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Winter farm work

There was nothing more disagreeable about living on an Alabama farm in the 1930s-1950s era than doing leftover work after the cotton harvest.  

I’m thinking of the many hours me and my siblings worked after school to help our father prepare for his twice-weekly peddling trips to Oxford and Anniston. 

Our primary job during the cold months of January and February was to change into our work clothes after school, grab a bite to eat and show up at an unheated brooder house to pick peanuts from their vines. That’s where we usually found our mother already picking. Her presence was to check our work from the day before and ensure we were in the right frame of mind to continue the work without supervision.  

The brooder house was designed to provide a climate-controlled space for the early growth and development of laying hens. It served as a rodent-free building for the storage of cured peanuts during the early winter months.  

Our job was to have a fresh supply of peanuts picked free of their stems and ready for selling on the next peddling trip. Clean picking was made difficult because of cold weather conditions and immature peanuts, which had to be discarded. The vines were taken to the barnyard and fed to livestock. 

Sweet potatoes were also stored outside under a protective cover of pine straw and dirt. They were reached by removing the cover and taking out the desired amount. They were sold house to house during the winter months.  

A flock of 250 laying hens were a 24-7 food source that helped keep our father’s peddling occupation going. We gathered eggs twice daily, candled daily, cleaned and packaged in 12-count cartons for sale to his customers, both individually and commercially.  

After the peanuts and potatoes were gone, the removal and distribution of compost from the barn and chicken houses came into play. Our barn had three mule stables and a hallway that had to be cleaned out with pick and shovel at least once a year. The carrier was a wagon pulled by two mules. Two pairs of hands with shovels and forks loaded the waste in the wagon hallway and hauled it to the fields, where it was distributed a shovel full at a time.