Share Tweet

Moving to the Delta

October 27, 2008

Yesterday, I began the story of my paternal grandparents during the Great Depression, and this is a continuation of that journey.

It was quite a bold undertaking for my grandparents, because they left the only place that either of them had ever called home, Attala County, Mississippi, to travel to Humphreys County ("The Delta") where they would continue to live for almost twenty years. The decision to go somewhere else to farm must have been a difficult choice for them to make, or it may have been a necessity rather than a choice at all. It must have been a sad experience for both of my grandparents, since they left all their family members behind. My father was a child, an only child at that, and he had to leave his numerous cousins and his young friends to attend a school in a place that was "next to nowhere." He later graduated from high school in that very small town in the Delta as a member of a class that had only 14 students.

Moving to "The Delta" meant more years of guiding a plow for my grandfather, at least until times improved and he acquired a tractor and the machinery that went with it. For my grandmother, it meant living in a house that had even less creature comforts than the one she left in Attala County. Water came from an outside "pump," not a well, and there was no household help for washing and cooking, a convenience she gave up when she left Attala County. She had grown up as the daughter, granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter of farmers who earned a very good living before this depression, but farm life in the Mississippi Delta was the least attractive life of farmers and their families living anywhere in the state at this particular time. Even the look and feel of the Delta landscape was strangely different, even stark, with its absence of trees contrasted against the lush woods of "The Hills" my grandparents left.

Life was tough for everyone who lived in the Mississippi Delta during the depression years. Cotton was "King," but the weather ruled everything the farmers did. Heavy spring rains that caused flooding and summer droughts, along with insects, such as the ever-present and destructive boll weevil, kept farmers busy trying to predict when to plant, apply chemicals, and when to harvest. They toiled from daylight to dusk, and their work seemed to never end.

There were basically two classes of people during the depression years: the "haves" and the "have nots." Most families didn't even own a family automobile unless it was an old farm truck that was considered a necessity for bringing supplies from town or for taking some of their crops to market. Food was grown at home, and families subsisted on the "three M's," (corn) meal, molasses, and meat. Staples, such as flour, had to be purchased at the local store, and many children wore clothing made out of "feedsacks" or "floursacks," if their parents were lucky enough to find several sacks made of the same material. In the summer, children "went barefoot," with shoes reserved for church on Sunday and for school in the fall and winter.

Since the early years of the Depression had caused many farmers to lose ownership of their land throughout the state, a new group of farmers, known as "sharecroppers," had emerged. But these families, including my grandparents, were survivors of the times. They held on to each other and the things they considered most precious - memories of better times and sentimental possessions that money could not buy.

693 - 5 - 0 - US
Janice Tracy is a native Mississippian who writes about genealogy and family history.  She writes two blogs, Mississippi Memories and Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.