It is New Year's Day, 1931. Dad loads the kitchen table on the wagon - ties it to the top with a scratchy hemp rope. Our old wagon is a precarious mountain of everything we own - mattresses, pots, pans, chairs and tools. Momma sits up front with daddy, holding the family Bible. It is bitter cold. I hang on as best I can as the creaking wagon pulls into the sandy county road heading half a mile south to our new place. This is moving day.
Daddy farmed "on shares" as did most of our neighbors. We'd plant a crop - usually peanuts back then. Whatever man we were renting from would share expenses. This was the time before tractors so it wasn't a big deal. When the crop would come in - the man would get a third or a quarter. He called it farming thirds or fourths.
Daddy would have the first John Deere in the area - 1938. Bobby Wisdom's father would own the first McCormick Farmall a year before that. Until then daddy walked behind our two yoked mules - plowing and planting in the sandy furrows of southeast Eastland County. The places weren't big by today's standards, but it would take many days for one man to work those fields alone, even when his kids got up big enough to help. Neighbors would pitch in on each other's places - definitely at harvest. Most communities shared one thresher between them.
Everything we own is tied to this wagon. The wind is picking up - it's going to freeze again tonight. People didn't have much back then. Some old stick furniture, a few clothes momma made and a smoky iron stove that was mighty heavy, even after breaking it into pieces. We never got too attached to the places we'd leave each year. But our family stayed together and we never left the community - that was our tie.
School will be the same when it starts back up. Third grade in Salem's two room schoolhouse across the road from the Melton place. My teacher Gladys Gray would end up marrying Troy Melton.
Some of the fields we pass are thick with brush and thorns. Just as God left it when Comanches hunted nearby. Most of that country is now planted in peanuts, though there are a few in cotton or sudan. And a place for the cow to graze, a few chickens, maybe a hog or two. Why we moved every year I never really understood. One sandy field seemed as good as another to me.
One year, I don't remember how old I was, I remember daddy asking the landowner what he wanted planted that year. Scott Motes replied, "Richard, don't plant over four acres of gords on the place for I think an acre will be enough for me." As to the rest he added, "plant anything you want".
Our old mules pull under the strain as we top the hill. The creaks and pops of their harnesses and the tortured turning of the spokes on these old wood wheels make a half mile trip last forever. We pass the same families every year, happy and waving, their teams and wagons loaded high like ours. On the way to their new home. Up until daddy bought a place finally in 1941, we'd move just about every year. There are several homes that I remember living in at least twice. One still stands.
We'd usually have a garden back behind the house. That garden would feed the family most of the time. We went to the store from time to time - the small Sparger Store towards Alameda or Ezzell's back on the Desdemona Road. On a really big day we might go into Ranger, to the big city, but those days were few and far between.
Next week we'll be back in school. This was a good Christmas though. Us kids got apples and oranges. My little brother got a baseball and a bat. I got a few store-bought clothes that momma ordered right out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. I'll see that catalog again next year out behind the house.
When it was time to harvest the community would come together, helping dig and cut, thresh and bag. When the tractors and fertilizer and debt came later, the places had to get bigger and the families could get smaller. A man could farm 200 acres in the time it used to take to farm fifty.
World War II came later. All the boys shipped off to Europe or the Pacific. Some went to California to work in defense plants. These country roads got quiet then - the places worked by wives, grandparents and young children. After the war, most of those kids didn't come back. Some were lost in battle. Some were lost to the lure of regular wages and nice homes.
Looking back, it sounds like tough times, I guess. Dry hot summers, the men out looking at the sky praying for rain that didn't always come. A family could pack up everything they had - clothes, mattresses, twelve kids - and it would only take a wagon load or two. It didn't feel like hard times though. We always ate - we worked hard but got to play with the neighbor kids - baseball or cowboys and Indians out in the woods. Might go swimming in the tank or even down on the Leon River when we'd visit cousins out that way. It seemed fine to me.
We pull up to the new place. We stayed here a couple of years back. The house has a covered porch across the front, a big room inside where momma and daddy sleep, and the kitchen off to one side. A little lean-to room added on the right side that my brother and I share with granddad. There's a cistern off the front porch, connected to the house with a long silver gutter. The outhouse is in back. It will take a couple of days to get everything set up to momma's satisfaction, but this is not a bad place. It'll be fine.
Daddy would finally end up buying this place in 1941. Many of our neighbors bought places as well. I would know most of those kids all through growing up - until the war. A few still come back to visit from time to time. The sand has reclaimed some of these country roads. New fences and gates have stolen a few more. But it was a life - and a good life at that. I hop down and we start unpacking. Happy New Year from the Alameda, Cheaney and Salem Communities.
The story was compiled from stories told by many of the
children of the Alameda, Cheaney and Salem communities. Special
thanks to Mr. Buddy Rogers and also to Mrs. Salata Brown.
Jeff Clark - Jdclark3312@aol.com