My youth is part of who I am; I can’t separate from it.

More than at any other time, when the holiday season rolls around, my thoughts drift back to the days of my youth. My thoughts of Christmas then still leaves me saddened today. My father abandoned mom and I before I was out of diapers. That was an embarrassing social rarity for the times – the early ‘30s. No woman was a single mom unless she was widowed.

As a little guy, to cope with my situation, I developed a habit of lying rather than telling anyone I had a father I didn’t know. I’d make up stories about him coming to see me. I never tried to hide the fact that he didn’t live with us. However, in anyway I could, I didn’t let anyone know that he wasn’t interested in my life and that I never heard from him. Just the contrary, I lied about hearing from him and that he was coming to get me. I made up many lies, like he had bought me a horse for Christmas and was keeping it for me at his ranch.

One day, out of the blue, he did show up and he and mom arranged for me to go with him. She felt I would be better off. We were so poor that even food was hard to come by. My leaving broke her heart. She hugged and kissed me goodbye. I still recall the tears running down her cheeks. I wasn’t dry-eyed either but I was excited that I finally was like the other youngsters; I had a daddy.

Even though the stay with my father wasn’t a long one, and that’s an entire other story, I did see a side of life I had never known. How the well-to-do lived. I learned there was a better way, and it helped to motivate me towards that goal. When I returned home, I wasn’t allowed to take any of the new belongings I owned. The problem was a stepmother who didn’t want me around, so I was returned. My problems about the situation we were in got worse for me mentally. I blamed mom for our hardships. I had been somewhat brainwashed. I learned later that I had blamed the wrong person.

My father drew the attention of a celebrity whenever he came to town. He had been the owner of the famous Lafitte Club, in Abbeville, until right after I was born. I recall when I was about 10 years old, he came to town and he and a Texas Ranger named Jim Perkins checked into the Audrey Hotel, the only lodging in town.

I was washing dishes and peeling potatoes at Harry Bower’s Midway restaurant. Harry told me my dad was in town. He let me off of work. I sheepishly went to the hotel looking for dad. I was directed to his room. He didn’t act over-excited to see me, even though it had been three years. He told Jim who I was. He acted surprised to learn Clay had a son. Dad gave me a few dollars and dismissed me saying they had business to take care of.

Similar situations occurred a couple of times more before I got old enough to just shuck it off. I had become callused. The early years were the tough ones for a little boy who didn’t understand why he couldn’t be like the other kids.

The most painful was Christmas. I never had one. Only once in my youth did we have a Christmas tree. One of the teachers gave it to me. I carried it all the way home from the schoolhouse, put it up in the corner. Mom and I colored paper strips. With flour made paste we glued the strips into a chain that we wrapped around the tree. Christmas morning there wasn’t anything under it, but we had a tree.

Being poor and fatherless as a child didn’t bring me any material gifts, but it gave me gifts that have followed me into the winter of my years. Poor families learn loyalty to one another and to those who befriend them. Not having a dad around in those days, a youngster matured earlier and learned to be self sufficient while rolling with the punches. I learned to read people. I knew the ones I could count on and those who would likely use me. I am a real stickler about loyalty and have a deep value for friendship. Throughout my life, I’ve had a soft spot for the under-privileged, especially the youth. Of the awards I’ve been honored to receive, being named “Boys Worker of the Year” for my youth work by Optimist International is my most treasured.

Times have changed, and children raised in a single parent home don’t carry the stigma it once did. However, children with no dad around have a void that affects them. I’m sure there are those who tell lies and make up stories about their relationships with dads. Maybe like me, they never got gifts from their fathers.

This Christmas my thoughts will turn to the lady who helped me make it through those difficult years. Mom passed away five years ago and I miss her and think of her every day of my life.
Life since my early years has been good. I’ve been luckier than most who lived similar situations. Poverty often breeds poverty. I’ve managed to raise a great family who has had wonderful Christmases. I treasure my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Christmas for me is mixed bag, but then it always has been. The organizations that see that poor children have gifts under the tree will never know the heartbreaks they may have saved.

This year, Phyl and I will have all three of our children with us, also all of our grandchildren, with the exception of Jenna, Robby and our two great-grandkids, Nate and Delilah, who live in Massachusetts. We are very fortunate however, to have our 2-year-old great grandson, “Scooter” Gros spending his first Christmas with us and also our granddaughter Amber who lives in Ohio. We are truly blessed with a great family and good friends. Despite my rough start, life is good. I thank God for his many blessings and carry Jesus in my heart while celebrating his birthday.