I’ve always said, I was poor but never knew it. Being poor and not knowing it is one thing. Being poor and knowing it, is quite another. “I knew it” my late husband told me. As I read through his account of growing up once again, my eyes filled to the brim with tears. What a sweet, kind and humble man he was! He always seemed to be somewhat depressed at Christmas time. Like many others of our age, he remembered the hard parts.
As Christmas approaches, I think back to those childhood days that he painfully, yet proudly, described to me for my book about our sweetheart years through sixty years of marriage. Following is an excerpt from one of his stories that he dictated to me shortly before his death.
“My daddy was a barber and worked six days a week at a local Barber Shop. Mr. Powell, the owner also owned the house we moved in to. Occasionally, Daddy would get off early and that was a special time to me since we didn’t see him much except on Sunday. Riding home on the school bus, I would sit next to the window and lean way over, looking down the road to see if I could see Daddy’s old car. If it wasn’t there, it meant he wasn’t either and I would be so disappointed. But I would find something to do in the shed fixing something or making something. If Mother needed wood, she would send me out to the woods behind the house to find some. I had a dog who went with me everywhere. Rusty was a fine yard dog. He got into some serious trouble several times however, when he ran off looking for a girlfriend, but he’d always wind back up sitting at the back door.
Sometimes, Momma was able to get some raw peanuts and she would boil or roast them for me to sell in town on Saturdays. Even better, were the rice crispy treats that she would wrap individually in waxed paper, and I sold for a nickel. On Saturday we would all go back to town with Daddy after dinner and sit on the courthouse square directly across the street from the Barber Shop while he worked. Town was a busy place on Saturday’s when farmers and locals came to shop. Momma would visit with other ladies from around the area that she knew, and it would be way after dark before the shop closed and we went home. That was the only social life my Momma ever had except fish fry’s.
I was a serious entrepreneur. Selling those peanuts and rice crispy bars on the sidewalk was my only way of getting some spending money. I usually would wind up with a quarter or two. But when I got 12 years old, I hit pay dirt! A new drive-in theater had just opened down the road from our house. I got myself a job-hopping car there. When I wasn’t doing that, I would stand and watch the man in the little room where the projectors were. I knew every move he made and did it over and over in my mind, just like him. On day, the owner asked me if I thought I could run a projector and I told him “Yes sir, I sure can!” He paid me $25 a week! I was rich! I could buy all the candy and cookies I wanted and would have lunch in the lunchroom at school if I wanted to. I could give my Momma some money too! I could buy myself my new clothes and later, I bought my sweetheart a gold ring with pearls for her birthday! I walked to work every night and it would be near midnight when I walked back home. There wasn’t much time for homework, but I worked there until I graduated high school.”
He told me of the scant pine tree from the woods behind the house that would be their Christmas tree. Paper rings would be glued together for garland and maybe a few other handmade ornaments. No presents were under the tree. He painfully described the feeling of going back to school dreading the moment when each child was asked to tell what Santa Claus brought them. He was poor and he knew it. Every year at Christmas I remember that shy boy who sold peanuts and rice crispy bars, wore overalls with long his long John’s showing at the hems, and was my first sweetheart and husband for sixty years.