By Phyllis Russell Glass
Lately my mind wanders back to the past--the past I share with all of you.
'Twas not a happy childhood, as childhoods are supposed to be. Before the
losses began, there were carefree days. As a young girl, I played in the
hayloft, rode a boy's bike on the dirt road in front of our house. We caught
lightning bugs and put them in a jar. We fished from the ditch bank or from the
bridge. We caught nickel bugs out of the ditch. Shan said it would turn to a
nickel if I held it long enough. We explored the woods behind our house. We
cooked Mulligan Stew over a campfire in an old tin can.
We found a baby possum in the field as the combine went through.
We took it home and put it in a cage. Shan said I should not play with the
possum 'cause it would bite. He said if it bit me, it's tongue would fall out.
Guess what? A leaf from a plum tree in the fall looks like a possum's tongue.
I had a few sleepless nights after that.
Some Saturday afternoons, we would walk into town to the matinee. One
Saturday afternoon as we were walking home, I mocked the lame acting of the
heroine when she got the news of the death of her father. That performance would
haunt me in the days and weeks to follow.
The next day, Juanita, Blackie, and Jimmy Orton came to visit. As we were
playing a game of hide and seek, Mama and Isabel came out of the house. They
walked slowly and purposefully to Isabel's station wagon. Mama's face was pale
and drawn. She didn't seem to see or hear me as I asked what was wrong. Isabel
told us there had been an auto accident, and they must go.
They brought my dad's casket to our house and set it in front of the
drapes on the bay window. Everyone was sad. I remember hanging around the
fringes of the crowd that filled our house day and night. I remember wondering
if Mama would ever be the same again. She never was.
We had to move. We lived on a rented farm, and with Daddy gone, they
rented it to someone else. We moved into the old farmhouse on our family farm.
It was the house where I had been born. Everything was different. We rode a
different school bus. We had a different bus driver.
There was never enough money to go around.
In the spring, Mama planted cotton, corn and beans on the acres behind our
house. We chopped cotton in the hot summer sun; clodding through the hard clay
that dulled the hoes. We wore calluses on our hands. Our faces and arms
blistered in the broiling sun. Between chopping of the cotton, we hoed beans,
cut the weeds out of the corn, and tended the garden.
In the fall, we picked cotton. Try as I might, I could never stuff 100
pounds into my sack. Betty would weigh up 100 pounds each time, but I was lucky
if mine weighed 50 pounds. We would follow the tractor and trailer through the
corn fields, picking the dry ears and throwing them into the trailer. When the
trailer was full, we would ride on the heap of corn to the barn. There we would
throw the corn into the corncrib. After the first hard frost, we would go back
into the cotton fields and pull bolls. It was much easier to pull bolls than to
pick the cotton out of the boll.
On Saturday, we only had to work until noon, if we had a bale of cotton to
take to the gin. We would go home, straighten the house, mop and wax the
linoleum floors, then clean ourselves up to go to town. Shan would take the
tractor and trailer, and we would follow in the truck. Shan would park the
trailer in the line at the gin. There was always a line of tractors with
trailers loaded with cotton, waiting to be ginned. As the workers finished one
trailer, they would pull it off and park it to the side. They would pull the
next one up, and move each one closer. Sometimes we would watch the cotton being
ginned. The ginner held a large pipe over the cotton in the trailer. The cotton
would be sucked up into the pipe. He would move the pipe side to side, working
his way from the front of the trailer to the back.
But, more often than not, we went with Mama to the grocery store.
Sometimes she would go by Roy Elam's Mercantile first. We enjoyed that store,
which had everything you could want. We would watch Mr. Elam closely, because he
would usually search frantically for his glasses when he was ready to write the
ticket. After a while, someone would gesture to him that his glasses were atop
The grocery store was another treat. It was not self-service as
supermarkets are today. Mama would usually read her list off to Dub, Byron, or
Alice pausing after each item to give them time to fetch it. Some things were on
shelves all the way up against the metal ceiling. We would have gone hungry had
they not extended credit that was paid off when the crops were sold.
Quite often, while Mama did the grocery shopping, we would go across the
street to attend the movie. The matinee was always exciting. It was usually a
western, with Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. As I got older, I went mostly to see who
else was there. The balcony was our haven.
Casting a cloud over our small town world were other losses we all
We had a baby brother who lived only about 24 hours. 'Tis amazing how many
dreams and plans you can conjure for a wee one in a mere 24 hours.
Mary Ann Gales lost both her legs in an accident. Carla Kay Moore was in a
coma for many months. Blackie Orton died in Viet Nam, unsung hero of that
unwelcome war. One of the most devastating losses for me was Carolyn Walker. She
was Nancy's little sister, but we had gotten to an age where a couple of years
makes very little difference. She and I became friends. She was beautiful and
sweet. She was there with us—then she was gone. Our next big loss was Buddy
Walton, and we feel that loss still.
Kids of today would not believe that school was the real focus of our
It was about the only time we got to see our friends. We had some unusual
teachers such as Barbara Seabourne, the hippie, and Rita Priest, the
disappointed fiancée left at the altar. At the same time, we had some awesome
teachers who inspired us all. They really made a difference in our lives. Now,
as a teacher looking back, I wonder how our little town attracted such stellar
educators as Carl Graves, John Horine, and Mae Wallace. And I'm thankful for
wise and understanding administrators such as John Taylor and B. Ray Henry.
And as I look back over those tumultuous years I see, through all the
heartache and pain, you were all there. Through all the awkwardness and
self-doubt of puberty, you were all there. Through the frenzied preparation and
pride of accomplishment at our graduation, you were all there.
You are all special to me because only you know where I came from,only you
know what I have been. Only you know exactly how old I am, and the person I
really am. We share a common past. We share a memory of ditches and dirt roads.