I Remember When . .
| The year was 1936, near the
middle of a long, hot, dry summer on our rented farm west of Horntown,
when we saw the black man come walking down the hot, dusty road. It seemed
as if he knew exactly where he was going as he turned into our driveway
and walked up to my father and they greeted each other warmly. The man's
name was Grady Hammill and he had worked for my dad about 3 years before,
until dad was no longer able to afford him. I was barely 10 years old at
the time, my sister, Kathryn, a little more than 12, and my sister,
Rosaline was probably just past 16.
His clothing was shabby, his body wracked with hunger, judged from his sunken cheeks and leanness. He had the look of a haunted man. He asked dad for a job. Dad had severe chronic appendicitis at the time and was hurting badly. He needed help desperately, but didn't think he could afford to leave the crops that were underway and go to the veterans' hospital for the operation, so he had continued working and holding his side in the meanwhile. Grady needed work badly and was pressing hard for a job. It was a very hard thing to do, but dad had to tell him that he just didn't have the money to pay him. Finally, after some consideration, dad asked Grady how much he would have to get to work there. Grady said "I've been gettin' two bits a day and room and board. Now to you young'ns that is 25 cents. considering the way he looked, I don't believe there had been much board. My dad thought it over and decided to try it. A small shack was constructed and Grady moved in. It had enough room for a cot, wood heating stove and an apple crate or maybe a chair. Dad then left for Muskogee and the hospital for the appendectomy. Grady, mom, my two sisters and I were able to do a decent job keeping things humming until dad got back. To me, the biggest problem was that Grady was relegated to the kitchen for his meals. He had the same food we had, but no, in those days the white folks did not eat with the colored folks. This bothered me a lot, really made me very sad. After all, he was a man and performing diligently the same duties that we were. It just did not appear right, the separation at mealtime.
I remember him and I trudging down the road for about a mile and a half to the south forty to chop cotton while dad was in the hospital with our cotton hoes over our shoulders. We would wrap tow sacks [burlap bags] around our fruit jars filled with water. We first tried soaking the wrappings with water to keep them cool, but to no avail. The hot, dry summer heat would dry them in almost no time at all. Then we dug holes in the ground and buried them. That too, was of almost no help, because the ground was so hot. One day I remember vividly, while we were chopping cotton, the temperature reached 114 degrees in the shade, of which we had no time to enjoy. Even though the wind loved to move swiftly, to spread the heat, and help by some evaporative cooling, we felt very little from it, since the field was tree-lined and prevented most of it from reaching us. I was wearing pants, no shoes and a ball cap. Grady was dressed about the same.
While my father was in the hospital, they kept them there much longer than they do today, some of Grady's friends from Bakersfield, California came to visit him. They pleaded with him to come back with them and assured him of a good job there. Grady's answer was "no, Mr. Chesta' gave me a job when I needed one and I won't leave him while he's in the hospital". And he kept that promise. The more they pleaded with him, the more adamant he became. He told them he might come after dad was back and well, but he didn't go, at least at that time. He stayed as long as we needed him, about 2 or 3 more years I think.
Once our house caught fire. The old flue pipe had rusted through and had started a blaze in the attic. It was winter, the temperature was far below the freezing mark, dad was ailing, there was no water in the kitchen, the well pump was frozen, so we called Grady. He came running in and we finally thought of the full slop bucket in the kitchen. We hurriedly placed a chair beneath the opening to the attic, grabbed the slop bucket and handed it to Grady. He grabbed the full bucket and was up in the attic, it seemed, in only one movement, splintering the chair on the way. The fire was mostly around the flue and Grady was able to douse it with what he had with him.
When Grady would walk to town on Saturday evenings, he wore his long handles, even in the summertime, to keep from getting his clothing sweaty. He also went barefooted, carrying his shoes until he neared town, to save shoe leather. He was baptized in our pond.
Dad always paid all the cotton pickers the same, no matter if it was his children or Grady. We got to handle the money, though it would be spent on schoolbooks and school clothing. When I was older I saved enough to buy a Rhode Island Hen and a setting of Buff Orpington eggs from the neighbor. Then I was in the chicken business.
Grady was with us when I fell out of the wagon. Dad and I were standing in the front of the wagon and facing Grady when the front end gate on which I was leaning, fell out and yours truly went with it. Grady yelled out and dad jerked the reins to stop the horses at the same time. When they got out to pick me up, the right front wheel was against my head. I was a little stunned. I firmly believe this was one of the many times my guardian angel has protected me.
Once, George, a friend of Grady's, came by to visit him on his way to California and stayed overnight. When Grady came back to his shack after milking that next morning, George was gone and so was Grady's life-savings of fourteen dollars.
Grady was unbeatable in a snowball fight. I went to get him for dinner [lunch] one winter day. There was a good covering of snow, so I felt it was my job to alert him in a most amazing way, by tossing snowballs at his door and down the flue. In a moment he came out fighting, grabbing snow with one hand, squeezing it into a snowball and hurling it with deadly accuracy with the other. Snowballs were coming at me faster than I could dodge them. Therefore I made a fast retreat to the safety of the house. Yes sir, it didn't take a ton of snow in the in the face to get this kid's attention
I could say much more about Grady, but Grady if you're listening, just know I recall you with the fondest of memories.
Harry Shumard---Class of '43