By Mary Mungar © 1988
Issue: January-February, 1988
In 1944, my father made the major decision to leave a good job as foreman at a defense plant, sell our home, pack up his family, and move south to farm.
The only life I had known since I was six was the city, where homes were so close together that there was only enough room to walk between them. Sometimes an apartment building was my home with concrete as my playground. Still there was always a bedroom that I didn't have to share with my brothers, electricity, gas, hot and cold running water, a bathtub, and a toilet in the house. The school was a block away. There was a park nearby and a store around the corner. Saturday was movie day and most of the time my father took us for a drive on Sunday. I had chores to do, the same as my brothers, but there was always some leisure time that I could spend with my friends or do something I wanted to do for myself.
It was a drastic change for a fourteen year old girl to move from this city environment into a two-room house in the south. The house was built on poles about eight feet from the ground because the Mississippi River overflowed in the spring. This was the solution of keeping water from getting into the house. No electricity, no gas, no hot or cold running water, no bathtub, and no toilet in the house.
My mother cooked on a wood burning stove. We used kerosene lamps, carried our water from a pump about five hundred yards from the house, heated the water on the wood stove, and took a bath in a big washtub. There was no kitchen sink and it was my job to wash dishes in a dish pan on the kitchen table. I helped my mother do the laundry on a scrub board in a washtub, and we ironed with irons that had to be heated on the stove. We had three beds in the living room. No one had their own bedroom, not even my mother and father.
When the sun came peaking over the eastern horizon in the morning, we were in the field working and were still there when the sun sank into the western sky. There was no leisure time for anything. The movies were more like once or twice a year now instead of every Saturday, and there were no more Sunday drives. The only time for friends was at church or school, which was about a mile away.
The grade school let out in May so the students could help their parents plant the crops. The school started again in July and let out in September so the students could help harvest the crops. They started back to school in November and went through May. The high school was a different story. It started in September and continued through May.
I had passed into the ninth grade and was ready for high school. I would have to ride the bus twenty-six miles into town since that was the only high school available to the rural areas. My father didn't want me to go to high school. He thought I should stay at home and help on the farm. His philosophy was that girls got married and had babies anyway so an education was a waste of time for them.
Registration day came at the high school. I caught the bus, went into town, and registered for school. Then I didn't have the money for books. I knew my father wouldn't want to buy my books so I went to see my uncle, who worked in town. I borrowed some money from my uncle to buy my books. I knew my father would pay my uncle back without comment, of course I heard about it.
After doing my chores when I got home from school, sometimes I was up until two o'clock in the morning doing my homework. My father gave me twenty-five cents a day for my lunch, which I used for paper and pencils. I didn't have clothes like the other girls, which is very important to a teenager. I couldn't participate in school activities because I had to catch the bus as soon as school was out, and there was work to do at home. I still helped in the fields when I could.
I stuck it out for two years then dropped out. I look back now and think - if I was strong enough for two years, I was strong enough for four. Now forty years later I'm attempting to do something that would have been a lot easier then; get an education.
The south has changed tremendously in the last thirty-five years. Freeways and toll roads spider web the south bringing industry and jobs to the southern people. The shacks that both black and white people lived in are gone or standing empty. Beautiful homes now dot the rolling countryside. The farms are run with chemicals and modern machinery, making a better life for the farmer. New schools and laws that require a child to attend school until sixteen, longer in some states, make education much more available. Good hospitals are within a reasonable distance. The little town where I lived part of my life has mushroomed into a small city and is still growing.
In those thirty-five years I also have changed a great deal. I understand the hardship of a small tenant farmer just starting out, and I understand the pressure on my father while trying to support a family with a small yearly income instead of the weekly income he had been accustomed to for so many years. Even though I had to make an extreme adjustment in those years, I think I'm a better person for it now than I would have been with a lot of leisure time in the city.