For a number of years, White County was the “Strawberry Capital of the World.”
Strawberry season was a big event in McRae, and the entire town was involved.
The season lasted roughly from the end of April well into May. School ended in
the middle of April and didn’t reconvene until the fall so local kids could also
Most of the strawberry fields were located between McRae and the Copper Springs area. There was only one road out of McRae leading to the strawberry patches.
During most of the 1930s, Newbern Chambers picked strawberries for the Parchman family.
“I remember their wagon and team crossing the railroad track. They lived in town, but had a farm about one mile northwest of town. We’d meet over by Lackey’s Pool Hall (on Highway 67); I’d hear them coming and I’d run; I’d ride on the wagon. One of the fellows in our group, Raymond Corder, always took a boiled ham sandwich; that was considered quite fancy. I usually had a bologna, mustard and white bread sandwich.
“We’d come back to town about sundown after picking strawberries all day. I’d make $1.50 to $2.00 a day at most; we were paid by the quart. I’d go to Lackey’s Pool Hall where I’d get off the wagon and I’d have a Moon Pie and an RC Cola, which had more cola for your money than Coca-Cola. Every once in a while I’d switch off and get a Bama pecan pie to go with it and spend the rest at the carnival that night.”
Pickers were paid by the quart and got one paper ticket per six quarts picked. Newbern tied an old Bull Durham tobacco bag to his shirt button and stored his tickets in it for safekeeping. At the end of the day he collected his pay based on the number of tickets he presented to the owner of the berry patch.
Late each afternoon, wagons and trucks lined up almost all the way back to where the McRae freeway exit is today, waiting to unload at the Honest Pack or McRae Strawberry Association berry sheds. A large number of empty boxcars waited on the sidetracks at Honest Pack. When they were fully loaded, a freight train came by to pick up the cars, replacing them with additional empty boxcars.
A small carnival came to McRae every year during strawberry season. It had a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and sometimes a few other rides, in addition to the usual booths found at carnivals.
One summer, Newbern and his older brother Charles (Bubby) decided to make homemade strawberry wine. They mixed up a large batch and hid the bottles in the back porch wall. One very warm night, Newbern, Bubby and their mother [ were sitting on the back porch when the bottles began to explode. Wine poured through the cracks between the boards. Newbern and Bubby were horrified because their mother was a teetotaler. Their mother looked at their expressions and burst out laughing; nothing else was ever said.
Newbern recalls the annual strawberry season in McRae as a happy time that heralded the beginning of summer.