“And the track just stayed busy.”

The trains ran down the Shore here, and they hauled a lot of freight.  They pulled a lot of freight during World War II, government freight or wartime stuff, all types of vehicles that they used in the fields and tanks.  I’ve seen trains go down with tanks on them.

It would take the train a half-hour to get by the [school], out of sight of the window of the school over to Bloxom. I was on the west side of the building, where I could see the railroad track during the wartime, and … all I had to do was turn my head like that and look right at all of that wartime stuff that was traveling.  And the track just stayed busy.  I don’t know where all the trains went. I don’t know how they got all of it across that Bay at the other end and on and off with those floats that they had to float in there.  … You can’t hardly perceive it in your mind, if you could have seen the amount of stuff that went down on [the train].

I had my aunt and uncle in Birdsnest that were the postmaster and the assistant postmaster down there.  And I used to go down to visit them, and one of my trips going down, daddy put me on the train.  I had never been on a train before.  I knew the train; I saw the train regularly.  … I was down in the grammar grades.

Bloxom is where he put me on.  And I got on there, and he watched me, and the train took off and went on south, and I was sitting there, and I was sitting there with my back to the south.  The train was going south, and I was sitting with my back that direction, actually looking backwards.  And I was enjoying myself, looking out the window.  Didn’t know what it was all about, but I was going becuase I was on a train for the first time in my life.

Somewhere between here and Birdsnest, about half-way down I think, another train was on the other track, so the sidewire was sitting right up next to the other train coming this way.  And when we’re going down and this other train coming up, and right of of nowhere in between my window and that other window, in between them two tracks, wasn’t very much room, maybe this much room is all it was between them cars, going like this, that train come up beside me, right beside my window and blanked that off dark, with that movement like that and that roar. I thought I’d been eat right down.  I figured it was all over with.  I never will forget that.

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

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“We growed pretty well every crop you could grow.”

Farmers … didn’t have big acreage, but they always had something coming off.  … Strawberries was the first crop – they come off in the spring.  Then, we have string beans.  We grew two crops of them a year, string beans.  Then, white potatoes.  Then, sweet potatoes.  Then string beans … so we had about five or six different crops, vegetable crops.

We only grew corn enough for to feed the mules.  It was all ear corn.  You had to pick all your corn by hand.  In other words, we break the ear off and shuck it and throw it in the heat and then we pick it up and put it in the horse cart and … then we carry it to the stack, dump it up and then throw it by hand in the stack.  We always picked, went through it, and anything –  little, teeny ears we call nubbins – we fed that to the pigs.   Of course, they were meat for the table in the wintertime.  We’d kill about four or five hogs every year – for family, you know.

So we grew about five, six crops. Strawberries – [my daddy] generally had about three or four acres, and that’s about all he could get picked.  He had to pick them every day.

And then … string beans – they’d grow probably ten acres, maybe more. And then Irish potatoes – he’d have 15, 20 acres of that – depends on what size farm they were growing, but my daddy – he would probably have more than that.

And the sweet potatoes – they usually have 25 acres of them, because all of it’s hand work.  You know, you had to plow them out and scratch them out and throw them in the heat.  Irish potatoes – we actually graded them in the field and put them in barrels and then we shipped them by freight car and carried them through the station about seven barrels, eight barrels at a time.  A barrel of Irish potatoes weighs about 165 pounds.  A lot of the men could handle them by themselves.  But usually two of them would pick it up and put it on the wagon.

… Tomatoes – I forgot about that.  We grew a lot of tomatoes and picked green tomatoes, and then we picked the red tomatoes and carried them to the canning factory.  … There was a canning factory in every town … one in Hallwood, one in New Church, three in Pocomoke, one on Chincoteague, one in Greenbackville, one in New Church.  I think there was one in Stockton.

I heard my daddy say – this was in the 30s – he sold ’em for five cent a basket, a five-eight basket.  So I mean, you know, people don’t know what hard times are.

From an interview with Bev Fletcher, spring 2010.

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“everything we did was outdoors …”

I played every sport in high school. I didn’t have to work out, because I was in shape.  Like they do now?  We didn’t work out.  I was hard as nails, ’cause … we worked all the time.

I played baseball.  I played football.  I played basketball.  I did a little boxing.  … I played all the sports, but we worked that in.  I’d play baseball and then walk home from school.  There ain’t no way to get home; we walked home.  Ain’t no bus to take us nowhere.

When we played football, we didn’t have no money to buy uniforms.  The school didn’t buy no uniforms. We had, I think it was five helmets and we didn’t have no shoulderpads.  We used sweatshirts.  We put on about three or four sweatshirts.  They knew – ’cause the backfield had helmets and one or two on the line – they knew what plays we were going to make because we’d have to switch our helmets around. And the football field at the end of the game – it looked like a rag field, because they’d grab you  and you’d lose your sweatshirts.

We did have baseball suits though.  I don’t think we bought our uniforms.  …  But basketball we played – we didn’t have no gyms … we played on the dirt.  We played outside.  That’s why we played in the spring of the year.  I mean, it was dirt courts.  We played tennis too.  Tennis … [the school] didn’t have no sport of tennis; [but] you could play tennis.  I used to like to play tennis.

I don’t know why they didn’t build any gyms, but we played outdoors and everything we did was outdoors, so I guess they thought that’s where we were supposed to [play].

From an interview with Bev Fletcher, spring 2010.

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on horses, mules, and tractors

At the plow, courtesy of the Mason/Holland family

Franklin: You had two mules or two horses, either one.  One of them would work down in the furrow and the other one worked where it hadn’t been plowed.  It would probably be eight inches or ten inches lower, and that’s what we used until … one day people were getting tractors around here and, of course, we boys wanted tractors.  We got tired of walking.

The man who sold horses and mules come around and told my father, he said, “Marion, that’s the first mistake you ever made in your life – trying to buy a tractor.  Tractors gonna be the ruination of agriculture.”

It was the ruination of him, because he was out of business.  We had, that day, we had five mules or horses that we traded in on a tractor.

Everett: We had more than that.  I think we had four horses and Pappy died – Grandfather – and he left us three, so we had seven horses then.

Franklin: Probably did.

Everett: Didn’t have but five stables to put ’em into.  Pop went and traded three of them … no, traded five of them.

Franklin: Traded five of them in one day for this tractor.

Lee: So you could actually trade horses for a tractor?

Everett: Well, you had to pay some.

Franklin: Oh, yeah … they wouldn’t allow you much for those horses, ’cause tractors were coming into the world.  That was … that was around ’35, somewhere in there, wasn’t it?

Everett: Close to – I was about 15.

Franklin: And a tractor was only … it was $600 or $700 for a brand new tractor.  And now – they’re $150,000.

Everett: I think that was around ’38 or ’39 when we got that tractor, wasn’t it?

Franklin: It could have been.  I walked a long time.

Everett: One tractor could do more than twenty horses could do.  … You worked all the year for the horses. You work them in the morning, and you come to the house at lunchtime and you had to pump water – hand pump – and they could drink and drink and drink and drink, and you had to pump all that water and then you had to feed ’em before you could ever go eat your lunch. And the time you went in there and grabbed a little bit to eat, you had to go back and hook ’em back up because it was time to go to work again.  They got a good rest; we didn’t get none.

Franklin: Well, at the same time, you’re going back from breakfast, the first thing you had to do was go in there and feed these mules / horses, so they could eat, and then you had to milk the cows before you come back and eat yours while the mules / horses eat theirs.  One way they had it easier than we did.

Everett: We had to clean the stable about every week.

Franklin: Oh yeah, they had to be clean.

Everett: Pine shats I believe we used.

Franklin: Yeah, pine needles.

from interview with brothers Everett and Franklin Holland, fall 2009.

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on horses and mules

Everett: [We had] horses mostly.

Franklin: Mostly horses. They were cheaper to buy.

Everett: Work ’em six days a week and then we’d ride ’em on Sundays.

Franklin: That was a pleasure. We’d go to church Sunday afternoon and we’d ride the horses that morning, that was going out to Beaverdam Church, and build fires in the wood stove. That was a pleasure.

Audrey: What was the name of that horse? He used to come see me on a horse.  That was before we were married.  I’d hear this horse going bump, bump, bump … and I’d look down and here he’d come on that horse.  It was white with grey.

Franklin: We called it the grey horse.  It was mean as a dog.

Audrey: I lived how far from you?

Franklin: Twelve.  Twelve miles, I guess.  … I’d go through the woods and that kind of stuff. Probably eight miles, something like that.

Lee: And horses were cheaper to buy?

Franklin: Horses were cheaper than mules.

Lee: Why?

Franklin: I often wondered why myself, but a good pair of mules were worth twice as much as a pair of horses.  One thing, horses were more plentiful.

Everett: Mules were dumber, I think.  They go on and do their work, where a horse is getting around it somehow or another.  I remember when I was a child, the old horse there cultivating the corn – and he’d get to the end and see he learned that it was hard to hold the handle, the collar, and he’d put his foot over the chain.  You had to go down there and unhook the chain and put it around.  He’d get time – he’d kill time and he’d get to rest up.

Franklin: That’s the only rest they got, when they made a turn.  Each end of the field, they’d slow right down and make a job of the turn. That’s when they got to rest up.

from an interview with brothers Everett and Franklin Holland & with Franklin’s wife Audrey, fall 2009.

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on getting married during wartime

Franklin: We got married, we had nowhere to go, no money to go with.  And she was 19 and I was 20, and we lived with my mother and father for five years.  Then we moved down here and been here ever since.  On a farm.

Lee: What year were you all married?

Audrey: ’43.

Lee: ’43.  During World War II?

Audrey: Mm-hmm.  And we got married on Christmas Day.  Don’t never do that.  Everybody said, “Why did you get married on Christmas Day?”  And Franklin said, “That was the only day I could get off.”

Lee: Is that true?

Franklin: That’s about the truth, ’cause … it was from daybreak to sundown, six days a week, and the next day you were at church, every Sunday, unlike it is today.

Everett: Back in them days, you didn’t have electricity.  Had no radio.

Franklin: No.

Everett: You just ate and worked and went to bed.

Franklin: I remember the first speech I ever heard on a radio was when Roosevelt declared war.

Everett: Do you remember where you were?

Franklin: Huh?

Everett: Do you remember where you were when they bombed Pearl Harbor?

Franklin: The school.

Everett: No, I’m talking about the day he made the speech – we were over on Chincoteague.  That was on Saturday.  … We were over there on Chincoteague, went over there  to get something.  Stopped there at the store, and there was a radio going. We didn’t have a radio then.  No, I guess we did have one by then.

Franklin: I was thinking about that remark. …  I’ll think about it after a while.

Audrey: Our first TV we got was in 1952.  That was when our last son was born. We got this TV, and I was tickled to death.  I come home from the hospital, and a TV was sitting in the corner.  When we first got married, it was wartime.  And we, of course, wanted furniture and I wanted a living room suite – it had no springs in it.  And I got one table for the dining room, and that table went like a swayback mule.  It just done like that.  It was no good. All those things we wanted,  they weren’t worth buying.  But we bought ’em and made out with it.  I think we were happier than today, more than a lot of young ones are.  We didn’t have a whole lot, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Franklin: What do they call them?  Now people call them the “good old days”, but they weren’t so good.  They were rough.

Audrey: We had to work for them.

Franklin: Twelve, thirteen, fifteen hours a day.

from an interview with Franklin &  Audrey Holland and Everett Holland, fall 2009.

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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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“You find me a cow … and I can milk it”

When Pat was born … she cried.  I thought she was crying a lot.

Old Dr. Dick Fletcher, down to Sanford, I carried her down there – he was our doctor, you know.  He examined her.  He said, “I can’t find anything really wrong with her.” Miss Nancy, his wife, she came in that room. She heard the last sentence he said to me and she said, “Hattie, you get some milk and give that child [some milk]. Dick will let [her] starve to death if you listen to him.”

Milton said, “I don’t know how to milk a cow.  I’ve never milked one in my life.”  His dad … didn’t have cows.  He said, “If you want one, I’ll buy it for you.”

We used to have Hargis Taylor who used to sell beef from the back of his pickup.  And you know, they wouldn’t allow that now.  I said [to Hargis], “Do you know where I can get a cow, a nice cow?” He said, “Yeah.”

I was raised on a farm and, I didn’t have to do it, but I knew how to [milk a cow].  I said, “Could you get me a cow?” Milton said,” I’ll get you a cow, but I can’t milk it.  I’ve never milked one in my life.  I said, “Well, you just find me a cow – get Mr. Hargis Taylor to find me a cow, and I can milk it.”  So that’s what they did.  Sure enough she didn’t have enough food.

You didn’t go to  a hospital unless you had troubles.  We had this [midwife], I forget her name now, anyway she stayed with me for two, two or three weeks.  Usually they only stayed about a week or eight days or something like that, but she stayed with me [longer].  … So, Pat … got special [milk], from her mom milking this cow.  You pull down on it … Have you ever seen anyone milk a cow?

Lee: It’s probably harder than it looks.

Hattie: Yeah, it is.  And if you have long fingernails or anything and hurt [the cow], you know, they’ll hold up [the milk].

from an interview with Hattie Killmon Baxter, summer 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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