Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor

Neighbors were an important part of life in the twenties and thirties. Our neighbors were in and out of our home all the time. Sometimes it was to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg to finish out a recipe. Sometimes a neighbor would stop in to share vegetables or cookies.

But often the visits were just to sit and talk. It was not uncommon for several neighbor women to visit with my mother on our front porch late afternoons after a long day of work.

On evenings our front porch seemed to also be the gathering place for men, women and children after the evening meal (referred to as "supper") at night. The porch had several inviting rocking chairs as well as a swing with space enough to seat three adults.

While the adults were talking, the children played "hide and seek" or "kick the can" out in the front yard or on the unpaved road in front of our house.

I have fond memories as a child of being in and out of the homes of the Finchers, the Parnells, the Moores, the Hornings. And they visited with us daily.

Then there was a quaint lady from out of town, who, with her children, would visit us overnight and sometimes for two or three days several times a year. I remember sitting on our front porch (along with various friends and neighbors) near sundown one afternoon.

We looked down the street and saw this lady and her children coming toward our house. I said to Mama, "Here comes Mrs. Johnson (I'll call her)."

Someone asked Mama why Mrs. Johnson and her children often came to our house. They lived miles away. The answer seemed simply enough to Mama. "We were neighbor to them on the farm," Mama said.

As I have told in another post, Papa made the difficult decision to move off their farm into a nearby Textile community after the onslaught of boll weevils that all but destroyed their annual cotton profits as the South was trying to recover from the devastation of the Civil war.

The former neighbor lady, Mrs Johnson was short and heavy. Her dark hair was pulled straight back in a bun. Her only daughter and older child was "Mae." Mae was thin and very subdued. She was even more shy than I! Mae walked just a little behind her mother on the sidewalk as they made their way down our street. The three little brothers followed their mother and sister in a procession.

I can visualize them now as they walked toward our house. Mama welcomed them, gave them supper, found a bed for the lady, and put pallets of folded quilts and a feather pillow each on the floor for Mae (and me). Mrs. Johnson sleep in my bed. Mama also put a comfortable pallet of quilts on the floor for the three little boys.

I do not remember what, if anything, Mae and I talked about before we fell asleep side by side on the floor. The lady had a husband but we never saw him. I overheard someone say her husband was "sorry’ and "no account".

Children were "seen and not heard " in those days. So, of course, I did not ask. But I learned by listening.
In these days before Television, this was a mystery somewhat like a soap opera.

While visiting with us, Mrs. Johnson would always get up early, and she would come to the place where Mae and I were sleeping on the floor and say, "Rise, Mae." I thought this was "funny."

Incidentally, we sometimes referred to mentally ill people as someone who "acted funny" or had "gone crazy." I thought the Johnsons "acted funny" and we both laughed at some of their ways and cried for them.

Looking back it may have been wife and/or child abuse that caused them to leave their home so suddenly, walk five or six miles and show up at our house. As far as I know they came and went without explanation. If Mama knew, she kept her own counsel and always treated Mrs. Johnson and her children with respect, preparing food and bedding for them as respectfully as she did when her own sisters visited.

After all, we had been "neighbor to them" on the farm.


Janice said...

No wonder you are such a special person -- every story I hear about Mama Baird adds to her unique sensitivity, charm and graciousness. I am so glad that I have so many memories of her!

Carol said...

I just love this story. I can picture Mrs. Johnson saying, "Rise, Mae."

Andy McCullough said...

I am enjoying browsing thru your blog -- though i should be sleeping! Your story reminds me of how my grandmother described the Depression years. She told me that it was not uncommon for someone, a stranger, to knock at the door just wanting some food. She said they could always at least offer a biscuit. How things have changed. Robin McCullogh