<BACK>         <HOME>          <NEXT>

John B. Isom


One of the big fields on Papa's farm was south of our pasture fence and those of my Grandparents' fences.  Along the east-west road, on which the three families lived, were the north fences of those pastures.  In a patch of the woods to the west of that field to the south was a spring.  In another patch of woods, 150 yards to the west of our house was another spring, the  stream from which, ran through our hog pasture below.  This spring was my family's source of water until Papa had a well drilled.

The drilling of the well is among my earlier memories.  It was drilled at the west end of the front porch.  When it was finished Papa extended the porch out over the well.  The pulley wheel was installed in the roof of the porch and the "windless" was placed about three feet above the floor. 

The power used to drill the well was a small steam engine.  It was installed on a large wagon.  By some sort of gear devise they could pull the wagon with the engine at about the gait of an ox.  The drill was left at our house over a weekend.  While the drillers were gone home for the weekend R.L. and I examined the contraption from stem to stern.  We found the whistle and the cord to pull to make it blow.  When the drillers returned Monday morning, got up a head of steam and began drilling R.L. and I slipped around and gave the whistle cord a long pull.  They must have had an understanding among themselves if the whistle blew it was a sign that something was wrong and the engine should be stopped.  Anyway, when the whistle blew  the engine stopped.  When it was discovered that we blew it we got a tongue lashing of the worse sort.  It put a damper on our fun but made the whole episode more exciting.

The first job I remember was being Papa's water boy.  This required four or five trips, every working day, to where Papa was working.  If he was in the fields to the north,  the nearest place to get my water was at home.  If he was in the field to the south, anyone of four places might be the nearest.  If he were in  the east end, Grandma Price's well would be the nearest.  Grandma Isom's well would be nearest if he were in the middle of the field.  In the west end it would be a tossup between our house and the spring in the patch of woods.

If I got my water from the spring I had been instructed to push the mouth of the bottle beneath the surface of the water and hold it there until it was full.  In that way the bubbles it made while filling would prevent wiggle-tails from getting into the bottle.  I could not understand why the bubbles would keep the wiggle-tails out.  It remained a puzzle to me, for a long time, why it was that it did not bubble if only part of the mouth of the bottle was under the surface of the water.  (Wiggle-tails, by the way, are baby mosquitoes.)

On my way through the pasture from Grandma Price's well with my water I once met a big Opossum. He stopped and smiled at me.  Instead of smiling back I put my bottle down, grabbed up a stick and started hitting him as he turned to run.  After a few whacks he fell over.  On examination his eyes were closed and a dead grin was on his face.  I walked around him a time or two.  Seeing no movement I lightly poked him with my stick without getting any reaction.  Carefully I took him by the tail and drug him a short way without getting any sign of life.

While Papa was drinking his water I told him I met an opossum in the pasture and killed it.  "How?" he asked.  I told him what I did and what the opossum did.  Seeing I was not too well pleased with myself in what I had done, he said, "No, you didn't kill him.  He just "sulled (sulked).  He just played like he was dead.  That's the way opossums try to protect themselves from their enemies.  They do the same way when caught by a dog.  They go limp and play dead hoping the dog will think so and stop biting and shaking them."

I could only hope Papa knew what he was talking about.  To me the opossum looked too dead to be pretending.  On my way to the house I went by where I left him.  Papa was right.  I looked in every direction, no opossum in sight.  I had seen opossums before.  As far as I can remember my attack on the animal was not motivated by fear.  I'm sure it was not my intention to kill him for food because we did not eat opossums.  I had no justification for trying to hurt or kill the creature.

The encounter with the opossum, as time proved it to be, was an important experience in my life.  It was here that I first became conscious of an intangible reality of my being that shamed me for what I had done: an inward reality that became, years later, the ultimate assumption of my philosophy of life, the finial authority for my religious and moral beliefs.

Other than water boy I remember no other childhood job that did not involve R L.  I have no recollection of him ever helping me in the water toting business.  Why, I do not know.  All the other jobs we did, we did together.

Slopping the hogs was one of those jobs.  Outside the kitchen window, on a shelf, there was a four or five gallon wooden candy bucket, known as the slop-bucket.  In it all the kitchen scraps were dumped.  It was our daily job to take the bucket to the hog pen and pour its' contents into the hog trough.  We carried the bucket with a stick on which the handle rested.  R.L. was at one end and I was at the other.  He was a bit stronger and taller than I.  If he tried, which was often, he could hold his end higher than mine, thus causing the handle to slip a bit toward my end, forcing me to tote more than my share of the load.  I soon caught on to this and refused to work on those terms.  Most of the time he would give in, sooner or later, and let the handle remain in the middle of the stick.

One day at noon, however, he was determined to force me to carry more than half the load if it took all afternoon.  This resulted in a long and loud argument.  It was Papa's custom to take a short nap on one of the porches during the two hour break at noon.  After our argument had disturbed his nap longer than he could stand, around the house he came with flyslap in hand.  It was obvious that he was determined to put an end to our argument.  Lucky for us after a few whacks he broke his persuader, but the whacks were plenty to settle the argument.  Without further argument we got the hogs slopped in nothing flat.  I'm sure there were other times when he had to arbitrate disputes between us.  I don't remember another time when he used such drastic methods.

We took turns planting corn.  We didn't have a planter that would drop corn.  Papa would layoff the row and we would take turns dropping a grain of corn in each one of Papa's tracks.  An Uncle would come behind with two teeth on a scratcher plow and cover the corn.  I have already told you of an argument between us while we were replanting corn - an argument that was resolved in a way that left me with the little end of the stick I thought. 

We did have a cotton planter.  One of our earlier jobs was that of refilling the hoppers of the planter and the fertilizer distributor. I would be stationed near one end of the field and R.L. near the other end.  One day an Uncle was running the guano (fertilizer) distributor.  Papa was running the planter.  On one stop for fertilizer my Uncle advised me that it would make my "goober" (penis) grow if I would put some guano on it.  Papa was passing by near enough to hear the suggestion.  The next time around he stopped and said, "Don't you do what your uncle suggested."  That was one time Papa underestimated my wisdom.  I had already been tricked into doing too many foolish things by my Uncle to take any of his suggestions at face value, especially if they were made with a twinkle in his eyes.

As we grew older our jobs became more like the jobs of adults which, increasingly, robbed them of the element of play in our earlier jobs.  But we were never over worked and found or took time for play.

Most of the time Papa kept a brood sow.  Once the sow broke out of the fence and went to visit her boy friend who lived on Pig Painter's (his real name as far as I know)  place, a mile or more away.  It was in the shank of the afternoon when Mr. Painter called to report 
where we might find our sow.  I was sent to fetch the sow home. 

"How do you drive a sow?" you ask.  You tie a rope on the front leg just above the hoof. When you want her to stop or turn you pull back on the rope so as to keep the foot from touching the ground.  She may try to maneuver a few times on three legs but soon she will learn it's not worth the effort and will stop and wait for instruction.

On this occasion I had little trouble with the sow.  She'd already had a long visit with her boy friend and was satisfied he still loved her.  She knew the way home and it was getting on towards suppertime.  All I had to do on the way home was to brake enough to prevent her from breaking the speed limit.

There was always at least one calf growing up on the farm.  Once we had a boy calf who stayed around through his early "bullhood".  Somebody had broken him for riding.  He was very gentle so  R.L. and I were permitted to ride him.  The bull and we had a lot of fun on our riding trips over the farm.  At least he seemed to think all the tender-loving care we gave him was worth his cooperation.

At the same time there was a heifer that was approaching the age of early "cowhood".  She was almost as big as the bull, but not as old.  R.L. and I decided it would be nice to break the heifer for riding, so we could ride without taking turns.  First we had to persuade her to let us halter her and tame her enough to be led by a rope. 

After a lot of tender-loving care and not so tender-loving care she gave in to the demands of the halter and rope.  Then we took her along on our bull rides, taking turns riding the bull and leading the heifer.  Maybe we thought in this way the heifer would get the idea, seeing how nice we were to the bull and all the choice things we gave him and her to eat along the way, she would conclude it would be worth giving us a ride to be with us rather than being fenced in with the old folks where the grass was too short to graze.  Hoping she was so persuaded, we took her out into a newly ploughed field, led her beside a stump or mound of dirt or a terrace row.  One would hold the heifer.  the other would get on the stump, or whatever, and jump on.   The jumping on was easy enough for either of us.  Staying on was equally as hard for both of us.  One buck and whirl and the would be rider found himself flat on the fresh ploughed soil.  Time after time, day after day, we jumped on.  But the attempt to stay on was as short lived the last time as it was in the beginning.  We found no way to persuade her to go into the business of transporting little boys over hill and dale.  In a short time we realized it was a lost cause and turned our attention to other things.  Perhaps, the heifer went on the become a nice milk cow to take the place of one of our old cows who was ready to retire.  The nice bull in time was either sold or butchered for beef. 

In the meantime there was a baby bull growing up on the farm.  R.L. and I decided to start training him early before he was old enough to get set in his bullish ways.  We trained him to wear the halter and obey the pull of the rope before he was big enough to ride.  While waiting for him to grow bigger, we decided to try to teach him to pull our red wagon.  We made him some sort of yoke and persuaded him to wear it without protest.  The trouble came when we hooked the wagon to the yoke and insisted that he pull it with at least one of us on board.  He flatly refused to cooperate.  As the opossum, he would sull - lie down and play dead.  No sweet talk or temptation with his choice dish, or unkind treatment would unsull him.  Not until we unhitched him from the wagon would he even consider getting up.  Once, while trying to unsull him, we tormented him until his nose bled. 

Again, as during my encounter with the opossum, two or more years earlier, that same invisible part of me came to the surface of consciousness and shamed me for the way we were treating the little bull.   For many years I have known that this was the second conscious religious experience of my life.  I do not know if a like part of R.L.'s being  shamed him.  If so neither of us confessed as much to the other.  I do know that never again did we torment him when he sulled.  In time he did agree to pull the wagon, after a fashion.  It was obvious that he did not like the idea. By then we were getting old enough to ride the mules.  We had two.  This new and more exciting adventure dulled our interest in exploiting the little bull.  To his great satisfaction the bull was soon left out of our childhood adventures.


The Cadle and Isom families left about mid-day in a three two-horse wagon caravan.  One wagon and team belonged to my Uncle Mack, whom Papa had hired to help.  On the back of one wagon a coop full of chickens was tied. We had no dogs at the time but we did take some pet cats with us.  I don't remember them giving us any trouble during the trip.  Our two cows made the trip on foot.  We took turns leading them.  We got to Guntersville, the county seat of Marshall county before dark and spent the night in a big wooden hotel at the edge of town.  The mules, wagons and cows were housed in a big barn across the street.

After supper the young folks took a stroll downtown.  It was a one street town of three or four blocks, but the largest town I had ever seen.  We stopped at a drug store,  Along one wall of the store there was a large open stairway.  Now and then laughter could be heard coming from above.  R.L. and I decided to investigate.  We walked up the stairway, without anyone objecting, to find ourselves at the back of a dark room full of people watching pictures of people moving silently around on the wall up front.  We had never been to a movie before, but we assumed that this must be one.  We watched for a short while, not being able to make heads or tails of what was going on, so we made our way down the stairs without being asked for a ticket or money. 

Guntersville is at the bend of the Tennessee river where it is forced to begin its slow turn back toward the north.  It is in the valley between Sand Mountain and Brintle Lee mountain.  The roads leading into the valley from both mountains may have had some crushed rock or gravel at critical places. Otherwise the roads we traveled on this trip were dirt roads.

We had eggs, sausage and biscuits for breakfast the next morning.  Soon thereafter we began our slow journey up the winding, long and steep road that would lead us to the top of Brintle Lee Mountain - the twin brother to the one that had led us off of Sand Mountain the evening before. 

We stopped late in the shank of the day to feed the mules and ourselves..  Nothing happened during the day of interest.  Just plodding on and on and on.  It was cold and had been raining where we stopped.  When we began the last few miles of our journey it was dark and the roads were muddy.  R.L. and I were driving one team.  My guess is that Papa was up front helping to lead the cows and showing us the way.  There was no moon to help us find our way but I think Papa had a lantern.  He stayed in the middle of the road to help guide us and keep us on track. 

Two, three or more hours later we arrived to our new home, just a day or two before Christmas,  The Cadle family moved on a half mile to their new place.  To our dismay we discovered the family and owner of the house had not moved out as promised.  That we were crowded for space, and that Papa had bought us a big bucket of candy is all my memory will reveal about that Christmas.  My guess is that the candy bucket, when it was emptied, became a slop bucket.  I was 10 years old when we made this move.


Our new house was larger and some nicer than the house of my birth.  Also, it was on an average country road.  There was no well but a good spring was only fifty yards away, under a clump of trees.  Papa built a milk and butter container in the stream just below the spring.  The largest field on the farm lay southwest of the spring.  There was a long narrow pasture south of the spring.  Between the pasture and to the west side of the road, running by our house, there was a long narrow field that went all the way to the schoolhouse.  The cemetery was on the east side of the road and a bit south from our house.  The New Hope Baptist Church was fifty yards beyond and east of the cemetery.  Another large field of the farm lay between the north-south road running by the church and the northwest and southeast road that ran by our house.  These two roads met and crossed at the two-room schoolhouse.  Between these two roads and the cemetery and church there was a two or three acre plot of ground.  The barn was north of our house and beyond it some pasture and a scope of woods.


The New Hope community was far from being a university town.  As my old community, it was smack-dab in the middle of the countryside.  The nearest store was in Holly Pond two full miles south, where two roads crossed.  Cullman, the county seat town, was fifteen miles to the west.  Culturally and educationally it was a cut above our old community.  Also, it was too far removed from our old community for us to continue depending on our kinfolk to provide our extended family beyond that of Papa, Mama, brother and sister.  This was a plus, just as an educational experience. 

The New Hope Baptist Church, the two-room school house and the cemetery made up the hub of the community.  These three institutions provided the meeting places for all community activities.  There was one exception.  Once a year the spring at our place helped the church to provide space for the overflow crowds at the annual all-day singing on the third Sunday in June.  This is still the annual event of the community. My guess is that the spring will still be playing its traditional role on the third Sunday in June of 1985.

This all-day singing affair serves the interest or need of three different groups of people. First, there are those who like to get together to sing old and new hymns and those of like minds who like to hear such singing.  Any time during the day you will find the church comfortably full of this group and over flowing if one of the well known quartets were singing.  These singers and listeners come mostly from neighboring communities within a ten-mile radius.

Second, A significant number of the greater group on the outside of the church are composed of home-comers and their friends.  Those who have moved out of the community make it a point to try to time their visits home so as to be there on the third Sunday of June.  Your best chance of seeing a friend or neighbor, whom you have not heard from for even decades, will be at this all-day singing.  This group will be found standing or sitting under the trees outside, sharing their jokes, experiences, and wisdom.

Very few of the largest group have little if any interest in what goes on inside the church.  This group is composed of people between 12 and 25 years old.  they come to this all-day affair to see and be seen, to meet and to be met by their peers.  Those of this group, throughout the day, are constantly coming and going between the church and the spring. By twos and in groups of three or more they saunter left to the spring.  They go and come, not to get water, but to see and be seen, to meet and to be met, hoping to discover, and be discovered by someone who can provide them the margin of confidence to believe they can walk to the spring and back together without being a bore to each other, or being embarrassed by too many long gaps of silence in their conversation. 
 On the third Sunday of many months of the year there was afternoon singing at the church.  The attendance was relatively small and only a trickle of spring goers.  This spring going had a long tradition before we moved there.  How it got started I never knew.  The original excuse may have been to get water.  That excuse was made null and void, many years before my time, when a well was dug at the church. 

During the two years we lived there we had no trouble with the spring goers.  No significant litter was ever found in the spring or around or on the path leading there.  Neither were the cooling boxes in the stream below disturbed.  Seemingly, the youngsters knew, without being told, that nothing was to be done that might bar their access to the spring.


For two years I lived at the center of my new community.  Yet, memory failed to record but little of those years that is now remembered as having made a significant difference in my life.  As slow as the biological changes are for a 10 to 12 year old, so were the changes in my transition to my new community.  This slow transition may have been my most important experience during those years.  It may have saved me from being overwhelmed by the opportunities and possibilities in the new community  - giving me time to absorb rather than being absorbed by the new.

I was enrolled in the school in January of 1920.  Since I lived so near I was permitted to go home for lunch.  Memory of those first two school years failed to record well enough now to recall the names of my teachers, or any significant school or learning experience - not even the name of one new friend.

I never attended Sunday school in my old community, except when Papa went to the preaching service early enough for me to visit the Card Class.  A picture of some Biblical person was on one side of the card.  Whatever we were supposed to learn was printed on the other side.  I learned nothing from what may have been printed on the cards.

In the new community, as in the old, the Preacher came once a month.  As in the old, there was a preaching service and business meeting on Saturday afternoon and a preaching service at 11:00 A.M. Sunday morning.  In the new community there was a Sunday school every Sunday morning.  The school was well organized and led by good and capable people. 

It was only slowly that I became involved in the activities of the New Hope Baptist Church.  For some time my attendance was only as an occasional visitor.  In time I did become a member of a class.  However, I won no star for attendance during those first years.  My church activities, as my school activities, were void of significant experiences.  There were no beginnings of a close friendship.  The ideas and beliefs to which I was exposed made no conscious impact on my perception of life.  One person did catch and hold my attention, not just because his glass eye stayed open when he prayed, and seemed to be looking right at me when I peeped.  He also seemed real and sincere to me.  Mr. Whatley was superintendent of the Sunday School.  In time he proved to be the person of the community I admired and respected the most.  During that time I was exposed to, and memorized, two verses of the Bible, suggested in the Sunday School book as memory work.  Two verses I never had any trouble remembering. The were:  "Love your neighbor as you do yourself"; and, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."  I was still too ignorant of the religion of the Christian Bible to identify those verses as being God's or Jesus' ground rules for human conduct.  Before I even tried to do that it came to me that those verses expressed the ultimate ground rules of that invisible part of me that had, some years earlier, shamed me for the way I had treated the opossum and the calf. 


After living in the hub of the New Hope community for two years we moved one mile to the western rim of the community, down a road "less traveled" to the Old Cook Farm.  The house had five rooms, one hall and three porches, shaded from the western sun by two giant oak trees.  I'm not sure what motivated this move other than that Papa believed it was to our economic advantage to do so.  The house was larger and better and the well in the yard was better than the spring.

One field on the Cook Farm was across Duck Creek, which flowed westward through the farm one fourth mile north of our house.  We had to use a non-public road to go and come from that field.  The bridge over the creek was washed out more often than not.  Thus we had to ford (wade through) the creek most of the time.  During the spring the water at the ford was usually up to the axles of the wagon and rather swift, making it impossible to see any log or large rock the winter and early spring rains may have left in the road way.  One spring the wagon was blocked by such a rock, right in the middle of the stream.  While Papa was trying to get the mules to pull the wagon over the rock, or maneuver around it, my step-mother began to scream:  "Let me out of here!!"  Papa, with an irritable tone shouted: "Pray tell me how I can let you out?"  That was the first and only time I heard my father raise his voice when speaking to my step-mother.

At some point in time there had been a mill-dam on Duck Creek, just a ten minute walk from our house.  The dam had washed out long before our time, but enough remained to make for a wonderful swimming hole.  On a tree limb we hung a swing from which we could jump or dive as far out as the middle of the stream.  With school mates and friends, we were slowly accumulating, R.L. and I spent much of our free time at this swimming hole.

During spring and summer we fished up and down this creek.  Some time we would set out our hooks late Saturday and leave them over night and pick them up early Sunday
 The trail leading to the creek took off from the public road some fifty yards west of our house.  One Sunday morning just as R.L. and I entered the road, with our poles and a string of fish, the preacher, of all people, passed us in his buggy on the way to church.  Fishing on Sunday in those days was a religious sin among the extremely devout.  At church the preacher took the opportunity to say to Papa:  "I passed your boys this morning coming in from fishing."  Seriously my Father replied, "No, preacher, they had not been fishing. They were just coming back from picking up their poles."

Now that we were old enough to carry guns a good bit of our spare time in winter was given to hunting rabbits, squirrels and quails by day, some opossum hunting by night but less fox hunting, in the fields and large wooded areas on the farm and those of our neighbors.

My brother's interest span for hunting and fishing was much shorter than mine.  Papa was my companion for long fishing and hunting trips.  It was not uncommon for us to fish all day, covering all the big and little fishing holes in Duck Creek up to four of five miles away.  Often we tramped through fields and woods on all day hunting trips.

It was at the Cook farm that the boll-weevil first invaded our cotton fields.  We picked up the wounded cotton squares in which the boll-weevils had laid their eggs and burned them.  In so doing we prevented a complete loss of the cotton crop. 

Preventing the Japanese beetles from eating up our green and lima beans was a smaller but more demanding task.  It required a daily picking, by hand, of the mama and papa beetles and the mashing, between forefinger and thumb, their eggs and babies.

The following year we used a poison to control such enemies - something, no doubt, as dangerous to your health as DDT proved to be in later years.  However, it would kill Japanese beetles, Boll weevils and even the old timer - the potato bug.  We put the poison on the cotton by tying a cloth sack of it on both ends of a stick that would reach from one row to another, shaking the stick as you walked 
through the middle, thus dusting two rows of cotton with one duster at the same time.  One year some army worms invaded our crops.  We used the same poison to murder them.

The year we moved to the Cook farm, T.B. Hair, the new principal of the New Hope School moved into a small house on the farm about seventy-five yards from our house.  He must have been near 40 years old.  His wife was much younger and much larger.  Having this man, not just as my teacher, but as a close neighbor and friend for three years provided me with my best educational and intellectual opportunities during that period of my life.

Mr. Hair, as he readily admitted, had only a limited formal education.  He was far from being a great store-house of knowledge of the wisdom of the great thinkers of the ages.  He had, however, picked up a lot of practical knowledge and knew how to use it as a teacher.  I learned more from what he did with what he knew than I did from what he said.  He was silent on the subject of religion.  I don't remember ever seeing him in church.  However, during the countless hours we were together working, or playing around with his technical experiments, he expressed his thoughts and feelings about a lot of things that raised unanswered questions in my mind and made me wonder.  The ideas and beliefs he casually shared with me did not seem shocking or frightening to me.  They just seemed to be coming from a different level of thought and feeling than the traditional ones I heard everyday and everywhere.  Looking back I would say his ideas and beliefs were reached and held, not by blind and thoughtless faith, but by personal reflection - by thinking.

He made from scratch, while I mostly watched, a surveyor's level and mounted a small telescope thereon.  He would take the arithmetic class out in a field and let us use this play toy to survey a square plot of ground and then help us to test our work mathematically.  We measured the height of trees and the steeple of the New Hope Baptist Church and tested our work by actually measuring some of them with a tape line.  Late in high school I discovered I learned in those exercises; without knowing it, a good bit of math and geometry.

One summer Mr. Hair, with my "close supervision", made a tiny steam engine.  The cylinder was made from a pipe one inch in diameter and  five inches long, which was encased in a very thick layer of lead, as well as the valves system that controlled the intake of steam and the exhaust.  The boiler was a small metal tank which originally contained some kind of bottled gas.  We installed the engine and the two inch circle saw to a 2 x 6 piece of wood which was securely nailed to a large block of wood. 

The big day came when we built a fire under the boiler and got up a head of steam.  Thus coming to the greatest moment of the day when the valve was opened and the steam rushed into the engine and it responded with huffs and puffs just as the big ones at the cotton gin and saw mill.  The engine was too small to use enough steam to saw wood, but it would turn the saw well enough to saw pine bark.  For a few weeks we ran a successful pine-bark saw mill.  We had to close the mill when school started.


My Step-mother was a young woman, a good and sensible one.  I have known for many years that I was lucky to have had Nancy Cadle to play the step-mother role in my life.  I do not know what the role could be between a step-mother and a child that began when the child was only a tiny baby.  I speak here of a step-mother child relationship that begins after the child has lived with his biological mother for eight or more years.

Early in my relationship with my step-mother, silently I began to understand I could not, without hurting her feelings, be as frank and open in expressing my negative feelings as I had been with my mother.  At the same time I realized I could not accept, without feeling hurt and rejected, the same kind of 
scolding and expressions of anger from my step-mother as I could from my mother.  Seemingly, my step-mother came to the same conclusions.  I said silently because we never discussed our relationship with each other.  In fact I never talked about this even with my brother.

My step-mother ceased pretending to be my mother, as I stopped pretending to be her son.  The beautiful relationship between us that evolved, and remained so as long as she lived, was a relationship between two understanding friends who respected and loved each other.

My own experience convinces me that many of the problems between step-parents and children could be avoided, if both parties could learn not to expect more of each other than either is capable of giving.

I do not remember having any serious run-ins with my stepmother.  I do remember one not so serious that I have always regretted.  It was on a day when Papa had gone to town.  He had told R.L. and I to set out the sweet potato plants in the shank of the afternoon, and to set the plants two feet apart.  We cut a stick two feel long, dug a small hole at the end of a row and began by placing one end of the stick at the hole and digging another at the opposite end and so on down the row.  Our stepmother saw we were wasting a lot of time by this measuring process.  She reminded us it was getting late, that water had to be brought from the well and a dipper full poured into each hole, the plants had to be pulled from the bed and set out.  She suggested we eliminate the measuring; that one dig the holes while the other was fetching the water.  We reminded her that Papa instructed us to set the plants two feet apart, and we were just trying to obey his instruction.  "I know," she said, "but he did not expect you to go to that much trouble to make sure that no plant was more or less than two feet from another."

Immediately the "something else" of my being agreed with my stepmother, saying  in effect, "You know you are violating the spirit of the instruction of your father by pretending you must obey the letter of his instruction. You know you are doing so just to aggravate your stepmother.  Shame on you!"

If my brother was being shamed from within he never said so, no more so than I.  But in spite of this just criticism of my conduct from the best part of me, I went along with the argument until my stepmother became thoroughly disgusted with us and went to the house.  It was only then that we, in silent shame, acted on her sensible suggestions.  I still feel ashamed of myself for having treated her so.  If she ever told Papa about this hassle he never asked us for our side of the story.  I doubt if she did.


It was at this period of my life that I became aware of the double moral standard - one for girls and women and a lower one for boys and men. I would get into arguments with men every time something was said indicating approval of such a standard.  There is that intangible part of me that could not and would not accept the idea that less was expected of me than was expected of my sisters.  This part of my being was always at hand to quote the scripture verses:  "Love your neighbor as you do yourself." and "Do unto other as you would have others do unto you."

And to remind me that the meaning of those verses can never mean less than, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."  One word, EQUALLITY, began to assert itself as the ultimate standard by which I must judge all things.  I must ask for others as much as I ask for myself.  I must expect as much of myself as I expect of others. 


We had lived on the Cook Farm for three years before Papa bought and adjoining farm - the Upchurch farm.  It was Mr. Upchurch who gave me my first lesson in the merchandising business.  In his early days he had been the owner and operator of a country store.  "I bought," he said, "all my socks from the same company.  There were a variety of colors but all of the same quality and price.  I kept them in two large barrels.  On one barrel I put $.15, on the other I put a $.25 tag.  I did this, "he said, "because many people would not buy a $.15 pair of socks."

"Once", he said, " a young man came in looking for a cap.  I had caps priced from $.50 on up to $2.00.  I showed him caps in every price bracket.  He didn't like any of them.  Finally I asked him how much he wanted to pay for a cap.  'Three dollars' he replied.  'I should have asked you that to start with,'  I replied.  I went back, picked up a $1.50 cap and gave it to the young man.  He put it on, looked at himself in the mirror and said, 'I'll take it.'"

Mr. Upchurch concluded his monologue with this suggestions:  "If you go into the selling business you will save time and pick up some extra money if you can find out how much the customer wants to pay for what he is looking for."  Here again that part of me I first met in my encounter with the opossum gets my attention by butting in to say:  "That is not the way Mr. Upchurch would want others to sell to him."

<BACK>         <HOME>       <NEXT>