The Runaways – 1947

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

I wrote this post a year-or-two ago, but never posted it because it was overly long.  But because the nightmare post below seems to lead here, and the only news I have is Tabby-news, I’ll post it despite the length. 

The Runaways 1947

Causey, New Mexico, was a dot in the road.  Pavement from nowhere to nowhere running between a scattering of frame houses, a small roadside store and gas station.  A rock schoolhouse, a church, and a few rusting hulks of worn out farm machinery in the weeds.

Our cottage was on the same side of the road as the schoolhouse.  Most of the village was on the other side, including the windmill across the road from our house where my sister and I went for water and carrying the bucket between us to tote it home. 

To my tiny, four-year-old mind, the center of town was the store, diagonally across the road, to the left of the windmill.  Everything of importance happened there.  Cars from other places stopped for gas.  The store had Milk Nickles.  Ice cream on a stick, covered with chocolate.  Pure heaven that didn’t come often.

If the store was heaven, behind our house was hell.  The toilet.  A ramshackle tower with dust flecks floating in the shafts of light that came through the cracks between the boards, light coming through underneath where the ground had caved away from the wall.  Home of black widow spiders and the occasional rattlesnake.  The place was a chamber of terrors for me.  I was always certain I’d fall through the hole to the horrors beneath when I used it.

Our little cottage had two rooms.  A sort of kitchen, living area in front also had a little counter where my mom tried to operate a little variety store.  Keychains, trinkets, a handkerchief or two.  Things that wouldn’t be found across the street at the store. 

She was also a seamstress.  Most of my memories of that time include her huddled over a treddle sewing machine working on the felt curtains she was making for the stage of the school auditorium.  Mom was a woman twice divorced.  In 1947, that was no small thing.  In that time and place broken marriage was considered to be the fault of an untrained, unskilled, unwise, probably immoral woman.  Two divorces, three children, and no resources made my mother the subject of mistrust by the woman of the community, and disdain by the men.

Memories have probably faded and altered with the half century since all this happened.  The perspectives of a child plagued with fears and insecurities seem real in my recollections, but they, too, have probably been twisted with the turns and circles the planet has made around the sun; with the endless webs of human interactions, relationships formed and ended.

My sisters went to school in that village.  Frances, my sister who died a few years ago, must have been in the second grade.  Becky, maybe in the 5th.  I hung around doing whatever preschoolers do in that environment when everyone else is busy.  I have flashing memories of standing by the road throwing rocks at cars; trying to get the little girl down the road to show me her ‘wet-thing’. 
 
I remember being lonely; of wishing aloud my mom would give me a little brother to play with.  “I wish I could,” she’d reply, “but you tore me up so much when you were born, I can’t have any more kids.”

That trauma of my birth was a favorite theme of my mom.  She was fond of telling me how the doctors were long arriving when I was ready to be born;  how a nurse and my dad held her legs down so I couldn’t emerge until the proper people were there.  How it damaged her insides and caused her to have to undergo all kinds of surgery later.

I recall I felt pretty badly about that. 

During harvest season it seemed to me the entire community turned out to work in the fields.  We’d all gather in the pre-dawn at the store, then ride together to the cotton fields in the back of an open truck.  Mom and the girls were all there, along with the neighbors and some of their kids.  Two of the kids were about my age:  Wayne and Sharon Landrum.

In retrospect I doubt we pre-schoolers helped much.  My mom had put a strap on a pillowcase and promised a Milk-Nickle every time it was filled.  This was probably more to keep me busy and out of trouble than it was to pay for the ice cream bar.  I can’t imagine that a pillowcase would have held the ten pounds of cotton it would have taken to pay a nickle.

The lure of sweets weren’t sufficient to occupy smaller kids, I suppose.  There came a time when Wayne, Sharon, and I wandered off from the field.  At first it was just to take a walk, but the road was long and we must have made some turns.  Before too long we’d gotten so far from the farm we didn’t know the way back.  We were frightened and kept moving.

In the end we found the lights of a farmhouse sometime after dark.  The family brought us inside and fed us something.  We sat around a stove trying to keep warm until some of the searchers came and picked us up. 

In the morning at the store all those field workers who’d had to lose part of a day of wages wanted vivid descriptions of the spankings we got.  They wanted to make sure.

That was my first experience with running away, at least on my own part.  My mom had done some of it, running away from my dad and her second husband.  My dad had done some of it, letting his kids go off, first to Arizona into the shelter of a brutal, drunken step-dad, then into the shack in Causey.

Afterthought, July 9, 2013

Reading through it this morning I find it difficult to create a context for this anecdote that isn’t submerged and overwhelmed by 21st Century value judgements and popular perspectives created by generations of affluence and ease for the general population of the US. 

This isn’t a tale of ‘oh shit, we had it hard’, ‘oh damn, life is sure tough’, whining and complaining or just bragging.  It’s a statement of perspective.  In 1947 things were a lot different in a lot of ways. 

Every adult had been alive through the Great Depression.  Hardship was no stranger to most of them, and the yardsticks for measuring hardship would have all placed what happened with our tiny family as ‘challenging’.  Not easy, but certainly not ‘hard’.

What our little capsule of humanity went through wasn’t poverty.  And what’s measured today as poverty sure as hell wouldn’t have qualified, by any standard that existed at that time.  Compared to the conditions a huge part of humanity was enduring in 1947 we could as accurately been called wealthy, as poor.

Old Jules

About these ads

10 responses to “The Runaways – 1947

  1. Great post Jules!
    One of my fond memories of those years gone by is the Nesbitts Cream soda for a nickle. That and the wet spot of my neighbor girl. I wonder if those two are kin?

    • Thanks for coming by, Tim. Yeah, those cream sodas were an experience. I strill have one occasionally. They’re still surprisingly tastey. When soda went up to a dime I was fairly certain things were going to decline in this country. Gracias, J

  2. There are certain bloggers whose posts I have learned to look forward to and I put aside the time to read carefully, savor the words and meanings. You have quickly become one of those bloggers.

    I too, grew up during these times and remember well that even children worked hard. For us, it was picking sugar beets in the summer. Odd as it may seem to some, those times built character.

    • Sugar beets. Jeeze, I’d forgotten sugar beets. The fool’s gold of the early 50s. Didn’t last long though. Those times built something. Might have been character. Gracias, J

  3. Lucky you’re not my neighbor in the real world, I’d bother you something fierce for another story. Here, I’ll just be patient and wait.

    • Hi elroyjones. You’re the lucky one of us in that regard. I’ve got more stories than any human being has ears. Jeanne’s been talking to me on the phone evenings for 13 years and still hears a new one occasionally. I don’t envy her the ones she’s heard before and is too polite to say so. Gracias, J

  4. You sure know how to tell a charming story about the true grit of humanity back then.

    • LCTC!: I suppose it’s preferable to have grit and not need it than to need it and not have it. Hope there’s still some in the safe deposit boxes of the mind nowadays., Gracias, J

  5. Life back then was so simple and a nickle bottle of Whistle Pop was a big treat at our little store about a mile down the road. My life was a great one growing up and we had no idea that we were poor.

    • Ain’t that the truth! I didn’t know we were poor either. I always had everything I needed but not always everything I thought I needed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s