Sunday, March 26, 2006


I have heard it said that George Bush consider the poor to be lazy. This theory has riddled the rightwing Talk Shows, and is the mantra of Rush Limbaugh. The poor are lazy, too lazy to work for a living, looking for a handout, taking money away from hard-working people, lolling around in the splendor of Welfare, looking for new ways to take advantage of the establishment.

I don't know that this is true, because I spent my childhood years...and some of my adult a member of that lazy group. My mother and my father worked from sunup to sundown, my father coaxing corn to grow in a gravel pit, my mother keeping her huge brood clean and supplied with clothes.

Nothing was wasted, not even dishwater. After the dishes were done, Mom would mop the kitchen floor with the water, then rinse the floor with clean water carried in from the pump. Not until that water was muddy and murky was it thrown out.

Clothes were handsewn and handed down to younger family members. When there was no one left to accept a hand-me-down, the cloth was torn into pieces and made into rags for the mop. Then it was used until it was riddled into a useless bundle of fibers.

We had no garbage man, because we had no garbage. The dogs ate the leftovers, including corncobs and chicken bones, and any wastepaper was put to use in the outhouse. It was a much simpler existence than in today's world, with different values. One time, a lady said to me..."If your family was so poor, why didn't your father go to work somewhere?"

When Pop and Mom first came up from Illinois with their growing brood, Pop took a job in the auto plants. They rented a house in Detroit and Mom watched the children while Pop worked. Pop hated his job, hated the dark murkiness of the plant, and Mom simply couldn't keep an eye on her children. One day, she found Hubert stuffed in a cardboard box that was tied with a rope, sitting on a streetcar track. He refused to tell who had put him there. Then, she found Hubert with a string tied around his penis. It had become embedded and his organ had swollen three times its size. It took all of her efforts and probably major surgery to remove it. These events, along with the fact that her boys were running the streets with other youngsters in a ganglike setting disturbed my mother greatly and she yearned for more placid days on a farm.

Finally, she gave Pop an ultimatim. If he wanted to stay in the city, he might gain a good salary, but he would probably lose control of his children. So Pop went back to the only work he knew and understood, the life of a small farmer. They moved around several times, renting homes here and there, until they finally settled on what has been known since as The Farm.

There was never enough money, but we always had enough food. We had fruits from the old trees in the orchard, wormy but still tasty, and vegetables from Mom's garden. And we had corn, lots of corn. Hubert could eat twelves ears of corn at one sitting, and I remember well those steaming platters of hot corn Mom placed on the table, along with dishes of homemade butter.

We made our own butter and, if you have never done this, you do not really know the meaning of monotony. In order to get butter, one had to push a handle up and down in a churn....or shake a jar of cream for a very long time, until the lumps of butter appeared. This is a job Mom gave to the children, so we would sit and shake and shake and shake, trying to pawn off the work onto someone else or talk ourselves out of it in any way possible. I can't remember exactly how long it took for the butter to form, but I can remember my shoulders aching from the constant movement.

After the cows came down with Hoof and Mouth and the herd...consisting of a couple of cows...was destroyed, we had no homemade butter. Then Oleo appeared on the market. What a magical substance. It looked like a big, white lump of lard. It was encased in a sack and, within the sack was a pellet of orange. One had to punch and pummel the pellet until it spread the orange coloring throughout the pale, white lard-like substance. At the end, one had something that looked amazingly like butter. There might be a few strange orange and white streaks here and there, but it was a handy substitute for the real thing.

Today's oleomargarine looks just like butter. And butter has practically faded off the grocery shelves. But, back at the beginning, oleo had to be sold without the yellow color mixed in. It was a law. The mixing was left to the consumer.

Another plentiful item was berries. In the Spring, we would pick wild strawberries, raspberries and blackberries and Mom would can them. There was nothing better than her blackberry cobblers. They were delicious. And the berries came in handy at times when you least expected it.

You see, my nephew, Ronnie, hit me on the arm. Ronnie was my age, with a shock of blonde curls and a spattering of freckles. Sis, Norma and I had locked ourselves into Hubert's car and refused to allow the boys to enter. The window was down and Ronnie tried to reach inside for the door handle just as I rolled up the window. He became angry and pounded me on the arm.

This act of aggression had to be repaid, but I couldn't figure out a way to do it. Norma and Sis were sitting there munching some blackberries they had picked in the field. So, an idea formed in my conniving little mind, and I picked up a few berries and rubbed them on my arm. Lord, what a perfect bruise, purple in the center, fading to a lavender on the edges! Wonderful!

What a commotion! Mom was furious with Ronald! Hubert threatened to paddle him if he ever bruised me like that again. It was sweet revenge and I enjoyed every minute of it. Ronnie was even penitent and sorry. He apologized and declared he hadn't meant to hit me so hard.

I thought I had fooled everyone until, a little later, Bud commented on my remarkable ability to heal! Looking at my arm, I saw that my purple blackberry stain was wearing off in a lamentably swift fashion. I had no more berries to refresh it, so I could only hide my arm and hope that noone except Bud noticed it.

It didn't work. Bud told Mom and Mom berated me for playing tricks and getting Ronnie into trouble. Ronnie got an extra slab of cobbler and basked in the pity he received, while I sat there boiling with vengeful thoughts.

Lazy? We were poor, but never lazy. Life was too filled with interest to ever be lazy. When it was time to slow down, it was time for a visit to the library to get an armload of books. Then I could drift off into the wonderland of reading, visiting places and people far away from life on the Farm. If there are lazy poor people, perhaps it is because they don't have a blackberry patch or wild strawberries to pick, or a blue sky looking down on the apple trees decked out in blossoms and looking like brides coming down the aisle in fancy dresses. Perhaps they don't have the swamp filled with frogs and Dead Man's Cave filled with mournful sounds and evil echoes. Perhaps they don't have a musty old attic decorated with layers of spider webs gleaming white in the rays of dusty sunshine filtering through the window.

One can't be lazy with a world filled with treasures from Mother Nature herself and I thank God every day that Pop decided to quit the auto plants and take his family away from the city streets. There was no money after that, but each day was filled with golden nuggets of pure delight.