Terry Wayne, a six-year old blue-eyed boy we referred to as “Bubba”, came running through the house with a sack filled with feces. The white trash bag teemed with toilet paper as he made gestures at me and my sisters as if he was going to throw it at us.
After a couple of months my dad and I finally finished the septic system. We dug it by hand, a 5×5 foot hole in the ground so deep that I had to be hoisted out of it. We poured a concrete floor in the massive hole and then I used the wheel barrel to help my dad mix cement and then I handed him bricks while he slapped on the mortar. It was a long exhausting process.
Our new mobile home sat on two acres of inexpensive land in Sanger, Texas. It was next to a creek at the bottom of a hill in a flood zone. Before we moved onto the property we had to clear the debris. First it was weekend trips up from Dallas raking up piles of dead sunflowers and brush and then finally dad rented a tractor and leveled out the land a bit and cleared it of all the overgrowth.
Moving to rural Sanger, a town of a little over 2000 people and boasting only 1 gas station and a Dairy Queen, was a big change from living on Northside Drive in Dallas. In Dallas we were close to Josey Lane Skating Rink, a Chuck E. Cheese, and a huge Church. However, our apartment complex was also filled with exhibitionists who liked to expose themselves to young children and so it was time to move to some place quieter, simpler, and safer.
We pulled our 80 foot long single-wide onto the acre and then connected the water and electricity. We had no sewer and so dad piped the gray water into the creek that ran along the house. We dug a huge hole in the back yard and we used that to dump all of our trash and then we’d set it on fire. Because we didn’t have a sewer we would place trash bags in the toilet, tape them down, use the bathroom and then take the plastic bag full of waste out into the back yard and dump it into the large hole in the ground.
Surprisingly, we found this more humorous than awful and although we would definitely have been classified as rednecks, we were actually hard-working people who were just trying to stay afloat.
Over time the house became infested with mice and roaches. Our apartment had roaches and large water bugs and so I started to think that having roaches in your house was pretty common place. Even some of my friends houses had the occasional roach, shoulder shrug, no big deal.
The roach infestation progressed over time and we had to fumigate. Scads of dead roaches littered the kitchen floor. Mom flipped over the bed in my room and cockroaches scattered. 10-20 in each corner, hiding, bunched up, and then fleeing the bug spray. It was awful. I couldn’t believe that I had been sleeping on that. We weren’t dirty people, it was just that living in a trailer home out in the country with no underpinning on your house allows for pretty much anything to crawl right in.
The washing machine leaked in the laundry room and soaked the floor. Mobile home floors are made out of particle board and then they get wet they crumble like a cookie. The linoleum stretched with each step and soon broke through. By the back door there was a large hole and dad had to repair it.
We got our septic tank fixed put together and I watched as a large bulldozer dug huge trenches in the yard and then filled them with rocks and then laid large PVC pipe with holes on the rocks. These were the sewage lines and in the summers the yard would turn extra green where these lines ran.
We didn’t have much of a driveway and when we did have one, the flood waters would come and wash away the white gravel that had only been trucked in a few weeks before. Often times the cars would get stuck in the mud. We’d get out and push, push, push, mud flying all over us, my sister windmilling her arms trying to block the spray.
My shoes were rarely clean. I remember loving a pair of Fila hi-top tennis shoes that had black soles because they didn’t show mud stains.
It was sometimes a miserable existence, but it was also filled with a rugged simplicity. When the yard flooded we’d get empty milk cartons and put them under our arms and float towards the creek just stopping before we were swept away.
There were times when it was so muddy that we would have a natural slip and slide and we’d play in the mud and allow the rain to wash us off.
We rode our bikes up and down Corrida lane, we rode them through the creeks and enjoyed long hot summers just being outdoors with our friends.
My mom was always this constant light in our lives. She radiated joy and made the most common place seem cozy and filled with love.
After just two years of being in our mobile home it got repossessed. I think my parents finally gave up on it, throwing good money after bad just wasn’t prudent. They bought a two bedroom mobile home that was only about 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. It was tiny and when I look back now and remember that house I can’t believe that we were so poor.
One day I caught a towel on fire in the kitchen and quickly put it out. I threw it on the floor while i tended to whatever it was I was cooking and didn’t realize that it was still smoldering. It burned a hole in the linoleum. It was an ugly shade of emerald green and I never liked it. Dad tore the linoleum out and since this mobile home was built in the 70’s, it had plywood for flooring. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to replace the linoleum and so until the house burned down we just lived with the wood floor naked and exposed.
On October 7, 1990, when I was just 14 years old, our house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. It was a Sunday and it hadn’t rained in a while and I wasn’t home. When my parents came and picked me up I was actually more excited about the house burning down than I was upset. I slept in the living room and used a trunk for my clothes.
When I look back on my life I don’t have any regrets about the way I was raised. We had very little, but we had each other and a lot of love. Life really isn’t about things. Yes, your children will resent you for not getting them the latest fashions or an iPhone, however, it isn’t really those things that they will remember when they get older. They’ll remember the love. They’ll remember the things you said and how you acted during the tough times.
When people see me I think sometimes they assume that I grew up in a middle-class home where the parents combined incomes exceeded 6 figures and that I had an easy traditional upbringing. We had it rough, but it was the hard times that have shaped me into the man I am today. I’m a survivor and I know how to work hard and to appreciate what really matters in life.