on jumping off a truck in the strawberry field

Willie: It might not be so funny, but I can remember picking strawberries, and that’s something I always wanted to do.  I wanted to, you know, ’cause when I was going to school, somebody says, “oh yeah, I went in the strawberry field this morning, and I made so many dollars.”  So I said, “mm mm mm – I  just want to do that one morning.”

So then, when I got old enough to drive, my brother and I would go down to the strawberry field and we’d pick strawberries and come on back home and rushing like everybody else for us to get on the bus, so then we can go tell stories too, that we had picked strawberries that morning.

On this particular day – this was a Saturday. And Ma told me, “Don’t jump off the back of the truck down in the strawberry field.” Because, you know, after we’d get through picking strawberries, we used to always beat it off so the grass and everything, the weeds wouldn’t be high.

I jumped – I didn’t … I jumped off.  Everything was fine. Climbed back on the truck.  And so I jumped off the back of the truck and we were playing and laughing, having a wonderful time. Got back on there, jumped off again.  Didn’t have any problems.  So I says, “I’m gonna try this again.” Climbed on the truck, jumped off – and when I jumped off, I jumped wrong, landed on a stick. Honey, I  yelled and screamed. Ma says, “what’s wrong with you?”  I says, “nothing.”

So when I got home that night, I went to take my bath.  I went in the bathroom and massaged my little muscle in my leg and I said, “Oh my God, please don’t let me have to take my leg off at the knee, ’cause I was doing something Ma didn’t want me to do.”  Man, I thought about that  a few days, and every night I would come in, massage that leg, and massage that leg, put the alcohol on it and then we had Merthiolate and all that stuff.  Man, put that on there, and so one day I was just washing and massaging the leg and I did like this, and a stick about that long came out of my leg.

Lee: An inch and a half?

Willie: Yes.  You think I ever told Ma about that?  Not ever.

Lee (to Christian): You’ve heard that story before?

Christian: Mm mhm.

Willie: No, you think I was gonna … after Ma told me not to do it?  Oh no.  Oh no.  I wanted to make it to my 15th birthday, okay.   ‘Cause she did not play.  Ma and Pa did not play.  When they tell you not to do something, they meant it.  But they didn’t have – you know, just like lots of times, you know, as far as discipline goes, they were disciplinarians, but they simply talked to you and told you what not to do.  We didn’t have all this hitting and carrying on.  It just wasn’t that.  But I tell you, you think I jumped off another truck in the strawberry field?  I don’t jump off a truck now.

from an interview with Prentice Christian and Willie Press, summer 2010.

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“It was pretty big for a country store.”

Norris: [My father’s general store, Bloxom Brothers] was pretty big for a country store. ….

There was an upstairs … the upstairs was where they sold feathers … . They also sold glass … they cut glass for various things. I can remember fiddling around with the glass cutter. …  They sold everything from horse collars to shoes, hats, patent medicines, and of course, the usual groceries and meats.

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… They sold a little bit of everything. Mouth organs, I can remember, horse collars, rope, patent medicines – just about anything you’d need, anything for farmers you’d need. …

Lee: Did people come and hang out there?

Norris : Yes, they did.  The farmers would come in particularly on Saturday nights, and most of them … in the ’20s they would come by horse cart. Dad had hitching posts out beside the store. I can remember that very well, they’d come in horse carts for their weekly shopping. …”

Lee: During the Depression, and even before that – did they trade?

Norris: Oh my goodness, yes. Absolutely. We had, in the back of the store, a separate thing for chickens. They’d take chickens and ducks in trade. And they issued … I’m not sure I can find one … You’ve seen those old store due-bills, haven’t you?

Lee: I don’t think so.

Norris:  … I have one somewhere for two cents. They’d bring chickens and corn also. We had two corn stacks in the back. Corn and chicken and, I guess, ducks – I don’t know, but I can remember the chickens. They’d take chickens and trade them – you’d get a due-bill, which you had to spend there, of course. That’s fair. …

I remember molasses came in huge barrels, but I don’t remember trading anything as far as that’s concerned, but eggs – eggs were a big product. That was the main product, as a matter of fact. The farmers would bring them in. I can’t remember where the eggs went, but … Dad had a little hammer … that he nailed up the crates with. I don’t know what ever happened to it, probably buried with him, I imagine, ’cause I can remember so many times people would use that thing and not bring it back – in the family – and he was tough about his hammer.

… Saturday night was a big night.  …. we would work on Saturday nights and sweep up after everybody was gone.  We would stay open until 10 or 11 o’clock – 10 o’clock anyway.  And then sweep.  It was a pretty big store.

From an interview with Norris Bloxom, summer 2010.

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“If you’ve never hoed for hours on end …”

Faye: I still have the first thing I ever earned.  I have the first thing I bought with what I earned.  When I was married, my husband couldn’t understand why I had this little sweater and this little purse that looked really pretty ragged.  And he took it to the Goodwill.   And  I went and I got it back.  And I told him –  I said, “you know, if you’ve never hoed for hours on end in a a watermelon field, and you’re ten and the other men are grown and you’re trying to keep up with them, under that hot, hot sun when you’d rather be in a swimming pool or at the beach.”

I went and I got it back.  I still have it. And I’ll probably have it when they cremate me.  Then somebody can take it to the Goodwill.   I said, “I know you probably don’t understand it.” He did his own share of dirty work and awful things.  “… but for a ten-year-old going down those fields, I always want to remember what that felt like, and I don’t ever want to do that work again – ever.”  I don’t know that he understood, but that’s okay.  He didn’t have to.  He didn’t have to do it.  And I didn’t have to do it.  I chose to do it.   I asked to do it.  I wanted to do it.  But I didn’t want to do it again.

… I can still see it.  I can see that field; I can hear them singing;  I can feel the cadence of it.

Lee: Who was singing?

Faye:  The men that were working in that field, side by side with me.  One of them, his name was Hilton.  That’s all I remember – Hilton.  They sang.  I mean, they sang to be able to put up with the boredom, I’m sure.  They’d sing, and there would be a certain cadence that they would use.  But it was hard for me to keep up, as a ten-year old.

From an interview with Faye Ellis-Jones, summer 2010.

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“the show is coming!”

They used to have tent shows – did anybody tell you about them, the shows that would come to the Eastern Shore?  … They’d come with movies and actors on the stage and that sort of thing and set up the tents, and they would come at strawberry-picking time, because that was the first time in the year that people in the neighborhood had a little cash. The pickers had made some money, and it cost ten cents to get in.

One of them was O.L. Sykes – the name on the truck.  The other one was Al Moore.  I don’t know where they came from or how far they went, but you’d hear they were down the county.  The show is coming!  So you knew pretty soon they’d be up in Birdsnest.

Some of the movies … were silent still, and they’d put the words on the screen.  Both black and white came.  The black folks sat on the right-hand side and the white folks on the left-hand side.  But all under the tent together, and while they were under the tent, both sides  – when the words came onto the screen, you didn’t have to know how to read when you were real little, because those who could read would whisper to their neighbor what the words were saying, and you could hear in unison maybe 40 voices whispering what the words were up on the screen.

And almost all of them were old western shows that they had.  I don’t remember any of the actors but it was a marvelous thing to go to those tent shows.  They’d take them down on Sunday and move up the road a ways farther and set it up again.

They’d sell Cracker Jacks after the movie was over, turn on the lights, and then some would get up on the stage and act and dance and tell the corniest jokes and encourage people in the audience to come up and do tap dancing or any old fool thing, but it was a wonderful show.  Those places were packed every night.

From an interview with Ridgway Dunton, summer 2010.

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“That’s why I never wanted to live on the water”

Bill: Anybody on the Eastern Shore is not very far from the water, no question about that.   … We farmed land on the seaside.  … It wasn’t much difference in the farming part of it, except sometimes, in the spring of the year … when it’s time to drag off white potatoes … and we’d be working over here [near New Church] and it would be nice, warm, and we’d get through here and go over there [to the seaside] and sometimes, it would freeze you to death –

Lee: [The wind] coming off the water?

Bill: Coming off the water, yeah.  Makes all the difference in the world.

And then, when we used to grow potatoes years ago, we’d plant sorghum after we dug the potatoes, just for a soil conditioner … it would help the soil – and by September that was up probably six foot tall.  And we’d go in there with tractor and disk, and disk it down and sow it in rye for a cover crop for the winter.

And years before we had tractors with cabs on them, back years ago, it was so bad –  the mosquitos and biting flies were so bad, the only way you could stay on there would be wrap up everything you had except your face – overcoat, whatever – you know, just save your face.  And then they’d fly in your mouth and nose.  You couldn’t stay out there, the mosquitos were so bad.

Lee: This was all over the Shore?

Bill: Well, this was on the seaside.

Lee: The marshes?

Bill: On the seaside, yes.  Next to … the creeks and all this.  They were bad here [near New Church], but not like that.  And tomatoes … you were picking something, the help – they’d have to wear long-sleeved shirts, wrap up or the mosqitos would eat you alive.

That’s why I never wanted to live near the water.  Never had any desire to.  It’s pretty and all that.   Of course, it’s different now.  You can spray and whatnot, take care of that sort of thing.  Wasn’t any spray then.  Wasn’t even mosquito spray [to spray on your arms].

From an interview with Bill and Audrey Davis, summer 2010.

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on wartime shortages and ration books

There was a shortage of hunting ammunition down here on the farm. I hunted. Daddy hunted. We had quail, rabbit, squirrel, duck – all of it, but you had to be very careful, you had just a very little bit of ammunition. I mean, you prized a handful of ammunition. It was to be watched and taken care of.

WW II rationing stamp book

WWII ration book (courtesy of Taylor family)

During the war, we had … stamp books.  We were allotted so many stamps for certain things during the war. The books that I can remember, they [were for] … coffee, sugar, cigarettes, beef, tires, gas …

There were no cars available whatsoever during the war.  Most of them had been froze on the first day of the war … by Roosevelt, the President, and daddy was lucky enough to find one new car in the middle of a war, and he had to go through an Act of Congress in Accomack to get a permit to get that car. He hunted from Cape Charles to Philadelphia up in a storage house on the fourth or fifth floor to get one old Chevrolet – it wasn’t old, it was a brand new one – but to get a Chevrolet automobile. I think that must have been the last one on the East Coast. But he got it anyway, and we were fortunate in that respect, because our automobile was getting worn down.

From an interview with Pierce B. Taylor, Jr., summer 2010.

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“It’s part of growing up on a farm.”

early potato grader

grading potatoes circa 1940 (courtesy Dixon family)

Thom:  Nothing was on pallets back then, like it is now.  Everything was – I mean, we’d take hand trucks and truck ‘em off the truck or truck ‘em on the truck or truck ’em out of the freight car – and nothing palletized, and they’d put down this, for lack of a better word, tar paper on the floor of the trucks, and then you’d have a big conveyor belt going in, and about two heads standing up there, taking whatever size it was, whether it was 50s or 20s or 10s or 5s and stack ‘em, and you always want to stack your ears to the inside so it wouldn’t get caught.

Hume:  You call it air stacking, ‘cause you always wanted the air to be able to move through your load, you know from front to back.  If you stacked it real solid, from side to side, possibility you could go through a heat.  So, you kept where they had the vents in the front of the truck, you would have like little tunnels in between certain bags all the way down that whole row to the back end so air could just pass through.

Thom: That’s the way we had the seed potatoes.  We had ‘em stacked – I remember one time – I wasn’t very old.  And we had unloaded a load of seed potatoes.  We had everything down at the south end of the packing shed down at Capeville and they were over my head, stacked, each 100-pound bag and about that much width between ‘em.  And I was making my way down through to go around and do something, and all of a sudden, I looked down and there was a rat about that long and big as a cat, walking right there, and that just terrified me.

Hume:  Part of growing up on the farm.

Thom: But that made you strong, too, I’ll tell you what.  When Billy Bynum had football practice, and we’d been working on the farm all summer, we were all ready.  Those other guys who hadn’t done anything, hadn’t participated in any activity or exercise …  but David Jones and I – all the farm boys, we were ready to go.

Lee:  Weren’t you telling me … about competitions for lifting?

Thom: Oh yeah, lifting the barrels.  Who could …

Hume: [Or] the front end of the tractors …

Thom:   Uncle Bill could lift the front end of the tractor … .  I could never do that.  And I never had an opportunity – the barrels were before my time.  But it was kind of a competition between all the [men].

Hume: Good natured competition.

Thom:  And if you were the boss-man’s son, you didn’t want to have the reputation of being – you know, “That’s daddy’s boy.  He’s not gonna do anything.”  It’s kind of up to you – whatever they could do, you could do one step better or one step quicker or one step stronger.  So … and that’s generational, ‘cause I’ve heard my daddy and uncle and –

Hume: I was the youngest one, see – I’m like this tall and these guys – they were able to do it, but  I couldn’t pick up anything, until my turn came a few years later.  My daddy – greatest man that walked the earth as far as I’m concerned, next to God, but when he said do something, we just … we had to overdo whatever he said.  I mean you wanted to do it.  As I got older, I was in the Marines in boot camp, and the summer I spent in the boot camp wasn’t as bad as being on the farm during the summer here.  They weren’t bad – I thought, I said, “Lord, I’m on a picnic.”  [laughing]  ‘Cause a lot of the boys I was in the service with, well, they’ve never been away from home before and all that, you know, but it was old stuff – I said, “Lord, I ought to carry these boys home with me.”

From an interview with Hume and Thom Dixon, summer 2010.

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