Living on love, we got by

Old pictures tell a story.

Last week, I posted some old photos of me and my three siblings. I’ve looked through many more and have jarred a few memories.

I grew up in a two-bedroom ranch-style house my dad built in the late 1960s. A year or so after my sister was born in 1972, he built an addition that became the bedroom I shared with my two brothers until I left for college in 1985.

By today’s standards, even with the addition, it was a small house. It had been built in an old hog lot, which for many years, Mom worked to turn it into a yard. After 50-plus years, the trees she and Dad planted and watered provide the shade they never got to enjoy. It did not have central air. On summer evenings, we all sat outside until it was time to go to sleep. We’d laugh and talk while we husked sweet corn or snapped green beans.

The house had one bathroom. It didn’t have a garage. It had essentially a concrete cellar instead of a full and finished basement. For many years, the kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher. Mom did many chores on the farm, did all of the yard work, kept the books for the farm, raised a big garden and froze or canned all of the produce that we didn’t eat right away. She did all of the cooking and cleaning, washed most of the dishes and did everyone’s laundry. In whatever free time she had, she read stacks of books checked out from the public library in my hometown.

Dad was always up and out of the house early in the morning. At noon, he would come in for 30 to 40 minutes to eat what we called dinner. He would take a quick nap and maybe catch a few minutes of As the World Turns, which he would have probably denied but we all knew he was watching. He’d go back to work until 6 or so, when he’d stop for supper before going back to work until it was too dark outside to do any more. He didn’t hunt, fish or anything else, really, that qualified as a hobby. He was a talented welder and would make yard ornaments out of scraps for mom. He made the swing and frame that they sat in nearly every evening in the summer.

The farm was incorporated and from the corporation, my dad was paid a salary of $600 a month by the time I was in high school. My mom didn’t get paid. The house and utilities were considered farm expenses so my folks didn’t pay a mortgage. The beef we ate was always a heifer from one of the feedlots that we had butchered only because it would have brought the lowest price from the meatpacking plant buyers who were regular visitors at our farm. We usually butchered a couple of fat hogs every year. But that $600 paid for everything else. Adjusted for inflation, it would equal about $22,000 annually in today’s money. (By the way, the 2020 federal poverty guideline established for a family of six is $35,160.) That (along with the chores that were never done) may explain why I can only remember our family taking one vacation – a trip in the 1970s to Branson, Missouri, and the Lake of the Ozarks. It may explain why we sometimes ate the cheese, peanut butter and other surplus foods the government gave away back then.

I’ve said it before and the older I get the more I wonder how in the world they did it. We weren’t a family of huggers. But we lived the life Alan Jackson would later sing about. We didn’t have much, but we had the things money couldn’t buy. We always had a bed to sleep in and food to eat. We had each other. We had parents who taught us to work hard and not complain. From them, we learned the kind of resiliency that only comes from facing together head on whatever challenges life throws at you. All of that was — and still is — more important than a new car or a boat or a new pair of Levis or whatever is in style at the moment.

My siblings and I were very lucky kids. Even if we didn’t always realize it at the time.

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