The memories that Patty Hirst shares with us today are not hers but rather those of her mother who remembered the Great Depression years in Rucker, Texas.
A number of years ago when we were experiencing yet another dry summer and were lamenting the failure of our garden, my mother, Lavoyce Wallace Hirst, reminisced about the summers when she was a youngster growing up near Rucker during the Great Depression.
Even though rain was sparse, she exclaimed, “They were the depression years, EVERYTHING was sparse!” It seemed that the family was blessed with an abundant garden year after year despite little rainfall.
There were peas, beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, and one particular year, a bumper crop of potatoes. Her family lived back off the road on the north side of the railroad track; however they had a garden spot on the south side of the railroad and the bounty of the vegetables had to be hauled or usually carried in bushel baskets back to the house.
She remembered especially the bountiful potato crop and remembered how heavy those tubers were. She wished she could have remembered how many bushel baskets of potatoes they carried and stored in their cellar for winter use. Things that could be canned, preserved, dried or in any way saved to eat during the winter were “put by.”
My mother and grandparents didn’t have close neighbors, but they were never at a loss for company. As the nearest house to the railroad tracks in that area they had a steady stream of hobos at their back door asking for something to eat, and my mom said that her mother never sent a man away without giving something.
It might have been a piece of cold cornbread or a biscuit, but she always came up with some morsel to ease the hunger just a bit, offered water from the well, and a place to take a moment’s rest.
One day while a man was sitting out back eating, my grandmother told him that she knew that other people in the community didn’t have the volume of men who came to her family’s farm. She said, “Why do so many people come here?”
The hobo smiled and said, “Lady, we hobos have our own system of markings and symbols; your house is marked. There is a ‘sign’ in the fence row in front of your house that you’ll give food.”
He continued, “We know which houses to stop at and which ones will run us off.”
With this knowledge, my grandmother continued to share with whoever came to the door and as my mother remembered those lean years, they were never hungry themselves and continued to share with the folks that came to their door asking for food.
Such was life in Rucker,Texas in the 1930’s…Patty Hirst