Sometimes it’s a curse to come from hard working people. The kind of folks who survived by the sweat of their brow and the turn of their hand.
It’s a legacy that will cling to you like kudzu claims an open field. Once you’ve seen your loved ones go until they seem beyond going, about to collapse from exhaustion, it will follow you like a cloud of dust kicked up by an old pickup, down through the journey of life.
When you want to give up because the labor is too hard or the hours too long or the challenge too much, a glimpse of one of them will come to mind. It does for me, at least.
There within a mind’s glance is the image of Mama in a homemade blue and white gingham apron, pushing back her hair with weariness, glancing at the clock as it edges toward midnight, then pouring tomato juice into Mason jars, screwing the Ball’s lids on them, placing them in an ancient canner then watching the jiggling of the gage. Sleep will wait until all the tomatoes have been cooked, juiced and canned.
Finally, in the wee hours, she would smile with satisfaction, count the jars and announce, “Fifty three jars of tomato juice! Look how pretty.” Then, she’d pull the apron off and wearily head toward bed. There would be no reward of sleeping late. She’d be up early the next morning, stirring up a batch of buttermilk biscuits and frying country ham.
Sometimes when the sun is too hot as I pull an overwhelming amount of weeds, I’ll think, “I’ll never get all this done. I’ve a mind to quit.”
And honestly, I just about do it. Then I’ll remember Daddy who, in all the years I knew him, carried a farmer’s tan. Dark around the neck and heavy brown from the shirt sleeves down. He battled the earth and the sun for thousands of hours in the course of life. So much that even when he had grown old and was a good many years out of the sun, that farmer’s tan clung to him like the stain of wet red dirt did to the little bare feet of my childhood.
When my head hurts because I’ve thought so hard for words that refuse to present themselves, I’ll consider laying it aside until another day. Then, up will pop the story that Mama and Daddy told. Of how he had pursued the ravenhaired beauty with the perfect smile but she was smitten – at least temporarily – with another. She had told him it would be best for him to go on and find another, she just wasn’t interested. He nodded, took the words in, then politely left Aunt Nelly’s boarding house where Mama lived, the screen door banging lightly behind.
A couple of weeks later, he returned. Mama opened the door to find him there in a suit, tie, and hat.
“What are you doin’ here?” she asked, opening the screen door and stepping onto the wraparound porch of the big house.
“Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about it,” he said, smiling. “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits. So, I’ve come back and I ain’t gonna quit until I win.”
Weeks later, they slipped across the state line to Walhalla, South Carolina, and there they became man and wife. They were so poor, that stopping at a diner on the way home, they had to split a hamburger.
Coming from “them kind of people” is both a blessing and a curse. It helps pull you through the hard times because you know – you’ve witnessed – that anything can be done. That no matter how high the mountain or wide the river, you can make it.
But then it’s a curse because you know you have to keep on keeping on.
Your bloodlines just don’t allow for any giving up.