Ted Bradford was born and raised in the Wolf Springs community of Lawrence County, not far from the Colbert County line. He and his siblings attended Hatton High School. He has lived in Wolf Springs almost the entirety of his life, with the exception of his adventure to Chicago.
He was born in the days when home births were the normal course of events. His parents, Herbert and Eunice Bradford, were hard working farm people who grew everything they ate, except sugar, tobacco and flour, and only went to town for that a couple of times each year. They went to Moulton for shoes and school clothes, and sometimes to Courtland to the movies. “But mostly”, he said, “We worked from sun up ‘til sun down.”
They grew a 15-acre cotton cash crop which they had ginned just down the road at either Gabe Poole’s or Clyde Cameron’s gins at Wolf Springs, about 45 minutes away from their farm. “We would stop by Poole’s store and get a cold drink and some hoop cheese to eat while we waited for the cotton to be ginned,” he recalled. “We brought the seeds from the clean cotton back home and fed it to the cows because it was so high in protein. That caused them to give more milk,” he said.
His mother made quilts on a frame that was suspended from the ceiling of their living room when not in use. She made quilts so that they could keep warm in the winter because the only heat they had came from the fireplace. “You would burn up on one side and freeze on the other, trying to get warm,” he said.
They made pillows stuffed with the down of geese that they kept for this purpose. “Those were the softest pillows!” recalled Bradford fondly. They stuffed mattresses with those goose feathers, too, and it took a lot of plucking to make a mattress.
In the winter, they had to get up in the middle of the night sometimes and make a run to the outhouse. Everyone had outhouses back then because there was no such thing as indoor plumbing. “We used the Sears catalog for toilet paper,” he recalled. “If you had a big family you had a two-seater,” he laughed.
He remembers when his daddy bought their first John Deere tractor in maybe 1946. Before then, they plowed row crops with a mule, and raised some cattle on their 145 acres.
“We always had fresh milk and eggs,” Bradford recalls. “Mother churned butter about twice a week, and we had hogs for meat, which were slaughtered in the fall when it was cold so that the meat wouldn’t spoil before we could get it smoked and salted down. The smoking process lasted about two or three days, over a hickory fire, then it was salted down and hung in a smokehouse, cured for a few weeks, and used as needed.”
The family also canned the sausage, and before electricity they hung their milk down in the well so it would keep longer.
Even when there was snow on the ground, chores still had to be done on a farm. Animals don’t know or care what you had planned, they still have to be fed.
“Mama always kept a Jersey cow for making butter from the milk because their milk contained more butter fat,” he explained. “She would milk in the morning and again in the evening, leaving some for the calf, then she would use a three-gallon churn to make the butter,” he explained. “It usually took about three pounds of butter a week for household use.”
The Bradfords sold their beef. “We could only keep enough to eat quickly because there was no way to preserve it,” he said. “Later we got an icebox, the ice man would come once a week and we bought 100 pounds of ice, so we could eat beef a little longer after that. Our diets consisted mainly of vegetables from our garden, pork, chicken and what we killed in the woods or fish from the fish trap down the road.”
The fish trap was built of rocks in a creek bed. When the water was high the fish swam into it and as the water lowered they couldn’t get out. Many times the Bradfords ate fresh fish from the trap, and it is still there to this day, although it needs a little work. Even after Ted grew up and had a family of his own, they still caught fish there for family gatherings.
“Butch Bradford caught the biggest catfish ever caught there, it weighed 40 pounds,” declared Bradford. “But it was too old and tough to taste good.”
For breakfast, the family often ate homemade molasses with handmade biscuits and home-churned butter. They grew the sugar cane for this purpose, cutting the blades from the stalks and taking the bare stalks to be ground by mule. “The mule would be attached to a rod that kept it from getting too far from the fire. The sugar cane boiled in a big pot over a fire until all of the juice came out of it, then the juice was put in a copper pan to cook down until it was the right thickness. It was a staple and it was a long hard process to make it so we had to be very saving with it,” he explained.
Christmases were good times on a farm. The Bradfords enjoyed things like fresh coconut cake, banana cake and raisin cakes that their mother made from scratch, except for the coconut, which had to be store bought and hand grated, and a few spices and the flour, all of it came from their farm. They bought Watkins vanilla flavoring from the Watkins traveling salesmen who came around every so often. Tinkers also traveled around in wagons with housewares like pots and pans and spices, and tools. You could hear them coming down the road clanking and clattering and hollering to folks along the roadside.
When he was in the eleventh grade, he left the farm to venture out in the world. He had relatives in Chicago so he traveled by car to South Bend, Indiana, with a friend, then caught a train to Chicago. “When I came up out of that tunnel where the train stopped I saw a big city for the first time in my life,” he said. “You can just about imagine how that looked to me, coming from a farm in rural Alabama!”
“At that time the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the US, and I could see it from where I was,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it in my life!”
He didn’t know where he was going, but he had an address in his pocket so he took a cab. “I guess the cab driver could tell I was green,” Bradford laughed. “He rode me around a lot before taking me where I was going.”
He worked for the Western Electric Telephone Company in a plant where he was in shipping and receiving. “They paid $2.00 an hour when I started and about $2.10 an hour when I quit in 1960. That was a lot of money in those days.”
In 1960 he came back home, went to school in Town Creek to get his diploma, and worked for a construction company, ran a service station, and farmed for a living. Then he got a good paying job at Reynold’s Aluminum in Colbert County.
In 1958 he met his future wife, Sandra Lowery. They dated some before he left, and she waited for him to come home from Chicago. He came back to claim his bride and the two were married at Providence Baptist Church just off Hwy. 101 on September 23, 1961.
Bradford says that our winters are nowhere near as cold as they used to be. The coldest winter he can recall was probably in the early 60s when the temperature dipped down to 24 below zero in Russellville. “It was just freezing cold, but no snow,” he said. “The deepest snow came in ’61, when we had two feet of snow.”
“I had an old International truck and was trying to get to work, but before I got very far there was snow banked up in front of it and I couldn’t go anywhere.”
The newlyweds lived close to where he had grown up, and raised three children, Laura, Sarah, and Jeff, who all attended school in Hatton. They also raise a foster child, Linda, who is just like a sister to the others.
The girls helped around the farm and admit they were tomboys. Sarah says that they always had horses to ride and once their daddy won them a Welsh/Shetland pony in a dollar lottery. “We could break just about any horse around,” she said proudly.
Those little girls tagged after him everywhere he went. Jeff loved to hunt and fish better than he loved farming, but the girls, especially Sarah, would rather be with their daddy delivering calves or working on tractors than girlish stuff like sewing or playing with dolls. Laura went on to nursing school and works for a legal firm now, while Sarah turned out to be the one that carries on the family farming tradition.
In 1991 when the big snow came, Sandra and Ted had to go out and help a cow who had just had a calf. The baby was lying in the snow, already stiff looking but Sandra spied its ear when it twitched, and insisted that they try to save it. They brought it in the kitchen and warmed it up, got some milk down it and put it on a heating pad. The next morning when they got up it was standing up alone in the kitchen. “That just goes to show you that you should never give up too soon,” said Sarah.
Sarah, who became one of the best cooks in Lawrence County, if not the whole state of Alabama, was, her dad says, blessed with a good man. David South works in a plant while Sarah, with her dad’s help, still runs the farm. They raise cattle on about 150 acres. She and her dad still work side by side, pulling tractor motors and fixing fences and all of the routine things that have to be done on a farm.
Last fall Sarah and her father made a big iron pot of chicken stew. Mr. Bradford first learned the art of cooking over an open flame when he was about 12 or 13 years old. “It’s so much better over an open flame because you get the wood smoke flavor,” said Sarah.
She says they start out with about three gallons of chicken broth, and add about 20 pounds of peeled, chopped potatoes, six pounds of onions, and four gallons of stewed tomatoes. After those are almost tender, they add six pounds of cooked macaroni, and two gallons of creamed corn, and last, they add the shredded meat of six chickens, plus salt and pepper. “You don’t want to add your chicken too soon or it will burn,” Sarah cautioned.
The stew is stirred with an old wooden paddle that belonged to Ted’s father. It takes about four or five hours to cook, and must be stirred continuously once the final ingredients are added, and it should cook until desired thickness is accomplished.
Bradford looks back over the years and remembers the Great Depression. Farm people didn’t have it as bad as city people then because they were used to growing food at home instead of going to stores to buy everything. “But you know, I was as happy then as I am now,” he said. “Probably happier, I never remember going hungry.”
This week, on January 21, Ted Bradford will be 82 years old. Still sharp as a tack and in good health, he gets around better than a lot of men half his age. Sarah and the others adore their father. The one piece of advice Sarah lives by, which her father taught her, is that she should always keep her word, “Always do what you say you are going to do!” she said.
The family owns what is known as the Blocker House, a cabin just down the road where the old fish trap is located. They will celebrate his birthday there Saturday morning with breakfast cooked on the old wood stove that has served them so well over the years.
He lost his beloved Sandra on December 20, 2019, and is still adjusting to the loss. His four children and their spouses, nine grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren keep him occupied and well loved. His children and their spouses will be there to help him and to show him that his legacy will live on in this quiet place where he has lived his life. It’s been a good life, and he has seen a lot of changes come to Lawrence County, but he still says that the old ways should be remembered and passed down to younger generations. We hope that his story will help to do just that.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Bradford, and many more happy, healthy ones to follow!