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The White Cousins, and much more, by Larry Leon Dixon

Bird Thrashing

"He's not moving! Is he dead?" The little ruffian stared down at the large black rubber tire and Jerry lying lifeless at the bottom of the steep hill. When the huge truck tire with Jerry securely tucked inside accidentally went hurdling down the hill at Uncle Henry and Aunt Vassie´s house, it made several high bouncing leaps just before it struck the tree. Had the antics of the White cousins just killed Jerry? This is going to be a complicated story so I will start from the beginning and explain it the best I can.

In 1838 the lust for gold in the streams of north Georgia and Alabama by the Anglo Saxons forced the Cherokee and Creek Indians Nation on the famous Trail of Tears. Homesteaders and immigrants, mostly Scotch-Irish, began migrating into and settling on the territory reluctantly vacated by the Indian tribes. James William White with his wife, Miranda, and six children eventually settled in the Cherokee county area and struggled to scratch out a meager living as share croppers on the flat sandy soil in the Coosa River valley. The life of a share cropper was difficult because half of your hard earned crop went to the land owner. To supplement their meager income and food supply the typical farm in the area had a mule, a milk cow, chickens, and pigs and trusty hunting hounds. During the hard times, the family supplemented their food supply by raising farm animals, harvesting berries and poke leaves in the wind rows of the near by fields. They also hunted wild game, fished in the near-by streams, using rabbit boxes and had bird thrashings.

Ausie William White, my grandfather, grew up working hard in the hot and dusty cotton and corn fields surrounding the city of Center, Alabama. Center was a small farming town with one bank, a general store, and the county court house. Periodically, the children would play practical jokes on each other to break up the monotony of the difficult farming life.

Just before the sun went down, Melvin quietly slipped out of the lap-sided farm house and ran undetected to one of the newly constructed brush piles. As he carefully crawled into the conglomeration of limbs and leaves he was thinking to himself "I am going to scare the living daylights out of my little brother Ausie." All week long, the White family had been clearing a section of land with double bit axes, cross cut saws and back breaking work to make more land available for farming. With a lot of sweat and sore muscles, the pine and hard wood thicket would eventually be transformed into a new cotton or corn field. Soybean wouldn't be introduced into the area until years later. The making of new ground, as it was called, involved the process of removing the larger rocks, cutting down trees and filling in all of the sink holes on a selected portion of land. The small tree stumps would be removed but the larger ones were plowed around. Eventually the large stumps would disintegrate enough to be pulled out by a mule or left to decompose back into the soil. The collection of discarded limbs and bushes were stacked in huge piles, allowed to dry and later would be burned to add nutrients back into the soil. The workers had been cutting bushes and trees for the entire week. Where once trees, saw briars and bushes had previously held a death hold on the precious farm land, now several large heaps of brush cluttered the cut over area. These new formed brush piles were perfect for bird thrashing.

The term "Bird Thrashing" was the harvesting of wild birds that roosted in the brush piles at night. The gathering of birds was a form of entertainment but most of all provided meat for the family´s table. A variation of birds would enter these huge piles of limbs and rubbish in search of bugs and caterpillars. At night the well fed birds would roost in the stacks of leaves and jumbled branches. The collection of brush provided protection from the nocturnal animals that would like to make an easy meal of them. The preferred eating bird was the doves, black birds, and quail but those less tasteful were the robin and blue Jay. The small wren wasn't even worth the effort.

During the day as the men were clearing the land they would select the perfect thorn bush for the bird thrashing party that night. The bird thrashing small limb or bush must be at least three feet long and have numerous long and sharp thorns. At dark, thinking they were safe for the night, the birds would finally settle down in to roost the brush piles. The men folk walking by the dim light of their flaming pine tops and kerosene torches would trip and stumble through the stumps and pot holes to reach the bird infested mound of limbs and leaves. By holding their torch high above their heads with their left hand, they could see into the depths of the cluster of limbs. With the lethal thorn bush in their right, they stood ready to swat the birds as they attempted to escape the light. If a man was lucky when he swatted at the escaping bird, it would be knocked to the ground wounded or dead. If not, a couple of more good swats of the deadly thorn bush and there would be meat on the breakfast the next morning.

Young Ausie begged his dad to allow him to go on the bird thrashing trip that night. His older brother Melvin had already gone on several and now he felt he was now big enough to go too. Being afraid little Ausie would get burned or burn some one with a flaming torch, his dad would only give him a thorn bush that was almost as tall as he was, but not a torch. Excited about being allowed to go, he ran through the pasture and into the cut over land. After tripping and stumbling over the stumps and pot holes getting to where he was going , little Ausie now stood over the first big brush pile with his thorn bush drawn back and ready to thrash a bird. He had the opportunity to thrash a bird but not the type he had planned on.

Suddenly Melvin jumped up from under the cluster of limbs and leaves and roared like a huge bear. The frightened little Ausie screamed and began swinging the thorn bush with all of his might at the huge bear that had just jumped up out of the bushes. The now not so smart Melvin quickly realized this trick on his little brother hadn't been such a good idea. He took three good swats from the vicious thorn bush before Melvin could escape his traumatized little brother. Some time the best laid plans of men didn't take in to account a frightened little boy with a thorn bush in his hand.

A Prayer and the Storm

Ausie and his little sister Alma were standing in the heart of an enormous cotton field where the rows of ankle-high plants extended to the horizon like long green fingers reaching for an unattainable prize. The energy-sapping summer sun was so intense that it had robbed the cloudless sky of its color, and the desperately needed breeze had been smothered by the intense heat. Two sweaty bare foot children had been working in the heat and dust of the field since sunrise this morning and they were tired. Working in these fields wasn't a choice for the youngsters but a necessity. The nutrient-stealing weeds had to be removed from around the young cotton plants or there wouldn't be a good crop this year. The only way to do it was with a long handle hoe and hard back breaking labor. Removing the pesky weeds and loosening up the soil around the young plants was referred to as "Chopping Cotton".

"You'll?? Kids! Its lunch time!" James White shouted "Les go to the house and get a bite to eat. We'll start back this afternoon." The dirty little farm hands soon lay exhausted on the front porch while their mother, Miranda, finished preparing the meal. Alma looked over at her big brother and said "Ausie, I'm too tired to go back into that hot field. Isn't there something we can do? Ausie thought for a couple of minutes and then said "I have an idea. Follow me." He and his little sister jumped off the front porch and ran around to the back of the house. When Ausie kneeled down on the dry earth and clasp his hands together, Alma followed suit. Then the desperate little boy began his prayer:

"Dear Lord, Me and my sister have been working hard in that hot cotton field all day. We are tired, our backs hurt and we have blisters on our hands from using those heavy garden hoes. After lunch Daddy is going to make us go back out in the field and we don't want to go. Would You please help us? Can You make it rain so we won't have to go. Amen."

When they returned back to the front porch they looked out over the fields but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. During lunch they would periodically glance out the open front door but still no clouds. After helping their mother clear the dishes from the table they heard their dad say the words they had been dreading to hear. "OK kids, its time we get back to work". Wearily the two little children walked back to the cotton field, returned to the spot where they had quit for lunch, grudgingly picked up the heavy garden hoes and began the manual task of "Chopping Cotton". With a disappointment in her voice, little Alma slowly looked up at Ausie and said "I guess our prayers weren't answered". Suddenly an unexpected breeze picked up, sending dust devils hopping and dancing through the dusty cotton field. In the distance could be heard the muffled rumbling of thunder shaking the earth. Without warning, a huge accumulation of black rain clouds boiled over the mountains and quickly covered the hot summer sun. A child´s prayer had been answered when James William yelled´ "Y´all kids head for the house. There´s a bad rain storm heading this way".

Their bare feet dug deep into the earth and tossed small clouds of dirt and dust into the air as the happy children dashed full speed though the cotton field trying to escape the approaching storm. Vicious winds howled and moaned and tossed up huge billows of dust and leaves high into the troubled atmosphere. Enraged bolts of lightning darted and danced across the now angry sky. Huge drops of rain the size of marbles struck the dry earth, creating small craters in the hot dust that generated puffing sound as the thirsty earth quickly swallowed them up. The thunder popped and rumbled like huge guns on battle ships firing on an unseen enemy. Suddenly the unexpected storm began to be frightening. The children were running for their lives as the solid sheet of rain chased them through the field and onto their front porch. "I have never seen a storm come up that quick before. It will be too wet to work in the fields any more today," James informed Miranda. That was music to the ears of the tired little farm hands.

At first the rain was tapping on the hot metal roof like British drummers leading the troops into battle. It quickly progressed to the deafening sound of hundreds of hammers pounding on the trembling tin roof. "Every body run for the storm shelter"! yelled James. A storm shelter is a room built underground to protect the homeowner´s family from frequently occurring tornados and severe storms. Miranda, James and the children stayed huddled up in the shelter until the terrible storm had finally passed over them. When it was finally safe to open the storm shelter´s door, they could see the terrible destruction of the storm had done to their farm and surrounding area. Limbs and farming equipment cluttered the whole area. The slab chicken house had been blown over and their traumatized chickens were scattered through out the yard and fields. Several trees had been uprooted and worst of all the house had been blown completely off of its stone foundation. The storm had created so much damage to the farm that it was now going take them at least a week of hard working days to clean up the area. The chopping of the cotton still had to be done but now would have to be put off to later. Ausie and Alma had learned a good lesson. When you pray for something be careful what you are asking for.

Ausie in the Military

The soothing rhythm of the clanking metal wheels combined with the gentle rocking of the passenger car was enticing the tired new recruit into a well deserved sleep. Young Ausie William White had completed basic training and was now on his way to France to fight in the First World War with his older brother Melvin. While looking out of the window of the troop train as it steamed through the Arkansas country side, the new recruit´s mind began drifting back to earlier times. His mother, Miranda, would make a second pan of biscuits because he and Melvin would have a contest of who could eat the most biscuits. He reminisced about the good times they had playing ball, swimming and fishing in the river, hunting in the fields, the corn cob and cow chip fights and other things that only a country boys could enjoy. He thought about how lonesome it was when his older brother left the share cropper´s farm to work on the Miller farm – a wealthy farmer. This was an economic necessity and a common practice for young boys in their early teens to become farm hands on larger farms. His parents wouldn't have the expense of feeding and clothing the boy and his earnings were sent back home to help support the family. Things were beginning to improve financially for the "White" family until Melvin received his draft notice in the mail. Ausie remembered the day Melvin caught the troop train in Piedmont, Alabama. His mother, dad and all of his brothers and sisters were standing in the old mule drawn wagon waving to him as the train left the station.

It was difficult for young Ausie to leave his family and be a farm hand at another much larger farm. Because of his attitude and always cracking jokes, he was quickly accepted by the Miller family and the other farm help. For his eighteenth birthday he received an unwanted surprise. It came in a bulky envelope with a large eagle stamped in the corner and the return address was from the United States government. The letter started out with "From the President of the United States, Greetings". Why would you send a letter that began with the words "greetings" when the poor draftee who had just received it was being involuntarily taken from his home and family, sent to a foreign land and had the strong possibly being killed by a total stranger? The letter should have begun with words like "we regrettably inform you or I am sorry but or sadly we inform you or unfortunately you have been selected or tough luck buddy or a this is definitely NOT your lucky day" Even though the First World War was winding down, Ausie had just received a draft notice for the military. Soon there was another trip in the mule-drawn wagon to Piedmont but pitiful Ausie didn't have a return seat on the trip home. It wasn't easy when he was waving "good by" to his older brother Melvin but it is a totally different set of horse shoes when you are the one sitting in the train and your family waving "good by" to you. Because of the cold wet Arkansas weather, the pathetic Ausie developed pneumonia and was delayed in completing his training on time but finally he was on his way.

When the troop train began to slow to a stop when it neared the station in Little Rock, Arkansas, he could see a multitude of excited people dancing around on the station´s wooden platform, shouting and waving the American flag. As the noisy locomotive finally came to a stop he could finally hear what all of the yelling was about. "The war is over! The war is over!" Those three words were music to his ears. Many of the disappointed soldiers were mad because they didn't have the opportunity to fight in the war. Their aggression and frustrations were taken out on the train and depot. The chaotic men almost destroyed the train and train depot. The men in uniform were cussing, kicking and trying to destroy every thing in sight. But not Ausie. All he wanted to do was get out of that itchy wool uniform and catch the next train back to Piedmont, Alabama. As he sat comfortably back in the seat he began thinking about his mother´s mouth-watering fried chicken and hot buttered biscuits.

The Courtship of Lovie and Ausie

Although Ausie belonged to the Pine Grove Baptist church, just east of the small town of Center, Alabama, one of the only sources of entertainment for a young man besides playing baseball was going to local churches and listening to the traveling singing groups in the area. If the truth be known it was also a good place for young single men to meet the single young women in the area. A beautiful sixteen year old young girl named, Lovie Beatrice Lane played the church organ and sang with one of the regional gospel groups in the area. The pretty little lass from Mays Crossroads Methodist Church didn't want anything to do with that tall lanky farm boy, Ausie White.

Like the majority of the people who lived in the small town of Piedmont, life was not easy for the Lane family. William Macon Lane was a lumber jack by trade and was gone the majority of the time so it was up to Lovie, her mother, six sisters and brother to provide the majority of food for the table when he was gone. Including the vegetables from the garden and yard chickens, there were a lot of cooked squirrel and rabbit served at their table. Her brother Bill was her protector and best friend and she sure didn't need another man in her life, especially a poor farm boy.

Ausie´s talent of telling jokes and making her laugh eventually broke the ice with Lovie and she saw what a special young man this farm boy was. To impress the love of his life, Ausie bought a new black horse-drawn buggy. On Saturdays nights and other opportunities that presented themselves, he would dress up in his only suit, slick back his long black hair, hitch up his horse to his new buggy and off he would go to court his future bride. On Christmas day, December 25, 1919, Ausie William White and Lovie Beatrice Lane were married in a simple ceremony at Pine Grove Baptist Church in Center, Alabama. Years later when he and his new bride got into an argument, Ausie would go to the barn, take out a buggy whip and begin whipping the old black one-horse buggy he had bought years earlier to impress Lovie with. As he let out his frustrations on the buggy, you could hear him yelling "This is all your fault! If I hadn't bought this buggy, I wouldn't be married and I wouldn't be argument with that hard headed woman I now call my wife."

The Great Depression

October 29, 1929 didn't mean anything special to Ausie White except he had finally gotten the remainder of his corn crop into the barn. He was thinking to himself, after all these years of hard work and with a couple more good seasons I would finally own more of the farm than the bank does. The stock market had suddenly bottomed out on what was referred to as Black Tuesday and a great number of rich investors had lost most if not all of their life savings. Some of those wealthy people had been desperate and depressed that they actually committing suicide by jumping out of the windows in those tall office buildings. The highest thing around here was the hay barn loft. Jumping from there would probably only break a leg or two. Who would be foolish enough to put all of your money into something crazy like a stock market? What was a stock market any way? The only stock he was putting his hard earned cash into was his live stock on the farm. The stock market crash wasn't going to affect him. He kept all of his hard earned money in the local bank. Having been married for almost ten years to the love of his life and having two beautiful girls Theoria nine years old and Pauline three years old, life had been good to him. He had a nice farm in Cherokee county, Alabama, almost paid for. Except from accidentally shooting himself in the leg while attempting to crossing a bob wire fence and having a fish bone lodged in his throat, he was a very lucky man.

Immediately after hearing about the stock markets crashing, people panicked and ran to the banks to with draw all of their savings. They quickly discovered that all of their hard earned cash wasn't in the banks. It had been all loaned out to the local farmers, merchants and other investors at a high interest rate than what the bank were paying their depositors. Being fearful of the situation, any individuals who was fortunate enough to have money hoarded it and only bought the necessities. Without money being circulated in the economy, company´s product weren't selling and they were forced to cut their work force. Now the recently unemployed couldn't afford to buy their products because they had lost their job. The critical economic situation spiraled downward forcing companies, factories and banks to close their doors. The less fortunate were loosing everything they had worked so hard for. All over the United States soup lines were springing up to feed the hungry homeless masses. Years earlier this situation would have been unthinkable. The greatest nation in the world was slowly grinding to a halt.

At first things was business as usual on the farm after Black Tuesday. But with food prices plummeting and a couple of dry seasons it became more and more difficult to pay their bills. The inter city situation became so appalling that parents were sending their children to live with relatives who lived on farms because they couldn't afford to fed them. Farmers were now mortgaging their family farms to the unstable banks in order to buy food for their families and seed and fertilize for the up coming crop year. When the crops failed that following year, the banks repossessed the farms thus now making the farming family homeless and unemployed. Every one was blaming President Hoover for the horrible economic conditions. Large numbers of homeless people were now living in Hoover houses and covering themselves with Hoover blankets. These were shacks made of cardboard and old news papers were used as blankets.

The situation had gone from bad to serious to critical. Stories began circulating about through the south about how there were plenty of jobs for farmers in the fertile agriculture areas of California. The only thing these false rumors did was to spread false hope to a desperate people. The truth was California was as economically crippled as the remainder of the states. Because of the dust bowl thousands of Mid-westerners had deserted their farms and drove, hitchhiked, hoboed or walked their way to California. By the time James William, Miranda, Jessie, Alma and Earnest had finally arrived in California by rail, tent cities sheltering the destitute workers were springing up all over the state. Melvin and Vassie´s families decided to tough it out here in Alabama and not go tripping off all the way across the United States on just a hope of a better life.

Ausie and Lovie gathered up their belongings and two girls and boarded the train bound for California. The locomotive pulling the long row of passenger cars even made it to Little Rock, Arkansas and Ausie and Lovie were already dreadfully home sick. Except for the short stint Ausie had spent in the military, they had lived their whole lives on the foot hills and farm lands in that part of north east Alabama.

All of Lovie´s extended family and life long friends lived near or in the small town of Piedmont, Alabama. Later in her teenage years, her dad, William Macon Lane had bought a farm near May´s Crossroads and that was where she met her future husband, Ausie William White. Trying to be strong by hiding her fears and tears, she missed her family and friends but wouldn't tell Ausie. She wanted to go back to their farm in Alabama where they were so happy. But they had discussed it and moving to California was what was best for their family.
Ausie was torn between both places. His older brother and best friend Melvin was going to weather out the storm on a farm in Cave Springs, Georgia. His older sister, Vassie had just married Henry Mannis and they felt responsible for his family in Hokes Bluff. On the other hand, James William, Miranda and the younger siblings would be in California by now and waiting on them to arrive. Ausie was frightened for his family and by all of the uncertainty of the move but wouldn't let Lovie know it. He didn't want to leave their farm in Alabama and travel clear across the United States to a strange place and possibly inhospitable people but it was his responsibility to take do what was best for Lovie and his two daughters. The total strangers on the train were unfriendly and some were down right rude. One man even had the nerve to approached Ausie and offered to buy his older daughter, Theoria. If this was the right thing to do than why did he feel so bad about it? He looked over at Lovie and said "Les go back home". When the train stopped at Little Rock to pick up passengers heading west, a family of four stepped off the train and boarded the next train heading back to their home in Alabama.

The Horse and Wagon

The solitary rider sat silently on the seat of the of the one horse farming wagon filled with freshly cut limbs and brush. His dusty brown hat with its wide brim was loosely sitting on his nodding head. The well worn had was shading the solid black hair protruding from under his head band and protecting the owner´s sun baked face and neck from the scorching sun. The only sound that could be hear echoing through the now deserted farm fields was the rhythmic clopping of the horse´s shod feet on the dusty unpaved road and the periodic squeaking of dry wood against dry wood from the old farm wagon as it casually eased along. Why would this lonely traveler be hauling a wagon filled with freshly cut limbs down a rarely used road only miles from the small town of Center?

Sitting all alone on the uncomfortable wagon seat with only the old horse to keep him company gives a man plenty of time to think. His high cheek bones and black hair came from his Grandmother White´s side of the family. Rumor was she had been a slave from India, brought to Georgia and owned by a man named Adams. He still remembers her fascinating story about when a Turkish war ship fired on the unarmed slave ship, destroying the main sails and sending the badly damaged ship hopelessly drifting in the open sea. Two weeks later the crippled ship and its half starved cargo of slaves were finally rescued. Thanks to the wisdom of President Lincoln and the emancipation proclamation, she and her illegitimate son, James, were eventually given their freedom by their owner in north Georgia. Later she married an honorable man named William White. Her son James proudly took his step fathers name and was then know as James William White. Ausie never knew his grand mother Martin. She had died years earlier in South Georgia from child birth.

Ausie didn´t feel safe traveling on the deserted road and especially if people knew what he had hidden under the limbs and leaves in the wagon. A majority of the individuals in the area were honest and hard working but the failing economy and a man´s hungry wife and children had turned some good men in to bad. The depression had started out very similar to an old steam locomotive. With very little steam built up, as the train leaves the station it sluggishly began moving at a snails pace. The only ones affected at first by the depression were a selected small number of individuals who had foolishly lost their money in the stock market. But as the steam pressure increased so did the speed of the train. More and more people were loosing their jobs and homes. But when the train had finally reached full head of steam it was devastating the whole nation. People who had lost their jobs, their homes and self pride were starving and living in cardboard shacks.

The light at the end of the gloomy tunnel for many of unemployed was the creation of the WPA. A new government program was created to put money back into the economy by providing employment for the thousands of unemployed workers. The new hires were to work on buildings and repairing roads, bridges and other government projects. Ausie had proudly been one of the first in the area to apply for one of the many hundreds of job but had been quickly turned away because of his profession. It made Ausie exceedingly angry to know that his Lovie and two children were forced to wear patched clothing and darned socks because the government has classified him as a farmer and an essential component to the economic recovery. He had worked hard all of his life and served time in the military but he couldn't have a well paying job because he was a farmer.
Alcohol doesn't solve problems, it just makes things worse. Ausie was mad, real mad and maybe a drink of hard liquor would simmer him down. The devil´s ice tea doesn't solve any problems. It brings all of your troubles and frustrations festering to the top. The more he thought about not getting that job, the more he drank. The more he drank, the drunker and angrier he got. "That ant fair to make my family suffer like that." he said out loud.

When the government officials saw the angry Ausie with drunken fire in his eyes approaching the courthouse with a large metal pipe they all ran. If they wouldn't hire him then he was going to show them a thing or two. Walking systematically up to each piece of expensive machinery displayed on the courthouse lawn, he broke all of the handles, knobs and gadgets off of the newly purchased government farm equipment. Mack Garrett, the county sheriff was quickly called to the court house, ordered to arrest the drunk and enraged Ausie and throw him in jail. Mack assured the displease mayor of the city that the angry Ausie White would be placed in jail for public drunkenness and destruction of government property. Ausie was handcuffed, placed in the patrol car and driven down Main Street in the direction of the county jail. Mack Garrett was wise and compassionate sheriff and knew what had happened to Ausie and what he had been through. Mac bypassed the jail house and kindheartedly delivered his frustrated prisoner back to Ausie´s farm. No charges were ever filled.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. After being refused the job with the W P A, Ausie knew he must provide for his family the best way he could. Ausie was seen often carry a brown gallon jug of kerosene down the main street of Center Alabama. While holding the gallon jug securely with his right index finger in the glass loop, he would often stop and talk with Mack Garrett, the county sheriff while on he was on his way to deliver the filled container to certain individuals in town. Often time the best way to conceal something is to hide it out in open for every one to see. The brown gallon jug wasn't filled with kerosene. It was filled with a high grade of distilled liquor. Aussie was casually transporting moonshine down the main street under the unsuspecting eyes of the law. It wasn't a full time job but just anything to help put food on the table.

Desperate times call for desperate actions. Someone foolishly offered Ausie a ridiculously high price for the new boots he was wearing in town that day. The offer was so good that he couldn't turn it down. Ausie actually sold the shoes off of his own feet and walked from the town of Center back home barefooted because he needed the money. Numerous rabbit boxes were placed on the wind breakers of fields do catch wild rabbits. Those along with milk, butter, eggs and any thing they could make or raise in the garden were sold to the people in town.
The old horse, with the quit man and creaky wagon in tow, instinctively turned onto the dirt road that led into the weather-beaten old barn´s breeze-way. After his long trip to and from the farming town ten miles away, the mule was expecting to be fed a good helping of yellow corn and turned loose in the pasture behind the barn. After disconnecting the harness, collar and bridle from the old horse, fed it and turned it loosed into the pasture, Ausie watched the horse playfully rolling the dust. It was grateful to be home and have the heavy leather collar of its neck. After completing completed all of his reminding out door choirs Ausie casually walked into the farm house, never looking back at the suspicious looking wagon setting quietly in the barn breeze way. What was the purpose of the big pile of brush in the wagon and why was it just setting there undisturbed in the huge barn? Was Ausie a foolish old man who had forgot to unload the wagon or was he smart as a sly fox.

When the sun had finally fallen over the plowed fields, the farmer who had been working around the farm gathering kindling for the cook stove, putting up his dependable horse in the stall and completing his nightly choirs but had never paid any attention to the brush filled wagon in the barn. Later that night under the cover of darkness, Ausie, Lovie and their two daughters watchfully eased their way to the barn to where the mystery wagon sat. As quietly as possible Ausie gently removed the limbs from the wagon to expose what had been so carefully hidden earlier that day. Neatly tucked on the bottom of the wagon bed were sacks of flour, sugar, salt, coffee, and a box of matches and a jug of kerosene. These were all of the essential things they so desperately needed to buy from town to last them for another month. With hard work, the farm and his family could provide the reminder of the food they needed that month. The purchased supplies were brought into the house and quickly hid from roaming eyes. Times were hard, people were hungry and all were not honest. If people knew what was in the White´s house, some of the dishonest would borrow never to return or steal what they needed. Ausie had charity and compassion for others but he also had a wife and two children to provide for.

Stubborn as a mule

There was money to be made in buying young mules and training them to the plow but Ausie already knew that. He had trained mules, horses and an even a couple of steers but preferred the mule because it was best suited for that type of farm work. The mule wasn't as expensive, ate less, calmer and was more durable than a horse. Fewer plants were destroyed because of the animals smaller feet and mules work better as a team than horses or steers. A mule is far more intelligent than their counterparts. You can drive a horse or steer off a cliff but you can't a mule. The old sayings of he is as stubborn as a mule or he is mule headed was a true reflection on the character of the lowly animal.

A new or untrained mule was turned into the pasture with the older and more experienced animals for a couple of days. This helped settle it down and also prevent it from break through the fence and escaping back into its home pasture. During the morning and afternoon when the mules were being fed, the trainer would begin the training process. By allowing the new animal to become more accustomed to him, the trainer encouraged the animal to smell the trainer´s hand. As the mule became more accustom to his presence, the handler began attempting to slowly touch and gently rub the young mule on their fore head. When the young mule finally becomes comfortable being touched on the head and shoulder, then it was the time for placing the bridle and bit on the animal´s head. Often times when the new mule was to stubborn to be bridled, an older and larger mule was used to wedge the untrained mule between it and the barn so the trainer could place the equipment on the belligerent new comer. After the equipment had been placed on the mule, a large log was connected to the swinging bar behind the mule. The quarrelsome animal was then allowed to drag the heavy log around in circles until it had calmed down and became familiar to the weight being pulled. The next long and drawn out step was to teach the new mule commands. By firmly pulling on the right reins and loudly repeating the words "Gee" this forced the animal to turn right. By pulling on the left reins and loudly repeating "Haw" the new mule would turn left. Pulling back hard on the rains and yelling "whoa" the animal would stop. By lightly flipping the rains on the animal´s back and saying "Get up" the animal would move forward. To a farmer, an untrained mule isn't worth two cents but a trained mule is worth its weight in gold.

The word around town was that Ausie was a good horse trader and that was why his family lived on a good flat land farm in Piney Grove and owned the best mules and farm equipment in county. During the last five years Ausie and Lovie had been having good crop years and were blessed with another daughter who they named Ruth and a son, James William who was named after his grand father. That fall, because of Ausie´s good luck and being a skilled farmer the owners of the McWhorter farm decided the farm was so productive that the rent needed to be considerably increased. Ausie declared that the farm was productive because of his family´s hard work. Because the two men were as stubborn as one of Ausie´s mules both of them lost on the heated disagreement. Ausie lost out on farming the good farm land he had been improving over the last five years and the McWhorter´s had lost several months of guaranteed rent from Ausie White family. Because they couldn't come to a mutual understanding about the higher rent, the White family loaded up their belongings and moved to a Jordan´s farm at Rights Bend.


Ausie handed James William, his youngest child and only son, a little baby wrapped in an old feed sack and said´ " Bud, you and Ruth wanted this so it´s both of your responsibilities to feed it and take care of it. Why would anyone not want this little bundle of happiness and just give it away with out any second thoughts or regrets? The six year old Ruth gently removed the course cloth material covering the tiny baby´s head and said "He looks just like you J W." and then laughed. Little J W didn't think that remark was necessary or funny. Ruth quickly found a wooden box and placed it behind her mother´s wood burning cook stove and then boasted "This will be a great place to keep it." It being so small and fragile, the four old J W held their little package tightly in his arms as he walked to the warm cook stove and then gently he placed the tiny runt pig into the wooden box.

A runt pig is the least one of the litter and usually dies because of its small size. It´s usually too weak to fight for a spot on the mother sow´s milk line. Ruth and JW´s little pig, proudly named "Runt", was kept in the warm box behind the stove and fed fresh cows milk with a spoon. From all of the attention given by the two eager children, Runt grew quickly and was soon tipping over the box and through the house. Like a small puppy, "Runt" would scamper wildly through the house with two excited children hot on its heels.

When "Runt" grew older the cute little pig scampering through the house soon became a half grown hog reeking havoc as it playfully chased the children from room to room. Ausie decided to build a holding pen for the animal out near the barn but the door was always left so the children could play with their pet. "Runt" was very intelligent and would do what he was told. With no other pigs on the farm at that time, he didn't know he was a pig. "Runt" thought he was a dog. Ruth and little JW favorite game to play with their pet was hide and go seek. "Runt" would be placed in something that would take it a couple of minutes to free its self from. While the animal was escaping from his confinement the two little children would run and hide and wait for their little friend to successful find them every time. You soon realize that you have lived a sheltered life and could possibly be living on Hillbilly Hill when all of the other children at school have a puppy for a pet and you have a pig.

Ausie soon discovered why the rental fee was so low and no one had been living on the Jordan´s farm previous to when they had moved in. Unknowingly he had rented the worst dirt farm in Cherokee county. Because of bad weather and the poor leached-out soil, their crops that year were a total loss. That fall he was lucky enough to find a job working at Jordan´s sawmill and trading their stubborn farm mules. The pay wasn't much and the jobs were difficult but they were able to barely scrap by. That next year´s crop was the same disaster. That fall, Ausie decided to butcher the large pig that had been running free in the yard to put meat on their meager table. "Runt" had been on the farm almost three years and was now a full grown hog. Because of Ruth and JW´s begging and pleading with their dad for the life of their family pet Ausie decided not to butcher "Runt" but to swap him to another farmer for two smaller pigs. He warned his two little children "These two pigs are for butchering and not to be made a pet. I repeat these two pigs are not to be made pets of. Do you both understand?

Because of all of the rain that winter, the Coosa and Warrior rivers were flooding the area in Rome, Georgia and hundreds of bails of cotton were in danger of being damages by the rising water. A friend of Ausie´s who owned a car talked him into going to work in that area moving the heavy bails of cotton to higher ground. The foreman of the job recognized what a dependable and good worker Ausie was and offered him a construction job helping build the Floyd county hospital. Ausie loved to farm. Give him a mule and a good piece of land and he could provide for his family and be happy. He had worked earlier during the depression delivering furniture for a company but his love was in the land. Love of the land or not he had to make a living for his family so he accepted the construction job at the hospital.

The Traveling Store

Before cars were so common in the rural areas, there were enterprising individuals who purchased large flat bed trucks for the purpose of making them into the legendary traveling stores. A bulky storage room with a side door and wide wooden shelves were built and secured to the metal frame of the heavy duty trucks. The wide shelves would then be filled with an array of assorted canned and dry goods, bolts of cloth, sewing and cooking supplies, small farm supplies and for the children a good supply of penny candy. Suspended from the rear of the truck was a bulky wooden cage for storing the chickens and rabbits taken in by the peddler in trade for commodities from his truck. These brightly painted vehicles had to be sturdy and well-built to withstand all of the brutal abuse from the potholes and washboards of the unpaved southern roads. A designated time and route was quickly established for his customers by the peddler as to when he would be traveling the rough dirt roads of the south. The peddler soon became a friend and almost a family member as he went about the area selling needed or forgotten supplies to the farmers who were desperate enough to pay the cost of the over-priced goods. Now only the older generation can remember the thrill of standing on the wooden steps of the traveling store, gawking in amazement through the huge door into the dimly lit room and seeing the shelves crammed with a assortment of merchandise, smelling the aroma of coffee and chewing tobacco, and trying to decide exactly what type of penny candy they wanted.

Every Saturday afternoon the traveling store or better known as the peddler would stop in front of Ausie and Lovie´s farm house in Rights Bend. Earlier that warm spring day with their mother´s permission, J W and Ruth had gathered six eggs from the pine straw padded hen´s nest in the chicken house and were now patiently standing beside the dusty farm road, waiting for the peddler. For the cost of three eggs a person could be the proud owner of a delicious and difficult-to-get candy bar. A wise peddler would at times take things in on trade to sell on his route later that day and eggs were always an easy resell. Ruth helped her little brother, J W, climb the high steps that led into the peddlers cramped hall way as he held tightly held onto the small wooden strip basket. These baskets were made by local craftsman who wove thin one inch strips of white oak together to create a strong and dependable container for use on the farm. It could be used for everything from collecting delicate eggs to the gathering of the laundry from the cloth lines that were strung in the back yard. The larger baskets were even used as a cotton or corn basket in the work fields. Ruth and little J W carefully handed the peddler his three eggs and waited for their candy bar. The old peddler carefully inspected the eggs for cracks, marked the date on each egg with a led pencil and then placed then in a small container near the side door. If the eggs were cracked or looked old the peddler wouldn't take them in on trade for the candy bar. The two anxious children stared at the old peddler until they saw his approving smile and the "OK" head nod. Next they vigilantly selected the candy bar that they had talked and dreamed about all week and then cheerfully scampered back to their house.

Bruton Snuff

The small metal cans with the blue paper wrapper that were periodically purchased from the traveling store had a tremendous influence on the every day life of the White family. During the early nineteenth hundreds a large part of the adult population in the south as well as some rebellious youth used tobacco products in one form or another. Lovie and Ausie´s tobacco habit was the common practice of dipping snuff. Snuff is a dried tobacco ground into a brown powdery dust that is placed between the lower lip and front gum of the participant. The nicotine in the snuff gave the participant an emotional and physical burst of energy but also an ugly dark stain on their teeth and bad breath. The medicinal and habit forming brown powder was also used to sooth the throbbing pain of a tooth ache or the hurt of a bee sting. Snuff came in quite a few different brand names in a number of unusual containers but Red Top and Bruton was the only snuff used in the White household. The small empty water tight metal containers were quickly snatched up by J W and Ruth. They were perfect for making different toys, keeping your valuables in, storing secret notes and made an excellent storage container for bugs and lizards. Ruth was very talented, athletic, and could out do any boy or girl around her age but she couldn't stand bugs, lizards, frogs or other critters. J W was well aware of her fear and used it to his advantage as often as possible.

The White family never had any peaches on their trees. The trees didn't have very many limbs due to their mother using them on J W for chasing Ruth with bugs and lizards. The little critters would be peeking out of the top of the tiny snuff cans as J W chased the screaming Ruth around the yard and in the house.

Still suffering from the effects of the economic depression many people were afraid of putting their money into the area banks. A number of individuals who didn't trusting any of the banks would hide their money their mattresses, hollow compartment´s in the walls of their homes, or bury it in a glass jar or can in the yard. If the money was to be buried in the yard, the job had to do at night and hider had to make positively sure no one was watching. If they were unsuccessful in concealing their hard earned cash, it would be gone the next day. Ausie had a unique way of hiding his money that had to do with the empty snuff cans. Their desperately needed money rolled up and was placed in an empty snuff can. The top was securely placed on top of the snuff can to keep out water. The stuffed with money can was then placed in a larger tin can. The larger can then had the open end crimped over and sealed. That night the can was then tossed into a corner of the small back yard garden along with several other empty cans sealed the same way. No one ever thought of looking for Ausie´s money lying out in the garden in plain sight.

Chopping in High Cotton

The difficulty in their lives had taught Ausie and Lovie a long and hard learned lesson on how to cut corners and save money. Thanks to his well paying construction job at Floyd county hospital and saving every cent possible, after the construction job was over they had accumulated enough money for the down payment on a forty acre farm in Moshat. Ausie purchased a farm, just out side of Center's city limits at a good price but as a general rule "you get what you pay for." The farm was hilly and rocky but fortunately had better soil than the previous farm. For income that first year, the vegetables from their garden and pine kindling used for the areas kitchen stoves were sold in the near by town of Center. One morning Ausie noticed two men standing on the edge of the narrow dirt road talking with each other and point toward the grove of tall loblolly pines that covered the majority his property. Ausie soon discovered that the newly formed TVA was in the market for a large number of power poles for the electricity system spreading through the rural areas of the south. Suddenly all of their bad luck had tuned to good. The federal government that wouldn't give him a badly needed job with the U P A because he was a dirt farmer was now paying him an astronomical price for all of the hundreds of his pine trees on his farm. The White family finally had money.

Tom Cat Road

After gladly accepting the big check from TVA for the farm, Ausie and Lovie and the two energetic little children decided to move into the home of his older sister Vassie and her husband Henry Mannis. Henry and Vassie were not blessed with children but they thoroughly enjoyed the excitement that those two little rambunctious youngsters, Ruth and J W, brought into there once peaceful home. A child´s laughter will always brighten up even the quietest of houses. Things went well for a while but Ausie wasn't happy and soon became restless. He had worked various jobs in his life including the delivering of furniture but his love was in farming.

That same year he and Henry decided to buy and divide a sixty acre plot of timber land that lay on both sides of the narrow Tom Cat Road. It would take a considerable amount of work but both of them felt confident that two good farms could be created in this unused new ground. New ground was a southern term used for describing land that has never been cleared or cultivated. Ausie took the more level land on the north thirty acres which included a fresh water spring and a small creek running through the center of his property. Henry liked being able to see when some one was coming down the dusty road so he wanted the more hilly south portion of the land but was forced to dig a well for their water supply. Ausie´s selection had a stream that was just made for fishing, catching frogs and tadpoles and wading in the cold water by the little cousins. But Henry had unknowingly purchased the famous suicide hill.

Henry set up a small sawmill on top of the hill to cut the harvested timber from the sixty acres into lumber for their two houses and out buildings. Ausie bought a used forty eight Ford ton and a half truck for transporting the downed trees out of the woods and upon the hill to the undersized sawmill. It took an extended length of time and a considerable amount of hard work cutting the trees, sawing the lumber and building the new houses for the two families. When Vassie and Henry´s house was completed both families moved in new structure while the second house was being built. By being thrifty with their money for the other expenses like nails and roofing when they had completed the building project, each family owned a house and out buildings of their own. The day Ausie´s family proudly moved into their new house, it broke Henry and Vassie´s hearts. They knew that they would miss their extended family and especially those two small youngsters. The loneliness became so bad that both Henry and Vassie began making frequent trips down the steep hill to her brother´s house to see the two small children they missed. When they couldn't stand the silence of the house any longer it was quick trip down the hill to the other farmhouse to see he brother´s family and especially those two little children. Henry was more reserved with his approach and would politely knock on the front door and patiently wait for some one to invite him in the house. Aunt Vassie wasn't. The front door would suddenly swing open and they could hear Vassie yelling "where are those babies." Each one of the children received a big hug whether thy wanted it or not from the tall black headed woman who love them.

The dust from the road became such a nuisance during dry season that burned motor oil was liberally pored on short sections in front of the two newly built houses. The used motor oil help keep down the huge clouds of white dirt that was forced up into the air by the infrequent passing of cars and settled over their yard and front porches but made it hard to quick stop or swerve stop. Chickens frequented used the dirt road in front of the house and were often struck by oncoming cars that came speeding down the steep hill. If the unfortunate chicken wasn't mangled up too badly, it was fried up to make a tasty chicken dinner but if it was mangled it was turned into chicken and dumplings. If you heard a car blowing its horn when it came speeding by and a chicken squawking, you knew there was going to be chicken on the supper table that night.

The White Cousin Gang

During the early forties the first of the notorious White Cousin Gang was born. Travis, the first son of Theoria and Gordon Hardin, was said to have some of the wild and well know traits of the famous outlaw and the legendary gun fighter, John Wesley Hardin. Jerry Hardin was born next, then Joan, Larry and Jane Dixon. The next of the cousins was Shelby and Sheila Williams but they were closely monitored by Ruth and David Williams so not to be influenced by their older cousins. Little did they realize but through the influence and actions of their Uncle J W, little Larry and their favorite uncle would be sharing the same metal bench in a jail cell at the bottom floor of the Rome Georgia court house. I believe that word "incommodious" would most fully describe the first of the grandchildren of Ausie and Lovie White.

Travis, who was the brain and ring leader for the group of ruffians, would hone his marksmanship skills by shooting tin can off the top of his younger Brother Jerry´s head with a BB gun. Jerry was the risk taker. He was the only one foolish enough ride the home made wagon down suicide hill and to stuff his skinny body into a run away car tire. Joan, Larry and Jane were just proud to be in the gang. When ever the family had a social get together the cousins as well as J W would vanish into the out doors for games of exploring the surrounding forest, shooting hoops at a small barrel ring nailed onto the bleached out barn wall, fishing in the stream near the house, making clopping shoes from old oil cans, and playing ball in the pasture littered with cow manure line mines. Their more challenging activities would be throwing rocks into the wet cow paddies or at grand mother´s chickens when she wasn't looking, seeing who could climb the highest tree and bail out onto the ground far below with our breaking their legs, blowing a toy whistles and watch the chickens run for their lives, smoking rabbit tobacco and stealing fresh eggs from the hen house. Little Jane was always given the assignment of collecting the eggs from the hen house. If she was caught, Jane was so small and cute that grandmother wouldn't give her a spanking. The commandeered eggs would be placed in a tin can filled with water and boiled over a small fire for a treat. If we were lucky salt and pepper would be slip from the pantry to be sprinkle on the delicious eggs. Aunt Theoria, being afraid a snake would possibly bite her precious two little boys, thought she wasn't allowing Travis and Jerry to play in the dammed up stream that ran through the pasture, but we knew better. The rolled up britches legs or the excuse of they slipped and fell in into the stream always worked.

The most dangerous and challenging game of all was a corn cob fight. There were always an abundance of wet and dry corn cobs cluttering the barn yard. Some were dry but the others had been laying in the wet cow piles soaking up the foul smelling brown liquid. The new corn cobs would cause a large red whelp to quickly appear on the body but the compost soaked cobs would leave a smelly brown residue on along with the huge black bruise on the injured party. The treacherous corn cobs were being slung with such force that an unfortunate victim peeking around the corner of the barn would get his bell rung. Injury due to the dangerous corn cob fights left lasting physical and mental damage to the older cousins. The majority of them now wear eye glasses, one has a loss of hearing and a couple aren't playing with a full deck.

We won't discuss the names of those whose "cheese has done slide off of their cracker."
The only thing that struck fear into the ruffian´s heart was when the front door of living room would suddenly swung open, a tall black headed woman would appear blocking the doorway and a loud high pitched voice would yell. "Where are those Grand babies"? Jerry jumped up from a checker game on the floor and yelled "Run for your lives! It´s Aunt Vassie!"

Suicide Hill

The first sign of the mischievous endeavors of the childhood ruffians was when J W built a wagon out of scrap lumber, bent nails, with two small ten inch wheels on front, two huge car tires on back. The first one was built with four ten inch wheels for maneuverability but this one was built for pure speed. He was seriously considered test driving this dangerous contraption down the tall hill to the left of Henry and Vassie´s house. It was possibly be but not probable, that by steering the pivoting front end axle with his feet and tightly holding onto the guiding rope he could safely maneuver the poorly constructed vehicle as it raced through the forest of flesh eating trees. After looking long and hard at the twisting curving course he began to have second thoughts. Maybe just maybe he may need some means of stopping his contraption as it speed down the steep hill in case something unexpected went wrong. Two short but thick piece of lumber was quickly nailed onto the side of the wooden contraption just to the front of the rear wheels with a couple of rusty ten penny nails. Now he had a breaking system. The flimsy wooden brake cut to a bevel to match the wheels could be pulled back with his hands thus applying pressure to the huge tires edge until his wagon came to a safe and full stop. It looked good on paper.

With the modifications completed, J W was standing at the top of the hill plotting his course through the huge trees. Finally finding the best possible path down, he shoved the custom-made wagon off the hill and hurriedly jumped onto the wide wooden board that functioned as a seat. Quickly placed his two feet firmly onto the front steering axle and grabbed the two dangling support rope he was now set for the ride of his life. The laws of physics hadn't been taken into consideration when placing the two different sized wheels on the wagon. The sheer angle of the hill added to the radius of the large rear wheel multiplied by speed of the wagon and then divided by the smaller radius of the front wheels spelled total disaster. For every one revolution of the larger back wheels meant that the smaller wheels had to make ten rotations. To J W´s shock and surprise, the laws of physics began corrected themselves by raising the resisting force of the two front wheels off the ground and now allowing the larger unrestricted back wheels to move more freely down the hill. Now the runaway wagon with its front end sticking vertically into the air was speeding wildly down the tree littered hill. The terrified J W suddenly thought "How am I going to control or stop this run away wagon"? A large oak tree quickly solved that problem for him. The sudden stop addled J W's senses for a couple of days.

Thanksgiving Day

It was a pleasant Thanksgiving Day and all of their aunts, uncles and the cousins were at their grand parent White´s house. Following a country dinner of fried chicken, vegetables and for the children Lime Kool-Aid, the dishes was washed and put away, a large white table cloth was placed over the remaining food on the table and all of the adults loaded up in the cars and drove up the hill to visit Uncle Henry and Aunt Vassie. Ruth carried little Shelby and baby Sheila with her because they were way too small to tag along with their older cousins. Ruth and David had grown pretty fond of their two little girls and didn't want them get to near the dangerous band of mischievous little hoodlums they called their older cousins.

Prowling through the area like a band of wild Indians on the loose, the older cousins eventually worked their way up the hill to their favorite great uncle and great aunt´s house. Roaming through the yard like band of gypsies, the cousins quickly found several old quart oil cans which were quickly made into clopping shoes. An old cast iron bell was mounted about eight feet into the air on a large cedar pole in their side yard. Suddenly sticks and rocks were hitting the bell in a game of "Who can make it ring the loudest". This brought a crowd of adults running out the back door and into the yard. We didn't know it was a fire alarm for the neighborhood. Eventually J W brought out his latest creation, the low ridding and fast moving wooden go cart. Joan Jane and I were small and childhood dumb but not that gullible. I can't say the same for Travis and Jerry. Jerry the risk taker went down the steep hill at a horrendous speed, dodging all of the huge trees and coasted a good distance into the pasture. To prove he was the leader of the pack Travis volunteered to be the next victim of the hill. Being brave while sitting on the wagon at the top of the hill was easy but speeding down the tree infested hill was a totally different ball game. Travis left the duel hand brake laying near a tree about half the way down the hill. I was totally impressed with the courage of my older cousins but there was no way I was going to ride on the killing machine.

Unable to repair the damaged wagon we began rambling through clutter of junk behind Uncle Henry´s barn and eventually found an old abandoned car tire. Jerry was coaxed into putting his body into the old tire and being rolled head over hills in the side yard. We were all laughing at Jerry as he was being rolled head over heels in the old tire by Travis. We decided that it must be fun so each person wanted their our turn in the old tire. It was funny as each person eventually fell out of the rolling tire and tried to stand up on wobbly feet. We were having an exciting time until Travis became too aggressive and got the tire rolling so fast that he lost complete control. Suddenly Jerry and the runaway tire went bolting over the edge of suicide hill. Poor unfortunate Jerry was frantically screaming as he and the runaway tire went bouncing down the steep slope, barely missing the huge trees by only inches.

© 2009 Larry Leon Dixon. Published on the Web by permission.

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