The tent that covered the plank floor was stifling hot inside. I lay on top of the muslin sheet unable to fall asleep on a moonlit night that seemed hotter than usual for a summer night in Texas.
I slid from bed and padded my way to what served as a kitchen and the water-bucket placed there by Mother for thirsty kids on nights like this. As I took the dipper that hung on the lip of the bucket I heard voices from where Dad and Mother slept. Their voices were hardly more than whispers but if I held my breath and strained hard. I could just make out what they were talking about.
In a town with the population set at five-hundred souls in 1947 central Texas, work was scarce and a living wage was almost impossible to earn. With kids to care for and bills to pay it was an everyday struggle.
I heard Mother crying as Dad was trying to comfort her. It wasn't just money or the lack of it they were concerned about, They were worried over not having enough for us to eat until Dad got his next meager paycheck, and what of the future?
I tiptoed back to bed and lay wide-eyed staring at shadows thinking and wondering. At age nine my heart ached for Mother and Dad. Surely there must be some way I could help, even a little bit. But what could a young lad my age do in a world that seemed designed for grownups only. As I was slowly drifting off to sleep an idea popped into my worried little noggin. Fishing! I would go fishing.
The sun was barely above the horizon and I was already on the trail to the creek carrying a cane pole, a can of worms, two extra hooks and two fried biscuits Mom had wrapped for me. As I watched puffs of dust squirt from between my toes, I was figuring, if I could catch enough fish for two meals that would get us through until Daddy got paid on Friday. This was my great plan and I was determined.
I had some luck at the creek with perch but after a time decided to go on to the nearby river and to my surprise I caught three small catfish but my allotted time for being away from home was wearing thin and I still did not have enough fish. The sun was roasting me and I was tired but unshaken. I hiked the mile or more to the lake. There I had great luck catching bass, so many that If I could catch just one more I would at last have enough to go home. I was sure to be a hero in Mom's eyes if I caught just one more. Well, The Lord must have been smiling on me, because I did! I would get it on my fish-stringer and hurry home, it was late and Mother would be worried. I untied the stringer and with a smile on my face lifted it from the water, then threw it as far from me as I could with a reflex motion. There was a snake hanging from it in the process of swallowing part of my treasure. I stood horrified as I watched my dream sink into the murky water and disappear. In shock I plopped down on a log and just stared, then I cried.
A downhearted and tired lad made it home in late afternoon and when asked if I had any fish, I could only say no, I did not have any luck today. I was so sad, I could not muster the courage to relay what had happened.
That evening as we sat around that wobbly old table with another meal of cornbread and beans I could not imagine anyone more disappointed than me. I wasn't talking but I was listening. Daddy was telling tall tales, Mother was teasing him and everyone was laughing! There was so much chattering and giggling, it seemed a celebration was in process and it was contagious. After awhile I could not help myself, I joined in and cannot recall a more joyful gathering.
As I scooted around in bed trying to find a cooler spot to lay on I became aware of the lesson I was taught this day. What or how much you have to eat is not near as important as who you break bread with. The love of family has a unique way of turning a sad situation into a happy occasion and feeding your stomach becomes less important when you are feeding your soul.
I tiptoed to the water-bucket on that sultry night and heard voices. I smiled as I listened, They were still giggling.
©Written by: Kenneth J. Ellison 08-18-10
Song title: "Cock O' The North and Scarcity Of Potatoes"(medley)
Poetry By Ken
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