Older children took care of the young ones

 

Sometimes as I sit around and everything slows down, my mind starts wandering to the days when I was young and lived in the mill village.

Most families were about like ours — about half the women worked in the mill and the other half were stay-at-home mothers. Mine worked in the mill. I had two older sisters; mama took time out to have a child and as we started growing up it was the job of the older ones to look after us young ones.

Mama worked at night, kept house, did all the cooking and slept in the daytime. My oldest sister looked after the younger ones. I followed my older brother like a pigtail but Virginia saw to it that I was bathed, hair combed, minded my manners and got me where I needed to go. When I started first grade, my older sister carried me, although she was in school herself. This was the duty of other older children in other families.

One boy who lived on Herd Street decided on the first day of the first grade that school was not for him. They took Virgil to school and he ran out the back and ran home. The next day Fred carried him to school and his sister Jean stood at the back door and caught him as he made his escape. This went on until he realized it was no use and stayed at school.

My mama did all the cooking as far as I can remember. The two older girls would tinker with making certain things such as cookies or pull-type taffy but they left the meals up to mama. In addition to their duties of looking after the younger ones, they ironed clothes, made us presentable and doctored us. I remember Virginia calling mama at the mill late one night saying one of us younger ones had a tummy ache or ear ache and asked what she should do. Other than doctoring, she would sit up the rest of the night until the sick one finally fell to sleep. Then she’d go to school the next day.

I never knew her to complain because that’s how life was. I can never remember when I didn’t have chores and it was the older children’s job to see that we didn’t goof off. They threatened me often but I don’t remember them ever jumping on me.

There were seven children; one died young and my oldest brother was grown when I was little so I wasn’t involved with him until he left and came back from the Army in World War II.

The next-oldest boy was Mickey, who was about five years older than me. I really thought he could do anything and from the time I learned to walk I followed him. If he spit, I spit; if he scratched, I scratched; very seldom did he ever seemed to mind. He ran around with boys his own age so I ran around with his buddies. We fished creeks, we hunted the woods, he showed me how to make a bow and arrow, a bush hook and how to swim, chewed me out if I did wrong and bragged on me when I did something good.

When I was in the first grade he made my first valentine and it said, “To my brother, I love you.” I kept it for a long time and wish that I still had it. To Junior, my oldest brother; Virginia, my oldest sister; Natalie, my special sister; Mickey, who I thought could walk on water; and Dale the baby of the family, I loved you all.