Sunday, January 27, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 15-16 – Part Two

In the summer when I was fifteen we would have ice delivered to our house. We had a big ice box that would hold a three hundred pound block of ice but we could not afford that much ice. One time before the ice men came to make their delivery, we made some ice cream with the ice left over from the week before. Just as we were opening the two-gallon White Mountain ice cream freezer filled with vanilla ice cream, the ice truck arrived and backed up to our back porch. It was a hot day so we gave the two men all the ice cream that they could eat. The men liked it so much they said that if we would do that every week that they would give us a three hundred pound block. We had a real deal for getting a three dollar block of ice for a few bowls of ice cream. All we had to do was make a freezer of ice cream on the day at the time they normally arrived to our place. The cow gave us milk, chickens the eggs, and the fruit and berries were picked in the woods; all we had to buy was the sugar and flavoring. I believed that those ice men did not know that we thought they were getting cheated.

The brothers that were not in service at this time were having a hard time making ends meet, they had already started having children of their own but the wages had not increased as much as their needs. George was unable to sign up for the Armed Forces due to his health. When he was three years old, one of the mules had got out of the pasture and was eating in the turnip patch. George decided that he was going to pull him out by the tail and the mule kicked him in the head which caused him to have seizures. He was classified as Four F and was not permitted to sign up.

George was able to make it on his own. He was a good horse trader, one time Henry Carter had an old mule that was so old and skinny that he gave his son-in-law George five dollars to take it off into the woods to kill and bury it. He took the old mule but he didn’t kill it. Instead, he fed the old mule a big mess of dried peas and gave it a lot of water. The old mule swelled up and really looked good! He took it up to Beavers Store and sold it for fifty dollars worth of $1 raffle tickets. In about three days that old mule died. The fellow that won the mule felt like he got cheated so George gave him his dollar back and everyone was happy. He made 54 dollars on the scheme; from that point on, it was obvious to me that George could take care of himself. Listen as I share this story.

When I was sixteen years old, Archie Crouch, owner of Crouches Tavern on US-64 about three miles east of Statesville, took me to Cherry Grove Beach SC. I helped him work on some cabins that he was building. We worked almost full time the entire week. He fed me that week but when we went home he only gave me a dollar and thanked me for helping him that week. To this day I have no doubt in my mind that I got the short end of that stick on that deal! This was the first time that I had ever seen an ocean so I kept telling myself that it was worth it so I would not feel so bad about what happened. That same summer Mr. Crouch needed someone to dig a hole in the ground for a septic tank for his tavern. He said that if we took on the job, when we were finished he would give us ten dollars each. We spent about a week digging that hole but when it was complete, he tried to only pay us ten dollars. Mark and I told him that if he did not give us ten dollars each, we would fill the hole back up with dirt; he hesitated but finally ended up giving us each ten dollars. That was the last time we did anything for him. We told everyone in the county what he did so I am sure that a lot of people quit trading with him. Later, when Mr. Crouch was getting old, he had to sell his store. My brother George bought it; he and his wife Beatrice started running it. George was a clever business man and knew how to get the best deals from everyone so he ran the store until it got so run down and in such ill repair that he had to build a new store across the highway. He renamed the establishment Gurley's Tavern. He ran it until one night someone broke in his house and shot and killed him. Listen as I tell about this experience.

The following summer, Mother wanted Mark and me to plant a pea patch down in the field on the other side of the woods. We plowed the ground, got the field ready to plant, had all the rows laid off, and finally we were ready to plant the peas by hand. Mark was to put the fertilizer in and I was to drop the peas in about four inches apart. We did really well for about one third of the planting and then Mark came up with the idea that if we put a lot of fertilizer in the next section, we would run out of it and then we both could drop the peas so we would have time to play in the woods before going home. We worked that plan and it seemed to work until the peas began to come up. The first few rows look good the second rows looked extra good but the last rows did not look good at all! Mother knew what we did and told us that when we grew up we would know better than do anything like that again.

The fall after Mark joined the Navy, all of the grocery stores were looking for turnips but nobody had any to sell. This planted an idea that would be a winning venture for me the next year. I planted about an acre of turnips. When they were mature and it was time to gather them, I pulled them up, washed them, tied into a bundle of four or five, and loaded the old Ford so full that I could hardly get it to drive. I went to every store in Statesville and did not sell one bunch! On the way home I saw a man on the side of the road and he bought one bunch for twenty-five cents. I took the rest of them home and fed them to the hogs and cow. This is the time I discovered that I was not very smart but intelligent enough to know not to plant any more. I remember that it was the last time I planted turnips until after I was married. Listen as I tell this story.

When I was fourteen years old, New Hope Baptist Church had a fall revival and the Rev. King was the visiting preacher. Dorothy Hendrix, a lady that lived on the farm next to us, would take us to church in her 1939 Chevrolet. She took me to the revival. On the third night I accepted Christ into my life. There was not much of a change as I could see. I knew what Mother had been teaching me was real and it was proven to me over and over and I knew for sure because of the times that God looked after me. All through high school, the Navy, and throughout my life, I cannot count the times He was there for me when I could not do things on my own. After joining the church I went to Sunday school as much as I could and my friends and I would go to other churches when they had revivals.

One time Mark and I were going to church one Sunday morning. As we were going down the road, a bumblebee stung our old mule, Bill. He started running away and we could not stop him until we went across the creek. The buggy wheel got caught in the bridge railing and almost tore up the buggy. After a major ordeal in patching up the buggy, we finally got Bill back home. We never tried to go to church in that buggy again. Listen as I tell this story. I rode Bill to see Martha Swan a few times on some Sunday afternoons. We would sit on the front porch and talk. I never did get the nerve to kiss her; I guess she wondered if I ever would. It was not too long before she found someone that she liked better than me or maybe he would kiss her, I don't know.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 15-16 – Part One

The summer after leaving Oakdale School, Fred was working in Charlotte at a place where they received surplus military items. He was able to get me some of the army khaki shirts and pants for twenty five cents for the set; this enabled me to start Cool Springs School wearing long pants with matching shirts. It was about time that I did not have to wear only overalls. The outfits lasted me a long time! When I entered the workforce through my time at the Charlotte Fire Department, I still wore the light brown shirts and pants. Fred also got the wood for the rabbit traps he made while working here.

My oldest brother George was the neighborhood barber. Every Saturday morning he would cut anyone’s hair for ten cents on the front porch of our house. One time Mark and I took George’s clippers when we went to get the cow from the field; she was staked there for feeding. Our plan was to cut each others hair; he cut mine and it looked so bad he would not let me cut his! I think this is the first time that I learned not to trust him so much. We had our ups and downs but if any one would fight one of us they had to fight the two of us. After George left to work for the power company, he was gone from where we lived for a month at a time. I became the neighborhood barber for the old folks that used to come to have George cut their hair. I was pretty bad at first but I got the hang of it real quick. Some Saturday's I could make fifty cents to one dollar for cutting hair.

During that same summer, Fred brought his five beagle rabbit dogs to hunt on our farm and farms around us. I don't think a rabbit ever got away from these dogs. The next spring he was going to give me the dogs. As he was loading them up in Charlotte to bring them to me, a man came by and wanted to know he was doing with the dogs. He told him that he was going to give them to his brother Glenn in Statesville. Right then, the man pulled our five hundred dollars and offered it to Fred for the dogs. Fred moved quickly on this business deal and put an end to my getting the five beagles. I was a young man but still I felt like crying when he told me about the deal. Quickly he gave me twenty-five dollars and that did the trick, I was not as sad anymore. This is the first time in my life that I had ever seen that much money in one pile.

A short time before Mark went into the Navy is the time the President Roosevelt's Welfare program was under way, mother would not sign up for it like our neighbors the Cooks. At that time, Mother began getting a pension for our Dad being wounded in the Spanish-American War. This injury played a part in his death. She was given twenty dollars a month to run the household and six dollars a month for each child under eighteen years old. The pension gave us enough money to start paying rent of six dollars a month on the farm rather than giving one third of the cotton crop. Since we did not have to plant so much cotton, we had more time to work for other farmers that needed extra farmhands. We planted enough cotton to have one bale to sell in the fall. We planted enough hay and corn enough to feed the mules, hogs, and cow.

Our brothers that were in service would send Mother money from time to time. Mark and I sold Grit Newspapers for a dime per copy, we kept a nickel and sent five cents to the Grit Newspaper Company. For a short while we had a real good thing going! We would walk about five miles every Saturday and sell about a dozen papers. We soon discovered that our sales were not enough to stay in business so we stopped selling the newspaper.

In June when I was fourteen, I got bit by a mad dog and had to get a shot every days for twenty-one days. The doctor said that I could not get out in the sun or get too hot for twenty-one days plus seven more days! Mark did not like this because he had to do all of the work for one month. Since I could not get out to run and play I would think back when I was younger and remember some fun times.

When I was very young, on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, we would load up the wagon for a trip to the river. We put straw in the wagon bed and took some pillows, quilts, and cooking utensils that we needed to boil and fry and then would leave for the river. When we lived on the Oswald Farm we would go to the Catawba River and when we lived on the Propts Farm we would go down to the Little Yadkin River close to Cool Springs School that feeds into the Yadkin River. We would get there a little before dark, start fishing, and build a big fire. We would always take a chicken with us and start it cooking in the big old black bean pot just in case we did not catch enough fish. If we caught enough fish we would take the chicken back home and have it for supper the next day. Mother would get her cast-iron frying pan out of the wagon, put in some hog lard, and fry the fish after we cleaned them. After frying the fish, she would make some cornbread in the same pan. Sometimes we would fish all night and have breakfast right on the river bank. As the little one I would always crawl up in the straw in the wagon and sleep until morning. Listen as I tell this story.

When I was five, six, seven, and eight, Mother would take me down to the creek that was about two miles from home so we could go fishing. I would have to follow her down through the bottom land where the hay had been mowed which left little sticks about two inches high below where they cut the grass. Mother had shoes so she was not fully aware of what I was going through during these trips. I would follow her with no shoes on and find tears in my eyes because my feet were tuff but not that tuff. I would try to tiptoe through the stubble but that did not help much at all. All was well when we finally arrived at the bank of the creek. I got my little pole with a hook, put on one of the red worms, then toss the hook into the water and wait for a fish to bite. Sometimes I would hook the fish and pull it to the bank and sometimes I would pull one out so fast that I would sling it about fifty feet back into the field. When I did that, Mother would make me go into the field and hunt it. I remember thinking that sometimes it was not worth hunting for it because it was so little. Mother would always say, “If it is big enough to have two eyes and a tail it is big enough to keep and eat.” It would take us couple hours to catch enough for a little mess. We kept every one of them even if some were only a few inches long. We took them home to clean and fry for supper. Sometimes we would catch enough to have some left over for breakfast the next morning. Fried fish for breakfast was a real treat. Listen as I tell this story.

Shortly after July 4th I was able to return to my active lifestyle. I remember it feeling so good to run and play. I believe that Mark was happier that I was that I could now do things outside. He made sure that it did not take me long to start doing all my chores.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 13-14 – Part Two

When I was in the fourth grade I went to my first birthday party. It was for Jimmy Fox and his mother gave him a party at Oakdale School in the auditorium. The whole fourth grade was invited which was only ten students. This is the first time that I ate JELL-O! We had JELL-O, cookies, cake, and something to drink; later on I found out it was Kool-Aid. We all had little hats and those things that you blew out and made a sound. We played some games which surely made a fun day at school, what a party! We did not have to give him any presents, his mother must have known that most of us could not afford buy anything. It was best party that I had ever been to in my life!

The one book that I remember reading in elementary school was The White Indian Boy. It was about a boy that lived with the Shoshone Indians, Nick Wilson. He was a rider for the Pony Express and Wilson, Wyoming was named after him. He was one of my heroes; I think this is the first book that I had really read and definitely the one that impressed me more than any other book. In December 2007 I was able to get a copy of this book; it is as good today as it was when I was a little boy. We were unable to read many books along this time since we did not have a library in our school; the only books we read were ones that were borrowed from friends. One major problem is that our friends were in the same fix as us, they had no books to lend. Each year we received Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs and a Farmers Almanac. We read every page many times! We never did order anything from either of the catalogs. We had the Grit newspaper for two months. It had news from all around the world; I don't think we really believed all the things that were in it.

We had some classmates that came from near Statesville. I thought they had much more than most of us. I would trade some of my country ham biscuits for a peanut butter sandwich that had been back in the cloak room all morning and was a little soggy. I thought it was a great trade. Back before the lunch room we had to carry our lunches to school; some of the things I took included country ham, jelly, and plain biscuits. Sometime Mother would pack a piece of berry, peach, or apple pie. I also would take baked sweet potatoes. That was about it, so every chance I had I would trade some of this stuff for peanut butter crackers, store bought bread, cookies, or pieces of cake.

December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, is a day that I will never forget. There was fighting going on all over the world. We went to school on that Monday and one of our teachers had a radio turned on. I realized for the first time that our country was in big trouble when all the girls were crying and the boys were ready to go fight the Japanese. Our teacher told us just to be patient and we would have our turn but at this time it was up to the young men and women in the armed forces. I was glad my three brothers were in the Navy and I knew they could win that war for us. I was thirteen and Mark was almost sixteen. We started counting the day until we get in the Navy and fight for our country. Mark knew that when he reached seventeen he could join and that his departure would leave the farming to Mother and me.

Each spring at wheat and oats harvesting time, boys would follow the reapers. When they cut the grain, they would start at the outer edge of the fields and work to the middle. As the grain field got smaller, all of the little rabbits that were in the field would go to the middle of the field since they had no other place to go. The boys would hit them with long sticks and then we would take them home. The little rabbits were so tender and good; Mother would roll them in flour and fry them in old hog lard. They were tender and did not have to be boiled before frying. We would have them for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Now seventy years later I could not eat one even if I was real hungry, I guess that was Gods way to give us fresh meat to eat at that given time because the little chickens were just hatching out at this time of the year and were too young to eat. God knew that we needed some fresh meat at this time. We never killed any animals for sport; Mother always said if we killed it we would have to eat it. Of course this excluded snakes, tatter bugs, and rats. I know this doesn’t sound good but it was a part of my life, and I guess we have to take the bad along with the good. Right? Listen as I tell this story.

This is about the time that I learned how to make good brown gravy and biscuits. Almost every Sunday morning Mother would fry a young chicken and make brown gravy with flour, butter, and milk and make a big pan of biscuits. It made for the best Sunday breakfast! I have been making chicken gravy and biscuits for the last seventy years, soon after Hazel and I got married she took over the job of making the biscuits because she does a better job than me at cooking them.

The school I attended, Oakdale, came into being with consolidation of Simon and Beaver Schools in 1921. Beaver school building was abandoned as it was one and one-half miles north of I-40 in the middle of a farming area with poor roads; while Simon School was on a good highway and near Statesville. Oakdale School opened in the Simon School building. Another consolidation was ordered in 1943 and Oakdale School was abandoned with students going to either Cool Spring or Wayside School. The name Oakdale was probably given because of the many beautiful oak trees in the area. I graduated from Oakdale Elementary School the spring of 1942, a year before it closed. This is a graphic of pages from our graduation scrapbook; each student had a page. Click on the graphic to see twelve pages from my seventh grade graduation! The pages will flip automatically. Press the back button on your browser to return to this page. I wore my first pair of long dress pants and a homemade shirt. That fall I started Cool Spring High School which was nine miles east of Statesville, NC on US 64.

That summer was about the same as the rest; we worked, played, and fought probably harder than previous years. This same summer, Mark sent off to the U.S School of Music for guitar lessons. He would get one week’s worth of lessons mailed to him and he sent back how he was doing; the course cost him thirty dollars. He learned to play pretty good. His money ran out and so did the lessons! He thought that he could play and sing pretty well but no one else did, not even me, a guy that did not know one note of music.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Growing Up - Ages 13-14 – Part One

At Christmas when I was 13, Ola gave a bicycle to Mark and me. It was a topnotch Schwinn with big tires, battery powered head light, horn, and a luggage carrier on the back. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. We thought we had died and gone to heaven with that bike! The two of us kept it on the go forever; when one was not riding, the two of us were one it together. As you would guess, it did not take too long to put some wear on the bike but we did keep it running for a very long time. It was still around years later when I went into the Navy in early 1945.

Mark, pictured here in his sixth grade school photo, enlisted in the Navy when he graduated from school in 1943 which left me to do all of the farming by myself. Mother was getting on in years and her health was not the best; she still did much of the housework, most of the gardening, and some of the cooking. I learned to cook so I could help her in the house and garden. We were still washing clothes just as we did in the past, three tin tubs, a scrub board, and the big old black wash pot with a fire around it in the backyard. We were still using the lye soap that we made. We would buy a big cake of Octagon soap when we could. Once we had a washing machine salesman come to our house with a washer that was powered by a gasoline motor, we still did not have any electricity in the neighborhood, all of our light at night came from kerosene lamps. He left the washer with us for a week to try out. We figured that we could not afford gas at 15 cents a gallon to run it and we did not have any money to buy it, so we let him take it away when he came back. Mother and I thought it was easier to wash clothes by hand instead of using this new fangled machine. I could make a fire and use the scrub board; I just could not figure out how to get the gas powered washing machine started and keep it running. Listen as I tell this story.

In the years between the older boys leaving home and the time that I enlisted, there was a man shortage. The services were paying about twenty dollars a month, food, lodging, and clothes, plus if you got sick, they would take care of that. That was one of the reasons that most of the young men that were not drafted into the Army enlisted in the Navy. I was able to get some jobs helping other farmers with their crops and doing odd jobs around their farm. This paid between one half to a dollar a day. I was also able to get a job at a saw mill. That was not a twelve year old boy’s job; it was a man’s job! I would off bare the lumber and slabs, when I was not doing that I would snake logs from inside of the woods to the mill to be cut into lumber. This job paid one-fifty to two dollars a day for ten hours or more of work, daylight until dark. During harvest time, I picked cotton for farmers around the area for one cent per pound. The most I could pick in a day was a little over one hundred pounds. My brother J.D. could pick over three hundred pounds a day! I never understood how he could do that.

Since I was the only boy left to farm, I only planted enough cotton to pay the rent and a little bit for us. I figured that I could make more money helping other farmers; I did plant corn for corn meal and for feed for old Bill and the cow. We had a big garden that supplied food for the whole year. We usually had a hog to kill for meat and a good supply of canned vegetables from the garden. I hunted for rabbits and squirrels and caught fish in the creek to give us fresh meat. One year when Fred was working in Charlotte, he made about fifty rabbit traps that gave us plenty of rabbits. I was able to sell some of the big jack rabbits for fifty cents. During World War II everything was rationed which did not effect us very much since we grew most of our food; we only had to buy sugar, flour, coffee, tea, and kerosene.
In the spring, just after we gathered the wheat crop, we would remove all the straw ticks off the beds and wash them; we would fill them back up with new wheat straw. They would be great big again because after sleeping on them for a year they would mashed down very thin. Sometimes we could buy some clean straw for a dollar and make the change in late summer.