Make your own free website on

Bo's Stories, Page 1



I retired from Shell Oil Company in 1990 and, inspired by my sister Monnie Bess, began trying to do some genealogy.  At every opportunity I would tell stories about family and about my youth to my children and grandchildren.  More that one of them told me I should write my stories down so I began doing that.
As most of you realize our memories of events frequently differ from others who were there at the same time and place and I've been told that it was not the way I wrote it at all, and I accept that.  I know that my memories are far from perfect but I wrote my stories according to what I remembered....right or wrong.  For the most part I feel things were, generally,  as I describe them.

“The Parable of A Little Mother”


            The young mother set her foot on the path of life.  "Is the way long?" she asked. And her guide said:   “'Yes and the way is hard.  And you will be old before you reach the end of it.  But the end will be better than the beginning."


            But the young Mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years.  So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed with them in clear streams; and the sun shone on them, and life was good, and the young Mother cried,  “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this!"


            Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold, and Mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle, and the children said  "Oh Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and we know no harm can come."  And the Mother said, "This is better than the brightness of the day, for I have taught my children courage."


            And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, out at all times she said to the children, "A little patience, and we are there.”


            So the children climbed, and when they reached the top, they said, "we could not have done it without you Mother."


            And the Mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars, and said, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness.  Yesterday I gave them courage.  Today I have given them strength."


            And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the whole earth--clouds of War and Hate and Evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the Mother said:" Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.”  And the children looked and saw above the clouds an everlasting glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness.  And that night the Mother said, "This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God."......


            And the days went on, and the weeks went on, and the years went on, and the Mother grew old, and she was little and bent.  But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage.  And when the way was hard, they helped their Mother; and when the way was rough, they lifted her for she was light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill; and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide.


            And the Mother said:  "I have reached the end of my journey.  And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them."


            And the children said: "You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates."


            And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her.  And they said: "We cannot see her but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory.  She is a living presence."

--Temple Bailey --


            As I read this parable tears came to my eyes because I knew that it told the story of my own Mother, Bessie Edna Brown Woods.  How wonderful she was.  She gave us more than she had to give, she gave of her self.   I dedicate my stories to her memory.  How wonderful it would be to have her here to read them.


 John Tom Woods 


            The following poem by William Randolph Hearst seems to me to capture the essence of the never-ending cycles of life and nature.  It touches me in a way I can’t explain and I’ve liked it since I first read it.


        The Song of the River”


         The snow melts on the mountain

         And the water runs down to the spring,

         And the spring in a turbulent fountain,

         With a song of youth to sing,

         Runs down to the riotous river,

         And the river flows to the sea,

         And the water again

         Goes hack in rain

         To the hills where it used to be.


         And I wonder if life's deep mystery

         Isn't much like the rain and the snow

         Returning through all eternity

         To the places it used to know.

         For life was born on the lofty heights

         And flows in a laughing stream,

         To the river below

         Whose onward flow

         Ends in a peaceful dream.


         And so at last,

         When our life has passed

         And the river has run its course,

         It again goes back.

         O'er the selfsame track,

         To the mountain which was its source.


         So why prize life

         Or why fear death,

         Or dread what is to be?

         The river ran

         Its allotted span

         Till it reached the silent sea.


         Then the water harked back

         To the mountain-top

         To begin its course once more.

         So we shall run

         The course begun

         Till we reach the silent shore.


         Then revisit earth

         In a pure rebirth

         From the heart of the virgin snow.

         So don't ask why

         We live or die.

         Or whither, or when we go.

         Or wonder about the mysteries

         That only God may know.

                                  W.R. Hearst





            After I finished writing these stories, my son Clifford chided me, rightfully so, about my not giving any explanation of my Father’s death, so below, I tell you what I either know or believe about my Daddy. 


            I remember my Daddy coming and picking me up out of my crib and taking me into the kitchen.  He gave me a taste of what he had in his cup.  I have no memory of the taste, or what it might have been, but I do remember Mama fussing at him about giving me whatever it was.  As I mention later, I remember when his car burned and these, with the memories of that day, are my memories before his death.


            Since I was only three years and three months old when Daddy died, I really know little.  I do remember that day, and what I recall is that my sister Patsy and I were playing in our yard at the east end of the front porch (she says west end) when Daddy fired his pistol several times.  Gunshots in those days were commonplace, and I was not alarmed. 


            Either then, before or after, I am unclear; I saw Mama going up the trail toward the spring (we carried our water from the spring and there was a well defined trail where our footsteps had cut a groove into the soil). 


            My next recollection is seeing Mr.Grady Dunn on the front porch, covering Daddy with a bed sheet where he lay.  That incident is so clear in my mind that, if the porch were still there, I believe I could draw a line around where Daddy lay that would be accurate within a foot or so.  Some time later I remember, Daddy’s first cousin, Arthur Woods (we called him Cousin Arthur) being there and holding me in his lap.


            Although, I never talked with Mama about that day, I surmise that Daddy was threatening to shoot himself and Mama went to get Mr. Grady to stop him, but they got there too late and the deed was done.


            After the funeral, I was riding in the back seat of a car with Mammy (my Grandmother) and she was crying.  She said, “My boy is in the cold, cold ground”.  This was on Thursday, September 28, 1933.  I cried too, not out of grief, but out of sadness at seeing everyone else so sad.  I hardly knew my Daddy, so have no memory of any great loss, although, I will admit that I really would have liked to have a Dad like most other kids.


            Was I traumatized by the experience?  I don’t think so.  Maybe the impact was lessened by the fact that we were a large family.  I got a lot of attention from all of my brothers and sisters, and of course Mama kept me close to her.  My Uncles, Roy and Willis Brown, and Daddy’s twin brother James L. “Big Jim” Woods tried to fill the void that I’m sure they felt existed in my life.  Our neighbor Benny Boy Waits, was good to me, as was Mr. Grady Dunn, Mr. Roy Gentry, and Mr. Dennis Jones.


            I will recount below some stories about Daddy that others have told me over the years. 


            I don’t think that Daddy was any great shakes as a farmer, but I don’t know that.  I was told that he was probably the best cotton picker in the entire area.  Cotton pickers are normally measured by the amount of cotton that they can pick in a day.  How long a day, you might ask?  Well we usually began picking soon after the sun came up and dried the dew off the cotton.  After a brief break for dinner (lunch), we went back to work and worked until near sundown.  (We had chores to do before dark, such as feeding and milking, etc.).  In September, (picking season), I guess that would probably be a ten hour workday, in the cotton field.


            I find it hard to believe that Daddy was a great cotton picker, because I am such a sorry one.  Trying as hard as I could, I never topped two hundred pounds of cotton in a day.  I’m told that really good pickers in good cotton (a bale to the acre or better) could pick four hundred pounds in a day.  I only saw one picker go over three hundred pounds in a day and that only once.  Of course the cotton that we usually picked in was not very good cotton.  I remember picking for Benny Boy Waits one year when he had the best cotton that I ever saw in East Texas.

            There was a barber, by the name of Jones, in Henderson that was a friend of Daddy’s.  I used to go in and let him cut my hair and he would tell me about my Daddy.  He said that one of the major league baseball teams had a spring training camp near Henderson.  I think it was the Cleveland Indians, or the Detroit Tigers.  Anyway, this friend said that Daddy was a whiz of a baseball player – and that he excelled in all phases of the game.


            Somehow Daddy came to the attention of the manager of the pro team who tried to sign him to a contract to play with them.  At the time, a player was paid by the games played and there was no guaranteed pay.  If you played well and didn’t get hurt, then you could make a living, but that was about all.  Daddy was already married and had two sons, so it was too big a risk for him to take to go play baseball.


            When I first moved to Pasadena and went to work for Shell, a guy frequently called and would talk a half-hour or more about old times.  If I ever met this man I didn’t remember him, but Ray knew him.  He told me about a time when he was a kid in Beckville and Daddy was a Constable, or Deputy Sheriff.  The main street in Beckville was about two hundred yards long, fairly wide and was made of hard packed sand.  One day Daddy was in town on his big roan horse, and this guy said that Daddy made his horse rear up on his hind legs and walk almost all the way down the street, with his fore feet high in the air and Daddy on his back.


            Why did Daddy kill himself?  My brothers and sisters and I have talked about that quite a bit.  What we know is that he had arthritis that caused him great pain.  He went to Hot Springs, Arkansas to the mineral baths there to see if that would cure him, but it didn’t.  (He brought me a set of small china dogs from Arkansas, which I finally broke and lost).  We now think that he might have also had Pernicious Anemia.  This type of anemia is known to run in families. My brother Ray had it and was in really bad shape, before he was diagnosed and put on the proper medication (Vitamin B-12).


            When Daddy was ill, there was no effective medication for arthritis as there is now, and I don’t think they even knew about, or would have been able to test for the anemia in those days.  There is no doubt that he was a very ill man and in deep depression.  Lloyd has told me of earlier times when Daddy had threatened to kill himself.  I’ve read and heard that suicide is an act of cowardice.  It may be in some cases, but I know in my heart that people in the depths of pain and depression are unable to make rational decisions, and sometimes see suicide as the only way to ease the pain.  Was Daddy a coward?  I will never believe that he was.  He just lost his way and couldn’t find it again.


            I’m sure that my Daddy was a good man.  I’m sorry that I never got to know him.  How I wish I had.  I forgive him for leaving us, and look forward to seeing him on the other side.


            I thank my Mama and brothers and sisters for helping all of us through those years.  Times were hard, but I didn’t really know that they were.  I knew we were not as well off as some people, but there were some worse off than us.  I was happy and satisfied for the most part, and consider myself fortunate for the life I was able to lead. 

            I’ve been asked how we could have been happy as impoverished as we were.  The reason in one word is -- expectations.  Happiness is equal to reality divided by expectations.  We expected very little and had enough so we were happy.  Those who expect a lot and have little are unhappy.    



                                   “The Way Things Were”


            Times were hard for us.  I was the last of eight children born to my mother and father.  The oldest was my brother Lloyd and he is more than 13 years older than I am.  In 1933, when I was three years old and Lloyd almost seventeen, my Daddy shot and killed himself on our front porch.  I remember that day. 

            What follows is my memory (however faulty) of those times.  What we saw and what we have heard influences our memories.  Sometimes in our minds we become a part of stories that happened to others. I’m sure that in some cases that is true of my memories, so bear that in mind as you read this account of my times on Sugar Hill.  I’m sure there are many errors in fact, but this is what I remember or imagine that I remember.

            I once heard a guy say that he lived so far out in the country that when he went hunting he had to hunt toward town. We must have been his neighbors.       

            As the old saying goes “we lived right in front of the Panola County Courthouse -- about 20 miles”.  When I was a kid there were so few automobiles that when one came down the road we knew who it was by the sound of the car.  If we heard a strange car, we went out and looked.  Usually it was somebody lost.

            The road got so bad in rainy weather that cars couldn’t travel it.  Our mail carrier, Mr. Andrew Bouleware, sometimes delivered the mail in his buggy.  After Franklin D. Roosevelt brought in his “New Deal”, men from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) hauled rock on wagons and fixed the road.

            We lived in a large house that was built shortly after the Civil War for a Dr. Williams that came from Illinois and settled there.  He and his family had several hundred acres of land at that time.  The location of his home was known as Sugar Hill.  At one time the home was a U.S.  Post Office.  I was born in that house on June 20, 1930.

            The house was built as a two-story home.  It was a combination frame and box building.  The frame was made of 4”x 4” timbers that were connected by mortise and tenon and then fastened with dowels.  The frame was then covered with vertical 1” x 12” pine boards (there were many 20’ long 1” x 12”’s in that house that had not a knot in them, having been cut from the heart of large pines), inside and out. Horizontal 6” clapboard covered the outside walls and 1” x 6” tongue and groove center match covered the walls and ceilings inside, with the boards being horizontal on the walls.

            Sometime before I was born, the flooring was removed from the upstairs and the staircase itself was removed.  The door on the front porch that gave access to the stairs was left.  When you opened that door there was an inner wall and shelves had been added and we used it for tool storage.  We still called it the “Staircase”.  We had few tools, but there was a saw, brace and bits, a claw hammer, a ball-peen hammer and a monkey wrench.

            Some settling had occurred and the floor sloped down from the front to the back of the house in the west bedroom. This room was about 12’ wide and probably 24’ long.  We had two double beds and two single beds in this room. There was a long narrow room between the living room and the back porch. It extended out to the east, beyond the living room and had an outside door.  The extended part of this room was our kitchen until I was about five years old.  At that time the back bedroom was converted to the kitchen and the old kitchen became a bedroom.  I never fully understood the reason for moving the kitchen, but I do remember that Patsy and I thought it was real funny when we got up and went to the “kitchen” only to remember it was moved.  Access to the rear room that became the kitchen was from a back porch on the east side and/or an outside door on the west side.

            The only requirement for a room to become a kitchen was that it must have a flue for the wood-burning cook stove chimney.  There was no plumbing or electrical outlets to worry about.

 We kept a five-gallon bucket in the kitchen that we called a “slop bucket”.  It received all the kitchen waste from coffee grounds to dishwater and table scraps such as bones.  We didn’t have many scraps, as we tended to eat every thing that was edible.  The slop bucket was emptied daily into the trough in the hog pen.  Since we had no plumbing, all the water we used was carried into the house in buckets. 

            We had no well and got our water from the spring that was across the road and up the hill 200 yards from the house.  Once you had carried two twelve-quart buckets with about twenty pounds of water in each, 200 yards, nobody had to tell you to be saving with the water.  I shudder at the amount of water we waste now.  In bad weather and during the night, the more timid of us used the “slop jar” (chamber pot) for our toilet.  Others made the trek to our privy that was out behind the hen house, and it was a long walk on a cold and windy night.

            On the front porch and on the back porch there was a shelf for a water bucket.  We kept these buckets filled with water from the spring.  Each bucket contained a dipper that would hold about a pint of water.  The dipper was usually metal covered with porcelain.  Also on the shelf was a wash pan made of similar material and also a cake of lye soap that Mama made.

            The lye soap was made from the fat from meat scraps and lye in the wash pot.  I don’t know the recipe for making the soap, but I do remember us making it.  Fatty meat scraps, bacon grease or other waste fat was put into the wash pot and brought to a boil.  Lye was added and the brew was simmered for a time (this saponified the fat into soap) and then allowed to cool.

            On cooling, the mixture, now soap, would solidify.  It was cut into pieces suitable for use and removed from the pot.  On standing, the pieces would dry and harden some and had a consistency much like the soap we have today, except softer.  Sometimes there would be small pieces of meat in a cake of soap.

            Three-gallon buckets made from cedar were usually used for water on the porches.  We used the dipper when we needed a drink of water.  Everyone drank from the dipper; even a stranger passing along the road that needed a drink.  We never thought about disease.  When you needed to wash, you dipped water from the bucket into the pan.  When you finished you emptied the pan onto the ground at the edge of the porch. In bad cold weather the water-bucket, and pan, were moved inside.

            After the kitchen was moved, the long narrow room became two bedrooms.  The boys used these rooms and the girls all stayed in the one large bedroom on the west side.  I shared a double bed in the living room with Mama until I was about twelve.  In the winter I always went to bed on Mama’s side of the bed and when she came to bed, she moved me over and took the warm spot.  In the morning I got up and started a fire in the fireplace before Mama got up.  Mama had trouble staying warm in cold weather.  It didn’t bother me much.

            Our house was always cold in cold weather.  We had only two sources of heat; the fireplace in the living room and the cook stove in the kitchen.  When it was very cold, you could stand before a roaring fire in the fireplace and get warm on the side next to the fire and still be cold on the other side.  Most of the heat went up the chimney (this was a chimney without a damper), so the room never got very warm at all.

            A frequently played trick then, was to catch some guy standing close to the fireplace to get warm and grab his trouser legs and pull them against his legs.  They were never hot enough to burn the legs, but still would feel very hot and startle him. We always let the fires go out during the night and depended on the feather mattresses, flannel sheets and quilts to keep us warm.

            After Daddy’s death, times got harder.  We never passed up an opportunity to earn money.  Even a small amount was welcome.  In those days the going rate for picking cotton was $0.50 per 100 pounds.  We picked for all our neighbors that could use us.  Each of us was expected to earn enough to buy our clothes, school supplies and anything else that we might need.

            Before World War II, for myself, a pair of overalls was about $0.50, a pair of shoes was about $1.00.  We bought very few groceries.  Just things like sugar, flour, coffee, salt, pepper, baking powder and soda.  So, you can see that we did not need a great lot of money.

            Once each year Mama ordered for me from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, a box of Pfleuger hooks.  This was a small round, metal can with a tight fitting lid that contained 100 hooks of various sizes and types, and mostly small ones.  They exactly suited my needs.  Along with the hooks, she also got some green braided line and a package of lead sinkers.  I made this supply last until the next year.  The fishing tackle probably cost less than $0.50 and I paid for it from my cotton-picking earnings.

            Bobbers were locally available, though I seldom used them.  Our neighbor Miss Nannie Williams always saved the cork stoppers from her snuff bottles and gave what I wanted to me for taking her fishing, which I did at least once each spring. We would always go on a nice warm spring day.  My, how she loved to catch those perch.  She would put a worm on her hook, spit snuff juice on it and drop it into the water.

            In addition to picking cotton, I also picked tomatoes and cucumbers for $0.10 an hour, strawberries for $0.01 per pint and worked our team for $1.00 a day plus lunch for me and feed for the team.  I did this for Mr. Dennis Jones and also for his son-in-law, Mr. Ben Weir. When we had the opportunity, we also picked field peas (Crowders) for other people.  Since there was little or no market for these peas, people could not afford to pay cash for the picking, but would, instead, pay with one-half of what you picked.  All of us kids together could pick a wagonload of peas in a day.  Sometimes lunch might be included in our work.  It was usually simple fare, but always welcome.

            We had wild dewberries and blackberries growing all over the area and always picked and canned many of them and when we could afford sugar, Mama made lots of jelly and we also had cobblers.  Dewberries get ripe in Panola County, where we lived, around May 1 each year.  We always got out and picked enough to have a cobbler on Ray’s birthday, May 2.  But, no one had strawberries that I knew of until I was about ten.  Our neighbor Mr. Odie Williams put in a small patch of them. Later Mr. Elmer Belew put in a large field and I picked for him on occasion when he needed help.

            Mr. Odie came one day and got me to go help him put in his sugar cane.  I only did this the one time and as I recall we lay stalks of cane in a furrow and covered them with soil. I don’t remember how much he paid me, but I do know that lunch was included in my wages.  His wife, Miss Sarah (Nelson), was a good cook and a lovely woman.  For dessert that day she had made a strawberry cobbler.  That was something new for me, being the first strawberries I ever tasted, and I loved it.  I think I had three helpings before my manners took control and I refused a fourth.

            There were times when we had no flour and had cornbread for breakfast instead of our traditional biscuits.  Many times the cornmeal was from our own corn.  I remember once in the summer when all our corn was weevilly and we needed meal. We shelled some corn, culled out the worst grains and most of the weevils, then Ray took it to Mr. Thurston Jones who had a gristmill.  He ground it into meal for us.  He collected his usual fee that was one-half the meal.

            When you are most always a little hungry, anything is welcome.  We ate lots of dried peas and potatoes with cornbread.  For variety, on some days we had potatoes with dried peas and cornbread.  Of course to go with that we had chow-chow (tomato relish) canned beets and onions for those who liked them.  I didn’t like raw onions then and still don’t.

            We ate lots of greens, collards, turnip greens, mustard and spinach.  Sometimes we had a mixture of them.  When we had it, Mama would put a piece of pork backbone in the pot of greens. If not that, then a piece of salt pork which we almost always had.  The standard fare for someone who was sick and not up to solid food was the broth from the greens and meat which we called “pot liquor”.  This was sometimes given alone, or if it could be abided, a piece of cornbread soaked with the broth.  I always enjoy this as a treat whenever we have greens now. 

            We had a team, a few cows, but not a good milk cow among them, a bunch of, and mostly wild, mixed breed chickens.  Cornish Game chickens being predominant.  And we always had a few hogs.  I say we had these chickens.  Truth was we just shared our farm with them.  They were wilder than tame, but we got their eggs when the nest could be found and ate some of the chickens too.

            The neighbor’s (Mr. John Smith) bull serviced our cows, so in the spring we had baby calves and cows that would give us some milk.  We usually had to milk three or four cows to get the milk we needed.  When we had it, we put two one-gallon syrup buckets of milk in the spring every morning.  The spring water was cold (I would guess about 50 to 60 degrees F.) and would have the milk nice and cold for our supper.

            When Mama built a fire in her “Home Comfort” wood-burning cook stove to cook breakfast, she usually also cooked our lunch, which we called “dinner” and our supper.  This was almost always true in the summer, but in the winter when the heat from the stove was welcome, she frequently cooked a hot supper.

            I remember once after I joined the Navy I was telling some shipmates about us eating squirrels, blackbirds, possums, turtles and rabbits.  In the case of rabbits, I said we didn’t eat them except in months containing an “R”. That ruled out the hot summer months of May, June, July and August.  One of the guys said, “You’re confused, that’s the rule used for oysters”.  I told him, “No, I’m not confused. That is the rule we used and at the time we were using it, I had never eaten an oyster, had not seen one, and probably had never even heard of  one”.

            We had no electricity and of course no other utilities. We had one “Aladdin Lamp” and several other standard kerosene lamps.  The difference was, the Aladdin lamp had a mantle and a round wick which brought kerosene up to the inside of the mantle where it burned.  This lamp was about ten times brighter than the other lamps.

            There was no refrigeration; consequently we could not keep perishables except in cold weather.  When we caught fish or killed game in warm weather, we cleaned and salted the meat and it was cooked at the next meal.  As a result of this we frequently had fish, frog legs or other game for breakfast.

            I kept hooks set out in Smith’s Pond (this was a pond in Mr. John Smith’s 90 acre pasture which joined us to the south and east on the south side of the road) and would run them before I went to bed at night.  If I caught fish, I cleaned, salted and covered them and left them in the kitchen for Mama to find in the morning.  She would cook them for breakfast.

            Our farm had just so-so soil, about half the acreage was in timber.  The other half was divided between pasture and crops.  Two nice things we had; one a fine spring which provided an abundance of cold, sweet water even in the hottest driest weather, and two, about ten pecan trees which almost always provided us with a crop of pecans.  None of the trees produced the same kind of pecans.  They were all natives grown from seeds so all were different.  The size ranged from peewees to medium size.  We picked up every pecan that the birds didn’t get and they were an important part of our diet.

            We had a large garden every year.  Mama was the gardener and we all helped her.  We started out in the spring by cleaning out the chicken house and the cow pen and spreading the manure on the garden.  My favorite of all the vegetables was the “English Peas” (green peas, but infinitely better than what you can buy in the stores now).  These were incredibly tender and sweet.  Mama fixed them in a cream sauce and there never were enough of them to satisfy me.  The peas are “cold hardy” and that was the first thing we got from the garden in the spring, of course we had greens through the winter.

            When I was about five or six, Ray and Uncle Roy Brown tore our barn down and moved it across the road.  It was on the side next to the house, but there was no water there for the stock.  All the water had to be carried and that was a chore.

            Across the road, water from our spring flowed across the pasture and into Smith’s Pond.  At the new location, Ray built our lot with the corner of it extending over the small creek, and on the back the hog pen spanned the creek so the hogs always had a wet place to wallow.  This pasture was about 15 acres and provided grazing for our milk cows and our team and also had an abundance of water.

            Just up the small creek from the new barn location was a small pond.  It was almost directly across the road from the house.  The pond was about 30’ across and about 4’ deep.  The small creek bypassed the pond, but a two-inch pipe had been run from the bottom of the creek over to the pond.  The pipe extended out to the edge of the water and about 18” above the water level.  Water flowed through this pipe into the pond continuously and then flowed out the other side of the pond back into the creek.  We got all the water we needed, except for cooking and drinking, from this pipe.  This cut our water carry distance about in half.

            This pond was also our swimming pool.  A couple of hundred feet to the west of the pond was a hickory tree. Mama had a rule in the hot summer time that we couldn’t go swimming until the shade of the hickory was on the pond. Time really dragged when I was watching and waiting for the shadow to reach the pond.  There were also fish in this pond and I caught them whenever I could.  I remember when I was very little, James got an old Model “T” tire and put it in the pond.  He would check it periodically and remove the small catfish that hid inside it.

            In retrospect, we could have managed a lot better than we did, although I don’t mean to be critical of Mama and my older brothers and sisters.  In Mama’s case, there she was alone with eight kids from three to seventeen.  A farm (107.5 acres) on which she owed more than the purchase price ($16.00 per acre) due to unpaid interest.  And, I might add, absolutely no money.

            I’ve often wondered why Grandpa Brown, the kind, considerate man that he was, never helped Mama at all.  I never knew of him to lend a helping hand in any way whatsoever.  Apparently not even any advice.  Why was this? 

            Uncle Willis, Mama’s brother, helped out some, and even lived with us for awhile after Daddy died.  This, however, was before he mended his ways and he was not a very good influence on me.  He was not meant to be a farmer either and didn’t like any part of it.

            After Daddy died, Lloyd went off to college never to live at home again except for the time he taught school at Brooks School.  James was in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps, another of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs) for about a year and then in 1936 he joined the Army and stayed for 30 years.  Ray was the born farmer and if he’d had the resources would have made a model farm of the place.  He did what he could with what he had.  I was mostly happy helping him.  I remember one incident when I was about six.  I was at Smith’s pond fishing when I heard Ray yelling for me.  After he called several times I took off for the house.  He was out near the barn working on a plow.  Things weren’t going well for him and he was frustrated.  When I got there he said, “Hand me the hammer”, and I promptly got it for him.  I stood there watching for a few minutes and then asked him what he called me for and he said, “I wanted you to hand me the hammer”.  Since I had done what he wanted, I went back to my fishing.  

            Then on December 7, 1941 the war with Japan started and Ray left for the Navy in early January.  During the war years, I did little beyond plowing the garden, cutting our wood and raising a crop of peas every year.  Of course, I still worked wherever and whenever I could to make a little money, as we all did.

            I remember once during the war, our neighbors, Charlie and Blanche Bridges, asked me to come and plow their garden. Mr. Charlie had epilepsy and had to be careful not to exert himself, especially in hot weather.  If he got too hot he might have a seizure.  I took our garden plow (a “Georgia Stock”) and our horse John.

            John and I worked most of the morning plowing the garden and got it to looking real nice.  When I got through, Miss Blanche gave me a half-gallon jar of milk in payment.  One thing we didn’t need in the spring and summer was milk.  I felt like pouring it out on the ground, but I took it home and gave it to Mama.  I think she gave it to the hogs.  I was disappointed, but didn’t say anything about it.  I know Mama felt sorry for me.

            We drank our milk raw.  That is, straight from the cow.  Sometimes I would drink a glass of the warm milk fresh from the milk bucket.  Mama and the girls managed the milk.  They let the cream separate and skimmed if off the top and then we drank the skim milk, or it was used for cooking.

            In the early springtime we always went through a period of about two weeks when we had bitter milk.  We didn’t enjoy it much, but continued to drink it.  The bitter flavor came from a small weed that is indigenous to East Texas and which we, naturally, called the “bitter weed”.  The cows did not like it because of it flavor, but when it first began to come up in the spring, it was hidden in the grass and they couldn’t avoid eating it.  The bitter flavor was concentrated in the cow’s milk.  As soon as the weed grew up above the grass, the cows would avoid it.

            I’ve wondered since about the chemical that caused the bitter flavor.  Was it something that harmed us, or did it give some benefit to us?  What happens to the milk now when it has the bitter flavor?  I’m sure the weed must still be a problem.

            Some of our milk was allowed to sour.  The solids would solidify (clabber) and the liquid (whey) would separate out. Many times I remember sitting with a spoon and eating the clabber.  I didn’t know then that it had another name --“cottage cheese”.  But, I understood about “Little Jack Horner”, who “sat in the corner eating his curds and whey”.

            Cream, and milk containing cream, was accumulated, put into the churn and churned (agitated with the paddle) until the fat separated from the milk and floated to the top of the churn.  This butter was removed leaving the buttermilk for drinking or to be used in cooking.  If we had more than we could use, the hogs were always appreciative.

            One of my favorite uses of milk was to make ice cream. We seldom did this except on those occasions when we had snow.  After even the lightest snowfall we could usually manage to scrape up enough to make “snow” ice cream.  I still love it and never fail to make it when it snows.  The recipe: Fill a glass half full of milk.  Low-fat milk is fine.  Add tsp. of vanilla and two or three tsp. of sugar.  Mix well and then add soft snow with stirring until you have the desired consistency.  Enjoy!

            I adored all of my sisters, but of course I spent more time with Pat since we were near the same age.  But, they all mothered me and looked after me and made my life much easier than it would have been without them.

            Of course they were all accomplished at cooking, ironing, cleaning, sewing and other things considered women’s work.  They, too, worked in the garden and in the fields, hoeing or picking or whatever was necessary.  They also helped with the woodcutting during the war years and went fishing with me too.  They’ve always been my good friends, besides being my sisters.

            We didn’t have much except each other, but I really had a great childhood. I had a dog all my own.  We had a horse that I could ride most anytime I wanted.  I had ponds to fish in just a short walk from the house and plenty of opportunities to go fishing.  I had a loving family, three brothers that I worshipped, four wonderful sisters and a Mother that was the greatest.  All of this for having daily chores and having to work in the field, milk the cows and cut wood.  So, what if the patches on my overall had patches (they were clean) and I went barefoot except in the worst weather.  I didn’t know anybody that I would have willingly changed places with.

Click here for Bo's Stories page 2!

Enter supporting content here