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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Spunky Flat and Beyond"

A Real Privy

by George Lester
Sam and I were perfectly happy with life at our Lorena rural home until one day our father came in to announce that he had bought a farm near Marlin and we would be moving down there in a few months. During the transitional period of making the move Sam and I went to Vivian, Louisiana to stay with our grand parents. Every letter from my dad was filled with a glowing description of how great the new farm would be. He told about two ponds for fishing, a creek that ran through our property, a wooded area for camping out and many other great advantages over our previous place. It sounded like a dream and we could hardly wait to move to the new place he described.

When he came to take us home we counted the miles, anticipating our exciting new farm. Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed when we left the highway was a deep rutted, dirt road that looked more like a cow path leading to our place. When we pulled up to our new house Sam and I wanted to stay in the car. There sat an old unpainted, four-room bungalow that looked like something out of an Erskine Caldwell movie. Our previous home was a palace compared to this. Dad was excited as he invited us to get out and look around. The first thing I spotted was a little house out back. That's when I learned what a privy was. Our other house had complete indoor plumbing but here we had to draw water from a well and carry it inside. We thought our father had lost his mind. Even though we were sorely disappointed, kids in those days kept their opinions to themselves.

After we had a chance to rest up a few days we were introduced to our farm chores, not much at first, but it was a big change in our lives. As we grew older our duties graduated to more adult work, like pulling ears of corn, chopping and picking cotton and herding the cows around the farm without the convenience of a horse. Although we never griped to our father we grumbled plenty among ourselves. Many times Sam said "The day that we leave this farm will be the happiest day of my life. I'm gonna jump and shout and dance all over the place" A few years later we found that Dad had decided to return to his previous work in the east Texas oil fields. The bottom had dropped out of the market for farm goods so he was selling the place. Sam lived up to his promise and did his ritual of joy," Hot dog, we're gettin' outta here at last, whoopee!" I did my share of celebrating too. After we settled down Dad was real quite for a long time and then he spoke in a voice so soft it startled me, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I thought you boys liked this place"

When the day came to load the last of our belongings and leave Dad stood there looking around without saying anything but the expression on his face spoke volumes. It was thirty years before I went back to look at the old place. When I got to the entrance there was a fence blocking my way. A man walked out of his house nearby and said hello. I explained that I once lived there and wanted to go take a look around. He told me to go ahead but I wouldn't see much. He said all the buildings, including the tenant farmer's houses, the workshops, and the barns had rotted and fallen one at a time until only the old main house stood and it fell to the ground just the year before. I recalled the look on my father's face the day he said goodbye to his beloved homestead. Many years had passed since he died but as I stood there looking at the empty land I felt his presence. At that moment I wanted to tell him how sorry I was for not understanding how much the old farm meant to him.

George Lester
September 7, 2003


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