The Journey pt. 2
# 2 Early Teens
By the late ’60s and early 70’s most of the steel mills in Gary and East Chicago, Indiana were closing as the area was hit by economic hard times. Unfortunately, that included a big increase in crime. My father didn’t like the direction things were going in, so he and my mother decided the family would move back to the Deep South, where they were both from. I remember the discussion they had on whether the move would be to Arkansas (my father’s birthplace) or Mississippi (my mother’s birthplace). This was an interesting time for us all, especially for my siblings and me. You see, we had spent summers in each place and had made friends, connected with relatives, and had great vacations there. We always felt we would return home to our other friends and neighbors at 1313 Durbin st. Gary, IN.
For a 10 year old, this was a very big move. Additionally, it was HOT, “Africa Hot”, nearly every single day. And everyone talked very differently, than what I was used to (they had that southern drawl thing, and sometimes I didn’ t know what they were saying). We didn’ t know anything about living in the south compared to what we knew about life in Gary, IN. I felt a lot of anxiety about the move, but I was also excited about it at the same time. My brothers and sisters shared my feelings on the subject. I remember having the ‘ kids’ discussions with each other after we had been given updates from mom and pop about the move’ s progress. The kids discussions focused on “how it’ s going to be when we get down south”. Everybody had their own version of what was going to happen where we went to school, or where we went to church, and when we joined this or that choir. We all had our own version of how things would play out, and in these versions, each of us saw ourselves as the star of the story (LOL). But the coolest thing about that whole process was that my mom and pop included us in their discussions about the move. That made us feel like we had a say in what happened to us (of course we really didn’t, but at least we felt like we did).
So we made the big move to 3929 Miller Ave, Jackson, MS and what an eye opening experience it was. Living in Jackson was so different from life in Gary. The summer vacations we’ d spent in Mississippi had been all fun and games, but this time, we got a taste of what REAL work was like. My Dad remembered his days on the farms of Arkansas and with his ready-made work crew (me and my siblings) he developed his own version of farm life. He rented a few acres of land out in the country, paid to have it plowed and put into rows, and then he put us to work. We would ride out to that rented land everyday after school and early on Saturday mornings to go to work. Each of my siblings and I had a different job planting and harvesting the crops. One-person dug the hole in the row, the next dropped the seeds, the next dropped in fertilizer, the next one poured in water, the final one covered the hole. The others had tasks like keeping the seed, fertilizer and water supplies ready to go. We worked these jobs for a while then everyone switched positions and we started again until we finished. After that first year of planting and harvesting, we knew that things would never be the same.
Soon my dad and my mom outgrew the place in Jackson and bought a place with acreage out in Madison, MS about 20 miles from Jackson. This was in the mid 70’ s and Jackson was the closest thing to a real city that existed in Mississippi. Actually, space was less of a problem for my parents than proximity to crime was. You see, trouble had begun to find my older brothers in Jackson, even with the limited spare time we had. So rather, than do nothing about it, my dad removed us from those negative influences. This time we REALLY moved into the sticks. Madison at that time was mostly dirt roads and farmland. We became full-fledge Horse-riding, corn & peas raising farmers.
Of course, my siblings and I had input into that decision too, but my Dad made it easy to agree with the move. His approach was quite smart when I think of it. He promised daily hunting/fishing trips after school for my brothers and me, then for my sisters, he promised new levels of freedom and horses. Let me ask you, “What 12-year-old boy could resist the thought of going fishing every day?” What 11 or 14 year old girl could resist the promise of a “pretty pony”. We sure couldn’ t. Yea, my Dad had a plan and he was working it HARD! Needless to say, we were all in!
Moving is always a big thing, but there were so many new learning experiences associated with country living that I couldn’ t focus on it. Country life though… now that was something that required my FULL attention. Country living is no joke. The work commitments between caring for livestock, growing crops, and ‘ country housework’ are a never-ending cycle. I learned quickly that people measure their work by completing the job they started and not by the time they spent. Country people are the hardest working people in America, about that I have no doubt.
~ Stay tuned for the next installment of my Journey