Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chapter 12

John Calhoun Myrick

5 December 1882 – 30 November 1968

John Calhoun Myrick was born 5 December 1882 in The Calvary community of Halifax County NC. He died 30 November 1968 in Halifax County. John was the 4th of 12 children born to Thomas Wilcox Myrick and his wife Dora Catherine Freeman.
John was my maternal grandfather and I always called him Papa. My mother called him Papa and I suppose that’s why I did. I remember other people referring to him as “Capn” John.

Papa had a place out behind one of the chicken houses that he called his roost pole. The roost pole was two sticks stuck vertically in the ground with another stick horizontally across the top. The roost pole was out of view from the house and usually traveled walking routes.

Papa used the roost pole for disposing of bodily waist, having a bowel movement, taking a crap. The roost pole was within about 30 or 40 feet of his corn crib. He had a supply of corncobs handy and they were used to wipe his bottom.

When I was young I often used Papa’s roost pole when I needed to take a crap, rather than the Johnny house, and wiped my butt with corncobs. I wander if that’s where the phrase “rough as a cob comes from”.

Papa’s farm was about (I guess) 150 acres of cleared and woodland. The crops grown on this land were about 4 or 5 acres of tobacco, some cotton, corn, peanuts, soybeans, sugar cane, wheat, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes etc. He also had a grape vines, apple trees, peach trees and a large vegetable garden. He did not grow all crops all years but tobacco was the main income producer and it was grown every year. I think other crops grown every year would be cotton, corn and peanuts. Papa did not have a tractor and manual labor and mules did the work. This is 2010 and I’m remembering this from about 1950. The tenants on the farm were Henry Taburn, Lewis Brown, and Annie Yellady. Henry had a wife and daughter, Lewis a wife and Annie and daughter and maybe a son I think. I guess I have the names right. Henry, Lewis and Annie were black families and had small tenant houses on the farm. There was also a white man, Ernest Morris that lived in a room in Papa’s house. Mr. Morris ate in the house with the family. I do not know the details as to why he was there unless it was for day labor and a place live.

I remember going to Papa’s and working in the fields. I was not regular hired help
that worked every day but I did help some chopping peanuts and cotton and putting in tobacco. Usually I handed leaves as a young teenager in tobacco. I also was around at hog killing time. Mama helped more with that.

Papa had four mules a cow and probably 30 or 40 chickens. In the morning Papa and the tenants would get the mules and start plowing or doing the farm work. The cow was milked and my grandmother processed that and made her own butter etc. The chicken’s gave eggs and if that stopped they became fried, barbequed, boiled or roasted chicken.

I did not do it often but I do remember milking the cow or at least trying to, feeding the mules corn and feeding the chickens.

When sweet potatoes were harvested Papa kept them in a potato hill. I’m guessing again but a potato hill was a conical shaped pile of sand about 5 feet high that had a covered roof to keep the potatoes dry. Papa made his roof of about 3 sheets of tin nailed onto some wood with some vertical post that stuck into the potato hill. The potatoes were in the potato hill with some pine straw. When you needed some potatoes you would go and dig into the hill from the top down get what was needed. I suppose this method kept potatoes from spoiling a long time during the winter.

Papa had a place in his cotton house where he kept Irish potatoes. This was a place where he would spread the potatoes out in a thin layer and cover them with lime. I suppose the lime kept the potatoes so they could be used in winter months.

Roy Strickland told me that lime was put on the potatoes to keep the bugs and/or insects out. Roy said that when he was young they put the Irish potatoes under his house and put lime on them.

The cotton house was called the cotton house because that’s where cotton was stored after it was picked until it was sold.

When I was a teenager Papa would give me about an acre of cucumbers. I do not recall how many years I had the cucumbers but I believe it was probably two or three. Papa would plant the cucumbers, fertilizer them, plow them and have them ready to be harvested and sold. All I had to do was pick the cucumbers take them to the cucumber shed and sell them and I kept all the money. My mother would help me pick the cucumbers. Papa did this for my older brother, John and for my 1st cousin Murry Wilson when they were about the same age. I do not know why Papa did this. I think he wanted me come and drive his truck to pick up other tenants cucumbers and take them to be sold. However he could have found a better way to get that job done. He may have just wanted to teach me to work some or give me something to do. At this same time for every dollar I would put in the bank and save my daddy match it with a dollar. I remember that one time I picked $13.00 worth of cucumbers and put the money in the bank. I thought that would break my daddy up by him having to match my $13.00.  

Papa was a farmer and produced about everything on his farm that was consumed on the farm. I believe his farm was about 160 acres of total woodland and cropland. I understand he inherited or was given about 100 acres of this by his father.

I recall that when I was a child two or three tenant families and a farm laborer lived on this farm. I recall there being apple trees, peach trees, grape vines, and a vegetable garden of about an acre on this farm. Crops I remember being produced were tobacco, peanuts, corn, cucumbers, and I believe sugarcane a year or two. Papa also had hogs and a cow or two. I do not recall anything being wasted on this farm. The produce from the garden was eaten fresh or canned and in later years frozen, hogs were killed and smoked or salted down. Sweet potatoes were put in a potato hill for later use. The work on this farm was done with manual labor and mules. Papa never owned a tractor and never learned to drive. He did buy a pickup truck in the late 1940’s, but never learned to drive it. I believe the truck was a 1949 Chevrolet ¼ Ton that he bought new for $600.00 dollars. I can’t recall why that figure sticks in my mind, I don’t know if I was told that or if I found a sales receipt in his safe after his death that had that amount on it.

Papa would take his apples, even some that were bruised or partially rotten to a cider mill and have apple cider made. The cider was stored in a 50 gallon wooden barrel and kept in the corn crib. I remember drinking cider from this barrel. During the fall, probably in october, when the corn was dry and ready to be harvested Papa would have a corn shucking. A corn shucking is when several neighbors would come and help Papa shuck his corn so that it would be ready to feed the mules. Usually their was some hard apple cider and other beverages available for the shuckers. I remember one time when I was about age 10 I drank two much of the apple cider and got tipsey headed or maybe a little drunk.

Papa was a very demanding person to work for. He thought there was only 1 way to do anything and that was his way or, as he would say “the right way”.

I can remember Papa hitching up the mules to the wagon and taking corn or wheat to the mill to be ground into corn meal and flour. I also remember him taking apples to have cider made. I remember him going to Littleton on Saturday, by mule and wagon, to get other things that were needed. He would buy things like sugar, salt, pepper, coffee and some hard candy for Leah (his wife).

I remember one time a relative and his children were visiting at Papa’s house. The relative was a preacher; I believe it was John Poole Elliott. The children were plating in the back yard and one of them knocked the bucket in the well, as the bucket was banging against the rock lining in the well Papa got upset. I quess he thought someone had fell in the well. Papa’s response was “It looks like a preacher could raise children that would behave better.

By: David Perkinson


  1. I'm glad I never knew the roost pole.

  2. ROOST POLE! I have never heard the term, but I tell you, my life is enriched by this new knowledge - not to mention the wonderful laugh I got out of this!

    Sharon: I would much prefer the 'roost' to a 'johnny house' - because of the open space and decreased possibility of arachnid companionship while attending to one's constitutional duties!