Old broken wooden bridge

I remember the little rent house we lived in when I was too little to go to school. Not the inside too much.  But I remember the yard and stuff around the outside.

I like telling people I grew up halfway between Pigeon Roost and Possum Holler. My wife hates when I tell people that and says it’s embarrassing.  The little rent house wasn’t between Pigeon Roost and Possum Holler, but they were close by.  And it’s a good description of the world of the little rent house.

The house was on a chunk rock road only wide enough for one car. I call it chunk rock because the gravel were the size of a little fist.  My mom told me about when men were paid to use sledge hammers to bust up rocks to make roads.  (That was the Works Progress Administration that was part of the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt.)  I wonder sometimes what it was like in that world, where I would feel good to have a job busting rocks for roads.

The little rent house didn’t have water inside.  I was 7 or 8, and we were in another house, when my dad dug a ditch all the way to my granddad’s well and ran a pipe to our kitchen.  And I was 15 when my dad built a new house, almost by himself, and ran water from a spring, and we got indoor bathrooms.  We got air conditioning then, too.  I felt we were rich overnight, because we suddenly had nicer stuff than some of the kids in school had.  Thinking back now, maybe that helped me believe I could go to college like some of the kids in town did.

But before we had water inside, I remember helping draw water from the well. There was a well bucket (kind of like a small stove pipe, except it was galvanized instead of black–I sometimes see them nowadays hanging in a Cracker Barrell), and a crank, and a rope to lower the well bucket into the well.  The well was just a pipe in the ground.  I remember watching well diggers lifting and dropping the heavy bits into the ground, like how we used stobs to make holes to plant tomato or tobacco plants.  There was a wire ring at the top of the well bucket that you pulled and let the water into a water bucket.

I remember our wringer washing machine, outhouse, slop jars, and taking baths with a wash pan; or sometimes my mom put water in a number 3 tube for the kids to take a bath in. (Galvanized tubs had numbers in the bottom to show the size.) Sometimes if it was raining, we might take a bath under the rain coming off the roof.  All those things are nice to remember, even outhouses. Except slop jars.  Slop jars were like little buckets with lids that people used when they couldn’t go to the outhouse.  All my memories about slop jars are bad.

But what I remember best is that past the little rent house, the chunk rock road went into the woods, and just before the woods was a little log bridge.  The logs had moss on them, except where the car tires rolled over them.  The little bridge is my favorite place.  I have a lot of favorite places from when I was growing up; but the little bridge is my first and best favorite place.

I remember lying on the little bridge and throwing rocks at the water striders on the stream below. Water striders look like little four legged spiders that skim over the water.  Their legs are more than an inch long.  But they are so skinny they are hard to see if you don’t look close.

A few years ago I dug a fish pond under the trees in the back yard of our house in the city. Then I went to my mom and dad’s farm not far from where the little rent house used to be.  I caught a bull frog, a black salamander, and some water striders, and put them in the fish pond.  Nobody but me ever knew the water striders were there.  And sometimes when I wanted to get away I would sit for a little while and watch them skim around the pond.  I put fish in the pond, too.  But I tried to find dark colored ones that looked more like the fish in the ponds and creeks when I was growing up that you had to look hard to see, not the bright colored ones other people liked.

I know why my wife thinks it’s embarrassing to tell people about the little rent house. Because when I grew up if I told some people in the big offices a story about the world of the little rent house, I could tell they decided I wasn’t as smart as they thought I was before I told them the story.  Which made me think they probably weren’t as smart as I had thought they were.

Sometimes when the people in big offices talked about diversity, I knew they don’t really get it.  It’s like that elephant thing.  You can’t understand an elephant if you’ve only felt its foot in the dark.  That’s as much as any of us can ever do in one life, feel one part of the elephant.  And you can’t understand much about life if you think the only smart people are the ones who are like you, who’ve felt the same part of the elephant you’ve felt.  Diversity is knowing the smart people are the ones that have felt parts of the elephant that you will never get to feel, or never want to feel.

Some conditions are bad to live in no matter where or when it is. I’m glad I did not grow up in conditions like that.

But mostly living conditions are what they call a moment in time and space. What people call lavish one moment they call backward in some other time.  And what does that tell you about a person born in either time?  Nothing at all.  It’s just stupid and sad when people judge someone by shoes or stoop.

Life is a privilege no matter time or place.

I would never change getting to live in the world of the little rent house, and I would fight anybody who tried to take the little log bridge away from me.

-– But maybe I could live without the shop jars.