By Will Campbell, Baptist minister, author, unconventional civil rights activist, and ‘pastor to bigots,’ (1924-2013); in Brother to a Dragonfly, 1978, pages 38-40.
Joe was the worker. I was the sickly one. Sister was just that– Sister. Paul was the baby. We lived that way and if those categories and designations and roles seemed unfair to any of us we never discussed it. That’s who each one was. One did not ponder identity. Everyone knew and understood, without being told. Without asking questions. This is who I am. That is who you are. The question, “Who am l?” need not, and did not, come up. That’s the way we lived.
I think Joe was just under four years old when we moved from the “Old Place.” The “Old Place” was a few hundred yards up the road from where we were all raised to leaving-home age. Daddy and Mamma had moved there about a year after they were married, he at nineteen, she at seventeen. They lived the first year in the house with Grandpa and Grandma. Then Grandpa gave him forty acres of land, and then Daddy bought about that much more. It was our place from then on. That’s where we lived and worked and did everything that families do except go to church and school and occasionally visit kinfolks.
We had to move from the “Old Place” because it didn’t have a well. They tried, more than once, but there didn’t seem to be any water beneath the ground. They carried water, two buckets at a time, from Grandpa’s house. I remember the stories— Sister and Joe crying for a drink of water, Mamma finding Sister drinking out of a small washpan where all three of us had just been bathed, and catching rain water dripping from the eaves of the house.
It would be some years before it occurred to our father that we were poor. He could go to his backyard and draw up a bucket of water from a sixty-five-foot-deep well whenever he pleased or the need arose. That was a luxury. One with luxuries is not poor.
It was only when the depression came that we discovered we were, in fact, poor people. We were not destitute, not with cured hams and sides of bacon hanging in the smokehouse all year, chickens to lay eggs and to eat, cows to give us milk and fields in which to grow food. Country people were not impoverished. They were simply poor.
Neighbors and uncles around us were not quite so poor because they had been in the War, and veterans were eligible for a small pension if they had been disabled by their service experience. The way Dr. Quinn saw it, everyone who had to leave home and family and go to war had been disabled by it. So he was the county’s biggest industry. It was he who must do the examination and report to the government his findings. He always found something to report. So every man who had spent any time at all in World War I received a pension…
Then our poverty became a reality. Not because of our having less, but by our neighbors having more. For our daddy was not a veteran.
But I do not recall our being unhappy as children. And I do not recall our being happy. A family of six during the depression, growing no more than five or six bales of cotton a year which sold for a few cents a pound, did not think in those terms. Even married couples did not think in those terms. Happiness was not something promised. Happiness was not a part of the contract. If it came, we experienced it without naming it. If it didn’t, we couldn’t complain, not aware that we were due it or that it even existed. No one ever said, “I’m not happy living with you so I’m leaving.”
…If that was the way things were supposed to be and we grew up knowing that was the way things were supposed to be, what harm could there be in it?
Philippians 4:11b-12 — …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I Timothy 6:7-8 — For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Hebrews 13:5 — Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
A PRAYER FROM PROVERBS 30:7-9:
Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.