Mt. Camel Seaboard, S* C, July 19, 1939
Seaboard, S* C,
July 19, 1939
B. --iC. H.
"I've had Good Landlords"
"Diminutive Ernest Flythe, white sharecropper, parks his old
Chevrolet coupe in front of ^orvell's and, Viands in pocket, begins to inspect store windows.
(FromVsaturday Afternoon Street Scene", April 3,
His tall plump wife whose proximity dwarfs him joins two women
friends, and their Saturday afternoon is on.
After a round of the
they stand on the sidewalkiiear the Chevrolet laughing,talking,
and greeting chance acquaintances.
Once they stretch their hands, sim-
ulating beggars and momentarily startling\an acquaintance, who slaps
their hands resoundingly when their identity\Jias registered.
The little Flythe man, very Various and business-like,
brings a box of groceries to the Chevrolet and does not smile at the kittenish w^men."
The unpainted weather-beaten cottage of the Ernest Flythes is
dwarfed by the grand old oaks at the front.
Ernest Flythe, very serious
and business-like, stops his work in the baok yard, glances at the car
that has just parked in his driveway and at the(exposingVent in his overalls/pants), and hesitatingly comes forward, holding the torn place together with his left hand.
He is an abnormally little man.
the porohless house Mrs. Flythe, dressed neatly in pink ging-
ham, advances toward the driveway hospitably,
dwarfing her husband as
the oaks do their house.
there are no little red
It is a tidy place;
wagons, no play-houses under the trees.
Ruffled white curtains at the
two front windows blow against the screens, but no little faces peer out
at the strange car.
It is several minutes before the little Flythe man
can forget the rent in his pants and talk about farming.
"We're farmin* on shares for Miss Minnie Taylor, who lives in
It's all we can do to make buckle and tongue meet, I tell you.
Five hundred dollars is all I can hope to make on a one-horse crop a average year, and just half of that is mine. Two hundred and fifty dollars,
right smart less than that last year, has got to take care of everything.
It takes $150 to run us, the best we can do, to buy the rations and the
clothes we need — n
I don't think we buy the clothes we need, to look at you this
Mrs. Flythe laughs, slapping her little man on the knee. He
blushes, looks around as though for escape,
out presen'ly if I don't sew you in. But I tell you the truth, my health
is so bad a lot is neglected I'd ought to do.
I don't get oredit for be-
in' so feeble because I'm big-framed and carry right much flesh, but you
can't go from looks every time.
I'm thirty six, right in my prime if I
had any health, but medicine is all keeps me livin'.
It ain't food;
eat next to nothin'.,T
Her doctor's bill and medicine costs around sixty dollars
year, about a fourth of what is made on the farm. A bill is owin' Dr.
Parker right now;
I don't know how much, for it ain't no use to ask un-
less I had some money to pay him.
when I go for him, matters not how
a hundred dollars
he never refuses to come
behind we are.
still ain't all paid for, though it's down to some
over thirty dollars now."
"I was operated on for goit-rer," Mrs. Flythe explains, "but not
in time, Dr. Parker says, to save me from havin' a bad heart and high
Since I come from Roanoke Rapids, if I eat a piece o'
hog meat or of pickle I get drunk as a drunk man. Why, I ain't touched a
piece o' hog meat in three weeks; then I was down several days.
to have dyin' away spells. Ernest often has to go after the doctor in
the middle of the night, not knowin' if I'll be alive when he gets back.
I have to take three kinds of medicine three times a day and will long as
I live. While I'm always runnin' on with Dr. Parker about his medicine
ain't wuth two cents, it's all keeps me here."
"Dr. Parker charges four dollars to oome this far from town, and
the bottles of medicine she gets costs seventy five apiece and the blue
pills fifty cents a week —
sixty dollars a year easy.
I've got accident
insurance for $500 with the Woodmen, which costs me eighteen dollars
year, but which I try to keep up so if anything was to happen to me she
would have that much to live on. My fertilizer amounts to about thirty
dollars a year, and I pay five dollars a year to our church. That takes
up the two hundred and fifty dollars, don't it?
"I've been sharecroppin' every since I was married, sixteen years
Before that I worked by the day as farm laborer around Conway where
I was born. My folks rented and shared long as they lived.
When my fath-
I went to Roanoke Rapids to work in the cotton mill for about
two years. It was good money workin' in the mill, twenty five dollars a
and not as hard as fermin' in the hot sun. But I couldn't seem
to save, since the work didn't run reg'lar noway. From the mill I went
to the army and after a few months in camp crossed the waters. Our com pany was never in the fighting,
though we had just been ordered to the
firin' line when the peace was signed.
I was glad to lea^e over there;
they ain't as good a class o' folks as ours, and 'tain't as good a country.
I didn't see nothin' particular to remember."
The war done one thing:
it brought me and Ernest together. His
brother, Jesse, worked at Papa's as a day laborer, and him and Ernest
carried on a correspondence across the waters.
Ernest had to get a army
friend to write for him, as he just can scribble his name, and Jesse got
me to answer the letters for him.
went beyond the sixth grade.
I could do right good, though I never
Presently I was writin' Ernest letters my-
self, and 'fore it ended we was makin' love across the waters. When
got home from France, we finished up our oourtin' and got married."
We started out together sharecroppin' for Peter Spencer."
faint smile J>lays over - the serious
face of the little man. "I rather
gone back to the mill to work, for money's easier to make than 'tis to
dig it out o' the ground, but — w
"I wouldn't leave the farm. My father sharecropped and rented
most of his life, movin' round right smart up and down Bynum road. Once
he made a payment on a place, but lost it the next years when prices was
I was born in the country and just didn't want to work in the mill.
So we decided to stay on the farm."
"We stayed at Peter Spencer's for nine years. He was a good man
to work for. Livin' on his place was more like ownin' a farm than it
was sharecroppin', for he let us do as we pleased. He trusted his sharecroppers with all the corn and peanuts, and we could o' fed his part of
the corn to our team and sold off some of his peas if we had been mind to.
But when a man puts trust in me I wouldn't misplace ary ear o' corn or
sack o' peas for nothin'.
Mr. Spencer had us keep
a book just like his
so our account would run out together at the end of the year. She helped
me with the book; though I oan figger in my head faiter'n she can with a
I ain't no good at »ettin' nothin' down on paper.
It was so far
to walk to Frog-Pond School and there was such bad weather the short season we had to go, none of us got much schoolin'.
Our book and Mr. Spen-
cer's always come out together. He paid for pickln' off one half the peanuts, which most landlords won't do, though I don't see no more reason
for them payin' for half of the glnnin' than for one half the pea-pickin'.
While I was at Mr. Spencer's cotton prices was good, from twenty five to
thirty cents a pound once, and one year we cleared
$400. I invested my
first earnin's in a mule, and I've always had a team since then. That
$400 is the most I ever made in a year.
"For two years we sharecropped with Mr. Joe Warrick.
He was a
good man to work for, though a little tight with the pocket book. Our nexilandlord was Bonzella Gay. He was all right to work for too. We had
little trouble gettin' our rental check there, but I reckon he thought he
needed It bad as we did.
He's pore too.
"I've had four different landlords, and every one was good
If any of 'em ever took advantage of me in any way I never
knowed it. There was never no trouble settlin';
I got what was oomin' to
me out o* the crop, and the landlord got his. There was never no disagreement and no short words between us. What I asked for, I got. Once I did
find out there was a shortage in the weight o' some peas, but I found out
Mr. Spencer was bein' cheated by the buyer same as I was. The peanuts
wa'n't holdin' out good as I thought they'd ought; so I slipped a different pea to the scales and found one bag was 299 pounds that the buyer had
weighed with his pea as 275. When I told Mr. Spencer I wouldn't accept
the weights, he begged me to let it go that time; the buyer was a rough
feller, and to avoid a row I took my lossage.
"We've been here at Miss Minnie Taylor's place goin' on three
I reckon we'll die here unless she gets tired of us. When we
moved, I told her if she got tired o' me to le'me know by August, and I'd
do the same by her. That's the only bargain we ever made.
She's a nice
I just soon work for her shareoroppin' as to own a farm;
know no difference, for she lets me do as I please. Then I ask her advice
about things , she says:
*I don't know nothin* about farmin'.
She has fixed up this place for us, built that nice barn
with all the shlter room I want, a chicken house, and a smokehouse for
"And give me a plenty o' paint to go over the inside o' the house.
Colored folks lived here before we did, and when we moved bed bugs was
so bad I couldn't get rid of 'em no other way but with paint. Miss Min nie says she's goin' to build me a porch to the front, which will help a
It's a good house to live in; it' ceiled tight enough to keep the
wind out in winter, and all these shade trees makes it cool in summer. I
been aimin' to chop down them weeds yonder at the edge o' the yard, but
I stay so no 'count I can't even lift a hoe.
I want to get 'em down 'for
Miss Minnie gets back from New Jersey."
"She's the best landlord I ever worked for. She ain't even seen
the cotton since it come up, but I think she'll be proud of the crop when
she gets home.
Cotton is pretty as you usually see, if the boll weevil
don't ruin it; he's in there now.
Everything's laid by, and my next
job is to cut my peanut poles and stand 'em in the field ready for peadiggin'.
There's always some thin' to do round a place even after the crop
is laid by or housed, with twenty two acres to tend and me doin' all the
I stay busy from February till December farmin'.
kill and wood to haul and split.
Then hogs is to
I'm forty six, and seems like I ought
to be good for ten more years
o' hard work before I start fallin' back
I'm tough as a light'ood knot now; I ain't had a doctor to me in
"You're thin as a rail,"
Mrs. Flythe observes, apprailing
"*rom workin' so hard.
field and cook his supper.
Sometimes he has to oome in from the
If I*» able to drag, I try to cook his meals,
wash our clothes, and tend to the chickens, for we ain't able to hire
nothin'. The chickens is a big help here;
in the summer.
they nearly buy our clothes
If we was able I'd go to Duke for examination, but
wouldn't want me to stay up there without him, and —
pin' here I believe. Yes, it is. It's Claud.
That car's stop-
You better go see what he
Ernest goes to the road to see what Claud wants, as
lowers her voioe to a confidential tone.
some children to help us
"We ought to have
out, but the doctors didn't want me to have
I could have a girl big enough to take the kitchen now,
hadn't been afraid.
I think I got a cancer. My mother died
with one in her side, and I have dyin' away spells like she did. But we
won't never save us enough money for me to go to Duke.
I reckon we'll
die in the County Home."
"Far as savin' up anything is ooncerned,"
"I don't see no prospects of that unless prices goes
up a lot from what they've been the last few years.
I got no notion of
ever ownin' a home, and long as we got a good place like this to live at
I don't care to own. Miss Minnie
and more if I ask for it —
furnishes us twelve dollars a month
twenty dollars some months —
and never com-
plains about it. She lets me have corn land for myself, though of course
I have to pay all the fertilizer on it, and she pays one half the peanut
pickin' expenses, one half comin' out of my part. We raise our own meat,
our chickens and vegetables, and the neighbors
is good about givin' us
milk. Mrs. Matthews is always sendin' somethin' here. We got good neighbors.
The Rickses comes to set with us till bedtime or when she's sick,
and Mrs. Matthews sends her baked apples and cake and butter when she's
down in bed.
We don't go nowhere ourselves except to Jackson and Sea -
board and Galatia Church;
take us anyway.
that's'bout as far as our piece o' car will
She ain't been to churoh since last August, but I try
to get there twice a month to the pre^ohin' services.
farthest I ever been.
Course France was farther, but that wa'n't
"It makes me nervous to go to churoh. It's bad on my heart. The
only reason I go with him to Seaboard and Jackson Sad'y evenin's is because he don' want to leave me here by myself.
We went on a excursion
to Torfolk right after we was married, and I took a cheap trip to Washington
in a truck a few years ago. I took along all my medicine and told
a woman friend of mine in the party how to give it if I started dyin'
away. By good luck l made the trip all right and saw
We don't even keep
a lot of interest-
up with the news no more; since
Jackson News went up to $1.50 we dropped it. I take Country Life, which
is all we have to read."
"I don't read, but from what I hear Roosevelt's wantin' to run
That means he'll be king, don't it?
Well, if he wants it, they
ought to let him have it 1 think. He»s been good to the pore class. We
both voted for himtwice and will again.
She votes reg'lar as l do. Plen-
ty women has to take a man's place in the field, and they ought to have
the same rights as a man.
The farm program is a good thing, the way
see it. My rental checks l figger is just give to me, for the land I rent
to the gover'ment and sow down in peas and stuff is just that much more'n
I could tend anyway.
"Far as the future is concerned I donft give it much thought.
The present keeps me busy.
Like I said,
if farm prices was high enough
so the sharecropper could get a livin* and have a little to put away
for sickness and bad luck, sharecroppin' would be
If I could
make $400 a year clear,
kind of job."
good as any kind oT
that's all I'd ask of