Category Archives: economy

when they’re ripe, they’re ripe …

When they’re ripe, they’re ripe. And when they need picking today, they gotta be picked today. You don’t wait ’til tomorrow.

… This was 99 percent local people. I’d say most strawberry bowers were the farmers’ wives, maybe the wife’s friend, that packed these strawberries. … when you said you were going to pick strawberries tomorrow, everybody would say, “we’ll be there.” And they would be there. ’cause it was just something that everybody seemed to like to do. It wasn’t something that a lady couldn’t do as far as weight, lifting or anything like that. Men, naturally, it didn’t bother them any. So, it was a family-type thing.  If you had a family of colored people that worked with you and, of course, picked strawberries and other things, all you had to do was just give them the message the night before that you were gonna be picking the next day, they’d be right there, ready to go.

They were allowed to carry a few home, not many you know – don’t be a pig, so to speak – but if you want a few to carry home, most farmers would say, “no problem, no problem.”  Most farmers were that way.

Charlie Wilkins … he farmed down in Jamesville and if you went to him and asked him, “Charlie, get some strawberries out of your field?  Or peas?” Or any crop, as far as that goes.  Charlie would say, “yeah,” but he’d say, “they’re not ready yet.”  He’d say, “come around next Monday or Tuesday and help yourself.”  But he’d say, “I’m not gonna pick ’em for you.”  As far as he was concerned, if you wanted some, you were certainly invited to them.  He never would say no to anybody, but he would tell you quick, “I’m not gonna pick ’em for you.”

from an interview with Winter C. Cullen, III, fall 2009.

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on picking strawberries for auction

The idea of planting strawberries on a farm was it was early money. And, of course, back in those days, early money was very nice to have. It was one of the first crops you could harvest first of May. Consequently, most all farmers had a patch. We called them “strawberry patches,” but sometimes it would be three, four, five acres, maybe even as much as ten acres. (As a matter of fact, a hobby of mine is collecting [local] strawberry tickets from back in those days).

Strawberry Tickets (courtesy of Cullen family)

… I’d go up on my bicycle to the field and pick until school started, and right before school started, my mamma would come pick me up and carry me to school.  And then, in the afternoons when I got home from school, took care of my chores, took care of the chickens and the eggs and everything, I’d go back and pick some more for the next day’s picking.

We had what you’d call “strawberry flats,” and when you carried them up to what we called “strawberry bowers,” where the ladies packed them, so when you opened the crate, there were all these pretty berries on top.  You didn’t have any ugly berries … because they were always thrown away.

Depending on how many quarts you had on that flat, you were awarded thses tickets, and it could be one, two, five, ten, twenty-five, fifty or a hundred.  Of course, the twenty-five, fifty, a hundred, they would be awarded to a fast picker who … you knew was going to pick that many in a morning’s picking, so rather than give them all these individual tickets, you’d just wait until they brought twenty-five, [and] give them a twenty-five strawberry ticket.

Of course … they kept them.  And then either on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, they’d be paid off, if you had a hundred – let’s say you picked a hundred quarts that week … they paid ten cents a quart, you’d end up with $10 for your week’s work … which, back in those days wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it was more than some money, so to speak … and a lot of people would pick a hundred, a hundred fifty in one morning without any problem, even two hundred, a good fast picker.

Some pickers would eat more … well, they’d start eating more than they were putting in the quarts and then they realized, “hey, I’m not getting paid for these I’ve eaten, so I’d better slow down eating them and start putting them in the quarts.”

Those strawberries were carried by truck to what they called auctions, strawberry auctions.  … We had one here in Exmore, and used to have one in Painter, they said.  I don’t remember that one. We always carried ours to Exmore.

from an interview with Winter C. Cullen, III, fall 2009.

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on turkeys, eggs, and afternoon naps

William Justis, circa 1925 (courtesy of Thornton / Justis family)

Daddy raised chickens and he sold eggs. And he said that he didn’t go by the market price on eggs. He said no egg was worth more than five cents, and he wasn’t gonna charge anybody more than five cents an egg. So that was 60 cents a dozen, and he sold chicken eggs for 60 cents a dozen, and he coudn’t supply all of his customers. They all wanted eggs.

He had a little flock of chickens, and he had one that was a pet. That chicken was the cutest thing. He would go out to feed them and, honey, she was at the head of the flock. She ran up to him just like she knew him by name. He loved that old hen.

Mother … didn’t raise turkeys after they moved up by the railroad track, but she raised turkeys down at White’s Neck, and one day … a storm came up in the afternoon, and she had this little flock of turkeys that were kind of back of the house down this roadway that – they were a right little old distance from the house. She had a little coop down there, and a storm came up in the afternoon, and honey, she ran off there kiting it, because she was afraid her little turkeys would get drowned. They were outside.  And she did get wet before she got back to the house, but when I saw her coming – I was standing out on the back porch. The back porch was screened in, and I thought, “Oh, Mother’s going to get wet.”  And, sure enough, she did get wet and when she came up the steps, I opened the door, held the door open for her, and when I hit that door, I got stung – lightning struck – I got stung and I kind of shook a little bit, you know.  But it didn’t bother me. It soon wore off. But I got her in the house, ’cause it was getting stormy – lightning and thunder and stuff going on, and I didn’t want her out in that, but she got her little turkeys in.  She didn’t want them to get wet.  They were the prettiest little things, those little fuzzy things.

Frances (my sister) said that, when I was little, I would bother the egg basket.  Mother would keep the egg basket in the pantry, and the pantry opened on the porch, and I would go in there, and I would bother the eggs.  She told me – I guess it was so – she said they got so that they would put some feathers in the egg basket.  And I was scared of feathers, so I stopped bothering the eggs.

I guess I was four or five years old.  Mother used to put me upstairs in the afternoon to take a nap, and I didn’t like that afternoon nap – oh, that was terrible. And she would put me upstairs, and this bedroom window opened so that I could see the yard, and we had this orchard out back that had peaches and apples and plums and all sorts of good things in it. Mother and Frances would go out in the afternoon and they’d walk around the yard, and they’d go to the orchard, you know, and they’d pick some fruit, and oh, they were just having a ball.  And I thought, oh if I could just get out there with them.  I didn’t understand why she put me up there – I had to have that nap. But she would – I just had to have that nap.  She’d put me up there, and she thought I was asleep, bless her heart, but I was watching every step they made.

But my, it was so different then.  I think children have missed so much.  So many children don’t know – they don’t realize did the egg come first or the chicken, you know?  I don’t guess it makes too much difference, but to me, I cherish it.

from an interview with Ruth Justis Thornton, summer 2009.

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“I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?”

I was driving a Model T truck in the field. They were loading ’em up, you know, and going along the rows where the barrels were, when I was ten years old. I was ten in May, and in June, July, we were digging those potatoes. I didn’t drive it out on the road then, but I drove it. I was driving before I was old enough, old enough to have a license.

We only had one state trooper in Accomack County, and that was Harry Parker. He lived at Accomac, but his wife and my grandfather were first cousins. That’s right. And he told Papa one day, said “that boy is driving, and I know it. And I know he’s got no license. Now I’m not gonna pull him because I know he’s got no license. But if he gets in trouble, I got to carry the law.”

So, one day, I decided to go down there and get my license. Well, I wasn’t eligible to go down there, see. I went by myself, and I went in the office at the Accomac courthouse. That little book, I knew that. He didn’t even have to ask me, I could give him all the answers. And he went through all that and he said, “well I guess now we’ll have to see how you do driving. Drive around the block and see how you park between the sticks.”

He had never smiled a bit – he made a good officer. He could scare people just with that look, you know. The only time he smiled, when he got ready to get in the car, he was on the passenger side. He said, “I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?” And I said, “Yes sir, I think so.” I couldn’t help [but] laugh – he was laughing too. ‘Cause he knew I’d been driving, you know, a long time. I rode around the block and parked back. I usually parked pretty good in a parking place. And I got my license. And guess how much it cost then? I think that was about ’36 or ’35. Fifty cents.

A lot of people were driving that didn’t have them. But that was wrong for me to ride down to Accomac to the courthouse and park right in front of there with no more license than – well my dog’s out here somewhere – than that dog has.

from an interview with Norman Mason, summer 2009

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when a hundred dollars cash money at Christmas would last until Spring

Richard: I heard my father say when he was a boy – he was born in 1900 – when he was a boy, his daddy said if he had a hundred dollars cash money at Christmastime, he was alright until Spring – on a hundred dollars. Isn’t that crazy? Only thing they had to buy was kerosene …

Nora Lee: … flour, sugar …

Richard: …flour, sugar, and doctor bill once in a while, which was probably $5. I mean, when you’ve lived as long as we have … it’s just mind-boggling to see how far $100 goes now. I mean it’s weekly [now] …

We lived on a farm. We got our mail from Pastoria. … Dad let us go to the store most nights. The men always talked around the old country stove, and I’m talking during the ’30’s now, during the Depression, and us boys played Dead Mule and Lost Track and Hide and Seek and all the other games boys and girls play. So, it was a good life.

We didn’t have any money. Nobody had money.

Nora Lee: Nobody, so everybody was poor.

Richard: The store was two miles through the woods. I made many a trip out there with a dozen or two dozen eggs or a piece of fat meat to get mamma’s groceries, and if it was 15 cents leftover, you got what you’d call a due bill. The store master, the storekeeper, gave you this little piece of paper that – owed you 15 cents for a side of meat or a dozen eggs.

That was the hub, yeah. That’s how you – well, you bought everything you needed. You bartered for most of it with eggs or a side of fat meat.

On Saturday night [when we went into Parksley] … we got a quarter. Fifteen cents for the movie. And ten cents for an ice cream cone. Ice cream cone was about a nickel or a Coke or whatever, but it was ten cents to throw away. That was what we got. We got 25 cents Saturday night.

Nora Lee: That was the highlight of your week.

Richard: For working all week. And my job at home … As soon as the boys got big enough to do anything, the boys took over. My brother milked the cow. I never did have to milk the cow, but my job was tend to the woodpile. Keep the wood split and fill the woodbox up when I came home from school. So, that’s kind of quaint, isn’t it?

Of course, you’re talking about ten cents for a gallon of kerosene or fifteen cents or something like that. I don’t know how much a pack of cigarettes was then, but everybody smoked – well, most people rolled their own.

Nora Lee: Cheaper.

Richard: Gosh, a bag of Bull Durham was five or ten cents, and that was a right good size – would make a lot of cigarettes. … It has a string on it that you pulled the string and that tightened it up. When you pulled it open, you could dump it out in your cigarette. And some people, boy you talk about – they could roll a cigarette …

We entertained ourselves if Daddy let us have [time off]. Saturday afternoon most of the time was ours, and we boys – we played in the creek and swam and, like boys will do, did all kinds of throwing mud and mud baths and such as that. There really wasn’t anything real exciting that went on ’til Saturday night when we went to Parksley.

from an interview with Richard and Nora Lee Parks, summer 2009

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I’m gonna give it a try

And this is what Dad said.  Dad was 17 or 18 years old.  I think he had ideas of wanting to go places and do things. He told his Dad one day “Pop, I’m not going to stay on the farm.”  

[His pop] said, “Tom, you might as well stay on the farm.  You’re gonna leave the farm and … you’re going to become hungry.” 

He said, “I might, but I’m gonna give it a try.”

Tom Miles in a Model T Ford, circa 1918  courtesy of the Miles family

Tom Miles in a Model T Ford, circa 1918 (courtesy of the Miles family)

He started working for A.W. Short & Supply Co. – by the highway … nearby the railroad.  He went to work for them.  And he was 17, and that man Messick had a daughter … well, they saw the beauty in each other, and they were married.  

Dad had some good things that happened and some not-so-good things that happened to him financially.  … The depression.  The depression hit.  They had built a store by that time and done well with it and made good money. He and Hank Lewis.

… this is the important thing.  My father didn’t go into bankruptcy but Hank Lewis didn’t either, but he paid his off in cash, what he owed, and Dad couldn’t, so he borrowed money from Mae Mason, it was.  And he worked that out $5, $15 at a time until it was paid off by working in Washington, D.C., at Hecht & Company.

He knew the old man – Hecht of Hecht & Company – big man, you know? …

… we had a rough time of it … Twenty dollars a week he made up there.  He tried to see to the three of us – my mother, my sister, and me – all of it practically … That was during the depression … yeah, it was a bad time, a bad time.

from an interview with Bill Miles, winter/spring 2009

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Hog killings were big days like Christmas

I was born in 1932 …. and I can remember my mother saying that we fared a lot better in the country than the people did in the city during the depression years because we had our own food. 

Bundick family hog killing, Assawoman, VA, circa 1938 (courtesy of Thomas family)

Bundick family hog killing, circa 1938 (courtesy of the Thomas family)

 We had our hogs and we had hog killings … and they were big days, you know, like Christmas or something, when the family would get together and the cousins and the aunts and the uncles to help one another.  Everybody would come and slaughter the hogs (which probably sounds gross to our generation or to your generation) but that’s where we got our meat – our hams and our scrapple and our sausages and we made our own lard.  So, we had the necessities of life right on our farm.  

We grew our chickens.  We had our own eggs.  I remember going to the store with my mother and she would carry eggs to exchange for groceries.  … We really didn’t need many groceries in those days.  Flour, sugar, things like that.  I remember her carrying a large quart can to have molasses pumped out of this big barrel into the quart jar, and we had a cow, and so we had our milk, and Mother made her own butter.  We had our own vegetables we grew … of course, we had a garden, but we had a farm and we grew potatoes. 

We had three black men who worked for us regularly – always.  And my mother, she cooked for them, and they ate two meals a day … in our kitchen.  She made biscuits every morning.  And, of course, pancakes and all that … fat meat she fried that’s no longer good for us now.  

We had a lot of meat … We had hams in the smokehouse, so when you got ready for supper, if you were going to have ham, you went down to the smokehouse. You had a big butcher knife that you sliced a couple slices of this ham.  And then you always had potatoes.  … We had our own eggs; we had chickens and ducks and so we lived pretty well on the hog, as they say.  

from an interview with Patsy Bundick Thomas, winter/spring 2009

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