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Summers Of Learning In The Tobacco Fields

Jul 11, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Mark Sullivan grew up in Connecticut during the late 1950s. It was a time when the state produced huge amounts of shade leaf tobacco, used to make cigar wrappers. And summer was the season when he and other local teenagers went to the fields.

"It was where all your friends were in the summer," Sullivan says. "If you weren't working on tobacco, you had nothing to do, really. You'd finish school and you went to work on the farm.

"The boys would get the dirty work and the girls would get the clean work. The boys' work was called suckering ... crawling on hands and knees down the rows and pulling the suckers off."

The tar in the tobacco made it a "filthy job," Sullivan says. "You'd get it all over your hands and by the end of the day your hands would be black."

His mother made him get undressed on the back porch. "Then I'd have to run real quick inside and then jump in the shower because you'd be filthy dirty," Sullivan says.

Working the tobacco fields was hard, he says, "but you kind of grew up and you learned how to work."

"I can remember working with some women hoeing tobacco who were in their 70s and had done it their whole life. They didn't wear pants. They always wore a dress, and they would dress relatively nicely to come work in a tobacco field.

"They would go like lightning and they never got tired. We were kids and we wore gloves because we'd get blisters on our hands. And they'd just look at you like, 'What kind of sissy wears gloves?' "

Sullivan says the lessons from working the tobacco fields have stayed with him.

"I look back on it now and I've said to my wife so many times, 'God, I wish I could get the kids one summer on tobacco. I probably learned more there than you learn in high school.' "

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Remembering A Father's Hard Life And Riches

Jul 4, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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When James Lacy was growing up in the 1920s, his father ran a general store in Sidney, Texas, a crossroads in Comanche County. Lacy says he was his father's little helper. "I used to just follow him. Wherever he went, I was there."

"He had an old Ford truck, and he let me drive for the first time when I was 6 years old," Lacy says.

One time, one of the local farmers came into the store and said, "Jim, I met your truck going down the street a little while ago and there wasn't a soul in it. I couldn't see nobody," Lacy says.

"Dad laughed and he said, 'Oh, that's just James. He's going out to the farm.' "

Lacy's father, James B. Lacy, prospered until the economic crash of 1929.

"His downfall was that he extended credit to the people around him, but he didn't pay his suppliers promptly as he should," Lacy says. "So when the 1929 bust came along, they moved in on him, repossessed everything he had."

Some of his father's friends tried to persuade him to file for bankruptcy, Lacy says. "And he said, 'No, I made these debts and I'll pay them.' And he spent 20 years paying off the last bit of those debts.

"My dad ... was loved and respected by everybody in his community," Lacy says. The editor of the local paper called him in one day and said, "Jim, I just wanted to tell you that I know that you had a hard life due to the bust when you lost everything. And you've had a hard time raising eight kids, but I want to tell you, you're the richest man I know in Comanche because of the offspring that you've left us."

James B. Lacy lived to be 90. "I was fortunate enough to be holding his hands when he died," Lacy says. "We thought he was gone. He was laying there and just barely breathing, and two of my brothers were sitting there and we were talking. We said something about something, and Dad opened his eyes and he said, 'No, that's not right. I'll tell you how it happened.' "

"He was something else. He was a man to the last."

James B. Lacy died in 1968. His son, James Lacy, is a retired postal worker and the father of five children.

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Living on 'One Tough Block'

Jun 13, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Celedonia "Cal" Jones grew up in Harlem during the 1930s. When he was 9 years old, his family moved to a new block. And, as Celedonia recently told his friend Robert Harris, being the new kid wasn't easy.

"I remember moving to 143rd Street between Lennox and Seventh; that was probably one of the toughest blocks in the city at the time. The first day that I moved into the block and came out to play, this fellow comes up and he said, 'Hey, my name is Dickey, what's yours?' So I said, 'Well, I'm Cal,' and I put my hand out to shake and ... bang, he hits me in the eye.

"All I wanted to do was be friends," Jones told him.

"That's how we start friends in this block," Dickey responded.

Jones and Harris laugh at the memory.

"That was the kind of reception that I got moving into this block," Jones says.

On one "really hot" day, Jones, his brother and some neighbors in their building were looking for something to do. They decided it was too hot for box ball, a street game played with a rubber ball on a court drawn on the street.

"My brother said, 'I guess it would really be something if someone tried to run around this court in this weather.'

"And so this fellow, Gordon, said, 'Ah, it wouldn't bother me.' My brother Joe said, 'I'll bet you can't run around the court 52 times.' So Gordon said, 'Yes, I could. I bet a dime.' "

For kids at the time, that was "big money," Jones says.

"So Gordon starts running around the court, and people are beginning to come out, and they see Gordon running around. It must have been almost 100 degrees by that time. People said, 'What is that fool running around the court for? You better stop him. He's going to fall out.'" The crowd got bigger.

"Meanwhile, he's running around the court 28, 29 times, and as he'd pass, he'd say to Joe: 'You better have my dime.'

"And I said to Joe, 'Where are you going to get a dime to pay him?'

"Joe said, 'I don't know.' "

"He's going 49, and he's barely making it around, so when he hit the 50th time, my brother Joe says, 'I don't have a dime. I'm not going to pay you, and we can fight right now.'

"And he's standing up to tell Joe, 'I'm going to hurt you, Joseph. Come on.'

"Joe was dancing around like Joe Louis," Jones says.

"That's the kind of block it was; that was a tough block."

Jones is Manhattan Borough historian emeritus. He recorded his interview as part of StoryCorps Griot, an initiative that collects the recollections of black Americans. This segment was produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Selly Thiam.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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A Mother's Bittersweet Memories

May 30, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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What did Rich Stark want to be when he grew up? A marine biologist — or to be 10, he would often tell people.

In 1977, one year before he would have turned 10, Rich was hit and killed by a reckless driver. The boy had been playing in his neighborhood in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan.

The day it happened, his mother, Myra Dean remembers, she was going out with her girlfriends. "Rich had a new friend named Steve. They were riding bikes and I said, 'Come on, we've got to go pick up the baby sitter.'"

Rich didn't want to join her. Instead, he wanted to go to the corner to watch the sunset.

"I thought to myself, I don't want to tie him to his mama's apron strings," Dean says. "So I said, 'Well, you watch for cars.'"

Then she left. When she returned, she saw a crowd and ambulance lights at the end of the street.

"I knew the minute I opened the car door and put my feet on the ground that it was Rich," she says.

She started running toward the crowd.

"A guy had been hot-rodding through our neighborhood," Dean says. "The car flipped over and it landed on Rich.

"And all I can remember is they had pulled the driver out and he kept saying, 'Oh my God, what have I done, what have I done?'"

Dean was put into a police car and she started screaming.

"The ambulance driver came to me at the hospital and said, 'There was nothing we could do. He's gone.'"

Her back against the wall, Dean slid to the floor.

"Ma'am, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but he was dead at the scene," she said the ambulance driver added.

"He'll never know what that meant to me ...," Dean says. "One of the things that was the hardest for me was, what if he was suffering and I wasn't there for him, you know?

"And the worst part is when you realize you're going to live, because you just want to die. I thought I wouldn't live 10 minutes and I was astonished when I'd lived 10 days and mortified when I'd lived 10 months, and not even grateful yet when I had lived 10 years. I was just mostly surprised.

"And there was no one more astonished that I'd survived it than myself. When you lose your child, it's like somebody has just amputated a huge chunk of your heart. The difference is people can't see the amputation.

"I miss him terribly," Dean says. "He was just a happy kid, and it's been a bittersweet thing that he died watching a sunset."

Dean, who has two grown stepchildren, helps other bereaved parents deal with grief through the Abilene, Texas, chapter of the Compassionate Friends organization.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

Honoring the Dead Brings Father, Son Closer

May 23, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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David Shea didn't know much about his father until one Memorial Day when Denny Shea took his son along for a ride to the cemetery. It was there that the father introduced his son to the people who had made a difference in his own past.

When Shea's mother died in the early 1980s, he decided to move back home to help out his father. It wasn't long before David learned there were some things he didn't know about his dad.

Denny Shea had small coffee cans lined up in their garage. One day David said, "Dad, wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a larger can of coffee and have less garbage?"

His father replied, "Oh, leave me alone; never you mind. It's my house. I do what I want."

The cans kept stacking up in the garage. The day before Memorial Day, Denny Shea asked his son to go to the store and buy a bag of sand, some rolls of colored aluminum foil "and as many silk flowers as you can get."

Then on Memorial Day, the father asked his son, "Would you mind helping me with the graves today?"

"Sure, I'd love to do that," David said. He thought they were going to visit the graves of his mother and grandparents.

"We get out to the garage and he's got shovels and rakes and coffee cans full of bouquets. And I said, 'What are we doing?' And he goes, 'We're doing the graves. Just be quiet and let's go.'

"So we get in the car and he'd packed a lunch and we started driving around our cemetery looking for graves. And I said, 'Well, who are these people?' And he said, 'Well, these are the people that helped me through my life, and they don't have any relatives and they don't have any survivors and every year, I do their graves.' "

The father and son stopped at one grave. "It was the Torpeys, Mr. and Mrs. Torpey. And I said, 'So who are these people? I've never heard of them.' "

His father said, "Well, we were poor and we didn't have anything. And when I needed to learn how to drive a car, Mr. Torpey taught me how to drive a car, and when I had to have a car to go on a date ... Mr. Torpey would loan me his Buick.' "

That day, David Shea says he heard his father's "whole life through the process of paying tribute to the people that helped him out.

"My dad never spoke about his past. We never talked about where he came from. What a way to learn about your personal history. ... Typically, you think you're going to sit down and have a conversation with somebody. But this was actually just the process of doing what had been a ritual for years that I didn't even know about."

Denny Shea, a veteran of World War II, died in 1995 at the age of 73. David decorates his father's grave each Memorial Day.

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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