Good people made the hard times less severe|GUEST COLUMNIST

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Part 10

Living 3 miles out of town and having to walk to and from school meant I didn’t have time to dawdle around Carr Central after hours. I needed to get home and round up our six or seven cows from Flowers’ pasture, which we rented.

I did get to know a few boys but since we were in a World War II cannon-fodder generation, Class of ’42, many of them were killed in the war or have died since then. I know that Henry Ward was lost on a training flight, but what happened to Rudolph Green, or Max Fleischman, I have no idea. I understand that a girl whom I thought the most beautiful on earth, Lila Lee Nosser, sadly is no longer with us, but I don’t know about Pete and Johnny Nosser. The war and, later, living in nine different states coast to coast made keeping up with homefolks difficult.

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Speaking of herding cows, Dad usually kept a bull as well, but in a different pasture, distant from the cows. I had to go and herd those bovine bullyboys back to the barn, over hill and dale, a half-mile or so. More than once I was treed by a bull, and once I was run over and stomped for good measure. I also survived being kicked in the chest by a mustang named Blaze, so vigorously that for weeks I wore bruises shaped like horseshoes.

I never was, as we used to say, “snakebit.” We three brothers learned to carry bamboo poles when we were traversing tall grass. We whacked to the right and left ahead of us, then waited for a rustle of foliage before proceeding. We learned to identify water moccasins and copperheads by sight, and rattlers by sound. To this day, I can spot venomous species at a distance. We respected harmless snakes. I was carrying on about a huge black rat snake that lived in the hayloft where we stored ear-corn and pumpkins, the latter under piles of hay. My Dad informed me that I would “get a whupping” if I harmed that snake, because it controlled the wood rats that would otherwise have infested the barn.

‘My older brothers and I enjoyed the company of CCC boys who came over on weekends to ride our horses and to chow down on Mother’s cooking.’

My brother Earl showed athletic ability and my parents let him stay after school for practice. By that time, my eldest brother, Charles, had a job at a sandwich shop directly across from Clay Street Elementary. That meant my shouldering extra loads when it came to harvesting vegetables. I can remember one year that an early frost threatened when we had plowed out our sweet potato crop but had not taken it into the barn for curing. We couldn’t get help on short notice, so Mother, Dad, and I shagged those Puerto Rican sweet potatoes into hampers, into a wagon and rushed them into the barn. The temperature was dropping all the while, aided by a strong north wind. We had neither gloves nor work coats but kept on keeping on until the job was done.

My older brothers and I enjoyed the company of CCC boys who came over on weekends to ride our horses and to chow down on Mother’s cooking. Most of them were from “Up Nawth.” I remember one from Wisconsin. They were good, clean, young men, respectful of my parents. They pitched in and helped with farm chores without being asked. Their camp was only a mile from our place. Dad held the contract for picking up their kitchen garbage, which they kept in 55-gallon steel barrels. We would load them into our wagon, haul the ripe stuff over to the farm, pour it into the troughs to feed our herd of Poland-Chinas, and they loved it!

Ever so often we would come across an aluminum cup or a piece of cutlery embossed with “Property of U.S. Army.” We didn’t bother to return these finds, but found uses for every orphaned piece. By the way, the CCC had a paramilitary structure that proved of immense value when those same young men were pulled into World War II service.

While I have the opportunity, I would like to praise a fine man we dealt with at Vicksburg Feed and Seed, a Mr. Broome. We bought a lot of vegetable seed in bulk, and he would let us pay for it when our crops came in. He was unfailingly kind to my brothers and me. Similarly, the Farris family, who ran a grocery store on Openwood, extended credit to our family. I don’t know how we could have made it without the help of such generous and understanding Vicksburg citizens.

The Alamo Theatre is long gone, but it was quite an oasis on hot summer days. Toward the end of our time in Vicksburg, I was making enough money selling ice-cream for Allen’s creamery to buy school clothes and to afford a movie every now and then. Sometimes I would go to the theaters near the B’nai B’rith building, but sometimes to the Alamo. Part of their back wall was composed of an evaporative pad cooler. Big fans forced air through the dripping pad, and evaporation cooled the theater air by 10 degrees or so. Delightful!

Jim Wilson, an honorary Master Gardener in eight states, was a presenter for 10 years on PBS’s “Victory Garden” and is the author of 10 gardening books. He now lives in Missouri and in this series remembers his youth in Vicksburg. Mail reaches him at 4200 E. Richland Road, Columbia, MO. 65201 and e-mail reaches him at