The farm occupied about 400 acres in rural Mississippi. It was my father’s home until he graduated from high school and left Mississippi. Although he never lived on the farm again it remained a working farm until my brother and I were both adults.
My memories of the farm begin when I was about five or six years old. We would go to the farm for weekends during the school year and for whole weeks during the summer. The farm house had been built by my grandparents. It was made of light gray shingles with white trim and had a huge covered front porch. There were rocking chairs on the porch and the largest porch swing I’ve ever seen. Inside was a wide hall running from one end of the house to the other. There were also two bedrooms, a sitting room, living room, dining room, and the kitchen. Upstairs there were two more bedrooms. The children usually stayed in the upstairs bedrooms. On the wall at the top of the stairs hung a picture of my father taken when he was very young. The picture is a photograph which has been colorized with the most striking feature being my father’s big blue eyes. My father is dressed in a long white dress looking garment and is standing next to one of my grandfather’s hunting dogs. Dog and boy are about the same height. As we never walked down the stairs but, rather, slid down on the banister we saw this picture coming and going.
The house had six fireplaces and had once had a wood stove in the kitchen. By the time I came along all of the fireplaces had gas space heaters in them and there were two large gas heaters beneath metal grates in the floor. The house was full of my grandparent’s furniture., most of which I didn’t fully appreciate until I was an adult. There was an oak sleigh bed, several tables which had marble tops, cedar chests and cedar wardrobes, a pie safe, and hall tree. The dining room was full of oak pieces that I liked especially well. The table could hold enough leaves to host a banquet. There was a corner cabinet with gallery work around the top, gracefully curving glass, and beveled mirrors. Another china cabinet had a curving glass front from top to bottom and was opened with a key from which dangled a silk tassel.
Across the gravel driveway from our house was the home of Lucille and Ab Petigrew. Mr. Pettigrew managed the farm as we lived in Alabama most of the year.
The farm was divided into two parts. The hundred or so acres on the east side of Rt. 6 held the houses, the barn lot, a kitchen garden, and pasture land. All of the animals lived on this side of the road. There was a hog pen in which huge hogs grunted and wallowed in the mud. There were goats, guineas, and peacocks that roamed around the barn yard. The big black plow horse named Dan and the milk cows also lived in the barnyard. Hereford cows, which we called white-faced cows, grazed in the pastures. There were two pastures separated by barbed wire fence. In the larger of these two pastures was a seven acre lake full of bream. The chickens lived in a coop near the Petigrew’s house.
The 300 acres on the other side of Rt. 6 was called, “The Bottom.” I assume it was called that because you had to go down a short hill to get to it. A railroad track bisected The Bottom and we used to amuse ourselves by counting the cars in the trains that passed. Cotton was the main crop grown in The Bottom although I remember fields full of soy beans too. There were also fields of corn and hay. There was another pasture in the bottom in which the crop dusting plane took off and landed.
Four other families lived on the farm. Kate and Argie lived in a white house across the road from ours. Kate was the housekeeper and cook. She also milked the cows and collected eggs from the chickens. In the evening we could sometimes see Kate on her front porch churning butter. Argie seemed a sort of jack of all trades. He looked after the animals in the barn yard and cultivated the kitchen garden which was just behind the house. The gray’s lived on the dirt road which led down to the bottom. Richard worked on the farm and his two teenaged daughters, Minnie Nelle and Gladys, acted as chaperones and playmates for my brother and me. I only ever knew the first names of the men who lived in the other two houses although I’m sure they were nicknames, one being Puddy and the other Bowow.
When my brother, Jimmy, and I were quite young we would roam over the farm with Minnie and sometimes Gladys. Minnie seemed more capable of putting up with us so she’s the one I remember best. Often Jimmy and I would invite one of our friends to come with us to the farm. As we grew older we would go our own ways during the day. There was a farm bell high on a pole just outside the kitchen. The ringing of this bell could be heard from anywhere on the farm. Kate or my mother would ring the bell to let us know it was time to come in for lunch or supper.
Looking back now I realize what an extraordinary privilege it was to go to the farm. We learned to use our imagination. We had the freedom to try out almost any game we could think up. We could go anywhere on the farm and it was safe. If my parents worried about us being out of sight and hailing distance for hours at a time I never knew it. At the end of the day, there was always the ringing of the farm bell, a wonderful dinner, and the sweet sleep of an exhausted body and content spirit.