I was born in a third world country called Estados Unidos. It is country where children worked from daylight until dark along side the adults, laboring in the fields. We picked cotton for two and three cents a pound, and peaches and oranges for fifty cents a bushel. We followed the crops; cherries in Michigan, tomatoes in Indiana, canneries in Wisconsin, Apples in Washington – anything and everything that could be harvested, picked, gleaned, hoed, chopped, sorted, canned, or in some other way manipulated to bring food and fiber to the bigger and richer nation of the United States that was always somewhere just “out there”. Out there beyond the dirt and aching backs; beyond the blistered, callused hands and bleeding fingers – and the hunger. Did I mention the hunger?
Yes, there was hunger in Estados Unidos. Somehow, no matter how hard we all worked, there were many times when there just wasn’t enough to eat. There was a time when we lived down by Pinnacle Mountain about fifteen miles west of Little Rock, the capitol of Arkansas.
My dad had been working at at sawmill but it had closed down. We had no place to go so we lived in the attic of an abandoned house, my mother, father, me, my two brothers and my sister. We stayed in the attic most of the time so we wouldn’t be seen in case anyone looked through the windows of the lower part of the house.
Of course there were no utilities, not even water. Fortunately there was a stream flowing nearby and in those days water in open streams could actually be used for drinking.
My dad built an oven by the stream using clay and rocks and that is where my mother cooked. That is, that is where she cooked until we ran out of food. We didn’t have a vehicle and my dad had been out walking in the countryside everyday trying to find some work but so far had not found any. We went three days without food.
On the third day, my dad took me and my older brother (we were about 4 and 5 years old) and we went to the neighbors’ house about half of a mile away. There was no one home. We peeked into their basement window and there was wealth beyond our imagings: ranked on shelf upon shelf were goods canned in mason jars. They were so beautiful and we were so hungry.
My dad told my brother and I to go around to the front of the house and “watch out.” It was hard for us to pull ourselves away from that thin glass that separated us from all that food but we did what Dad told us to do. After we rounded the corner of the house, we heard the sound of breaking glass. In just a few minutes, my dad came around the corner and we went back to our abandoned house.
Once inside the house, my dad pulled a quart jar out of his jacket. It was a jar of plum jelly. He opened it and sat it on the floor of the empty kitchen. My mother gave each of us four kids a spoon and we sat down around that jar and ate that jelly all the way down to the bottom of the jar.
We never noticed then and it was only much later that I realized that neither my mother nor my father had taken a bite of that jelly. Despite the fact they had not eaten in three days either. It must have been agony for them but they fed us children.
At three o’clock the next morning my dad left and walked the fifteen miles to Little Rock, got a job, worked all day, bought food with his day’s wages, then walked back to us.
Twelve years after that, my father took my older brother and I and he walked up to that house where we had taken the jelly. He knocked on the door. When a man came to the door, my father asked if he was the same man who had been living there twelve years before. The man said “yes.”
My dad then told him what he had done. He told him about the broken window and about taking the jar of jelly. He offered to pay for the window and the jelly. The man didn’t want to take the money but dad insisted. We all shook hands then we drove away.