Dot Stephenson, Emily Stephenson, Julie Stephenson Murphree, Eryn Stephenson

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money

Maybe we’re ragged and funny

But we’ll travel along

Singin’ a song

Side by side

  • Side By Side, as recorded by Lee Morse, 1927


As a kid, I wasn’t fortunate to have grown up with grandparents. Mine had either passed on or didn’t live close. But I didn’t really know any differently, because I had three aunts who lovingly and graciously picked up the torch. Dot, Emily and Evelyn served all of us, just as if they were the kindly old ladies who baked cookies and spoiled their grandchildren.  Evelyn taught me the art of cooking and crochet. Dot taught me cooking, baking and embroidery (and how to pinch a penny so tight that Lincoln would jump off to get help); and Emily taught me to sew and to quilt.

Growing up, we would spend time at Evelyn’s house in the country. We would play with Sheba and Misty Gold, the horses, explore the woods out back, and pester Uncle Palmer in the garden. It is from her that I learned to fry chicken and make candied sweet potatoes and corn fritters. Even though my sister Amie is a dietitian, I can still bring her to her knees if I ever offer to make her this meal. And my cousin, Steve – Evelyn’s son – never fails to call in the early summer to see if ‘Mama’s Sweet Pickles’ are ready yet.

Dot and Emily took on the job of travel. I can’t even count the number of camping trips we went on, everywhere from Albert’s Pike in Arkansas to Lake O’ The Pines in Texas. They also got brave and took us all to Dauphin Island on a couple of occasions. I still haven’t figured out if they were generous, or just insane, because invariably we got to take friends along. I remember one trip where they took just me and Anita Jo to South Louisiana for a tour of the Southern Plantations. Oh, I can’t even begin to tell you the memories THAT trip made.On these trips, you could always guarantee that Emily would start singing. That woman had a song for every situation. One of her most favorite and often used comments was, “Ya know, there’s a song about that.” And off she’d go, singing it. Off key, but with heart. The one song I can remember most was Side by Side. At least ten times a trip, I would ask Emily to sing ‘The wheel barrel song’.

Little did I know just how fitting that song would be to my life. The Country Boy and I don’t have a barrel of money. And if you ever got a good look at us working in the field, you would be laughing at our ragged appearance. But as the song says, “but we’ll travel the road, sharing our load, side by side.”When researching to find out just who really penned this song, I discovered that there are quite a few more verses to it than I ever knew. One deeply resonated with me, as it truly reflected one of my biggest issues with society today. “We’re all hunting for something, something we don’t know what, ‘cause none of us are satisfied, with things we know we’ve got.”

As the song says, ‘through all kinds of weather, what if the sky should fall? Just as long as we’re together, it really doesn’t matter at all.” Here on the farm, we have weathered all kinds of storms, celebrated the sunny days, and took a few steps to the left or right when the sky did threaten to fall. But we are farmers. We are surrounded by cows, chickens, dogs, great neighbors, God’s Grace and beauty, and in the end, no matter what happens, The Country Boy and I have each other. I only wish Emily were here to sing out in the pasture with me. Of course, she was just hardheaded enough to break out with ‘The hills are alive’ instead of the wheel barrel song.

But you know? I think there was a song for that, too.