INK IN THE BLOOD
Those were simpler times and frequently the rural relative was young, maybe just out of high school and merely trying to escape the farm, as all our parents urged: “Find a job easier than your dad and I have. Something besides farming or ranching.”
In my pre-teen and teen years, we probably had three or four occasions where relatives or nearrelatives came to live with us as they sought a better life. That didn’t include a few occasions when elderly relatives came to “stay for awhile” because of an infirmity or temporary medical condition.
It was, I believe, difficult for my father to say no to a relative or longtime family friend because of his disjointed, almost-migrantworker kind of existence as a preteen and teenager. And, since that happened to him in some of this country’s most distressing times — the Great Depression — he was acutely aware of what it was like being without a bed or regular meals.
First, at our house there was the problem of space. There was a living room, dining room and kitchen and three bedrooms, counting a weather- screened porch. That porch was a bedroom for some of the Webb sons, or for all four when a “relative” came to live while hunting gainful “city work” or finishing high school, which one rural cousin did for her senior year.
Prior to that cousin, a couple of Dad’s other cousins (more distant) lived with us. One came to “find herself” after divorcing her husband. The second moved in to search for a job because her parents had moved away from Teague, which, she said, is where she wanted to be. The first stayed a couple of months and the second about six months before being able to afford their own place. At age 10, I learned to share a bathroom with a teenage girl cousin. Boy, did I learn.
However, our longest-term guests were, at separate times, Dad’s maternal grandparents, who were in increasingly poor health.
First, there was Grandma Smith, who’d become legally blind a short time before her arrival. Grandpa Smith was in his 80s and couldn’t take care of her. Grandma was pretty much a delight to have around and her laugh rocked the walls of that house. It made her snuff-dipping bearable.
After Grandma died, Grandpa Smith’s eyesight was about gone as well, so here came this crotchety, demanding old man to live in our house.
Grandpa didn’t use profanity, per se, but you learned quickly what his favorite “swear term” was — “John Brown.” Brown was an abolitionist prior to the American Civil War and, obviously strongly disliked by old-time Southerners like Grandpa. So, since Grandpa wouldn’t use what we’d normally term “cuss words,” his epithet when he was provoked was “John Brown!”
Grandpa loved barbecue but had digestive problems that didn’t allow him to eat it. One night, Mother served him a bland meat dish and stuck the barbecue at the far end of the long dining table. His eyesight might be failing but there was nothing wrong with his nose: “John Brown! Ruth! You didn’t give me any of that barbecue!”
Mother relented. A couple of hours after bedtime, a roar came from Grandpa’s bedroom: “John Brown! Ruth! I’m dyin’! Get that young doctor from across the street!”
Dr. Cox was summoned and told at the front door what the problem was. After giving Grandpa something for his gastric discomfort, Grandpa asked the doctor what he owed him. Dr. Cox said, “Six dollars.”
“John Brown! Six dollars! Just for coming across the street!”
But Grandpa paid him and Dr. Cox smilingly accepted it.
Much was learned from these migrating relatives, not the least being there are consequences for poor choices, and those lessons enriched my life.