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A Matter of Pride

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Matter of Pride

(Submitted by Louise Eads DeHart)

When the Works Progress Administration (WPA), established May 1935 by Executive order, became active in Maries County, Missouri, my dad, Louis J. Eads, scoffed. He said that he was a farmer and not going to apply for any kind of government handout or employment. He further said that he certainly wasn’t going to accept any kind of “relief” or “give-a-away” food, that he would feed his own family. He did not know that the depression would continue to affect everyone and that the year 1934, the hottest summer on record for Missouri, would be followed in 1936 by the driest summer for the state. In addition to feeding his family, he had to provide feed and water for his livestock.

The year 1935 was hot, dry and miserable as well. In the spring of that year, my parents decided that I could help Dad farm. This was not a small endeavor, for I was at age nine to have a team of horses and implements. Dad had two breaking plows and his old team of Bob and Jim. He was going to let me use them because they were gentle and safe. He was going to use my grandmother’s team, a younger pair of horses. He taught me how to plow and I did a good job. I think that I did, for Dad never complained and the ground was turned over. At the corner of the field that had to be broken, one needed to pull the plow out of the open furrow, aim the point back into the ground and guide the team in the proper direction. I could do that well and didn’t find that the labor was too intensive. Later, we would harrow and get everything ready to plant. All was handled and we were very proud of our modest amount of planted corn.

The corn grew approximately to the height of my dad’s waist and then stopped growing. It didn’t yield very much, for there were insufficient rains and fertility. My family could not afford to buy fertilizer and the soil was rather barren. Corn is almost impossible to grow without fertilizer, but my dad was an optimist. I have not mentioned that we were planting our cornfields on my grandmother’s property, riding each day in a wagon for at least two miles before we reached the fields. We started out shortly after daylight and did not return until evening. Think of that tired old team of horses. They had to pull the wagon to take us to work, then toil all day and pull the wagon back home. My dad did feed his horses at noon, however, and led them to water. He spoke scathingly of farmers who did not feed the team at noon.

I think that it was about nine in the evening when we went to bed, just about darkness. Before that time dad and I might sit on the front porch, located on the north of our house, and look at the sky. We would discuss the possibility of rain and watch for “signs.” If the moon was tipped a certain way, we thought that might be a sign of rain, or perhaps no rain. My mother would say, “It’ll rain—it always has.” As I look back to those dry summers, I know that the rain or its absence was a controlling feature of my attitude. We often watched the rain “go around,” and my dad would say that it’s raining close by, then mention names of neighboring towns. Even today, it seems to rain less frequently at our homestead than it does in those communities.

No rain was very serious, because its lack meant that the pasture was woefully insufficient. I do not understand how my dad was able to keep his seven cows and two horses from starving. Also, there were hogs to be watered and fed, even fattened, for the winter supply of meat. A dry pasture meant that our animals were thirsty as well as hungry. A small stream, called Mag Creek, flowed on my grandmother’s property, but running water was not available at our farm. The pond went dry and our well was too shallow to use for watering cattle. This need for water caused my dad and me to drive our cattle to the Big Maries River (we called it the creek). We drove them for about two miles, and then had to make that long trip home. By the time that we returned, our animals were probably again thirsty. We had to do this twice every day. I wonder how we were able to accomplish this large task and how our cattle and horses were able to endure. I rode one horse and dad rode another as we drove the cows and their calves through the brush and woods, up and down hills, over rough terrain. We were, at times, going through a ravine to get to the creek. We called this ravine, “Persimmon Holler.”

My dad’s insistence that he would feed his own family without government assistance involved the same type of pride that caused him to feed his horses at noon. These were moral obligations and allowed for no deviation. I was sorry that we couldn’t have any of the “surplus” food, for I saw it at a neighbor’s house and it was tempting. These neighbors would not eat the canned beef, but they didn’t offer to send it home with me. I would gladly have taken it, for I had enjoyed it at another neighbor’s house. Yellow cornmeal was provided, but most would use only white cornmeal to make corn bread. Several times, I noticed a large amount of yellow corn meal sitting on a shelf at a neighbor’s house. My mother said the weevil would ruin it and she would gladly have used it. They ate the beans, I heard, but complained that the butter was stale.

The only public works that my father performed was “working out” the Poll Tax, through repair to a county road. He would hitch up his team of horses and travel to the designated location. He described his work to me. First, he hitched his team to a “slip.” This implement referred to a piece of metal that was sharp on the bottom front edge, and then formed into a large open scoop. It had handles and a team could be attached to the front, devising a method to move earth a few cubic yards at a time. The horses did most of the work, for they had to pull the slip as it cut into the earth, and then move it fully loaded. It was hard work too for a man to dump the load and aim the slip back into a bank of earth.

My dad felt in December 1937, however, that a government agency could help by lending him $35.00 for feed to fatten his calves. He rode a horse to our county seat and made the application. A representative came to our house after Christmas, looked around and advised that he would decide later. He denied dad’s loan request in his follow-up letter, explained that things looked prosperous, even that we had a nice tree and presents. We were doing the best that we could, and I recall that I received only modest presents that year; one of them was a sweater. We should have put them away before his visit, taken down the tree and given a truer image of our finances. My dad didn’t believe that he was asking for a handout; however, his government failed to assist by granting a loan. He had to ship his calves to market early that year, for he did not have money to buy feed. – Louise Eads DeHart

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