In the mid ‘30s, when we had to move out of our company house in Camden after my dad lost his job along with many other miners who worked for the coal company, we moved to the last house at the head of Can Branch to our 100-acre farm that my dad rented for $50 a year.
I was a young boy and did not understand much of what was happening to our family. I had never been on a farm before.
As the oldest of the three boys in our family, I soon found I had a heavy load to carry. Almost overnight, I went from a kid in the third grade at Burdine School to becoming a farmer, which I knew nothing about.
My first chore was to help Mom milk the cows the first thing after breakfast and slop the hogs before going to school that was two miles away. After I came home from school I helped my dad clear many acres of new ground before we planted our crops.
I had never lived in a house with no running water, indoor plumbing and electricity. It was very hard to get used to. We got our water from a spring that ran down from the mountains behind our house.
I helped my dad dig a well a few yards from our house. It took us months to finish until we found water. Dad would send me down the well in a large bucket. I would fill the bucket with dirt, and my dad would pull the bucket up and empty the dirt, then send the bucket back down the well on the rope and pulley he had rigged up. After we found the water, my dad sent down many large rocks for me to line the well
Our water turned out to be the best drinking water in the hollow, and folks came by just to get a jug of our water to take home with them.
When I got home from school, I went into the fields and worked until it was dark. After supper I would do my homework from the light of the fireplace or a coal oil lamp.
I once made a big mistake. Dad was plowing the land with our mule, and one day while he was taking a break, I started plowing with the mule. I looked back at our house and my dad was sitting on a bench, watching me. He never plowed again. I was his plowboy from then on, until I went into the military when I turned 16.
He sometimes farmed me out to other farms in Cane Branch for $1 a day.
On my first leave home, my dad told me he never missed anyone like he missed me. I once told him that it was like a vacation when I joined the service. I don’t think he liked what I said.
We had a large cow pasture that dad took in livestock for $1 a month. This land also had many types of berries, and my dad would let folks from Jenkins, Burdine and Dunham come in and pick all day for 25 cents.
I really think the 10 years on our farm helped make me into the person I am today, a very hard worker.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.