Year 2000 Award WinnerA Pound of Fruit
© Copyright 2000 by Mike West
We lived in what Pa called a depression, what that meant I didn't really know at that time. I did know this though, some nights I'd go to bed hungry. Ma cried a lot in those days, but she never told us why. Some nights when my hunger kept me awake I could hear my parents talking. Ma would ask, "What are we going to do?" Pa said, "All we can do honey, is our best." Ma cries and says we are sending our children to bed hungry. Pa doesn't say anything for a while. Then he tells her, "I'm sorry." They stop talking and I would fall asleep.
During that year we all worked harder, but yielded less. Pa lost his job at the feed mill January of that year. Mr. Jenkins his boss told him when things got better he could come back to work. Things got worse not better, so we all had to work the farm just to get by.
Every year on June 1 for as long as I could remember there had been a pound of fruit party held down by the river. The banquet of fruit was to celebrate the coming of spring. The party was also held for fellowship, but most of all the joy of eating fruits we rarely get. Everybody who comes to the occasion brings a pound of fruit, and we all shared it. One time Bruce Long actually brought a pineapple. Most of us had never seen one before. When I first saw it, I didn't know how we could eat it. To me it looked like an over grown pine cone. There were these sharp thorns all over its outside, and what appeared to be a young corn plant coming out of the top. We Mississippians in 1930 rarely got to see such exotic fruits. Most people brought apples, oranges, grapes, plums, peaches, and the like to the party.
My Ma was worried about the party not being held this year, because of the depression. We were sitting at the dinner table and Ma asked Pa,
"Jim, do you think we'll have the fruit party this year?"
"I think so even if we only have apples." Pa said looking at me and my brother Tim with a smile.
"You boys like apples don't you?"
"Yes sir I love them, especially in pies." Tim said with a beaming grin.
"Yeah I like apple dumplings." I said with a look at Ma. She smiled and said, "Joe when this depression is over I'll make you a pot full, and it will be all for you. Tim, you'll have a pie all to yourself too." We all laughed and ate our supper. We were having a bowl of mustard greens, and a slice of cornbread. We had to drink water, because May our cow had gone nearly dry. Pa said it was the lack of grain. Her grazing in the pasture isn't enough for her to produce milk every day. She is giving a bucket every two days. Most of the milk was churned for butter so Ma could use it in her cooking. We hadn't had any milk to drink for a week. Pa said the next bucket we could have. I really didn't like the taste of milk, but it filled my belly and that felt good. I never said anything to Ma and Pa about how hungry I was, because I knew they worried about Tim and me.
We talked to other kids at school, and they were having the same problem of not getting enough to eat. We tried to make sense of the depression, and the only thing we could make out about it was that as long as it was around we'd be hungry. Our teacher told us one day when we asked him about it, "That it was to do with the banks not having any money." For a ten-year-old it didn't make any sense. I've heard Pa talk about the banks, from what I could understand they have all the money in the world behind their doors. I couldn't think why they wouldn't let us poor hungry people have some of it. I guess they just had enough to feed their kids, and nobody else.
The day before the pound of fruit party Pa brought in a bag of apples for the banquet.
"I bet there'll be a lot of apples at the party tomorrow. He said laughing and holding the bag over his head as if he wasn't going to give us one. He gave each of us an apple to eat. We all laughed with Pa, and each of us ate our apple. They were large red and juicy.
"Pa, these are the best apples I've ever had." I said smiling with apple skin sticking to me teeth. Everybody pointed and laughed at me that is except Ma.
"Joe, don't talk with your mouth full it makes you look so silly." She said with a slight smile. Seeing her smile was so wonderful, because she has been sad forever, it seemed. Ma is beautiful when she smiles and laughs. I didn't know until then how much I'd missed her being happy.
Ma started for the kitchen saying, "I better start supper before it gets dark, we don't want to waste the kerosene." There were many people in Mississippi who didn't have electricity in their houses. We did, but our power was cut off three months ago, because Pa said we couldn't afford it any more.
After supper I helped Ma wash the dishes. Tim went to the well fetching water for our baths. We didn't have indoor plumbing like the rich did. The first time I saw an inside outhouse was at the Sims home. Tim and I were doing yard work to make extra money helping Ma and Pa. Mrs. Sims invited us in for lunch. After eating I had to use the outhouse and asked Mrs. Sims where their's was, because I hadn't seen it any where outside while we were cutting her grass. She pointed down the hallway saying, "Second door to the right." I thought she misunderstood what I'd said so I asked her again. She smiled and understood I'd never seen an inside bathroom.
"Come along Joe I'll show you how it works." We went down the hallway and she opened the door. The floor was all white, made out of some kind of smooth rock. The walls were covered with the same rock as the floor. Hanging on the wall was a kind of face bowl I'd never seen before. Mrs. Sims saw me looking at the bowl, and asked, "What you think of it Joe?"
"It's a wonder Mrs. Sims." She had the biggest bath tub I'd ever seen. You could actually put your whole body under water. It had some kind of silver handles on one edge. I walked to the tub looking at the beautiful silver handled whatever it was. Mrs. Sims came to the tub. "This is how it works Joe." She grabbed one of the handles and to my surprise water came out. When it did, I jump back, because I never expected water to come out of the this silver wonder. "It's ok Joe that's how it works." Mrs. Sims said smiling.
"You don't have to bring water from the well?" I asked overwhelmed
"No Joe all we have to do is turn the handle. This is the water closet." She said pointing to a bowl on the floor.
"This is where you...well you know." I looked at her then it came to me what she was talking about.
"I'll leave you so you can do your business." She said smiling again. I think she was enjoying me seeing her bathroom as much as I was.
"When you finish just pull this handle." She said pointing at a wooden handle hanging by a chain next to the wall.
"Ok." I said watching her leave the room. When I'd finished, I pulled the handle and the bowl started the water swirling. Then the bowl emptied with a sucking sound. At first I thought I'd broken it, but then it filled back up. It was a real marvel to see water running inside a house. When I got back to the kitchen Mrs. Sims asked if everything went all right. I could feel my face getting red when I answered yes ma'am just fine.
"Tim do you need to use the bathroom?" Mrs. Sims asked. Tim said no he was ok. When Tim and I got home, I told him about the bathroom and the running water. He thought I was lying until Pa told him that he'd helped put the bathroom in. The Sims house was the only one in Eupora with an inside outhouse.
We all woke early on the day of the party. Ma was in the kitchen making breakfast, which would be oatmeal. We've had oatmeal every morning now for three weeks. Pa had done some work for Mr. Williams down the road and he paid him in food. Most people couldn't pay with money so they had to trade. Pa called a barter system. I think the word barter means swapping.
"Morning Joe, ready to eat?" Ma said with a smile. I think she was looking forward the party. "Is Tim up yet?"
"Yes ma'am he's getting dressed."
"Good, because the oatmeal is ready."
"He's out getting the mule ready for the trip to town. Eager for the party Joe?"
"Yes ma'am I am." I always enjoyed the pound of fruit parties, because of the fruit, but more than that I loved the games we played. I mostly enjoyed the baseball game. There weren't enough boys to make up the teams so we had to let girls play with us. I don't like girls, but they really can play baseball pretty good. There is a girl named Mary Ann Wise, and she is always the first one pick when we choose teams. There isn't a boy in town who can hit the ball as good as she does.
"Gee Stomper." Pa said trying to get our young mule to speed up. When we first got the mule, we tried to think of a good name for him. We just couldn't think of one until Pa came in from the fields one day. Pa came into the house just a laughing. We asked him what was so funny. He told us about what the young mule did in the fields. Every time Pa got to the end of a row, and turned around to plow another row the mule would prance for three or four steps. Pa said when the mule did it the first time he thought that there might have been something under the his hooves. That wasn't what it was Pa found out on the next turn the mule did the same thing. I asked Pa, "Why would he do that?"
"Every mule is a little different. I think he's getting his step right with me. He might stop it after we work together a little longer." Stomper never did, every time Pa turned to plow another row Stomper would prance. Tim wanted to call him Prancer. We all thought it made him sound like Pa was plowing with one of Santa's deer. Ma wanted to call him dancer. Pa said if it had been a female that would be a good name. Pa was the one who came up with Stomper. He said, "I thought about it all day and he looks like he's stomping something more than dancing. So Stomper it was and we loved that young crazy mule.
We were surprised to see that the fruit table was cover with all kinds of delights. Bruce Long even brought a pineapple. The whole town turned out, and that hasn't happened in many years according to what Ma said. We had so much fun that day June 1, 1930, and I have never forgotten it. The fruits that day tasted better than they ever had. I did notice one thing though. None of the grown ups ate any fruit. That night I was happy and full. I heard Ma and Pa laughing there was no crying that night.
The hard times only lasted two more years. Pa went back to the feed mill, and in 1936 became a partner and had to stop farming. Tim was killed in 1944 on a beach called Omaha. I served in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. My mind had gone back to that pound of fruit party many times. It helped me get through the war with my mind intact. There were so many things I witnessed. I needed something to hold me together. June 1, 1930 on the banks of the Big Black River did the job. I thanked God for that day many times.
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