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.