T-Bucket's Memories of a Happy Poor Boy... pt. 1
I spent the first six years of life happily in the woods of Madison County, Arkansas.
We had no running water. When we bathed, usually on Saturday, we had to heat water from the well in a giant witches-type cauldron with a fire under it. Then we'd tote the hot water in a bucket to fill the basin on the back porch. We did rock, paper, scissors to see who went first, and we all used the same water. 4 of us. We all had to pitch in to do a new tub for Momma. We 'peed' off the back porch at night, so we didn't have to go way out back in the dark. One of our chores was to empty the ’pee-pots’ stored under the beds. It was the 1960's.
In the summers, we got locked outside of the house after breakfast and couldn't come back in 'til Momma or Granny called us for lunch. They'd put a giant jug of Kool-aid on the front porch, and we had 3 Wishbone Dressing jars for glasses with our names written on them with nail polish. "T","Doodoo", and "Chaunce".We’d wander through the piney woods all morning , pretending we were Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, armed with the rubber band guns Unc‘ Billy had made us as our Christmas present. My sister got to stay inside.
We had Salmon croquettes and ketchup with french fries every Friday. Oh,heaven. Granny played Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Book of Favorite Hymns " album every Sunday morning while Momma and she made a scratch breakfast for us all before they went to church. Dry oatmeal and sugar in a dixie cup was dessert most of the time, but once in a while we had ’nana pudding.
Granpa, Cash Wesley, was 5'10', and weighed ,maybe, 350. He always wore overalls, and would roll'em up to put rubbing alcohol on his purple legs. It had something to do with being gassed in World War One, and it was horrifying to us kids. He hated the French due to the war, “They’d hollah, ’The Boche is comin!’, then they’d run so far back they were bumpin’ into generals”, he wheezed a weak laugh.
Granny, Willie Effie, was 4'11' and weighed 68 lb.s , I swear to God. She wore kid's clothes and a bonnet. Unc’Billy built her a little ledge to stand on in front of the stove, so she could reach. Granny’s favorite song was Oklahoma Hills. She always belted it out at full church choir volume, "Way down yonder in the Indian nation, I rode my pony on the reservation, in those Oklahoma hills where I was born". There is apparently a 1000 lines to it, and she knew every one. It made our car trip to Oklahoma after Granpa died a living hell.
Things improved in Oklahoma,we had running water, a two bedroom house, Momma was getting disability checks. We were far from well off, but we didn’t know any better, we just followed Momma’s rules.
Sunday in the winter was 'turn the heat on' day...rest of the week it was off.
One day our tv's sound went out, so we figured out how to get the sound for channel 36 on the radio by tuning way down to one end. We only watched channel 36 for a year, till granny died, and we ran over and took her tv from the nursing home while Momma was at her funeral. Momma didn't make us take it back, "Effie, woulda wanted us tuh have it", she said. I thought Granny's name was "Granny" up until right then. Thinking back, it might have been the nursing home’s tv.
I got my first toothbrush when I was eight from the school district’s traveling nurse, and I'd never even heard of dental floss till I was 11. I remember being in a dentist’s for the first time, sitting in the waiting room, because Momma had a bad tooth. They had a display on the wall of all the dental hygiene stuff, and I said loudly, "Momma, what's dental floss?" She popped me in the back of the head, "Don't be igerant, boy!"
The summer before fifth grade, Momma made us capes and masks out of a sheet to be "Batman & Robin". Chaunce was Batman because he was taller, and I was Robin. On the back of my cape, it said, "Holy Hole in a Donut!" in magic marker. My other brother, Doodoo (yes, it was a nickname) was Green Lantern. He got an old ring, mask from sheet, and a green t-shirt. Right before school started, the church gave us all brand new "P.F. Flyers" tennis shoes, and I had Momma make me a Flash costume. I'd run around making "shhhhhhhhhh" sounds.
My Unc' Herbie, who had lived here for years, put on a plow thing one day, and plowed up our back yard, and we grew taters, turnips, tomatoes, and collards. It was like a big harness and he was the 350 lb. horse. All my uncles were like Granpa in size, except Bennie, who might of weighed 150 lb.s, at most.
That same summer, a family of American Indians moved in near us .They were affectionately known as "the Kiowas". We'd all go look in their front window when their grandpa, all dressed up in feathers,would do some kind of war dance in their living room. Robin Little Bluff ,the biggest "Kiowa", broke my collar bone when he fell on me while we were playing football with no pads. Not 'touch football', but real football with no pads. A neighbor reset my arm, and I wore a sling. To this day, I can't make a muscle with my left arm.
Doodoo and I found a little black mutt, and took her home as pet. Momma was pissed 'til she held it, "It's uh outside dog, clear?" I named her "Lassie", because 'RinTinTin' was too long. I had her for 12 years. She was the family's dog, but she was really mine. I was never without her, no matter where I went.
Our football team at Dunbar Elementary didn't have 'game' uniforms, so we wore the white practice uniforms to our games. They had no numbers on the jersey, so we used electrical tape to make numbers. If the other team (white school) started locking in on one guy to stop him, we'd send him to the sideline and change his number to confuse them. We all put "STP" stickers on our plain white helmets for our logo. We felt like it made us run faster.
When Momma heard Pop got killed, she didn't even cry that we saw. That same day, I remember she took a branch from a neighbor's weeping willow tree and stuck it in the ground in the front yard, eventually that tree was taller than the house, by far. We didn't cry either, he was just a rumor, to us. We got whippings with whippy branches from that tree.
I always remember a quote from my momma ,when I was feeling down and realized we were dirt poor,
" Baby, look outside.Them bird's is still singin', and they got no coat, no job, no roof over they head, no guarantee uh'duh next meal. They's jus' happy they's breathin'."
(might as well check out parts 2 and 3 while you're here)