The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 20 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1989

Issue: October, 1989

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's as seen 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.

We picked cotton about three weeks before school started. That three weeks working with and listening to those high school kids convinced me that they were super intelligent creatures and that me and my whole family was hopeless ignorant, and unable to cope with the likes of them. They talked about things I had never heard about such as, sociology and gym classes, proms and formals, dating and picture shows and driving their parent's cars. They sang gay, silly songs and chanted football cheers and teased and chased each other.

Byron sometimes weighed the cotton and they would tease him and they called him Barney Google or Mr. Byron Langley the third. They'd put cotton boles down his shirt collar or sprinkle sand on his arms. One day when I went to weigh my cotton, Byron said the scale was broken so I had to wait while he fixed it. He kept grinning at me and brushing the lock of hair off his forehead. Then he ask me why I never talked to anyone except my own family. Before I could answer him a bunch of the town girls came up throwing boles at him and giggling. One of them kept looking at me then she ask why my family always worked so late. I answered, "So's we can buy our farm back." She laughed and said, "Listen to that, she wants to pick enough cotton to buy a farm and little old me only wants to buy a white angora sweater." Byron said, "So what's wrong with that? Winnie would look better on a farm than you would in a sweater." All the kids laughed. She threw sand on him and I went back to work feeling miserable and ashamed of myself and my whole family.

When school started the fields were dreary with just the somber faced children who were too old for the truant officer to bother with and the old folks and us hill children and the children from Memphis. Before school started the sharecropper's children admitted that they hated school and only went because the truant officer made them for they were permanent citizens of the state of Missouri. I secretly wished someone would make us hill children go but as one of the town girls said, nobody wanted their schools cluttered up with a bunch of migratory cotton pickers from Arkansas and Memphis; that they had enough trouble with their own sharecroppers snotty nosed kids. So I figured we were doomed to a life of ignorance. But still it was dreary when those town kids went back to school.

One Saturday Byron came out with a pick sack on his shoulders and stopped by me and began to talk. He said he spent all of his allowance and his Dad wouldn't let him go to the Tarzan movie that night in town unless he earned the money himself. I just looked at him. Then he asked me if that town girl made me mad that day. I still just looked at him. He said, "If she did just forget about her for she's just a spoiled brat and stuck on herself because she led the band and is a cheerleader." I felt more miserable by the minute. He then ask, "How will you kids ever make up all this lost time in school?" Quick as flash I answered, "We'll make it up on Saturdays and stay in school longer next spring." After that I worked fast as I could, feeling sick to my stomach and hoping he wouldn't ever find out that we didn't even go to school.