Excerpt From He Lays The Stones

  1. GROWING UP IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION

 

My first memories are of an earache and my loving Aunt Allie putting warm drops in them. I must have been three or four.

Early mornings I awoke to the smells of breakfast. Eggs and biscuits with molasses and home-churned butter were accompanied by smoked sausage or ham from our smokehouse, and occasionally a fried chicken and oh-so-good brown gravy. With no refrigeration, Mother would catch the chicken, wring its neck, and in short order it was ready to eat. After this hearty farmer’s breakfast at our round oak table, Daddy and Jim would leave for a long morning in the cotton fields, which were plentiful in Union Parish, Louisiana. They farmed for years with a mule and plow in the absence of any mechanized equipment.

As I reflect back, I can almost feel the words we spoke. My writing in a memoir seminar where we were encouraged to reach deep within will give you a peek into my poignant young life:

 

Leaving the breakfast dishes, Mother said, “Cheri, this is going to be a very hot day and we have lots of vegetables to pick. Get your bucket and let’s get started.” I was so young but the only help she had. We would cross the backyard and into the pasture past the smelly pen of grunting pigs. I was soon wet from the early morning dew as I eagerly ran to the cucumber vines and discovered the vegetables hiding under the leaves. Mother was picking green beans, which left me the task of picking the squash under their fuzzy leaves and the tomatoes. My legs began stinging. I was too short to pick very high on the corn and okra stalks. Mother would silently pick the rest. My little bucket was heavy, and her two buckets were full. “Cheri, let’s go. I’ll have to come back to pick the rest. You can stay and snap the beans.” I whined, “Mother, why do we have to pick so many vegetables?” She snapped, “I don’t want to hear any more out of you! You know we have to can much more to have enough to eat this winter.”

As we approached the well, I put my bucket down and quickly struggled to pull up a pail of water to wash my itchy arms and legs. Mother passed by and I called out, “Mother, I’ll make the beds first.” I was trying to delay helping to get all the vegetables ready to cook for dinner and to can on the hot wood-burning stove. When Mother returned from the garden with more vegetables, we silently prepared them.

Dinnertime came as I helped put the smaller bowls of steaming vegetables on the table. Mother always let me bake cornbread in my little iron skillet as she baked a large panful. I proudly put mine in front of my daddy’s plate.

Daddy and Jim came and sat at the table as I proudly said, “Daddy, Daddy, I cooked your cornbread.” Daddy smiled. “You’re a good girl, Cheri. I hope you’ve been a good helper this morning.” Mother retorted, “A gripey one, I must say.” Everyone was hungry and ate quickly in order to leave the hot dining room so near the kitchen stove. Jim jumped up first as Daddy said, “I’m taking a rest on the porch, then we’ll go back to the fields.” Quickly, I helped carry the dishes into the kitchen. Mother washed and I rinsed. By the time I finished and rushed to my usual place next to my daddy on the porch, he was sound asleep. All too soon he awoke, and as he sat up he called to Jim on the porch swing,“Let’s go.” I said, “Daddy, I’ll bring you some water to drink after I finish helping Mother.” With a smile and a pat on my shoulder, he walked toward the field with Jim following.

Mother and I did the canning. The kitchen was unbearably hot, full of steam from the pressure cooker. Tired, hot, and disheveled, my mother in a desperate, angry voice said, “Cheri, I can’t take it anymore!” Following her into our one bedroom, once again I saw her reach for a paper bag, put in a pair of shoes and a dress. “Oh Mother, please, please don’t leave me. I’ll do anything you want. I’ll be a good girl,” I pleaded, choking with tears. “Please, please don’t go.” She had never actually left but this might be the time. “Oh hush, Cheri, I don’t want to hear anymore. Go stand behind the big pine tree and you’d better stay there!” Still sobbing, I left the house. My mother doesn’t like me, I thought. I won’t even get to go find my daddy and give him a drink of water as I promised.

I approached the lonely, familiar corner of the yard by the dirt road where the big pine tree stands. The gravel road is in the distance when I look over my left shoulder. Seldom does anyone turn into our little dirt road. Oh, what shame I’d feel if they did. I studied the rough scaly bark of the tree and occasionally would dare a peek around the tree and up the hill to see if a big dog was coming to devour me. As dark began to fall I heard Mother’s voice from the kitchen door, “You can come in now.” She had not left me after all, this time.