Grit Blogs > Where the Dirt Road Leads

Field Work or House Work

Laura LoweLand that was farmed by my family.

Most farming is done with machines nowadays but in earlier times the work was back breaking labor. On our farm Daddy raised cotton and a variety of vegetable crops. Cotton had to be chopped to thin it out. This was done with a sharp hoe and good concentration. Corn crops furnished food for the table and food for some of the farm animals and the chickens. Some of it was taken to a grist mill to be ground for meal for corn bread. Tilling up the fields was done by a plow pulled by our two mules Della and Frank. Daddy walked behind the plow and barked out orders to the mules to haw or gee. In the fall Daddy harvested sweet potatoes and peanuts.

In rural South Central Alabama children were often taken out of school to work in the fields. My parents would never have considered taking us out of school. They valued education too much and wanted my brother and me to get the best education possible. In the summer when school was out my brother and I would accompany our parents to the fields but we mostly played in the shade while they worked. As we got older I began to have a sneaking suspicion that one day I was going to have to work in the fields.

Working in the fields involved more than hard work. It involved working in the hot sun and getting dirty. I didn’t like either one. Sitting in the shade reading a book was more to my liking. By the time I was a pre-teen I admit I had become very lazy and got out of work any way I could. Momma was a very wise woman. She put up with my excuses of being sick for a time before she decided to teach me a valuable lesson. I tried pretending my stomach was hurting one time too many after dinner. By the way our mid day meal was called dinner. “Momma, my stomach is hurting,” I said. She replied, “It will feel better by the time you finish the dishes.” That was the beginning of the end of laziness for me. I soon learned to like house work.

But field work would be another issue. How in the world was I going to get out of this? I asked myself often. Finally I hit upon a plan. I figured that if I offered to do all of the housework instead of going to the fields my parents might go for it. I pitched it to them and yes, they accepted my plan. I agreed to clean the house, cook the noon day meal, do the family laundry on the wringer washing machine, do the ironing, wash dishes and anything else that needed doing.

My days were very full. I was grateful that I did not have to prepare breakfast. Everyone was usually gone by the time I got up. There was no time to rest however. I did the breakfast dishes. After that I began to prepare the noon meal. It was mostly vegetables from the garden. A typical meal might consist of field peas, fried corn, okra, greens, corn bread, iced tea and apple pie. If the seasonings were not right I got fussed at. This meal was prepared on a wood burning stove. The heat in that kitchen was almost as bad as being in the fields. Once a week I did the family’s laundry. Daddy and my cousin M.C. filled the washer with hot water. The two tubs for the rinsing were filled with cold water. We did not have running water so they had to draw the water from the well. Daddy would always admonish me to not get my hand caught in the ringer. I hung the washed clothes on a long clothesline and hoped the sunshine would last. I might do the ironing the next day.

I did this for a couple of summers before I finally gave up and went to work in a field picking butter beans for our neighbor. That is a story for another time. The summer I decided to stay home and do all the housework will always stick in my memory. I nearly worked myself silly, but I didn’t have to go to the fields. I learned a lot that summer. I learned that I have tremendous powers of persuasion. This knowledge and this ability has served me well at several points in my adult life. I certainly have no regrets about choosing house work over field work that fateful summer.

I did the family laundry on a washer like this one.

Meals were prepared on a stove like this one.