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Four farmers’ daughters remember a different way of life

They have seen decades of change, lost loved ones, some have even acquired aching bones, but they all have fond memories of growing up on the family farm and how different life was back then.

Four sisters, the only surviving daughters of farmers Charlie and Rebecca Davis, recently shared their stories of what life was like in the Oak Level community in the early 1900s.

The Davises were hardworking farmers who raised eight children, six daughters and two sons.

Ella, 92, Annie, 90,  Estelle, 87, and Mary, 88, sat around and reminisced in their old family home one Wednesday afternoon sharing and recalling stories of the “good ole days.”

 “We played outside, we climbed trees, we’d jump down in gulleys…when you stop and think about it, it’s a blessing any of us are still alive,” said Estelle.

“We had fun, we played house,” added Ella.

The sisters gathered around the kitchen table and told stories of how much things have changed since they were children and how children today take advantage of what they have.

“We didn’t have television, got water from the spring, and we had an outside toilet,” said Mary.

Without television the sisters said they attentively sat around the radio every night to hear the news and be entertained. Nowadays, however, people are watching shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and not watching the old westerns.

“We had a lot of fun growing up. We’d get mad with each other, but we wouldn’t stay mad,” said Mary.

When their mother put food on their plate, they had to eat it whatever it was, no questions asked, recalled the sisters. 

“We had to eat what we were given. Children today don’t appreciate how they’re growing up,” they all added.

The ways of disciplining a child have changed over the years as well, according to the four sisters. Their parents didn’t use time out or have technology to take away; instead they used “switches.”

Dating came with its own set of rules as well. 

According to Estelle, each girl had to be home by 9 p.m. from their date, and not a minute over.

For Christmas there weren’t high-priced toys and electronics under the tree. Each child got a shoebox, and in the shoebox were sugar plums, Brazil nuts, apples and oranges, and that’s all they were given for Christmas.

“I got a doll one time, and someone got it and tore it up,” said Estelle. 

“We were just as happy with what we had though,” she added.

“Things just weren’t like they are now,” said Mary.

The children attended the Wesley Chapel Elementary School that was recently torn down and later attended the Halifax Training School later renamed Mary Bethune.

The children said they walked two hours from their home to Vernon Hill to catch the bus to school.

“We never missed the bus either. We were always on time,” said Estelle.

Their favorite memory growing up and through the years of the family reunions their parents would host at the family home. Their dad would get a lamb and have the whole family over for a weekend of fun.

The sisters also remember the hard times and how things changed for African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.

“I remember listening to it on TV and how they treated those people,” said Mary.

She recalled hearing Martin Luther King giving his speech, and “he sounded like he knew his life was going to be ended.”

“Before them we couldn’t go in some restaurants, use toilets, water fountains or even sit in the front of a bus,” Mary added of the impact  and legacy left by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

When asked if they could change anything, what would it be, Estelle and Mary said they wished they could just go back to some parts of the old days especially when dealing with telemarketers. 

“You’re always speaking to a machine and never a human, and most of the time they are speaking another language,” said Mary.

Mary said she was surprised to hear when President Barack Obama had been re-elected even though personally she felt good about the decision.

“I heard that a 102-year-old woman had stood in line for six hours during the election, and he was going to try and change that,” said Mary.

But she didn’t like when she heard he was going to raise minimum wage because “that’s going to hurt the middle class.” 

“None of us can run a tractor anymore,” she added.

“I used to,” added Annie.

According to the sisters, Annie was the ringleader when it came to getting into trouble.

“Follow me!” said the 90-year-old Annie with a grin.

“I did the hardest work on the farm, more than any of my sisters,” she added.

Their father raised everything from tobacco to oats, and when the sisters weren’t at school they were helping out on the farm. 

The sisters offered advice for young people today: “Stay in school and get an education” and “don’t throw your life away.”

The sisters had siblings who have passed, Verneda, Lucille and Walter and a surviving brother, Harvie, who lives in Chicago.

“We enjoyed ourselves,” the four sisters concluded.