple stuck on a pop bottle, the way some folks did. It looked just terrible to see an ole black nipple in a baby’s pretty, pink mouth.

In about three months, Dolly was sitting in a corned beef box, receiving a taste of scraped apple from Lillie, while the young’uns played around her. Lillie was already saying to her, “Open your mouth and close your eyes, I’ll give you something to make you wise,” and we imagined Dolly was responding.

The corned beef box was a mother’s friend. It was a small wooden box, just the right length to sit a baby in, with no room on the sides for the baby to wobble. It was just tall enough to fit nicely under the baby’s arms. All of our babies had liked it.

Mama and the neighbors had saved enough wooden thread spools to make the baby a little chair-like swing to hang from the kitchen rafters.

Papa used to sit in the kitchen with a baby on his knee and a little one toddling around him. If one stumbled and fell, he’d say, “Come here and I’ll pick you up.”

Papa loved the babies. He never minded when people made jokes about his many children. When someone said he had to burn off the marsh to count his young’uns, he just grinned.

Papa was an awesome man, daring to do what he thought was necessary, whether it met the approval of others, or not. He went about life as though rules were made to be broken, or weren’t meant for him at all. Sometimes he was brash and crude, and sometimes he was tender.

When he launched an operation, he went about it with a mighty firmness. He delegated jobs to the boys and accomplished whatever he set out to do, with some success.

Papa was not tall nor short, but of medium height. He wasn’t fat or skinny, just plump. He wore a mustache and smoked a pipe. He looked like a Papa ought to look.

Mama was noble, always with high ideals. She loved Papa with an unwavering, almost worshipful love, no matter what unscrupulous deed he might have done.

When Papa was twenty-five years old, his first wife, Matilda, died and left him with two little boys, Hodges and Luke.

Papa ran the mail boat at that time. He took special pains to carry my mother’s mail to her, personally, to the country school where she taught Papa’s younger brothers. Papa courted Mama that way.

The day the wedding was to take place, the mail boat didn’t come in, as usual, and Papa was feared lost. It had been a stormy day. Papa finally made it in later in the night. He had been caught in a waterspout. Papa being a determined man, the wedding took place at one o’clock in the morning. Mama enjoyed telling about her unusual wedding.

She told how an old friend attending the wedding sat down on some sticky flypaper. When he got up to leave, it was hanging from the seat of his pants. That just added to the odd wedding.

Now, there were Papa, Mama and fourteen children.

Being the ninth child, it was easy to get lost in the crowd. I was too little and skinny to be considered one of the big ones, though I felt like it, and too big and bossy to be one of the little ones. I think I led my five younger sisters.

I was accused of striving for attention when I sucked my thumb, or if I held my breath when I cried.

If I was terribly disappointed about something, I held my breath to make a point, because crying just didn’t do it. Sometimes I was in as much doubt as Papa as to whether I was going to catch my breath or not. I usually did when he grabbed me and ran, and stuck my head in the horse’s water trough.

I sucked my thumb for comfort. It tasted good, at least my right thumb did. My left thumb had a strange flavor. I could never alternate.

They got worried about me when a blood blister-like place formed on my lip, right where my thumb rested. It didn’t want to go away. I never meant to worry Mama and Papa, but sucking my thumb was second nature to me. It wasn’t easy to give it up.

The older ones in my family repeated this poem to me:

 

The Scissors Man

 

Mama said to Lucinda one day,

Lucinda, you mind while I’m away,

There’s a great, long-legged scissors man,

That comes to little girls, who suck their thumbs.

 

Mama had scarcely turned her back,

When the little thumb went in the crack,

The door flew open and in it ran,

The great long-legged scissors man.

Snip, snip the scissors went so fast,

And Lucinda’s thumb was off at last.

 

Mama comes home and Lucinda stands,

Looks quite sad and shows her hands.

“Ah,” said Mama, “I knew he’d come,

To little, naughty, suck-your-thumb.”

 

Now, I thought the poem was charming, and I knew it by heart, but I wasn’t going to let any scissors man daunt me. I went right on enjoying my thumb.

Papa had a friend, a jeweler from New Jersey, who came each year to go fishing with him. He noticed my lip and told Papa he had just the right thing to help me stop sucking my thumb. When he returned home he sent Papa a “thumb-sucker” for me. I wasn’t impressed with it. It was two small rings with chains between them. Mama put it tight on my thumb, but not tight enough. As soon as I could hide away, I worked it off and sucked my thumb again.

Mama finally decided it had to come to end. She was going to do away with my thumb sucking, once and for all. She made a little drawstring bag to fit over my hand, and sewed the strings together, so I couldn’t take it off.

Being an active, industrious child, I found it impossible to tolerate a bag on my hand. After a few hours of this I came to the conclusion that, being five years old, if I was old enough to make a doll quilt, I was surely old enough to give up thumb sucking.

I was obliged to bargain with Mama to take the bag off my hand so I could finish my doll quilt, promising never to suck my thumb again. She took it off, on my honor, and that was, indeed, the end of my thumb sucking.

I did a lot of growing up while I was five.

Once, when Mama was out of the house, I took it upon myself to try the sewing machine. I’d been thinking about it, wistfully, for some time. I had watched Sister sew for us many times. It looked like a pleasant thing to do. I was sure I could do this. All I needed was a chance. I took a scrap of cloth and sewed a nice, straight seem. There!

I ran outside to show it to Mama. She was down the path, and through the big gate, near the sugar pear tree, milking the cow.

I liked the big gate, for Papa had put a weight on it, so if you pulled it back just a little, it would close itself. Papa didn’t always have time to get the cow back in if someone left the gate open.

I, proudly, showed my sewing to Mama. She praised it and agreed that I was ready to use the sewing machine now.

I felt that a whole new world had opened up for me. That blessed sewing machine that had done so many wonders for us was now at my disposal. If I didn’t pay heed to what I was doing, apt as not, I sewed my left forefinger right along with the piece of goods. It took a lot of coordination to work the treadle with my feet and guide the sewing all at once, but I had a good supply of determination and managed it pretty well for a young’un.

From that day on, I was privileged to use the sewing machine to my hearts content. At first I created a few successes and a whole lot of messes. I adopted an attitude of never give up, never ever.

When Mama saw me getting too nervous with my sewing, she’d say, “Walk away a little while. When you come back it will work better.” I found it so.

I soon thought I was a good seamstress and began to offer my services to my younger sisters. After all, I had to help raise my family!

The Layout

  

 

 

On one side of our yard was Mister Budley’s dairy farm. A large part of that was meadow-like pasture. Through the middle of the pasture ran a drainage ditch, along which we picked briar berries (wild black berries) when they were in season. At the back of the pasture was a separate pen for Mister Budley’s two bulls. Their pen led on into the marsh.

The bay was behind us. A ditch through the marsh ran from the bay nearly to the house. There, Papa kept the boats.

On the other side lay the field, where Papa grew sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, peas, beans, corn, popcorn, watermelons and a variety of other things.

Beyond the field, Miss Ella lived with her family.

Across the road was the new ground which Papa and the boys had cleared for more farming.

While getting the new ground ready for planting, Papa had plowed up a wooden shoe. That shoe put a lot of wonder in our minds. Our brother, Malcolm, got to take it to school and show it around.

Down the road about a quarter of a mile, lived my mother’s relations. I had heard Mama say that Grandpa bought that tract of land when he was a young, single man. He built a large, two-story home on it two years before he was married. His sister, Sally, kept house for him until he married Grandma. My mother was the oldest of their nine children. As each one had grown up, Grandpa had given them a piece of land nearby to build on. Therefore, most of my aunts and uncles on Mama’s side lived in the family neighborhood. We never had a house on my mother’s land, which was next to Grandpa’s home. Papa and Grandma didn’t get along well at all. They were like “black gum against thunder.”

Papa liked and admired my Grandfather. He helped to tend him on his deathbed. I only remember Grandpa with a black cloth tied around the bottom of his face. Cancer was eating his face away. He died when I was four years old.

We had cousins down in the family neighborhood, but we didn’t get to visit with them unless there was a good reason. There being so many of us, Mama feared we’d wear out our welcome, so we stayed home together most of the time.

Lincoln was allowed to walk down to see Grandma, now and then, because he was Mama’s oldest and Grandma’s favorite. She thought the sun rose and set in him. She served him Charmer’s coffee with chicory, in a stemmed glass, with all the sugar and cream he wanted, while she sat and admired him for a while. I often wished I could go with him, and receive this same treatment just once, but that never came to pass. Being the ninth child, by the time I came along, Grandma’s love had run out. She regarded most of the lot of us as “infernal mean young’uns.”

Entertainment

 

 

 

We enjoyed the old fashioned games that children entertained themselves with those days. Some of our favorites were hide and seek, Mother may I?, prisoners base, marbles, jump rope and hopscotch.

We liked the hoop and wire. Being from a fishing village, we used a net ring for the hoop and a strong piece of wire to guide it. With a piece of wire about two feet long, we shaped a handle at one end and a V to guide the hoop. We gave our hoops a roll and ran behind them, directing them with the wires. It was a challenge to see how artistic we could be with them and how long we could keep them rolling.

Our brothers made kites and stilts. The stilts they called “Tommy walkers.” The stilts were usually made too tall for the girls, but some of us were tomboy enough to master them anyway.

Sometimes we made tin can walkers. We went to our trash pile and picked up some milk cans. We used milk cans because they were flat on top. Back then they had no rim around the edge. We put small ropes through the holes in the tops of the cans and tied them long enough to reach just above our knees. We were ready to walk. We stepped on the cans, taking the ropes in our hands, lifting each foot in turn. What a fun way to walk!

Most of the games seemed to have their season. By the time we were finished with one, we were excited about another.

In the early spring, the favorites were jump rope, kites and marbles.

I dearly loved to play marbles. When the season began, I always went to the sewing machine and made myself a new marble bag. We took our marbles to school and played for keeps at recess.

We all had our favorite shooters. Malcolm used a steely to shoot with. That was a large ball bearing. He bummed it from uncle Charlie at the filling station. Malcolm put a lot of power behind that steely. He played a splendid game and won lots of marbles. I aimed to play like him.

We drew a ring on a flat patch of dirt. Each player anteed up a certain number of marbles for the center of the ring. We started with the ones we valued least. It was a good time to get rid of some clay dinkies. You took your first shot from the edge of the ring. We made a kind of trigger with the forefinger wrapped around the end of the thumb and shot at the cluster of marbles in the center of the ring. The first shooter usually just broke them up good. Our turns lasted as long as we were shooting marbles out of the ring and our shooter remained inside the ring. When the shooter went outside the ring someone else took a turn.

We kept our special marbles in a can at home and admired them like treasure. Our cousin buried them like treasure. I reckon playing keeps was a form of gambling with us.

Stinger was another marble game we enjoyed. We played this just for the glory of winning. We chose a flat stretch of dirt in the lane. We dug three holes about four feet apart and drew a starting line about three feet from the first hole. When we achieved the first hole with the marble, we made a span by placing the thumb in the hole and drawing a span as far as the forefinger would reach. From this span we shot the marble toward the second hole. At the second hole we made two spans and at the third hole three spans to shoot from. The object of the game was to see who could shoot into each hole, in turn, and back again to the first hole, before the other players. If we hit another player’s marble it was stung and that player had to start over.

We carried sore thumbs throughout the marble season, but we had heaps of fun.

Jump rope was delightful! It came with the spring, just as sure as spring came.

As soon as we took to jumping rope, Mama became anxious about our shoes wearing out. The cost of our shoes was dear, anything from thirty-nine cents to a dollar and forty-nine cents a pair. The money was hard to come by. We often had to cut a piece of cardboard and wear it inside the shoe to cover a hole in the sole, hoping it lasted until we got home from school, which it never did.

Papa had shoe lasts, and kept our shoes repaired as well as he was able. Jump rope did take its toll on our shoe leather. We were eager to get out of our shoes and jump on the smooth, cool dirt with our bare feet as soon as the weather permitted. The grass didn’t last long under our rope, once we picked a spot we liked.

Sometimes we used an individual rope, with which we could be more artistic. It was great fun to run and skip with that rope and show our talents, but it was even more enjoyable to have Sister and Lillie take the ends of a long, heavy rope and turn it for us. We watched the rhythm of the rope and ran in, one or two at a time. We’d say a verse, along with the rhythm of the rope, to make it more interesting. Some of the verses went like this:

 

Last night, or the night before,

A lemon and a pickle,

Came-a-knocking at my door,

I went downstairs to let them in,

And they hit me over the head,

With a bottle of gin.

 

Then we would count, until we missed, for the number of times we were hit over the head with a bottle of gin.

A similar verse was:

 

Last night, in the middle of the night,

Two dead boys began to fight.

Two deaf and dumb policemen heard the noise,

And beat the life out of the two dead boys.

 

Our favorite verse was:

 

By the holy individual law,

I marry this Indian to this squaw,

By the point of my jack knife,

I pronounce you man and wife.

 

The number of jumps thereafter, indicated the number of years married. If we were too good, they turned hots on us to get us out.

If there was a dispute about first turn, the goody-good in the group might settle it by saying this verse, pointing a finger at one and another on each word:

 

Shame on you, shame on you,

Someone’s bad and I know who,

You will, too, before I’m through,

It was Y-O-U.

 

 

Indoors we pieced quilt tops and helped make bed quilts. Those of us who were handy with a needle got to sit at the quilting frames with the grown-ups. We did our very best to win their approval. It was pleasant to be a part of them. If we kept quiet, we heard a lot of tales. When one said, “I have hearn tell…” we were all ears.

Aunt Fannie could always amuse us with the hard, humorous way she spoke. We knew when she was fixin’ to tell something. Her face took on an interesting look. If she agreed with what one said, she answered with, “I’m satisfied of it.” Everything she said sounded profound.

Aunt Puss came sometimes, if she knew Mama had a quilt in the frames. She was not our real aunt. We were taught to call her aunt, out of respect. She always had some dramatic stories to tell.

She told about a woman of her acquaintance, finding a black snake on the bed with her baby. It had crawled up on to the baby and had its head in the baby’s mouth, licking at the milk left there.

On the strength of that, Mama remembered the time she found a black snake on the bed with Lillie, curled up beside her. That gave me the creeps. It was a wonder to me she was still alive!

Then another related how a cat was dangerous around an infant baby, and how she knew someone who’s cat had smothered the baby to death, while trying to lick the milk from its mouth.

“For pity’s sake,” I thought. “Why didn’t that lady keep her cat fed better,” but I didn’t utter a word. Children were supposed to be seen and not heard.

Next the talk might turn to the drowned men, who washed up on the beach, years ago, and only their lunch pails had washed up with them. Since no one claimed the men, they were buried in “Potter’s field”. Everyone held forth with what they remembered about it.

The one told how a drowning person imagines a ladder rising out of the water. If I opened my mouth to ask how they knew, Rachael pinched me. She knew they wouldn’t tell as much, if we kept reminding them we were there.

By the time all was said and done, we had a new education and a new quilt. We could take an old one now, to make a lodging on the floor.

Rachael and I

 

 

 

Rachael was fifteen months my senior. At times she didn’t fail to let me know it, but for the most part, we were good companions. We went through school together, both in the same grade. She had been left back her first year because she didn’t go to school regularly. She just didn’t like school.

It was kind of good having a sister in the same class with me, except sometimes she got too bossy. When she informed on me, I was automatically guilty. Mama thought that everything Rachael uttered was the gospel. Anyway, Rachael and I had many unforgettable experiences. We laid lots of plans and though we didn’t accomplish them all, the planning was as much fun as the doing I’d say our relationship was an ‘I will if you will’, ‘she did so I did’ sort of thing.

When the briar berry bushes began to bloom each year, we watched them with impatience and anticipation. We got heady with the feeling of earning power, and decided a million things we would buy with our money.

Miss Tracy, a nice lady who lived up toward town, always very kindly bought our berries for a dime a quart.

If Rachael and I picked a quart of berries together, that gave us each a nickel. With a nickel each we’d walk on to Mister Max’s general store. He had the finest penny candy counter that ever was. When Mister Max picked up a small brown bag, the excitement of choosing began.

We might purchase a stick of peach bloom candy as long as your finger for a penny, two blocks of hard, red cinnamon candy for another penny, a little ruffled pie tin filled with lemon flavored sugar candy for a penny, a long round stick of bubble gum for another, saving the last penny for a Mary Jane cookie as big as your face. We ignored the horehound drops for they didn’t taste good at all.

Sometimes we squandered two cents on a box of prize candy. It had a few pieces of wrapped taffy inside and a small gimmick for the prize. I hoped to get one of the tiny clamshells. It was a real clamshell glued together. Directions said to put it in a glass of water and let it soak open. As it opened a miniature scene would appear in the middle of it. The scene was made of honeycomb tissue paper. It was a charming prize.

I haven’t seen many showcase counters quite as delightful as the penny candy counter of yesterday.

We tried to eat our goodies before we got home. We were taught never to go around the little ones with anything we didn’t have enough of to share, so our walk home was slow. We first ate our cookies, then our candies, and finally our chewing gum. We tried not to chew it all at once, saving some of it in our pockets to sweeten up with later. We made our gum last for days, dropping it in the sugar dish as we passed, and sticking it on the bedpost at night.

If Malcolm happened to catch us before we finished our bag of goodies, he’d ask, “What’s in the bag?”

We answered with, “None of your bees wax.”

He’d bum the last piece and we might say something like, “I hope you enjoy it and then I hope it kills you.”

If we were fortunate enough to have as much money as nine cents, or more, we walked downtown to one, or both of the two small department stores on the waterfront. We walked downtown with an air of importance, as though we had a hundred dollars to spend, when, in fact, our resources were in the neighborhood of ten to twenty cents, at the best of times.

We might pause at the yard of the little afflicted girl, who lived downtown. She stood just inside her fence, watching folks go by. We stopped for a moment to exchange a word with her. We didn’t tarry long for we were eager to get on with our shopping.

To step inside the department stores was an exquisite sensation. They smelled so good, somehow! We looked with awe at every pretty thing.

With great consideration, we chose a toy. It may have been a set of bob-jacks, a bo-lo ball and a paddle, a miniature tea set, or perhaps a wind up toy. After much deliberation, we were likely to choose a little doll of some kind. We never had the funds for a big doll. We wanted very much to a have a big doll with real hair, like some of our cousins had, but we never owned such. We felt lucky to have a tiny celluloid doll, with movable arms and legs, that we could make clothes for. It had to be handled with care, or it got mashed. If we got careless with it, Sister couldn’t always get the dents out, though she gave it her best. Sometimes we’d buy a small china doll. They were pretty but fragile. They had to be dodged from the little ones, or they might get dropped and broken.

One particular day, Rachael and I picked briar berries, and sold them to Miss Tracy. We had each picked a quart, so we had a dime apiece. Not worried about the berry stains on our lips and fingers, we hurried downtown to do our shopping.

We each purchased a rubber doll, about seven inches tall. They had no movable parts, but their arms stood out enough that we could dress them. We thought they were beautiful, then. Remembering them now, they looked like rigor mortis had set in on them.

We walked home, very satisfied, thinking of names for our new possessions. Rachael knew, almost at once, that she wanted hers to be called Thelma. I named mine Dahlia Bunny, and wondered why Rachael didn’t name hers something pretty like that. We made clothes for our new dolls the balance of the day.

When Mama needed kerosene to fill the lamps and lanterns, she sent Rachael and I to the filling station to get some. The station was about half a mile up the road. It was the errand we enjoyed best. On the way there, I carried the can and the dime it would take to fill it, while Rachael rolled the rubber tire Uncle Charley had given us to play with. That was the only time we were allowed to roll it on the road. It was a challenge to see if we could keep it rolling all the way to the station. There wasn’t much traffic those days, and if a car was coming we could hear it a mile away. Rachael had to carry the can after it was filled, because she was stronger, while I got to roll the rubber tire all the way back home.

We had to be business-like enough not to lose the small potato that plugged up the pour spout, or we risked spilling the kerosene.

We made a real outing of the trip. We looked along the road for tinsel paper to add to our tinsel balls that we hoped to sell to the junk man, if we ever got them big enough, and the junk man ever came again.

If we ran across a Lucky Strike cigarette package we picked it up, tore it in half, said, “One, two, three, good luck for me,” and proceeded to take the tinsel out of it.

A wrapper from a stick of gum was, also, good for a piece of tinsel.

Rachael and I had an eye for business.

Our Animals

 

 

 

We had two cows, a black and white one and a red one. We had a horse named Geronimo, that we called Joe, a goat named Billy, that ate everything from cigarettes to tin cans, a white dog with a big, black patch covering his eye, named Moon Eye, and a cat named Sally Cat. She must have had more than a hundred kittens.

Mama loved Sally Cat, I guess, because she had so many kittens. Maybe Mama felt an affinity with her. She didn’t pet her, but she respected her and always saw that she was fed. If she sensed anybody mistreating Sally she was quick to quarrel with them. She loved Sally in her own way, we could tell.

When Sally had a litter, which she did often, each of us claimed one, as far as they’d go. I’d let the others claim theirs first, for I was always a little afraid of cats, especially tiny kittens. It wasn’t that I hated the little critters, only that I hated to look at them.

I remember once, Golden chose a kitten and named it Katsy Watsy. She handled it overmuch, until she handled it to death, before it was old enough to be handled at all. We gave it a good Christian burial in an oatmeal box casket.

There was an old tomcat that came frequently to visit Sally. He was our neighbor’s cat. They cut the tip of his tail off and buried it under their doorstep, in order to keep him home where he belonged. He still came around, and so, in turn, did the kittens.

We had several pens of hogs.

If a brood sow had a litter of pigs, the sow and the pigs were put together in a separate pen. It was a joy to stand at the pen and watch the pigs while they were still little and pink. They would mill in and out around one another, and go to their mother to feed. They grunted and rooted each other out of the way, until they were all satisfied.

At one time, Papa had a big yellow hog named Herman. Herman got so large he couldn’t walk. His food had to be placed near him. When Papa slaughtered Herman that hog weighed seven hundred and fifty nine pounds. I recall Papa saying he had a small brain.

The swill bucket sat behind the kitchen stove. That is where Mama poured the kitchen water and threw the food scraps to help feed the hogs. When the swill bucket was full, it was Malcolm’s job to take it out to the hog pen and empty it into the trough. It was quickly and noisily sucked up.