By W. P. Sissell
A Couple of Calls
Yesterday afternoon, when we returned from a trip to the doctor with our granddaughter, Kristin, we had several calls on our answering machine. Betwix and between answering those I got an interesting one from a lady living in the Sylva Rena Community (the north Mississippi one—did you know that there is one in south Mississippi)? First let’s go to the time of year. In our neck of the woods its time for the ripening of watermelons—know how to gauge the ripeness of a melon? The carnival has been going in Water Valley for many years. It was dropped for a number of years but has recently been re-activated.
Watermelons originally came into vogue around Yalobusha County in a search for diversification. Cotton had been the major cash crop for years. As I grew up, the Kraft Cheese plant came in and gave lots of people usage of lands that would not support cotton very well but was excellent pasture land. Our farm, out where Otuckalofa Creek crossed the Mud Line, had many acres that grew excellent hay and pasture primarily because in flood times, as close to the junction with Yocona River as we were, we got many acres suddenly covered with sand.
Watermelons from Water Valley became widely known and savored until a mistake was made (upon which we will not dwell). That pretty well broke the back of watermelons as a special diversification crop. That last year we had about thirty acres of melons—35 cents and three cents for culls was about the going price. Do you know that cows like watermelons—ours did and we fed many melons to cows that year.
The Sylva Rena Lady
The lady from Sylva Rena who called told me that she called because I mentioned George Eidson in a previous column. George went fishing with Doyle Rotenberry, Ralph Monteith and me several times. Our common thread was that we came from Yocona Bottom. The lady brought something to mind that I hear in many of the calls that come, something that I and many of you share: we grew up in the depression years—many people would have said “the Great Depression” but I don’t think it was so great. Our big treat for the week was a nickel pack of Juicy Fruit gum—there were four of us and I don’t remember who finally got that fifth piece. Bob Samuels just told me how he and “Freck” had to split a Coke.
The lady told me about all the different farms her family lived on. One of the things she told me about was the schooling. Nannette and I began teaching in the period when many children were not allowed to pass unless they attended a set number of days. We can cite several cases in which the parents got assignments and the children did their work at night by coal oil lamps, after chopping or picking cotton all day. When I asked where she finished school she told me she quit school early. I want to sincerely thank that lady for a very interesting conversation. By the way, when I told Miss Betty about our conversation she named you and told me what a fine person you are.
While I’m talking about Sylva Rena I should insert this. I was called a few days ago about pictures and possible stories about Ford’s Well. If you can supply stories or pictures please contact the Corps of Engineers at the Enid Field office.
The Second Call
The second call was from my first cousin, James Crocker, who lives in Mobile, Alabama. James is the oldest living Sissell cousin—he’s in his middle nineties. We have several younger cousins. He was asking for information about a person who now lives in Batesville, Mrs. Ben Barrett Smith. When James and I get to talking we have to go through all our history together. This time he reminded me how things were as he and his sister grew up. If any of you who read this worked in the building of Sardis Dam this man’s sister wrote your paycheck. As a young boy, old enough to teach their milk cow to ride (yes, a lot of the people in town had/kept their milk cow at their house), James had his own business going.
He took the cows down through town along the back streets. At Blount Street he got on the railroad bed and went down past the Ice Plant to a pasture daily. For this service he got paid a nickel a week. One family that had two cows and paid him, I think, a quarter. This was in the twenties. Then he got a job as clerk in McCullar-Surratt’s store. He really made big money there.
We hope you have a great week. You can reach me at 23541 Highway6, Batesville, MS 38606, 662-563-9879 or firstname.lastname@example.org.