I grew up in an extended family, as did many children from my generation. I lived almost all of the first 17 years of my life with my mom, dad, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt and uncle in a big, two-story, six-bedroom house in a small town in Arkansas.
Since the women outnumbered the men, it was primarily a matriarchal family, even though the men worked outside the home and the women didn't. The matriarch was my great-grandmother, Nancy Elfreda Methvin, who was the dearest, sweetest woman I've ever known. Her two daughters, my grandmother Madge Hunt and her sister Euna McCracken also lived there along with Aunt Euna's husband, Bill McCracken, who was always more like a father to me than an uncle. I write their names here not for you, the reader, because none of you knew them. I write their names to honor them the way they honored me.
There was always so much love in that house. Once I started school I knew I always had a shelter in the storm from the bad things I would encounter from time to time because no matter what was going on outside the house, as soon as I came home I knew I was safe, secure, and protected from whatever evils lurked outside.
This was before cell-phones, game-boys and personal computers. It was even before dial telephones. We picked up the handset and the operator would answer and connect our call for us. Two sisters shared this job and they knew everything that went on in town. If there was a fire, we called the operator to find out where it was. In fact, when I was in high school, Uncle Bill and I would go to all the fires and help out the volunteer fire-fighters the best we could.
I remember waking up every morning to the smell of breakfast being prepared in the kitchen. Hard tack biscuits, ham and bacon that covered the plate, sunny side-up eggs, and plenty of white gravy to top off anything or everything on your plate was the daily fare. As soon as breakfast was finished, the women would wash the dishes and then begin preparing lunch and as soon as lunch was finished, they would clean up the kitchen once again so they could start working on supper. On weekends I would sometimes help them can peas, beans, peaches, strawberries and anything else they grew or picked themselves.
I played all sports in school so after school was always dedicated to practice. In the summer, I would leave for the baseball field as soon as I finished breakfast and we would play until dark. The rule at my house was to be home before the street lights came on and I always was. Our folks didn't worry too much about us because there was no crime in my home town and everybody looked out for everybody else's kids. I think that's what Hillary Clinton meant when she wrote the book, "It Takes A Village."
Aside from the typical teen-age pranks of raiding watermelon patches and toilet-papering people's houses on Halloween, we were a pretty well-behaved bunch. Whenever I got in trouble at home, I would always get a spanking like all the other kids I knew and the same thing would happen if we got in trouble at school because every teacher had a paddle in his or her desk drawer. There was a rumor that the superintendent had an electric paddle, which meant he would be able to spank us for a long time, so we were all really afraid of him. Of course he didn't but the fear factor sure worked on us. I keep up with most of the kids I went to school with and it looks like we all survived the spankings and paddlings okay.
I dated the same girl all through high school and even though we went our separate ways, we still stay in touch. In fact, she recently sent me a collection of music to use in my Sociology of rock and roll class.
My dad moved to Tulsa for a job when I was in high school and my mom followed him a year later. I stayed behind in Arkansas because that's where all my friends were. Dad would leave work every Friday during football season and make the 250 mile drive to Arkansas to watch me play football. He never missed a game in the four years I played and neither did my Uncle Bill.
None of the people I grew up with in that house are still around. I lost them one by one as people most usually do. My great-grandmother went first, when I was a senior in high school. A few years later my aunt passed away and six months after that, my Uncle Bill died. I'm pretty sure the cause of his death was a broken heart. Then my grandmother died and a few years after that, my dad passed away. My mom was the last one to go 10 years ago. Now it's just me and my two boys.
Sometimes I miss them terribly because whoever I am and whatever I've accomplished in my life was because of them. The spirit of unconditional love was so strong from my family that I thought I could accomplish anything if I just put my mind to it because I knew it wasn't just me going it alone; my whole family was behind me, supporting me and cheering me on in everything I did.
My folks gave me the love and support I needed to try a lot of different things. Some I was successful at, others not so much but there was never a task or a job I feared or thought I couldn't do because of the confidence I gained living in that big ole house with all of them for all those years.
I love them and thank them for that.