Robert Lee Columnist
December 26, 2013
In the old days, life was hard until it got harder.
Children worked, everyone struggled to eat, and get up enough firewood to cook, and keep warm with. When I was 7, I thought my name was “get wood.” Life was a daily battle. Comparatively, life today for a lot of people is pretty good. That’s why I don’t feel inclined to put up with whining in any shape or form.
I was born and raised in the backwoods of Western Tennessee about 100 miles north of Memphis. We lived in the rolling hills just north of the Mississippi River. Our house was located in Gladdy Hollow, not a town but a hollow. (A hollow is nothing more than a gouged out valley).
I said house, but it was a three-room shack. I know what it is to move your bed from corner to corner to keep from being rained on. Then only to give up and go to the only dry place in the house, the couch. I know what it is when the only heat on that couch is from the other babies, piled up like squirrels in a nest. I know what it is to run across a cold, wood floor, bare foot, to the water bucket to get a drink of water with the dipper. But only after breaking the ice in the water bucket.
People say 32 degrees is freezing. So now you know how cold the house was. People take care of their dogs better than some of the hill folks of Tennessee have had to live. Not because they wanted to, but only because they were that poor.
I was in the fields by the time I was 5 years old. This boy picked his share of cotton. Anybody that has knows about the bloody finger tips. Now think about the bloody finger tips of a small child. I thought back in recent years to those days. I thought about what we were paid per pound for the cotton. I told myself that no one could have worked for the figure that was in my mind. So I asked my mother and she responded with a penny a pound. My mother broke her back in those fields for 10 hours a day. My mother could only pick at best 100 pounds a day. My mother made 10 cents per hour. The most that I ever could pick was 50 pounds and that was by the age of 7.
If we had not hunted, we would have had no meat. I never had my first bite of beef until I was 12, and I could not eat it. Reason being, it did not taste like rabbit or squirrel. There were no fat people in the hollow. Everybody looked like scarecrows, but we were healthy. Today I have all of my teeth, except for the four wisdom teeth that were cut out when I was in the Marines. I have never had a cavity. Why? There was no money for candy. But when it snowed we would get snow cream. Only to be told by our father we were all going to die because of the radiation fallout. (You remember the atomic bomb test of the ’50s and ’60s).
No air-conditioner, not even a fan. I remember my face pressed against the screen window, just trying to get air on those hot summer nights. I would cry for awhile, fall asleep, wake up with the feeling of suffocating, cry and do it all over again. Not even a bath in a tub until I was 12, but we were just as clean as anybody else. My mother saw to that, I can say with pride.
I write these words to bring back the memories of you that read these words. For I know that I was not the only one that was raised this way. A lot of you here in Richmond County will have memories, not like mine but so very close in nature. I, like you, would take nothing for these past memories of what made you what you are today. For we are survivors. We have survivor skills that this generation has no idea of. They are of the Mickey D’s generation. Go through the drive-through, get it quick, and get it over.
For the most part they have no idea what is would take to grow a garden; they better learn is all I can say. Some have been taught skills by their concerned grandparents. Most have been dropped through the cracks only to be lost when their parents are gone. You hear it on the news almost every week. We are creating a generation of wimps that can do nothing for themselves. It is up to those of us that can teach to take the time and try to teach those that will listen. I am fed up with the ones that say I just can’t find a job. No it’s not that they can’t find a job, the fact of the matter is it’s not the job that they want.
If I started out at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning with no job in Richmond County, I can make you this one promise. I will have a job by 7 p.m. Monday night. It might not be the job that I want but it will be a job. It will be a job that is paying me something.
You don’t start out on top, you have to climb that hill. You will also fall and fail from time to time. But guess what, that is part of life and life’s learning experiences. The poorest of the poor in this country have a dry warm bed. They have cable TV, an Obama phone, a computer, air-conditioner, and in most cases a car or truck. They for the most part have never went to bed hungry, as I did when I was a child. But that was then and this is now.
All the youth of this country have to do is get up off their dead butts and do something about their lot in life. Stop the pity party, get an education, and go forward. I have told many people, that I was born poor, raised poor, but I will not die poor, for I am rich from learning life’s lessons.