Monday, April 1, 2013

No great moral here, just more tales from life at the Poor Farm

        Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting stories about my father, or stories my father liked to share.
    I'm going to share a couple of additional stories about my Dad's time at the Poor Farm. There's no real moral to these stories, and in fact the first one I didn't hear about until a few years ago.
    A few years ago a pictorial history book was published featuring photos from the history of Holly Springs and Marshall County, Marshall County: From The Collection of Chesley Thorne Smith. The company that published this book published similar books all over the country. In Holly Springs we were fortunate that they were able to get the late Mrs. Smith to share her photo collection and rememberances of life in the county during the 1900s.
    Mrs. Smith's husband, "Gus," was my dad's law partner during the 1950s before he became a circuit judge and later a state supreme court justice (I was working for my Dad in 1977 and stuffed many an envelope on Judge Smith's behalf). Dad was glad to see the photos in Mrs. Smith's book, and was especially glad to see that she had a photo of "Parson Black," who eventually became a resident of the County Home.
Parson Black was a resident of the
County Poor Farm
    Dad said Mrs. Smith had some incorrect information in the book, namely that Parson Black had left behind a cigar box with $13,000 in it when he died. He said Mr. Black was mentally ill and under the delusion that he had possessed a great fortune that had been stolen from him; however there was no fortune. On several occasions he would leave the county home in search of his missing fortune.
    Sadly, Parson Black went missing one winter day and various people began searching for him. Dad said the search was made easier because he was wearing his shoes backwards, the left shoe on the right foot and vice versa. After two days they found him beside a pond, dead from exposure; I think Dad said he was on the Bryant Place, west of the Poor Farm.

    Another story my Dad shared a few times was of a resident dying and having to be buried in the Potter's Field. It was a bitter cold day and he and two or three brothers took on themselves the task of performing the burial. Dad said he was 10 or 11 at the time.
    He said Pop Hurdle arrived just as they were finishing and they explained what they were doing. Pop asked, "Did you bury him six feet deep?" They all "yessired" in unison.
    Pop walked with a cane, and he rammed his cane down in the loose dirt and at about 3.5 to four feet there was a "thunk."
    "Dig 'em up boys," was all my grandfather said.


    As I said, there is no moral to these stories. I share them only because it shows that at a very young age my father was having to deal with the business of death and dying. How many 10-, 12-, or 14-year-old boys are out looking for missing people today when there is a chance that they might find a dead body?
    And how many teen-age boys are essentially taking it upon themselves to prepare people for burial, dig the grave, put the casket in the grave and then fill it in. Only to have to do it all over again when "Daddy" finds out they didn't bury the body a full six-feet deep?
    It's a life that most of us simply cannot know or imagine.


    Now for a fun story. Some of the brothers -- don't know if Dad was included or not -- were sent out to chop cotton, along with a field hand named Ned.
    After they finished my grandfather came to "inspect" the work. He was a kind but temperamental man, and his children tried mightily not to displease him.
    He soon found a clump of unchopped weeds. "Ned did that row," one of the boys said.
    Another patch of weeds was found. "Ned did that row," another said.
    Then my grandfather came upon a cotton plant chopped cleanly in half, which he clearly viewed as a disaster of the highest order. "Ned did that row," they all said in unison.
    At which point my grandfather shouted, "Well no wonder Ned can't do a decent job. Y'all are making him do all the work!"

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