My Sit-Up Strike
by Rowena A. Moitoret
EVERY NOVEMBER of my childhood in west Texas there was a disagreement between my parents. This was unusual because they usually didn’t disagree about anything. My mother may not have agreed with everything my father said or did, but she kept quiet about it because she didn’t like arguments, and she really seemed to believe that a husband should rule the family.
But on the matter of whether we would all go down and join her family in Colorado City for a reunion and Thanksgiving dinner, she found it difficult to be completely quiet and indifferent because she really wanted to go. Moreover, we children wanted to go, and we had no hesitation about saying so, loudly and often. We liked most of our town cousins, and we liked having turkey and cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce and celery and fruitcake and ambrosia (orange sections and coconut mixed together) and sweet-potato pie – most of these things we never had at home. Also we liked having a day off from picking cotton.
The cotton picking, that was the reason my father thought we ought to stay at home. He was usually worried about the weather, afraid the winter rains and winds would come before we got the cotton all gathered. (Now that I realize how it must have been for him, trying to keep us all fed during those Depression years, I feel more sympathetic toward his point of view.) He didn’t dislike my mother’s relatives, but he had difficulty in having what he thought of as an interesting conversation with his brothers-in-law, because none of them was a farmer, and he couldn’t even stir up a good lively political discussion because my grandmother wouldn’t have approved of anything that sounded like an argument. Arguments weren’t “nice.”
So I could understand why my father didn’t care much about going to the annual Thanksgiving Day gathering, but what I disliked most was the way he kept grumbling about it. My idea was that once he’d made the decision to go, he should have kept quiet and let the rest of us enjoy the expedition. Maybe my mother was used to this and knew he didn’t really mean it, but I loved and admired him most of the time, and I guess I couldn’t bear to see his feet of clay showing so plainly.
The Thanksgiving Day I particularly remember must have been when I was about ten years old. My father grumbled and complained all the way to town – all 18 miles – and my mother sat there quietly, and, I thought, rather sadly. Then we all got out of the car in front of grandmother’s house and I started (with considerable relief) up the front walk. Several of my younger cousins were sitting there in a pile of sand, making sand pies in small lids and pans, and just as I walked past, little cousin Kay lifted up a pan full of damp sand and threw it right in my face.
I don’t really think she meant to throw it at me – I just happened to be walking where she happened to throw it. Maybe at any other time I would have just brushed it out of my mouth and eyes and gone on into the house. But this time it was just one bit of trouble too many, and I turned and darted around the house looking for a place to hide until I felt better.
At the back of grandmother’s house there was some sort of shed with a corral fence next to it. I hastily climbed up on the fence and onto the corrugated metal roof of the shed and crawled along until I found a sort of hiding place under the eaves of the house. There I huddled and cried all the sand out of my eyes and kept on crying.
Of course eventually I was missed and people came looking for me – I think it may have been my favorite cousin, Alice, who spotted my hiding place and came up to ask me why I was sitting up there crying. But I couldn’t tell her because it was her little sister Kay who had thrown the sand into my face, and I didn’t want to get her into trouble. Different people came up to talk to me, including my mother, but I couldn’t really explain to anyone what was the matter. Someone brought me a plate of Thanksgiving dinner, and this improved my feelings a little, but I still didn’t come down. I stayed there until my mother called to me that it was time to go home, and then I got down and went quickly to get in the car.
This sounds rather sad, but I feel sure that some good came from it eventually – for my own children. I learned that I might sometimes have to do things that I didn’t particularly want to do, but if I did agree to do them, then at least I could do them cheerfully. And, after 50 years, if there is still anyone around who wonders or cares why I sat up on the shed roof that Thanksgiving Day – well, now you know!
A Lesson in Saving Face
by Rowena A. Moitoret
SUMMER was especially hot and drouthly the year I was ten. My sisters and I had hoed cotton all through June and July, and since there had been practically no rain during that time, we had gotten all the fields “laid by” – that is, they were fairly clear of weeds, the soil was loosened by the cultivator-plow, and there was nothing more to be done except to hope for a good soaking rain in time to help the crops. Usually in August we made a trip out to the mountains in New Mexico to visit Uncle Mark, Aunt Nina, and our seven boy cousins, but not this year.
“Crops aren’t going to amount to much even if it clouds up and rains tomorrow,” my father said, discouragement in his voice. “We just can’t afford a trip.”
A trip wasn’t all we couldn’t afford, either. I heard my parents talking in the kitchen when they didn’t know I was nearby. “I’ve just got to figure out some way to pay our bill at the store,” my father was saying. “Can’t expect Pink Fuller to keep on letting us have groceries through another month – he’s got to live too.”
“Well, I can pay part of it with egg money,” my mother said, “And we needn’t buy very much. We’ve still got pinto beans and plenty of black-eyed peas and tomatoes in the garden, and the grapes and peaches will be ripening soon. Of course, I will need some sugar to put up the grape jelly, and we’ll need some flour and corn meal, and you’ll need a little tobacco.”
“Well, I could borrow a little at the bank; my credit is good. But I kind of hate to if we can get by without it. This drouth is hard on everybody. I heard that the Dunn Ranch is already having to buy feed for the cows – just not enough grass. Mr. Dunn is going to get a burner and burn the thorns off the prickly-pear cactus, too. Cows’ll eat those if they get hungry enough.”
“It’s too bad our creek pasture isn’t nearer to the Dunn Ranch,” my mother said thoughtfully. “We’ve got the five milk cows in there, but they haven’t eaten all the grass. And there are plenty of ripe mesquite beans down there.”
That must have been what put the idea into my father’s head. That night at the supper table he was full of enthusiasm. “I’ve got an idea how you kids can earn yourselves a little money,” he told us. “You know those big old mesquite trees down along the creek are just loaded with beans, more than our milk cows will ever eat. The beans are falling on the ground, going to waste. Why don’t we gather up some of them in the trailer and take them up to sell to Mr. Dunn? It’d be doing him a favor. Cows like those old mesquite beans, too, especially if they have a little sorghum syrup poured on.”
So the next morning my father and the five of us children, armed with a rake or two and some buckets and baskets, took the car and trailer down to the pasture. We hung our water jug in the shade of the hackberry tree and went to work. I suppose it was at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the scant shade provided by the gnarled old mesquite trees. We children were all barefoot – our feet were remarkably tough from having been exposed to hot sand and stones and “stickers” all summer, but we could still let out an agonized “ouch” when we landed in a patch of grass burrs. Grass burrs were the worst enemy – they were pea-sized and covered all over with sharp, slightly-hooked points which would cling viciously. The goat-head stickers were a little less deadly – they had only two blunted points, rather like the horns of a minuscule goat.
We didn’t have gloves, either, so our hands got their share of pricks as we gathered the fallen mesquite beans from the ground. It soon became evident to us that we had gotten into some real work, worse than hoeing, even more tiresome than picking cotton.
My father told us stories, though, all about the wagon journey he’d made as a boy of twelve when his father had left the more settled areas of South Texas to move to the wilder country of West Texas, then only recently vacated by the Comanche and Kiowa Indians. He told us about picking oranges in California when he was a young man, and helping to excavate Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and staking a claim on a homestead in northern New Mexico soon after he was married.
So we worked along, then sun beating down on us, the locusts whirring now and then, the red dust settling on our sweaty hands. I’m not sure just how or when it came about, but at some point we children accepted the idea that the money we hoped to earn would be used to pay the grocery bill. We worked for several days – we might have stopped sooner except that we felt it might look silly to approach a big rancher like Mr. Dunn with anything less than a trailer load of mesquite beans. (This was the two-wheeled trailer my father used to haul cotton to the gin, but with the tall sideboards removed, so that perhaps it was two and a half feet deep.)
When we reached the Dunn Ranch with our load of mesquite beans – naturally we children had all gone along for the ride – Mr. Dunn did seem pleased that we had brought him some cattle feed.
“Kids didn’t have anything to do now that the crops are laid by,” my father explained, “so they thought maybe they could earn a little spending money.”
“Well, you are a bunch of hard-working kids,” grinned Mr. Dunn as he handed two ten-dollar bills to my father. “What are you going to do with all this money – spend it on candy and soda pop?”
“Oh, we aren’t going to spend it on candy or soda pop,” I spoke up. “We’re going to –”
“We’re going to think about it for a little while,” my older sister Viola put it hastily, giving me a look that fairly shouted, “Shut up!”
We went by Cuthbert store on the way home, and my father paid up our grocery bill, even having enough left over for a sack of sugar and a can of cocoa and a couple of cloth bags of Bill Durham tobacco and cigarette papers. Pink Fuller put a sack of stick candy in with the bag of groceries as he always did when we paid our bill.
At home again, Viola and I sat in our swings made from worn-out auto tires hung on ropes from limbs of the largest mesquite near our house. Twilight had cooled the dry dust underfoot, and we twisted the swing ropes up tightly and then let them unwind, drawing circles with our bare toes as we twirled. We sucked our lemon-flavored stick candy slowly, making it last.
“Why did you butt in and stop me from talking to Mr. Dunn?” I wanted to know.
“Because I knew exactly what you were going to tell him,” she told me. “You were going to tell him that we were going to use that money to pay the grocery bill.”
“Well, we were.”
“Of course we were, but maybe one of these days you’ll grow up enough to know that you needn’t tell everything you know, especially things like being so poor you have to pick up mesquite beans to pay the grocery bill. Mr. Dunn prob’ly knew anyhow, but it just didn’t need to be said!”
Edited, published, and printed by Jake Warner. Handset in Deepdene, Deepdene Bold, and Deepdene Bold Italic. Initials are Lombardic. Text paper is 70-lb. Ivory Sunray Vellum Text and cover is 65-lb. Ivory Sunray Vellum Opaque Cover. Inks are Van Son Mint Green and 40904 Black. The text was printed on an SP-15 Vandercook and the cover on a 10×15 C&P in an issue of 460 copies.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20700