The Social Background of Her Life, Almeda Riddle
What her repertory chiefly reflects is social change. The facts of her life provide the background. In Almeda’s childhood farming was still the “backbone” of the county. She described the typical family as putting in twelve or thirteen acres of cotton for a money crop but also planting peas, beans, potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables, and raising hogs, cows, horses, and poultry. Her father kept sheep for wool. Almeda learned to spin wool and cotton, to dye wool with walnut hulls and sumac and hickory bark, to make soap with lye leached from ashes, to crochet and quilt, to plow, care for horses, and break colts. These were old traditional skills.
But the region had more than simply a backwoods subsistence economy. Peddlers there were buying and selling surplus chickens. Almeda’s father at times added to his own income by running a peddling cart or a sorghum mill. During her childhood the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad began laying track through the county. From 1905 to 1917 her father variously bought and sold timber, served as foreman over a section crew, and traveled about to buy or inspect railroad ties for the Western Tie and Timber Company. In part of this period he ran a store (tended by his wife) and a tie yard. In the 1930s he worked in a road gang building a state highway. Almeda married in 1917, and she and her husband farmed. In 1926 her husband took a town job in a factory that made handles for tools. When he died that year from injuries in the tornado, Almeda continued to farm. During the Depression, however, she worked in a cannery established by the federal government to help farm families preserve their own produce. Their payment was a “toll” of one of every eight or twelve cans to provide food to neighbors. In the 1930s her two sons worked away from home, the older in the National Youth Administration helping build roads and two local school houses, the younger son in the Civilian Conservation Corps and then the army. Her part of the county got electricity in the 1950s through a Rural Electrification Administration cooperative. Telephones came too in the early 1960s.