“Growing Up In the Country in Oak Grove, Louisiana”
Written by Esther Eley Jones
Growing up in a family of ten was a joy and a privilege. Having a family this size each member learned to carry their “load.”The joy came from our family living on a farm in the country and the children were able to play outside. We were able to breathe that fresh country air with no pollution, wade in Tiger Bayou, swing on our homemade swing, play with our corn dolls, and take turns riding our one bicycle, and there was always the game of red rover. Our siblings were our play mates, our next door neighbors were relatives so we were never alone for any length of time. We lived on a farm so we raised our vegetables, farm animals, cows, pigs, and chickens.
The older children did chores around the house, helped milk the cows, feed the hogs, and hoe or chop cotton or pick cotton when the time came. When the corn in the field was ready to pull that was another job to be done. Pulling the ears of corn and throwing it in the wagon! What an unpleasant task that was! The food that was planted and gathered was canned and stored for the winter. The corn was used for feeding the animals and for making corn meal. When the blackberries were ready in season, the family would go and pick those and most times, there would be a bumper crop. Of course there were the pesky little red bugs better known as chiggers that would we would get on us as we walked through the grass to pick the berries. We would itch and scratch all night after a day of picking blackberries. Then, there was the fear of a snake slithering nearby that would keep each one of us keeping a watchful eye; however, it was always worth the adventure, especially when Mother would make her special blackberry cobbler and blackberry jam. Mealtime at the Eley house was a solemn and reverent time.
Meals at our house what fond memories! When meal time came the family was summoned to come “eat.” When called to eat we were called one time and came and took our place at the table. The family gathered around the table and ate our meal quietly and orderly. Pass the peas, please! Pass the bread! Daddy did the talking and mother would talk if the opportunity presented itself. The children ate their meal and when finished got up quietly and left the table. Meals were enjoyed to the very last bite! The girls took turns cleaning the kitchen after meals doing one week at a time. This saved a lot of arguing over who will do the dishes and clean the kitchen. Now when it was mine and Jean’s turn we would take a few short cuts by sticking dirty pans in the oven. That worked as long as we did not get caught. Usually we did though! When caught we were summoned back in to finish the job. Grocery shopping in those days was another serious job. Daddy would drive Mother to the grocery store to buy the staple groceries. For some unknown reason to me, Mother never learned to drive a vehicle. Until we moved from Oak Grove Mother and Daddy did their grocery shopping one time a month. When we lived in Oak Grove, they traveled there to shop and buy just the staple groceries, when we moved to Concord Community it was closer for them to shop at Terry grocery. We lived on a farm so we raised our vegetables, farm animals, cows, pigs, and chickens so only staple foods or an occasional bag of apples or grapes were bought when they shopped for groceries. Those were hard times for the Eley family of ten, and it was getting more difficult for Daddy to provide for his family on the farm.
Daddy had been farming his whole life and that was all he knew to do; however, he made the decision to move and start logging with Mr. Billy Seamans. By this time Ruby, the oldest child had married Buford Parden and they moved to Beaumont, Texas. Polly married Royal Parden, and then Mary married Larry Klick. Royal, Larry and Buddy were drafted into the Army for their four year term in the service. Jean went to Texas to stay with Ruby and while there she married. So now there are three children left at home, Esther, Kathryn, and Johnny. Royal, Larry, and Buddy thought by them going in Army at the same time they would be sent to the same place; however to their surprise the Army had other plans for them. Royal did his basic training and was sent to Okinawa and Larry did his basic training and was sent to Germany. Each one of them served their term in the service and returned home. Polly and Royal later moved to Buras, Louisiana where Royal worked in the oil fields. The decision to give up farming was a tough decision for Daddy since farming was all he had ever known.
When I was growing up we had the basic necessities. There was always plenty of food to eat, a place to live, and a way of travel for our family. We grew up taking care of each other, and watching out for the needs of our family. The older girls Ruby and Polly took care of us two younger girls. They would take us to church and make sure that we got on the school bus. They did this until they were married and moved away.
Christmas at our house was a lot of fun. There was always the Christmas parade in Oak Grove and the riders on the float would give bags of fruits and nuts out to all the children attending the parade. When we got up on Christmas morning we knew there would be a pile of fruit and nuts for each of us that Santa had left. Then Christmas dinner was a time of rejoicing. There was always a feast to enjoy on Christmas day. Lots of mother’s homemade pies and cakes, a large pan of dressing with all the trimmings and that special fruit salad that only mother could make.
We somehow got a Sears and Roebuck Catalog. We probably got it in the mail. We would look through that catalog for Christmas toys, clothes and all kinds of stuff. Then we would take the catalog and cut paper dolls out of it, and use the pages to make us cars for our paper dolls. We would also cut the clothes out to dress the paper dolls. We didn’t get Christmas presents under the tree on Christmas morning, but we spent many enjoyable hours cutting out paper dolls and playing with those. We were thrilled to get that.
Mother smoked Prince Albert tobacco for as long as I can remember.
came in a red can. Jean and I would take those cans when Mother finished with
them and press the back down and make us a Chevrolet car. We pushed the car
around and pretended there were people in it. We spent many hours playing with
our Chevrolet cars.
Our dolls were ears of corn. Not just any ear of corn. They were specially picked from the cornfields. The ear of corn had to have either blonde silks for blonde hair or dark brown silk for brown hair. These were our dolls for play. We would brush their hair. The blond silk ears of corn were the young ears of corn before it dried on the stalk, and the brown silk ears of corn were ears of corn that were dried. After the corn was harvested then we would have to find another doll to play with. Our other dolls were sticks of wood that Daddy had cut to use in the fireplace or the stove in the winter. We would dress (pretend of course) the dolls and play for hours with them. We learned to be creative in our play, and spent a lot of time outside playing.
Growing up in a large family had its advantages, and most of Daddy’s cousins had large families. We had a lot of relatives who we would visit on Sundays. Daddy was the oldest child in his family. We visited Aunt Gladys Copes, Aunt Ellen Holden, daddy’s two sisters, and Aunt Leckie Lee, Daddy’s aunt, at different times, usually on Sunday afternoons. When the “Alabama Folks” came to Louisiana all the families would gather for a reunion. What fun those reunions were! Growing up in rural area in a parish that was an agriculture community taught us to enjoy the simple things of life, to appreciate the material things we had, and to cherish our family heritage. Those were happy times. Our family was blessed with good health, eight living children, and our basic needs were met. Mother was always at home with us children. Daddy was out working the fields on the farm and making a living for the family and at night was home with his family. Our family had little as far as wealth and riches but we had our heritage.
Daddy was the head of our household, and he was honored as head. When Daddy spoke, we listened. Daddy worked and supported our family and mother cooked and clothed us. Mother saved her flour sacks that they bought their flour in and made the girls dresses to wear. We were bought one pair of shoes a year. They would take us to “town” and buy us shoes. We got a pair of shoes whether they fit us or not - we got them. When mother or daddy told us children to do something we did it, and did not ask why we had to do it, argue, or talk back to them. We just did what they told us to do out of respect for them. They were our parents and we respected them. When our parents told us to go outside and play, we were more than happy to go outside. We knew if we did not go out and play there were always chores to do. Therefore, we did not have to be told but once to go play, or we would be put to work doing chores. When we children went out to play, we played with our brothers and sisters. Then there were the stories of Indians.
Mother used to tell us kids that Indians at one time lived in the area. There was a mound down the road from where we lived on Mr. Lee Landrum’s place. We kids would go on a scavenger hunt for Indian relics, and most of the times would find some. We would find pieces of pottery and arrowheads.
Growing up in a home with five sisters and two brothers, responsibilities were learned. We always had something to do and someone to play with during your spare time. There was no time to get bored. It was a joy to grow up with a large family and live on a farm. Those days when family ate meals together, visited family together, shared holidays together, and was there when a family member was sick or a family member passed away have gone forever in the busy lives of families today.
Family is everything.