21 December 2012

The beginning of my family's tale...

Having been born in 1937 in Egypt Grove, Missouri, it was now 1951 and he set off for Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was there that my great uncle Walt had a little produce operation --selling and trading animal pelts, pecans, and extra vegetables from the garden in the summer months. In his own words, he worked his "little tail off" during those years. Some days it was salting the animal skins, other days it was cracking nuts or picking vegetables. It wasn't much, but he had a place there. He was safe and well-fed. Great uncle Walt and great aunt Micky bought his clothes for him and gave him $5 a week. "If I wanted a candy bar I could get a candy bar," he recalls. No doubt that was a wonderful freedom for a country boy from rural southern Missouri.

Let there be no bones about it, however, that candy bar came at a much greater cost than the price sticker in the store on Main Street would ever disclose. Being the oldest of 6 children and needing to earn his own keep, this man, my father, would walk away not only from the family and land that he had known those first fourteen years of his life, but also from the chance at an education that would equip him to take on bigger and more robust challenges in the future. When my dad left for Fort Smith that summer morning, he took with him a knowledge of numbers and basic math that would carry him through his adult life, but sadly, he also took illiteracy along with him as well. The truth is, most people today take it completely for granted that they're able to read. ...not just the ability to read books for pleasure, but the ability to read a newspaper, questions on medical forms, and even notes and comments that are sent along with bills. Before I was even old enough to drive a car or sign my own checks, I remember reading things for and making out checks on my dad's behalf. Of course he would always sign them, but still to this day, I or another family friend have to write his bills out for him. Because of the fact that my entire life my father has been illiterate, there are very few things I have that I cherish more than the handful of notes I have handwritten from him. One says, "I love you" while amongst the others is one that says he "went to the store and will be back soon." Sure, they're misspelled and the handwriting is barely better than that of a second grader, but they are precious, oh so precious, notes I have held onto from him.

To be continued....

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