Stories about my family

Category: Farm Life (Page 1 of 2)

WORKING TOGETHER

WORKING TOGETHER 

Dad and mom bought a farm by the coal pits southeast of Warner, OK in 1948. They had high hopes of growing corn, cotton and other cash crops. But high hopes and hard work did not provide enough money to keep the farm going. 

The early 50’s were hard on small farmers as it was with most families in rural Oklahoma. It seemed to me that my folks were just hanging on, hoping that things would turn around next year. But it didn’t. 

Consequently, the family migrated to California and other places to work the crops. The money earned would then be used to buy seed, fertilizer, etc. for another year at the farm. So come harvest time dad would pack our tent and we would follow the other migrant workers. 

Several seasons we went to Stratford, California to follow the cotton and grape crops. Many times dad set goals for us to meet and when we met that goal we would be through for the day. He usually set the goal at 2000 lbs. when we picked cotton. We started early in the day when the cotton was heavy with dew. 

He would announce the goal early in the day, most times about 6 AM. Usually by 2 PM we were over 2000 lbs and could call it a day. At $4.00 per 100 bs. $80.00 a day was a good family wage in 1951. 

I believe it was 1952 when John Clark, a family friend, moved from Webber Falls to a small town in western Montana. He called dad for help. Acres and acres of golden wheat were ready for harvest when we arrived. Dad operated a combine that I pulled with a caterpillar and my brother drove a large tractor pulling another combine.

We worked for thirty days straight and went back home. Dad was paid $900. and Leo and I were paid $600. each. Dad took John Clark’s check to the bank and was paid partially in silver dollars which we had to spend. In those days the government frowned on hoarding silver. 

The money was enough to buy school clothes and shoes for us kids with enough left over to buy seed and fertilizer for next years crop, and a little left over for the mortgage. Money earned belonged to the family. 

Dad was a man of dreams, a man of convictions, a man of hope, ambition and a family man. But most of all a Godly man.  

ROUTE 66

ROUTE 66

The year was 1952.  The four Burr kids were excited when their parents, Alfred and Addie, announced the family would be leaving for Stratford. CA in the morning.  That was usually the way it  happened.  All of a sudden we were loading up for the long drive.

I THINK THIS WAS TAKEN IN STRATFORD CA 1952   R FRONT BRENDA, ALFREDA, LEO, DAD. ME, MOM

I  don’t know how many times my family went to California in the late 40’s and up until about 1955.  It was during the time that my folks were trying to make a go of farming a small piece of land southeast of Warner OK.

Of course we visited our friends, but the main reason for our trip to California was to make some money to pay for seed and other necessities to make the farm go one more year.

We always traveled Route 66.  As most kids do, we made a game of reading road signs and counting cars.

MOM AND DAD, PROBABLY 1951

THE BURR KIDS, 1949 OR 50

JACK, LEO, ALFREEDA, AND BRENDA, THE YOUNGEST

                                          NINE BURR COUSINS

After a few days of playing and visiting, dad found work for the family.  Usually cotton was ready to pick in early May.  Most of the time we got to the cotton patch by 6 AM while dew was still on the cotton.  I don’t know how much weight the dew added to a sack but every little bit helped.

The girls didn’t pull a sack but they contributed by putting cotton in piles in the row in front of one of the rest of us.  We would work hard and fast to meet our quota so we could go home.  Usually that was 2000 lbs.  At $4. a hundred lbs, we could make $1,600. in twenty days.  After that, we would pull bolls for a week or so, for a total of $2,000.

I’M THE DOCTOR, LEO IS GIVING UP, SONNY IS SERIOUSLY HURT.AND JOHNNY THINKS IT’S FUNNY

Next, we would cut grapes for 3 or 4 weeks which was not as productive as cotton.  It takes more strength to cut and carry grapes.  Usually only three of us worked the grape fields.  Making an additional $1,000. was the most we could expect.

Anyone who knew my folks would say they were persistent in trying to hold on to the farm but in the end they lost and had to start over.

And they did.

When is a 5 cents the same as $10.

                                               When is 5 cents the same as $10.

Some readers have expressed a desire to write stories about their families.  They usually ask how to get started and talk to  family members about things they remember.  Spend time thinking about good memories.

My advice is this:  Write about events and places about which you have fond memories. If you have trouble getting started or have trouble getting the creative juices flowing, open up an old album and start reminiscing.  Your spouse or a long time friend can help with details you may not remember.

Another thing you should do  is get into the habit of taking notes on your iPhone, ipad, or with a pencil so that you can  record a passing thought that triggers your memory about a particular event .  I’ve found that if I don’t make a note I have trouble remembering later.

When you start writing, pay no attention to punctuation or spelling.  You can clean it up later.  Write while the thought is fresh and the words will flow.  After you have written a few paragraphs, put the story down and come back a day or so later and add or subtract as you see fit.  I usually do this at least a half dozen times until I get the story I want to tell.

I THINK THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN IN 1968 OF MY DAD, ALFRED, AND I

I started by writing about my father and my own childhood experiences living on a farm south of Muskogee (aside from a few stories about Vietnam).   I started there because my long term memory seems to be better than the shorter one.

I also try to include a principle or moral lesson as a central part of  the story.  One which can be remembered and passed on the next generation.

An example comes to mind.  During our Christmas reunion last week, our daughter, Cynthia told about going to the store recently to buy a few items, which included two bags of ice.  Later that day she realized that she had paid for only one bag. She immediately returned to the store and paid for the  extra bag office.

Cynthia reminded us of the story which had provided her a guide in such matters.

Dad is working on a transmission. He charged $35. for the part,

“In the 1960’s, her grandfather Burr had traveled to Muskogee to borrow money from a bank because he was struggling to make ends meet.  When he returned to Warner, he discovered that the cashier had given him a nickel too much.”

“Although it was only a nickel, he went back the same day and returned the money.”  when asked why he would do such a thing, he said , “The money didn’t belong to me, whether it was a nickel or $10, the idea was the same”.

Although Cynthia was only a few years old when it happened,  She remembered because the story, had been told and retold many times.

PICTURE OF OUR FAMILY TAKEN IN 1998, SPRINGFIELD MO. FROM TOP RIGHT, PHYLLIS, JACK, SUSAN AND RICK,  RANDY, DONNA, AND DAUGHTER CYNTHIA,  CYNTHIA HOLDING VENESSA, MELLISA, KIMBERLY, FRONT ROW FROM RIGHT TO LEFT EVAN, BETHANY AND MIKE.

Talking about such memories binds the family together and gives each member a sense of a common heritage.  It makes you glad to be a part of your family.

Note:  Cynthia is in the center of the picture on the left holding her daughter,  Venessa, who is now  attending college in Texas.

She too knows the story about her great grandfather, Alfred Burr.

GOING TO A RURAL SCHOOL

THE FOUR BURR KIDS, JACK, LEO, ALFREDA, AND BRENDA

THE FOUR BURR KIDS, JACK, LEO, ALFREDA, AND BRENDA

I grew up on a farm where being a part of something greater than myself was evident to me everyday.  We worked together, we played together, we laughed together, we cried together and we worshiped together.

And education was especially important in our family.

The spring of 1954 was a sad time for the Burr family.  I was 13 and old enough to understand the emotional turmoil dad and mom were going  through because of the accident.

After dad sold what we had,  he sent all but $250.  to the grieving widow in California.

As incongruous as it may seem, I believe that being dirt poor made my family closer and more reliant on each other.  Perhaps families with money felt the same way but I wouldn’t know.

This story is about the last few months of rural life and what I remember about going to the one room school called Woodall.   For some children, school was a boring chore.  But not for me.

I liked my Woodall Elementary school teachers.  Next to my parents, they were the most influential adults in my early years.  I went to Woodalll from second through the seventh grade and was well taught by the Graham sisters, whom I adored.  The rural school was located on a gravel road about eight miles southeast of Warner OK.

We walked two miles from home when we followed the road.   Sometimes  we cut across Mr. Pack’s property, and then it was about a mile and a  half.   Occasionally, we would pick an apple or two from Mr. Pack’s orchard.  More than once Mr. Pack complained to dad about our delinquent behavior.

All grades were taught simultaneously with older students helping teach the younger ones.  About 20 students were the most we had at any one time.  To this day I still remember the names of 8 of those students, not counting my brother and two sisters.  Funny what the mind chooses to remember.

Students helping students under the tutelage of competent, orderly, and compassionate teachers produced students who were well educated.  For two years all four of the Burr kids were going to Woodall at the same time.

Sometimes I would ride my bike to and from school with one sister sitting on the handle bars,  another in front of the seat and Leo on the seat.  I stood up and pumped.  Of course, we walked up the three hills to and from school but going down was a blast.  We never worried about the danger of turning over at such speeds.   We were kids having fun.

I was one of the oldest  students attending that year.   Because I was a good student, the sisters asked me to help with the younger kids.  Helping teach my siblings was a great experience.  In a way, it was an extension of my responsibilities at home.  Rural family life usually placed responsibility on the oldest child to care for the younger ones.

I liked school and was eager to learn.  Because I tested well in reading, writing and arithmetic, the sisters recommended to my parents that I skip the eighth grade and go straight to high school. When mom told me that, I was totally surprised and a little frightened.

We moved to Warner to start over after school was out.   It was an easy decision for mom and dad  to enrolled me in the ninth grade. But I had problems adjusting to the new school.  The place was big, the kids had their own friends and I was  treated like a backwards hick from the sticks.   And I guess I was.

Shortly after school started I got into a fight which I lost.   (I will repost that story in a few days).   After that my interest turned from school, to helping dad make his business a success.  If you can call “junking” a business.

I made a few C’s that year, but interest in my family’s business rated an A+ in my mind.  For the next three years I learned a lot about fixing cars, made straight A’s but had  few friends.

 

RAGS

 

RAGS WAS GREY/WHITE WITH SAD EYES

RAGS WAS GREY/WHITE WITH SAD EYES

 

I didn’t know where he came from.  He just showed up one day, dirty and unkept.  I turned the water hose on him and we became best friends.    I named him Rags.

I’ve heard people ask, “can someone love a pet?”  Affection, yes, but Love?

This is a story of a dog.  I was nine when I found my first and only pet.

Rags was a descriptive name from his appearance but he was a dog with heart.  Rags didn’t show affection in the usual manner by licking or seeking to be touched or stroked.  He would bring me a stick to throw or run and expect me to chase or tag along.  Rags proved to be a brave and loyal dog more than once.

After a few days it was apparent that he had been around livestock. He helped me round up cows. I would find the cows and yell at them to go to the barn. Rags would do the rest.

Mom had about two dozen laying hens that she kept in a pen in the daytime and the hen house at night. . Alfreda and Brenda would walk and talk to the hens as they fed them. I never thought hens made good pets, but what did I know. The hen house provided protection at night. Mainly foxes but other predators had tried to get inside the fence but to no avail.

One dark night a fox got inside the fence and inside the hen house as well. The hens made such a racket it woke up the whole family. Before we could get to the crime scene, Rags had found the hole in the fence and had followed the fox into the hen house. When we opened the door, we saw hens scattered and Rags in the corner with the fox in his mouth. That night he became a member of our family.

Sometime later, Rags and I were playing in the pasture, a wolf appeared not more than fifty feet in front of us. Rags was after the wolf before I could say a thing. The wolf stood his ground momentarily and then took off with Rags in hot pursuit. Lucky for Rags the wolf didn’t stand and fight.

Many dogs have the habit of chasing cars. My dog was one of them.  Although few cars traveled the gravel road in front of our house, my dog chased this one. The rear wheel ran over him. He did not recover.

I loved Rags.

 

 

 

 

MY BIG CHANCE

baseball-1425124_960_720It was a hot June day in 1953.  Even though it was the hottest it had been in a long time, it was not too hot to play baseball. As it happened, I had a lot of experience playing ball in the school yard of Woodall school.  We played stick ball with kids from grades one through eight. We would choose up sides and play ball.

When it came to bragging rights, I figured I could play with any team from Webbers Falls or Porum. After all, I was arguable the best player among the 20 students that attended Woodall.  I might be only 12 but I could play ball.  So I should be able to play with the big teams.

When the player/coach from the Porum baseball team recruited me to play for them against Webbers Falls in an upcoming tournament, I jumped at the chance.

I was not a starter but being on the bench was alright by me.  My chance came in the ninth inning with Porum behind one run. Our lead-off hitter got on, but hurt his leg running to first. The coach called me to first base.

A few minutes earlier as I sat on the bench by one of the older guys (he must have been about 16) who asked if I wanted a chew. I didn’t know what he meant at first and then I saw the Beachnut pack he had in his hand. I had noticed earlier that several of our players were chewing.

I wanted to be one of the guys, I bit off a wad, rolled it into my check to moisten it and got ready to play. I made it to second on a ground out and to third on a fly out. I had already forgotten about my chew in the excitement of the game. The coach called time and whispered for me to run on anything hit by the batter.

Caught up in the game, I had inadvertently swallowed several times. Between the time the coach had given me instructions to run and the time the batter hit the ball, I remembered.  Instinctively, I ran when the ball was hit but as I sled into home, the catcher had me dead to rights.

I went to the dugout and got sick. The guys thought I was sick because I lost the game. I didn’t tell them any different.

GROWING COTTON IN THE 1950’S

A HEALTHY COTTON PLANT

A HEALTHY COTTON PLANT

America’s economy was booming in the 1950s as post war demand for goods and services was on the rise.  But the small farmer did not benefit from the booming economy while larger farming operations were reaping the benefits of increasing demand.

The number of small farmers were reduced by half during the 1950’s  and early 1960’s.  Our farm was one of those.

I remember dad would plant cotton seed in early spring.  A few weeks later, mom, Leo and I would hoe the seedlings to thin out the plants so the remaining ones would have access to more nutrients and water.  A lot of people chopped cotton in California and Oklahoma, but mom was the best that I ever saw.  It is all about arm rhythm coordinated with a uniform walking pace.

About a month after chopping, dad would cultivate the rows to release more food for the growing plants. Flower buds should begin to show up about two months later and pods or bolls about three days after the petals fell off.  As the plants matured in the hot sun, cotton fibers then would push open the bolls like white cotton candy ready for picking.

What I have described is what should have happened, but in the two years we planted cotton it never happened as it should.  The plants did not mature and did not produce as expected. The reason was twofold.

The soil was poor and had not been cared for properly, such as rotating crops and resting the soil every 7th year.  But more importantly, the weather did not cooperate.  In fact, we were in the middle of a drought for most of the years dad farmed.  My folks started farming in 1948.

A drought is an understatement. I decided to do some research. The Oklahoma Climatological Survey reported the follow statistics:

1950-1956 was driest 7 year period of the century

1952-1956 was driest 5 year period of the century

1954-1956 was driest 3 year period of the century

June, 1953 was warmest June of the century

February, 1954 was warmest February of the century

1954 was the hottest year of the century

After reading this I wondered how we stayed on the farm as long as we did.  I think it was because dad was committed to an ideal.   A dream that he held on to for a long time.

We left  the farm in the summer of 1954 to find other ways to make a living.

I still have fond memories of that period in my early life in spite of the hardships endured by the Alfred Burr family. Hardships taught my family such lessons as self reliance, helping others, and the importance of family.  Attributes I hold dear.

 

BURNING BARN

ALFRED AND ADDIE BURR WERE MARRIED IN 1939 AND LIVED IN POSSUM HOLLAR

Alfred Burr and Addie Blackwood were married in 1939.  After the war, in which dad served valiantly, mom and dad bought a small farm of 60-80 acres and leased another 40 for a cow pasture.

The farm was located about 8 miles southeast of Warner and by most standards was unfit for farming.  But my folks were stubborn.

By this time we had a family of six.  We had lived on the farm about three years when our barn burned,  I think it was 1951.

As was our custom on Wed evening, we went to church at Woodall Elementary School house.  I don’t think us kids had a choice as to deciding to go to church or not.  Although I cannot remember not wanting to go.  It was a family activity and a community event.  The service lasted about one and a half hours.

After a few minutes of socializing after the service,  we exited the side door facing southeast.  There in the distance was a glowing image. It was apparent from the distance and direction that either our house or the barn was on fire.

THE FOUR BURR KIDS, JACK, LEO, ALFREDA, AND BRENDA

We hurried home and found the barn almost completely on the ground still hot from the intense fire.  Many of our neighbors followed us home and expressed their sorrow at our misfortune.  Several men stepped forward and pledged to organize the community and rebuild the lost barn.

Dad theorized that spontaneous combustion caused by newly stored alfalfa was the culprit.  About three tons of green alfalfa were stored in the barn loft.  Alfalfa, in particular, is a notoriously hot straw when curing.  Our mistake was to store the hay before it was fully cured.

The men who were there watching the charred remains held true to their pledge.  Labor and materials started arriving and within three weeks we had another barn standing in the same place.  Many men worked every day to finish the job.

This was not only a testament to the generosity of the community but also to the respect they afforded my dad and his family but most of all a devotion to God.  Such generosity was fairly typically in a rural community in those days where religion was a way of life .

Dad thanked each of those who helped raise a new barn.

Mostly, he thanked God.

DAD TALKS ABOUT HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS

 

DAD MOVED INTO THE CABIN IN LEFT BACKGROUND IN HIS TEEN YEARS

DAD MOVED INTO THE CABIN IN LEFT BACKGROUND IN HIS TEEN YEARS

During the last year or so of his life,  dad talked some about his teenage years.  We sat on the front porch as he would talk, occasionally pausing, caught up in a recollection of the past.

I would wait and soon he would pick up where he left off or would go to a different topic. It mattered not to me as I only wished he would talk more in this fashion.

I had seen pictures of the farm place where he grew up. His dad owned several hundred cows and dozens of horses. There was much to do around the farm all the time.

He talked lovingly of his sisters and his mother. He talked of the shed he moved into when he was about 15 or 16.  He did so because as the children grew, the family was getting too large for the main house.

DAD’S BROTHERS AND SISTERS

Alfred was one of eleven children. Frank and Lydia’s children were born in three groups, each separated by a few years. Dad was in the oldest group and was surrounded with 3 sisters who doted on him. That was particularly so when he was sick or injured such as the time when he broke his kneecap trying to ride Tall Booger, his dad’s horse.

As a teenager, dad frequently rode his horse Snip instead of walking.  He said he would  saddle Snip and visit neighborhood boys who lived several miles from the Burr farm and would stay for 3 or 4 days. He said such long visits were customary.

ALFRED BURR, JUANEVA (PIP) BURR, AND HELEN BURR

Dad’s sisters kept his clothes washed and ironed .  Helen cut and curled his hair.  Frank Jr.  said of his brother, “Alfred looked like a million bucks every time he got on his horse to go somewhere”.  Sometimes, his destination was possum hollow where he had a girl-friend or two.

FrankJr. also told the story about the girl friends,“ it seems that our neighbors’ girls would pick on Alfred knowing that he wasn’t allowed to hit back. He had five sisters and his mom eventually told him to treat them like ladies as long as they acted like ladies and if they acted like a man then treat them like a man.  I think that took care of his problem with the neighbors girls also”.

It was somewhat unique that three of dad’s siblings, Ed, Tom and Judy, were younger than me.  While I was the oldest of mom and dad’s kids, it seemed   odd for me to call them aunt and uncle.  And so I didn’t.   I had more in common with Fred, the oldest of the last group, because he was about my age and among other things, He taught me how to crack walnuts.

The next youngest sibling after the three was Robert, nick-named Jack.  Dad spoke about Jack’s outgoing personality and generoisity.  I think dad left home about the time Robert was born to start a new life with his wife Addie.

Jack was my best man and was a special friend to Phyllis and me.  The next youngest, Frank, was about seven when dad left.  Uncle Frank contributed to this story as well as others that tell of dad’s life on the farm.

Dad’s rambling recollection of events of this time period jumped from one event to another.  It was obvious to me that there were some things he did not wish to talk about.

Namely, his experiences in the Army during WWII.  However, at the very end of his life, he did tell me enough that I was able to piece together his story of fighting in Europe during the final days of WWII.  I have written several stories about this which have been previously pubished (www.possumhollar.com).

When dad would pause I left him to his private memories until such times as he returned to the present. It was clear that he loved his brothers and sisters, not so much as what he said, but by the emotions they evoked by the telling of stories about them.

I was privileged to travel with dad along the emotional path he meandered during the last few years of his life as I listened to his stories of the old times.  Fond memories I will cherish, and also share with my readers.

 

TRAPPING RABBITS

 

p1070922The year was 1950 and my family of five lived on a farm south of the coal pits and about 8 miles north and a bit east of Porum,  You could draw a triangle from Webbers Falls to Warner and to Porum and back to Webbers Falls and you would find our farm right in the middle.  We worked (the whole family) each doing our part as families did back then.  But we also had our share of fun.

While fishing and noodling were my two most favorite pastimes, I also liked to trap rabbits and birds. When I was nine I built my first rabbit trap. It wasn’t a masterpiece but it did have a trap door that closed when the trigger was tripped.

My inspiration for trapping wild things came from dad. He had borrowed a neighbors tractor and was plowing a field. Corn was the crop he intended to plant in the spring and plowing under the cotton stubble this fall would help the new crop next year.

I was riding on the fender and enjoying the silence between us, when dad suddenly stopped the tractor. He reached under his seat and took an old plow wrench. A jackrabbit had paused about 20 or so feet in front of us. I don’t know where it came from but the animal was absolutely still. Cotton tails were more common but jacks were around.  With a side arm throw he hit that big Jack in the head and it dropped and didn’t move. When dad was a young man he was agile and athletic. He was on that rabbit before I could even move.

After we finished plowing the field we went to the house and showed off our trophy. Of course, the part about the plow wrench was hard to believe. I watched dad clean the rabbit so I could do it next time. Mom covered it in flour and cooked it in hot grease. It wasn’t a lot of meat but each of us got a piece. She made lots of gravy and a big pan of biscuits. Biscuits were her specialty and her gravy made from saved bacon grease was delicious.

The family refused to eat rabbit meat except in late fall and winter because it was believed that parasites lived in the meat of a wild rabbit and only a cold spell would make the meat edible. But since it was late fall any rabbit I trapped would be eaten.

The problem was, I didn’t catch one.  But we did have lots of biscuits and gravy.

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