Hardship for Mom


My mom was probably one of the most unusual people you would ever meet.  I’m sure a lot of people say that.  But let me just give you a sampling.

My mother is a complicated person to describe.  When I was a small child she had me believing in gnomes and fairies.  With her words, I could imagine a magical, beautiful world filled with wonder and enchantment.

My doll house did not have Barbie living in it, but elves.  The moving neon lights outside the stores at night were lit and powered by small beings (elves again?) inside that were throwing levers and turning knobs to make them move.  Every mushroom was an umbrella for a tiny fairy!

My mother could cook a gourmet meal over an open campfire and tuck us into bed that night snug and warm.  We may be living in a tent, but we felt safe and secure.  Mom made sure of that.

My mother raised 4 of us kids, mostly by herself.  She had no real education.  She graduated from high school and her chosen profession was waitressing.

My mother’s Picker was broke.  You know, the thing inside us that we use to “Pick” a mate.  Hers never did work right.  She married 5 times.  Badly.

We lived on commodities, pinto beans, peanut butter and pancakes.  One of my favorite meals to this day is fried potatoes, pinto beans and cornbread.  This was a meal we ate often.

With the wages my mother made, things were very tight.  There was NO extra money.  Mom would make light of it and we would have a pancake eating contest that night at dinner.  Because pancakes was all there was to eat.  If there was no money to buy bread, our school lunches would be a sandwich made on a homemade biscuit.

My mother would go hungry if it meant one of her kids could be fed.  There were times when she did just that.

One of my mother’s “Picks” was a man that picked fruit for a living.  So we followed the fruit.  Doing so meant that we would live where we could while traveling.  It might be a “picker’s cabin”, which was basically just a wooden structure to keep the rain off of you.  Or we might be living in a tent or sleeping on the ground.

If you ever want a real eye opener about this kind of lifestyle, you should watch the YouTube video called Harvest of Shame.   This was broadcast on Thanksgiving Day in 1960.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJTVF_dya7E

This video is about an hour long.  You will be amazed and horrified at how these people were treated.   There is one man in the video that made the comment “we used to buy slaves, now we just rent them”.  He was referring to the migrant workers.

In this documentary, they show mostly black people, but in the 1960’s, more than 80% of the migrant workers in the US were white.  White families just like mine.

Despite the hardships of day to day living, I had no idea that we were “poor”.  I was a happy kid.  I was loved and cared for.

Looking back, my mom is the one that had the hardship, not us kids.

 

Grateful


Fall

Penny was sitting on the front stoop of the shack.  What suffices for her front yard is dirt.  There is a tire swing hanging from a tree branch. It is unmoving in the hot summer air.  She has a large spoon in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.  Up until a few minutes ago, she was playing in the dirt.

She’s about 3 years old, maybe 4.  She has large blue eyes, long lashes and brown hair that cascades in waves and curls to her waist.

Daddy came home a little while ago.  Daddy works in the woods cutting down big trees.  She’s been to where he works.  Her momma took her and her brothers out to Daddy’s work and they all had a picnic one day.  She remembered climbing on a giant tree that was lying on its side.  Her Daddy had to lift her up because even lying on the ground; it was so tall she couldn’t reach the top without help.

Daddy was in the house with Momma.  They were yelling.  So she stayed outside.  She didn’t like it when her Momma and Daddy yelled.

Daddy walked funny when he got home, like he was dizzy.  When he reached down to give her a hug, he smelled bad, sour.  She didn’t like the smell.  She didn’t like it when Daddy smelled sour.  It always meant that he and Momma would fight.

Beside the front stoop was a small cloth doll.  She picked it up and hugged it tight to her.  The doll had blue buttons that Momma had sewn on for eyes, brown yarn for hair, and a pretty blue dress that Momma had made from an old shirt of Daddy’s.   The doll’s name was Tinkerbell.  This was a name that her mother called Penny sometimes.  She loved her Tinkerbell doll.

Penny stood up and strolled to the corner of the house and looked out back.  In the back was an outhouse and beyond that a creek where Momma got water.  Sometimes Daddy or her older brothers would help bring in water if Momma had to do laundry or if it was bath night.

Momma would heat water on the big wood stove in the kitchen and each of them would get a turn in the galvanized wash tub she also used for laundry.  Momma always made sure there was a good fire going in the kitchen so Penny wouldn’t get cold on bath night.  She set the tub on the floor, not too close to the stove and her and Momma would splash and play while she was scrubbed clean.  Then Momma would take her out and rub her down briskly with a towel, tickling her and making her laugh.

Penny was thinking about bath night as she heard the front door open and slam shut.  She looked toward the front yard and Daddy got in his truck and pulled away fast, leaving a cloud of dust behind.

Penny walked in the back door.  Momma was sitting at the picnic table in the kitchen that served as a dining room table.  Her face and eyes were red.

Penny walked over and laid her head on her mother’s shoulder.  Her mother turned and looked down at Penny and said, “It’s alright Tinkerbell” and took her in her arms, giving her a big hug.

About that time, the front door burst open.  Her 3 brothers were home.  They had been out playing in the woods.  Penny tore away from her mother and rushed into the main room of the house to greet her brothers.

The main room of the shack had a large fire place and several beds.  This is where they all slept.  There was little else in the shack other than some boxes in the corner that served as dressers for clothing and Daddy’s tools.

The boys, David, Bruce and Roy were all jabbering excitedly.  Momma walked in to see what the commotion was all about.

The boys pulled her outside and just beyond the front stoop was a bobcat, dead, that they had drug home.

The boys had grown up in the woods.  The 2 older ones in their teens, never left the property without their bows and arrows.  They had spotted this bobcat in the tree along a trail they frequented and Bruce took it down with one clean shot from his bow.

Penny didn’t understand what the fuss was all about.  What she saw was a big kitty, a pretty kitty, that was dead.

They all went into the house and Momma stirred the pot of beans on the stove while the boys went out back to wash up before dinner.

Penny loved it when her brothers were home.  They all sat down to big helpings of beans and delicious cornbread that Momma had cooked in her cast iron skillet in the wood stove.

Penny looked around her.  She smiled.  She was loved and she knew it.  This would be another evening without Daddy, but he would there in the morning when she woke up.

Penny bolted awake.  Shaking her head, she tried to clear the images from her mind.  They clung tightly, like cobwebs you can’t see.

Why, at 56 years of age, would she be dreaming of that time so long ago?  She swung her feet over the side of the bed.  She looked around her.  She loved her cozy home in the city.  She had a good life here.

Most people think they are a product of their environment; Penny liked to think she was a product IN SPITE of hers.  She had come so very far.  She thought her mother would be proud.

Sitting on the patio, gazing at the skyline and sipping her morning coffee, Penny reflected on her life.  Despite her humble beginnings, she had worked hard, always learning.  She knew that knowledge had power and it would move her forward in life.

She was not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t poor either.  She had a comfortable home, most creature comforts her mother never had, like air conditioning and a washing machine….  Such simple things, to most of us, that were light years away for her mother.  She shook her head, marveling at the things most people take for granted.

Some people called her “Penny Pincher”, because even today, she was very frugal.  In her past she had to be.  Now it was just a way of life.

A thought occurred to her.  She had been on the phone with her brother David and had been reminiscing about their childhood.  That must have prompted the dream.

The road had been difficult.  From the shack in the NW woods, to migrant life on the road with her family; her life seemed like a movie or novel she had read rather than something she actually lived.

She stood, stretched and yawned.  She thought she would pour herself a 2nd  cup of coffee and just enjoy the morning.  Her cat, Otis wound his way around her legs as she fixed her coffee.  She picked him up and held him tight.  Penny looked into those amazing green eyes and said “Otis, you and I are very lucky indeed!”

Although not a religious person, Penny did believe in a Higher Power.  She took her coffee cup back out to the patio and set about giving thanks for the little wonders in her world.  Electricity, running water, a warm, comfortable home…..

 

Beautiful picture found on Unsplash by Aaron Burden

 

 

Moving, Yet Again


moving

 

I don’t usually use my blog like a journal, but today I’m making an exception.  Moving is stressful and sometime traumatic, and dear readers, I am subjecting myself to it, willingly, yet again!

I was born with wheels on my butt.  At least it seems so.  I have lived all over the United States.  As a kid, I had a step-dad that picked fruit for a living.  Later on, my mother married a man in the Air Force.

Much of my early youth was spent in the back of the station wagon.  We would load up and move with the car piled high with our belongings.  We looked a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies.  I would be in the very back of the wagon with my baby brother.

After I moved away from home, at the tender age of 16, I continued to move.  My first marriage at 16 yrs. old didn’t work out.  Big surprise there, huh?  So I moved from Texas to Wisconsin, then back to Texas and finally to Oregon.

I spent a lot of years in Oregon, but moved and lived all over the state.  At one point I moved 6 times in one year!  Crazy, I know.

34 years later I find myself back in the state of Texas and still moving.

I’ve been here about 3 years now and have lived in an apartment during that time.  The apartment, although nice, is not the same as living in a house.  So I got it into my head that I wanted to move, yet again.

I’m getting too old for this crap!

Although I have hired someone to move me, there is still a LOT of work involved in getting ready to make the move.

There was a time when I could load all of my possessions into my Volkswagen Bug and move.  Well, not anymore.

When did we decide we need all this STUFF?

I work full time and I have always been the type of person that is done in after 40 hours.  With the added chore of having to pack, mark, stack, clean, etc., etc., for moving, I am exhausted!

And I’m not done!  I have to finish packing and then make sure the apartment is clean and ready for me to vacate so I can get my deposit back.

I guess I’m whining.

There is still another week and a half before my move.  I have one more full weekend to get everything done that I need to do.

Do I hear any volunteers?   Hello?  Anyone?

 

Past lives…


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My very early childhood was unusual, to say the least.  My brothers, mother and I moved a LOT.  I’ve been told I was born with wheels on my butt.

After my mother left my father, she was married to a man for a few years that was a migrant worker.  As a family, we followed the fruit, picking as we went, to earn a living.  We lived in Picker’s Cabins or tents or the back of the station wagon.

This was in the early 1960’s.   Most people don’t realize that in the 1960’s, 83% of the migrant workers were white families, just like mine.  Today, the migrant workers are mostly Hispanic.  The working conditions are no better today, in fact in some instances, they are worse.

Most of the Picker’s Cabins had no running water or electricity.  Women cooked on communal stoves or over open fires.  The toilets, if there were any, were few and in disgraceful disrepair.  In a lot of cases, there were only outhouses.

There were few laundry facilities.  Most of the time, clothing was washed by hand and hung to dry.

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In some of the cabins, the property owners were generous enough to provide bales of straw to use as bedding and insulation.  In some instances, you didn’t even get that.

I was lucky.  My mother and step-father were prepared.  We had a nice canvas tent and bedding or sleeping bags.

My mother became very adept at cooking over an open fire.  She was amazing!

Washing and sanitary conditions were a challenge.  The water came from a single faucet for all the workers in most instances.  Water had to be carried for washing, bathing or cooking.

I have 3 brothers; two older brothers and one younger one.  My brothers and I spent our days out in the fields with my parents.  We weren’t much help as far as the picking went, but my mother could keep an eye on us as she worked.

I can imagine the hardship on her with 4 children living in these conditions.  My younger brother was just a toddler at the time.

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The migrant workers were exploited at every turn.  Most were uneducated and illiterate.  In some instances, the workers would end up owing more money to the owner’s ‘store” than they had earned; thus keeping them working for little or nothing instead of moving on.

There was often times a “boss” on the farm that the workers reported to, depending on how large the farm was.  Sometimes the boss would skim off the top of the worker’s wages.  They would be quoted one price upon arrival at the farm, but when payday came, they were at the mercy of the boss.  If they complained, they were simply run off the farm.  This meant they were out of work.

There were many horrors that took place on these farms; anything from rapes, to murders and exploitation.  These people were at the mercy of the farmer.

I was fortunate.  This lifestyle didn’t last long.  I think we were on the road for a couple of years.  My mother gathered up us kids and left.  I was lucky that I was so young.  It’s just the way life was; I knew no different.

This is a part of history that most Americans have forgotten or don’t know about.  This is a shameful, dark part of our own culture.

If you’d like to learn more about this time in history, I invite you to watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL0DJzQFqq8

This video was broadcast on Thanksgiving Day in 1960.  It’s called “Harvest of Shame”.  While most of it is set in Florida, I was on the west coast as a kid.  It is still an eye opener.