Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series.
My, what great memories I have of the old tobacco farm, The Little Farm on Brown Road, in Cycle, North Carolina.
It was there in the 1940’s and 1950’s that I was taught all about life. I was taught to work hard, even at an early age. At the age of five or six years old, Dad put a hoe in my hand. I was a part of Clyde Brown’s work force. Dad did not hire people to work; he grew his own help. Working was not an option. It was required. We all had to work together to make ends meet.
Back in my childhood days, tobacco was the cash crop throughout Yadkin County and the surrounding counties. Most hard working families did not have the luxury of going to the grocery store and buying things that they needed, much less things they wanted. We grew our own groceries and only had cash available in the fall of the year when we sold our tobacco. This hard-earned cash was used to buy school clothes, shoes (one pair a year) and the few things we could not grow in our garden: pinto beans, sugar, salt, pepper and coffee.
We carried sacks of shelled corn and sacks of wheat across Hunting Creek to Paul Caudle’s Mill, where we got it ground into cornmeal and flour. Paul Caudle would take a ten percent toll of our grain as payment for his services. I was always fascinated by the mill in action. Water power was simply amazing.
We always ate simple meals at the Brown farm. For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy. If the hens were not laying, we just had biscuits and gravy. For dinner (the noon meal), we had pinto beans, taters and biscuits. For supper, we had cornbread and milk. All of us youngins would eat our cornbread and milk in a bowl, just like our Dad, complete with the big spoon.
These were our three meals a day all of my life growing up on the poor tobacco farm. There were no changes in our meals, except for an occasional strawberry, blackberry, sweet tater or peach saunker (cobbler). To this day, my favorite meals are what I was raised on. I love the biscuits and gravy, the pinto beans, taters and biscuits and the supper of cornbread and milk. Mom used to cook as many as 50 biscuits a meal two times a day. She formed these biscuits by hand, with love for her family. Mom, like her Mom before her, made the best biscuits I ever ate. They would melt in your mouth and make your stomach yell for more.
The day on the farm started early, especially in the summertime. Dad would be up at least by 5 AM. We had breakfast together, all seven of us “youngins,” with Mom and Dad. Mom started off each meal praying to God to watch over her family and thanking God for the food. Families do not have meals together today, except for special occasions, and have drifted apart as a result. Thank God for our upbringing on the farm. Our family is still close today as a result of how we were raised.
All of us “youngins” had chores to do, in addition to working out in the tobacco field. We had to get out early to milk the cows, and to feed and water the chickens, hogs, cows and horses. Until 1950, we had to carry the water up the steep hill from the spring. We would usually be out in the tobacco field by the time the sun came up. Dad believed in hard work and taught us well.
In the spring, we had to prepare the land for the tobacco crop. All of the land was plowed with the turn plow, using old Nell, our horse. Dad would spend many spring days getting the land plowed and then harrow it or drag it. Then the tobacco rows were laid off with the single stock plow. We did not have a tractor until late 1950’s.
Next the land was fertilized by hand. The fertilizer was bought at Paul Dobbins’ Store out at Oak Grove Baptist Church. Dad used to go to school (Oak Grove School) in the building where the feed, seed and fertilizer was stored.
Joe Brown, a 1959 graduate of West Yadkin High School, can be reached at Haystackpress.com. He has published 25 books, including three books on West Yadkin School and also a series of books about his piece of the American Dream.