If I thought living conditions were tough for us at our last house in rural TN, I was about to find conditions worse after we moved to dad’s work in Louisville. My memory is a little fuzzy about this but I think we first lived in Louisville where conditions were good but eventually (in 1940) dad settled us in rural southern Indiana. By this time dad was thirty years old and still adventurous, mother was twenty-six and probably tired of adventures and I was eight. The family had grown. By this time I had three younger brothers and that was a big family for where we were headed to live.
I think our move to Indiana came because one of dad’s bosses owned some land overlooking a small lake. He wanted dad to supervise the construction of a nice country home there in addition to working his regular job on projects in Louisville. Remember, this is about 1940, before carpenters had power tools; they used hand tools and muscle power for all work. After a full day of sawing, nailing, and drilling holes, a body was worn out.
Dad needed to work long hours. He worked his job in Louisville, then in the evenings and weekends he worked until dark at the home site. There was no place for us to live in that area so dad improvised. He built a floor and walls, then covered it with a big tarpaulin. It was crude, even by rural house standards. It was like rolling time back to the beginning of the Depression when so many people lived in tents and shacks.
When dad’s work on his boss’ new house was finished, instead of moving us back to the city, dad moved the, uh, ‘dwelling place’ to a cleared spot in the middle of a thicket (a small wooded area, this one full of thorn trees) which he rented for two dollars a month. There were no conveniences. I wouldn’t be stretching it if I said there was ‘no nuthin’ there. Dad expanded the hybrid house-tent into two rooms.
The kitchen had a small four-eyed wood and coal burning stove, a couple of small tables with chairs, some shelves, and kerosene lamps. In the living area there was a regular bed, a hide-a-bed couch, and a couple of chairs. Dad built some corner shelves which mother covered with a curtain. Dad made use of these shelves in the summertime.
During prohibition dad learned how to make home-brew. He would funnel the mash into bottles and cork the tops then store his mixture behind the curtain on the corner shelves. Mother was embarrassed; first about where we lived and second about having the house full of home-brew. But it was no big deal because we had no company there, anyway.
Mother had a brother-in-law, Mr. Ernest Pinson, who lived with his family in Louisiana where he taught a New Testament Bible course in a Baptist University. Mother always made sure we were on good behavior around that family. To her chagrin, they came all the way to Indiana to visit us in the house-tent. They visited in the summertime. Dad had his current crop of home-brew hidden behind the curtains on the corner shelves.
I don't know much about making home-brew but at some time in the process of fermentation, pressure builds up in the bottles.
Mother and us kids and the Pinson family were all sitting in the living room that summer day when pressure in the home-brew bottles built up to the max. The bottles began spewing and every so often a cork would pop out with a thud. Of course, our visitors were first startled, then inquisitive. "Carrie, what is that?" Mrs. Pinson asked. Mother said, "Oh, I don't know. It's just something Ernest is making." The subject was quickly changed and dropped.
We had two neighbors who lived within walking distance. The ‘goat man’ (he raised goats and sold goat meat) lived downhill from us; we got water from his well. A family lived across the road. They had a battery operated radio and on Saturday nights we would join them to hear the Grand Old Opry (if his battery worked). None of us had electricity and plumbing was … well, plumbing wasn’t invented yet so far as this area was concerned.
As a child between eight and ten, I had a lot of summertime fun there. Unlike today, people didn’t worry about crime. Robbery, murder, kidnapping and such were stories in Detective Magazines (I don't remember dad reading any books but he always had a supply of Detective Magazines). Kids could leave home in the morning, play all day, and come home in time for supper without parents worrying about someone doing them harm.
I was free to roam all summer long and I enjoyed all the interesting nearby amusements such as wading the creek, climbing the hillsides, exploring junked cars, talking to county highway workers, playing on the railroad (often helping mother pick up lumps of coal that had fallen off passing trains - a usual source of fuel for poor folk in that time of coal-fired locomotives) and I just generally had a good time until winter came. Winter was definitely no fun.
I guess winter life in the house-tent was so bitter that its memory overwhelmed other memories because I don’t remember going to school there. I know I went to school because I remember mom fussing at dad to buy me a new pair of shoes for school. What I do remember vividly is the cold. I’m not sure whether we had a stove for heating the living area but if we did, it didn’t provide any heat at night.
Kids slept on the couch-bed and mother piled heavy quilts on us. I remember the tarpaulin roof freezing over at night; by morning it sagged under the ice-load. I still get the shivers thinking about mom and dad getting up in those temperatures, building a fire in the little stove to cook breakfast, getting dad off to work, then mom dressing us kids in ice cold clothing.
While dad worked all day in Louisville, mother was left alone with the kids to while away the hours in that bitterly cold house-tent located in the midst of the desolate thicket until dad came home in the evening. How long would a young lady, now twenty-seven and trying to care for four small children live in those conditions when dad could have provided much, much better? I think mom simply got tired of forever camping out.
We lived there until mom and dad divorced in the summer of 1942.
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