She was shouting in a general store, hollering until her voice broke.
And back in those days, women didn’t holler.
It was a small store; a tiny town. It was the kind of market where the cashiers knew your name—and asked about your mama.
The screaming lady waved her finger at a man wearing a necktie. She was dressed in rags. She had wiry auburn hair, sad eyes, rough hands, three kids—filthy ones.
The owner asked the woman to lower her voice.
But the woman would not. She could not. This was a Depression, the only thing she had left was a voice. Her children hadn’t eaten in two days. Her eldest boy was losing hair in clumps.
The store owner had no charity. He was new in town. He didn’t know her from Adam, nor did he care for women who shouted.
She told him how the previous store owner let the family charge groceries on an account. On the first of every month, she put money toward the bill—though it was never enough.
He wouldn’t hear her.
She screamed, telling him she had no husband. She told him how she took in wash for a pittance. She pleaded for beans, salt pork, or even a few tins of hard biscuits.
The new shop owner was fresh out of pity, a business man. The only things he knew about this woman were in his logbook.
He removed the food from her basket by force. The kids wailed. She slapped him. He kicked her out and warned her not to come back until she settled her debt. Then he called the sheriff.
She left in tears.
For supper that evening: water and hollow tummies. The oldest boy later recounted that he was so hungry he felt drunk. Sometimes he laughed for no reason. Then cried.
The next morning, the family awoke to loud noises on the porch. She walked downstairs and flung open the door.
They stood on her doorstep with caged chickens, sacks of flour, pinto beans, rice, butter, milk, and hams. They say all she could do was blink.
Folks took turns embracing her. The sheriff himself offered her a tin biscuit-box filled with money.
He explained how several neighbors had taken up a collection. How even he himself had knocked on doors, asking for food and money. In the end, they didn’t raise much, but it was enough to pay a grocery debt.
She told the people, “I don’t want no damned charity,” because that’s what poor folks say.
He told her, “We love you,” because that’s what Methodists say.
She accepted the box.
And years later, Grandaddy gave the box to me.
Calista - January 8, 2017 9:01 am
Thanks Sean ?
Kelly - January 8, 2017 11:40 am
Thank you Sean. Your stories are a blessing.
Gayle Dawkins - January 8, 2017 12:57 pm
My momma’s family was the same. Thank you for sharing Sean
Cherryl Shiver - January 8, 2017 1:21 pm
Thank you Jesus that we were Blessed to be raised in the South. Thank you Sean for keeping the word going.
Carol DeLater - January 8, 2017 4:39 pm
And stories just like that one appear everyday on FB and then make it to the national news services. Like the repo man who paid the past due bill on an elderly couple’s car and took up a collection to pay the car off. Love lives on whether through a religious group or not. Because some people have compassion. Good post Sean.
Maureen - January 8, 2017 7:36 pm
Shirley Hammond - January 8, 2017 7:57 pm
Touching story…..thanks for sharing! Love the outcome!!
sherry k. - January 9, 2017 1:41 am
My Grandpa, Will Neely, ran a little store during the depression in Winchester TN. He had been orphaned along with his twin, Bill, and knew a hard life. His generosity was legend. Every poor person in the county, black and white, attended his funeral and honored him as a beloved Uncle. I’m so glad to know this story is NOT about him! I’m so sorry to know how often your version was the way of things even then…when the world was young.
Jody Herren - January 19, 2017 3:53 pm
Love all of your stories. My mom lived through the depression. Good people still around.
Jenny - March 31, 2017 10:28 am
You kill me every time
Trish - March 31, 2017 11:49 am
Been at both ends of this receiving line…
June RouLaine Phillips - March 31, 2017 12:19 pm
Hard biscuits.. my grandmother spoke of those. Those little hard bits of flour; I dare say saved a many of Southern. My Grandmother raised her
new born see of twin girls and my daddy taking in wash during the depression.
Thanks again for sharing.
Cres Keys - March 31, 2017 1:25 pm
Times were hard during the Depression. My Dad was barely 16 when he was told that he would have to leave home because there was not enough food for all the children. Even though he was not the oldest child, he was told that he was better able to take care of himself than the others. He joined the CCC’s. He told me that the morning he left home, his mother did not get up to fix breakfast or tell him goodbye. This affected my Dad until the day he died. It also affected the way he raised me. I now understand why.
Karen Bethea - March 31, 2017 1:29 pm
One day a “raggedy-man” came into Mama’s, my Grandmother, little general store in Campbellton and was just plain hungry and tired and worn out and in tears. She taught me how to “collect people” by taking care of what others would not. Rich or poor……..rich or poor…… I love my “collection” of memorable times with memorable people…
Nancy Kane - March 31, 2017 1:59 pm
Wow… that last line got me good!
Jack Jackson - March 31, 2017 2:15 pm
My grandfather had a local butcher shop in South Alabama. When the depression came, no one could afford beef, pork or chicken. He went out of business and lost his beautiful white two story farm house. He had to find a way to feed his family of nine children so he went to share cropping for a land owner. Then he became ill… It was cancer. My father was 12 years old at the time. He quit school to pull the weight his father couldn’t. He failed to keep his end of the bargain. So they moved to Montgomery. They would be closer to a hospital that way. There was a small community just outside the city limits called Boylston. It had a cotton mill. Most of my aunts and uncles walked to work there. Me and my four siblings grew up there…
Suzie Lally Rainey - March 31, 2017 2:38 pm
Just found you recently and so glad I did. I wasn’t born in the South, but I got here as fast as I could. (21 years ago) Loving stories of the old South. The people were brought up with love, morals, kindness and gave to others when they were in need themselves. It’s still that way.
Sandra Marrar - March 31, 2017 4:01 pm
Another beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!
Marion Pitts - March 31, 2017 4:47 pm
You’ve done it again! Tears and smiles!
Kim - March 31, 2017 9:51 pm
Sean, you have a voice as powerful as any of the Great Southern writers. Your stories are beautiful and relatable.
Peggy Black - April 1, 2017 12:03 am
Hard times show people’s real hearts. What a blessing to pass that story on.
Melody Ann Dreading - April 1, 2017 3:24 am
I love the world through your eyes. God Bless You!
Kathi Bolton - April 1, 2017 6:49 am
Compassion at its finest!
Leigh rankin - April 10, 2017 1:47 am
In the feels. Every single time.
LARRY WALL - September 10, 2017 8:19 pm
Sean – one of our great Southern universities should create a course entitled “HUMAN INTERACTION” and make the course mandatory for degree award. And you should be the proctor.
Barbara Bray - December 27, 2018 3:52 pm
Sean, how am I suppose to drink my coffee if I am crying ? ……never stop writing . I’ll just have to deal with spilled coffee.
Charaleen Wright - March 20, 2019 5:09 am