We were so poor we had to eat bark and dirt

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There may be a few Depression babies left who will remember this. You younguns, take notes.

You’ve heard the expression: We were so poor we had to eat bark and dirt and leaves just to stay alive. And then the Depression came.

We weren’t quite that pore, just poor. We never went hungry, although the menu might get a little boring–peas and corn bread, peas and corn bread… And meat from a home-raised hog, and an occasional squirrel or possum or catfish. About the same as our neighbors. Talking with cousin Anna Banks the other day brought back some memories. She will soon be 90. We especially talked about her youngest sister, my first playmate, the late Willadine.

They lived a quarter of a mile down the road toward town. We had a field across the road from their house. When Daddy would be working in that field, Willa and I would be making frog houses in the sand in their driveway, or climbing in the sweet gums that hung out over the road, or sliding down the perfect straw covered hill on barrel staves, out behind their barn.

Later on, we’d play our brand of baseball/softball/townball/stickball in Uncle Asa’s pasture with an eroded baseball-size rubber ball and a broken ax handle, with anywhere from two to a dozen participants.

Earliest memories: we’d lie on the bank just across the road, nibbling on a tart-tasting clover-like plant, listening to Uncle Asa plowing in his field, Daddy in ours, Mr. Reeves in his. Whoa, whoa, gee. Haw. Blankety-blank it, I said Whoa, etc. A symphony of spring.

Later on, when I was a teenager, Daddy let me and Jack have a cotton patch there of our own. I don’t know if we broke even or not, but I do remember when it came time to pick our patch…and try as we might, we couldn’t get Willa to come across the road and help us.

We made do with so little and (we kids) didn’t think about it. Take Uncle Asa’s house, for instance. It was just an old frame house with a front porch and a dog trot, with two big rooms and two or three little rooms. Yet, Uncle Asa and Aunt Lessie lived there. Mr. and Mrs. Perkings (Uncle Asa’s mother and step-father) lived there. There were four girls and one boy. And sometimes there would be a hired hand living with them.

One of the big rooms was also the living room/ parlor, great room — and it had a couple of beds in it.

You wonder, how did they get ready for school, for instance. But they made it just fine, thank you.

I can still see the patterns on Aunt Lessie’s shins caused by sitting in front of a roaring fire in the big fireplace.

 

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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