You think you had it tough. I grew up in the middle of the woods. When I told my dad I wanted a set of Lincoln logs, he handed me an ax and said, “Go cut ‘em yourself.”
I once told my dad I wanted some Play-dough. He told me, “That’s what mud is for.”
You think you’ve seen cold winters. Most of the time when I was a kid, if I wanted a drink of water I’d have to climb up on the local glacier with a tin cup and a magnifying glass and melt my own.
When folks tell me I act like I was raised in a barn, I say, “I wish I’d had it that good.” I grew up in a dugout in the side of a creek bank. I had twelve brothers and sisters originally but 7 of ‘em washed away in floods. The rest of us had learned how to swim by watching the beavers.
We learned to use every part of our food. For example, you didn’t throw away the hulls once you got the hickory nuts out. They were good mattress padding. (If only we’d have had a mattress to put them in.) Whenever we had fish, we used the spine for a comb and made shoes out of the scaled skin. My sister had a fish eye necklace that was the envy of every kid in school.
I may have grown up poor but at least I had a lot of pets as a kid. Dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, grasshoppers etc. Of course, they never lasted long. Acorn and bark stew only goes so far—when you can get it.
I remember we tried raising chickens once but in those days the chickens had teeth and razor blade feathers so it didn’t work out well for us. I’ve still got the scars from trying to gather eggs from those bad hens. We finally just let ‘em run wild. I’ve always believed our chickens were the source of all the Boggy Creek Monster legends.
One of my mom’s best dishes was chicken pot pie. Of course, we never had any chickens to put in it. Just the pot. But if you cooked it long enough and you were hungry enough, it was delicious—if a bit chewy.
I’d have killed to have four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie. We always had to do with five or less. and mostly that was just the beaks and feet. Course, the feet were darn good eatin’. There’d be a pretty good scrap among the brothers every time one of us got hold of a bird foot.
Almost every kid makes mud pies but we took those things seriously. It was the only dessert we ever got. I liked to spread the froth from the creek on top of mine as meringue. I was always the master chef of the clan.
Thank goodness for the thick Arkansas fogs when I was a kid. Cut a slice and spread it between two dead leaves and you had a heckuva sandwich.
I remember one bad winter. It started in 64 and ran through 67. Everything froze so hard you couldn’t burn nothing for warmth. Fire was too cold to start anyway. Thank goodness for family. Especially my brother Bo. He had a bad case of the farts that year and that was the only thing kept us warm.
When I was growing up, the only thing worse than the freezing winters were the broiling summers. Back in 62, it stayed above the boiling temperature for water for three straight weeks. And that was in May. Some folks said it was the hottest summer on record, but 59 was worse. I considered the summer of 62 to be a cool front.
The nearest big city to where I grew up was called Charleston, Arkansas. It had a population of well over a thousand people, if you can imagine that many human beings in one place. I remember once we walked into town and I spent my whole time gawking at the incredibly tall one-story houses and the streets made of stone. They even had these fancy contraptions called au-toe-moe-beels. My brother Pabe got run over three times before he realized they was capable of movement. Fortunately, the wild conditions we’d lived in had toughened up his hide a mite. He ended up a bit lopsided but not much the worse for wear.
After visiting the big city, Dad decided we should get TV. We couldn’t get it to work until we plugged it into an electric eel. I never got to watch it, though. I had to stand on the roof of the dugout with forks taped to me so we’d have an antenna.
Somebody seemed surprised that we could afford forks. We couldn’t. Our forks were hand made from old discarded beer cans. I still have a set for use on special occasions.