WELCOME TO TRACING POP'S 'ROOTS...WHERE HE BEGAN AND WHAT IT WAS LIKE GROWING UP 'POP'!

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September 28, 1940,I was born in the small community of Goldust Tennessee but my birth certificate lists Ashport, which was a small town nearby. These two sites are west of the city of Ripley, Tn on State Highway 19, and were on the banks of the Mississippi River. The house where I was born has long been carried down the river due to the changing of the main river channel. The house was two-stories and also built on pilings high off the ground. The big flood of 1937 caused the family to move to Ripley until the water went down. The water rose to just below the second floor and the family's hogs and chickens were housed on that floor. My daddy and his best friend, Doug Davis, would row out to the house about once a week to deliver feed through the second floor windows to the animals.


FOUR ROOMS FOR EIGHT PEOPLE….This picture will only give an idea of the first house I remember calling ‘home’. It was one of three such houses on the farm. Our's was not nearly as 'run down' as the one pictured and had a tin roof. The walls were just old boards as shown. It was located about 200 yards west of Highway 51 just south of what is now Rasco Road in Southaven. The road to it was dirt…went past the Davis home and the dairy barn. There was no electricity nor water piped into the house. There was a water line from the barn up to the backyard of the house where it came out of the ground.
Living in that house were 8 of us. In addition to daddy and mama, Granny (Mama’s mother) and Granddaddy Hardin (Daddy’s daddy) there were four of us children. I slept in the main room with my parents (which was also our ‘Living Room’)…Sisters Betty and Mary Alice slept in room with Granny, and brother Jim slept in bed with Granddaddy. There was a kitchen with a table for meals in the fourth room.


In January of 1941, at age four months, I moved with my family from Goldust to Horn Lake. Doug D. and my daddy had been farming the river bottom land owned others of the Davis family. When we moved, my daddy began to work for Uncle Fletcher Davis as a 'sharecropper'/tenant farmer. What follows in these pictures are very good examples of a "Sharecropper" family's way of life. My daddy ran Uncle Fletcher's dairy and also farmed some of the land with cotton. He was paid some salary and shared in whatever 'profit' was earned from crops.

KEEPING WARM IN A HOUSE WITH ONLY ONE SOURCE OF HEAT…In these old tenant houses there was no insulation at all. We had one large, coal burning heater in the main room. The brand was “WARM MORNING HEATER”, and it did a pretty good job of heating the small house. It stood about 5 feet tall and the interior was lined all the way around with hard stone blocks. I have seen it with a red glow on the outer metal surface. It had a stove pipe that took smoke out through the closest wall and a ‘damper’ where the air flow could be adjusted to give more heat or less.
Also pictured is a ‘feather bed’ mattress. These were very common is those days. Feathers from chickens and/or ducks would be accumulated and stuffed into a thicker cloth, called a ‘tick’, then sewn up. These were put on top of whatever old mattress one had. When you climbed into bed, you kind of sank into the feathers. It was also common to heat bricks on the stove top, wrap them in old towels or rags to be put at the foot of the bed to help keep feet warm.

COTTON PICKING WAS VERY HARD LABOR. It was hot and humid….bending over at the waist for hours, pulling long canvas bags which were attached at the shoulder, and plucking the fluffy pods of cotton also meant that fingers were subject to cuts from the sharp-pointed, stiff bolls that once covered the white cotton but were now burst open. A picker was usually paid by the pounds of cotton picked in a day. In the picture is seen the weighing of a bag. That picker may fill up the bag more than once in a day, so records were kept by name and pounds picked. As hard as it is to believe, there were some who could pick 100 to 200 pounds a day of cotton....Pictured is an 'ice box' where 100 pound blocks of ice were placed in the left hand side and food on the right. (It sat on the front porch of that old wooden house.) We depended on a man who had a business of delivering ice to folks like us...His old truck was not that nice...LOL."

MOST ALL TENANT FARM FAMILIES WERE FAMILIAR WITH THESE…..Yes, the dreaded outhouse…..we did not have indoor plumbing until 1952 when I was 12 years old. Spiders and wasp nests were a hazard and real toilet tissue was a rarity. At some point at our old farm on Church Road, daddy had to build a new outhouse and set it up over a new location. The old one was torn down and the hole filled in. That is when I saw proof of a book title by author Erma Bombeck, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.” LOL!....The pic to the right is an accurate depiction of how 'wash days' were set up for Mama and Granny....

MORE TIDBITS OF ‘SHARECROPPER’ LIFE…My folks would not buy much at a grocery store because we raised most of our food. However, flour and sugar were commodities that had to be bought. Flour was bought in 25 or 50 pound bags and stored in a metal container (think modern day garbage cans). Flour manufacturers packaged their product in ‘printed’ material so that farm wives could use the material for making clothes..dresses and shirts...Common school day wear…girls in flour sack dresses and boys in bib-overalls. Two favorite brands of flour were Pillsbury and Martha White, both founded in 1800s.

WASH DAYS WERE TOUGH ON MAMA AND GRANNY…Mondays were usually the day of the week for clothes washing. The pictures provide a glimpse of how hard that day was. The pics do not register the fact that washing was done outside, whether very hot or very cold. The large black, cast iron pot was a treasure. From it, hot water was poured into a big galvanized metal tub where clothes were soaked in soapy water and washed by hand using a scrub board. Another large metal tub held rinse water used to get soap out. Clean clothes were then wrung out be hand, getting as much water out as possible. Finally, the clothes were hung on the barbed wire fence around our house.

HOG KILLING TIME…LOOKS CRUEL BUT A NECESSITY FOR FAMILIES Every “Sharecropper” hoped to be able to have a hog or two fed out by the Fall of the year. Hog killing and processing occurred after crops were in and weather was really cooler. In the picture is exactly what I, as a little boy, saw my daddy do. He would use his 22 caliber rifle to kill the hog, then hang it up by its back feet from a tree limb, slit its throat to let the blood run out. Nearby would be a large vat of water being heated by a huge fire. The hog would be lowered into the vat and allowed to stay a while in order to loosen the hair on its hide.
It would be pulled out of the water and laid on wooden boards for daddy to use a sharp knife to scrape the hair off the hog. He would butcher the hog…cutting off hams and shoulders and then from the innards cut pork chops, ribs, tenderloin cuts and pretty much anything that could be used. Some folks even cooked the intestines, which were made into ‘chitterlings’ but we never did. The picture to the right is that of a ‘Smokehouse’ where hams and shoulders were hung over a smoldering fire to help ‘cure’ them so that little of the outer meat would be spoiled. Salt was also used as a heavy ‘rub’ onto and into the meat for preservative purposes.

CRACKLIN’ BREAD AND HOMEMADE SAUSAGE… The hog hide was turned into ‘fried pork rinds, or skins’ and some of the fried rinds would make their way into cornbread mix, and when cooked out came ‘Cracklin’ bread. A food grinder was needed for more than just sausage, but it was essential to preparing the ‘extra’ pieces of meat from the hog which was ground up. Families had their own special recipes for adding spices and seasonings to the meat. I remember my mama frying up sausage meat into patties and putting them into Mason jars. She would pour the extra grease into the jars, cap the jars and put them aside to be opened later in the year to be warmed up and served.

MAMAS FEEDING THEIR FAMILIES…The stove in the picture is a little smaller than the one I remember in our kitchen. It had 3 or 4 burners and a small oven. There was a small tank attached to the side, which held kerosene (commonly called ‘coal oil’) the fuel for the fire. It had a pipe which vented smoke to the outside of the house. The middle picture and the one to the right relate to a major way of preserving vegetables for eating during winter months. The bucket looking thing is a pressure cooker. Mason jars of vegetables would be placed in the base…the top secured and then heated over a flame. After the right amount of time, the pressure would be released and the jars allowed to cool before storing.
The ladies are examples of when families would get together in a larger setting and help one another with canning. There was such a set-up in the basement of Horn Lake School, with larger cookers in order for more to be done quicker. I definitely recall spending a day or two with my mama and others, who were taking advantage of maybe a week of use of the equipment.

MOVING ON UP…..By early 1946 daddy and mama were ready to leave the ‘sharecropper’/tenant farmer life behind. With the help of their devoted friend once again, Doug D., they had been able to purchase the “Dickson Place” (106 acres) on Church Road. But, before moving there, daddy and my Uncle Shorty built the dairy barn. The picture shows it just as it was when we finally moved to the old farm house in 1946. Our herd was usually around 30 to 35 cows, and the last herd we milked were Holsteins that daddy bought in Watertown, Wisconsin. The cows usually produced 70 to 80 gallons (7 to 8 of those ten gallon cans) of milk each day, which was picked up by Mr. Paul Wooten, of Coldwater. He would deliver for several farms to the Memphis processors, Forest Hill Dairy, Klinke-Reed, etc. On his return trip he would bring our empties from the day before and that routine continued.

OTHER ITEMS RELATED TO THE DAIRY AND FARM FOOD…The large square metal tank was a ‘cooling vat’ into which the ten gallon cans would go to keep the milk cold until being picked up the next morning. It was a system which had a wide band of ice formed all the way around the four sides and the ice made the water very cold. (A milestone in my young life was when I became strong enough to swing one of the cans up and over the top into the water below…85 pounds of milk and probably 5 pounds of metal can.) There is also a churn pictured because we made all of our own butter…no margarine back then. Pour milk into the stone pot and jog the dasher up and down until butter formed on top of the milk. The milk left over became ‘butter-milk’. Finally, one of my daddy’s favorite things to eat was ‘homemade’ ice cream, using the manual hand crank type. Sometimes my job was to sit on top of the metal part to keep the whole thing from turning as the ice cream began to get firmer.


RESEARCHING THIS AND FINDING PICS OF EXAMPLES HAVE GIVEN ‘PoP’ MANY MEMORIES, WITH VERY FEW BEING BAD. WE DID NOT KNOW WE WERE ‘POOR’ BECAUSE MOST EVERYONE LIVED IN THE SAME WAY, BUT, BEING SO MUCH YOUNGER, I DID HAVE IT A LOT BETTER THAN SISTERS BETTY AND MARY ALICE AND BROTHER JIM. I’LL CLOSE WITH THIS: WHAT MY DADDY AND MAMA ACCOMPLISHED IN THEIR LIVES IS REMARKABLE AND PROVES ONCE AGAIN THAT PEOPLE CAN LIVE THE ‘AMERICAN DREAM’ BY TRUSTING GOD.....NEVER GIVING IN TO DEFEAT AND THROUGH HONEST, HARD LABOR.

BY THE TIME OF DADDY'S DEATH HE HAD BEEN A 'DAY LABORER' WORKING FOR A BRIDGE BUILDING COMPANY IN ARKANSAS...A SHARECROPPER/TENANT FARMER...A DAIRY FARM OWNER/OPERATOR....A BUSINESS MAN WHO OWNED A 'GENERAL STORE' AND A NEW GULF OIL SERVICE STATION. HE WAS HIGHLY RESPECTED IN THE COMMUNITY AS A CHURCH LEADER AND CITIZEN, WHICH INCLUDED WORKING TO GET HORN LAKE INCORPORATED BEFORE IT COULD BE ANNEXED BY SOUTHAVEN. HE HAD SERVED AS THE FIRST FIRE CHIEF OF THE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT AND AT HIS DEATH WAS SERVING AS THE FIRST CITY JUDGE OF THE NEWLY INCORPORATED TOWN OF HORN LAKE.

As an aside, I have thought over the years about how much trust Daddy placed in me as a teenager. By the summer before my sophomore year, the dairy was not making enough for us to live on and Daddy had taken a job in Whitehaven at corner of Highway 61 and Shelby Drive. He worked for C. B. Perry Well Drillers for the two years until the farm sold. He and I would do the 4 AM milking together. Then he would head to that job. I would finish up at the barn, (clean up and disinfect all equipment...shovel out manure and wash down the concrete floor of the barn...remember an 'inspector' from the Memphis milk plants would come once a month to make sure all was clean and sanitary.)take a bath and go to school. Then I would do the 4PM milking alone....usually always 20-24 cows. He had taught me well as to how everything was to be done. The great thing was that he had to buy me a vehicle to go to school and home...a 49 Ford pickup with a straigt shift and a V-8 motor. (The bus ride would not get me home in time.) Hardly anyone had their own wheels back then. As I said, he placed a lot of trust in me. It was not always warranted, but he also gave me a lot of "Grace" to learn and make things right. My hope is that I have followed his example in that..


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