Lard Buckets at Christmas
A Conway County, Arkansas Christmas Story
This story brings you back to the days when America was deep in the Depression, when the New Deal was Brand New, and the WPA and CCC Programs were just starting. I was lucky enough to gather a story from an older gentleman in Conway, County, Arkansas, about an hour from Little Rock. This area was one of the hardest hit places during the Depression Years. He served in the CCC during this time. He has since passed on from this world, so I cherish this story even the more. Before the interview was over, we were both in tears, as he recalled a time when the need was so great, and there was so little to give. But the human spirit overcomes need and shame and moves to answer the call, in whatever way it can. Here is a story, a different kind of Christmas story, where Lard Buckets are hung instead of stockings. And what they are filled with will surprise you.
Lard Buckets At Christmas - An Arkansas Depression Story
I want to tell you about the fireplace up on the hill, big enough to hold a hundred stockings. I helped build it. The CCC got started up on Petit Jean Mountain, and had about 200 workmen, including me.
Now you might be asking what the CCC is. This was during the New Deal Days, and we had all kinds of projects with initials. WPA, CCC. The CCC stands for "Civilian Conservation Corps." It was a group-you see, during the depression, President Roosevelt-he's known by initials too-FDR, well he started these work programs for people who didn't have jobs. We'd do things like build roads and bridges and community buildings. The work needed doing, and we needed the work.
A lot of the people in it were folks that served in World War I, and some from the Spanish American War. At least the fellas in our group. There was an army Captain up there, who seved as a foreman. We called him Captain. And the chief cook was called the mess sergeant, just like in the army.
I was from Conway County, and I got to work in my own region. Most of the other fellas I worked with just came here for work and then moved on to where ever the next job was- might be a hundred miles away or a thousand. That's a lot of moving around, but it looked really good to us. During a time when you couldn't find a dime to buy a loaf of bread, we made a dollar a day. Cash. And all the food you can eat. And clothes. And 5 dollars a month spending money for necessities like tobacco, pipe or cigarette- we rolled our own. Of course, that's before we knew how bad it was for you. Back then, you'd know who was in the CCC by the Bull Durham bag in their shirt pocket.
I Was The Mess Sergeant
Now, I was disappointed at first, getting that job.
I wanted to build. I wanted to make something with my hands that I could look at in 50 years and see it still standing. Instead, what I made with my hands was gone within 30 minutes of my making it. With these guys' appetites, sometimes less. No, I didn't think it was an important job at all. Not until one day I found out our organization could do a lot more than build roads and bridges and buildings.
You know, you can be from somewhere, and not even see things, because you get so used to it. Sometimes, it takes someone from the outside to come in and help you see it, and then you can do things, like build something else. Friendship maybe? Maybe not even that. But something.
My buddy was the foreman up there, so he saw everyone coming in and leaving. There was a garbage man who came from town. Bryant was his name. I knew him. Well, I knew who he was. I still remember that cart he drove. It had auto wheels on it and two mules. Nobody drove cars in those days. Not in this part of Arkansas. We turned our cars into Hoover Carts. Didn't have money to buy gas with. But we had mules to pull them.
Bryant had one of these wagons. - The foreman was taking a break on the hill one day when Bryant had come to collect the garbage.
He could see Bryant going back down the mountain after his collection. There was a lard bucket hanging on a mail box on the side of the road. The foreman said Bryant stopped at it, but couldn't tell what he was doing. A few days later, the foreman saw the same thing. He called me to come and watch with him. And I look down the road, and I see all the mail boxes have lard buckets hanging from them. My buddy, the foreman, asked me what the lard buckets were for. I had no idea. So the next time Bryant came, I sort of followed him. I didn't know what was going on, but it was a mystery I wanted to solve.
So Bryant came into the mess hall and picked up our garbage, and this time, I gave him a little head start, and I headed down the road behind him, so he wouldn't notice me. And I looked at what he was doing.
I should have known. I couldn't believe that I didn't figure it out. I'm from here, but I guess I'm a little better off than most of the folks. You got to understand. Times were really hard in these parts, understand.
The people were eating our garbage. They needed the food, and he, Bryant, was not embarrassed to bring it to them. He'd dig through, to find what was more acceptable, and put our left over throwed out food in the people's lard buckets.
I remember going to the foreman and telling him what I saw.Then I decided, we can improve on that.
We cleaned out those GI cans, and told the men what we were doing. There were two areas for garbage now. In the cleaned out cans, we put stuff that is good in them. And put the stuff fit for hogs in the other cans.
Remember-- the reason a lot of us did this work was because the government fed us good. We had a bakery, and nourished balanced meals. It made us all stop and think about how lucky we were.
The men started putting sometimes half of their food in the cleaned out cans, sharing with the community of people who had been, to that point, invisible to them. When Bryant made his rounds after that, he had food better fit for humans to eat. It wasn't the best way to do things. But it was the best we knew how at the time. The best we could do, with what we had.
It's not really the Christmas story I meant to tell you. I was gonna talk about the huge fireplace we built up there, big enough to hold a hundred stockings. Instead, I told about hanging a hundred lard buckets. That's kind of like hanging a stocking, but a whole lot more important.
Things are different now. People still need things. If they hung a bucket out, we'd know it. But nobody does that anymore. So I just try to remember that there's other ways to help besides filling a lard bucket. Any little nice thing you do for someone, well, they just might see it as a miracle. You can spread Christmas all through the year doing that. Don't forget it.
Helping In Small Ways
Do You Help Others During Christmas (or other times)
If You're Wondering About Ways To Help - Consider Sending a Military Gift package to A Soldier
Or how about right here on the home front. A little bit from you means the world to someone else. Please consider contributing to this season of peace with a gift offering to someone you love. Or...to a complete stranger. I don't usually sell things on my pages, I just like to write articles, but this time of year has always been special to me, because I remember sending packages, beginning in November, to my Dad who was at war. Then, when I was older, I repeated with my brother--- sending packages to him and his entire unit. I didn't know any of them, but they were his family away from home, and that made them my family, too. Merry Christmas.