Early Years, Centerville & Shannon, MS
FARMING DAYS | Most of my early life, the family lived in Centerville, MS. My father farmed and my mother taught school. My dad also worked at other odd jobs to earn a living.
Dad would leave in the early mornings to work the bottomland. My mom kept a large bell on the porch (the dinner bell) and she would go to the corner of the porch and ring the bell when it was time for dinner (lunch). That bell ringing could be heard all the way down in the bottom. Dad would stop work and come to the house to eat dinner (back then meals were called breakfast, dinner, and supper). Sometimes after dinner, I would get to ride the mule pulling the plow, I would often fall asleep on the way from the bottom to the house, those are wonderful memories.
Dad would plant watermelons and cantaloupes in the cotton and corn and at the beginning of his workday, he would put a ripe watermelon in the shallow water of Mantachie Creek to cool. At quitting time, dad would go to the creek and get the watermelon. When he got to the house, he would take water from the rain barrel in the outside corner of the back porch and place it in a large tub and pour some water over it, that would keep it cool until we were ready to slice it up and eat it. Around two hours after supper, dad would bring the watermelon to the front porch and slice it up. I wouldn't each much supper just to save room for watermelon, I knew when dad cracked it open and we heard a pop that it was ripe and sweet.
In those yesteryear days, after supper, we would all set on the front porch and talk. I enjoyed listening to my folks discuss the next day's chores and what distance neighbors told them had happened days or even weeks before. Dad would talk about the crops or farming equipment that needed to be repaired, animals that needed to be taken care of. The nights were quiet in the country, except for the chirping of crickets and cooing of doves. Not having a radio in those early years, there was plenty of time for family talk. How I remember and love those days gone by, they will never be forgotten.
THE WAR YEARS | When I was about four or five years old, the United States was at war overseas. Dad told the family he was going to have to sell the farm because Jim, who worked the farm with dad, had to join the Army. Dad couldn't work the farm by himself.
During the war years, jobs were hard to find, gas, sugar and many other things were rationed. The family was issued stamps to buy the rationed items. After the stamps were gone, you couldn't get any more until the next month. Dad went out every day looking for work.
Dad finally got a part-time job with the Itawamba County road crew, grading the roads. The road grader was pulled by two mules. The roads back then were red dirt and rock. The secondary road, as they were called, were just dirt, no rock. When it rained people living on the all dirt roads had to use wagons, or ride horses to go anywhere because the roads were so muddy. The old county road grader that dad used on the roads, was a four-wheel grader with a long blade near the center section and was controlled by two big wheels, on a driver platform behind the blade. The driver had to control the cut of the blade on the road and drive the mules at the same time (no easy task). Pay was little, but every bit helped.
Later dad found out about a job as a carpenter at an Ammunition Storage Depot in Memphis, TN. Dad was lucky to get the job in Memphis even though it meant he would only be home on weekends. He and other men rode with a local man who owned a car, they pooled their stamps for gas. At that time gas was only pennies a gallon and they shared the cost of lodging. They worked all week and came home late Friday afternoon. Then back to Memphis on Sunday afternoon.
We still lived on the farm as we had been unable to sell it. On Friday afternoon's Mom and I would go to the front porch to wait for dad to come home from working in Memphis. Mom would take me to the front yard and push me in a swing dad had fixed from in the big oak tree next to the front porch. Dad would sometimes bring home a big watermelon and striped candy, what a treat that was!
In those days, when folks would go by (which wasn't often), it was like a thick fog of dust as the roads were just dirt and rock. Most traffic was wagons, or people riding horses or mules in order to go to the store about 4 miles sound in Mantachie. Mantachie was a small community with two gas stations, a grocery, hardware, dry goods store and a cotton gin. The gas stations pump had no electricity to pump the gas. When you needed gas there was a big handle with a rubber hose on the side of the gas pump so you pumped your own gas from a big storage tank. There was a thick glass top on the pump that had gallon lines, so you could see how many gallons you were pumping. You could pump 1-5 gallons. You would squeeze the handle attached to the rubber hose and the gas would empty from the glass top of the pump into the car gas tank.
SOLD THE FARM - FAMILY BUSTED UP FOR A WHILE | Dad finally sold the far and we moved to Shannon, MS. The family was kind of busted up at that time. Dad was still working in Memphis and traveling back and forth on weekends. My brother Charlie was in college at Union University on scholarship in Jackson, TN. My sister June lived with our maternal grandparents, Paw and Maw Long at a grocery and dry goods store in Shannon, which was a thriving community back then.
Dad finished his job in Memphis and got a job driving a gas truck for the Lion Oil Co in Tupelo. He kept that job for some time. Later on he started working as a salesman for Murphy Tractor & Seed Company selling John Deere tractors. Dad was trying to find a place where all the family could live together.
Mom was teaching at a small school in the Brewer community about four miles from Shannon. She rented a room in a private home in Brewer because she had no car to drive back to Shannon each day. I was five years old and stayed with mom at the boarding house in Brewer. She took me to school with her each day, to her teaching job.
MLM CLOTHING STORE, TUPELO | Dad quit his job selling tractors and started working for mother's brother Charles Long, in his clothing store in Tupelo. Dad was a great salesman and enjoyed working at the clothing store. He was a people person. Dad met and worked with a man named Guinn Cherry, they were always pulling jokes on one another. Dad and Guinn were great friends.
SHANNON, MS, LONG'S GROCERY STORE | Dad rented an old service station in Shannon and converted it into a place for a family to live together. We stayed there until we had to move after a big rainstorm flooded the inside. We then moved to the second floor of my grandfather Long's grocery store in downtown Shannon. We had to use the alley located behind the store to get to the second floor steps where we were living. A tall staircase was attached to the wall behind the store. We stayed there until dad bout our home in Verona, MS.