There were some absolutely marvelous times in our lives. Although we were poor as a church mouse, it seemed like we were rich! We owned our own home, (albeit a "homemade house"), had food to eat, (mostly beans if we hadn't a garden), had clothes (98% of which were hand-me-downs), had a vehicle (which saw use only for work and church), and we had each other.
The simple fact that we were very poor didn't matter too much to us. The reason? Mainly, because we just didn't know how poor we were! I see now how some people with more money than they can ever spend has less than what we had! Yeah, we were poor, but we didn't know it . . .
Times of plenty were few, but times of contentment were much more plentiful than they are now with an abundance of anything we want. One time of plenty was around Christmas one year. I remember I was eleven years old, and all four of us kids were home alone. Joey, the youngest was very small, still in diapers.
Mom and Dad had gone "Christmas shopping." We sat around the Christmas tree that we'd went out into the woods and cut that very afternoon. We had decorated it with the few ornaments that Mom had collected over the years, strung popcorn together to string on it.
We would sing carols, then tell about our Christmas wish. Of course I wanted a go-cart, a BB gun, a train, but most of all, I wanted a guitar. Betty Sue and Sherry wanted a doll, and Joey wanted his diaper changed.
We kept looking outside for Mom and Dad each time the lights of a car would show through the darkness. It was quite cold and it had started to snow lightly. The classic beautiful and wonderful Christmas in Arkansas was about to happen again.
When Mom and Dad finally did arrive it was late. Mom hurriedly served some beans and we had some biscuits she'd cooked earlier. They didn't say much about their shopping ordeal, but us kids knew there was little money, and kept our wishes to ourselves. Every time we'd wish for something, there would be a hurt come over Moms face, and more than once I've seen her bite her lip.
They never did seem to mind that they didn't have much. But, they did seem to feel bad if their kids didn't have at least the essentials. Mom sewed and kept what little clothes we had in pretty good repair, but they certainly wasn't what the other kids had.
I remember her coming to a class function once. These weren't often, but they were important. I remember how proud I was that my momma was a Shelton, and how absolutely beautiful she was. And she was the very best mother in the world too! But her clothes didn't compare to the quality the other mothers had.
And so it was, that we we all went to bed with a bare Christmas tree. Dad could barely tolerate singing the likes of carols by us kids, but would never join in. That Christmas, he seemed strained, reluctance to delve into the Christmas spirit. I later learned they'd made the decision that this would be the last Christmas they'd spend so poor.
From now on, they'd live in California where it was easier to find a job. We were to be just another family moving away from a small town which had few jobs, and fewer opportunities to "make it."
Although I didn't know for sure at the time I did suspicion that they were planning on moving for good. They'd talked about it for years, and they'd nearly stayed the last time we went to California for the gin season. But Dad had some things he needed to take care of, and so they'd come back. Now, this would be the last summer I'd spend in Arkansas, land of my beloved Sheltons.
But, since I didn't know for sure, it was way too heavy a subject for a young squirt like me to worry about on Christmas Eve.! I wasn't sure what they'd bought, but surely they'd bought something! Ole Santy Claus couldn't completely forget us could he? Not Santa!
But there was no smile or glee on Mom and Dad's faces. Dad just looked tired and worn, worried and helpless. I'd come to know that feeling in my own life years later when facing my own dilemna in that same little town.
Nothing left to do but go to bed and dream of better times. Times when Mom and Dad could be more carefree and happy, times of plenty, and times when we could be considered successful and prosperous. However, it would be several years before we could claim to be anywhere near that.
Sleep came slowly that night. I remember the heaviness on my heart as I tried to fall into the bliss of slumber. Dad had no job, and although we'd recently come back from California with the winter stash, we had to live on that the rest of the winter until Dad could bring in some kind of income. As it was, while everyone else was heating with bought coal, Dad had to go out into the woods and chop by hand our fire wood.
Finally, the next morning dawned a grey somber winter day. One look out the window told me I didn't want to get up. I didn't hear Mom in the kitchen, neither did I smell breakfast cooking. So I just laid there and dreaded the day. It was nearly a whole week before school started again, and though I loathed it, I'd lot rather have been there than home at this time.
Just about then I heard one of the kids squeal. Then laughing, then happiness as one by one the others joined the melee in the living room. Not wanting to be left out of any fun whatsoever, I jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to the living room, and there were presents!
I got some clothes, (what I expected), some gloves, (didn't expect), and one big box. Dad proudly reached over and retrieved it, and handed it to me. It was the biggest box under the tree. I really didn't know what to say, and was puzzled at first because it was so light. Couldn't have been much of a present in there with it being so light.
Then it dawned on me. A guitar! Surely not! But it had to be! And, it was. A little bitty Sears and Roebuck box guitar. With real strings! It would replace the flat little masonite board I'd carried for so long. Dad had cut out a guitar out of a board he'd gotten out of the trash, and I'd carried it for months.
Well, it wasn't long before it was tuned up, and I was happily strumming unfingered tunes. Dad played some, and tried to show me how to play a song, but, it wouldn't take. I found the chord book and worked and worked and worked until I could form G7 and D7, then worked until I could play Down In The Valley. Wow! Was playing always gonna be this hard?
But I kept at it, and within a week, I could play the song without looking at the book. And thus started my journey into the wonderful world of music . . .
I've looked back over the many Christmases in my life, and most have been plenteous. Yet, when I look back at those times in Arkansas, I realize we weren't the only ones who had it rough. Not by a long shot. There were those who had it much, much rougher than us, but we were very blessed. "How?" you may ask.
Well, I'll tell ya. My Dad was not one to lay around and mope and hope. Nope! He was a man of action! He made the decision to get his family out of there, and get to a place where he had a better chance of doing something to better himself. The decision was hard. We had to leave family, our home, our area in which we grew up, our friends, our neighbors . . . it was a big decision. And a hard one.
But, Dad and Mom sacrificed, made the decision, and moved to California. We didn't have it a whole lot better in the beginning, but, at least we had enough to eat, plenty of clothes, but most of all, we now had the chance to make something of ourselves. And we did. But I never forgot my beautiful land of origin.
You can take the kid out of Arkansas, but you can't take Arkansas out of the kid. Someday, I'd still like to move my entire family back and start a business I've been planning for many years. Yep, I still live in California, and I may die here . . . but my heart still lives in a little town called Rector, in the great and beautiful state of Arkansas.