I grew up in a state of deep poverty, but I did not know it.
As a child, I lived in a series of old houses with holes in the floor, no running water or indoor plumbing. But so did most of our neighbors and we considered it to be the way things were. We never worried about it. We made do with what little we had.
Our Christmas tree was an example. We spent much of the fall roaming the local woods looking for anything edible. We collected blackberries, huckleberries, wild grapes of various types and hickory nuts. Each fall I would build and set a series of rabbit boxes. We knew every hole in the nearby swamp where fish could be caught. And, of course, we had the potatoes, carrots, turnips and the canned veggies from our big garden. While we were out there, we were constantly on the lookout for a suitable Christmas tree.
When the season approached, we would select the best tree from the edge of old cotton fields, or fence rows, cut it down, build a stand and install in in the living room. Then we made our own decorations from whatever was available.
Mother would make a small investment in construction paper and glue and a bag of popping corn. We would cut the paper into strips and glue them into chains. Then we would pop the corn and use a quilting needle and heavy cord to string the popcorn. These were draped around the tree. Then we would collect sweet gum balls from a nearby tree, dip them in white paint and sprinkle on sparkle for our ornaments.
We would collect our father’s empty cigarette packs and carefully peal the tin foil from the lining and cut it into thin strips, which became our icicles. The only store-bought decoration was a white star to put on top of the tree.
For toys, our parents chose items that could be used to create new toys once we finished destroying the original. A red wagon was common. After we crashed it jumping over the terraces, we would use the wheels and axles to build go carts from scrap wood. Mother would retrieve the body, fill it with woods dirt and put it on the porch. It made a great container for her spring flowers.
Did you know that you can make a great helicopter out of a corn cob and two chicken feathers? Toss that thing up in the air, or off the ledge in the old barn and watch it whirl as it descended to the ground. A bag of dime store marbles led to several games played on the dirt yards of our old homes. We played pig-eye, circle and rolly hole.
Our life was full of fun, food and love. We were poor but never deprived. We thought we had it made! And in the process we learned to be self sufficient and to make do with whatever was available. Those lessons are still with me today.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.