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Not Forgotten Selling Out to the Yankees BY CARL D. KIRBY The Great Depression bore down heavily on the Mississippi Delta and our onecrop economy. As if the low price of cotton and the ravages of the boll weevil were not enough, a plague ofhouse fires left many of the inhabitants temporarily homeless. The victims bore their misfortune stoically, never complaining or even mentioning their bad luck. Hardly a week went by without a house burning to the ground. The fires could be seen a long way in our flat country. We would jump in our cars and wind around the gravel roads, sometimes for miles, to reach the site. Houses on plantations had no fire protection and were speedily consumed. Those fires that occurred in villages like ours usually broke out after midnight. The fire equipment consisted of a hose cart with tall wooden wheels and solidrubber tires, housed in an unlocked shed on Main Street. When the siren on top ofthe telephone office started to wail, the first vehicle to get to the shed hooked the cart to his back bumper with the chain provided and rushed to the scene. The house was usually totally destroyed when they got there, but if it wasn't, the fire chief finished the job. Mr. Casey was a burly man whose claim to fame was that he could hold the bucking nozzle without help. The water tank was 1 5o feet tall, generating enough pressure to break out all the windows, allowing the flames to breathe freely. It was beautiful to watch how the chiefcould start at the eaves and peel off a row of shingles all the way to the ridge of the roof. In one case where there may have been a chance to save the house, the nozzles were lost when the cart went over a big pothole and jounced them off the standing pegs. A search party went back and met a Negro with the heavy brass nozzle on his shoulder, running full tilt for the scene. It was quickly attached, and die chief took his wrestling stance and hollered "Turn 'er on!" The hose cart had to unreel the hose past the house to get to a coupling where the nozzle could be attached , and the hose was dragged around in a big horseshoe loop to bear on the fire. When the pressure hit it, nothing came out of the nozzle. The loop straightened out like a steel bar, knocking down several bystanders and turning the chief a flip. The nozzle had been plugged by dirt daubers. By the time they turned the water off, took off the nozzle, found a rod to ram it out with, and attached it, it was too late. The crowd was laughing too hard to be much help, and the chief sulked and went home. The men lingered after the ladies left, wetting down the smoldering heap "so it don't catch out again." They sipped the coffee the ladies had brought^ some122 CARL D. KIRBY think." times adding a nerve tonic that came in flat botdes, and discussed the eventwith a certain protocol.Something told The first and proper thine to do was to inquire about, , , ·?1 u «ron. ?*· ?-?.me not to ask silly the owner. Where s Miss Annie?^ "She went to visit her sister in the hills . . . Tupelo, I questions about the "Anybody know how to get hold ofher?"J -/^ "My wife does. She told her before she left. Reckon ofDelta mice. she's already called her." That formality out of the way, they theorized on the cause: "It could have been a short in the wiring." "Prob'ly a mouse gnawed some matches." "Yeah, they're bad to do that." For some reason, the mouse theory predominated, and the response to the obvious question evolved into, "They think a mouse gnawed some matches." If there had been a thunderstorm, the cause was ascribed to lightning, but mainly it was those pesky mice. I was a teenager in high school during that era, full ofcuriosity about unfamiliar phenomena, but something told me not to bother my parents with silly questions about the depraved appetites ofDelta mice. When...


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pp. 122-124
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