I struggled my way through childhood in Hazlehurst over on Gill Street in what is now a parking lot. As a matter of fact, my sister Sarah Nell likes to tell people that we grew up in a parking lot—not entirely true, but close to one even then. After hours and on weekends, we rode our bikes in the parking lots of what everyone in town called the slip factory. I’m sure it had an official name, but I can’t remember now what it was. I even worked in that factory for a while when I was older, cashed checks from there, but the factory’s real name escapes me.
Sometimes late on Sunday afternoons after the family visiting was done and before time for church, Sarah Nell and I would walk downtown with Mama and spend a pleasant hour window shopping. Only on rare occasions did Mama leave her work for pleasure. She may have worked harder than any other woman I’ve ever known, and when she died at the age of 73, my father swore that she had worked herself to death. But Sundays she did not work, and so we anticipated those Sundays when she invited us to walk downtown. We gazed longingly at the toys in the windows of the dime stores, and later at the clothes in the Wallace Shop or Moore’s. Of course all the stores were closed, locked up tight for the weekend. Godly Hazlehurst citizens didn’t shop on Sundays—not in the 50s anyway. There was no place open to shop—not one single convenience store, one gas station, or even one fast food place. You’d better purchase whatever you needed before the stores closed on Saturday or you’d have to knock on a neighbor’s door with a cup in your hand.
My parents lived in town their entire married life, starting out in a rented house on Railroad Street. I can still hear the trains roaring by. I was deathly afraid of them. I remember my Uncle Jack carrying me and trying to help me get over that fear. It didn’t work. When I entered 2nd grade, we moved to Gill Street and stayed there until long after I left for college. With a house of their own, Mama and Daddy had invested in the American dream.
Even though my parents spent their entire married life in town, they had grown up on farms. Daddy seemed glad to leave his behind, but not Mama. She always had chickens and turkeys in pens in the back yard. She grew mustard and turnip patches in the fall, and liked to dig in the dirt. She didn’t use gloves. She liked dirt on her hands, and she always worked like a farmer, rising long before daylight to begin her day.
Larry and I have always lived in the country, except for a short period before the boys started to school when we traveled with him and his construction jobs. At this stage of my life, I can’t imagine living in town. We’ve never had to worry about disturbing the neighbors with too much noise. Many a night Larry has worked on car engines, revving them well after midnight to eardrum splitting levels. We tend to be a noisy crew and night owls to boot. Our boys were musicians, but their practice wasn’t always melodious. Fortunately, our nearest neighbors were across the field and didn’t hear a thing.
But I’m not the farmer my mother was, even though I love digging in the dirt as much as she did. I usually wear gloves as I tamp the dirt around my newest hydrangea addition or pull a weed here and there. I leave the vegetable growing to Larry, but I do of course can or freeze his produce. We don’t have chickens or turkeys though. God forbid. I never did like Mama’s chickens. The only chickens and eggs to enter this little farm come via the grocery store.
For me the major appeal of the farm life is the solitude and the peacefulness. I watch the blue jays dive bomb the cats and the cardinals play in the trees above me. There’s wildlife all around me. I lie in my hammock in the back yard and survey my kingdom, satisfied and fulfilled.