Let me just say here that before my parents died, I began to ask questions about their lives together, not just my memories and the ones of my sisters, but theirs. Mom was so terribly ill it was difficult for her to talk a lot. But Daddy.....well Pops loved nothing better than a yarn. After Mom died, it seemed to tickle him that I asked and wanted to know things. We spent many an hour, both of us laughing and crying as he discussed their lives together. I miss that terribly, the time we shared together, the bonding. We were never close to Pops before Mom died, he worked all hours and Mom was the disciplinarian and the one who was home with us. After she died, Pops was so........needy. And I needed him.
This is my poor attempt to tell their story, second hand as it were. I have finished Pop's section, Mom's is a work in progress and their lives together will follow as I complete it. I intend, once I finish this, to print out a copy for each of my sisters.
Since time began, there have been endless stories written of the “perfect love story,” a happily ever after life where no discord and hardship would ever dare to intrude upon the paradise a couple were building between the two of them. The man, dashing and handsome, comes along and sweeps the lovely maiden off her feet and into a life of glorious ecstasy and never-ending happiness. Unfortunately, love in real terms is hardly that way; the twists and turns of day to day living causes stress and strain between two people who have vowed to spend the remainder of their lives together. A true marriage is a linking of soul mates, a couple possessing the inner strength and faith to endure the worst life can throw at them and survive unscathed with the connection between their two heart’s intact. This is the true account of the courtship and marriage of my Mother and Father, a never-ending love story for them, and a blessing to their five daughters, for we now understand the true meaning of love and devotion, and hopefully, the ability to achieve it for ourselves.
The year of 1954 brought many changes to the United States. The Civil Rights movement was just beginning, bringing several significant differences to the educational system that had long been in place throughout the country. Premium gasoline was at an all time high of 20 cents a gallon and Coca-Cola had increased to the cost of 6 cents a bottle, bringing forth protests of price gouging. The cost of home rental was between $5 and $10 a month. The Korean War was just over and for the majority of soldiers leaving the military, the hope of a good job with adequate pay was merely a dream. For many, returning to their pre-war homes meant the realization that jobs were non-existent in countless rural areas, often necessitating the need to move to a new location in order to seek employment, frequently to another state entirely. Below is the story of one such newly released Soldier and the woman he chose as his bride: my parents, Abron Wayne Waters and Ilda Ruth Curnutt Waters. They met December 15, 1954 and married December 25, 1954 in Iuka, Mississippi.
Abron Wayne Waters was born the third child on his parent’s farm in the rural Conway Community of north Alabama during September of 1928. The Great Depression, which started in 1929,was in its infancy when he was a child and life was very hard for the entire country during these times, but most especially for the rural areas of the deep South. There was little if any industry in the country areas, therefore, there were few jobs to be had for the common man, but a decent living could be made from farming and livestock if families were frugal and industrious. His parents, both hardworking and steady, were, like most of their neighbors, struggling daily to make a living off their property and raise their children. This family was representative of what is now regarded as the backbone of our country.
God was First and Foremost, Family was next. Nothing and no one came before God or Family. Growing up surrounded by the morals and values his parents lived by, he and all their children, with their careful supervision and encouragement, were taught these same characteristics. The household over the years eventually encompassed thirteen children. Everyone did their part, whether large or small, to carry the responsibilities of day to day living. A burden, no matter the size, is easier to shoulder if the load is shared. Even the younger children were taught to work at a very young age. The family was virtually self sufficient, relying on the crops they grew with their back breaking labor and sweat coupled with the meat they slaughtered and cured, either domestic or from the wild, to supply their food sources. The few things they did purchase, such as shoes, flour, sugar, cloth and other necessities were bought only as needed, for frugality was a way of life and an essential element to the survival of these families.
Formal schooling began at the age of 6 or seven for Daddy and the other children, the standard uniform for boys being blue overalls and a simple shirt, usually homemade. Shoes were optional, depending on the weather, as going barefoot was no hindrance to children raised from birth to feel the grit of the dirt between their toes. Being unshod was equally convenient for wading any branch, mud puddle or small creek they happened across on their rambles. Most only owned one pair of shoes, sometimes new, but more frequently they were hand-me-downs from an older sibling, somewhat tattered and worn, but certainly sturdy enough for at least part of another winter’s wear. The journey to school was usually completed on foot, for the horses and mules the family owned were needed to work the fields on a daily basis, weather permitting. Daddy’s daily trek was usually in the company of his siblings and cousins who lived near. To get to the school building, they had to go across the field in front of his house to the old cemetery in the woods above the farm pond, then a mad scramble through the thick woods to the opposite side and across another field to the dirt road that led to the school. During the wet winter months, the muddy roadway would be all but impassable on countless days during the wet spring and winter seasons.
The school was called Conway, a place of learning for the neighborhood children five days a week, and on the seventh day, a place of worship for the entire community. Originally called Shelton Chapel, the land for the school was donated by members of my Grandmother’s family. The school and church was a simple one room unpainted clapboard building, the only source of heat was either a fireplace or wood stove, fueled with firewood hand-cut and brought to the school by the adult males of the area. As Daddy got a bit older, it was his responsibility to arrive at the school early and to lay the fire to ensure the building’s warmth when the other students and teachers arrived. Water was obtained by the simple means of dropping an empty bucket, tied to a rope by its handle, down into a well and pulling or “drawing” it back up by hand over hand until it reached the top. All the children drank from the same dipper, hence the cause of several near epidemics that Daddy recalled (one such being Whooping Cough). Toilets were a small square building, built away from the school building and water well for sanitation’s sake. They were constructed over a pit to hold the waste and moved occasionally in order to bury the unhealthy accumulation. Daddy said when the pit was full of waste, the building was simply hoisted and carried to another location where a pit had been dug and the used pit filled over with fresh dirt.
Young boys typically get into mischief, and certainly Daddy was no different. Flips were the favorite toy of all males, both large and small. On the trips to and from school, there were many diversions to tease and entice a boy intent on looking for mischief. One such amusement was shooting anything that moved with their trusty flip. Made of a piece of leather, two strips of rubber from a discarded tire and a forked limb of wood, these treasures were most likely hidden in the pockets of overalls during school hours. (Daddy said they would “borrow” inner tubes that Granddaddy had lain by on a shelf to repair later and cut strips to use as the rubber to make these flips.) Rocks, nuts and dirt clods made excellent ammunition and could be easily obtained by simply watching the ground as they walked along. One such jaunt brought Daddy a whipping he claims to have never forgotten. He and a cousin, Garnett Gillespie, were walking home from school one summer day, and as was the norm for them, they cut close to the neighborhood wash spot, Shelton Hole, where the women of the area did their laundry. On this day, and apparently several others before, one very large lady was involved in the task of providing clean clothing for her family. For some reason her broad backside made an irresistible target to the two boys as she labored over her chore. They SHOT her, and according to Daddy, they proceeded to do it over and over again, day after day! After many threats to report them to their Fathers, they must have assumed they were in no danger of being told on, kinda like the boy who cried wolf. They were wrong, because on that fateful day, news of their prank got home before they did and my Grandfather was waiting on him as he walked across the last field toward home. He said his Father whipped him BAD, probably the worst whipping he ever got. (I didn’t ask for details. All he said was “WHEW!”, and wiped his hand over his face. That was enough for me to know it was more than I wanted to get into!)
Conway stayed in existence until Daddy was in the Fourth Grade when the building burned to the ground early one morning before time for the school bell to ring. The students from the one room school were sent to a neighboring school, Midway. It was a larger building and had more classrooms and teachers than Conway. Students could attend there through the Seventh Grade. After completing their final year at Midway, students had to travel to town for further education. The school, mostly filled with students who lived in the city and close surrounding area, was unlike the country schools Daddy had grew up in. The city boys, in particular, were ‘snobs’ and looked down on the country boys for their lack of new clothes and shoes and made fun of what they called their countrified ways. Daddy only attended school for two weeks before quitting in the face of their ridicule and harassment. He then attempted to take on the world with a Seventh Grade education and a fierce determination to succeed.
My Grandfather worked away from home a great deal of the time, doing whatever he could to earn money to provide for his family. This left my Grandmother to raise her young and growing family alone for the most part. Each and every child had to do their share of the chores, handling whatever they were able to do at the time on a daily basis. Every farm chore, from milking to feeding had to be finished and then the children went to the cotton fields. Each farmer who wished it received a Cotton Allotment from the government. This meant a farmer set aside and planted a set amount of acres and that they agreed to take a certain amount per bale for their crop per year. Each day, Daddy and his siblings went to the cotton field to tend to their crop. When they finished for the day, they would pick a bucket of field peas or whatever crop was ripe to bring home to Grandmother to cook for dinner the following day. After they ate that night, they would sit and shell the peas so they would be ready to cook. Money was scarce during this time, young men often had to hire out to other farmers as day workers in order to purchase clothing. They hoed or “chopped” cotton all day in the blistering sun for 50 cents a day. And when the cotton was ready to harvest, they were paid 50 cents per every hundred pounds they managed to pick in a day. One cold winter day while snow lay deep over the frozen ground, Daddy said he could remember Granddaddy bundling up and he and a neighbor setting out to hunt armed with nothing but big long sticks in their hands. Fresh meat was scarce in the winter months and with a large family to feed, providing food was a major chore. I questioned the use of sticks for weapons of destruction and asked didn’t Granddaddy have a gun. Daddy quickly answered with “Why take a gun? The rabbits were about frozen. All you had to do was locate a likely hole in the snow, poke around with your stick and when the rabbit came out, knock it up side the head and kill it.” Hours later when Granddaddy came home, his waist was surrounded with so many rabbits he had killed and tied around it he could hardly stumble through the snow that covered him almost to his knees. Granddaddy set Daddy and his brother to cleaning the bounty, gutting and skinning the rabbits one after another. They were packed in a salt brine inside a churn, filling it to the brim, for safe keeping. I asked him wasn’t that enough meat to supply the family for months? His replay came as a shock…..he said Grandmother cooked two rabbits along with gravy and biscuits every morning for breakfast to feed them all. The two churns of skinned rabbits lasted only a few weeks!
In 1942 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and on December 8th of that year, President Roosevelt declared war against Japan. As the war began, the citizens of the United States soon began to feel the effects of the war. Rationing began almost immediately, starting with rubber and gasoline. Average motorists who used their vehicles for “nonessential” purposes were restricted to 3 gallons of gasoline a week. Also affected was the production of alcohol, cigarettes and every basic consumer product with the exception of eggs and dairy products. Each man, woman, and child received a ration book restricting them to a certain quota of food and essential products per week. Gas was so precious that my Grandfather would make them travel to church in the back of a horse drawn wagon instead of using the truck. The family managed to provide their own food by growing a vegetable garden. But with little way of preserving the crops, by winter time, Daddy and his siblings often ate cornbread and molasses for breakfast. They kept three or four cows to supply fresh milk and cornbread and sweet milk was often eaten as a meal as well. There were few amusements during this time either. Daddy said my Grandmother would sell the last egg from the house to enable her sons to go to town on Saturday to the 25 cent movie. For a dollar, Daddy could see three movies and enjoy popcorn and a Coke.
After leaving school, Daddy did odd jobs around his home and the neighboring farms. He did anything and everything from cutting wood to chopping and picking cotton, whatever honest labor he could find to earn money. Life was hard here in Alabama during this time, there were few jobs to be had that paid a decent wage. He was barely 15 when my Grandfather, who was a Foreman for John C. Nipp & Son, told him if went and joined the Union, he could get him a job working with him. John C. Nipp & Son was a contractor who worked at Engle Shipyard finishing out the ships that the yard built. Daddy worked there several months hanging insulation on the inside hulls of the ships that were manufactured there. He worked until warm spring weather came, then he and his cousin, Garnet Gillespie, left north Alabama for the greener pastures of the northern States.
A higher wage was paid to workers in the north and many men from the community where the Waters lived ventured there to try their hands at bring some of it home to their families. Daddy and Garnet traveled to Hartford, Michigan where they found work picking cherries at Hilltop Farms. They rented a room for $16 a week complete with a stove and refrigerator for cooking their own meals and a communal bathroom in the hall. Daddy earned more money per day picking cherries in Michigan than his Father made as Foreman in Alabama, $30 to $50 depending on how fast your hands were. With his pay, he purchased his first pair of real man’s pants to replace the overalls he normally wore. From somewhere he heard that a driver’s license could be obtained with a fake Birth Certificate. So Daddy, enterprising young man that he was, asked around until he learned how to obtain one. After shelling out $25 for the fake certificate (which had to have been a fortune in 1943), he was driving around Michigan with a fraudulent license obtained with a fake Birth Certificate. When the weather began turning cold, Daddy and most of the others returned home to the more temperate climate of north Alabama. But before he left, he bought one more thing, his first car, a 1934 Ford Coupe. He paid $150 of his earnings for that car and drove it home. Once again, he worked around the neighborhood to earn money and drew his unemployment. The money from Michigan’s unemployment was more than could be earned working a job at home.
The summer Daddy was sixteen years old, his Father gave him and Jack, his brother, a field of cotton to raise. They were to split the profits made in the fall when the cotton was harvested. Once the cotton came up, it failed to rain, meaning the crop would bring little money. Realizing this, Daddy took his last savings and bought a calf which he fattened up. He butchered the calf himself and took the meat door to door and sold it. When he had sold the entire calf, he told Jack he could have his half of the cotton field and returned north to Hartford, Michigan to look for work. He found a job picking strawberries. When the crop was finished for the year, he began to thin peaches, which entailed walking through the orchard with a big stick and knocking at least half the young peaches off the tree. This ensured that the remaining peaches would get bigger simply because there was less fruit to draw the nutrients supplied by the tree. According to Daddy this was the most dangerous job he ever had and probably the hardest. (Can you imagine having to dodge falling and flying kamikaze peach missiles as you tried to protect your head and shoulders and still see what you were doing?) When cold weather set in, he again returned home to live, working odd jobs and saving the money he had earned while working away from home. Before he left, he again bought a car in Michigan, this time a 1936 Ford. He said was the best driving and riding car they had ever made. He kept the car until the following spring, when he sold the car to his Father to get the stake to go back north to work.
The next year, he followed the same pattern, with Daddy going north to work during the summer and returning home when the weather turned cold. The summer her was seventeen or so, his brother Jack had traveled north with him. Jack couldn’t find work anywhere, so they took a job that entailed a ten mile bus trip to and from work each day. They were working for a carpenter doing finish work on houses and filling in and leveling dirt around the foundations. When Daddy got a chance to get a better paying job with less travel at Shakespeare Rod and Reels, he took it and Uncle Jack came home because he didn’t want to work alone. Daddy returned home to work with once again with my Grandfather, but while he was earning $2.65 an hour at the Kalamazoo Paper & Box Company in Michigan, the pay he earned here at home was much less, only $1.65 per hour, a difference of $40 per a 40 hour work week. It was easy to see why a young and single man would leave his home and everyone he held dear to travel to another state to work and live. The disparity in pay per week would have made all the difference in the world at that time.
The summer of 1950, Daddy and Jack could once again be found up north, Daddy working in the Caterpillar Tractor Factory in Peoria, Illinois. Uncle Jack received his Draft notice and had to answer the call, so Daddy brought him home. Ten days later, Jack walked in the door and laughing, handed Daddy his draft notice that had came in the mail. While Jack joined the Army. Daddy elected to join the Air Force. I believe his exact words were “Hell NO! I was not joining no Army!”. From what I understand, the Army was the worst of the armed forces to join for whatever reason and if he had to go, he would have a choice. If you got drafted, you went into the Army. Daddy entered active duty December 12, 1950 in Gadsden, Alabama. He was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and was trained to build runways and roads at various Military bases around the world. He went to Yokohama, Japan and to Korea. He was discharged September 27, 1954 and returned to Alabama.
When Daddy was released from the Air Force, he came home to north Alabama where he stayed with my Grandparents and settled in. He worked with my Grandfather in Sumpter County helping to construct two bridges until the cold weather forced them to come home. The risk of falling forty feet into the freezing water below was too much of a gamble to take. Once he returned to Lawrence County, Daddy took any odd job he could to earn money, turning his hand to any task, everything from farm work to cutting fire wood and selling it to neighboring families. Daddy and Uncle Jack also kept my Grandparents supplied with fire wood, both for the house and also for the small Country Store they owned and operated. It took two large wagon loads a week to heat both buildings.
Daddy’s cousin, N. V. Shelton had purchased a new truck. He asked Daddy to go halves with him in a venture that necessitated traveling to Cherokee, North Carolina to pick up apples and returning home and selling them. They hauled five loads, each containing 50 bushel of apples. Paying 50 cents per bushel for the apples when they purchased them, they then drove them back to Alabama and sold them for $2.00 per bushel or 75 cents for per quarter bushel. N. V. would set up a fruit stand in town in the back of his truck. Daddy would load his own flat bed pick-up and travel around the valley selling the apples door -to-door, at gins where people were crowded to sell their cotton harvest, or anywhere there were several gathered together. That was $1.75 per bushel profit and when selling ¼ bushels they made $2.50 profit, not counting the gasoline they used. Quite an enterprising idea.
After working all the daylight hours peddling apples, Daddy would hit the road, looking for something to do. He usually went to the next town, Decatur, because then, as now, Moulton had nothing happening after dark. According to him, the young men spent their time cruising up and down 2nd Avenue. I suppose it was the place to see and be seen so to speak. Another popular past time was visiting the Snack Bar in the Bus Depot located right off 2nd Avenue. Evidently the women who worked there changed shifts at 10 P. M. and the young men would line up 40 deep to get a chance to chat with them ( he said pick them up but I am trying to be nice here). One such night of carousing changed my Daddy’s life forever…………..