Chapter Four - My Childhood Days



	Holly Ridge, Louisiana was a totally new and different
experience for us. In Jackson my Father had been foreman of the mill and
a partner in the operation of the company commissary. Only "the Nigras"
had to trade at the Commissary. Whites could trade where they wanted to
but if a Black did not trade at the Commissary then he did not have a
job with the company any longer. In Holly Ridge we were required to
trade at the Commissary, along with the Blacks. My Father never drew a
dime while we were in Holly Ridge, just a "balance due" the company
store.

	Holly Ridge just has to be the smallest town in the world. When
we went there, there was a frame hotel with a small post office
downstairs, a gas station, a heading mill, a school with grades one
through four, and four company houses. The houses were in a row behind
the hotel and were identical. The houses were frame, set on stacks of
rocks, and had tin roofs. They were not sealed inside and you could see
the studs and outside boards from the inside and could look up and see
the tin roof. The floors were rough lumber worn smooth from walking and
the outside boards had holes you could see through. Herman used to say
there were holes big enough to throw a cat through and there were. The
floor also had holes. This meant that rats as large as cats could come
in freely.

	There was no bathroom, just an outdoor toilet supplemented by
what were called slop jars for inside use. The only heat was a wood
stove in the front room and a wood stove in the kitchen. When the fires
went out at night the house rapidly came to the same temperature as
outside. We took a bath once a week in a tub beside the wood stove.
Several of us would share the same water but since I was youngest I was
usually told to bathe first. This had to be the most miserable living
conditions. There was no electricity, just kerosene lamps and when you
walked in the kitchen with a lamp the walls would be thick with roaches
and they would scurry for dark corners. We worked on getting rid of
roaches all the time we were there but it seemed to be a hopeless job.

	My Mother always got up first and built a fire in both stoves
and then cooked breakfast and woke everyone. Everything we had came from
the commissary. Daddy would buy a side of bacon and a side of white
fatback every week but he was the worker and the meat was for him. We
ate gravy made from his meat grease. Dad always insisted on having
biscuits every day of the year. They had to be made as there was no such
thing as canned biscuits. Herman was working in the mill by this time.
He started working full time when he was about fourteen years old.
Juanita and I had to ride the school bus, driven by an alcoholic named
Smith, about eight or ten miles to Rayville every morning. Mother fixed
us a lunch. Juanita's was put in a sack, usually a biscuit or a
sandwich, and mine was put in a bucket. I usually had syrup and corn
bread and an onion. I loved to have an onion so that I could find
Juanita talking to what I referred to as her ritzy friends and sit down
with them and open my bucket and drag out the corn bread and syrup and
my big onion. Juanita would get mad and tell Mother on me and she would
tell me to leave Juanita alone and next day I would just try to get a
larger onion.

	The school bus had long seats from front to back, with storage
space underneath and we would raise the seats and see dozens of whiskey
bottles. Mr. Smith was usually only slightly inebriated on the morning
run but was really on a good toot by afternoon. He left at the precise
time, never checking to see if everyone was there. If we were a minute
late in the morning we just did not go and if we were a minute late in
the afternoon we had to walk home. The bus was in bad condition and the
back door had long since been lost and the opening was covered with an
old coca cola sign. Some of us kicked the sign off one day and sat down
in the doorway with our feet hanging out the back. Mr. Smith grabbed two
of us by the hair and banged our heads together so I told Dad about his
drinking to get even with him. Dad met the bus the next afternoon and
looked under the seats and saw the whiskey bottles. He grabbed Mr. Smith
and smelled his breath and drug him off the bus and beat him half to
death. He told Mr. Smith he would get a daily report on his condition and
he would get another beating every time he had been drinking. It was
amazing how fast that alcoholic recovered.

	The Simmon's family usually followed Dad wherever he went and
they came to Holly Ridge. Marion and I missed the bus one day and Marion
said we could just catch a freight train and jump off when it slowed
down going through Holly Ridge. We caught the freight train all right
but that sucker did not slow down at all going through Holly Ridge. If
anything, it speeded up a few miles per hour. It did not slow down
enough to get off until it got to Delhi, probably fifteen miles the
other side of Holly Ridge. The only phone was in the company office and
we called and told them where we were and asked them to tell Mr. Simmons
to come get us. Mr. Simmons had an old Nash and came after us but he
chewed on us all the way back. The collect call to the Company was
billed to Dad and he was not very happy about that.

	The only exciting thing that ever happened in Holly Ridge was
when the hotel burned. The hotel was a two story frame building with
wood as dry as gun powder. Each room had a wood stove for heat and the
occupants were all mill workers. Every room was stacked with piles of
what was called clippings. Barrel tops are made of wood that has been
dried in a kiln. The "joiners" press the boards against drills and drill
out holes for pins. The "pinners" drive wooden pegs in the holes and
then use a pinning axe to clip the ends of the pins to make a diagonal
cut and then hammer the boards together after sticking a strip of flag
across the pins. They wind up with a large square board and the turners
cut it into a circle. The two ends cut off by the turners are called
clippings. Some people called them goose necks. The workers usually took
an arm load of clippings to their hotel room every day and most rooms
were stacked with them. When the hotel caught on fire it went up like a
sky rocket. The only fire protection was a few hoses and these were all
used to try to save the company houses. The company houses were all
scorched pretty bad but the tin roofs probably saved them. The most
exciting thing was to go where the post office had been and look at the
melted change. All the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters were one
large chunk of melted metal. People would come for miles around and
someone would say, "There she is" and someone else would say, "Yep,
shore is." How exciting can one stand it?

	This was one place Daddy left without getting drunk. We were
there about two years or longer and he still had never received a dime
in pay; just an envelope with a little slip of paper that gave a balance
forward, net pay, and balance due the company store. He went to the
company store and bought all they would let him have and one night we
got in the car and drove off without looking back. He took us to
Smackover and set out to find something better. The next place he found
was Bonita, Louisiana.

	There was nothing at Holly Ridge for kids to do. It was not even
a wide place in the road. It was Dead End, USA. We did not have
electricity or a radio and television had not even been invented. One
man owned everything in town. There was not even enough to tempt
motorists to slow down, much less stop. It was existence, no more. A few
years ago, when I was in my fifties, I drove to Texarkana, Texas and I
passed near Holly Ridge and decided to stop and take a look. The gas
pumps were still there but the gas station was boarded up. The mill was
closed. The four company houses were overgrown with brush and unused.
The school was the only thing left that looked operable and it appeared
to be closed. The town of Holly Ridge was gone. I thought of my Mother
wasting some of her adult life in this God forsaken place and I wanted
to cry but I could not. I wondered how my Father could have ever brought
my Mother to this place that was not a place. I thought of the rats and
roaches and the outdoor toilet and my Mother building fires in below
freezing weather in a house that was not even sealed, with a tin roof
and holes in the floor and walls. I drove on to Texarkana silently and
saddened beyond belief.

	Bonita was another wide spot in the road. If you blinked your
eyes at the city limits you were apt to drive right on through without
ever knowing you had been there. It did have a small downtown with a
drug store, grocery store, clothing store and several bars.

	We had left what junk we had in Holly Ridge so Dad found a house
in the country owned by a little old lady named Mrs. Faith. He rented
half of her house and bought all new furniture. The house was not fancy
but it was sealed and warm and had no rats or roaches and we thought it
was just like Heaven must be, with its inside bath and kitchen with new
linoleum on the floor. We were so fortunate. Daddy took me downtown and
introduced me to people as his "good son." He asked this one lady to
show me the town and where everything was. I did not realize it at the
time but she was the town whore. Regardless, she was a really nice lady
and loved children and she took me in every building in town and I
believe I met everyone that lived there. I met several whores when I was
a child and I generally found them to be more generous, more forgiving
and more compassionate than the Christians.

	Bonita was great only when compared with Holly Ridge. If Holly
Ridge had not existed I am sure Bonita would have been a hell hole. It
was not too long until the Simmons family arrived in town and that made
it some better. Mrs. Faith had a barn behind her house and it had a large
loft filled with hay. When it rained we used to go up in the loft and
lay on the hay and look up at the cracks in the roof. The roof was
shingles and the sun had warped them badly. You could see the sky
through the large cracks but when it rained not a drop of water ever
came in. We pondered that a lot and discussed it to death and vowed some
day to do some research as to why it did not leak, but of course we
never did. It seemed we were always vowing to find out answers to things
when we grew up but somehow the research never took place.

	There was a large tank in the loft at one end of the barn and we
used to wonder what it was for. We decided maybe it was a water tank but
there were no pipes running into it or out of it. We were wondering one
day if it might be where Mrs. Faith kept all her money. There were two
openings in it about three or four feet apart but they had some kind of
caps screwed on them. We got one cap off and took turns looking in but
could not see anything. We managed to get the other cap off and Marion
told this kid with us to look in one hole and he would light a match and
stick it in the other one. He did and Marion did and there was a real
loud noise and this other kid was sitting there with his hands over his
eyes. We pried his hands loose and he was holding one eye in the hand.
The tank had once had gasoline in it and there were enough fumes to blow
the kids eye out.

	That was about the extent of the excitement in Bonita. Juanita
and I went to school and Herman worked with Daddy at the mill and my
Mother did everything else. The school, like most Louisiana schools of
the time, required everyone to go to the auditorium for an hour every
morning and sing Stephen Foster songs like 'Camptown Racetrack' and 'I
Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair'. One day no one was singing
other than two or three dumb girls and the superintendent of education
stood up and asked everyone who was not singing to stand up. I knew
everyone would stand up so I jumped up and looked around and there I
stood all by myself. He called me to the stage and said okay I was going
to sing all by myself. My singing is atrocious but I decided to bluff it
out so I started singing all alone with all those kids staring at me.
And laughing. And snickering. My voice is horrible. I knew I had to do
something or I would be the laughing stock of the school so when the
superintendent could stand no more of it and told me to take my seat I
told him I had not sung them all yet. I went down on one knee and began
another song. He kept telling me that was enough and I started running
around the stage singing the next one and then went into another. It was
soon obvious to even him that they were now laughing at him so I just
kept singing till he escorted me to my seat. Then I started another and
he dismissed assembly and I kept singing. Everyone told me I was great.

	Daddy went on another binge and went from bar to bar drinking.
He would order a drink and pay with a five or ten dollar bill and walk
off and leave his change. Herman started following him around picking up
the change. Daddy kept drinking and Herman kept getting the change but
Daddy remembered it and took it away from him. Daddy got fired and we
packed and left. Mrs. Faith told Daddy he never had paid her any rent and
threatened to call the police. Dad told her he was giving her all the
furniture and she was happy. My Mother told him he had never even paid
the first payment on the furniture and he told her the experience would
be good for the old lady. Dad took us to Smackover and dumped us and
left.

	Aberdeen, Mississippi was a thriving metropolis after Holly
Ridge and Bonita. It must have had more than five thousand people. I
liked Aberdeen and it was in Aberdeen that Herman met Jimmy Mae Cook,
whom he later married.

	Dad found a house at the edge of town, very close to the City
swimming pool. We lived next door to a family named Hagedorn. They had a
girl named Obion Hagedorn, a natural blonde, and a boy named Murl but
they were closer to Juanita's age. Obion was always a good friend of
Juanita but she finally moved to Denver, Colorado and they lost touch
with one another. Murl was okay but we were not interested in the same
things. Then the Simmons family came to town and Marion and I were back
together again.

	There always seemed to be a lot to do in Aberdeen. Actually all
the rest of the family got there several months before I did. When Dad
sent bus money to Smackover there was not enough for everyone and I was
left in Smackover. I did not have any shoes and they would not let me go
to school in Smackover without shoes. I got to Aberdeen in late February
and the school officials told Dad it was too late for me to start as
there were less than three months to go and I could never pass. I told
Dad I knew I could pass so he went to the school and told them I would
be admitted or he would kick butt.

	When I got to school all the teachers and the principal were
angry with me and made it clear in a meeting that morning that I was
wasting time. I was just a skinny little ragged ass kid to them from the
wrong side of the tracks. At recess that morning the school bully, Goat
Robinson, told me I was a no good fart and he stuck a broom handle
between my legs and a crony of his grabbed the other end and they
started banging that broom stick up and down, which causes great
discomfort to the scrotum and its contents.

	Suddenly I was just enraged at the injustice of it all. I find a
town I like and some ratty ass kid is going to make it miserable for me.
Goat weighed 30 or 40 pounds more than I did and could easily kick my
butt but I decided while he was getting a full meal off of me I was
going to get a sandwich off of him. I yanked the broom handle away from
him and broke it over the head of his crony and then launched myself
into Goat. I remember hearing kids screaming that Goat was beating up the
new kid and that made me mad and I hit him with everything I had.
Several teachers ran up to us and looked at us and then turned around
and walked off. I made Goat say Uncle and Calf Rope and several other
things and then told him to say Buddy whipped Goat (I was Buddy) or I
would kill him. He said it and I told him when he saw me coming he was
to go to the other side of the hall or other side of the street or I
would whip him again.

	Now I am sure that 99 times out of 100, Goat would have kicked
me all over the school ground but he tried me when I was really
frustrated. I knew that but Goat didn't know it. When I went in the
school my teacher took me to the principal's office and there were other
teachers there. The principal told me he would never tolerate another
fight and I would be expelled if I fought. But then he smiled and said
Goat had been picking on kids there for a long time and the teachers had
come to pull him off of me. When they saw I was on Goat they left and
pretended they did not see it. He then told me they were going to help
me make up the school time I had missed. They did, too, and at the end
of May, after going to school for just three months, I was promoted two
grades, not just one.

	As for Goat, he came by my house and told me he wanted to be my
friend. I agreed but told him he would stop bullying small kids or I
would kick his butt and to my surprise Goat said okay. I found out many
years later that when World War II started, Goat was the first in
Aberdeen to volunteer and went in the infantry and was one of the first
to be killed in action in the Pacific theater.

	Dad found another house in Aberdeen and we moved closer into
town. It was only three or four blocks from town. Like most houses in
those days the electric meter was in the hall just inside the front
door. Herman decided to save on the power bill and put jumpers on the
electric meter. All you had to do was get two heavy pieces of electrical
wire and bend them in a U shape and plug them in the top and bottom of
the meter. The power then went around the meter instead of through it.
Unfortunately, he forgot to take them off when they came to read the
meter. The power company sent a crew the next day to move the meter
outside the house where it could be seen from the street. The problem
was that when anyone saw a meter on the outside of a house they knew you
had been cheating and it was a stigma. He just did it for a lark as he
was not paying the bill anyway.

	The Tombigbee River was near Aberdeen so Marion and I had more
to do. We went down there a lot. We went one day and decided to walk
across the railroad trestle to the other side. It was fairly long and we
were in the middle when we heard a train coming. There was not time to
get to either side and not enough room to take a chance on the train
missing us as it passed. We went over the side and held on while the
train passed. I think that must have been the longest train in the world
and I never knew those trestles shook and vibrated like that when a
train went across. I was afraid I was going to lose my grip. We were
dangling in the air and just holding on with our hands. It finally got
across and my hands felt numb and I was sure I was going to drop into
the river. I told Marion I could not get back up and he kept saying I
had to and somehow I did and then I just lay there. Marion said he heard
another train and that got me up and running.

	Marion and I both had old plain hound dogs. Mine was a female
named Dot and Marion's was a male named after the current heavyweight
boxing champion. I remember it was Max Baer once and Max lost and he
renamed the dog. He did this about three times and then Joe Louis became
champ and Marion said he was not going to name his dog after a Negro and
just called him Dog after that. The dog was brown and I tried to get him
to name him Brown Bomber but he did not go for that.

	Aberdeen had artesian water with high iron content. Water
pitchers turned brown looking after being used awhile. There was an
artesian well on the main street flowing into a horse trough and there
were several places in town where places were provided to hitch horses.

Aberdeen was not a bad little town at all and we enjoyed living there.
Juanita and Mother were both involved in women's Christian groups.
Juanita was always involved in religion, but not a fanatic.

	Daddy lost his job and was so broke he left us there. Mother had
to face the bill collectors and find a way to get something for us to
eat. We had absolutely nothing. A man told me if I would go out to his
farm he would give me all the turnip greens I could carry. I had a red
wagon and Dot and I went out and I loaded up the wagon way above the
top. On the way back to town Dot ran out in front of a car and was
killed. I put her on top of the turnip greens so I could bury her when I
got home. Some joker passed by and slowed down and yelled "Hot dog and
turnip greens" and I was really ticked off. When I got home I buried Dot
in the back yard and my Mother asked me how I got her home. I told her I
put her on top of the turnip greens and she made me throw them away. It
was a bad day for me.

	We finally got money from Daddy to use for bus tickets to go
back to Smackover. I hated to leave Aberdeen.


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