When my little brother Freddie and I were little we had all we needed and most of what we wanted. The thing is that I cannot remember a time when we actually wanted "things". Those were given for special occasions like birthdays and at Christmas. We never expected toys at another time. But we weren't deprived. Much to the contrary. I always had a pair of roller skates that fit and a decent jump rope. There were jacks and a ball and usually one that was a real golf ball unlike the little red rubber ones you find in the dollar stores today. Chalk for playing hopscotch was made from shards of broken colored bottles and sometimes even rocks.
A whole generation of game players, and I don't mean electronic or digital but games with lots of kids playing like "Red Rover, Mother, May I, Hide and Seek and Simon Says". Before TV rainy days were spent with card games and hide and seek inside. And thanks to my grandmother Momaw I knew at an early age how to sew my own doll clothes, and still have a little doll skirt to prove it. There was always material scraps, needles, thread and the bottomless can of buttons. I became a "great" doll clothes designer and many hours were spent cutting from magazines beautiful women to create clothing for. Afterwards they became boxes of paper dolls, coveted but rarely played with.
Not everything has changed though. We also had homeless people. Ones who lived much the same as today except we didn't have all the social programs. Those crafty souls knew how to survive on their own. Handouts were scarce. Oh don't get me wrong we were generous and giving but government played a very small role if any in the poverty ridden.
Our house was nice enough but in a modest section of town and we were "blessed" so I felt to live but a couple of blocks from the Arkansas River where living on the riverbanks was an entire little community made up of the most unusual housing. They were referred to as "foxholers" and they lived in what was known as the "Foxhole". I was so completely infatuated with this whole concept of living in shanties constructed from cardboard boxes of all sizes. They were taped and bound by twine with doors cut out forming rooms. Ingenious huh...meager cannot begin to describe this way of living.
Another little charming landmark of interest a block down was a huge, gaping hole known simply as the dump. A landfill that was inhabited by the biggest rats I've erer seen thus named by those on our street, "the rat hole". Today a tiny mouse can literally bring me to a state of panic but as a child climbing through the muck and mire with rats the size of house cats seemed second nature.
Those foxholers spent endless time poking through the rathole in search of stuff to be used as furnishings and decor for their homes. The possibilities were endless. Broken dishes became just smaller versions of plates and saucers, discarded clothing and so forth became curtains, rugs, bedspreads and towels. When they bathed it was in the river and they ate what they could scrounge from grocery store dumps, panhandling or from doing odd jobs for neighbors who paid by way of a hot meal or sandwich like Mammy often did.
Well it's hard to explain the naivety existing back then. I truly believe my family was not uppity by wanting nothing to do with those poor folks but fear and ignorance often mistaken for arrogance kept my parents from understanding why they "chose" to live like that. The rule in our home was that Freddie or I should have nothing to do with them. You just never knew what people like them were capable of doing.
But myself, always one to push the limits couldn't stay away from the foxhole. The mystery and delight of being different drew me to them like a moth to a flame and they became my secret friends. Deceit was early learned. They had names and I knew them and they knew mine. I was a welcome guest there in the Foxhole.
In particular I remember Berniece as being the most exotic and beautiful woman apart from the big screen. Sensual. Probably twenty-two or three she had a regular job at Sterling's which was like the dollar stores today. It was enchanting to watch her walk to and from the bus stop, head up and shoulders back and a walk akin to a saunter. Most thought her trashy and brazen but not I. The fact that her bra showed through her skimpy blouses which was just not done back then refused to faze her. She oozed pride and confidence and I admired her.
I owe a lot to the foxholers. From them I learned homemaking skills. It's funny the lessons to be learned from those we consider to be the least of us. Lessons rarely forgotten. I learned how to make do and be thankful for what you have. Many delightful days were spent in the wee mossy corner of our backyard where the wild violets grew, with my dollies and cast-offs gleaned and cleaned from the rathole. Carefully and lovingly as only a child can know were the tiny chipped remnants from discarded china. Washed, dried, and then used and treasured for special little tea parties.
I never knew what happened to the foxholers. Did they just up and move off to prosperity or did I grow up and cease to be amazed by them. Was it indifference on my part or was I the one to naturally move on.
When I think of them today my heart smiles. They taught me compassion and acceptance and never even knew.