The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 18 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1989

Issue: February, 1989

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children; experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

The next day which was Sunday, we spent putting shelves on the walls and unpacking our things and then finished cleaning up every inch of the yard outside. Ben propped up the sagging porch the best he could and at sundown we were all sitting out there just looking our surroundings over. We watched the children from the huts up the road as they came running towards us throwing green cotton boles and hollering, "Hi ignorant hillbillies," or some other such things. Then we saw a red car with no top driving toward our house. Ben said it was Mr. Langley's convertible car that had a top that would go up or down just by pushing a button. Mama said, "Land sakes, but I've never heard of the likes of that."

The car stopped in front of us and a man, woman and boy got out. They were all three tall and straight and the finest looking, finest dressed folks I had ever seen. It seemed that they just stood there a long time looking at us and we just looked back at them. The man had on a white shirt and a brown silk tie with a gold pin in it and everything else he had on was brown. He looked like a king or president. The woman was wearing a hat full of pink roses and a pink silk dress and a navy pocketbook and high heeled shoes. I sure hoped that we could earn enough money to buy Mama a hat like that. The boy was about Andy's age; he looked just as fine as his father only he had black hair with a funny cowlick and he looked happy even when he wasn't smiling. He looked just like some of the pictures in the Sears catalog.

Finally Mr. Langley shook hands with Ben and then Mama, so did Mrs. Langley. They sort of walked up and down the porch looking in the house, at us, then at the yard. Mr. Langley said, "Mr. Moses tells me you folks just got here late Saturday afternoon. So how did you get this place looking like this in such a short time?" Ben said, "We had to get it fit to live in for you said the cotton picking would start Monday." Meanwhile Mrs. Langley asked Mama all our names and said that she had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was eighteen and her son Byron there who was sixteen.

She told Mama we could ride into town with them or Mr. Moses anytime we needed anything from there and that she kept plenty of milk in the cooler if we wanted to buy it for ten cents a gallon. So Mama told her we'd be obliged if we could get a gallon of sweet milk and a gallon of buttermilk every day after work. Mr. Langley told Ben that all the hands always met up by the tractor shed the first day of the picking season so they could find out which field to begin in and how they weighed the cotton and emptied it into the trailers. He said some of his family or some of Mr. Moses' family would weigh and keep record of all the weights and that he wanted each family to keep a record of their own weight just in case there were any questions about the amounts on pay days.

Then they all got into their topless car and drove up the road. They were different than all the landlords we had ever heard about. But later we learned Mr. Langley was very unlike some of his neighbor landowners.

Monday morning we got to the tractor shed before sunup and only Mr. Moses was there. We just stood around with our new pick sacks on our shoulders waiting and looking around.

In just a little while Mr. Langley and Byron drove up in the red pickup truck. Down the road a few men from the huts were standing around yawning and stretching; coming up the road were two tall, thin men being followed by several tattered children. The biggest was about sixteen. The men turned around and waved at two women standing on a porch of one shack holding a baby each while four small half-naked toddlers held onto their skirts. They looked like hill people I thought, like the Martin family.

Mr. Langley called from his truck and said, "Where's everybody at Moses?" Mr. Moses answered, "Well, Sir, they's sleepy this morning, because they's been awake all night." Mr. Langley began tooting his truck horn. In a little while several men, women, and an assortment of children came out of their huts up the road toward the tractor shed.

Mr. Langley asked, "Why were these people up all night?" Mr. Moses said, "Cause they went over to Mr. Danvill's huts last night to see him bring that truck load of workers in from Memphis." Mr. Moses' wife had just walked up then and she said, "It's a down payment from the good Lord, what he did to that Mr. Danvill last night."

Just then three car loads of town looking children drove up singing, "Playmate come out and play with me. Look down my rain barrel. Slide down my cellar door and we'll be jolly friends for ever more." Mr. Langley said to Byron, "Here comes trouble." Byron said, "Aw Dad they just want to earn a little money before school starts."

Mrs. Moses said, "Yes, that Mr. Danvill is a no good white man an' he went and got what he deserved last night." Mr. Langley said, "Please Mrs. Moses tell me what happened to Mr. Danvill last night so I'll know why half of my crew is asleep this morning." She began and told this story.

"Well, Mr. Danvill left Saturday in his big tarpaulin covered truck to go to Memphis just as he did every fall to gather up a bunch of hands to help him gather in his large cotton crop. From one of them sinning honky-tonk streets, he gathered up about forty black folks who wanted to come back with him but most of them owed some grocery bills and couldn't leave without paying their debts. So Mr. Danvill paid off their bills and was going to take the money back out of their picking money later. It was late Sunday afternoon before he got all that business taken care of and started back to Bloosieville with a truck load of workers.

He drove straight through from Memphis stopping only for traffic signals until he pulled up in front of his huts. He got out swaggering around and said, 'Howdy' to all the crowd of black and white sharecroppers that had gathered and waited there to see his new city workers.

Then he went to the back of his big truck and with a flourish, threw back the tarpaulin and hollered, 'All right folks unload. This is the promised land of milk and honey.' Then eight and only eight black folks came out of that big truck. The rest had jumped out along the streets of Memphis at traffic lights and returned home debt free.

Mr. Danvill knew that he had been taken, but good, so he started cussing all the sharecroppers and complaining about all of the money he had lost on the trip until finally one of the Memphis people, Mr. King Cube, said it was unchristian to treat a man like that especially after him paying off their debts so he offered to let Mr. Danvill have an opportunity to gain back some of his money in a friendly crap game. Someone brought out a jug of corn liquor. It was a shame the way they carried on. They was the singinest, dancinest, sinninest bunch of no good gamblers I've ever seen.

Toward the morning someone placed Mr. Danvill in his truck to sleep after his insides were filled up with liquor and his pockets emptied of money. Then King Cube led the folks in singing, hand clapping, and dancing. He made up a song about being in the land of milk and honey. That carrying on went on until daybreak. So Mr. Langley, that's why these folks is sleepy this morning. They's been seeing a mean man get his dues from above." Mr. Langley said, "Well, seems to me, Mrs. Moses that his just dues came from Memphis."

We finally all got lines out in the fields and settled down to the serious business of picking cotton. So with heads low, backs bent and hands moving, we gathered those white boles of cotton as fast as we could and stuffed them in our pick sacks until we got all that we could carry to the scales. Then we'd carry it down to the trailers to be weighed and emptied then hurry back and start anew.

Everyone else had gone home except us and Mr. Langley and Mr. Moses were going over our amounts at dusk to figure out how much we had all gathered in that day. Mr. Langley asked Ben how much his record came to. Ben answered with a tired grin, "1,890 pounds, sir." Mr. Langley said, "That's a bale you folks gathered today." Ben said, "Yes sir, that's $9.45 worth." Mr. Moses said, "Well sir, these hillbillies ain't lazy." But we were so tired as we started walking toward our shack at the end of the road that Mr. Langley said we might as well get in the back of the pickup. We did and he drove up to his back door, and Ben got out and in just a moment came back with two gallons jugs of cold milk, then we went on to get the wood stove fired up so we could cook supper.

At supper we talked about our new riches. Ben told us we should set our goals for ten dollars a day. He said if we got up and out in the field before sunup every day for six days a week and stayed out until it got too dark to see how to gather cotton, we could buy our necessities and save fifty dollars each week. We had a great time talking about seeing Mr. Jenkins when we gave him enough money to move to town and how grand it would be to have our own farm back again. So that was our ambition that spurred us on day after day.