Seeing my cousins last weekend has me thinking about my childhood.
We weren't poor--by no means and especially against the backdrop of rural Appalachian poverty. My mother taught school and my dad, a coal miner until after WW II's Europe ruined his lungs, owned a cafe for a time, worked for my uncle in a grocery store, had a dry cleaning route and finally sold insurance. And when I went off to college, mom and dad bought a house in Princeton for cash, just as they always bought cars for cash. (Dad was 43 when I was born and mom was 38. They never expected me! And I always wondered why they waited until I left to buy a house. Maybe they didn't want me to change schools, I don't know. But sometimes I think I was an 18 year interruption in their life together....)
We weren't poor, but until I left for college we lived in a two bedroom apartment over a small grocery store with no central heat and only an electric heater in the bathroom. Two stoves gave us heat in winter. Nothing gave us cool in summer except fans.
I was embarrassed by our apartment for the latter part of my life there. Almost everyone I knew, including Bern's family, had central heat and didn't have to bathe in a tin tub in the living room beside the Warm Morning stove in the winter. People had showers, for goodness sake. I was embarrassed to bring friends home in high school.
Mom and Dad were industrious and hard working and saving. My mother died two days after I was 25 and my father when when I was almost 40, with two children. He lived the last years of his life in a nursing home in Hamdan, CT. He lived with us in New Haven while I was Rector of St. Paul's there for a year, until he started wandering away and I'd have to go find him. He had enough savings to pay for his nursing home until the last year when I got him on Title 19. He was senile by then so he never knew.Good thing, he hated welfare!
His brothers--Sidney, Russel and Adelbert--were a step higher on the class system than most of my mother's family. And solid Republicans. My mother's family, blue collar and teachers, were Democrats. I sometimes think if they were all alive today that would be reversed.
I was profoundly and deeply loved. No one ever laid a hand on me in anger. My cousins kept me company until I was in school. It's almost embarrassing to reflect back on such an idyllic childhood--wandering the mountains with my friends in a town were everyone knew everyone--both Black and White--and where you were always safe.
So many childhoods are damaged and dangerous and mine had no damage or danger at all.
14 Jones cousins and 3 Bradley cousins and 16 aunts and uncles to nurture the youngest of all those cousins. I give thanks for my childhood. I'm not sure--though I hope--I could have overcome adversity in my early life.
But there wasn't any. Wholesome and mostly joyous.
What a way to grow up. How much to be full of gratitude for.....
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