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The Farmer's Daughters Picking Peas

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
As 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 the Ark-La-Tex 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.

During 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
"Ramblin' Ray"
March 1, 2006 Column
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