Money was hard to come by, so mother had to take an occasional job. I followed her to the cotton field early one summer morning. I got dressed in the car that came by to pick her up.
There were other boys there my age. That is when I first met Hubert Maxwell. He was a year older and much wiser. We played in the cotton wagons, dug in the cotton rows, and as can sometimes happen we found a pot of gold in the form of a large ripe watermelon. We were not prepared for our great discovery, in that we didn’t have a knife or forks for the feast that we wanted to have. Not wanting to share our bounty with the older workers, we used the best tool we could find. It is amazing what you can do with a pointed stick. Cave men had nothing on us.
Mother never gave me permission to tell anyone about her cotton pick’n days. I guess it could have spoiled our rich and famous status if anyone had ever found out.
Americans were buying television sets at a rate of 100,000 a week and it would be many more years before I saw my first set.
Grandpa and Grandma Walker lived across the road. I found out years later that I also had a Grandpa and Grandma Brown but they died before I was born. My grand parents lived with one of their sons, Ernest, and his family.
My main source of entertainment was my Aunt and Uncle’s oldest son Harry. We spent many days exploring all that existed within two hundred yards of either house.
We sat on the old wooden gate that separated the animals from the main house and waited as the fifth of six daughters were born into the family. We sat on that same gate as the women got together to wash cloths in the big black kettle. Logs would be set on fire to boil the water. A long stick was used to stir the cloths as they soaked in the hot water.
Of course lye soap was the order of the day. The grocery truck that came by at regular intervals must have charged too much for luxuries like soap. Maybe it just wasn’t strong enough to clean those clothes the way they needed to be cleaned. The boys were never asked to help. Smart women! Lucky boys.
Blackberry picking time was another social, or should I say necessary, time for the women to get together. They always started early so they could beat the heat. So many clothes were worn that it was a matter of survival that they get home before the sun got to high. Long sleeve thick shirts. Long pants and boots. A rag tied over the hair. Coal oil soaked cloth strips were tied around the ankles and wrists to prevent the pesky tic from attacking the family providers. The boots were, as I was told, for the feared snakes that lived in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana.
Hog marking was a man’s chore. Uncle Ernest had hogs that lived deep in the swamps. They would grow fat on the acorns and other vegetation that thrived in that part of the country.
I never got to take part in that adventure but he did promise me I could go if I got up early and was ready when he started out one morning. I was ready, but for whatever reason he didn’t stop for me.
I ran out the door calling for him, but he wouldn’t stop. Mother saw how disappointed I was and said, “Just follow the logging road and you will eventually find where they parked the jeep”. I must have been all of three and a half years old. Mother said that I didn’t remember it but I did.
As I ran down the road I suddenly saw the horses and mules the loggers used to haul out logs. These animals had broken out of the makeshift corral the loggers had built to hold them until they returned at the first of the week. Can you imagine the fear that ran through my heart on hearing and seeing those extra large animals running down the middle of that logging road!
I turned and started running back to my mother. I ran on the road. I ran around the tree. I ran wherever I thought I could get rid of those killer monsters. I screamed for my mother and she didn’t let me down. I have extra large lungs because of this adventure. I remember looking up and seeing her running toward me as those animals chased behind me. Her house coat was flapping this way and that. To this day I don’t know why those horses and mules were afraid of that little woman, but they turned and ran back to the hell they came from. Praise Jesus. Is experience our friend or foe?
So many adventures for a youngster, that’s what being a kid is all about. George Orwell’s new book, 1984, didn’t have much in common with us. Big brother wasn’t watching the poor folks in rural southern Arkansas. Our adventures were with things like the old sow that didn’t appreciate my intrusion on her babies’ feeding time.
My cousins said there was no way an intelligent person would go into the pen and pick up one of her little piglets. They were right, I wasn’t intelligent so guess where I went. That sow came after this little red headed boy like I was fresh slop! That’s what I would have been if I hadn’t thrown that squealing baby back in her direction as I scrambled for the top of that five foot wooden fence. Everyone had a big hoot and I learned another valuable lesson about a mother’s love for her children. Love is a welcome warmth, hate is a cold hearth.
Great Uncle Ira was in the timber business. That meant he cut and hauled trees. Uncle Ira often finished the day by visiting his sister, my Grandma Walker. He had two big logging horses that pulled his wagon. The wagon was very large with rubber truck tires. When he stopped in the evening the guide lines were left on the wagon seat. Those horses had done all they wanted to for the day, so running away was the last thing on their minds.
Well, it wasn’t the last thing on my mind. Having a need to impress all those around me was a problem that followed me for years. We climbed on that wagon and I said “getty up” to those four footed giants as I popped their butts with the loose lines. As tired as they were the two of them started moving away from the house. There wasn’t anything to do but scream bloody murder. Uncle Ira wasn’t very happy, but I was sure glad to see him.
My short trip was nothing like the just completed first non-stop flight around the world by U.S. Air Force’s Lucky Lady.
Evening was welcomed by the return of the cows that ranged during the day. The stomp, a small hill near the house, was the gathering place for all of Uncle Ernest’s livestock. Ever day about dusk those cows came home without fail.
Since I was not successful with my horse and wagon exploits why not try something else with four long legs. Like chickens come home to roost, those cows would drink their fill of water and find a place to bed down for the night. When one of those cows got down on all fours we were about the same height. They seemed so docile.
I didn’t ride that cow for very long. At that point, even thought I didn’t know what a rodeo was, I decided that riding wild cows was not what I wanted to do as an occupation. I was good at catching horse flies and tying a string around their necks. The longer the string the better the entertainment. Confidence in yourself is the key to success.
Mother had three sisters and four brothers that visited us regularly. We seemed to always have company of some sort or another. In the end it is about relationships.
The South Africa government had officially adopted the policy of apartheid. I could have been born a black South African. When we feel the wet tears of another, we begin to understand their reason.
Mother wanted to be self sufficient. Money was hard to come by and she needed more to take care of herself and her children. When World War II ended, people were ready to spend their savings. The demand for goods in 1947 was high but the supply was low. Without war time price control, the cost of living rose fifty percent. Life becomes fair when its unfairness is understood.
As 1949 drew to a close mother wanted to change our circumstances. She packed up our bags and off we went. Garvis had just finished his last year of high school so he stayed put. Mother asked him to remain with Miriam and me while she went to Pine Bluff to look for a place for us to live. He agreed to stay and when Mother returned he left with Uncle Ruby and his family for California. He stayed there until he thought it was time to return home before the draft.
Garvis joined the Air Force and although he produced a score on his test that qualified him of O.C.S., he decided to stay in the regular forces because of the high death rate of the officers in the war. The rest of us moved to Pine Bluff so that mother could go to beauty school. They called it cosmetology but I didn’t know that then. It was hard times for us but again I was too young to know.