Hey, pa! It's our kinfolks from up north
This story is a true account of real families who were my relatives. Of course I am not using their real names for fear of being harassed. This story is just one of a series of visits by my northern relatives who made their yearly-trek back to my rural hometown to visit and to measure their success by our lack of prosperity. Thanks for reading. KENNETH.
This is just a sample
of how successful one family from the north in the mid-1950's might be. The family was started by either a southern girl who was courted and married by a southern gent who moved them to places like Detroit or Adrian, Michigan to work in America's booming industry (at that time), the auto plants. Or a northern gent who had relatives down south and fell in love with a southern belle and carried her back to his hometown and proceeded to change her looks, habits and style of speech. Yes, sir. No, ain't's, huh's, darn's or shut my mouth from "Mr. Northerner's" pretty southern wife.
My story begins with
My grandpa, "Jasper Ledbetter," and his wife, "Idealla Belle," had three girls and one son. Their names was "Ella Sue," "Loudene," "Arvilla Louise," and "J.C.," my dad. Of course, "Jasper," was my grandpa.
"Jasper," and his gang of kids and sometimes his wife, did what most families of the deep south did from 1920 until the late 1950's: Farm their homesteads in order to live. Not that times were comparable to poverty-ridden Calcutta, just a tad better for southern families like those of "Jasper" and "Idealla." They went about their daily activities without as much as one complaint. They loved this life of being self-sufficient. And not having a boss standing over you ten or twelve hours a day screaming for you to get out more goods or be fired. This was one basic reason that southern families farmed. Another was, according to historical accounts, southerners didn't get to excel in local school systems with some having to quit school in order to work the farm. Not that southerners were ill of mind, just the economic circumstances that surrounded them.
Now for a dose of reality
One of my dad's sisters, "Arvilla Louise," found herself captivated with a local buck named "Buck," of course. His full name was "Jimmy 'Buck' Clark," a fun-loving, vulgar-joke telling, sneaking-a-drink-of-liquor now and then type of gent who loved women. And yes, he loved "Arvilla Louise" too.
It was a courtship and marriage made in the cotton fields of Alabama. (The town and county will remain unknown). One hot, sweltry day in late July, "Buck" rambled by "Jasper's" cottonfield in his jalopy-type Ford that he had won ina poker game the night before. His eye caught the trim figure of "Arvilla Louise" standing so picturesque in her homemade cotton dress trying her best to keep up with her parents and siblings in the yearly-ritual of hoeing cotton. This was no job for a woman of "Arvilla's" build or nature. She was a dainty, petite southern belle through and through.
"Buck" blew the horn. "Hey, sweet peach. Need me to come hoe your cotton?" "Buck" asked with a jackass laugh--so loud that "Jasper" could hear him way across his huge cotton field.
"Arvilla" blushed as most southern bells of that era did when being courted by a man and replied softly, "no, mister. My dad will whip me if I do not pull my own weight."
This remark puzzled "Buck," for his parents never forced him to work in any field. They said of their son, "Buck," that he was not made for tilling the dirt, but was destined for greater things in God's huge world. Their philosophy suited "Buck" for he was allowed to quit school at an early age to pursue his favorite past times of making and drinking liquor, gambling, and chasing single and (sometimes) married women who were considered "loose" in this post-Victorian Era time.
But with some gentle persistence and patience, and maybe a five-dollar bill handed to "Jasper" in secret, "Buck" was granted the permission to court "Arvilla." This was the happiest day of seventeen-year-old "Arvilla," for she had read in some Hollywood romance magazines how men and women should be with each other and "Arvilla" being a natural romantic at heart, dating "Buck" was more valuable than inheriting "Jasper"s" acreage and home at his demise.
"Buck" and "Arvilla," dated like there was no tomorrow. "Buck" would pick her up at dark on a Friday night and be out until the ungodly hour of eight. Not proper hours for a southern girl but since "Jasper" was making five bucks (no pun intended) each time "Buck" took his daughter out on a date, what harm was it to allow "Arvilla" to stay out until eight. After all she was a mature seventeen-year-old girl.
The dating and courting lasted for around two months. Then came "the" question to be asked by roguish and carefree "Buck," on one certain moonlit night sitting in his jalopy Ford underneath an Oak tree at the edge of "Jasper's" huge cotton field.
The electricity filled the night air.
Will you be my wife?
And before "Buck" could inhale, "Arvilla" snapped an excited "yes, I will," and with that, the foundation had been laid for a life of prosperity, fun, social acceptance and finally getting out of the "poverty pocket" of her hometown that was only good for dirt farming and feeding livestock.
Their marriage was simple. One preacher. "Buck" and "Jasper's" families and a few friends. A "will you be "Jimmy 'Buck''s" wife?" and a quick, "will you take "Arvilla," to have and to hold," and it was a done-deed. "Buck" and "Arvilla" were man and wife. How much happier could "Arvilla" be at that very moment? She felt like most rural southern brides: underprivileged and now with her "Prince 'Buck,' for her husband, her life was changing for the better.
And it did. No exaggeration at all. "Buck" was a hard worker at the auto plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin where he landed a job making $2.55 an hour. This was huge bucks (no pun intended) in those days. All "Arvilla" had to do was clean and cook, look good when "Buck" came home from building cars, and have him a meatloaf hot and delicious waitng on him for dinner.
This man, "Buck" loved meatloaf more than a hog loved slop. He was blessed at birth with an unsatisfied appetite for food, any food. But "Arvilla" figured that if this was all she had to do was keep house, clean and cook, it beat the fire out of chopping cotton any day.
It was time for "the yearly visit"
with "Jasper," and "Idealla Louise," and their kids. Now what do "I" have to do with this story? Well that is simple. I happened to be staying with "Jasper" and his clan when my school went on summer vacation and I was left at their house while my mom and dad worked at public jobs to keep food on our table.
It was about this time when the small farmer was smoothly put out of business by the Federal Government who wouldn't subsidize the smaller farmer, but rather help the huge commercial farmer so they could have a bigger return on their farm loans.
It was a lazy July afternoon and I was waiting to do the thing I loved the most while I stayed at "Jasper's" house; Go after the daily mail at the rural mailbox he had put up alongside his paved road. He was proud of the paved road. In "Jasper's" mind, having a paved road meant status. No one bothered to tell him that everyone who lived near him shared "his" paved road.
"Pa," I yelled as I ran to the huge holding a letter in my sweaty hand. The letter was addressed to "Jasper," and "Idealla Louise," in fancy handwriting. It had to be from aunt "Arvilla," for no other woman in our family could write as fancy as she could.
"Gather round, folks. Time to read what "Arvilla" and "Buck" have been doing. I tell you. Getting a letter in that time was a huge as owning a black and white television. We all made a special event of listening to whatever letter was being read. Even the direct mail sales letters. We couldn't afford the latest men's designer shoes from Texas as was written on the circular, but it gave us all a feeling of belonging to the human race.
"Jasper" read a few lines and then his face turned pale as a bale of Mississippi cotton on its way to a processing plant. We thought that he had suffered a stroke as his mumbled to himself, crammed the letter in his left hip pocket of his Liberty overalls and said with a yell, "Everybody get ready! "Arvilla" and "Buck" are headed down here for their yearly-visit!"
We all looked at each other as if a true blue celebrity was coming to town. My heart raced. My throat dried up, but not from "Arvilla" and "Buck" coming to see us, but from the lunch of extra-salty fried chicken prepared by half-blind "Idealla Louise." No one complained about her not being able to see well enough to cook for it might hurt her feelings, so we endured her mysterious concoctions and gagged them down and managed to say, "great meal, grandma!"
God forgave the many lies I told while I stayed at her house with "Jasper."
Tick. Tock. Time mated with molasses and the result of their mating was a day slower than any molasses or worn-out clock ever created.
It was rough sitting on the front porch in the boiling sun watching the road to see if every car was the car that carried "Arvilla" and "Buck." I became sleepy and almost dozed-off, but then it happened. Unlike any sound my young ears had heard before. Not a banging, rumbling sound of the Ford jalopy that "Buck" and "Arvilla" had left in, but a sleek, smooth-running 1956 Buick that looked "showroom new" as it slid down the gravel road near "Jasper's" mailbox and off his paved road. My heart raced. My throat grew dry. Not from excitement as much, but from another super-sour lunch of lemon chicken which was more lemon than chicken prepared by "Idealla Louise," who wanted to prepare a special dish for "Arvilla" and "Buck."
Time stood still
as we all went to see "Buck" and "Arvilla" get out of this lovely macine from heaven.
"Hey, "Jasper! How ya' been?" bellowed "Buck" adjusting his pants that were now below his massive stomach. He reminded me in years to come as one of those typecast southern backwoods judges who was paid off to find outsiders guilt of any crime whether they did the crime or not. Charles During in "O Brother Where Art Thou," comes to find. But During was no judge. Just a typical big-bellied southern gent.
"Fine, 'Buck.' You all come on in and rest awhile," "Jasper" replied gazing at the black Buick sitting in his backyard. Funny thing. He never scolded "Buck" for parking on his crab grass, but yelled at me many times for riding my bicycle on it when I had my dad bring it to his house to give me something to rather than watch "Jasper" shuffle through the house and take hourly naps.
"Buck" and "Arvilla" made their way up the back steps to "Jasper's" back porch and slowly stretched and chatted as they made their way to the living room.
"Here, Kenny. You take their suitcases," "Jasper" barked. Yeah, that "Jasper," was a good Samaritan he was. I was only six and could barely lift one suitcase, much less five. And what was in all of those suitcases still remains a mystery until today.
"Something smells good, "Idealla," "Buck" remarked.
"Well, hey now, "Buck," go slide your backside up to the kitchen table for a spread that "Idealla" made just for you and "Arvilla," "Jasper" said as if he was kissing butt. And he probably was for he was short of cash and was in hopes that "Buck" would slip him another five dollars.
"Naww, we grabbed a bite near Nashville, wasn't it, "Arvilla," "Buck" said with an uppity tone to his once-country voice.
"Arvilla" nodded in agreement, but sat down at the table to nibble some of "Idealla's" meal of honor as to not hurt her feelings.
"Yumm, what is this?" "Arvilla" cooed.
"Ha, ha, that's a new dish "Idealla" sent off for in the mail. It's called "Mayonnaise In Heaven," and talk about sweet. That there dish is sweet, girl!" "Jasper" explained.
After "Buck" had taken a long nap. He got up and was hungry. During his nap, "Arvilla" unpacked for their weekend visit. Why did she pack six pairs of pants, seven dresses and three pair of shoes? Another unsolved mystery.
But instead of "Buck" chowing-down in his usual vacuum cleaner eating style, he just had a cup of coffee that "Idealla" had brewed on the wood stove and sat back to enjoy being envied by "Jasper," "Idealla" and me. And yes, "Arvilla," who thought he had hung the world in space.
"Look, grandpa. 'Buck' wears his nylon socks rolled down nearly to his ankles," I cried as if I had discovered the cure for some disease. "Jasper," although he noticed the new style of wearing socks, or just wearing socks, swung at me, but missed. He was to taken away with 'Buck's" socks.
"Is that how men wear socks up north?" "Jasper" said with the apprehension of a school boy.
"Buck" grinned from ear-to-ear and said, "Old timer. You just don't know how good we have it up north. No cotton to pick. No corn to shuck. Hey, I work my eight hours a day and come home," he explained.
"Jasper," "Buck" continued. "I don't see how you folks down here even lifve. I am so glad that "Arvilla" and myself left when we did."
The room grew silent. "Jasper" looked as if he wanted to cry, but he was too gruff of a man to show emotions.
"Ahhh, now "Buckie," quit gloating like a peacock. "Japser" and "Idealla" are doing just fine. Let's all go and sit on the porch," "Arvilla said.
From that moment on, for hours on hours into the night, "Buck's" mouth never stopped with the dissertations of how great life was in the north. And how dreadfully-miserable it was in the south. And with each stab at the south, he would let out a jackass laugh that almost caused me to imitate him and get slapped, but "Jasper" was too old to slap that hard, so I enjoyed doing my "Buck" routine behind the house to myself. What a great time.
The next evening, "Buck" and "Arvilla" packed all their suitcases into their sleep black Buick and headed back home up north.
Years passed. But "that" certain visit from "Buck" and "Arvilla," made a lot of negative marks on our family.
"Jasper" and "Idealla" and the siblings were constantly bickering about how bad it was in the south and begging "Jasper" if they all could just leave home and move up north.
"Arvilla's" sisters, my aunts, and their only brother, my dad, only dreamed and talked of making such a change and lived out their lives as God had planned it and in their latter years never spoke again of "Buck" and his braggart tales.
You don't think one life can influence another life?
This story is proof that it does.
A typical rural family
They only dressed-up
because of someone wanting to snap their photo. Historical fact: Taking someone's photo in the rural south in this era was hard. A lack of trust on the part of the southerners who were the object of the photographer's lens. Somehow, someway, ancient folklore from their ancestors who settled in the hills of this southern region thought it wrong to have one's picture taken as it was the same as a graven image not condoned by God in the Ten Commandments.
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