Daughters Picking Peas
by N. Ray Maxie
I see it, being raised an only child must be a lonely existence and
not by choice. Or maybe being a one and only PK (preacher's kid) could
possibly be worse. In my humble opinion, when a kid is raised as an
only child, there just seems to be something seriously missing in
their life. Don't you readers with siblings agree? And I believe the
missing ingredients are the love and joy of having siblings. The sibling
rivalry; the jealously; the childhood fusses and fights; the companionship,
love, hate, frustration and tolerance of one another all come out
over time. Most importantly, I think, the closeness of having companions
walking in the same bonds of love as a family unit, create family
bonding. My mother often said that we can choose our friends, but
we don't get a chance to choose our family. That's the way it should
be and I wouldn't change if I could.
Being the youngest of three siblings, they called me the "baby" of
the family, little brother or Manny, among other less civilized things.
The two others were my older sisters. All three of us were born in
in the 1930's, in the middle of the Great Depression. My mother worked
hard at home and never did "public work" outside the home. We were
very fortunate that dad always had some kind of a steady job. He was
a hard working, dedicated man and if there were any jobs to be had,
he could get one. The East Texas oilfields came into being in the
1930's and that is where my dad spent his entire working career. The
old timers back then called it doing "public work". If a man got a
job and left the farm to be employed, he accepted "public work". I
suppose, as long as he was working on the family farm and for the
family interest, he was doing "private work".
My father, aka "High
Pockets", went to work for The Texas Company, the forerunner of
Texaco Oil Company, at McLeod,
Texas, in 1932. The "boss man" told him that he might have a week
or ten days work for him. Although the pay was small, it was certainly
better than being unemployed in midst of a depression. Dad worked
for them seven years and seven months, until The Texas Company sold
out to Louisiana Iron and Supply Company. Then the "new" company rehired
him for themselves. He continued working right there at home in the
Rodessa field until his retirement in 1962. His jobs throughout the
years had titles like, flunkey, truck driver, swamper, roust-a-bout,
roughneck, deck hand, pumper and switcher. Sometimes less flattering
titles were unofficially used too. By the time dad retired, most all
of the old oil wells in that area had become "strippers". Yes, believe
me, they called an oil well a stripper, too. A stripper simply means
the well is down to pumping its very last few barrels of oil each
day. If crude oil maintained a price of say, $50 a barrel, then a
four-barrel a day well would produce only $200 daily. Not a big producer,
yet still somewhat profitable.
my dad's day off from work and in his spare time he would plant a
garden. In addition, he might plant a "truck patch" of perhaps a half
an acre to maybe an acre in a clearing of an otherwise wooded area.
Plowing up the cleared area, he would plant something we could eat,
like corn, peas or melons. He often planted plenty of black-eyed peas,
purple hull peas, cream peas and one simply called the "field pea".
My favorite pea was the "brown crowder" pea. We would eat all we wanted
while the peas were ripe and green or turning golden brown. My mother
would pressure-cook corn and canned many jars of corn and peas every
year. Soon, during the summer months, the peas would start to dry
and turn brown on the vine. We picked most of those dry peas for next
year's seed supply, although when the fresh peas were all gone we
frequently ate lots of dry peas, too.
My sisters (The Farmer's Daughters) and I, all teenagers at the time,
were required to work in the garden and truck patches. As I recall,
most of our work there was hoeing or picking peas in the hot, hot
"dog days" of July and August. Like many of our required chores, it
was hot, dusty, backbreaking work. Each of us would drag a sack on
our shoulder and pick it full of peas, if we could. Or, maybe use
a bucket, tub or cardboard box to put our peas in. It was, I repeat,
hard, hot, backbreaking labor. I never complained very much. At least,
not so loud anyone could hear me. Pop often jokingly told us, "Don't
worry about the mule, just load the wagon." Maybe I could take it
better in body and in spirit than the girls could.
Sometimes I might be a good distance from them as we all picked peas.
I could hear them wailing, moaning and complaining about the hard
work. They might say things like, "Oh! This is breaking my back."
-- "Daddy don't love us, making us do this hard work." -- "I sure
wish we had some help out here." Or, maybe like, "I think I'll just
get married or run away and get out of all this hard work." -- "I
have never worked so hard in all my life." -- "Oh! I wish I could
die." Or, "Please God, strike me dead. This work is just too hard."
-- "I'd rather be dead than doing this hard work."------ On and on
they would go, hour after hour, with such foolishness. There were
times I began to seriously believe that they really meant what they
were saying. Then, I would just laugh and poke fun at them. I ask
what would they do if they really had to work hard? Or, didn't they
believe in, "no work, no eat?"
Needless to say, the girls were never convinced that hard work wouldn't
kill anyone. Although, I believe a family working together builds
patience, perseverance, strength in character and a bonding family
unit, not to mention a few muscles along the way. As country singing
star Loretta Lynn's hit song "Coal Miner's Daughter" says about her
own family, "We were poor, but we had love. That was one thing my
daddy made sure of. We bought shoes from a mail order catalog, with
money we got from selling a hog."
So you see, I had siblings with all the family ups and downs throughout
the "great depression". We each faced all the hard times, poverty,
differences and difficulties together. I am quite sure that growing
up would never have been the same without them. I am thankful for
my family roots in Cass County Texas for five generations since back
in the 1870's.
N. Ray Maxie
March 1, 2006 Column