This narrative is based on a conversation with Mrs. Louella Amar, who spent most of her first 7 years living on a share-cropping farm near Roanoke, VA in the 1930’s. Excerpted from a word-for-word transcript recorded May 31, 2007 in Beckley, WV.
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The farmers would help each other. Say you had a farm, Mrs. Daily, you had a farm, he had a farm, I had a farm. We would, I’d go to you, help you, you would take your man or men and you would go to Mrs. Daily, and help her. Then you all, we all three would go over to Bernard’s farm and help him. The only thing was required, and it was understood, that you are going to feed us lunch, dinner as they called it; (the last meal in the evening was called supper). And it wasn’t any money exchanged, you know, none of the livestock, none of that stuff. It was just a neighborly thing. You never had to go get anyone, tell them “Well, man, you supposed to be over at my farm today.” It wasn’t. It was understood that in the morning at seven o’clock we are going to be over at Mrs. Daily’s farm. At seven o’clock in the morning we either will be there or we’ll be pulling up on the ground. And we are going to work until it’s done, then we’ll move on to the next one….
At harvest time other farmers would come in to help us. They would help because it was no one there but my great-grandmother’s husband, Mr. John Ed, and my Uncle Robert, and Louie Johnson who was my great-granddaddy’s grandson. And other farmers would come, very generous with their help. There was not “Well, maybe I’ll come,” or “I got something else to do.” In harvest time they would come and help each other go from farm to farm. And it wasn’t any money involved or anything like that; it was just your manual labor and “thank you.” And the only thing that we did was--we were expected to feed them dinner (as we call it, lunch). In the evening, they went home.
And while I’m on this route I might as well stay. My great grandmother, Lettie Ann, she had a stroke and it was during harvest time. It was the first day of harvest that the men were to come to our farm. And the men had to be in the field by seven o’clock. I don’t care what was going on, they had to be in the field by seven o’clock.
(Great-granddaddy would get up in the morning and make the fire, he had brought the coal and stuff in at night. Get up around 5 o’clock and make the fire in the coal-wood stove. We didn’t have one of these stoves where part of it is gas and the other part is wood or coal, the whole thing was a wood stove.) So Granny had a stroke. Well the men got to be in the field at seven o’clock. “What we gonna do? Well here’s Louella; she can do something.” Well, carry Granny downstairs and set her in a chair. I was ordered to get my clothes on and get downstairs. Now I’m just a little thing, about seven or so. And do you know that I cooked lunch for those men under Granny’s direction! Because my aunt and my cousin they lived in Roanoke and we didn’t have a telephone. Granddaddy had to go to the lady who owned the farm, Mrs. Nyningham, to call into Roanoke to tell my Aunt Mary and my cousin Thelma and Aunt Oscie to come out there because Granny had had a stroke and the men they were there in the field, and the men had to have their dinner. At twelve o’clock, not twelve thirty, not fifteen after twelve, but twelve o’clock. OK, when they got there, round eleven-thirty, dinner was done. All I had to do, where I had set the table, all I had to do was go out in the woods and get a branch off of a tree to fan the flies with, cause we didn’t have fans and things. So I stood, just stood at the end of the table and I’d fan the flies while the men ate. You ever heard of anything like that? Oh it’s something….
You’d hang the clothes on the fence, because you did not have clothes lines. Now Mrs. Nyningham, who the farm belonged to, she had all these luxuries. She had cars, and, you know, just everything that you would need, but we didn’t, because we were sharecroppers and we lived the life of a sharecropper.
My granny canned, otherwise we wouldn’t have had anything to eat. She could can chicken, sausage, all of that stuff and put it under the steps. Hundreds of cans, and she knew exactly where everything was. She’d get the lantern and she’d take that and go in that closet and get whatever she wanted. Had big old barrels, wooden barrels, full of flour, corn meal, sugar, and all that stuff and you got that when you went to the mill. They would divide up between the farm owner, the lady who owned the farm, Mrs. Nyningham, and Grand-daddy. They’d divide whatever percentage it was supposed to get, and everybody was happy. Me, I was too tired to be happy.