Things Better Left Unsaid

March 22nd, 2010

By Larry Ennis

I loved my childhood. My memories of growing up have made for many stories both here and at my own blog site.

Children, if brought up correctly, are not or at least should not be exposed to things in life that take away from being young. Innocence and youth are fragile and must be shielded from outside forces. I believe that much of being a good adult depends on starting with a good childhood.

My parents were at one time as poor as the proverbial church mouse if wealth is gauged solely by financial worth. My younger brother and I were never exposed to the disappointment and worry that our parents had to deal with on a daily basis. I never thought twice about why my mother had to make most of the shirts my brother and I wore. Our entire wardrobes consisted of a pair of Liberty overalls, one pair of brogan-type shoes and several homemade shirts. Mom used the material that came as feed sacks for farm animals. These items along with an old Singer treadle-type sewing machine and thread were used to sew together the shirt parts that she had cut out of the feed sack cloth.

With only one pair of shoes a year, little brother and I were barefoot from early spring until late fall. We even attended school without shoes, a common occurrence at the school I attended.

Because other poor people in our area lived pretty much the same as we did, little attention was given to the fact that we were living in poverty. It wasn’t an exclusive club; anyone could become a member.

As I grew older I understood better the sacrifices my parents had made in order to shield Lowell and me from the not-so-great aspects of being poor. The hardest to understand was the treatment of my parents by our own kin, treatment that sometimes splashed over and touched little brother and me.

My mother’s family was financially secure when compared to the vast majority of people in our community. My granddad used his influence and money to command the support of all his sons-in-law and his only son. He did not care for my dad, so he showed it by being pretty hard on our entire family. My mother was expected to attend every church activity. She was the piano player at the church, which meant Lowell and I spent a lot of time in church also. I’m convinced that all the hours spent in our little church had a positive and good effect on our lives.

Even though I began to sense the presence of some hostile feelings, my mom’s assurance that there was nothing to be concerned about ended the matter. My dad would excuse himself and go sit on the front porch steps. Bert refused to engage in any conversations relative to his in-laws. He’d usually have a smoke when he was “studying about things” as he called it. My dad was a Camel smoker when he could get them. There were lots of times when the 20-cent price of a pack of smokes had to be used to buy a loaf of Merida bread and several slices of bologna. When there weren’t any Camels, dad would roll his own using either Prince Albert or Bugler. I loved to smell Prince Albert when dad used it for his smokes.

My family would in time embark on an quest for a better life in faraway places. We found that life in southern California. World War Two had ended about three years before we arrived in California. We settled on Catalina Island. I’ve visited many places in this world but none ever matched that little island for beauty and lifestyle. After less than four years, my mom got homesick for Alabama and convinced my dad to move back. Not a wise decision, to say the least. We were moving back into the same unkind social order that we had moved to get away from. After a few more years we moved north to Michigan and got on with life.

Fast-forward to 1965, and I was married and a father of two. I brought my wife and kids to visit my kin in Alabama. My Uncle Jim insisted that he take me fishing. Just he and I. Well, now, I love to fish so we loaded up and headed off to a lake near a place called Jasper. Barely into the trip he pulled into a convenience store and parked down at the low traffic end of the parking lot.

Then Uncle Jim started telling me how much he regretted the part he had played in harassing and mistreating my mom and dad because they were poor. My granddad laid down the law to all involved about how he expected them to treat my parents, my brother, and me. It was ugly at best. He then rattled off places and dates. I was very upset and not just a little angry at what I was being told. So many suspicions hidden in my mind were being brought forward as fact. I asked him to take me back to his house so I could get my car. He asked if I could forgive him. I said I would, but deep inside it just was not going to happen. I wish he hadn’t told me. Some things are better left unsaid.

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One Response to “Things Better Left Unsaid”

  1. Tom |

    Larry, thanks for an excellent post! It’s a touching story of how life within extended families isn’t always as positive as it should be. We’ve all experienced squabbles or even feuds within families, I’m sure, but I doubt that we think much about the long-term impacts these kinds of things can have on children.

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