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"Rooted in Dixie"


Prologue
Rooted in Dixie Prologue

By BethShelby


My life story is not that of someone special, but it has one thing going for it, It is unique. We all have lives that are unique. No one’s experience is exactly like that of anyone else. Since my journey started quite a few years back, I may have lived through a bit more history than most. Where I lived, what my parents were like, my lack of siblings, my friends, and everything I’ve encountered makes me different from you.

I’ve noticed that I’ve written quite a bit about my younger years. Many of these stories are scattered throughout my portfolio. These stories don’t fit with others I’ve written, so they deserve a category of their own. I think they deserve a prologue. I’ll put the older stories under the tentative heading of Rooted in Dixie. From time to time, I will add new stories. 

Let me relate a few dry facts:

My life began in September of the late thirties during the Roosevelt years. I was born on the outskirts of a small town in Mississippi. I took my first breath in my parents' home, because in those days, many people were born at home. Doctors were willing to make house calls. My mom was a twenty-two-year-old homemaker, and she was married to my dad, who was a twenty-seven-year-old store clerk. They lived on fifteen acres of land and in a house that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. They had been married five years already, but I was the first and only child that would ever grace their home. They had just lived through the Great Depression, and like most of the people of those years, they were struggling to make a living and were lucky that one of them had a job, even though the paycheck was small.

There was an extended family. Just over the rise of a small hill and joining our land, my dad’s father and mother and his maiden aunt and single uncle lived in a much older house. My widowed maternal grandmother was a part-time resident of our home. Her husband had died the year before, and she lived among her four children, trying not to stay too long with any one of them, so as not to wear out her welcome. Dad, like me, was an only child. Mom was the baby of a blended family. Her father already had ten children when he, a widower, married her mother, a widow with two children. Together they had two more, Mom’s brother, Uncle Newman, and then my mother, Lucille. Mom had eleven living half-siblings. One had died before she was born.

This book will contain stories I’ve written about my life from the time I was born until I reached my teenage years. Since I’m already writing a biography, starting from when I met my future husband at age fifteen, this will cover the years that elapsed before that time. Maybe at times, some of the stories may overlap. I did have another life when we were dating that didn’t involve him. This book may also contain stories that belong to my parents or my grandparents, who also share my Southern roots.

I would welcome anyone who would to care to join me on this journey.

 

Author Notes This is a second book I'm writing so that my children will have a sense of their own Southern roots. I'd like them to know what life was like in the years before they became a part of my life.


Chapter 1
Mortgage Money

By BethShelby

The window was shut to keep out the cold, but it wasn't working. The house was as cold as an Arctic tomb. The unsealed walls had been hastily constructed using green lumber back in the summer. Over a six-month period, the boards had dried and shrunk, leaving cracks large enough for snow to sift through into the house itself. Although snow was not common in Mississippi, it had been an unusual winter. On two separate occasions, all along the north wall of the house, there had been little ridges of snow lines on the pine board floor. The glass on the small windows had formed intricate patterns of frost that never seemed to dissipate.

Lucille shivered and hugged her sweater tighter around her, as she put another stick of stove wood into the little potbelly iron stove in the kitchen. She opened the small oven door on the side of the stove, checked the pan of cornbread and stirred the pot of beans heating on top of the stove. The fire was almost out, and she knew she would have to go outside for more wood soon.

She heard the sputter of Glover's old `35 Ford as he turned into the driveway. Good, she thought, let him go get the wood. A couple of minutes later, the door opened, and Glover came in quickly, his breath making little puffs of vapor in the frosty air. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and started to take off his overcoat.

"Babe, we need some more wood. Do you mind getting it before you take off your coat?" Lucille asked.

Glover rolled his eyes, grunted and started for the door. It wasn't long before he reentered, carrying an armload of small chopped sticks of wood. He unloaded it in the kindling box near the stove. "What's for supper?" he asked.

"Cornbread and beans again," she answered. "We don't have any meat left. I can't kill anymore of the chickens. We need what few we have left for laying eggs. I made some tea. Are you ready to eat?"

Glover sighed and ran his finger through his thinning hair. Only twenty-five and he was going bald already. He would be an old man before his time. "Things will get better after this weekend. I'm looking forward to burning that mortgage. First thing Monday morning, we're taking that money to the bank, and we can kiss that loan good-bye. We're not ever going to borrow any more money. By this time next year, we'll have this house sealed.  Next winter, we won't be freezing our butts off."

Lucille grinned and turned back to the stove, adding more wood as she spoke "We need to go dig our money up Saturday after you get paid.  I'll put it all in a nice white envelope to take to the bank."

The year was 1938. Glover and Lucille had married in August of `36. She had only been seventeen, and Glover was twenty-two. The country had still not fully recovered from the Great Depression. Glover had dropped out of school at fifteen to take a job at a drygood store in order to help his family. When he thought he might be transferred to a store in another state, he had pressed Lucille to marry him. She hesitated, because she wanted to finish high school and go to college. Her older brother, Eugene, had promised to provide the money for her tuition. Still, she didn't want to lose Glover, and he was so persistent.

In the end, the thing that helped her make up her mind was when she learned her sister-in-law was pregnant. Eugene can't really afford college for me, she reasoned. Dad and Mom are barely making it as it is, so maybe this is the right thing to do. She was disappointed when Glover wasn't transferred after all. She had looked forward to moving to Tennessee.

The couple wanted a home of their own. Glover only made $20.00 a week, and it took at least half of it to live. Land prices were reasonable. If they skimped, they could manage to put most of the other half away toward buying land and building a house. They managed to secure a loan from the bank in order to purchase fifteen acres of land next to Glover's parents' home for one thousand dollars. The loan called for the land to be paid off within two years.

The first year, they had lived with his parents, and that summer, with help of his dad and an uncle, they had built the little two-bedroom house where they now lived. It had no electricity, no indoor plumbing and no heat, except for a fireplace in one of the bedrooms and the little potbelly stove on which they cooked their meals. Last year, Glover's dad had helped them make the mortgage payment by selling enough timber, but this year, it had been a struggle.

In the spring, Lucille had put in a garden, and the two of them had planted cotton on the rest of their fifteen acres. Since she had grown up in the country, Lucille was no stranger to hard work. By canning fruits and vegetables, raising chickens and milking the one cow Lucille's parents had given them, they had been able to have enough to eat.

In the blazing hot September sun, they had picked the cotton from the ripe bolls, bursting open to reveal the soft white fluff. The cotton burrs had sharp edges that pricked their hands and made them bleed. As they removed the cotton from the burrs, they placed it in the burlap sacks onto which Lucille had sewn straps. The sacks hung across one shoulder and trailed behind them in the dirt. As they filled the sacks, they weighed the cotton and emptied it into Glover's father's wagon. Once the wagon was piled high with cotton, it was hitched to a pair of mules, and hauled to the cotton mill to be ginned.

Every time Glover got enough dollars together, he would take them to the bank and exchange them for a crisp hundred dollar bill. At first, they had sewn the money into the mattress on which they slept, but fearing fire or perhaps a thief, they decided to put the money into a fruit jar and bury it in the dirt floor of a little shed outside the house. There were four hundred dollars in the fruit jar, which they had buried last fall. With Glover's Saturday's pay, they would have enough to put together the final five hundred-dollar payment on the mortgage. On Monday, they would take the money to the bank.

By Saturday, the weather had warmed to a 60 degrees. This wasn't unusual for Mississippi. The temperature could change drastically from one day to the next. When Glover got home from his job at the store, he wore a big grin. "Let's go dig up the money," he said. "You ready, Sweety? Come Monday morning, we'll be debt free."

Lucille was excited, but she was also cautious. "Maybe we should wait until Monday just before we go to the bank. What if something should happen over the weekend? We know the money is safe where we have it."

"No, let's do it now. I can't wait. I've never seen that much money at one time in my life. I just want to hold it and look at it." Glover headed for the shed and grabbed the shovel. Lucille followed close behind. It took both of them to move the heavy chest out of the way, which they had placed over the spot. Once the chest was moved, Glover started to dig carefully so as not to break the jar. When the shovel hit something solid, he put the shovel aside and dug with his fingers until he uncovered the jar. It was dark in the shed, so they took the jar outside before they opened it.

The jar appeared fogged over. Apparently, there was moisture inside. Glover twisted the lid and grabbed the money. His face drained of color. The money felt clammy. It was white. It didn't look like money at all. "Oh God, something has happened to the money."

Lucille's mouth fell open. She stared at the bills Glover held in his hands. "It can't be gone," she cried. "Let me see." She took the bills from Glover and gaped at them in shock. There was nothing on the money you could read at all. The bills could have been fives, ones, or simply pieces of white paper. "What on earth are we going to do?" she moaned. "We've worked so hard. We're going to lose everything we've worked for." She burst into tears.

In a daze, they walked back into the house and spread the money out on the kitchen table. It appeared to be covered with some kind of white mold or mildew. It had a strange musty smell. Lucille picked up a dry towel and pressed it to the money. "Be careful! You'll tear it. Let's leave it flat on the table and see if it will dry out."

It was getting dark, and the light from the kerosene lamp did nothing to improve the appearance of the money. Reluctantly, they turned away from their ruined treasure and tried to come up with some solution. Was there any way they might manage to hold on to their land if they couldn't make the payment? Would anyone believe them when they claimed the money had gone bad by some strange freak of nature? They finally had to admit, the situation apeared hopeless. If they lost their land, they would have no choice except to move back in with Glover's parents.

The evening temperature dropped and Lucille and Glover went to bed early in order to keep warm beneath the heavy quilts. He held her close as she cried herself to sleep. It had been his idea to bury the money, so he felt responsible for what had happened. Fine provider I am, he thought.  Lucille could be in college making something of her life, if I hadn't insisted that she marry me. I've made so many promises, I haven't been able to keep. 

The next morning after a restless night, Lucille hopped out of bed and ran to see if maybe the whole thing had been a bad dream. The money appeared much the same as it had the night before. Her heart sank. Glover refused to look at the money. He was so discouraged, he could barely choke down the breakfast that Lucille prepared.

By mid-morning, the sun was streaming through the window and lighting some of the bills. Lucille noticed they were starting to dry. She picked up one, and a fine white power fell from the bill. A ray of hope sprang up in her chest. She grabbed the bills and hurried to the clothesline in the back where the rays from the sun were already beating down. She pinned each bill to the line and closed her eyes and prayed.

An hour later, Lucille returned and found the bills dry. As she gathered them from the line, the white powder came off on her hand. The sun had killed the mold that was growing on them. As the powder fell away, the writing and portrait of Benjamin Franklin reappeared. "Thank God!" she cried, rushing inside to show Glover.

For the next hour, the two of them worked on the bills with toothbrushes to make sure all the powder was completely removed. Never had they felt so happy. Nothing could spoil this day. Tomorrow, they would have a mortgage burning party.

Author Notes This story is true as told to me by my parents. It takes place a couple of years before I was born.


Chapter 2
The New Arrival

By BethShelby

After four years of marriage, Lucille, who was destined to be my mom, began to believe that she might never become a mother. When she brought up the subject, my future dad always found a reason to talk about something else. He had been an only child, and never having been around children, he wasn’t sure that he ever wanted to be around one. Maybe he thought it would mean less attention for him.
 
When they got married, a friend who ran a drug store gave him a case of condoms as a gag gift, but my dad took the gift seriously. He didn’t think they could afford a child, and he wished that Lucille would quit bringing it up.
 
Lucille was the baby of an enormous family, and being alone all day felt strange. In spite of all the work involved with running a home, growing vegetables, and dealing with chickens and cows, she was lonely when Glover spent long hours working in town. It looked as if there would never be more than the two of them.
 
Nevertheless, something went wrong, or maybe in her case, something went right. One day, before Lucille realized she was pregnant, she was looking out her kitchen window and saw, what must have been a vision of a little girl playing in the sand beneath the china berry tree. She knew immediately that the child’s name was Beth, and that her prayers would be answered. Shortly after that, Glover had to get used to the idea that, ready or not, I was on the way.
 
It sounds almost Biblical, doesn’t it? "The promised child--seen in a vision." No wonder, they handled me like I would break.
 
When I arrived, Dad changed his mind about not wanting a child. He felt like he’d accomplished something astounding. Unless you are an only child, you might not understand the attention that a new addition gets from their doting parents.
 
Everyone always says, while wearing that I know how that goes look, “Oh, so you’re an only child. I’ll bet you were spoiled.”

I hang my head, feeling like I need to apologize for being who I am, but it isn’t my fault. I didn’t plan it, and I would have gladly traded all that attention for a sibling or two, if I’d had a choice.  

 
Not only was I the only child, I was also the only grandchild, and I got even more attention from that source. And Dad ‘s unmarried aunt was pretty fascinated with me, as well.
 
My mother and dad seemed to think they had produced something exceptional, and they wanted to show me off at every opportunity. I basked in the attention and did my best to entertain when called upon to do so. They trained me the way someone would train a pet monkey. Before I could even talk, my dad had me braying like a donkey, barking like a dog, mooing like a cow, and doing all sorts of things to make a complete fool out of myself. Of course at that stage, I assumed these were skills that needed to be perfected if I was to get on in this strange world into which I had so recently become a part. Everyone laughed and thought it was cute so, I hammed it up. These days, you can just buy a toy that will make all those noises.
 
My mother had visions of me becoming a vocalist. She tried teaching me songs like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb', but apparently, I had no talent in this direction. I’m sure this was a big disappointment for her. By the time I was three, Mom realized I would probably never make it in the music field. I remember hearing her sadly remark that “Beth can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”  I couldn’t imagine why one would want to carry a tune in a bucket, but after studying my sand pail for a while, I concluded that she was probably right.
 
At that point, Mother began teaching me nursery rhymes to recite for any captive audience that happened to visit. I didn’t disappoint her this time. At least, I was blessed with a quick memory, and I could parrot these little verses quite easily. She decided these were beneath my talent so we went to longer and more difficult pieces from poets like Longfellow and Tennyson. This went well for a while, until I began to tire of all the recitations, and I realized the praises slowed down after the first fifteen minutes of my performance, and the people, who were obliged to listen, began to have a glazed look in their eyes.
 
Lest you think I got twenty-four-hour attention, let me assure you, that was not the case. My parents had their hands full making enough money to keep us afloat. Mom planted a garden and tended it. She milked cows and slaughtered chickens. She cooked, canned, planted flowers, mowed the lawn, washed, ironed, and scrubbed floors much of every day. I followed her around like a well-trained puppy, waiting to be fed and changed.
 
One day after I was sporting big girl panties, I had an accident. Mom was working in the garden, too busy to attend my needs. I announced my plight and was told to take off my wet clothes and wait till she finished what she was doing. I was an obedient child, so I stripped everything off and left my clothes piled in the middle of the living room floor.
 
Knowing this was going to take a while, I climbed onto the feather bed, sandwiched myself between the pillows, pulled the spread neatly back over my head, and fell sound asleep.
 
When Mom came from the garden and saw all of  my clothes in a pile in the middle of the floor, she totally forgot my potty accident and assumed the worst. The whole neighborhood was called in to search for the kidnapped child. After many hours, someone snatched the covers off the bed to find a nude baby still sleeping.
 
Again I was the center of attention, and this time, I had no idea what I’d done to earn all those kisses.
 


Chapter 3
My Moment On Stage

By BethShelby

Two months into my fifth grade school term, Miss Butts announced that it was our grade’s turn to produce a class play for all of the elementary students' weekly gathering in the auditorium.

“How many of you would like to have a part in our play? Raise your hands.”

Hands shot up all over the room, along with a chorus of “I would! I would! Pick me!”

My hand went up along with all the rest. Granted, it was mostly us girls. We all wanted to be stars. The boys wanted more details, before they committed themselves to something that might involve memory work.

“Okay, that’s enough. I’ve decided we’re going to do The Golden Goose. Is everyone familiar with that story?”

A couple of hands went up, as well as some groans.”That’s a kid's story,” Jo Anne complained. “Can’t we do something like, Cat on the Hot Tin Roof or My Friend Flicker?”

“My word! No! We’re not doing a Broadway Play. It has to be short, and something a first grader can understand. What’s wrong with you people? I’ve decided on the play. Let’s assign some parts. Some of the parts have more lines to learn than others."

"Warren, how about you being the younger brother, who is kind to the elf in the forest and is rewarded with the golden goose?”  

“No! I don’t want no part. I’ve got a goose at home. I’ll provide the goose. Let Bill be the younger brother. He likes to talk.”

“Well, I don’t know. I hadn’t planned on a real goose. That might be disruptive. We’ll see. How about it Bill? Do you want to be the younger brother?”

Bill shrugged. “I guess so. Why not?”

It turned out, most of the parts in this story were for boys. Our teacher was tired of girls being the only ones who wanted to participate.

She assigned the parts for a father, three sons, a king, an innkeeper, a priest, an elf, and a man who never got enough to drink. That used up all the boys except Warren.

The girls' parts were three daughters, a mother, and the princess who never laughed, until she saw everyone parading around stuck to a golden goose. Of course, all of us girls wanted the role of the princess. Jo Anne managed to get that part.

I was assigned the part of the first daughter, who would try to steal a feather from the golden goose. I had a few lines, but mostly, I would wear a long dress with a white apron and parade around holding onto the tail of the golden goose. Not the greatest of roles, but maybe I could figure out a way to ham it up.

The day of the play arrived, and we came to school in our costumes. At least, I had a role. The girls who didn’t get parts would stand at the doors of the auditorium and hand out our printed programs. Warren arrived at school carrying a coop with a real live gander.

The teacher looked at him with a worried look. “Are you sure we should do this, Warren? What if this thing gets loose?”

“Oh, he’ll be fine. He’s very tame. I carry him around all the time.” He whispered to me, “When you catch hold of his tail, twist it. He’ll honk and that will get a big laugh.”

The play proceeded. I said my lines and held the tail lightly. I decided to wait until we were in front of the princess, and a parade of people were stuck behind me. It would be Jo Anne’s big moment, when she would stop crying and start to laugh. Maybe the goose and I could get a laugh, as well.

The line behind me wound around on the stage, and at just the right moment, I gave the gander’s tail one hard twist. The goose was startled with my sudden assault on his rear. He spread his wings and honked loudly, as he attempted to escape. A loose stream of golden goose poop sprayed me, head to toe. The entire auditorium erupted in streaks of laughter.

Much to my chagrin, I had stolen the show after all.

 


Chapter 4
Tied to the Land

By BethShelby

August in South Mississippi felt like the doors of Hell had been left wide open. The heat was so thick and oppressive you could see it. The corn had shriveled from lack of rain and the vegetation was coated with a thick film of red dirt. The air smelled tired and lifeless. Not even a trace of a breeze stirred.

Zed sat on the ground, leaning against the trunk of a sweetgum tree, fanning his face with a sweat-drenched straw hat and sipping tepid water from his gallon fruit jar. He kept swatting at a horsefly, which was trying to settle on his nose.

Forty-two summers he had been on this earth, and they didn't get any easier. Gray was already showing around the sides of his greasy, poorly trimmed, black hair. His skin was starting to feel like raw leather. He wasn't cut out for farming, but it was all he knew how to do. He'd been following a plow since he was eight years old. The family had never had enough cash or credit to buy a tractor. His dad and his grandpa before him, on back as far as anyone knew, had always farmed and always barely managed to scrape by.

Zed dropped out of school in the ninth grade after his daddy got kicked in the head by a mule. The old man's mind had never been right since. He started drinking heavily and a year later,  died of liver complications. Zed didn't miss school since he never had been much of a student anyway.  Without an education, about the only work he could get was at the chicken processing plant, and that didn't appeal to him. The truth was the idea of working for somebody else was just plain scary. He liked his independence too much to kowtow to anybody. It was bad enough having to take flack off his old lady. She was always bitching about something she wanted done around the house.

He'd married Annie Ruth the year he turned nineteen, mostly because she was the only female who'd ever shown any interest, and marrying seemed the right thing to do. His mama told him Annie Ruth was a good worker, and he could do worse. They had two babies, but neither of them had lived. The doctor said Annie Ruth didn't need to get pregnant again, so they had her tubes tied.

"One of these days" Zed told himself, "I'm gonna pack up, leave this place, and never look back." He hoisted his gaunt frame to a standing position, pulled a soiled handkerchief from his overall pocket, and swiped it across his brow. He smoothed back his hair, put on his hat, and, he reached for the plow handles. "Yep, one of these days... But not today... Today, I gotta finish plowing the back forty. I sure hope we get some rain tomorrow."






 

Author Notes I wrote this not so much to cause you to identify or be drawn to the character but as Adewpearl put it-A slice of life look at the kind of life many many people live - a life of quiet desperation. Tied to one's life, no matter how inglorious it is, limited in one's choices, dreaming of ways to escape but needing to spend all one's energy on just surviving the work of another day.


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