AN OLD TIMER'S FOOTWEAR
By Norris Chambers
The big depression was just about over and the unemployed were slowly adjusting to being able to find a job. Of course they didn’t know that in a little less than a year we would be engaged in the largest war the world had known – World War II, as it was later called.
Clifton had been fortunate enough to get a job pumping and maintaining a small oil lease. The pay was decent and the company furnished a nice house, not too far from the bayou. He had been married a few months and he and Mary Lou were quite content in their new home. Ella and I had also married and were living with my parents on the farm. When not engaged in more profitable activity I was busy laboring with the crops and the animals. Ella and my mother stayed busy doing what farm women do. I was operating a radio repair shop and helping Clifton when he needed assistance on his lease. The oil company paid a nice daily wage for extra help when it was required.
The preparedness program began in earnest. The army began construction of a huge training facility at Brownwood and one of my older cousins snagged a good job as a Superintendent. He let it be known that he could use any good workers who were looking for employment. The pay was forty cents an hour. This was the highest pay we had heard of in our area.
Clifton kept his oil field job and two of his younger brothers, Clyde and Carl were anxious to make some real money. I was also ready for some regular income so the three of us made the 30 mile trip to the work site and told my cousin that we were ready to go to work! He assigned us to work groups immediately and we became construction workers.
My assignment was with a large crew that unloaded boxcars and transported the materials to the lumber yard, warehouse area or a job site. Our foreman was the sort of old codger that you normally wouldn’t like. It was obvious to me that he had been employed in jobs of this type for many years and that he firmly believed that a day’s pay should mean a day’s work. I didn’t disagree with this philosophy but I thought he was going a little too far when we were unloading a box car containing sacks of cement. In those days a sack of cement weighed about 100 pounds. He was using his rough voice and yelling at the men unloading the sacks to carry two at a time to the truck that was positioned at the door of the car. “Get two sacks! Get two sacks!” Some of the workers attempted to carry two sacks, one under each arm. A few succeeded in handling two sacks. Some tried but just couldn’t do it. I don’t know if I could have done it or not. I joined the group that only carried one sack. The old foreman was ridiculing those of us who didn’t do his bidding by calling us names. We were referred to as sissies, old women, babies, weaklings and other degrading names that I don’t care to remember.
A few of the men continued to carry two sacks to the truck. Some of those workers dropped one or both sacks. A few continued to succeed as they attempted to follow his difficult orders, but the number of two-sack men was diminishing! The old man in front of me was struggling with two bags and fell as he attempted to step from the car to the truck bed. I didn’t have time to stop and I fell on top of him, dropping my bag. Someone stumbled across my back but managed not to fall. I was able to get to my feet leaving my bag on top of the man in front of me. I wasn’t hurt but the worker who had fallen was making no attempt to arise. He was lying on his stomach with one of the cement sacks beneath him and the other one covering one of his legs. He was unconscious and someone was already on the ground, reaching for his wrist and feeling for a pulse.
“He’s dead!” was the verdict. Some of the workers managed to get him off of the truck and carried him to a smooth spot on the ground where he was positioned on his back. This was the first time I had seen a person die and I just stood around with the rest of the crew. An old man was arranging the victim’s legs in a straight, reclining position and crossing his arms over his chest. Another knowledgeable worker placed a nickel over each eyelid after assuring himself that it was properly closed.The rough talking foreman had left in an automobile. I guess he was off to notify the proper authorities. A rugged old timer pointed toward the man’s legs – “At least he died with his boots on!” He proclaimed, then turned and walked back toward the box car