Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

December 28, 2014

Letty Owings, who turns 90 today, explains a few of the farming tasks that were seasonal, during the Great Depression.

Wheat shocking

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”

Another task where fingers did the work was ridding each individual potato plant in any given field of the potato bugs. Potato bugs are fat with orange stripes, and they can completely decimate a field of potatoes. We crawled up and down the rows with a tin can of coal oil that served as our insecticide at the time. We looked at each leaf, picked off the bugs and the masses of eggs, and dropped them into the can of coal oil. These were days before pesticides. In addition to coal oil for the bugs, we rubbed coal oil and bacon grease on our skin to keep the chiggers away. Again, our fingers did the work and like replanting the corn, potato bug removal was extremely labor intensive.

Of all farming activities we performed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, two were notable because they involved the whole community: threshing of the wheat, and butchering the animals. Summer threshing of the wheat was the most exciting time of the year because it was a social time rolled into sustenance activity.

Farmers looked at the sky to determine when the wheat was ready to cut. If the dryness was right for thrashing on a Sunday, the farmers waited until Monday, figuring that God had good reason to wait the extra day. When the dryness was right, a horse-drawn binder (also called a reaper) cut and automatically tied the wheat into bundles weighing 50 pounds or so. The farmer would then pick up the bundles and put them in a shock. A shock of wheat consisted of four upright bundles together with one bundle on top. The shocks of wheat were left for some number of days to dry.

Only one person in the whole community owned a steam engine pulled thresher, and his name was Harry. Each farm set a day for the threshing of the wheat. The threshing of the wheat was special, dramatic, and planned in advance, almost as if the whole community was planning a state fair. The women all wore their best starched aprons and set their finest tables outside for the men to eat the finest meal of the year.

Each woman had a specialty, be it baked bread, custard, pie, butter, beans or canned goods, and all was brought forth on this day. The meat consumed was kept from the year before, unless they killed a chicken for threshing day. This was also the only day of the year for ice. A man would travel to the ice plant, get a hunk of ice, and put it in a gunny sack in a washtub. Then, each man at the table would chip off a piece of ice for his drink. On thrashing day, I woke at 4 AM, to listen for the steam engine. Children were on their best behavior, and they spoke only when spoken to. There was much bragging and comparing about whose wife could cook what the best.

The other community affair that involved mostly men and was not joyous was the butchering. The animal to be butchered was chosen in advance, and it had to be done in the late fall, so that the cold would preserve the meat. The man in the community who was the best shot would do the killing, so that the shot would not miss and the animal would not suffer. That man was usually my father. The community custom was that the man who helped with the slaughter got the best cut of meat from the animal, and that cut was usually the heart.

The women made the sausage, and in those days the intestines were used because there was no casing. The women cleaned, washed and boiled, then stuffed, the intestine casing. Butchering was not a social function as was threshing the wheat. Aside from making sausage was a practice called “frying down the meat.” This involved layering grease, then ground fried meat, then grease, ending with a top layer of grease. The mixture was compacted and kept cold in a shed. The supply of fried down meat lasted all year. My mother canned beef but this was not really a usual practice. Sealing wax was a real mess; jar rubber was, in the end, a great invention.

There was never any idle time in those days. We grew cotton and sheared sheep for our materials and in our spare time, such as it was, we either picked apart the cotton or the wool with our hands. Wool smells awful, and I once complained to my dad because I was dirty and tired of the work. He stopped what he was doing and said, “You did nothing to earn this. Everything is a gift from God.”

Off-topic: If you haven’t heard these guys, make time:

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Texas A&M University-Commerce Digital Collections on flickr.

 


The Importance of the Barn in Great Depression Farming

December 13, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty, 89, addresses some of the structures on a farm that were important during the Great Depression.

Today when we think of  structures on a property, we tend to think of houses that people live in. To farmers, some of the other buildings, namely the barn, were more important because they housed the animals. The animals had to be protected. There were two barns- a main barn and a barn for the large animals. They were not connected to each other. The ‘lower barn’ was divided into stalls for the cows and horses.

Barns were constructed from timber off the property such as oak or walnut. Red was not a native color to that area of Missouri at that time, so the barn was the color of the natural wood. It had a metal roof and gutters that led into barrels. The collected rain water was used for cattle water, chicken water, and also to wash clothes. Kids were told to stay away from the barrels because if you fell in, you couldn’t get out. One child drowned after climbing into one of the barrels. The design of a barn was not hit and miss and it involved science, although we may not think of it that way today. People who didn’t know about farming failed.

It was important for the interior of the barn to be dry. The harnesses, tools and hay couldn’t get wet and the hay crop had to be kept dry and protected from mold. Bundles were pulled to the barn with a tractor, or with horses, and the hay was lifted by a fork to the hay loft. The hay was loose hay, for the most part. Some of the chickens favored the barn over the chicken house, so they could roost, lay eggs and hatch their own chickens. To prevent chickens from getting into the hay loft to lay eggs, the trap door in the hay loft floor was kept closed.

Perhaps the most difficult but the most pleasing job I did on the farm during those years was a winter job. In the off-season we repaired the gunny sacks for the wheat. There was no time to do this job in the summer; nobody had time to patch their sacks while tending to crops. Since we could not have the gunny sacks in the house, we would sit in the barn and patch the sacks using heavy thread and darning needles.

The hay loft was good for something else. When the folks left, the kids could jump out of it. We could have broken every bone we had, and the folks would have had a fit if they’d ever found out. The loft was also a haven, as a place to bring books and dolls.

Outside the back door of our house was a shed. Behind that was the outhouse. My mother would have preferred it to be behind the chicken house if possible because she was so meticulous. In the first place, there wasn’t any toilet paper in those days. We used catalogs and they usually hung on a hook on the wall.

Kids used to experiment with smoking corn silks. If they could find an occasional cigarette paper, they could roll the corn silks in that, but if not, they experimented with other papers. One time a boy was in the outhouse on his farm- it was behind the chicken house- and he lit a page of one of the catalogs. It caught fire, so he threw the paper down the toilet hole. It was a dry day, and the burning page, having fallen onto a dry pile of Sears and Roebuck pages in the hole, quickly lit the pile of pages. The outhouse caught fire, fell onto the chicken house, and that lit the chicken house on fire. Fortunately the chickens were out in the yard scratching around, but people came running with buckets of water for what was becoming a multi-structure fire.

Every farm house had an anteroom that people entered before entering the house. This was one hundred percent standard operating procedure, and the room had a place for boots, and a wash bucket or a large bowl for water. Some called this room a “summer kitchen,” because it was a room where, for example, hog intestines were cleaned for use as casing- a task for a sort-of-outside room.

We were also always bottling the lambs. I do not ever remember a year when we weren’t nursing lambs behind the stove in the house. There was always a mama who had triplets or twins she didn’t like or that were born early in the cold, and we brought the orphans into the house and fed them out of bottles with rubber nipples. The lambs were tame and very hungry and they got strong in a hurry. They would butt their little heads against you, and when they were old enough to run, we sent them back to mama. We always had an area behind the stove fixed for the bottling of the lambs.

Barns in America have almost become icons, and the styles and purposes are different from one place to another. Our barn was constructed in 1925-1926.

Creative Commons photo (barn) courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli  on flickr.

Creative Commons photo (outhouse – Tinsley Living Farm) courtesy  Tim Evanson on flickr.

 

 

 

 

 


Recalling December 7, 1941

December 7, 2014
PEARL HARBOR ATTACK by Paul Walsh, on Flickr

The attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (US Navy file photo)

by Crane-Station

Letty Owings, age 89, recalls events of the day, on December 7, 1941, as the “day that changed everything.”

Recalling December 7, 1941

Everything changed on a Sunday. I had come home briefly from college where I was enrolled in a nature class. I wanted to collect some puffballs from the woods for my class. My father knew where to find these things so we went to the woods where they were, collected some samples, and returned home. I sat in a room with the sample collection, and my father went to the other room to listen to the wind charger radio.

He returned a few moments later and he said to me, word-for-word, “Honey, we’re in a war.”

After my father listened to the wind charger radio and learned that we were in a war, he drove me back to college at Missouri Central University. Since the announcement did not affect our classes, I took the puffballs that I had collected from the woods for my nature class.

On Monday, December 8, 1941, the university called all of the students into Hendricks Hall. The school chose the large hall as a meeting place because it was the only building on campus large enough to accommodate 1000 students for an assembly. A man named H Roe Bartle delivered the speech. He was a large and imposing man and his physical presence at the podium added to his powerful delivery. H Roe Bartle read from President Roosevelt’s declaration of war on both fronts. He ended the speech by quoting from the English patriotic song written and distributed in 1939 called There’ll Always be an England, by saying the words, “There’ll always be an England and England will be free, if England means to you what England means to me.”

The atmosphere in Hendricks Hall at that moment was eerie. It was like electricity and so emotional that while some students cried, others just stared. Many jumped up to enlist then and there. Senior boys just shy of graduating were anxious to abandon their schooling and had to be convinced to stay in school and graduate. Since there were no speech writers to temper tone in those days, what Roosevelt said, Roosevelt said. Both Roosevelt’s announcement and H Roe Bartle’s subsequent speech conveyed the same gravity and raw heartfelt shock that we all shared. We had no concept of war, no frame of reference. We had entered the assembly as one person and came out another, with the final understanding that yes, our lives have changed forever.  America became mesmerized.

Following the announcement almost immediately, members of regular university faculty were conscripted according to the following formula: the Army, Navy and Marines came in and took whoever they wanted and told them what to teach and where to teach it.

Even before the concepts of totally non-negotiable unconditional surrender and the declaration of war on both fronts sank in academically, the government instituted a rationing system in early 1942. Everything had to go to the military, and we were issued ration cards. Rubber was one of  the first things to be limited: no more tires, rubber boots or yard goods were sold for civilian use. Gasoline, leather and sugar were rationed, and it was against the law to trade these things. Farmers could get a little more gasoline for their tractors, but they had to provide documented proof of how much they needed and what it was for.  If they ever caught you putting gasoline in a car when it was allotted for the tractor, you’d be up shit creek, and there was the occasional speculation, “Well, I believe he unscrewed the carburetor on that tractor and put that gas in his car, how else has he able to drive to Wellington twice?”

People adjusted to rationing in stride as something they were required and obliged to do. Abuse and treachery of the rationing system were not generally done because people had a feeling they might be hurting an officer if they cheated the system.

Within a short period of time, hardly any adult man was out of uniform. The men were in uniform whether they were walking on the street, attending church, shopping at the store or going about their daily business. Bellbottoms, khakis, lapel bars and hats were worn everywhere. In a way, the military uniform was a great leveler because men going about their daily lives were now part of something that they had not been part of before. There was some occasional fakery that went on when it came to dating, when, for example, a man would represent himself as rich and accomplished to a prospective date, only to have his wife eventually show up.

The uniform was important to the point where being a “civvy” required an excellent excuse or else drew extreme criticism. In fact, there quickly developed a prejudice against men who were not in uniform. A boy I dated had graduated and was teaching math. He went to Scott Air Force Base to teach troops, but the troops ridiculed him because he was dressed in civilian clothing. Because of this, he enlisted and returned to the same job for less pay, where he was not the subject of criticism.

All three boys of one cousin, from Odessa, Missouri, went to war. One day the father got a telegram, and was told to drive to town. Two telegrams awaited him in Odessa: one son had been killed in the Pacific and another one was killed in Europe. The third son was pulled out of the war, because the rule was that if two were killed, the third one could not continue to serve.

One of the ironies about the moment in December of 1941 that became frozen in time- the beginning of a war that took so many- was that some of the kids who previously had no possibility of going to college had a chance to go after the war, with the GI Bill. You can see this if you go back and look at the college enrollment before and after the war.

H Roe Bartle went on to serve as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri for two terms. He was also an executive and an organizer for the Boy Scouts of America. Also, the Kansas City Chiefs football team is named after Bartle’s nickname, “The Chief.”

Creative Commons image courtesy Paul Walsh on Flickr

cross-posted at Firedoglake.


The Fall Pie Supper Custom

October 4, 2014

by Crane-Station
cross posted at Firedoglake

Letty Owings, age 89, recalls the annual fall pie supper auction in a small Missouri farming community during the Great Depression.

The Fall Pie Supper Custom

Each autumn we had a pie supper at Cabbage Neck, the one-room school that served as our community center. The idea was that a woman, or usually a girl baked a pie, and the pies were auctioned off to men. When you live in a world where you are isolated, social functions are a big deal. Women did their darndest to outshine the other women for the pie supper, so the event was a contest as well as a fundraiser. The big deal was who was going to buy the pie.

The auction was held on the school ‘stage,’ which was a space where the teacher’s desk was pushed aside. The auctioneer, who was sometimes my father, would hold up the pie and chant, “Now what am I to give for this pie, ten cents who’ll give me ten cents, ten, and raise it to fifteen, ah fifteen and twenty, twenty cents over here and thirty thirty do I hear forty…” A girl would want a good price for her pie, and she may say, “My, they paid seventy-five cents for my pie!” Many of the pies were milk-based custards because mince was expensive. Pumpkin, squash and apple pies were popular, and on occasion when someone could afford raisins, there was raisin pie. If there was mince, the pie had a crust over the top, and often had green tomatoes, apples, and spices.

The rule was that the man who bought the pie shared the pie with the girl who baked it. The quality of the pie didn’t have much to do with the price of eggs, it was the gathering and the fun that mattered. People would discuss the drought and talk about their kids, and interject with who bought what pie for how much by saying things like, “Yeah, you know, he bought her pie.” The inevitable big ‘disappointment’ that would bring a good deal of ribbing and laughter would come when a fella would shell out a few coins for a pie, expecting that a girl had baked it, only to learn that he would be sharing the pie with grandma.

Nobody ever kept any of the money for the pies. The funds went into the school. One year the funds went to purchase a dictionary. Another year, the funds were used to purchase coal.

It is hard to explain the hype of the pie supper to people today, in a world where so much is going on. People gossiped about it for months. Women were jealous of each other. If your pie didn’t bring very much, it was like insulting the Holy Grail. The pie supper was one of the rites of passage of fall. My mother made pumpkin pies, but she never wrote down the recipe, so how did she make them?

Well, for one thing, grow the pumpkins. They can’t be too big. They can’t be too stringy. They have to be watered just right. Next, the milk has to come out of the cow. Set it on the stove for a while and let it clabber a little, to give it some taste. Set a crock on the back of the heating stove, and the cream will rise. Skim that off. You don’t want your pie too slick, or too rich. The only things purchased for the pie is the flour, and the spices. If you get too much cream, the pie will be too damn rich, but if you get too little, the pie will be too watery. Maybe two cups of cream will do, with two cups of pumpkin.

Depending on how the argument works out on any given day, the pie might require three or four eggs, and they might be separated or not, but you have to grab the eggs out from underneath the chickens. When eggs are this fresh- grabbed from under a hen- they are hard to separate- so you may have to wait a day or two, to separate the white from the yolk.

No one pulled a recipe book or a recipe card from the shelf to follow, to bake her pie, for the annual pie supper event each year. Pie making was an art and a creative endeavor that passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Read the rest of this entry »


Letty Owings, Age 89, Recalls More New Orleans History

September 17, 2014

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls history, customs and experiences in New Orleans in 1958-1959.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

No chapter on New Orleans would be complete without something about the Mardi Gras experience. We knew about the big parade, but beyond that we knew nothing of the festival. The secrets and functions of the city that revolves around a carnival remain obscure to outsiders. Mardi Gras is not just a celebration, it is a way of life meshed with social structure and status. Anyone who is anyone belongs to a krewe, an organization built on social status, occupation and ancestry. All year long each krewe prepares for the season which ushers in the balls and the parades.

The first balls begin on New Year’s Eve. Generally the functions closest to the New Year have the least prestige. That statement has many variations, so I should not be dogmatic with my pronouncement about the worst first. The parades, mostly at night, happen more and more frequently as the weeks approach the “real” Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As an aside—“Shrove” days are set aside for celebration and excesses not allowed during Lent.

The date of Mardi Gras is strictly governed by the length of Lent in any given year. As Lent approaches, the parades pick up both in number as well as in prestige. People line the streets to view the floats and catch the trinkets thrown to the crowd by masked revelers. Why a cheap pair of beads thrown from a float takes on the mark of a status symbol is hard to say. It all has to do with the spirit of the occasion when good sense gets exchanged for excitement. I have still in a box somewhere the beads and trinkets we caught from the parades.

After a season of fever-pitch excitement and parades and balls, the Tuesday before Lent comes at last. This is the Mardi Gras tourists know about. Two Krewes are left to do their thing, Rex and Comus. Both Krewes parade in their finery, and their awesome collection of real jewels and royal robes. All participants remain masked until the Rex and Comus ball when the King (Rex, of course) and Queen are revealed to the public. Always the distinctive honor goes to well-known socialites of New Orleans. Few people ever get invited to the Rex and Comus affair. In fact, few outsiders or non-members of krewes ever get to go to one of the balls. Essentially they are closed affairs.

After the revelry and costuming and marching bands and drunkenness in the streets, at the stroke of midnight when Tuesday turns to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the doors close and the ball stops. The celebration is over until next New Years Eve. But even at that time, many are beginning to plan the next year’s floats and balls.

Most persons outside New Orleans who go to the city to experience Mardi Gras, see only the last day parades and the wild confusion. That is not all there is, but in order to see the real thing, residence in the city for a time is a necessity. Even then, the rituals and preparations are mostly kept from outsiders. We were fortunate in that our quarreling neighbors who belonged to a krewe wanted our oldest daughter to experience the real thing. I made her a formal and off she went. At the balls, all men are masked. The women have a card signed by different gentlemen who care to dance with them.

A flood

Besides Mardi Gras, New Orleans has floods. Since most of the area is below sea level and since it is often in the path of winds and water from hurricanes, the saucer-like shape of the area guarantees water build up. One day in early 1959, the city had twelve inches of rain in twelve hours. Ray was on duty at the hospital and had to stay there. Our yard began to fill and water crept up to the single step that separated us from the rising deluge. Neighbors took it in stride. Some had to leave, but most stayed since they had seen it all before. Some innovative person ran a motor boat down the street and pitched a bathroom plunger to those who needed the instrument. I had no use for a plunger since the sewer was filling up the kitchen sink. In the aftermath of the water, we all lined up for typhoid shots. Small wonder we did not all get the plague or something equally wicked.

Lest I make the weather and the city in general sound too horrid, I must say that when spring came in February, everything burst into bloom. Flowers and trees grew profusely in the semi-tropical, damp climate. Spanish moss floated from the limbs of the magnificent oaks. New Orleans could be the most beautiful city anyone could hope for. That was one face. It could also be smelly and hot and filthy. That was the other way to look at it. We would always cherish the experience of learning about one more culture in this vast, multicultural land of ours.

End note-
Letty’s previous post related post on New Orleans is titled,
Public Schools in New Orleans 1958-1959.
Also, if you are interested in reading any of our co-authored essays about the Great Depression era, I am happy to get you links in the thread. Please keep an eye out for the next interesting history post, where she is planning to address the subject of cockroaches in the South.


Public Schools in New Orleans 1958-1959

August 25, 2014

Old Kenner High School via Wikimedia Commons

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls moving to New Orleans and teaching in a public elementary school in 1958.

New Orleans 1958-1959

Cultural experiences abound in this land of ours, but none can surpass living in New Orleans for just one year. The mockingbirds singing in the magnolias were left behind in Atlanta, along with red dirt and Stone Mountain. Ray went ahead of the six of us to begin his year of duty in the New Orleans Public Health Service Hospital. He got established and rented a house before the kids and I loaded the car and followed to what we found to be a strange locale.

As we drew up the drive to the hospital, moisture dripped from the huge vine-covered trees. A big crab inched his way across the street. Ray was sweating bullets because his “room” had no air conditioning to tame the heat and humidity. I remember his coming to the car and saying, “I don’t think you should have come here.”

Our rented house proved to be nicer than we expected. It did have its moments, however. An alligator came to the carport to lounge around, and the neighbors whose house practically touched ours fought half the night. That could be entertaining in the days before TV if they had only known when to shut it off. Our house, built on a concrete slab, sweated the floors sopping wet at night. Walking around could be precarious. Clothes that touched the floor or shoes left in the closet turned green with mold.

The quarreling neighbors told me to stay out of the yard during the day for fear of heat stroke. I blew off that advice since a veteran of the Midwest dust bowl could not possibly have a heat stroke. I did not have the stroke, but I did get mighty sick when I gardened in midday—only once. That once was all it took to pay attention to the natives. I never made my peace with the heat and humidity, but we did build immunity to mosquitoes.

School in Jefferson Parish where we lived came as an impressive challenge. One day right before enrollment time, the neighbor lady—not the battling one—asked me where the kids were going to school. Considering that a question with an obvious answer, I told her they would go wherever the local school was located. She was quick to inform me that nobody that was anybody sent kids to public school, and, in fact, it was unthinkable. Without either money for private school, which meant Catholic in New Orleans, or a desire to try to change plans in a strange location, we forged ahead with public education. Our oldest was ready for high school. When enrollment day came, we found the high school, if it could be dignified by that name.

The school building, completely buried in a summer’s growth of tall weeds, appeared as though it had been a long time condemned and given over to hopelessness and rot. The principal, a hefty Italian sweating profusely and flailing his arms around, trying to impose order on the chaos, hardly seemed to notice our inquiry about enrolling a student. In fact, students appeared to be the least of his worries. The attendees chiefly consisted of those who had been disciplinary cases thrown out of Catholic school or sons and daughters of the dock and levy crews. The kids that slept on the levy were called “levy kids.”

Two of our kids served their time at John Clancy elementary school. We never learned about the John Clancy behind the name. Perhaps he was a crooked politician. That would make sense in an area where the biggest bridges were named after Huey Long, the infamous former Governor who was shot dead on the capitol steps. His brother Earl Long served as Governor in 1958, although his mind had long since left him. Sanity was not a requirement to be Governor of Louisiana.

John Clancy, newer and even more crowded than Kenner High, had a principal who had not even the benefit of a secretary or a counselor. He was the staff. Always hurried, harried, nervous and angry, his was an impossible situation. In fact, all of education in the state of Louisiana was impossible. With one of the highest tax bases in the country paired with the lowest teachers’ salaries, the diversion of funds to pockets of politicians assured a hopeless public education system.

Cooks held the most important jobs in the school system as far as the students were concerned. Many of the kids depended on the free school lunches for their daily bread. The principal stood like a prison guard at the lunchroom door, right by the tray return. His rule of “you take it, you eat it” went unchallenged. The cooks put their pride and their energies into making great meals for the hungry hordes. Biscuits hot from the oven and plenty of red beans and rice made for hearty, nourishing meals. If they deviated from the menu, the kids looked askance at the food. School fare was the same as what the kids ate at home, if they came from a home stable enough to have meals. The lucky ones might add to their fare some crawdads caught in the ubiquitous drainage ditches.

Classes at Clancy averaged around 50 students of varying ages. Since social promotion as a concept had not yet caught hold in Louisiana, students could fail as often as teachers cared to fail them. Some big guys roared up to grade school on their motorcycles. Some others were rounded up and dragged in by the local cops since truancy was petty crime. “Special education” classes for those who could not or would not learn were not an option in schools where most students would have qualified for special education. Teachers tried to survive, one day at a time.

So desperate was the need for teachers that I finally agreed to take a sixth grade part of the year. We could use the money, meager as it was. The $278/month was an improvement due to the recent reorganization of teachers’ unions. A Catholic Brother from one of the orders taught a sixth grade with 55 students. Not all the chairs fit in the room. Teachers and a few students, in that room and a number of others, were relegated to filling the hall next to the room. One day the Brother decided he was out of there while he was still functional. As unstrung as he was, he probably went out and crawled in a hole. I took the class for a number of weeks that ran into months. It was rather horrible, although I found the “kids” of all ages responded to kindness and consideration—attributes they seldom encountered. I liked them and they cared for me. They would beg me to read to them since many of them had never had the privilege of owning a book of their own or actually learning to read. Books suffered the same shortage as all other supplies.

Ray’s work at the State Street Marine Hospital had him catching babies and treating families of the shrimp boat captains. Since their health care was free, they brought gifts to the doctors on occasion. And what would a shrimp boat captain bring but shrimp—huge shrimp, a generous and unusual gift. We never went down to see the fleet blessed when the boats set out, but I believe that continues to be a custom.

Then, the floods came.

…to be continued, with a recollection the flood, and of Mardi Gras…


Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

May 28, 2014

by Crane-Station

Old Horse Drawn Corn Planter
old horse drawn corn planter by Colbyt69, creative commons, flickr.

This is a true story from the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 89. It is a true account of various farming tasks during the historic drought years of the mid-1930s.

Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other in church about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”
Read the rest of this entry »


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