Dreams made in little broad shack out back
Down Life’s Highway By Roy Dunn
Just poor people, that’s all we were. My generation will be the last that witnessed the Depression before World War II. The war was the best thing that happened to poor folks; good in the way that it elevated the standard of living. In South Louisiana, it took a while to come around. Other parts of the country that had a workforce associated with the war effort fared better, much quicker. Before the war paid off, areas all over this country were made up of poor people. The poor controlled an 85 percent margin. Poor ran in different degrees, the South and Appalachian took the biggest hit. Poor people who lived on a farm were the fortunate ones; they didn’t have much of anything else, but unlike us, they had food. Most country people born before the Second World War lived without electricity or indoor conveniences.
Mom kept a bucket of water in the house in winter to prime the pump in the morning. I recall times when the water froze indoors. Our little shack was just boards with cracks, no insulation or paneling; mostly it was a windbreak and a roof over our heads. We would warm the water bucket on the little coal oil stove to defrost the pump and prime it. Often the handle would be covered with solid ice. We drew water and often it would freeze up again and stay that way all day. An old coal oil lamp with a wick would be lit at night for schoolwork. We turned in early, slept in our clothes and bundled up as best we could. That was long before television was thought of. We didn’t even have a radio. I had a little crystal set I could catch a baseball game or country music on. On Saturday night, we could go to Grandma’s and listen to her battery radio. It had a ground wire that ran through the window and attached to an iron stake in the ground. When the volume got weak, someone would hold the wire to boost the volume.
No one had a telephone or transportation. I was a junior in high school when we finally got our first party line phone. You answered according to the amount of rings.
About the same time, I got the first transportation our family had ever owned. I bought a 1932 Ford coupe, the first V-8 model made, from Harry Waddell. He and I had shared a room at Mrs. Shuggard’s boarding house in Port Arthur and he had driven the car from Rock Island, Texas, where he was raised. He was a resident of Bridge City until his death. The Ford was the first car he had owned.
About the time I left home we also got a new two-hole outhouse. I had been raised and spent some quality time in a very primitive one hole, narrow little privy. It was built from rough wood, maybe the second boards cut off the tree. It wasn’t uniform; some times the boards met and in other places the cracks were an inch wide. The door hinges were made from folded over rubber from an old innertube. The handle was made from a piece of rope. Inside, a piece of looped wire fit over a bent nail to keep the door shut while being occupied. I don’t believe toilet paper had been invented yet, at least in our neighborhood it hadn’t.
Sources of wiping were the Sear’s catalog, torn out a page at a time and crumpled over and over. We could break the fiber down and make it softer and more effective than trying to use a slick page. The Sears catalog was a wish book also, although we would never be able to own any of the things in it. I spent a lot of time looking at the B.B. guns, bicycles and most sports stuff, like bats, balls and gloves. I never got any of them. I got a hand-me-down, three-finger glove from an uncle. Grandma made a ball that she sewed a stocking around; I carved a nice bat out of a piece of wood I picked up at the train switch station. It always aggravated me when someone tore and used one of my favorite pages out of the Sears book. I think Mom purposely tore out the pages with the girl’s panties and bras. Back then, that was the most risqué material a boy could find. Some of my friends got to the pages before their Moms and had them in a hiding place. Not because they desired to be cross-dressers. The new modern two-holer never played an important part in my life. By then, I was on my own and seeing how the rest of the world lived.
From the little shack out back, in my mind, I had dreamed many dreams and traveled to far away places. I could hear the wind whistling through its many cracks and often have wondered why the wind didn’t blow the little leaning building down. It and an oak tree I used to climb helped me be a dreamer. I had a wide board placed in the fork of that tree that I could sit or lie on for hours. I built castles and lived to see many come to pass. When my generation is gone, no one will be left to tell the ‘Tobacco Road’ tales of an era that never will be again.
It’s amazing the changes we’ve seen. Do you know a mess of folks today carry a phone in their pocket that takes and sends pictures that can reach around the world and you don’t have to count the rings when someone calls you.