I was born on a small farm in
I remember all of us riding on the tractor. We looked like fleas hung on a dog. We didn’t have a car. So, every Sunday all eight of us climbed up on Daddy’s old Farm-All, and off to church we would go. Sure, we were poor; we were very poor. But, as I said, we were close. We had all the love a family could give and that made us richer than anyone we knew. I know what you are thinking, “You can’t live on love alone.” My Daddy realized that, too. As we got older, Daddy, Charles, and Thomas James went to work dipping turpentine. Ma was left on Hell’s Half Acre with the rest of the us. She tended the crops and kept the farm running while Daddy was away. Ma was a strong woman. She worked very hard just like the rest of us, but she never forgot to let us know how much she loved us. I believe those were the best days of my life.
When it came time to pick cotton, our cousins came to help. Even My Jack came. Everyone called him that because that’s what Aunt Corine called him. Although we were a close family, there was no love lost between us and My Jack. He was the same age as Carl Owen, but he was twice as big and half as smart. Every now and then, My Jack would shock us and think of something clever like the time he picked one hundred pounds of cotton almost everyday. Daddy always told us we weren’t old enough to have backs and we haven’t worked a day until we’ve picked one hundred pounds a day. I guess Carl Owen related this to his manly-hood. Carl Owen wasn’t going to stand for big, dumb My Jack coming to his piece of dirt and showing off. It was the last day of cotton picking, and Carl Owen bet My Jack that he could pick more cotton than he could. We all thought Carl Owen was crazy. He would definitely be a man if he could out pick My Jack. Well, at the end of the day, Carl Owen had finally done it. We didn’t know how, but he had done it.
For supper that night, Ma cooked an extra special treat. We had chocolate syrup with our biscuits, and I even got to stick my finger in the sugar bowl. Although I was the youngest, Ma never made an effort to spoil me more than the rest. While we all sat around eating, Daddy told Carl Owen how proud he was. I could see his head swelling bigger than a sow’s backside. Ma made a big deal over Carl Owen, too. After supper, Aunt Corine stopped by to pick up their pay. I could tell she and Daddy were having words. Later, when he came in, I could hear better and every now and then I could catch a glimpse of him through the cracks of the wall. Boy! Was he ever pitching a fit. Daddy was hard to get mad, but when he was mad everyone in the woods stayed away. The next day, after Daddy had left for work, Ma told Carl Owen how proud she was of him again. She also let him know that Daddy found out My Jack had been stuffing his bag to make it heavier. I’ll never forget the look on Carl Owen’s face when Ma told him to have those rocks out of his cotton bag before Daddy got home. She said, “Boy your Pa’ll switch you till next week if he catches those rocks in your sack!” Carl Owen was off and running, but Ma came in the house, and, as usual, I was peeking through the cracks. I can still see the look on Ma’s face as she grinned and giggled thinking of Carl Owen out smarting My Jack. Later that day, I heard her telling Aunt Lucy, “Somebody had to straighten out that ole’ good fer nuttin’ Jack.” Ma was the only one who never called him My Jack. She always said there was nothing about him she wanted to claim. I believe many of my life’s greatest lessons were learned in that cotton patch on Hell’s Half Acre.
Although my daddy referred to everyone as a “crazy S.O.B.”, my daddy was famous for being a nice guy and helping others out. After working in the turpentine for a while, Daddy bought a car. We thought we were living high on the hog then. One of Daddy’s “crazy” friends worked at the movie theater in Willacoochee. He gave my daddy free tickets every weekend. Every Saturday night, we would all load up and go to town. I can still remember all eight of us cramming into that old Dodge Dart. My spot was to sit under the glove compartment in the front floor board. I believe those were some of the best times of my life.
We had such great times back then. We didn’t have a television. Heck! We didn’t even have running water, but we sure had fun. Sometimes I believe special times like those are gone forever. Today, not many people center their lives around their families.
As I wake to the present, I hear a knock on the door and I recognize that smiling face in the window and hear a sweet voice calling, “Hey Nanny! Do you have time to play?” I open the door and reply, “I always have time to play with Nanny’s little angel.”
You know, I believe this is going to be one of the best days of my life.