Saturday, February 25, 2006


Wallace A. Johnson MBA
Apollo Project Test Pilot 1964
CDR Spaceship DEWAJ
Senior Navigator Test Pilot

As I was growing up during the 30's, I rapidly matured, not only physically but mentally. I acquired a "Social Conscience" early on. I mentioned in my last entry, how bewildered I was to see good food being destroyed merely to sustain a price. It didn't make sense to me then and it doesn't make any more sense now. However social planners always have altruistic end results in sight and there is no doubt that it could all be explained, at least in their minds, as having an end result which was better than not interfering at all. I can remember that the unemployment figures were 25 million or more. Able bodied men begging for work, and those that didn't find it were left with begging period! Something happens to a person’s dignity and self worth, when he is forced by circumstances beyond him, to literally have to beg to insure his survival. Worrying about oneself is one thing but to realize that one is responsible for others survival as well, is incomprehensible unless you have experienced it yourself. It's an animal of a totally different color. A day's pay at back breaking labor was $1.00 and that's all one could sell his labor for, and some were willing to do it for less. You heard it said then and it's still repeated today, "Nobody died from starvation in the 30's" and perhaps there is some truth to that, but there sure was a lot of "Malnutrition" and the thought comes to mind that maybe "Malnutrition" is just another nice way of saying slow starvation.

I can remember clearly that I was given a physical at the age of 11 and the doctor conducting my examination was an elderly lady perhaps in her late 50's. I have no idea what the real circumstances were but I remember that it had to do with the fact that my mother was applying for some assistance in getting milk for the family. With three children, 11, 9, and 7 there just was no way that she could afford to buy milk for all three. So we were doing without milk, and it was showing in our physical condition. The doctor was quite disturbed and was arguing with some functionary about the fact that we had not been included in a program the City of Houston had where milk was being made available for those who qualified. The milk was being distributed at local fire stations throughout the city, but my family was not on the list. The doctor in a large and commanding voice, was heard by me to say "I don't give a damn what you say, I said these kids will be given a quart of milk a day period, now do it" and the social worker made out the necessary forms so that our family would be eligible for the free milk. I have no ideas who that doctor was, but I know that there are angels that walk this earth, and in reflecting on that moment now, I know she was one of them. Can you imagine an angel cursing? Well under certain circumstances they do, and I'll swear to it. It's hard to imaging an angel that is pissed off; believe me, when they get that way, you pay real close attention. So we got our milk.

I used to take two buckets with me and I would go to the local fire station which was quite some distance from where we lived and I would load those buckets up with jars of milk. It would be enough to take care of our needs for a whole week, whereupon I would return and repeat the process. Milk in those days was not pasteurized and was called "Raw" milk. The neck of the bottle was built different than the bottles we had later on when it was homogenized. It had a bulge at the top of the bottle, and you could see the line where the cream had risen to the top and was laying in that section of the bottle where the bulge was. The majority of the time we got skimmed milk which had its cream removed for making butter, but it still had a lot of nutritional value skimmed or not. Another thing I remember was that the cap on the bottle was a round cardboard lid with advertising on it. Today, the whole container is made of a cardboard composite. Do you remember when the milkman delivered milk in a glass bottle? I don't think I have ever tasted milk since that tasted like it did then. Nostalgia, nostalgia, how beautiful it is.

One summer, I think it was 1934 or 35, I can't remember, it was decided that I should go to spend sometime with some friends who had a farm in the Navasota, Hempstead area. The thinking was that I would get three square meals a day and perhaps put some weight on. I was not starving, but I was experiencing some malnutrition, so off I went. I remember, Aunt Fanny, (No relation), cooking pancakes and feeding the work hands sitting at a long table. The table could handle twenty people at one time, it was so immense, and she would cook pancakes by the dozen. They made sorghum molasses on the farm, and I can still see them slowly moving the mixture as it cooked on a roaring fire ever mindful of the fact that at some point it would all of a sudden get to the right consistency in thickness requiring it being removed from the fire immediately. Going past a certain point could also cause it to burn, and I have had the pleasure of having to put burnt molasses on my pancakes more than once. It couldn't be thrown away just because it was overcooked and burnt. And woe to the person whose job was to keep it moving in the ladle, who let it get past that certain point. I knew my day for stirring was coming, and sure enough, I sweated that ordeal with the certain knowledge that I wasn't going to mess up on my assigned task. When the liquid is first put into the vat, it's not unlike water in its viscosity, but as it cooks it slowly thickens and when I noticed the resistance to the pole I was stirring it with, I yelled like a banshee, because I knew too much longer and it would be burned. When you realize that if you burn the molasses, you are in for a real lambasting and your life threatened, you keep a close eye on what you are doing. I was lucky, I stirred the molasses many times, but I never let it burn. My guardian angle has been with me from an early age, even to this day.

Unless you’re my age or thereabouts, you don't have any idea what I'm talking about when I say "Picking Cotton." In the first place, it's most likely 110 degrees in the shade. You are dragging a canvas bag that is about 6 to 8 feet long and a diameter of a large wash bucket. The bag has a large loop at the opening which you put over your shoulder, and you literally drag that bag as you reach over and pick the boll of cotton and drop it into the bag. The protective leaves that surround the boll of cotton has sharp prickly points on it, and in no time at all, your fingers are bleeding from the pricks you endure. Not much fun I assure you. A grown man was expected to fill that bag up and with a lot of cramming could get many pounds into the bag. I don't remember exactly but it seems to be that all men strived to get 100 pounds for the day into the bag. And you would be immediately fired if they caught you, but more than one man who had to relieve himself would urinate into the bag. Anything to make that cotton heavier! Can you imagine how many bolls of cotton a man has to pick just to get one pound of cotton? I picked cotton right along with the rest that summer. I was shooting for ten pounds, and I made it. The bags were weighed on a devise where weights were suspended on a fulcrum to determine the weight of the cotton. All crude by modern standards, where a human hand no longer touches the boll of cotton, but rather a mechanized cotton picker comes along and strips the cotton from the plant, doing it thousands of times as fast and cheaper in the long run. Talk about Technological Unemployment and the machine replacing manual labor! But that's another story.


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