go Near the Water, Son,
by N. Ray Maxie
Until You Learn to Swim
mother, the kindhearted, nurturing and caring person that she was,
became extremely over-protective of us kids during the 1930's and
40's. She was raised through some mighty tough times and later, the
Great Depression. She had learned to be very cautious in life and
was a super frugal person. Mother was born premature, a two pound
preemie in 1913, not expected to survive. Her mother was a young south
Louisiana native and her father a seventy six-year-old Civil War veteran
from Pennsylvania. He was US postmaster at the Starks, Louisiana,
post office when mother was born.
As a tiny infant it was a miracle mother survived. Births before her
had all been premature casualties born to my grandparents. But, she
obviously survived and lived to be eighty-three years old. She lived
out her adult life in Cass County Texas, near McLeod.
At Starks in Calcasieu Parish, her one and only sibling, a brother,
was born a year after her.
My grandfather was born and grew up in Pennsylvania and served two
stints in the Union Army during the Civil War. His family was Quakers
and called themselves Pennsylvania Dutch. Years following the war
found him in California working with members of his family that had
gone out west. He eventually came back east and while traveling over
the country, decided to settle in south Louisiana. He later received
a government appointment as postmaster there in Starks. He was working
at that job when he met my grandmother, of the south Louisiana Clark
family. They were married in 1905.
In her youngest years, my mother remembered knowing her father very
well. She was twelve years old when he died in 1925 in Illinois. After
serving many years as postmaster, grandpa eventually became disabled
and was sent to the Old Soldier's Home in Danville, IL. He later died
there and it wasn't until 1993, eighty years after my mother was born,
that I visited the National Cemetery in Danville and found my grandfather's
grave. Knowing that I had located it made my mother very happy. She
had not known exactly where he was buried and had never visited his
grave nor knew anyone that had.
Becoming a young widow, my grandmother was on her own during the late
1920's and '30's with two preteen children to raise. Not having many
adequate working skills and probably feeling outcast by her family,
she later moved to the Mooringsport - Oil City area in Northwest Louisiana.
There, she daily took in laundry from the public and did housekeeping
along with washing and ironing for people as a means of income. She
later learned that she was not eligible for grandpa's Civil War pension
because of marrying him after the cut off date.
Life was very difficult. This little single parent family was living
in extreme poverty and having a really tough time while grandmother
did the best she could to raise those children alone.
Louisiana high schools only went through the eleventh grade during
the 1920's and '30's. Mother managed to finish high school at Oil
City and at age eighteen, while visiting friends in Deep Northeast
Texas, she met my father in Cass County. They later married in 1932
and started their own family during the deepest, most poverty stricken
years of the depression. My only two siblings and I were born during
the decade of the "super depressed" 1930's.
poverty and depression, my generation wasn't much improved upon. I
have lived the hard times, too. Mother often said that you don't know
what you've missed if you've never had it. That is so true! Only after
I rose a little above it, did I realize I had been in a depression.
Someone once said, "We were so poor, we looked up to the kids on welfare."
Loretta Lynn's popular country song "Coal Miners Daughter" says, "We
were poor, but we had love. That was one thing my daddy made sure
So, living through the hard life and difficult times as mother did,
you can see why she might be overly cautious and protective. She played
her cards close to the vest, so to speak. Living with extreme care
and patience. Being super frugal and ultra conservative was a way
of life for her. Money was short and the work was hard. Mother cautioned
us kids frequently about many things and provided close guidance almost
daily, not wanting to lose the most precious things that God had blessed
her with. She was severely afraid of deep water. If she ever let us
kids near water, we were closely supervised. Mother never learned
to swim and what little water instruction we received came from dad.
Mother was a rung or two further up the poverty ladder when she died
a peaceful death in 1996 and left this world a much better place than
she had found it. She always wanted to be buried next to her mother
in Starks, Louisiana, but that never happen. I loved mother dearly
and appreciated all of her efforts in raising us kids. Although while
living it, I may not have realized it nor shown it as much as I should
have. Often times we are just so close to a situation or condition,
we over look its value and importance.
Even though I may never become a proficient swimmer, nor lose my fear
of deep water, I can dog paddle, tread water and swim a little. As
I have watched my own children grow up over the years, I am reminded
what my father frequently told me as a youth. "Nothing stays the same,
son. Nothing ever stays the same." I have learned today is never an
exact copy of yesterday. Things change, as they should and life goes