by Tom Givens
I've been thinking, which is dangerous. Thinking about when I was real young and had no idea what I was about.
We lived out in the country, poor and didn't know it 'cause there were a lot of people worse off than we were. This was the late 30’s, 40’s, and early 50’s in the Mississippi Delta.
Plumbing and electricity
Very few people in the rural areas in the late 30's and early 40's had indoor plumbing; we didn't. We toted water in two 50-gallon drums (barrels) on a flat bed trailer from the artesian well on Ringold's plantation about three miles away.
Also, it is hard to believe these days, but REA (Rural Electric Association) had not made its full rounds, and a lot of people didn't have electricity. I used to visit some cousins who lived in one of those areas, and they had a battery operated radio. When the battery got low, they put the radio by the fire and and for some reason this charged it up.
My mother's sister and her offspring, my first cousins, lived in one of those areas, but moved into an electrified area about the time I became cognizant of my surroundings. While I was at their house once on a visit with Mama and Daddy, Aunt Nona had to put some kerosene in the refrigerator, as it was getting low. I was amazed. I asked them how kerosene could keep things cool. In other words, how could something hot make things cold?
The refrigerator was an Electrolux, and I suppose the heat circulated the refrigerant somehow.
Just think how it is amongst us now. We have no children at home, but we have four television sets. They are all utilized. We have one each in the family room, master bedroom, guest bedroom, and by the treadmill.
I was at least thirteen when I first laid eyes on a TV set in front of the hardware store in Ruleville, Mississippi. The shop owners had set this new-fangled thing up on the sidewalk in front of the store, and they’d put up one of those tall antennas to capture the weak signal out of Memphis. The TV got a picture sometimes, but regardless, people stood around just looking at the snow on the screen. This was 1950.
Later on my grandaddy bought a TV set with one of those tall antennas. The antennas had a rotor so you could zoom in on the signal from WMCT in Memphis, the only station available to us at that time. There was no cable.
I remember watching the Wednesday night fights sponsored by Gillette ("to look sharp, to feel sharp”). Had Howdy Doody in the afternoons. And on Saturday nights, we watched Milton Berle and that crazy Sid Caeser and his wild bunch. Sometimes the picture was sharp as it could be, and then other times there was nothing but snow -- but we thought television was nothing short of a miracle.
I think it was around my freshman year in high school when telephone lines were finally run into our area (1952). The phones were not dial phones -- we picked up the receiver and the operator came on the line and asked us for the number, then rang it.
Everybody had their own ring. We didn't have a telephone, but my grandaddy did, and of course I was the main user. I don't remember his number -- something like 843-R-4, and the 4 was his ring. We weren't supposed to pick up if it was not our ring -- this was strictly a party line (several families on one line), but who was there to stop us from listening in? Wasn't much gossip back then anyway, but you can bet there was someone with their ear glued to that old phone whenever folks were talking.
Air conditioning in homes then was a fan and an open window. We also utilized natural “air conditioning” in warm weather by sleeping on the back porch. This arrangement was quite handy -- all I had to do to go to the bathroom (which, as I’ve said, was nonexistent inside the walls of our house) was go off the porch. Air conditioning in cars and trucks was like this: windows down, vent glasses wide open, and dust everywhere.
So I kinda like it today. Everybody quit qriping.
Judge Thomas Givens, native of the Mississippi Delta, now lives in Tennessee. Write him by clicking here: Delta Judge.
Want to read more of Tom’s USADS memoirs?
Front Porches, Dirt Roads, and Wild Dogs
Whiskey, Chickens, and Cherry Bombs
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