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Early Days ~ Stories from the Mississippi Delta
~a memoir~
by Billy Tom (Bubba) Lusk


I imagine there are a lot of eighty year old guys who've been down the same trails I have. Remembering's not that easy, but I've been doing just that and will share my memories of growing up in the Mississippi Delta.

I guess most Delta families came from the hills. My daddy, Claud Arthur Lusk, came from Winona (Montgomery County). His first Delta job was working in Mr. D. O. Ringold's plantation store in the Linn community. D.O.'s name was on the bronze plaque which was on the Linn Consolidated School wall outside the main entrance - I surely would like to know who got that so I could have a picture of it.

My twin sister, Mary Ernestine Lusk (now a resident of a nursing home in Ruleville, Mississippi) and I were born in 1925 in the home of F. A. Ringold (Uncle Festus and Aunt Virgie). Aunt Virgie's first husband was a Dr. James. She and Festus and Dr. James and an infant of Virgie and Dr. James are all buried in the graveyard of the Linn Baptist Church. The reason we were born at their house was that Daddy's house had burned down - it was only about three hundred yards down the Standing Stump Bayou from the home of one of the Hart Brothers (either Henry or Robert, who were from a rather wealthy family in Winona).

Here's an interesting bit of Delta history: It has been said that Mr. Will Dockery walked out from Boyle to where his headquarters was at Dockery. He was evaluating timber. (This is also what Barbara's paternal grandfather, a German from Heidelberg, did around Drew, Sunflower County, Mississippi. Mr. Fred Gritttman's start is a good story - quite an achiever he was.) Mr. Will Dockery had enough influence to get the Illinois Central to build him a railroad from Boyle to Dockery. The tracks went along side the north side of our farm. I don't know when it was discontinued. I don't recall ever actually seeing a train on it. After the track was taken up, we hauled many loads of cinders for making our buckshot residential driveway usable.

The railroad running from Boyle to Dockery had, as far as I know, three depots. One depot was at Halstead (the Ringold place where I was born). Another was at White City where Henry Hart had a cotton gin and a store and several hundred acres. The Harts had about eleven hundred acres about a mile east of Linn. And the third depot was at Dockery.

(On second thought there wasn't a depot at White City, just a side track to the cotton gin seed house. Long before we had an artesian well, one of my duties was to haul barrels of artesian water from the well at White City.)

Dr. Holmes, who was the husband of Henry's sister, was a famous Winona surgeon and the owner of a Winona hospital. Holmes operated the farms and gin several years after Henry passed away. Henry lived in Ruleville and was married to Floyce Rule. After WWII, Henry gave me a Bisley 45 Colt revolver just for old time's sake.

Mr. L. B. Fondren of Cleveland operated the Hart Cotton gin for many years. Daddy and Fondren and Henry hunted together (mostly Fondren and Daddy). They were all members of the Merigold Hunting Club from about the 20s, as was Daddy's brother, Dr. W. J. Lusk, who was a Major in WWI in Europe.

I'm not real certain about this, but I think Ophelia Ringold Young (Young by a second marriage, Ringold by a first marriage to a Henry Ringold) and Dr. W.J. Lusk were the team who did our birth on Aunt Virgie's kitchen table.

Now, Miss Ophelia lived in Cleveland, Mississippi, and was at one time a nurse for Dr. Dedwylder, and Miss Ophelia and Mrs. Valentine (Mr. Carmon's wife and mother of John WhiteValentine) were very close friends.

Well, I have no idea where this is going. I think I started out to talk about duck and squirrel hunting and a hunting shack on the back side of the Merigold Club grounds. Let me think. Maybe later I can make something of it even if it does point in a half dozen or more directions. So much for the moment.

But I must say 'fore I forget: The Fondren's had four sons - Earnest, George, Billy and Johnny. All were officers of the Armed Forces and someone ought to write a book on the "Four Fondrens." Their military records were fabulous. Plus, my friend Buster Lindsey's brother, John Paul, was at Pearl Harbor, and later he lost at least two ships at sea. His record would make a book, I bet . . . but I wasn't headed there either. I wonder if I was headed anywhere?

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Early memories:
I was a little fellow, don't know how little, and we were having breakfast. Daddy Claud (he didn't spell his name Claude - guess it was his Mama who didn't spell it Claude), anyway, Daddy Claud had said or done something to which I must not have agreed and I foolishly made a face at him. I don't have any idea when or how I learned the "face making" skill. Do all children naturally have that particular talent? Anyway, Daddy said, "Bubba, go outside and wait for me. I'll be out after I finish breakfast."

I had some suspicions of what I might be waitin' for, but didn't know for certain. Daddy came out after a bit and took off his belt and took me by the hand and we played ring around the roses - 'cept there weren't roses, just me runnin' around with him holdin' my hand and whopping me with that folded-up leather belt. I screamed and bawled until he got through. I don't recall any conversation. Afterwards, I went inside and got in my bed and cried some more and, as I recall, wished I'd die from the beating and then he'd be so sorry he had whipped me.

That was the first and last Daddy whipping I ever got. 'Course there were quite a few Mama switchings, but they weren't so bad and didn't last long.

Some years later, Daddy told me about some of his whippings given to him by his preacher daddy (The Reverend Thomas Newton Lusk, a late 1800's graduate of Mississippi College and an attendee at the Seminary in Louisville and a teenager during the War Between The States and a man who allowed no dancing by family members and considered "My Goodness" as substitute profanity). Daddy had come home with a pocket full of marbles. Upon questioning by his father, he revealed that these were the result of shooting marbles "for keeps" - a form of gambling. Without restating the details over and over, this interrogation and more marbles and more whippings took place for something like three or four more days. Now bear in mind that Daddy could not and would not lie about how he got the marbles, but as Daddy told it to me he finally figured out that his "bootay" could not outlast Granddaddy's belt, so he gave up shooting marbles for keeps - at least that's how he told the story, and I did and do believe him.

A point of that story, if it has one, is this: Tell the truth and mind Daddy.

And what I consider a result is that many years later, when I must have been about 12, the family was over at the Beulah Lake club house for an annual Fondren/Lusk family fish fry. Daddy was lying (Am I correct that hen's lay and people lie? Mama Nora did her best to teach us manners and grammar - just ask my sister Claudine), well, Daddy was lying on the grass when I went to the edge of the water to push a little boat into the water. I sorta tried to lift the bow and push when Daddy said "Bubba, stop!" I stopped like I had frozen; I was looking down and a cottonmouth was striking at my bare feet, but it couldn't reach me 'cause part of its body was caught under the edge of the boat. Guess I've used this discipline story a thousand times in trying to "learn" my four children to mind me and Mama. If Daddy said "stop," I knew to stop.

In about June of '43 Daddy put me on the Greyhound bus in Ruleville to go to Camp Shelby and he died the following January (I tear as I write), but at age 79 I still follow some of his instructions.

Now I'll tell you some stories from my youth . . .

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Billy Tom's memoirs are full of Mississippi Delta history:
Part I: Early memories
Part II: Stories from my youth
Part III: Influences on my life
Part IV: College days and WWII enlistment
Part V: Thoughts on religion
Part VI: On fishing


BIO: A Mississippi Delta native, Billy Tom "Bubba" Lusk has resided in Texas since 1961. He's a graduate of Mississippi State University ('49), and has worked in agriculture and insurance. During WWII, he served with the 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment, but saw no combat. He and his wife, Barbara, have 4 children and 7 grandchildren.

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To read another article about Mississippi Delta early days, click this link:
From the diary of Mavis Turner

And read many more great stories listed on our USADS memoir pages.

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