Brothers Pass On Their Farmer Father's Life Lessons

Nov 1, 2019
Originally published on November 1, 2019 2:28 pm

Growing up, Arguster and Lebronze Davis and their 14 siblings worked alongside their parents on the family's 40-acre farm in Wetumpka, Ala.

The brothers remember lessons that their father, Ben Davis, passed down to them.

Now 70, Lebronze recalls how at one point, nine kids lived at home, with all eight of the brothers packed into two beds in one room.

"Two slept at the head, two slept at the feet," he says during his recent StoryCorps interview. "And there was one thing about them feet, you washed them feet before you went to bed."

The Davis family didn't have much room in the budget to spare.

"We only had one cash crop, which was cotton," Arguster, 67, says. "And, we were just breaking even."

"You had a hole in your jeans and Mama'd put a patch on it."

Now, Lebronze jokes, the distressed look is in fashion. "The kids today, they take jeans out, hang 'em out on a line, and shoot 'em. To put holes in 'em," he says.

To earn money, Arguster says he would sell vegetables or work odd jobs for neighbors. He says he owes his first lesson in money management to his father, after a trip to the fair when he was about 12 years old.

"I had made $6 — $6, man, I was on top of the world. I played games, I ate cotton candy," he recalls.

When he returned home, Arguster remembers feeling ashamed to tell his dad that he'd left the fair with his pockets empty.

"I just held my head down and said, 'Daddy, I spent it all,' " he says. "He said, 'Boy, you spent all your money, and haircuts [have] gone up to 75 cents.' "

"So I always keep me enough money to get me a haircut."

Although Ben Davis was prudent when it came to money, Lebronze remembers his father as a generous person.

"Daddy was warm," he says. "If he got it, he'd give it to you. If he didn't have it he'd tell you how to get it."

Their dad's generosity extended to people outside the family as well — for instance, after he started a syrup mill.

"People in the community would bring their cane and millet for us to grind up and make syrup. And people would pay with buckets of syrup," Arguster says.

"I said, 'Daddy, why don't you let these people pay you, 'cause, we got enough syrup to last us for a long time!' And he looked at me and he said, 'Son, these people don't have no money to pay, that's the only way they can pay.' "

"Daddy taught us all how to do the right thing and wanted us to do the right thing," Lebronze says.

Arguster says he tries to pass his father's lessons on to his own 39-year-old son: "There's only two things in life a person actually owns, and that is his name and his word."

"In his own way, that's what Daddy left me with."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Camila Kerwin

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's time now for StoryCorps. Arguster and Lebronze Davis grew up on their family farm in Alabama in the 1950s. Recently, they came to StoryCorps to talk about their childhood.

LEBRONZE DAVIS: There were nine of us at home at one time. All the boys was in one room. We had two beds. Two slept at the head, and two slept at the feet. And there was one thing about them feet. You washed them feet before you went to bed.

ARGUSTER DAVIS: (Laughter) We only had one cash crop, which was cotton, and we were just breaking even. You had a hole in your jeans, Mama put a patch on it...

L DAVIS: ...A patch over it, and you kept right on going.

A DAVIS: Kept right on going.

L DAVIS: And the kids today...

A DAVIS: Yeah.

L DAVIS: ...They take jeans out, hang them on the line...

A DAVIS: Yeah.

L DAVIS: ...And shoot them...

A DAVIS: Oh, yeah (laughter).

L DAVIS: ...To put holes in them.

A DAVIS: My first lesson in economics - Daddy taught it to me. We had worked and made a little extra money, and we wanted to go to the fair. I had made $6 - $6. Man, I was on top of the world. I played games. I ate cotton candy. I came back home, and Daddy asked me, boy, how much money did you spend at the fair? And I just held my head down, said, Daddy, I spent it all. He said, boy, you spent all your money, and a haircut's gone up to 75 cent (laughter). So always keeping enough money to get my hair cut.

L DAVIS: Daddy was warm. If he got it, he'd give it to you. If he didn't have it, he'd tell you how to get it.

A DAVIS: You remember when Daddy started the syrup mill?

L DAVIS: Yes.

A DAVIS: Yes. And people in the community would bring their cane and millet it for us to grind up and make syrup. And people would pay with buckets of syrup. I said, Daddy, why don't you let these people pay you? Because we've got enough syrup to last us for a long time. And he looked at me, and he said, son, these people don't have no money to pay. That's the only way they can pay.

L DAVIS: Daddy taught us all how to do the right thing and wanted us to do the right thing.

A DAVIS: He kept me out of school one day because he was delivering lumber. The directions that were given to him were not very clear. And since Daddy - you know, he only went to the third grade, he couldn't read the address. And I said, I'll help you, Daddy. I couldn't have been more than 8 or 10 years old. It was just heartbreaking. You know, there are things that I try to pass on to my son. There's only two things in life a person actually owns, and that is his name and his word. And in his own way, that's what Daddy left me with.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "FILING AWAY")

INSKEEP: Arguster and Lebronze Davis remembering their father, Ben Davis. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. And if you are spending time with loved ones this Thanksgiving, consider recording a family conversation using the StoryCorps app. Details are at thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.