Jerry and I were talking the other day. We’ve known each other since the day I was born, he having entered this earth the day before I did. It was there in the hospital nursery we first met and the friendship has endured through the years.
His dad, a man of the old school who believed in helping a neighbor whenever there was a need, had sat with Daddy in the waiting room of the hospital as Mama labored with me.
Shortly before midnight, I arrived, two and half hours after my parents got to the hospital. Daddy was watching Gunsmoke on that Friday night and told Mama to wait until Matt Dillon had finished off the bad guys. Unruffled and unconcerned, she waited because whatever Daddy wanted was fine with her.
But none of that has anything to do with this story except to give some background to the beginning of the friendship between Jerry and me. And to tell you a little bit about our fathers, hard- working men whose arms were darkened by the sun, stopping where their sleeves ended and whose brows were lined from the challenges of life. Their hands were calloused and rough, their backs strong enough to pick up a calf that was ailing or to effortlessly hurdle a 60-pound bale of hay into the back of an old truck.
They worked hard for the living they made for their family. It was six days a week of relentless work and neither ever knew the luxury of an annual vacation. To their children, they passed along instruction: Work hard, be honest in your business dealings, have faith in God and watch your money. Carefully.
As the saying used to go, I was born to parents "late in life." I had the privilege of being raised by two people who had both the fortune and the misfortune to have lived through the Great Depression when people of the mountains often suffered to find enough food to eat. The weight of land taxes was a burden that they carried every day of their lives, worrying as soon as one tax bill was paid as to how they would pay the next.
Mama’s family lost their farm and her parents would spend the rest of their lives as renters. Daddy’s folks managed to save their farm but only because his daddy would moonshine from time to time to make extra dollars. We still have that farm, paid for by the blood, sweat and prayers of our father and grandfather.
So, Jerry and I commenced a conversation the other day about the hard times that face Americans. We shared stories of how carefully we watch money and we both agreed — we learned it from our parents who had learned it the hard way.
"I was around Daddy and his farmer friends to hear enough stories about how they lived during the Great Depression that I knew I didn’t want to ever live that way," Jerry said. "It was terrible what those people went through."
With their wiles and ingenuity, though, they survived. They ate squirrels and rabbits and sometimes possums. They traded eggs at the store for coffee and flour. They picked Poke Sallet growing wild in the woods and turned the poisonous green into an eatable feast. And when all else seemed to fail, they prayed, believing in an almighty God who would see them through come what may.
Daddy often lamented that he lost 50 cents in a bank that went belly up and that he would never forget that pain. Fifty cents, he said, was a lot to a little boy in 1932. With that lesson in mind, he preached of the virtues of saving every penny possible and warned that history was known for repeating itself.
I’m so glad now that I didn’t sleep through all those sermons.