Daddy was tough.
Born in 1915, the middle son of three sons, with four sisters, his daddy retired from the railroad, a hard task master. Not much of a living, but surviving when many didn’t. He talked about putting a biscuit in his pocket for lunch when he did attend school, deciding he’d had enough education when he was in the fifth grade. No one in that family reached old age – was it due to that fare of biscuits and gravy?
Children’s allowances were unheard of in his family. All of the income went toward that survival. Picking berries, any job that brought income to the family was appreciated. A very hard worker in an area where being “a hard worker” was a good reputation. Most of the neighbors were in the same boat.
He married when he was barely 18, to a help-mate who was of good reputation and whose family appreciated and were known for their hard-working habits. The day they were married — check heat records for 1933, only lately have we broken that record for heat — they picked strawberries, (his earnings, as usual even for that date went to his dad) cleaned up and got married and caught a ride to Texas where he had been assured he had a job.
Assumption proved to be wrong and they lived for a short time with his older married sister, finding a few low-paying jobs until they decided McDonald County wasn’t that bad — unemployment was nationwide — and they, telling his sister they had a ride, which didn’t exist) decided — with the courage of youth — to hitchhike back home. To hear them tell it, it was an adventure: the only bad memory was when they—desperate in a down pouring rain, knocked on a door to ask for shelter and were allowed to sleep in a barn. The bad part was there was a terrible odor. They suffered all night only to discover with daylight it was due to an abandoned dead pig sharing their shelter.
Jobs were hard to come by during the Depression and daddy would “go away to harvest,” leaving his wife and small children to manage, returning with enough cash to, again, allow survival and not much more.
It was when his in-laws, for the sake of his mother-in-law’s health, followed the doctor’s orders and packed up to try California weather that he and his family agreed to manage their farm and stock until they knew if the move was going to be permanent or not. They moved to Stodgin Holler, west of Anderson, east of the Buffalo River, to cultivate and harvest the crops and care for the stock. Stock consisted of chickens, pigs, a few head of cattle, milk cows (selling milk and butter) and a team of horses named Nellie and Patsy.
Nellie was solid black and her role in life was to trust and obey. Patsy, on the other hand, with a lovely blaze on her face and four white stockings apparently believed she was just too pretty to be a workhorse. She preferred pulling the only transportation – a wagon, and most of all, she loved to show off as a riding horse. She was at her best when ridden to “PG,” Pleasant Grove, the several miles to the nearest grocery and post office. Daddy’s father-in-law expected his animals to perform the function for which he had purchased them and his patience was exhausted more than once when Patsy would exercise a very stubborn aspect of her personality and refused to cooperate with him and Nellie. More than once Patsy suffered corporal punishment at his hand until she ultimately acquiesced and cooperated.
It was a day that stands out in my memory when I, as a 1st grader, realized our family was being traumatized. Nellie, the hard worker of the pair, Nellie, the agreeable, never to balk, Nellie, the beloved who lived only to obey, had foundered and wasn’t getting any better. This was a day and a farm where you called the veterinarian only when absolutely necessary, when nothing else would work and when the animal was worth the cost. The vet was called and had no answer. Daddy sat in the bedroom window overlooking the barnyard where Nellie lay. Daddy was not only a hard worker, but a very responsible individual and this was a disaster. His in-laws had entrusted him with their farm, their animals, and, under his care, Nellie succumbed. That is when daddy cried.
She was not only a very dear family pet, but half of the working team so desperately depended upon leaving only Patsy, the diva.
Today, 70 years later, I recall the tragedy, the heartbreak and the catastrophic air created when this man of strength, this man who made the best of everything, this man who — in spite of nothing but a biscuit in his pocket — still joked and sang and played his guitar and teased his beloved help-mate and honored his parents, enjoyed brothers and sisters and two little sons and daughters, this man who held their world in his hard calloused hands reached that insurmountable mountain. Tears were shed of frustration and helplessness.
In time, those tears became a part of his history, a history that managed to put the Depression behind him, a move to California behind him, achieved many successes as he built with his own hands, for his family of six, a four bedroom home with an indoor bathroom and electricity, with carpets on the floor and, ultimately, retirement from a good job where he had been promoted and was recognized as not only a hard worker but a supremely responsible, irreplaceable employee.
He saw to it that his four children were educated, healthy and happy, his cherished wife was cared for and, in time, he returned to his beloved land of his youth and enjoyed a good life. My memories are of a beloved parent – a role that helps make the reality of Christianity believable due to the fact I can believe in a loving heavenly Father. I live with a legacy that even tragedy that brought a strong man to tears, a time that seemed insurmountable, was not that, and, even a day without hope, as when daddy cried, can be — with courage and faith — a door to a life well lived.
Do join us at 2 p.m. today at the McDonald County Court House on “W” Hwy in Pineville as the McDonald County Historical Society meets to share our histories and hear the update on the renovation of the grand old courthouse on the square soon to be our new museum. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org and www.mcdonaldcohistory.org.