Ellen Orr column

Ellen Orr: The gentle good humor of a farmer’s wife

Her anecdotes of life at Last Jump-Off Plantation on Honey Bayou Road, Shelby, Miss., were snapshots of life “out in the rural,” as she called it.

Ellen Orr (Eleanor Ellis Hester) began writing her Delta Farm Press column, “Delta Special,” in 1950 and continued it sporadically until the late 1970s. Her anecdotes of life at Last Jump-Off Plantation on Honey Bayou Road, Shelby, Miss., were snapshots of life “out in the rural,” as she called it. Her cast of characters included The Boss, her husband/farmer/engineer/world traveler; dogs with names like Bach and Exermina; and a host of family members with similarly humorous names. In addition to Delta Farm Press, her writings were featured in a number of state, regional, and national publications. The following are excerpts from her columns:

[Writing of a January 1950 rainy spell]: “It’s mostly cloudy at Last Jump-Off Plantation today. The gray drapes of rain have been drawn all around me. I do not know if my neighbors have floated away or not.”

*****

[Her report of a 1950 young farmers meeting]: “This one is going to sub-soil, disk down, re-row, and plant later. That one is going to fly on fertilizer, pre-emerge, and neat up last year’s rows to plant early.

It is enough to make one feel aged in a hurry. Just yesterday these boys were slighting algebra, ignoring English, hooting at the sciences, yelling like mad at the ballgames. Now, it is a brand new ballgame and they know lots of technical words, like calibrating, incorporating, defoliating. What’s more, they understand machinery.

…The faces of youth are set toward the future. If parents and grandparents could face in that direction, instead of talking about and holding up ‘the good old days,’ they would have a better chance of marching along and not being left behind. Understanding and togetherness are magic words to help stay young.”

*****

“With Delta farming, each crop year is as different as a family of stepchildren.”

*****

[Writing of a bank robbery at a nearby town, in which $30,000 was taken, with much speculation by the citizenry about the robbers’ escape route]: “The Boss said, ‘Folks in the penitentiary are always planning to escape and cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas. But they never plan on getting across the river, because most of them can’t swim.’

‘How far could you get on $30,000’ I asked.

The Boss said $30,000 would take a robber out to the biggest hotels in California. The Boss always calls a spade a spade — until he trips over it in the dark.”

*****

“…Meanwhile, on the plantation there are some innovations (innovation being a college word for something new or improved). They have found you can dry grain cheaper with microwaves, and that this method dries seed faster, and when properly used will prevent germination... The scientists have also come up with, after mulling all winter, a tank mix for controlling red rice. 

Michael called up, saying, “Grandmother, I just learned in school if the sun ever accidentally comes closer to earth, it will explode the world and burn everything up.”

‘So, what?’ I asked Michael. 

‘Well,’ he announced importantly, ‘I finally talked Daddy into getting us a smoke detector.’”

*****

“Here it’s January again, and another wedding anniversary to bring remembrance of our $15 honeymoon in Memphis.

Having a farmer father who rose at 4 a.m. to get the day’s work started, I had declared I’d never marry a farmer. Ha! Joke’s on me.

Later, we learned to call The Boss a planter; after all, he did get his start on 58.2 acres of Delta land for which we paid $100 down and $100 every ginning season.”

*****

“…The Boss is a day person, who is up and putting on the coffee by 5 a.m. He sometimes falls asleep during the 5 p.m. news. I’m a night person, whose mind really clicks into the dark hours, ‘specially about 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. If I struggle up to that early coffee he serves, and if I act cheerful, he’s likely to say: ‘You’re not yourself today — and that’s an improvement.’

He works long hours and keeps me in grocery money, but he’s stingy with firewood. He thinks one stick makes a fire, and my Poppa told me you need at least three. The Boss takes hot showers; I take cold ones. I roll the toothpaste tube; he squeezes it in the middle. He watches me diet because he doesn’t want a wide wife — but he snacks all day long. I avoid butter, bread, syrup, and cakes. My study looks like constructive chaos, and his workshop looks like creative confusion. Our two sons are the planter executive type and the traveling engineer type.

But we have lots in common, The Boss and I: We like country living, country foods, and country folks. And oh yes, my signature is right beside his on the land we own and on the mortgages. This makes me feel as equal as I care to be, thank you.

…I do love that guy. Sometimes I wonder why. Life hasn’t been easy. But it hasn’t been dull either.”

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