Chapter 3 - Yes, Mom, I do Remember

Mom Made Our Dresses From Flour Sacks

Our Best Dresses and clothes
Our Best Dresses and clothes
Picking Cotton. As a Child, I could Pick the Same Amount as the Best Adults. I would pick 300 lbs Per Day and Make $3
Picking Cotton. As a Child, I could Pick the Same Amount as the Best Adults. I would pick 300 lbs Per Day and Make $3
Typical Cotton Field. No Toilets, No Water. No Breaks. Sun-up to Sun-down...
Typical Cotton Field. No Toilets, No Water. No Breaks. Sun-up to Sun-down...

My Mother's Words About Her Struggle to Survive

Chapter 3

My Mother's Words About Her Struggle to Survive

When the fruit was all over for the season, people would head for the cotton fields. You had to hustle or you may not even get a get a job picking cotton. Sometimes it seemed like there was a hundred people there .

We pulled canvas cotton sacks twelve feet long with the bottom cut out so that when we got it full with ninety to a hundred pounds we could stand in the cotton trailer and dump from both ends of the sack. If you picked three hundred plus pounds from sun up to sun down, you were a good cotton picker. Our wages were a dollar per hundred pounds. Esther and my dad picked cotton seven days a week and Evalee and I would pick on Saturday and Sunday with them. All the money went to support the family.

We would put cardboard in our shoes until it wouldn't work anymore and then mom would glue on some half soles. These would last for a while, but the glue not being what it is today, they soon came lose and we would go around kicking our feet and making these loud slapping noises. The school would give us some shoes when they could find some to fit us and we got some clothes from some kind of relief fund. We moved out of the two-roomed cabin in to a cabin that had two rooms and a side room. The windows had screens and canvas covers with a board across the bottom so that it could be rolled up in warm weather and let down an nailed down in cold weather. When the wind we would have this constant flapping and knocking sound Esther and Laury started going together while we lived here. Laury was a bachelor and lived across from us. He would visit us and I would listen to him tell some of the funniest stories and sing some of the funniest songs I have ever heard to this day. It is too bad he didn't write them down. Esther would play her banjo she got in get in Oklahoma, early in the morning before she went to work. I thought it was the prettiest music I ever heard.

We used to spend many of our summer evenings at the canals swimming. It was the only way to keep cool. Evalee and I used to fill these #3 wash tubs with water and sit in them to keep cool. There wasn't any trees or grass to keep things cool.

They, don't have entertainment like they used to, you've heard that old expression about things not as good as they used to be. We have too much these days to stop and appreciate the small things that pass most of us by before we really realize what we missed. Anybody and everybody gathered at this little old church in Weedpatch with the sawdust floors a wooden platform where the people with their guitars, banjo's tambourines with sheepskin on them so that you could really get a rhythm, French Harps, mandolins any instrument anyone wanted to bring. The preachers would preach hellfire and brimstone and damnation. One preacher got so excited that he jumped up and swung from the rafters. The brothers and sisters would shout their amens and hallelujahs and clap their hands in approval. When the acrobatic preacher finished his damnation sermon, he would say, do as I say not as I do. All these people that shouted their approval and shouted out their frust­rations, sang and danced to their hearts content, were ready to go home and to go on with their lives and wait for the next revival.

In between revivals there were fights with knives and fist over wives, husbands, sweethearts, and religion, and adultery was committed all around. Some­one burned the church down and the next rival was held in a huge tent. All these same people are back at the rival, saying , Oh God please forgive me, I've been mean and rotten, I promise I'll be good this time, and here we go again. I don't remember the police being called about all these fights and stabbings.

I think the closest sheriff was in Arvin, seven or eight miles away. The church seemed to be the center of entertainment and social life.

It didn't take too much to make us happy or entertain us. We would invent our own games. Writing secrets on pieces of paper, putting them in a can, digging a hole and burying them, and all you had to do was just mention having a secret buried, and all the kids were curious and wanted to know where it was and what it said. Just the special few got to know. It was a small thing, a can in a hole, but very entertaining. We played all kinds of games with marbles. We had special cat’s eye marbles and steelies (steel bearings) that we prized and horseshoes, bean flips (sling shots), rubber guns that looked like rifles and shot several shots and some looked like pistols. We put wire thru tin cans and used them as stilts and also make wooden stilts from three inches to three feet off the ground. We would get old car tires and one of us would curl up inside of it and the other would roll the tire all around everywhere, eventually we would get so dizzy we would fall out. The old sears catalogue was useful in many ways. The two main purposes were outhouses and paper dolls. We would spend hours cutting out paper dolls and making furniture out of matchboxes and any other kind of cardboard we could find. It was a source of entertainment just getting it together.

Mom and Esther decided we needed to improve our mode of living. My dad was always taking trips to Arkansas and Ed was in the Army, so it was left up to Mom and Eshter to change our life style. Esther and Laury had been going together quite a while and he was going to be a great help to us in building our new house when we got enough money saved. Somehow we got old boxcar and got all the nails out and got a house built. It had three large rooms. It was boxcar lumber inside and outside. We still used coal oil (kerosene) to cook with and a potbellied stove that really ate up the wood. Mom and Eshter decided we were going to Sacramento so they could work in the canneries to pay for the house. A large woman, her daughter, and sister were going also. We crawled in an old 1931 Chevy and off we went. At thirty-five miles an hour and stopping to camp overnight, it took us two days to get there. We found a place to camp along the American River, green grass, trees, and water everywhere. Mom and Esther went to work in the canneries in Sacramento and worked from midnight to eight in the morning. Evalee and I took care of Phyllis and Phillip and explored all the nooks and crannies along the American River. Somehow, we managed to get aboard one of the Paddle wheelers. We felt like we were on one of the greatest adventures of our lives. As our good luck or bad luck would have it, we got caught before we could experience our great adventure.

A man with a long beard lived in a covered wagon and was always try­ing to entice us to come in and look at something he had made. We were much too frightened to go anywhere near him. We always referred to him as the bearded monster. He would throw out rolls of crepe paper to get us to come closer. We would grab the rolls farthest away from him and run. Our imaginations really went to work. We made all kinds of costumes, hats, purses, clothes for us and our cotton sock dolls and decided to make a plat­form for a stage to perform on out of some cardboard boxes. The boxes were constantly collapsing. We must have done all right; I remember some change we couldn't wait to spend. Cardboard boxes were in great demand to be used to cover the dirt floors in the tents we lived in. When the cardboard got dirty, we threw it away and got more boxes to break down and spread over the dirt. We had three-burner kerosene stove outside the tent to cook on. If it wasn't level it smoked the pans black, after the food was cooked, and we were tough with the pan, we would rub the pan back and forth in the dirt to get most all of the black off and then wash with soap and water.

Gypsies would come by and look in our garbage hunting for food. They never found anything in ours, we always cleaned our plates. They would eat food directly from the garbage cans in the middle of the summer. I don't know how they survived. The children would beg for pennies and the adults would beg to tell your fortune for food or money.

Seems as if Mom and Esther were all-ways working, they finally get a day off and we all go to Sacramento. Aside from being in Bakersfield one time, this is the only town of any size we have been in. We have great expectations of what we are going to get with our few coins. Mom has per­suaded us to give her our money to put with hers and she will buy us each a dress for $1.98. Evalee and I are elated, it is unbelievable, we are getting a ready-made dress and being able to help gave us an extra good felling.

Iva Penrod, the big fat lady that came to Sacramento with us claims she has the divine calling from God to go preach the Gospel. She persuades all of us to go to the Rescue Mission where she expounds them to leave their sinful ways and jumps up and down and says her “praise the Lords, hallelujahs” and then sits down. We then listen to more singing, shouting and preaching and have withstood all the begging and pleading to go to the alter to escape damnation and suffering forever in the fires of hell. If you stay­ed until the service was over you were invited to eat, which of course was the reason behind Iva's getting a call to preach. It is a wonder our appetites weren't scared out of us. I guess our appetites were enduring. We have been babysitting Iva's little girl and Evalee and I get another ready-make dress for babysitting all summer. We felt pretty good, now we had two new ready-made dresses.

We have spent a great summer along the Sacramento River. Mom and Esther have decided it is time to go back to Weedpatch and start building the house we have been talking about, they have scavenged railroad lumber from these old boxcars and we are busy getting nails out and hauling lumber.

Esthers boyfriend, Laury Rose was busy helping us, I don't know what we would have, done without him. Here we are, all trying to put this house together. I don't remember if my dad was there to help us or not, he had gone to Arkansas while we were in Sacramento. Laury is the only man remember being around. The house is finally built with boxcar lumber in­side and out. It has three large rooms. One room is a long room for cooking, eating and a cot at one end for Pop to sleep on. Another room for the main room with a dresser, a potbellied stove, a rocking chair and a bed that Mom, Esther and Phyllis slept on. Our room had a cot for Phillip to sleep on a double bed for Evalee and I, a dresser we made out of apple crates and a skirt put around it to hide everything but the top. I don't remember any closets; everything was folded and put in shelves. When I saw my Dad sleeping on the cot in the kitchen, I finally realized my dad and mom had not slept together for several years. I remember them talking once while living in this house. Pop would sit in the rocking chair and read his bible and I would comb what hair he had and put tin curlers in it.

I guess to literally get me out of his hair; he would go out, sit in the car, and read his bible. This house has cost us a total of $60.00. People still live in today!

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Comments 20 comments

saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Another amazing episode of your mothers life growing up in that era. I remember being so poor that our shoes as well had to be glued together and when they came unglued I would walk down the school halls and they could hear me coming from the flapping noise of my soles:0)

Making stilts out of tin cans did that as well. As kids we did everything and anything to be entertained in the streets. Hardships that we endured made us tough but also a deep respect for hard work and making some money to survive. Imagine that buying a house for $60 back then and someone still lives in it today.

Those pictures of the cotton fields are great. Hills of white clouds/cotton. $1 per and no toilets or breaks, these people were deprived and yet worked so hard for so little. An amazing life that many today could never imagine doing let alone surviving it.

Great read I will be moving on to the next chapter. Peace

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

saddlerider1, "If it does not kill you, it will make you stronger!" Interesting.. Even though this is my mother's words, I share many similar experiences.. Same school. Same Swimming pool, working in the cafeteria so I could enjoy "really good food." It was fun to play in the cotton trailers. I would turn flips (summer salts) from the top of the ladder to fall inside the cotton trailer... When I was very young (4 yrs old)I would try to ride on my mother's cotton sack. I now understand why she did not like that...!

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Even though the locations were different and varied depending on what part of the country during those times people were in - as well as the generally "hard times" ordinary people endured all through the taming of this country from virtual wilderness on into those bleak Depression years, there's such a similarity in many ways. I can tell some basic differences your Mom's story has from my parents' - first living up north and then in wild southwest Texas, fighting for a 'stake' and for survival. Up north - cold was such a factor. I doubt if my mother ever complained about the heat in Texas. To have enough covers and heat was a biggie when she was a kid. She made my sisters' and brother's clothes for school out of whatever she could "round up" - often old clothes from another time which wouldn't last through more than one or two wearings. But she always smanaged to add something pretty - some hand stitching or tucks or shirring, even though the garmentn would be short-lived. I can identify with that need to avoid a poverty mentality even though there's almost no money and what there is must go for ranch work first. There was no waste. No complaints about food or dislikes of anything!

Anyway - I'd venture to say that we all have some stories from our heritage to tell. I certainly treasured an occasional "store-bought" dress or item of apparrel. And Dad would go across the border to Acuna and buy his girls real perfume for Christmas. I think he even managed some silk stockings during the war when nylons were the latest thing but rationed because the military needed the nylon for parachutes.

Ken - your stories are so similar yet so different than Dallas' too. The cold was a big factor there, I'm sure.

But entertaining oneself was expected!! I spent most summers with no playmates at the ranch. Occasionally a ranch neighbor would have to come see us for something but we were the 'end of the road' ranch - Big Canyon stopped the flow. So there were no passers-by. Sundays we often went to the Pumpville Church - which still meets even today though Pumpville is a ghost town now.

Honestly I cannot remember ever feeling 'bored'. It always seemed there were more interesting things to find to do than time to do them! And many were productive things even when I was a kid. I learned to sew young & was designing and making my own clothes at 13. Was encouraged to read but never recall it being pushed on me. I wanted to and there were books available. That's how I handled it with my own children and they both loved to read and read well.

Such good memories, Dallas. This is such a real treat you've presented. I can't wait to get to the next chapter.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

Nellieanna, Your comments are always appreciated! My mother's intent as you know was to simply share what was. Others had a much more difficult time. Each one's hardship were unique as people today are suffering somewhere as we speak. My parents understood the need to be frugal and managed with what they had. I too have learned that "lesson." My mother and I were talking about her life never being bored... Perhaps the one thing we all share in common is the life lesson of taking care of ourselves, being resilient, creative, planning, with bursts of "impulsive" behaviors... and never being a "victim."

My mother too sewed her fancy" dresses. In the good times, she would cut out two dresses from the same pattern...

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

This is a superb hub-series, Dallas! I am enjoying the read soooo much. Remember the thrill of getting a new dress, made by my mom. Every Christmas she made us a ‘special’ dress to wear to church. I got a sound hiding when I was 6, because I did not like the dress she made. (I was the eldest of eventually 5 kids). Also remember the hiding I got at the age of 4-5 when I said food on my plate tasted nasty. (Gosh, and today my grandchildren may eat or leave their food and order whatever they prefer and they have much too much clothes to wear and toys that can keep a hundred kids busy for a whole day!)

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

MartieCoetser, You share music appreciation with my mother. My mother plays many instruments. The banjo and piano are among her favorites. Most of my mother's clothes were made from flower sacks. My grandmother would buy 100lb bags of flower because of their design pattern and color. The cloth was sturdy. When I was 15 - 20, I worked at Weedpatch Super Market and Pumpkin Center Market and many of the customers were still buying the 50 lb, or 100 lb flour bags based upon their colors and patterns to make clothes from... My mother has learned it is OK not to "eat all of your food." As a child, I had to eat all of my food... Including cottage cheese. I got sick and "threw-up" at the dinner table... I still would prefer not to eat "cottage cheese." I remember my father (Pentecostal Preacher) putting "stretchers" (crackers in hamburger meat) to have enough food...

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Too bad we can't all meet. So many things in common, plus so many unique differences. But as your Mother said - never boring!! uh uh!!

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

Perhaps we can meet... My mother's brother who is Ed Rucks (smart one, joined Army to escape poverty) has agreed to review and add information from his perspective... He retired from Richfield Oil Company and financially is comfortable... thanks for stopping by..

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Fantastic, I can't help but wonder how the youth of today would be better served to understand the value of hard work and having little to work with. Cotton sounds like very difficult work. My Grandpa always said, "hard work is good for the soul" I must agree! Enjoyed reading the next chapter and look forward to more later tonight when I have free time.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

katiem2 My two sons do not have the "killer instinct." The drive to be the best you can be is a process. I made the typical mistake in buying everything my sons wanted and plenty of it... When I realized they played with the "boxes and batteries" more than the expensive toys, I understood I should not relive my own past of having "nothing" in terms of "things."

The most I could hand pick cotton as an early teen was 100lbs per day. They started at sun up (the cotton was heavier when it had dew on it!). My mother would pick two rows at-a-time. She would pull a 12 foot cotton sack down the two rows and back to the cotton trailer to weigh the filled cotton sack (got paid cash right then) climb the ladder and dump the sack. Not an easy task to maneuver a lumpy 12' long sack of cotton, untie the end and shake, shake and sake until empty. Then start on another two rows of cotton. My mother's progress down two rows was the same as , or the other "cotton pickers" picking one row at a time... They picked cotton until the sun went down. No toilets, no water, no shade, just pick cotton as fast as you could... seven days a week.

When "Packing Season" came, she packed plumbs, peaches, & nectarines (placing into shipping crate -sorting, grading, & culling) and made almost $100 per day (huge amount when hourly wages were 90 cents per hour). Her hands were extremely fast and accurate.

kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

This is always so interesting to read. It's amazing how drastically things have changed. A lot of people take hard work and such for granted but reading your mother's account reminds me that we have things pretty easy - despite the few struggles - in this day and age.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

kaltopsyd, There were no government hand-outs, welfare, or social security... they had to survive by their own efforts... The best thing is not only did they "survive," but they thrived...

ralwus 6 years ago

I recall going to some of those types of church meetings. The water trough didn't take on me though.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

Canals were used too.. My father would go to church to flirt with my mother. Many people would go for the "entertainment" value!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

An interesting series. My father lived in a small row house with 15 other people during the Great Depression. For a while, only one of them had a job. After my father's death, my mother met an old woman who had come looking for my father to thank him. She remembered my father walking down the ally when he was a little boy, delivering soup to the neighbors during those tough times.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

Dolores Monet, Perhaps the real story is how the human spirit rose to the challenges and the kindness, "brotherhood" and commitment to survive produced a foundation whereby the future generations are benefiting...

onegoodwoman profile image

onegoodwoman 6 years ago from A small southern town

.....going on to chapter 4.....

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

onegoodwoman, Still with you...

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

I sure remember picking cotton. I was never very good at it. Sat on the sack when no one was looking. Your story sounds like my family around the telling of the old days. Enjoyed your hub.

dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA Author

I enjoyed riding on my mom's 12 long cotton sack! I now undewrstand why she did not like me to crawl on top of her sack! It made sense to start picking early at dawn because the dew made the cotton heavier...

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