Insomnia resurrects past flirtation with abject poverty

A recent one-night bout with insomnia and the always-resulting thought swirls, resurrected some childhood experiences that steeled the determination already being forced into my young mind about “succeeding in life.”

My parents worked hard as beginner farmer-ranchers to successfully keep us a few meals above the starvation-poverty level. Their aim was twofold: providing a living and setting an example of “trying to get ahead.” That was the battle cry of most post-World War II families.

If their common sense and work ethic weren’t inspiration enough, there were examples close at hand that made Tobacco Road look like gentrified farm country. Seeing that kind of existence firsthand will, or should, add impetus to the broadsides of hard work and education already being fired point blank by diligent parents.

Combining ambition and will to succeed with the lessons of those days — reinforced by those caring parents — not only introduced my siblings and me to worlds beyond Webb Bottom (a series of creeks) but provided ongoing impetus to stretch and to reach for the fruit higher up in the trees.

And, the aforementioned “Tobacco Road” look-alikes merely added daily exclamation points to the lessons being carefully imparted by Mom and Dad.

Dad had an eighth-grade education and survived a de facto parentless pre-teen and teen years. Mother finished high school (11 grades in those days) but maintained she didn’t have enough education to be much else but a housewife and mother, two titles she wore with marvelous dignity and grace, not to mention great success.

I remember my brother, Kerry, and I playing with our neighbor tenant farmers’ children and thinking to myself how different their lives were from ours.

These neighbors — call them the Alberts (not their real name) — consisted of the mother and father, Linda and Royce, twin sons Jackie and Johnny, a younger son and daughter whose names I don’t remember.

Jackie and Johnny ages fell somewhere between my age and Kerry’s. I was six or seven and he’s three years younger.

The Albert kids never wore shoes that I can remember. The soles of their feet were like leather. Despite their mother’s desires and leanings, they didn’t bathe as often as we did.

Once, the twins were “showing off” to Kerry and me. One of them grabbed a handful of dirt, stuck it in his mouth and began chewing with a grin that said, “Look at me (please). See how brave and clever I am.” All of this while a stream of saliva-induced mud ran out of the corners of his grinning mouth that reflected the sad ignorance in which he’d been raised.

As mentioned previously, Royce, the father worked hard at sharecropping and at performing farmhand service to my parents’ operations to make ends meet for his large family. That sort of dual labor ensured that he spent little quality time, save around the supper table, with his children.

In addition to farming his own crops and working for my parents, Royce fished in a not-too-distant major river (the Trinity), both from a boat and via trotlines to supplement his family’s food supply. Sport fishing would’ve been a term that was totally puzzling to him.

Then, one weekend came the crushing news. Royce and a friend were running trotlines in a spring rain-fed swelling of the treacherous Trinity. Their boat was swamped. Neither could swim and perished in the reddish waters of that unforgiving river.

Royce left a wife and four children, none old enough to maintain his farming efforts.


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