Chapter 1: The Early Years

Chapter 1: The Early Years

"William Carrol Starling.

Flora Starling was my mother and Jesse Starling was my daddy. There was twelve of us all together an’ I was the baby. Let’s see, there was Ansel, Delores, Lossie, Doris, an’ Buster, J.D., Rebel, an’ Wilma, and I had one baby sister. She died at two and a half, Barbara Ann, the only blonde headed one in the bunch. Papa had two daughters by his first wife that died, and I can’t tell you their names;  I don’t know them. But there was twelve of us all together. Papa married momma. After his first wife died, he married momma, and he was twenty-seven an’ she was fifteen. And she started out a family with two girls, one seven and one nine, at the age of fifteen. 

The house that we had in North Florida, that we lived in when all of us was together, it had one living room. It had a room for the girls, and mama and papa had a room, an’ us boys had a room, back of the fireplace. Where the fireplace was in the wall, you have these bricks in the next room and that kept the room warm, and that was the boy’s room and they built a little room on the front porch for my uncle. He lived long enough, he died there. But the porch went all the way around the house, except one side. And then you get around to the back there, and that was the kitchen, and it had a pitcher pump… Well later on we had a pitcher pump, in the early years, we had to pull our water up out of the well. But we finally, got up in class enough, we got a pitcher pump on the porch. We thought we had running water then.

But then, mama cooked on an old wood stove and my job — because I was so young —was to get her all the wood for the wood stove. That was my job, make sure they was wood in there, cuz she done all the cooking for all this family. It was cooked on an old wood stove and she heated it with wood and had the oven and everything.  But that’s where our kitchen was on the back.

We was raised up very poor, but we didn’t realize it. We had plenty to eat, and we was happy. But now, the way we was raised up, you’d be on poverty. I mean, you’d be in bad shape. But we never did realize we was on poverty cuz mama always cooked home-cooked meals, and stuff. So we made it real good to be a large family. And back then, people helped everybody else out, if you had a house that needed a roof on it, the neighbors’d come in and they’d all gather up and roof it. and there wouldn’t be no charge, they’d do it for free, you know. It ain’t like now, everybody expects a dollar for everything you do. That’s some of the things you miss is being able to go help people. That don’t happen much anymore. People aren’t going to help, they want money for helping you. 

In the backyard, we had a big old syrup kettle (like this big kettleI got out there) and when we’d butcher hogs, we’d cook out all the cracklings and meat. And we’d get the grease, and then mama would cut that hog up in small pieces and she would fry it in that grease. And then they had these big lard cans, and you put all this meat in the lard cans and you pour grease on it, and that preserves that meat for that year because we didn’t have any ‘fridgerator. Once you put it inside that lard, it would preserve that meat. And then we had a smokehouse out there, we smoked some meat. But that was a big deal when we butchered hogs or cows, is cookin’ that stuff up. And papa always, I never did realize why, but when we butcher hogs, if he butchered one, two or three, when we got it butchered, half of it went to the school board, there in McKlinney. The schools didn’t get commodities and all like they do now, so it was left up to the farmers and all to bring fresh vegetables, and meat and stuff like that, you know. So he would give a lot of his stuff to the schools. Which we always had plenty to eat, we had a farm and all, we raised tobacco, and corn, and had mules they plowed with. Once in a while we’d have a stray dog. And dogs wasn’t allowed in the house, that was a ‘no.’ And mama hated cats. I mean, there’s cats in the yard, but she didn’t want ‘em around her cuz she couldn’t stand for a cat to get around her legs and all. We had mules and we had goats. One of the biggest things I can remember is I would go to the milk barn with mama every morning while she milked and then in the afternoon. She would milk, and I had this tin cup that i carried with me all the time. And when mama would milk, and strain it, you’d pour it through this cheese cloth and strain the milk so it’d clean it, and I would drink that hot milk. I loved hot milk, I still do. And I made sure I went with momma every day to the milk barn. And we made our own butter, you put it in a big ol’ mason jar, and you hold it up like this. And you shake it, till you feel like your arm’s gonna fall off, and after a while you look and it will start butterin’ up… but you made homemade butter, it’s so much better than this stuff.

But that's about all i can remember about the old farm… I know we raised a lot of tobacco, what they claim will kill you now. But that was the biggest money thing, you know, this tobacco. Once the tobacco gets ready, then you go in there and crop it off. And you tie it in bundles and you got these long sticks you tie it on, and one bundle will be on one side of the stick and one on the other side. You tied ‘em up like that, ’til you get it all ready. And then the boys, and girls do it too, they’d climb up in that old smokehouse, tobacco house, where they cured it. And you climb all the way up top, and you start hangin’ that tobacco up there, and you had an old fireplace outside that heated that thing, and they cured that tobacco with heat. And once it got cured, you’d take it down. And you put it in a big old, you know, Croker-sack-looking-thing, and you put it in there and you break it up. Tie it up into a big bundle. And you kept it inside your house, cuz you couldn’t put it in the barn because the moisture and all would get to it. So, by the time tobacco season’s over with, your whole house will smell like a cigar. It was in the bedrooms and every place else, but then you’d go to the market, and the market was like going to a big fairground to us. They had ferris wheels, nothin’ like what they have now, the little ones you know, and little kiddie rides and stuff, but we though we’d went to a big fairground. That was a big deal, tobacco time. When they got all our ‘bacco cooked, all the neighbors would come in and they’d bring food in and we’d have a big party. That’s the only time during the year that you could get all the soft drinks you’d want. They have a big keg and it’s full of drinks and ice, and you just drank whatever you want. That's the only time you’d ever get all the drink you want.

[Grandpa Richardson]

Then I had a grandpa, that’s the only grandparent I knew, Shep Richardson, and he was the Indian part of the family. He was my mother’s dad. He died at about eighty-something years old, I forget how old he was, but he was in his eighties. He built him a lil house about 200 yards behind our house. And he went out there in the bay head and cut trees, small trees, and built the frame of his house, and then he took the leftover lumber an’ finished the rest of it. When he died, he still didn’t want ‘lectricity or runnin’ water or anything. He lived with a kerosene lamp and he had a kerosene stove that he cooked off of. He didn’t want nothin’ to do with the modern day stuff. We got along. When he died, he left me all of his tools, and his shotgun, and stuff like that. I prob’ly was the only one that took up any time with him, the rest of em, I guess you’d say the rest of ‘em was old enough that they didn’t spend no time with him. They had other things to do, and I was young enough.

Biggest thing I remember about him, is outside his little old house. That little house is still in Bartow and it just had one room, that’s all there was to it, and his bed was against the back. But on the front of his house, he had a mirror up there with a table platform that he kept wash water in and you could see him down there every morning when he got up. He had two brushes that he brushed his hair, and when he died, he had a full head of hair and it was wavy like that, you know. But he had a full head of hair.

My brothers left me one time, Momma and Papa was at the river fishin’. And I didn't want to go, so I stayed home with Grandpa. And Ma and Papa liked t’ had a fit, cuz they left me with Grandpa, they was scared of him. He was a good man, but his ways… he didn’t want you to feel like he was good. He wanted everybody to be scared of him. Most of ‘em was. But me, I didn’t have sense enough to be scared of him (laughs)… But me and him got along good.

I was probably about 14 or 15, somewhere along there, when he died, but I’m not really sure about that. But I started huntin’ for him when I was about 13 years old. I started shootin’ birds for him. Well, on the farm, you learn to handle a gun early. It was nothin’ to take a bunch of boys 13 years old an’ go out in the woods huntin’. I learnt to hunt real early, and the gun that I got in there is called Canon-Bridge. Up there where you put the shell in, it looked like a canon, it’s real thick there, and then it goes down bout the width of a shot gun shell and then it goes back like a regular shotgun. But it’s called a Canon-Bridge and in all the gun shops I’ve never seen another one like it. I don’t know how old it is. It’s an old gun, cuz he had it back in the early fifties, that I know of, cuz that’s when I was huntin’ for him. So, I know it’s sixty-seventy years old. 

He called me down here one day and he said he wanted me to start doing hunting for him, so the shotgun I got in there…he showed it to me, he said I'll buy the shells if you kill me something to eat. So, he’d buy three shells at a time. I asked him, I said “Grandpa, what you want to eat? What you want me to kill?” He said, “You kill it, I’ll eat it.” So, I killed water turkey, an’ die-dappers, an’ coots an’ ducks, whatever I got in the way. But I knew better, he give me three shells, he expected three birds. So I had to make sure I had a good shot before I pulled the trigger, cuz he wouldn’t buy my shells if I missed. But he’d buy ‘em three at a time, that’s all he’d buy.

That Doc Taylor was the only neighbor we had, an’ Doc Taylor had a bunch of cows and his cow pasture went right up against our property, all the way around, y’know. So, to keep the cows from gettin’ out, he run a hot fence. Well, nobody knew anything about a hot fence, ‘cause we didn’t even have electricity in North Florida. So, Grandpa’d always crawl over the fence and go out there and cut his lumber or whatever he needed for his yard or house. And he got up there straddlin’ that hot fence and it hit him. So, (laughs) Doc Taylor had this prize Brahman bull that laid up behind his house and slept. So, one day, Doc Taylor come up and he said, “Have you seen anybody messin’ with my bull?” And somebody had cut his tail off right up against his behind. (laughs) And I’m pretty sure Grandpa had that for supper, ox-tail, y’know? But, Grandpa, like I say, he was kinda like my old sayin’ is: “I don’t get mad, I get even.” And that’s the way he was. He got even for that hot fence, so he cut the tail off. We all, all of us knew he done it, but we never did prove it.

But as far as I know, he never learned to drive, so on the end of the month when he’d get his government check, he would walk to Bartow. It was 4 and a half miles, to get his groceries and alcohol an’ stuff that he made his home-brew, yeast an’ all that stuff. And he’d walk back. And then for the next day and a half  or two days he’d be busy… He was a very interestin’ old man.

But Grandpa used to make his own, what they call, home-brew. It was some mixture he come up with. He’d take alcohol an’ mix it together an’ cook it down an’ make bottled up alcohol or beer or whatever you call it. And I used to go down there wit’ him, and I’d watch him make it, but I didn’t know. At that time I didn’t realize what all he’d done, y’know.  The funny part about it though, I knew he had all that equipment, the bottlin’ capper and everything, and the bottles. But when he died, I went down there and was gonna get that stuff.  And he’d done away with it. So he knew, somewhere along the line, he knew he was gonna die or something-another. He got rid of it, we never did find it. And none of it, the cappin’ stuff, an’ all that, he’d done away with it.

When he died, though, my sister Dolores, she slept in the back room there by the kitchen. And he walked up there one morning, way before daylight, and knocked on the window and told her to wake everybody up, it was time for him to go. And he walked in the house, an’ about ten minutes after he walked in the house he was dead. But he said he thought it was time for him to go, so he walked about two-hundred-somethin’ yards up to the house and died about ten minutes after he walked in the house.

He was a special old man, he’d do anything for ya, but he didn’t want nobody messin’ with him. He was what they call a loner…an’ I guess that’s where I get some of mine from, cuz I'm more like him than I realize, the older I get…just, “leave me alone.” (laughs) 

But, we got along pretty good."