GARDENING BY RONELLA: Memories of growing up in Canton
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Nov 13, 2013 | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Spending most of my childhood in Canton, it seemed to be perfect until the blinders came off. I began to see that all was not as I had thought.

There was real poverty. This was before Medicaid and Food Stamps. There were “Commodities” but little of the food was what the folks were used to eating. For instance, they would not eat grapefruits or rice. Some of the people had small garden plots and some worked on farms where food was more plentiful. People didn’t go to a doctor unless they were almost dead. I didn’t see all this for many years.

Some houses were only shacks with dirt floors. If you were lucky enough to get work in some house doing cleaning, laundry etc., the pay was almost nothing. Once I realized that poverty existed, it seemed so sad but I was just a child and could change nothing.

I discovered also that a couple of families sold moonshine in their homes but I couldn’t see the harm in that. That knowledge came later to me.

The majority of the citizens of Canton lived in decent houses and had a breadwinner in the home. Only two or three houses were considered fine homes back then. Those were the people who owned big farms but lived in Canton.

The separation of children going to school was very painful for me. My dear friend and playmate, Juanita, turned left before we got to my school. I asked her why she went that way and she had to explain that there were two schools, one for black kids up to grade 8 and one for white children. That was my first knowledge of the color barrier. That was the year that I was seven and it fell to my mother to explain it all to me.

In spite of the lessons in social and economical differences, I spent many happy years growing up in Canton.

I was nine years old when my baby sister was born and our mother was months getting over a difficult birth. When the baby was six months old, she got scarlet fever and was very sick and, before she got over the scarlet fever, she caught whooping cough. About that time, our father was very ill with “kidney colic” and nearly died. We had a young woman who came to our house and stayed for months helping Mama. Then came the big flood of 1937 when all roads were blocked. The doctor came every morning by boat and he would tell my mother that if Daddy was alive the next day, to call him.

Neighbors did what they could for Daddy and different neighbors would sit all night with him while Mama slept, if she did sleep at all.

When things were at their very worst, when my other sister and I also came down with scarlet fever and the baby caught whooping cough, Miss Fannye, Mama’s dearest friend and the person of all knowledge it seemed, came to our rescue. She told Mama that she was going to get Mrs. Lewis in the next county. When told that the roads were all closed, she said that she knew all the little back roads and she could make it around the flood. And she did. That day, Ma came in to take charge.

Now Ma was not a forceful person but things sure got straightened out. We had a neighbor lady who would send her two kids up to play at our house so she could take naps, but Ma sure put a stop to that. She marched out and sent the kids home. When they complained that their mama told them not to come home till she called, Ma sent them packing with a message for their mother. She got everything on schedules and things just seemed to get done. Also, our poor mother got some rest.

Daddy eventually got well and we children got over our childhood diseases and all was well in the Morris house at last.

Ma’s coming to the rescue just reinforced my opinion that Ma could do anything. Also Miss Fannye was the person to go to with impossible problems.

I experienced some interesting years growing up in Canton and I wouldn’t take anything for those wonderful years. As I grew into my teen years, I learned that our father gave many people in Canton a helping hand. I always thought of him as the poor man philanthropist. He seemed to always know when someone needed a “hand-up”, as he called it.

Our life in Canton wasn’t to last, however. Daddy had a burning desire to farm and eventually our little family moved to the farm he bought in the next county, near Ma. But that is another story for another time.

Thanks so much for your interesting calls and the many remarks about the stories of Ma and Pa. You can reach me at 270-522-3632.
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