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Page 3 Thompson Family

Page 3 Thompson Family

 

For Mama, taking care of our health was a calling: Every spring Mama took the bed frames and all of the bedding apart and treated them with kerosene for any infestation of bed bugs, the legs had to have new coal oil soaked strings around them, supply of lye soap made in a large black pot of boiling water, pig fat and lye, had to be made, cut and stored, the hen houses, smoke houses, and out houses had to be cleaned.  There was never a spare moment, and yet, because Mama loved pretty things, she found time to plant flowers for the spring, summer and fall around the front porch of whichever house we lived in.  There were zinnias (old maids), hollyhock, verbenas, sweet Williams, phlox, moss rose, and morning glories.  The seeds were gathered when they finished blooming for planting the next year.  Another beautiful memory is of the times she would take us for a long walk through the woods in the early spring to look for poke-weed to make Daddy a poke salad or greens cooked in water so Daddy could have the liquid to drink.  He called it pot liqueur (pot likker).  The red bud tree was a favorite, we would eat some of the beautiful pink buds, and then pick wild flowers, snapdragons, dandelions, or buttercups, and make a bouquet and it to Mama.  She taught us all of the names of the birds, insects, trees and flowers with unerring accuracy.

Daddy hated preachers, lawyers, doctors and politicians in that order.  To show his contempt, his favorite description of anyone engaged in any of these professions was to preface it with the adjective "jack-leg".  For example: So and so was nothing but a jack-leg lawyer, a jack-leg preacher or a jack-leg doctor.  One of the few jokes I ever heard Daddy tell was about a preacher who came to visit a farmer one Sunday for dinner.  The farmer took the preacher to see his new water well and when the preacher leaned over to look into the well, he grinned and his false teeth fell out.  Not to worry, said the farmer.  As he called his wife and asked her to put a leg of fried chicken on a string.  He lowered the leg into the well, the false teeth immediately snapped around the chicken leg and the preacher's false teeth were recovered.  Mama's favorite joke was about the little Southern boy who was eating breakfast and asked his mother to pass the 'lasses.  The mother said, "Son, you must say molasses, not 'lasses".  The little boy replied, "Well, how can I ask for molasses when I have not yet had any 'lasses".  She loved to listen to preachers on the radio after we finally got one, but if Daddy came home while the preacher was on, he would shout as he entered the door.  "Turn that wall-eyed sumbitch off.  All they ever want is money.  They do not earn their living by the sweat of their brow as it says in the Bible".  Mama would comply, but she secretly sent them money from her earnings from selling extra eggs, cream or butter.

They argued at night when they thought we were asleep.  It was always about our need for clothing, shoes, and school supplies that went beyond what we could earn hiring out chopping and picking cotton for our neighbors.  Mama would want money to send in an order to Sears and Roebuck and Daddy would complain that" he was not made out of money", and allow as how well off he would be if "he didn't have so many mouths to feed".  There was usually a compromise and we would get the bare essentials.  We never had more than two dresses each at any one time, and these had to be washed, starched and ironed every night so we could have clean clothes to wear to school.

Together, between them, they survived all the hardships and deprivations that life as a share-cropping farmer had to endure because they possessed all of the necessary attributes to eke out an existence on the various forty acre farms owned by absentee landlords.  They were locked into farming as share-croppers during their 27 years of married life because they started out with little more than a team of horses and some farming equipment, and there was never enough profit to save money with which to buy their own farm.  Share cropping on land that by its very nature had been abandoned, as a place to earn a living by the owner of record was a vicious circle for a tenant farmer.  Each year he went into debt to purchase the necessary seeds to produce a cash crop and at the end of the growing season, cotton, for example was sold.  The landowner got his share of the proceeds, and if you were lucky, the debt to the bank was paid off.  You could not get ahead because if you produced too much cotton, the market was glutted and you received less than expected; conversely, if your crop was bad, the price paid for the cotton might be higher per pound, but you had less to sell so your situation was just about the same.  There was a song during the depression that went like this:  "Twenty cent cotton and forty cent meat.  How in the world can a poor man eat?"  That pretty much explains the situation that prevailed during their life on the farm.

Still, Daddy lived on dreams of finding a farm with rich instead of worn out land and so every year for the first eighteen years of marriage, they moved from farm to farm. It was in January of 1938 that we moved to the smallest and sorriest house of our entire lives.  It was only three rooms. (It is only after sixty-five years of hindsight and or retrospect that I figured out that Mama made this saddest of moves when Helen was in the second half of the sixth grade so that we would be within walking distance if need be to the local high school.).  We moved into the larger house on the same farm after it was vacated by the tenant farmer from whom we had sublet his acres in 1943, {another thing I figured out in the same time period of retrospection}, and stayed there until they quit farming in 1947.  Daddy would spend endless hours repairing fences and clearing land in the hopes of growing a better cash crop of cotton.  Mama's job was to care for us and grow a garden to feed us during the spring and summer and can, preserve, dry and store food for us during the winter months.  We fattened hogs and killed at least one every fall after the first frost.  Mama raised chickens for their eggs and meat.  One year she tried her hand at raising turkeys and another year she bought eggs and hatched some geese.  Neither of these endeavors was successful, unfortunately.  We had fried chicken in summer and pork for a few months during the winter months.  The vegetables that Mama had canned or dried were eaten in the winter months also.  Cows were raised for their milk and butter, and we usually had two so that at least one of them would be fresh at any one time.  Their offspring's were sold for cash as soon as they were weaned.


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