The following was written by my father, Oddis Jackson Baker, two years before his passing
(April 24, 1926 – December 6, 2002).
[left: William Josiah Baker and wife Edith, my parents, with my brother Charles (l.) and me (r.)]
Willie Josiah Baker was my father. He was born in 1907 as the 6th child, and grew up on the old farm as noted above. He always loved the simple life of the farm. Dad loved to hunt and fish with a passion that stayed with him all his life. There was always a strong bond between he and his family, especially his brothers.
In 1925 he met and married a young lady, Bessie Edith Sasser, who was from Laurel County. They were blessed with four children, but with a 16-year gap between the first two and the second two.
Birth And Early Childhood
On April 24,1926, I was brought into this world in one of the back bedrooms at my Grandpa’s house. There were no hospitals available, and probably the only “doctor” was someone serving as a midwife. My very young parents were evidently living with my grandparents at the time. After an adjustment period, during which I cried a lot, someone suggested that I was starving (probably Grandma). Mom then started me on Eagle Brand condensed milk, which did the trick, and I was well on my way to adulthood.
On February 14, 1928, my brother Charles was born. We always kidded him about being a valentine. Sometime during this period, Dad got a job with the L&N Railroad in Corbin, Kentucky. He rented a house on Barbourville Street near his brother Ed, and moved the family into the new quarters. I can remember a few incidents while living there.
Then came the results of the market crash—the big depression which lasted from 1930 until we began to supply equipment to England in 1939 (Lend-Lease for World War II). We got a double whammy: Dad was laid-off from the railroad, and our house burned to the ground. I was about 5 years old and can remember that it was a very traumatic time. Although the house was rented, we lost all furniture, clothing, and personal belongings. There were no welfare programs, food stamps or state help in those days, so you depended on yourself and the compassion of your relatives. We moved back to the farm, first to a place near Grandpa’s old farm which was available for rent at the time, and than on to the old farm and farmhouse where dad had grow up. Dad’s sister, Iva and her family were living in the house at the time, so it was divided into two apartments, and became a duplex. We lived continuously in this house for 7 years, (until 1939), and moved back in during the summers of 1940 and 1941. Aunt Iva and family moved out of the house several years after we moved in (I don’t remember the year), and we had the whole house for the remaining years.
Growing Up On The Farm
My memories of early childhood on the farm are filled with fun and good times. Although we were living under conditions almost identical with those of the late 1800’s, with little or no money, we always had plenty of food and the basics needed for survival. Although electrical power, indoor plumbing, and central heat was available and being used in the towns and cities, no such luxuries existed on the farm. We had kerosene lamps for lights after sundown, wells and sometimes springs for our drinking and other sanitary water. The water had to be manually drawn from the well, poured into a water bucket, and carrier to the kitchen. We had an outdoor toilet, which were located some distance from the house—a cold and uncomfortable trip in the winter months. Wood was used to heat both the kitchen stove for cooking and the house during cold weather. There was an abundant supply of wood on the farm, but it had to be transported and cut to size—small for stove wood, and larger for the fireplace. The house, like most farm houses of the time, was not sealed very tightly and certainly was not insulated in any way. As a result, the temperature in the house was only marginally comfortable. During cold weather you would heat your front side at the fire or stove, and then turn around to heat your rear. Everyone wore long underwear starting in the fall and continuing up until April. Early in the spring we had a slogan: “The 1st day of May, pull off your shoes and throw them away.”
The fire was banked before going to bed at night, The inside temperature dropped to about the same as the outside temperature, so we had feather beds and lots of quilts. I can still remember Charles and I resisting getting out of a warm bed to rebuild or rekindle the fire to start the day (indoor temperature well below freezing…). This style of living was typical for the whole community–even for those with larger homes. Dad farmed, raised a big garden, kept a milk cow, had lots of chickens (both for eggs and Sunday dinners), and raised at least one hog for meat during the winter months. There were lots of fruit trees on the farm: apple, peach, and some pear trees. We had apples all summer—raw, fried with hot biscuits, apple butter, and in apple pies. Mom canned, dried, and sulphured apples to preserve for winter use. She also canned green beans, corn, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and sugar beets. Dad always stored potatoes in the ground—in a hole lined with straw. Shelled corn was taken to a local mill and ground into cornmeal. The miller took a part of the corn as his fee. Flour, salt, soda, and baking powders were purchased from a local grocery store located about 4 miles away. Sometimes these purchases were made by bartering eggs for staples. For sweets, we had honey and molasses. Dad kept bee hives and molasses were made locally from sugar cane. On wash day, we moved a tub and other vessels to a level spot on the bank of the stream which ran near the house. Charles and I would build a fire and heat the wash water that was dipped from the creek. Mom washed the clothes on an old wash board, and we rinsed them in a 10-gallon crock before hanging them on the clothes line to dry.
I started to school when I was 6 years old. The school I attended was the Baker Grammar School and was located about 2 miles from my house (adjacent to my grandparents’ home). The school building consisted of a large one-room frame structure, with the teachers desk at one end and rows of student desks lined up facing the teacher. A large pot-bellied stove was located near the front of the room was used to heat the room during the winter months. Grandpa was the teacher, and a great teacher he was. He taught grades one through eight with an attendance of 20 to 30 students during good weather and 5 to 10 students during bad weather or during late harvest season. My early memories of school are good ones. We were taught reading, writing, spelling, U.S. History, Kentucky history, geography, arithmetic, and English. It was interesting and educational that after you recited your lessons, you could hear other classes recite theirs. We had recess in the morning and afternoon and about one hour for lunch. I remember some of the games we played during the break periods. A game of marbles called “Uker”, another called “Roley Hole”, and a number of ball games. We used a stick for a bat, and we made the balls at home using old yarn and string. We also used these same balls to play “Antony Over”, a game involving pitching the ball over the school house (we called it “Anti-Over”). The game began with the team having the ball calling “Antony.” The other team responded by calling “Over”. Then the ball was thrown over the house, If it was caught, the catcher would run around the house and try to tag with the ball as many of the opposite team as possible. Those tagged then went to the opposite side. This continued until all the players were on one side; then the game began all over again by “choosing up sides” once more.
Our drinking water supply was kept in a tin bucket on a table in the back of the room. We all drank from the same tin dipper in the bucket. The water came from a well just outside the front door. The larger students took turns going after the water. An outdoor toilet was provided to be used by everyone—on a priority basis.
In the year 1935 a new school building was constructed using federal funding under the WPA program. The building was one story: one large room with closets in the rear. The exterior was field stone. The labor was all local, and provided some income to the folks in the community. Grandpa retired from teaching, and the next school year we had as our teacher a young lady named Miss Nelson. Naturally all the boys fell in love with our new teacher. I continued to attend this school through the seventh grade. In 1939, we moved back to Corbin.
The community in which I grew up, was composed of 50 to 75% relatives. Six out of eight of grandpa’s offspring and their families lived in the community, either on one of his three farms or on adjoining properties. Some of the families had moved back to the farm, because of the depression (like my dad), or had never left. Two of grandpa’s brothers, Bill and Joe owned farms adjacent to his place. Also some of grandma’s brothers lived in the same school district. All these families had from two to six children of various ages,which gave a pretty good mix of relatives in school, church, or other social events.
Most of our close friends and platemates were all first cousins. Their ages varied from babies to teens. The names of the boys included the following:
Johnnie B Donaldson, Leslie Spurlock, Louis, Wayne and Pete Baker, Oddis and Charles Baker, Ralph and Billie Joe Baker, and sometimes David Baker who lived away most of this period. Glen Rae Baker and Clifton Donaldson were older and did not live in the neighborhood. There were only three girls: Bucilla, Jean, and Juanita. Lois and Mike (my other two siblings) came along a few years later.
The families were all very clannish and continuously visited each other. The cousins all grew up together; almost like a single family. We spent many happy hours playing games, romping in the woods, wading and swimming in the creeks and small streams, pilfering sugar cane or water melons from a local farm, sometimes fussing and fighting–but always the best of friends a short time later.
The names of other families who lived in the neighborhood were:
Mcdonald, Jones, Woolem, Doby, Rooker, Gilliam, Quillan, Hicks, and Higgins.
In addition to the garden where we raised all kinds of vegetables for fresh foods and canning for the winter months, we had larger field crops. These crops consisted primarily of corn and tobacco. I was too young to handle the mule and do the plowing, so my job was to use a hoe and chop out weeds, thin the corn, set tobacco plants, and many other associated tasks. Growing tobacco required a lot of hand labor, but was one of the few cash crops available to the farmer. Most everyone grew hay to feed the livestock during the winter months. In late summer, the hay was cut and stacked after drying (this was before the use of bailing the hay in blocks as is done today).
In addition to the normal work load during the day, there was always the chores to be done in both morning and evening: feed and milk the cow, feed the pig or pigs, gather the eggs, cut stove wood for cooking meals, and cut firewood or bring in coal for heating the house in cold weather. I learned to milk a cow when I was around nine years old, and this became my job. Later, when we moved to the outskirts of Corbin, we always kept a milk cow. I did most of the milking until I finished high school.
Mom was a deeply religious person and taught Charles and myself about God and morality when we were very young. We attended the only church in the community, “Middlefork Baptist Church”. As I remember, church services were held every other Sunday, and a revival was held once a year. The revivals usually lasted a week and featured one or more good country Baptist preachers. Two hours of good singing and lots of spirit was the normal service. The church was typical of most local country churches.
The church itself was a large one-room building with lots of windows. A podium was located up front, and benches for the choir were located on the right side of the podium. There was no piano, organ, or any musical instrument. Benches on the left side seated the old-timers and was called the “amen corner”. A water bucket with a dipper for drinking was located on a small table to one side of the podium. Benches extended down each side of the building with a six-foot aisle between them. Lighting for night services was achieved by placing kerosene lamps around the room.
As a small child, I remember falling asleep during a long sermon, and being awakened by my parents for the walk home by lantern light (about 1½ miles). I recall that I was usually so sleepy I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. When I was around eleven years old, I was converted and publicly accepted Christ in my life. I was baptized along with a number of other converts in the local creek (see the Middle Fork area map).
In the mid- to late 30’s, a Christian missionary couple (Mr. and Mrs. Hoppe) visited our school and taught a bible class over a period of several months (something that could not happen today with our church/state legal rulings). I enjoyed their class, and learned several bible verses and new songs. I believe they gave out candy and small presents at Christmas time. My early religious training, supported by the church and friends has always helped me and enriched my life.