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Family stories, picking cotton and selling GRIT

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Sherrill C. Mullis, Special to The Lancaster News

Have you ever looked up your family history, also known as geneology or "family tree," to see when and where your ancestors came from? Maybe there is a skeleton in the closet or a pot of gold buried beside the oak tree. I have had some help looking up part of my family history from my niece Joy Mullis of Gaffney. (She is a real whiz at geneology.)

It has been my experience that whatever you find is interesting and fascinating.

Take for instance an uncle of mine from North Carolina, who was always bad to drink along with my granddad. Both of them enjoyed getting inebriated as they partook in "a little toddy for the body," so to speak. Neither of them ever harmed anyone – except themselves or maybe their wives, on occasion. When drinking they were always lively and friendly and cracking outrageously funny jokes or danced alone, and were always lots of fun to be around because of their shenanigans.
On one occasion in the early 1900s, Grandma was cooking a cake of cornbread in the open fire in a big skillet, and set it on the hearth to cool. Grandpa, having taken a little too much "toddy" was dancing around and accidently stepped in the frying pan – shoe and all.

Grandma, being the reserved lady she was, didn't said a word to him about it.

But as supper was set on the table, she cut the shoe print out and placed it in front of him to eat.

He sat down and said, "Sallie, what is that mashed up cornbread doing on my plate?"

She promptly replied, "Ed, you made it, now you eat it."

This story was told to me by my mother, and we always thought it was a funny one.

Maybe their silly behavior wasn't all their fault though. I was told their ancestors came over from Ireland to Ellis Island in the 1700s. They were too poor to buy a normal fair ticket, so they stowed away in a whiskey barrel for the Atlantic crossing.

I would not swear to this story, but the same one has been told to me by many different relatives, so I believe it to be reliable. Your ancestors would never embellish a story about their relatives.

Now, not all of my uncles were bad characters. Most of them were good, down-to-earth, wholesome Christian people and big farmers of cotton, corn and cane for molasses, gardens, cattle and fruit orchards.
Rainy days were "children-making" days. One of my great-great- grandfathers had 17 children – not counting the ones that died at birth.

In 1936, after my dad, "Worley" Mullis, died, my mom, me and my two siblings, Fred and Sara Margaret, moved in with my mother's father. Grandaddy Eddie's home was a big, two-story log house on Hornetown Road, southeast of Peachland, N.C. My favorite aunt and uncle, Inez and Eugene Horne, lived close by. My uncle was married late in life to a beautiful, 16-year-old girl, and they had 12 children – there must have been many rainy seasons. After having eight boys and girls, the good Lord blessed them with triplet girls and two years later (it rained some more) another little girl. There house was my favorite place to go. I liked to play with their kids and eat cornbread and buttermilk. My aunt and uncle also raised their own beef, pork and vegetables.

In the fall, schools closed for about six weeks so children could help pick cotton. In the late 1930s, farmers paid workers a wage of 50 cents per 100 pounds of cotton picked by hand. The cool thing was, I could pick 75 to 80 pounds a day, make money and also get to play with other children. I got 40 cents, not 50 cents, but it was still a lot of money to me. I could survive on about $2 a week and still have change left to buy a bottle of pop and a comic book or two.

It seemed I always had knack for making a dollar in those days of the 1940s. I recall seeing this ad saying, "Sell GRIT papers." You had to be 12 to sell them, and I was only 11, so I ordered the papers in my brother Fred's name. The papers arrived in the mail, and I got on my bike and went knocking on doors to begin my enterprise. I knew I would have pretty good luck in this entrepreneurial endeavor, as my mother and grandmother knew everyone within a five-mile radius. It didn't take me long before I had about as many customers as I could handle on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

The GRIT paper cost 5 cents. I was able to keep 2 cents and had to send back 3 cents. Doing the math, 2 cents times 50 customers was $1, and as a bonus, if I sold a one-year subscription for $2.50, I could get 75 cents.

After meeting a quota, I would be able to receive a stamp pad with my name on it. There was only one tiny problem. After all of that hard work and excitement of getting a prize, guess what happened? It came with my brother's name on it instead of mine.

The next quota of selling was a silver pocket watch and fob. I set my sights on winning that prize, and I did. Not many boys my age had their own silver pocket watch. I guess i was stainless steel, but to me it was gold.

I never really liked school, and would have much rather been picking cotton or helping my uncle on the farm. My mother urged all three of her children to get a high school education. She told us if we did that, we could make as much money as our mailman, who made $5 a day in 1940. I figured I would be filthy rich if I could make that kind of money.

We moved back to Lancaster in 1943-44, so I had to give my paper route to one of my cousins and finish school in Lancaster. After graduating high school, I enrolled in Diesel Electric and Mechanics School in Memphis. I finished the training in one year. Later, my brother Fred and I went to Fort Smith Auctioneer and Salesman School in Fort Smith, Ark. I have been in the selling and auction business for over 50 years, and I believe I could still live on $5 a day if I had to.