Until You Learn To Swim
by Ray Maxie
My mother, the kindhearted, nurturing and caring person that she was, became extremely over-protective of us kids during the 1930's and 40's. She was raised through some mighty tough times and, later, the Great Depression. She had learned to be very cautious in life and was a super frugal person. Mother was born prematurely, a two-pound preemie in 1913, not expected to survive. Her mother was a young south Louisiana native and her father a seventy six-year-old Civil War veteran from Pennsylvania. He was U.S. postmaster at the Starks, Louisiana, post office when mother was born.
It was a miracle Mother survived infancy. Births before her had all been premature casualties born to my grandparents. But she obviously survived and lived to be eighty-three years old. She lived out her adult life in Cass County Texas, near McLeod. At Starks in Calcasieu Parish, her one and only sibling, a brother, was born a year after her.
My grandfather was born and grew up in Pennsylvania and served two stints in the Union Army during the Civil War. His family were Quakers and called themselves Pennsylvania Dutch. Years following the war found him in California working with members of his family who had gone out west. He eventually came back east and, while traveling over the country, decided to settle in south Louisiana. He later received a government appointment as postmaster in Starks. He was working at that job when he met my grandmother, of the south Louisiana Clark family. They were married in 1905.
In her youngest years, my mother remembered knowing her father very well. She was twelve years old when he died in 1925 in Illinois. After serving many years as postmaster, grandpa eventually became disabled and was sent to the Old Soldier's Home in Danville, IL. He later died there and it wasn't until 1993, eighty years after my mother was born, that I visited the National Cemetery in Danville and found my grandfather's grave. Knowing that I had located it made my mother very happy. She had not known exactly where he was buried and had never visited his grave nor knew anyone that had.
Becoming a young widow, my grandmother was on her own during the late 1920's and '30's with two preteen children to raise. Not having many adequate working skills and probably feeling outcast by her family, she later moved to the Mooringsport - Oil City area in northwest Louisiana. There, she daily took in laundry from the public and did housekeeping along with washing and ironing for people as a means of income. She later learned that she was not eligible for grandpa's Civil War pension because of marrying him after the cut-off date.
Life was difficult. This little single parent family was living in extreme poverty and having a really tough time while grandmother did the best she could to raise those children alone.
Concerning poverty and depression, my generation wasn't much improved upon. I have lived the hard times, too. Mother often said that you don't know what you've missed if you've never had it. That is so true! Only after I rose a little above it, did I realize I had been in a depression. Someone once said, "We were so poor, we looked up to the kids on welfare." Loretta Lynn's popular country song "Coal Miners Daughter" says, "We were poor, but we had love. That was one thing my daddy made sure of."
So, living through the hard life and difficult times, mother was overly cautious and protective. She played her cards close to the vest, so to speak, living with extreme care and patience. Being super frugal and ultra conservative was a way of life for her. Money was short and the work was hard. Mother cautioned us kids frequently about many things and provided close guidance almost daily, not wanting to lose the most precious things that God had blessed her with. She was severely afraid of deep water. If she ever let us kids near water, we were closely supervised. Mother never learned to swim and what little water instruction we received came from dad.
Mother was a rung or two further up the poverty ladder when she died a peaceful death in 1996 and left this world a much better place than she had found it. I loved mother dearly and appreciated all of her efforts in raising us kids, although I may not have realized it nor shown it as much as I should have. Oftentimes we are just so close to a situation or condition, we overlook its value and importance.
Even though I may never become a proficient swimmer, nor lose my fear of deep water, I can dog paddle, tread water and swim a little. As I have watched my own children grow up over the years, I am reminded what my father frequently told me as a youth. "Nothing stays the same, son. Nothing ever stays the same." I have learned that today is never an exact copy of yesterday. Things change, as they should, and life goes on.
N. Ray Maxie is a former Texas highway patrolman and Special Texas Ranger. Following his long service with the state of Texas, Ray worked in loss prevention for the nation's railroads. Now retired, he enjoys writing personal essays and memoirs (no fiction) about his youthful experiences growing up in northeast Texas, the Ark-La-Tex area. Ray also shares his tales of career experiences from Texas highways, southern backroads and "pig trails." He lives near Houston with his wife of almost fifty years and five precious pets.
Two more Ray Maxie stories at USADS:
* Shadows in the Moonlight
* A Country Boy's Thorn in the Flesh
And here are two from other publications:
* Wanted for Murder
* The Unforgettable Lightning Bolt
Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.
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