Saturday, September 02, 2017

Stories from 1947 and 1948

by Jim Perrine
(Fourth in a series)

In 1947 my parents bought a home on the courthouse steps for taxes owed.  People submitted secret bids, and I believe my folks bid $600.  Theirs turned out to be the high bid.  This house was located right over Waterloo Hill, down on what is now Coal Mine Road.

We moved into the house after Mom had fumigated it with smoke bombs to kill the embedded bedbugs that climbed out of the walls, ceiling, and floors.  She had to paint and paper the house to make it livable inside.  The end result was that for the first time in my life we had electricity for lights, a refrigerator, running water... and after a few more years, an inside toilet!  I still remember hand-digging the hole and laterals for the septic system in 1954.  Another advantage we gained was a coal-fired furnace that drove hot air through vents to heat our home.  We even had a phone for the first time ever.  In 1951, we purchased our first Zenith TV.  How good we had it!

Living in 1947 in our new (to us) abode put us closer to Dad's river bottoms.  He only had to drive his horses or tractor about a mile to his bottomland farm.  We still had no cash flow, as such.  To make "extra" needed money, my dad would work on the railroad that passed by our home.  He made 75 cents to a dollar an hour to work with the hand-car crew that picked him up each morning to go to work.  I worked in the Levasy bottoms picking potatoes for 10 cents per hundred-pound sack during my seventh- and eighth-grade years.  A good day would net me six to seven dollars, which I used to buy school supplies, jeans, shirts, shoes, and so forth for the upcoming school year.  

Old Man River was still impacting our economic life.  It flooded several times from 1948 to 1953, the worst being the flood of 1951.  Again, Lake City Arsenal and the railroad winter jobs got us through.  I remember my dad borrowing seed money from Napoleon Bank with a promise to pay when we got a crop.  He always paid his bills!

The Waterloo Store was our savior in that the owners allowed our family to run a "ticket", a bill for groceries with a promise to pay when we sold crops.  My folks never failed to pay off their debts.  This made an impression on my young mind of what right and wrong were.  We ate a lot of lunch meat and cheese and navy beans with "light bread", as we called our homemade bread.  Beans-and-bread is still one of my favorite meals, and hearkens me back to those early childhood days when it was all we had.

I do not complain about our hard times, for they made me understand what it means to be poor and at the mercy of other people.  I can't express enough the fact that I never felt deprived in any way, due to the love that was shown to me by my parents as I grew to be a responsible adult.  

During this time I lived what seems to me now to be a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn childhood.  I fished in a slough, walked the rails to Waterloo Store, and was barefoot every day.  The old coal mine used to pour water out onto the road where I walked.  While splashing through the water one day I felt something wriggling under my foot:  it was in the midst of baby snakes that had been pumped out of the mine!  I don't believe my feet touched anything again until I was on dry dirt.

It was during this time of my life I really became interested in basketball, and I've been caught up in it ever since.  I never owned a basketball nor had a goal at home; what I had was a coffee can nailed to the wash-house wall:  I shot tennis balls or rubber sponge-type balls to practice.

Farming as an occupation never occurred to me, even though I had been raised on a farm.  I never had the appetite for watching our seed taken down the river by flood waters.  I never liked hand-picking our fields of corn with a double-side board wagon and two mules that had minds of their own.  They couldn't tell "giddy up" from "whoa".  For a long time, as a youngster following them in the corn field with heavy gumbo clinging to my boots making them impossibly heavy and cockleburs irritating me, I was sure their names were Son of a B__ch and B-----d.  At least these were the names my father had for them when they acted stupid!  Later I found out they were Peter and Jack.  

While planting, it was my job to operate the planter and watch the seed holders to make sure there was corn there.  I must admit sometimes I would daydream and forget to engage the planter; weeks later my dad would inform me that some of that darned seed must have been bad, because it didn't come up.

I really didn't know what I wanted to be, or do, when I "grew up", but it definitely wasn't farming on a tenant farm!

Click HERE for the next chapter:  The College Years.


Sister--Three said...

I am trying to be patient!!

But........hurry up. Can't wait to see what he does next! ha

Margaret said...

I am still horrified by the embedded bed bugs. I am terrified of them. I remember eating creamed tuna on toast and lots of mac and cheese or beans near the end of the month; Dad got paid once a month on the last working day. And back then, teachers only got their 9 month salary; they didn't spread it over 12 months like they do now. I feel sorry for my mom trying to budget back then!


chuckled over the story about peter and jack. those snakes would have had me schreeching. $600 seems like a fair price for a house back then. glad his mom had a way to get rid of the bedbugs.