It’s hard to imagine how things were when I was a kid.
Mom was a stay-at-home-mom. She worked constantly to keep the house ship-shape, to keep the family clean, healthy, and happy.
Mom and Dad were our role models in behavior and hard work. They set a standard for behavior that was well-defined and clear. If we misbehaved, there were swift consequences.
I don’t think I ever heard, “Just wait ‘til your father gets home.”
Dad worked at the Delco Products factory in Dayton. He probably worked every assembly-line job the factory had to offer. He didn’t particularly like the job, but he did it for us. If Delco offered overtime, Dad always took it. He worked every backbreaking job they offered — not because he loved the work, but because he loved his family.
When he first started at Delco in 1947, he made just enough money to pay the bills and keep the family going. Over the next 35 years, he saved as much money as he could by taking every challenging job the factory offered. He worked weekends, holidays, evenings or nights – anything for a few extra bucks.
He was not afraid of hard work. If he worked the evening or night shift, he would also squeeze in some work as a part-time carpenter to bring home some extra money each week.
If Dad got laid off and could not work at Delco, Mom waited tables at a local restaurant. She loved being a waitress. Mom once told me, “There is nothing I would rather do than fuss over people, make sure their coffee cup is filled, make sure they were happy with their food and make sure they were full and happy when they left.” She loved helping others.
Mom and Dad never got rich, but they made sure we wanted for nothing. We did not get the best of clothing, cars, or furniture, but everything we had was clean. Mom and Dad were both proud people.
We only got new shoes when the old ones were worn out. In the Germantown school system, you were not allowed to wear tennis shoes to school. At that time, shoes had to be the leather and lace-up style only. Tennis shoes, or gym shoes, could only be worn during the physical education classes we had to take.
After PE class, the shoes had to go back into the gym bag and the gym bag was stored in your locker until after school – no exceptions. That helped keep the shoes from wearing out.
Our gym shoes rarely wore out. We outgrew them.
Once a year (usually at Christmas) we would get a new pair of lace-up, leather shoes. At first, we only wore them to church. Mom always bought our shoes about two sizes too big; that way they lasted longer.
In about nine months, our church shoes became school shoes. If our feet didn’t grow too fast, those shoes might last until the next summer. In our neighborhood, “barefooting it” was the style all summer long. Streets, sidewalks and bike pedals didn’t slow us down. We would barefoot through it all.
It was an unusual summer day if a bee stinger wasn’t being tweezered out of somebody’s bare foot. Flip-flops were called thongs at that time; thongs were not the skimpy little bathing suit bottoms they are today.
I hated wearing flip-flops because of the little piece of rubber that fit between my toes. For some reason, I hated the feeling of that. Mom tried to save us from bee stings with the flip-flops, but I always kicked them off and threw them on the front porch. I would rather get stung by a bee.
A typical bee sting might sideline me for a few minutes. No big deal. But a wasp, mud dauber or a big, ugly, vicious, nasty yellow-and-black bumblebee could sideline me for hours.
My Mamaw Bridges once applied a poultice of yellow-mustard and chewed-tobacco to a nasty sting. Within about an hour the swelling went down, and the pain subsided, but the stain of the poultice lasted for days. It was a badge of honor.
Finally, from the money from my paper route, I was able to afford some Keds. They were nothing fancy, just canvas with a rubber sole — but they kept the bees in check. It was a long time before I could afford Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. They were the best. I still have a pair of black Chuck’s in my closet. I love them.
If Mom and Dad were raising a family today, there would be a few less “help wanted” signs posted around town. They would work at least one or two jobs to keep us clean, healthy, and happy. They would refuse hand-outs from the government. They were poor but proud people.
We may have proudly worn hand-me-downs or yard sale specials, but my folks did not accept charity.
My folks were from a different generation. They were proud people.
I will always be proud of them.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.