Excerpt from Cotton & Corn...
Some folks tell me, ‘Rae Ann, you've lived a mighty long and blessed life.’ But livin’ to be eighty, ninety, or even a hundred years old sure don't seen quite so long once you be reachin’ it. One kinda be thinkin’ that another hundred or so years might be alright. Nobody wants to just up and die. Now I do pity those folks who be sufferin' in their bodies, hearts, and all; those folks who just keep on livin’ when all they want to do is to die and end their miseries. But yes, I have been mighty blessed in life. I recollect my days as a youngin were the days when I started lookin’ for some of life’s blessing. You see, times in Oklahoma back then were a might bit trying on a person’s soul and life, but by God's grace we made it through them times and come out on the other side just fine.
My earliest memories, although faded like an old worn-out photograph, are of visiting my grandma and grandpa Charlton over in Union City. We were living on a farm not far from there in those days. Sometime after that visit grandpa passed away. I remember just staring at a large standing crucifix at the cemetery during the funeral, my mind thinkin’ about dyin’ and bein’ buried and all of that stuff that scares a kid almost to death, especially when tryin’ to get to sleep at night in a dark bedroom. Father McNeary presided over the affairs and did a mighty fine job, or so I heard my Ma say from time to time. Father McNeary was young and just startin’ out in his priestly callin’ back then and I remember him as bein’ such a nice fellow, you know, for bein’ a priest and all.
My Pa's name was John and my mother's was Hilda. I had an older brother, Richard, who was ten months to the day older than me; I had another younger brother, Theodore, but everyone always called him Teddy; and two younger sisters, Mary and Sarah Jane. 'A lot of mouths to feed!' as Pa used to say.
Richard was sort of tall and lanky with curly black hair; Teddy, well he was much taller than all the other boys his age and was crowned with the fullest, blackest head of hair a person could ever see. He was an even-tempered boy; Mary was just plain cute and when Sarah Jane came along she must of inherited that same cuteness herself. Sarah Jane was a bit smaller than other girls her age though. Both Mary and Sarah Jane were easy-goin’. Now me, I had lots more black curly hair when I was a youngin than I do now. Folks always called me the spunky one, or sometimes the wiry one. I used to do just about everything my brothers did. I had the energy and gumption of a dozen polecats. I ain’t mellowed much with age either.
Those were the days we were growin’ cotton and corn.
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“Rae Ann,” Hilda Charlton called out to her slowly dressing daughter, “get a move on, you know your Pa won’t look kindly on you makin’ us late to your grandpa’s funeral!”
“I’m hurryin’ Ma, just a minute.”
“Not a minute, Rae Ann… now.”
As John Charlton hitched up the horses to the wagon, Hilda herded the children together faster and better than any sheep dog around could have. Clothes needed to be inspected for tidiness, teeth and hands for cleanliness, and hair and other details for appropriateness; a full morning’s work for a busy mother of five.
“It’s pert near ten o’clock,” Hilda admonished her brood of youngins, “half the day’s gone already.” You children know that farm work don’t be waitin’ for anything, even on funeral days like today. A person has to adjust their life to the workload at hand, the workload ain’t gonna be adjustin’ itself no how.”
When four in the morning came around, it signaled the start of the day’s work routines that kept a busy sharecropping family active from before dawn until after dusk. Mr. Charlton would rise and wake his eldest son, Richard, and the two would scurry out to feed the farm’s livestock before the surrounding rolling hills and planted crop fields echoed with the cries of those hungry critters with their empty stomachs. Once the animals were fed, water troughs filled, and irrigation hoses placed and flowing with water for the day, breakfast was next on the agenda. Then, it was back out to the fields to check the irrigation hoses for stoppages.
Richard had learned early the simple technique of “floppin’ hoses” as his father would say. He would grab the hose, submerge it into the depths of the irrigation canal, wait for the cool waters to fill it, then place his thumb over the end and flop it over into one of the plowed water runs. The floppin’ caused a suction that siphoned the water from one large canal into the smaller plowed furrows. Dozens and dozens of short hoses needed to be activated every morning, but Richard was proud to be a working member helping to support his family.
The smells of fresh cut hay, irrigation waters, growing crops, and farmland animals graced the lives of those who worked the lands; smells foreign to life in the city, smells treasured by generations of families across America’s rolling hills, beautiful mountains, and plush green valleys.
“Let’s get a move on!” John Charlton shouted.
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