The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 14, 2013

Will ‘13 slow our moral decline?

Editor and Publisher
John H. Walker

TARBORO — There’s a photo pf a team of draft horses pulling a plow out at Eddie Dail’s farm on Saturday as he hosted his fourth annual old-time farm days.

As is often the case, my intentions were to get out there and get some time driving a tractor, but dreary weather and about 100 pounds of pecans — mixed into about a billion leaves — took precedent.

My interest in climbing up on a tractor stemmed from the fact that I learned how to drive on an old, Case Eagle-hitch tractor.

Daddy managed about 2,500 acres of cotton, along with acreage planting in oats and soybeans, and there was a lot of open space where  youngster couldn’t run in to anything once the fields had been plowed under after the harvest.

•     •     •

Daddy had two mules that were still on the place and, honestly, except for pulling a single-headed plow to open up the turnrows after a heavy rain, I don’t remember anything else they were used for.

I do remember the summer of 1960 or so, when those two mules were stricken by anthrax and had to be put down.

The pen where they were kept was on a little field road on which I would ride my bicycle and Daddy told me to stay away because the mules were sick.

I remember hearing those shotgun blasts the day they were put down. I guess if I had known it was coming, it would have been more jolting to me.

Watching my Daddy’s reaction when he came to the house for supper helps me think I understand, as an adult, part of why he never had a lot to do with guns.

After that, any time it rained enough for water to stand in the turnrows, Daddy and I would put on our black, rubber knee boots and grab a couple of hoes as we walked the fields to help the water drain.

•     •     •

Granny Walker still had a mule when I was growing up and used him to plow the gardens she had scattered all over the country.

One of the things she used that old mule for, though, was her cane mill — where five- and six-foot stalks of sugar cane were fed into a corkscrew-type press and the juices squeezed out.

Granny would take the juices and, as he mother and grandmother had done, make cane syrup.

And I can tell you, that syrup was pretty darned good poured over Granny’s big, old cats head biscuits that we had pinched up on a plate!

•     •     •

Technological advances have been many in agriculture and it’s important that our young folks learn how things were once done.

I remember the short, wooden-sided trailers into which sack after sack of cotton picked by hand was dumped.

Daddy kept a little spiral notebook in his shirt pocket and would get it out when it was time to weigh out for the day.

Everyone who picked had their own page, where their weights were written for the week. At the end of the day, Mama would run the numbers on an old 10-key adding machine just to double check ... although Daddy’s math skills were never to be challenged.

At the end of the week came payday — $3 per 100 pounds picked. My rate of pay for carrying buckets of water out into the fields was that same $3 — a day.

I didn’t mind it when technology took my job!

(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner. He can be reached at 823-3106.)