I hope everyone will forgive me but I thought I might post a few entries about how a country boy from deepest Arkansas grew up to be interested in writing. I like to hear these things about other writers, and I often wonder if there are similarities to extract from such tales.
I grew up on a small family farm in the Arkansas River Valley, near the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. My father was a farmer; my mother got up each morning around 5:00 to go work at a chicken processing plant. We raised cattle for sale, and always put in one cash crop, such as wheat, oats, maize, turnips, or black-eyed peas. We sold hay when we had extra. We also raised chickens and pigs for ourselves, and always planted at least two vegetable gardens. I've always felt that I worked pretty hard as a kid, although my brothers and some of my sisters-in-law would not agree. I remember one of my sister-in-laws actually laughing out loud once when I spoke of working hard. It hurt my feelings badly at the time and I suspect that’s one reason why I really hate to be called lazy even today.
There was no kindergarten in Arkansas in those days and I don’t know when I learned to read. I know I took to it like a bat takes to bugs. I remember having a few “Little Golden Books” before first grade, although I don’t recall whether my parents read much to me. My father finished high school but I believe my mom stopped attending after 8th grade. Both could read, certainly, but they both also worked extremely hard at providing food and a home for their five kids. They didn't have a lot of play time.
Both my parents were also staunch Catholics, and this in a community made up mostly of Protestants. There was prejudice there, although in my experience it was never violent. Starting at age six, I went to a Catholic grade school for six years. We had a tiny library that must have contained no more than 300 books. Most were stories about Catholic saints. I believe I read most of them, but I only specifically recall two books. One was entitled A Man on Fire, about the life of Saint Paul. The other was about “The Littlest Guardian Angel,” who had to fight a group of devils on his first assignment. I wish I knew the actual title of it. I’d love to have that book. It would be interesting to read it again and see how it holds up. In my memory, it’s a wonderful adventure story.
At some point, we were allowed to join a book club through our school, and we got paperbacks for 25 cents. I loved this and I still have some of those books, including Strange, Sudden and Unexpected, Is Something Up There, Dinosaurs, and various books on football. I wanted to be a pro football player in those days. (To Be Continued)