You Seen The Fireflies?
was born in a small town east of Dallas, where, if the cotton crop failed,
you’d better pray you had enough red beans and taters to last
the winter. We didn’t trust the banker, ever. Our bathroom was
outside behind the house, our toilet paper the Sears and Roebuck or
“Monkey Wards” catalog.
When I was ten, we had a telephone for two months—one
of those party-line things where if it rang twice in a row if it was
for the family to the north, three times it was for the Cannons to the
south.. If it rang four times, it was for us. It never did.
Our relatives and friends couldn’t afford a phone, so we didn’t
get calls. Daddy sent it back. It wasn’t worth the expense.
then, I didn’t know we were poor. One winter, when Daddy had to go
to the Veteran’s Hospital for a spell, Mama took his .22 rifle and
tracked down two cotton tails so we’d have food until his next disability
check. That same winter, with nothing more than love and determination,
she took his hammer, pounded some nails out of old boards, and turned them
into my greatest Christmas presents ever; a doll bed, dry sink with shelves,
and a stove. She drew the burners and knobs with one of my stubby # 2 pencils.
Since we didn’t have a television and lived miles from
our nearest neighbor, my two younger brothers and I spent our evenings after
chores playing cowboys and Indians. Our “horses” were worn-out
broom or mop handles. But when it got dark we were content to catch fireflies
in old fruit jars to try to figure out how to unplug their lights.
Mama and Daddy divorced when I was eleven and we moved with
Mama to Dallas. At thirteen I got a job as a carhop at Pete’s Drive-in.
I was paid forty cents an hour and given one meal a day. It was hard but
fun, and it helped put food on our table.
I dropped out of school when I was a freshman. It was hardest
of all for my brothers. Mama worked, but there was no money for sitters
and the few hours she was able to be home each day, she slept, so the boys
were left to their own devices. It’s a wonder they survived as well
as they did.
After a hard bout with the flu that left us all bedridden for
a week, Mama finally threw in the towel. She called my grandparents in California.
They said if we’d move out there we could both earn a whole dollar
an hour. In March 1963, we borrowed money, fried chicken, baked some biscuits,
and caught the train. All we took was what we could cram into
an old cardboard box and two paper bags.
And again, we almost starved to death. Yeah, we made a dollar
an hour. But they forgot to tell us that would just about cover our rent
in a shack. We still had to buy beans. It was hard, but I returned to night
school, got my high school diploma and went on to graduate college in 1976.
I studied criminology and psychology. Heaven knows, there are enough criminals
and “wackos” here to keep plenty of beans on the table!
California’s been a good “step-parent”, but
no substitute for the welcoming arms of East Texas. Someday soon, I’m
going back for good. I’ll sit on my front porch swing watching the
fireflies, and I’ll remember love.