The other day my husband was talking about days gone by when he was a boy growing up. Except for a brief few months, he lived most of his childhood in a very small rural community in Louisiana. Even today, the community has not progressed beyond its landmark single traffic light down town. If it wasn't for the traffic light you might pass downtown up. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. One could not adequately describe it. You probably would not believe it if one tried. The fact is, down town is two blocks long. Store buildings line either side of the street for one and a half block. The other half is backwaters off Lake St. Joe inhabited by alligators! Told you! How many towns have the potential of alligators roaming the streets?
It was in the nineteen-fifties, times were good for some, and bad for others. It would appear that in this community the lot of some might be compared to those recovering from the Depression. The life of those working the farms did present quite a struggle while as a contrast the plantation owners faired sumptuously.
To supplement their meager means after the cotton season was over many of the less fortunate had to scratch out a living the best way they could by proffering small gardens, hunting or working at odd jobs. Often owners of large plantations were mindful of those who had less and would aid them in subtle ways. Such as, one landowner sowed a dried-up lake bottom with turnip greens. This land was so fertile that it produced turnip leaves measuring at least a foot and half wide. Despite their size, they were tender and tasty. It took only a couple of those gargantuous leaves to make a significant pot full of greens! People came from throughout the community to help themselves to this bountiful crop.
This same landowner heard of a family who was all but destitute. He showered them with a porch-full of groceries and offered one of his tenant houses (rent-free) to the family.
Then one winter, he heard of a family who was raising a hog to sell to buy gifts for Christmas. He also knew of two other poor families with several children each. The Christmas spirit must have gotten hold of him. He bought the hog giving the first family the needed money. He then divided the hog portions between the other two families for their Christmas.
The poorer residents had to rely on ingenuity at times to get by. My husband's Dad was quite a hunter. He loved nothing better than going into the woods with a gun and his dogs. Whatever crossed his path was game to him. The rabbits and squirrels were food for the table. If a coon (raccoon) happened by Pa would draw a bead on him as quick as with any other animal. The family did not eat coon, but he knew of a fish market owner who would buy the carcass and deep freeze it. He had to leave one foot intact so as to identify that it really was a coon and not some poor families' kitty or dog. To make the most of this treasure, Pa would stretch out the skin, let it dry thoroughly, and sell the pelt for a few dollars more. If times got really tough, he might sell a live chicken or two, but was mindful not to do this too often as the chickens were also their source for eggs.
One schoolboy from a very poor family on many occasions had nothing but rabbit and gravy for breakfast. Kids at school would holler, "Hey, Barn, what did you have for breakfast?" Without hesitation the boy would grin real big and holler back, "Rabbit and gravy!" This soon developed into a standing joke between him and the other kids. He would say, "Rabbit and gravy!" even if he had had something more conventional. His philosophy in life seemed to prove that being poor did not deprive one of a sense of humor and self-worth.
One day, my husband, and his Dad hitchhiked to the next town. This town was small also, but was thriving and growing. It was the last town before the bridge, which crossed the Mississippi River into Vicksburg. On this occasion, they went to a stockyard. They enjoyed watching the cattle and other animals going into the auction ring. Close to the end of the hog sale, two small piglets were brought in. No one would bid on the two little pigs. The auctioneer noticed the small boy (my husband) nudging his dad to bid on the pair. After a while he said he would buy the pigs himself and give them to that boy over there (my husband). To my husband's disappointment, his Dad had to decline the offer since their means of returning home was hitch-hiking.
You don't see this much any more, but when the landowners cleared a stand of trees for more cotton fields they would leave pecans trees standing. You might drive by a cotton field and in the middle of it you would see a tree. Apt not, it was a pecan tree. This was before aerial crop dusting caught on. It seems that pecan trees cycle about every three years. One year a tree may bare only a few pecans, but then the next year the amount of pecans would almost double. As the third year rolled around, there would be a bumper crop of pecans. Then the next year, the cycle would start all over again with very few pecans. This one year, his family picked up so many pecans over a six weeks period, that they were able to buy and pay off a used (10 years old) 1951 Chevrolet truck. Today, the equivalent would be a vehicle priced at about $4,000. A big rain came and washed literally hundreds of pecans into the ditches. He and his sisters got cloth flour sacks and scooped up pecans by the sack full.
This was all in a time before government assistance was in place or as prevalent as it is today. People had to get along the best they could. It was not an easy time, but a certain satisfaction came to one in being able to make-do. In general, people seemed more conscious of each other and were willing to lend a hand when the need arose. As the saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding," and so it seemed, folks tended to treat others in a kinder and gentler manner. The golden rule was, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;" as compared to today's, "Do unto others before they do unto you." Those were the days when a man's word was as good as his signature, men opened doors for women and tipped their hats, kids answered adults in courteous and respectful tones and manner, no one took guns to school and prayer was in school without dissent.
But, back then one did not sit and watch nudity and sex displayed in their livingrooms. Terrorism was not a common everyday word. People had hope in tomorrow, instead of hoping to make it through today. Divorce was a last alternative. All in all, people had respect for God, country and fellowman.
Times were tough, but they got by!