Worn-out cotton sacks

by DRM

At that time, my dad had bought an old truck.  He said to my mother, “Prissy, we are going to load all these kids in the truck and we’re gonna drive to Pine Bluff.  There’s a spiritual man coming to church who believes in prayer.  I’m gonna fast and pray that we’re going to go down there.  I have one hundred dollars and I’m going to give money in the offering.  It’s all we have.  I’m gonna pray and believe that God will send us some rain.”

We went down there.  Daddy never went up to the front, but when that man asked if anybody had spiritual prayers, my dad stood up with a hundred other people, I guess, and he started praying.  When they passed the offering plate, my dad gave one hundred dollars and my mother said, “You know, there’s so many things we need that we could use this one hundred dollars.”

Dad said, “If two or three are gathered together and pray and ask and believe, it will happen.”

That night, when we were driving home, we were in the back of the truck.  The windows was knocked out of the truck.  My dad always kept old worn-out cotton sacks that had tar on the bottom that he would hang over the door so he could slam the door and hold the sack in place so rain wouldn’t come into the truck.  On the way back home, it started raining.  My dad got out of the truck and stood there in the rain and just prayed!  He finally got all those cotton sacks with tar over the windows so the rain wouldn’t come in.  My sister and I were in the back and I remember crawling up into them old cotton sacks so we wouldn’t get just drenched.  That year we had some of the best crops we’d ever had while everybody else’s was burning up.

as told by Kathryn Bajorek

Stories of Survival: Arkansas Farmers during the Great Depression by William D. Downs, Jr.

Simple answers to simple questions make rich and compelling stories.

I’ve been researching the culture and conditions in the Mississippi Delta at the start of the Great Depression, trying to envision the world that Louis Rogers encountered as a 30-year old man selling electricity in a place that was experiencing duress beyond reason and imagination.

The alluvial plain of the Delta was a place that had lazed through the milleniums, tall trees and marshy swamps, a winding river that shifted and turned with capricious ill humor, sediment mixing with soil and tugging on fat wet roots.  Then the railroads came, and the demand for timber stretched from east to west, and rich capitalists moved in and leveled the trees, split them in two, floated them out of the swamps and loaded them onto riverboats to paddle down to the mills.  The land that was left behind was replete in minerals, denuded of history, and tens of thousands, rich and poor, poured in to raise their fortune from the earth.

By the time the Depression was over, those fortunes had been transformed with bitter alchemy into chimeras and haunts.

When I encounter stories like the one above, spoken plainly, I get a sense that life in Delta didn’t need embellishment.  That is how the harshest passages of life get memorialized: stark and spare.