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ARE WE at the END of the TUNNEL YET?
Poverty is not an easy thing to endure. The wealthy may think the same way and say being wealthy is not easy but I have never been rich to know the possible similarity. Growing up in the deep south, we had always pulled the load along side our parents. Not as a burden being put on the children but as a way of survival for us all. Pulling together got the job done faster.
This day was the day we harvested the vegetables from the garden and Mama was all excited about getting the baskets to the little farmhouse to prepare them for canning and drying. I had my mind on the new rope swing Daddy had strung from the old oak tree beside the garden. " June Marie " Mama quickly spoke my name and woke me out of my daydream " wake up girl. You can do your dream'n later when we get done with the cann'n! "
That's me, June Marie Loughton. Dreamer, fantasizer, the one that winds up staring into space thinking of how this works or why that happens. I'm pretty much the one with her head in a book or magazine. Finding ways to get out of doing the work was'nt easy but I had been creative in thinking up ideas to escape.Grandma Louise wanted me to spend the night when she hadn't even asked and was surprised when I arrived on her doorstep which was not far down the road. I got a good one when Mama found out. Our schoolteacher, Mr. Dooney, had wanted me to attend summer school to get my grades up and to his surprise, I appeared eager to give up my summer vacation to learn more. It only took my fibbing a few times before I could no longer pull the wool over my parents eyes. That's the reason I'm here in the garden picking tomatoes and trudging them to the house.
Mama was rushing around the house getting jars ready for the tomatoes to be scalded and skinned in preparation for the gigantic canner sitting on our stove. I was actually anxious for the tomatoes to be canned because that meant Mama would be fixing a few jars of her tomato sauce. She would fix a big kettle of spaghetti pasta and make meatballs to put in the fresh tomato sauce. No Italian seasoning or garlic was added, only onions, salt, and pepper. Mama was well known for her good cooking around the town. Our county fairs were filled with her jars of preserves and many pies made from our apple trees and the strawberry patch that Mama guarded with her life. Peaches grown from the trees that Grandma Louise had insisted Grandpa Ellis plant on their farm when Daddy was little.
The county fair was sponsored each year by business owners in the town and this year there was a hefty one hundred dollars that Dryers Market had put up as a bonus to the winners of the blue ribbons. That's why we were all so anxious to finish the canning this year. Having the extra money would give us a better Christmas. The year of nineteen-fifty had been rough with the money from our tobacco crop mainly going to pay the stores credit bills. Maybe this year it will be better. Maybe the more entries Mama has the better the chances are that she will win first place in something.
The thing about gardening was to know how to time what you plant so that the harvesting time will not have everything you plant coming to full growth at the same time. The last thing that we usually harvested was the late corn crop. Some of our apples were taken from the trees in the fall and would be taken to the market or prepared for the cellar or preserves to be put into canning jars. The smells of our country home would be a memory for a very long time.
This and That
I had become used to the sounds of chatter and the clanking of dishes in my house. There were five children and noise was a part of our home. My sister Mattie was the oldest and the one who enjoyed bossing us around or so we thought until we got older and realized she had our best interest at heart. She really did feel like a second mother to us though we would never tell her that. Bobby was the next in line and the oldest boy. He was often following behind Daddy to help in whatever way he was needed. Farming was in his blood and would probably be his life as it was Daddy's. Then there was Heather, and Jacob, and me. I didn't mind being the baby of the family because I could get away with certain things because Mama and Daddy were often busy dealing with the other four children.
The summer was spent with the usual things being done and our relief from the hot summer days was to pile into the back of Daddy's old pickup truck and go down to Sanderson River about three miles from our farm and take a long day of swimming and enjoying the cool water. Even Daddy would swim with us but Mama stayed home and I imagine enjoyed the quiet.
Returning home, we would find a cooked meal and a well cleaned house waiting for us. I don't know when Mama ever did anything just for herself.
The usual thing that at the time feels mundane can be a thing that is so longed for when it's gone or not there anymore.
I asked Mama to tell me what she put in her apple and peach pies and her response was "A little of this and that." Well her little of this and that was going to make our summer the most memorable ever.
We were all anticipating the county fair coming up the following weekend with Mattie preparing her quilting and Bobby fattening up his prized calf to be judged. Us smaller kids were just excited about the rides and games we would get to enjoy. The smell of Mama's pies would fill our home. We were not an idle bunch in the Loughton household. There was a constant activity going at all times.
Saturday morning found us rushing to get everything into Daddy's pickup truck and Grandpa Ellis's station wagon to make the ten mile journey to Pleasant Knob. Mama was all nervous this morning from the news that a fellow from Pine Ridge was going to be judging this year. Pine Ridge has all the fine dining restaurants and delicatessens and Mama was nervous that her entries would not be good enough to make third place much less come in first to win the blue ribbons.
Of course I rode with Grandma Louise and Grandpa Ellis with the hope that a dime here and there would be offered for the rides and games. It wasn't just me, they gave all the children spending money. I just enjoyed being petted by my grandparents.
As we entered the city limits, there were cars parked all along the square and leading all the way to the ball park a half a mile away. The ball park was lined with booths and tables on all four sides with a speaking stand in the middle of the field where announcements and speeches would be made.
Our entries were placed on the appropriate tables to be judged and Bobby and Daddy's livestock were taken to the holding pens where we could hear sounds of farm animals coming from that end of the field. Mattie's quilts were all neatly folded with the handy work of her stitching and tacking technique showing and visible to the judging. Daddy had built a cart with wheels so Mama's entries could be easily carted from the vehicles to the park, considering he knew they would have a long way to pack everything.
The ferris wheel had sounds of laughter coming from that direction and I longed to break loose from Grandma Louise's hand and join in their fun but I stayed by her side until Heather could take me. People were almost shoulder to shoulder thick and many more than the past year. Maybe it was the man from Pine Ridge that had everyone excited about the competition this year. I heard Mattie talking to her friends about it the other day and the word was that he was looking for new recipes for his restaurants in Pine Ridge. This only served to make Mama even more nervous because of more competition trying to get their recipes chosen by this man.
Through out the day. games were played and competitions were held and the time for the pie and preserves competitions came with Mama holding her breath and looking half way sick with nervousness and daring to hope for the blue ribbons. Daddy and Bobby's calf had taken second place in livestock. Mattie's quilts were judged and tagged with blue ribbons which put a beaming smile on all of our faces. Now Mama's hard work was about to be judged and we were all standing by her side in support of her efforts that she had put into these entries.
He was not a man that was greatly sized or of any certain quality but he was a man in a white linen suit with a broad brimmed hat sitting back on his head. Gray hair peeked from underneath his hat and a black bowtie hung loosely from the collar of his white shirt. Everyone's eyes were steadfastly on him and just about every move he made. I began to think I saw enjoyment on his face at all the attention he was getting.
Mrs. Palmer, Mama's competition for the past ten years was at the head of the tables with her pies set out all neatly and ready to be tasted. After hers was Bonnie Coolie's, then Cheryl Harden's, and all down the line until he came to the other end where the nametag was sitting upright behind a vast array of apple and peach pies to be judged individually. The name on that tag was May Ella Loughton.
The look of pleasure came to the man's face as he took a bite of Mama's apple pie. Mama seemed to visibly let out a deep sigh as she observed his reaction. We all waited anxiously for his decision.
With the blue ribbon in hand, the man in the white suit went from one end of the tables to the other placing the appropriate ribbon by the winning pies. Each time he came to the pies labeled May Ella Loughton, Mama would receive the blue ribbon. Seven different pies that Mama had entered had received the top prize. That meant seven blue ribbons with one hundred dollars for each ribbon that was received. We were all excited about the prizes and for Mama winning the ribbons.
We were so excited that the talk about the man looking for new recipes for his restaurants had left our mind and when the man began to walk toward our end of the tables we thought he was just congratulating Mama but he began to talk in a serious voice and the words "work for me" was heard "with good pay" and the word percentage was also part of his dialogue with Mama and Daddy.
Mama was commissioned to supply his restaurants with as many pies as she could make him and, if she wished, she could even come in and oversee the restaurants making them on sight.
Mama accepted his offer and the man said his lawyer would write up a contract for her to sign. May Ella's Pies was born that day. Mama had many times spoke of a situation they were going through financially like being stuck in a tunnel with a long way to go to get out. Not that she worried for herself but that she wanted so much more for her family. This would start the journey from being hopeful to having a prospect to reaching the end of the tunnel.