Erick: A Sailor’s Story

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Here’s an excerpt from his 2007 book that I wrote. Erick died in 2008.

I was born in Dozier, Alabama. Compared to other towns it was the size of one snowflake in a blizzard. Little remains of this Covington County town today. They even removed the railroad tracks.

The date was November 5th, 1918, a Tuesday. Most births didn’t occur in the hospital, but at home with a midwife present.

I’d like to think something historic happened on this November 5th, but it seemed to be business as usual. One topic of the day was that lemon juice lightens skin. When I was older and looked back on this day, I often wondered how the ladies could look so pale. I don’t guess they were ailing, just trying to be acceptable in polite company.

A Queen Anne dining room suite was selling for $149 in Birmingham, the logical point of reference for the big city in Alabama, although it had to be a world away for us folks in a little bitty town. A store by the name of Strickland-Green was selling it, along with a bedroom suite for $189, the type of wood unannounced. Osters had an American walnut bedroom suite for $139.

Blach’s had men’s overcoats for $25. Steel-Smith had women’s blouses for 98 cents.

Pizitz, the most recognizable name up until the end of the century, was selling women’s wool sweaters for $4.95, and women’s dresses for $14.95. They had children’s union suits for 59 cents. If you don’t know what that is, ask someone over seventy-five.

Grocery stores touted canned tomatoes for 15 cents, and a dozen eggs for 48 cents.

Today’s newspapers routinely have ads for various cuts of meat. There didn’t seem to be any on this November 5th. Maybe it was one of the rationed items, with most of it going to the war effort overseas.

Speaking of the war, it was noteworthy. Americans and their allies had begun their march through the Argonne Forest on September 26th, not a mile by mile cadence, but inch by inch, what we in the South call fighting tooth and nail.

This is where Sergeant Alvin C. York became an international hero, when he captured a German machine-gun battalion. The movie with Gary Cooper pictured this Fentress County, Tennessee native as somewhat naïve, but he apparently gathered his thoughts enough later to become a newspaper columnist.

The Americans inspired everybody with their get-up-and-go. Those who had been sitting around on their haunches bemoaning the fact that the war was not going their way, suddenly said if the Yanks can come over here and fight like this for our land, what in the world are we waiting for? They perhaps didn’t realize that mixed in among the Yanks were some Confederates too.

Belgium was one of the first to recognize the American spirit, because, even though they didn’t have a very big army, they joined in. A few days later they had gained more ground than the British were able to do in four months of the previous year.

Bulgaria signed an armistice on September 30th. Turkey surrendered on October 31st. The Italians shredded the Austrian-Hungarian army, and on November 3rd they were given armistice effective November 4th.

I’d like to think the Germans heard of my arrival in this world, and that frightened them into giving up. They signed the armistice on Marshal Foch’s railroad traveling car headquarters near Compiegne at daybreak on November 11th. At 11:00 A. M. the war was officially over.

If I scared the Germans, it didn’t last. Twenty-three years later we were right back at it, and I was right in the middle of it.

I’m not sure whether we ever had any hometown heroes in World War I. No one ever erected a monument for them if they did. My parents never pointed out anyone in the local cemetery who had been over there.

Whatever the case, things must have begun to return to normal. What was normal? We didn’t have any shooting. Of course, the national prohibition amendment to the U. S. Constitution, passed by Congress in December, 1917, was making the rounds of the states, getting enough ratifications to pass. The revenuers and moonshiners in and around our territory were cleaning their guns and adjusting their sights for the coming confrontations they’d have, but they weren’t going to disturb much actual ground.

My hometown thriving metropolis had what some called a ’department store’, a drugstore, and a train station. Now the ‘department store’ was not your average Macy’s or Gimbels that a bit later became famous in the movie. Our landmark carried what was needed, because that was the only place to get it. Overalls, shoes, dresses, kerosene lamps, fertilizer, animal feed, to name a few items. It was the forerunner of the company store, because people bought on credit. The company store collected on the workers’ payday. The farmers’ payday came when the crops were harvested, and they went down to settle up their accounts, as more than one called it

In my early years we were sharecroppers on several different farms before I graduated from high school. In the beginning, I didn’t know exactly what that meant, until I saw a good portion of our corn going to the landowner. We weren’t alone, because some of our neighbors were sharecroppers as well. Most, however, were fortunate that their parents owned the farm, and could provide living space for the entire family, or could give it to them outright.

Some may not realize the full impact of what a sharecropper is. I mentioned about sharing a corn crop. That held true for other vegetables. If it was a crop like cotton, when it was sold, the money was divided.

I don’t know that I was ever privy to the exact financial details, but I’d guess my parents were on the short side of fifty percent for all the transactions.

Finally, in 1930, Papa was able to rent a farm, paying a specific amount, and I’d think things got a little easier, but not so as one would want to celebrate. As expected with all other farms, all those old enough and able worked on it. Field work was one of the great chores.

(Erick joined the U. S. Navy in 1940 and rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer before he retired in 1960.)

(Dozier did have a famous son who was born in 1939. Mal Moore, who played football at Alabama, coached there, and became Athletic Director at Alabama in 1999, serving until his death in 2013. Even though he accomplished a great deal for all sports, he is best known as the man who hired Nick Saban. In Alabama lore you don’t get much better than that).

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