Being poor is not so bad if everyone around you is also poor. That's the way it was on the reservation when I grew up. My Dad worked everyday in the city so we were somewhat better off than others but we did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. I wore second hand clothes to school but at least they were kind of new. Other kids wore clothes and you knew they were old clothes. My Sisters did get some new clothes for school but they felt bad when they went to visit our cousin and she was breaking the hems on her skirts and blouses and raising and lowering them hoping that the kids at school might not recognize them from last year. Sometimes if you iron things real good they look kind of new, sometimes. It was the same on other reservations. I met a lady who told me when she was in high school she got her jeans and dyed them with denim dye. The other reservation kids got mad because they thought she had new jeans.
It was too bad that TV showed us that White Kids had all kinds of new stuff and lived in real good houses. We lived in BIA houses that were busted down. My Grandma used to put pots and pans around her house to catch the drops when it rained. At least our roof did not leak. Still, you came to know that you did not have stuff that kids in town had. Even before you went to school you knew you didn't have things because you saw them on TV. Then White Kids had words like Pizza that I didn't know what it meant. I remember a Pizza store opened up and I didn't know what it was until Jr. High.
Sometimes you get kind of ashamed.
When my Mom and Dad first got married they had nothing. They picked up a old kitchen table and found some old rusted chairs to sit on. Nothing matched and the table had chips and the chair had holes. There was a company named "Household Finance" that would loan money to people who had questionable credit. Later on I would borrow from the same company and it was a big help when you are scraping by. Well, one day my parents needed money so they went to borrow from House Hold Finance. The Household Finance man actually came to the house. He needed to see what could be used as collateral for the loan. My Mom was ashamed as he looked to see what we had. She remembered him looking at the kitchen table and chairs and writing down "Dinette Set." She eventually got matching furniture and hoped that the man would come back and see that she did have a real "Dinette Set." When I went to borrow money from then I told them that my parents borrowed money from them. He said in those days they used to go to the houses but they do not do that any more. My poor Mom, the Household Finance man never would see the "Dinette Set." So, in my family if you have something that is worn out and busted down it is known as the "Dinette Set."
Many years ago most of the people on the reservation just didn't have much. Going to church with new clothes was a big deal because people could see what you were wearing and oww ahhh what you had on. One way to get nice things and not have to pay too much was to go to the second hand store. There was some real nice stuff there and who was going to know? One item to get was shoes. Finding the right fit shoes was always a chance but sometimes it did happen. So from time to time ladies would find a near new pair of shoes and take them home just for church. They would be careful not to wear them until Sunday so everyone could see their new shoes.
The price of the shoes were written on the soles of the shoes. In those days Catholics used to have to kneel down to receive the sacraments. So the ladies would go up, in their new shoes, and kneel down. There before the entire congregation was the price of the shoes, sixty seven cents.
When I was a kid the phone lines finally came to the Reservation. This was before I went to school because I remember the kids telling the teacher our phone numbers. All our phone numbers begin with the word "Hickory." This was because our prefix was 44 and on the rotary dial that was "HI" so you would say "Hickory." Later on I learned that the phone company did not think people were capable of remembering a long string of numbers so the mnemonic "Hickory" was used to help people remember. I remember in school when the teacher asked for our phone number I was proud because I could say my phone number. Oddly one white girl said "Hickory 4." We all said "Hickory 3" and the teacher said how come yours is "Hickory 4?" Then the girl looked in the air and said 'They were all out of Hickory 3's." My teacher believed her and that was when I first realized teachers could he full of Hooey.
One neat thing about early phone lines were that no one in the rural areas had their own phone line, well our tribal chairman did but I guess she was using tribal money for that, so there were variations on rings so you could tell when someone was calling you. This was know as a "Party Line." There was like two shorts and a long, or three longs and so on, You would have to wait as the phone rang to see if it was a call for you. The adults used to "listen in" on other peoples calls. I guess it was a good way to get gossip. If you were on the phone an heard a click it meant that someone had picked up their receiver was hearing what you were saying. If you were real sneaky you could pick up the receiver really slow and the click would not be so loud. If someone was talking too long you could rapidly click the receiver button so the people who were talking could know that someone else wanted to use the phone. If you got mad at the person clicking in you could just leave the phone off the hook and they could not place a call. Sometimes a phone was accidentally left off the hook and you had to listen in so see if a name was mentioned so you could go tell the family their phone was off the hook.
If my Grandma did not want to talk to the person on the phone she would rapidly click her own receiver button and say "I have to hang up, someone wants to use the phone."
Eventually one of my jobs was working for the phone company. I learned that in the early 60's some really rural areas still had the old crank phones you see in the movies. That might have been fun cranking those old phones but "Listening In" sure sounds like it could brighten a dull day, what a Party.
In the old days outhouses were common. My family did not have a flush toilet but we had an outhouse that you walked to a ways from the house. I always had to go just before I went to sleep and I wondered why I did not go sooner when it was light. By then it was dark and I was afraid to go but one time my Dad had a really nice flashlight and I used it to go to the outhouse. I kept the light on as I did my business but when I started to get ready to leave I must have bumped the flashlight and I remember seeing it roll in to the hole. Funny how to this day I can see it roll over and over and bumping each time it rolled over the switch and I can remember it going down the hatch. I looked down the hole and I saw the light still on. It was a rally nice flashlight and I was terrified about having to tell my Dad. I knew he used it in his job and I thought it was stuck there forever. Well I told my Dad, he was in bed at the time, and he yelled and cussed and went out the door. Then he returned with the flashlight. I did not know how he could possibly get it out. I could see no way anyone could get it out so fast because he came back right away. Despite the fact that I was terrified I had to find out how he got it out so I asked him and he yelled and cussed and he did not tell me. I am now 60 years old and I still wonder how he did it. My Dad and I have many many conversations during his life but I never did ask him and now that he is gone, I will never know. Some guys ponder the universe, mathematics, existence and God and here I am pondering a flashlight in the bottom of an outhouse.
Another outhouse story
As I said they were common and some stores had them out back for customer use. One time we went to a store and there in back was a little house with a well worn foot path leading to it. My Grandma went to use it and I can remember seeing her back and long coat as she walked down the path. She came back laughing and said as she approached the building she noticed s sign that read, "This is not it." Everyone laughed and commented how my Grandma was not the only one to think that as that foot path was used quite a bit. For many years I remember seeing the little tiny building behind the store. It was some kind of electrical shed with power lines going into it. Eventually times changed and outhouses disappeared as the new sanitation set in. Today it would never dawn on anyone that a little house behind a store might be anything else but a storage shed. One time on TV there was a series titled "Little House on the Prairie" and every time I remember that title I smile and you know what? That little house did not have a little house.
When my Dad was a child he lost a finger. My Grandpa was cutting wood and my Dad kept playing near the splitting wook. My Grandpa kept telling him to stay away my my Dad would not mind him. Finally Grandpa swung the ax as my Dad rushed in and his finger was severed. I seemed to remember half his finger was missing. Belive it or not my Mother was married to him for six months and and my Grandpa asked what she thought of his missing finger. My Mom never noticed that the finger was gone. The next time she looked at his hand and notice that the finger was indeed missing. Sometimes it took my Mom a while to catch on to things. My Wife is the same way, oh oh, I better not say that.
In the 50's there was a movie actor named Jeff Chandler. He was a hero leading man kind of actor. Many years ago my aunt got married. She loved to go to the movies but her husband did not like to go. They seldom went to the movies. The nearest movie theater was a distance away and sometimes when they went to the town instead of driving all the way back to the reservation they would stop for a movie. One time they did go and it was a movie staring Jeff Chandler. As they saw the movied my aunt noticed that her husband kind of looked like Jeff Chandler. After the movie they walked to the car and she remarked "Those people over there are looking at you because you look like Jeff Chandler." After that she got to see all the Jeff Chandler movies that came to town. So who does you spouse look like?