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FIRSTBREAKING GENERATIONAL POVERTY
By Lester Nuby Jr.
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Lester Nuby Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
Although the early years of my life are dim in my recollection, I clearly remember one wintry day when the weather was very cold. The air was frigid, with a mixture of sleet and snow. I looked out the frosted windowpane I could feel the breathtakingly cold air seeping in around the glass. As I breathed on the window, it fogged up. As three and half year olds would do, I drew little images with my finger, which intrigued me. I asked others in the room to take a look at what I thought were very small masterpieces.
I didn't realize that everyone was preoccupied. They were preparing for the bone-chilling walk to Wilhite Station. My mama, grandma, grandpa, Uncles Albert, Virgil, Ralph, and Aunt Vera put hats and other heavy clothing on to fend off the bitingly cold weather. My mama bundled me up with an overcoat, gloves, and a hat that covered my head, ears, and most of my face. I had no idea where we were going.
I looked out the window again and saw dozens of people walking down the dirt road to the railroad station, which was a short distance from our big, unpainted wooden house. As we walked out of the house, we all began our journey down the little old winding dirt road from our house to what we called the main road.
We merged with other travelers. Many people had walked a long distance and were noticeably suffering from the cold weather. Only a few people arrived in cars or trucks. Some people were not dressed properly to face the harsh weather conditions. As we walked, I heard the limbs snap off the pine trees. Some were so laden with snow that, as they fell, they made the sound of a gunshot. Yet the sunlight reflected the indescribable beauty of the sleet and snow as it fell from the sky.
Wilhite Station was a stopping point for the steam engine trains to refuel and let passengers off and on. I heard the arriving train from miles away, making that peculiar, distinctive sound that passenger and freight trains make as the metal wheels hit the rails.
On most days, people looked forward to hearing the sound of the train as it came closer; that day, there was a somber feeling. People stood as if posted in stone. They were cold and uncomfortable. The precipitation and frigid weather caused ice particles to cling to their faces and clothing. Some looked like pallid corpses, their eyes filling with tears. Some were wiping tears from their eyes and faces with handkerchiefs.
The brakes of the train screeched as it slowed down and finally came to a halt. After a few minutes, the porters opened the doors. The onlookers could see through the glass windows of the warm, inviting interior of the Pullman car as the passengers gathered their belongings, hats, gloves, top coats, and scarves. As they moved slowly toward the doors and down the steps of the Pullman car, the freezing rain, sleet, and snow greeted them. Many were speaking quietly as they disembarked from the train.
Some of those who came to meet the train were openly weeping; others were being consoled by family and friends. A few people appeared to be happy; this was perplexing to me. This was something I could not understand at the moment. Most of the crowd became so quiet that I could hear the people nearby breathing slowly and intensely.
Once the passengers were off the train, men dressed in military uniform waited outside a second car with wide sliding doors. Everyone was silent as the porters opened the doors. The military men were standing at attention. The men in military uniform unloaded one wooden box at a time until six wooden boxes, each draped with a red, white, and blue American flag, had appeared. Each box was carefully placed on a wooden platform. Hearses were parked nearby to deliver the wooden boxes and caskets to their burial destination. Some onlookers were crying and sobbing as the boxes were unloaded. All the adults knew that there was a casket inside each wooden box and that inside each casket lay a son, husband, relative, or friend. The sorrow reflected was overwhelming as friends attempted to console those who had loved ones inside the caskets. One very old lady was looking up to the sky asking God to help her through this ordeal. As she stood gazing upward, the snow and sleet pelted her face.
An older, large lady I had not seen before fainted. The two men who tried to support her could not keep her from falling to the hard, frozen ground, which was covered with particles of coal, cinders, and ice. Her face was bleeding as the two men lifted her off the ground. They continued to support her as they took her to a car parked nearby. As they walked away, I could see the blood from her face as it coagulated. More blood dripped onto her coat. I was horrified. My mama saw this in my face. She told me I could walk the short distance back to our house.
When my family came home, I ran back to the window and watched as the crowd dispersed. The little drawings I did were still there. The others were eager to stand in front of the large open fireplace and "warm up," as they called it. Everyone stood around for a long time without talking or doing anything. I thought they were reflecting on what they had seen a short time earlier and trying to digest all of it. When our family was in this state of mind, I would go into an empty room and stay until their distressed and dismal moods dissipated.
As the train pulled away, I listened to the clicked-clack, clicked-clack sound of the steel wheels hitting the tracks. I could hear steam escaping, and the sound of the whistle. As the train started picking up speed, I visualized the swaying of the freight cars. Once the train had departed, in the distance I could hear the moan of the heavy engine and the sound of the whistle as it approached railroad crossings and entered small towns. Few sounds captivate the imagination like the haunting wail of the moving steam locomotive's lonesome whistle.
I conjured up the courage to ask my mama what was happening. Why were people crying? My mama said the military men had unloaded six boxes that housed six caskets with a soldier in each one. These young men had been killed in the war. Their bodies were shipped home for burial in their communities. The people that were crying were relatives of those killed in action. She said that she felt for the families, but she said that she thanked God that none of the caskets had housed her husband, Edward, or her brothers Aril and Horace.
I also wanted to know why some people were happy. My mother told me they were happy because their loved ones were coming home from the war. She said that some of the people getting off the train were civilians who had been gone a day or two and were just returning home. She also said there that other trains would possibly stop in the future to unload additional soldiers who had died in the war.
It was almost dark when I looked out the window again. The muted lighting unfortunately conjured up memories of the caskets being unloaded and the weeping of family and friends. My mama explained what had happened that day, but I did not really understand. We fear what we do not understand.
I could not get the lady who had fallen off my mind, or the blood that was oozing from her face. From that day on, I was aware day and night when a freight or passenger train rolled down what seemed to be endless tracks. As the day ended, I had a premonition that sooner or later the caskets unloaded would hold Edward, my stepfather, and my uncles, Arvil and Horace. This day afforded me a plethora of nightmares and dreams that still haunt me to this day. I doubt seriously if I will ever be liberated from the scene I witnessed that day.
Chapter TwoTHE EARLY YEARS
I was born in a dilapidated, unpainted wooden house on April 30, 1938, on a warm spring day on Bell Springs Mountain, Alabama. I was delivered by Dr. Lovelady, an obstetrician who came to the assistance of those who needed home delivery. At the moment I emerged from the womb, I was a little human being, luckily healthy, with no needs other than nourishment and love. My mama, Iva Mae, furnished both. I was named after my father, Lester Lee Nuby.
It was a sad time in my mama's life. My father had been murdered five months prior to giving birth to me. She had no support from anyone except her immediate family—her mother, Ethel, and her father, Charlie Millican, along with my aunt and my uncles.
My mama, Iva Mae, was an uneducated woman. She went to school in a one-room school house on Bell Springs Mountain. The school only went through the sixth grade, and there was no way for her to get to Falkville High School, which was located approximately seven miles from her community.
Mama grew up during a dismal period in America's history. The Great Depression held its ugly head over the United States and many other countries. She suffered from severe poverty, lack of education, and lack of medical treatment. Many in the Bell Springs community where she lived were in similar conditions. However, the Great Depression further served to intensify the poverty that she, her family, and her community felt, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Many people, both rich and poor, lost everything they owned.
The nation watched anxiously as President Herbert Hoover initiated numerous programs to reverse the downturn in the economy, yet hundreds of thousands of homeless people went without proper nutrition, with their basic needs not even being met. The unemployment rate reached twenty-five percent. Farming and rural areas suffered from the severe drop in the price of the products sold.
When I was born, my family, like others in our poverty-stricken community, had no electricity or running water. Bathroom facilities were outside in "outhouses," as they were called. The water came from a well or spring. In the summer months, the heat was almost unbearable. During the winter months, the only heat came from two large fireplaces. I remember the cold rooms in the winter and the cold, icy air rising between the planks of the floor. Beds were loaded down with quilts and other covers to fend off the cold. I pulled the quilts above my head and watched the white, smoky vapor as it passed from my mouth and nose as I breathed the icy air.
Most of us in our family and community wore clothing made from flour or fertilizer sacks. It was not uncommon for me to wear a shirt that had the name of a product on it. My clothes were patched several times before they were considered worn out and abandoned. My best clothing was kept to wear to church or funerals. Clothes were passed down from older children to their younger siblings. I was one of the unfortunate younger ones.
Sharecropping in those days was a way of life for my family. My grandpa was allowed to use land in return for a share of the crop, usually one half. He got his tools and farm animals from the owner of the land. The system kept our family from starving, but it was a humiliating way to live. When the harvest was poor, we often suffered from lack of a proper diet.
My grandpa was "poor, but proud." Although, governmental commodities such as cheese, powdered milk, powdered eggs, and many other items were available, my grandpa would never accept what he considered to be "handouts." Sometimes I wondered why he let us do without nutritional foods we could have had. I often heard him say, "I will never take a handout from the government or anything from anyone as long as I live." I could not quite understand his attitude. He was a quiet man who was dogmatic about politics, religion, right and wrong, and dependability.
My grandpa often spoke negatively of those who drank whiskey. My grandpa often told me stories about the "sorry" sharecroppers who made moonshine (often called liquor, hooch, mountain dew, or other names). He spoke of how sharecroppers sold illegal alcohol during Prohibition. He spoke of the "hell-bound" sellers of moonshine. My grandpa told me that it was not only immoral, but also dangerous because of the way it was made. He said moonshine often contained toxic alcohols such as methanol. He spoke of evil men like Al Capone and Joseph Kennedy who had made a fortune controlling bootlegging, production, and distribution of alcohol to sleazy establishments called speakeasies (blind pigs or blind tigers). As far as my grandpa was concerned, none of us were going to be involved in anything like that as long as he was around. Even then, I wondered what I might have done to make money if I were the man of the house. Would I have sold illegal whiskey to feed my family? I can't say. I simply don't know what I might have done to provide food for my family.
My grandpa also was adamantly opposed to smoking, dipping snuff, and chewing tobacco. My grandpa considered our family "religious folk," and we were members of the Bell Springs Baptist church. It was understood that if anyone did any drinking', dippin', cheatin', stealin' or cursin', hell was awaiting them.
Chapter ThreeMY GRANDMA MILLICAN
The times were difficult for me during the early years of my life. As a young boy, of course, I needed shelter and food, but I also needed love and affection from my family. Yet, I found it very difficult to show affection toward others, for reasons still inexplicable to me. There were only three people who I knew loved me. Those were my mama, my grandma, and my uncle Ralph. My mama loved me, but unfortunately, she was much like me in that it was difficult for her to show her love.
My grandma, the backbone of our family, had a special love for me. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in the way she talked to me, and sense it the way she treated me as if I were a special child. Perhaps this was because she had known my father. She had also seen the pain and suffering my mother went through when my father was murdered. I think she always wanted to protect me from anything that would hurt me or my mother from any further pain, physically or emotionally. I did not have a father. Maybe she wanted to do all she could to make up for what I was missing in my life.
She took me to church with her, made sure I was always within her sight when we were not at home, cooked special things I liked, and made sure I was not sick. She often felt my head to see if I had a fever. She also disciplined me in such a way that I knew she cared.
Looking back, I am ashamed that I ever did anything to even slightly hurt my grandma. Yet I did. It probably caused her more heartbreak than I ever knew. When my family was living on Bell Springs Mountain, my grandma was very fond of planting, fertilizing, watering, and weeding all kinds of flowers and plants. She always planted them close to the house so that she could see them in their flowering beauty when blooming.
Once the weather started getting cold, she placed a special glass- type covering over each flower and plant to keep them from freezing. I know I did not do this because I wanted to hurt my grandma, but at this time I had a BB gun. I was curious to see how good my "shot" was. I sat on the front porch of the house and shot the glass coverings one by one until they fell apart. I will regret this deed forever. I would never intentionally hurt my grandma for any reason.
My grandma was not happy, but because of my special relationship with her, she did not say anything. I could see the pain and dismay in her face as she walked around the shattered glass and attempted to cover the plants with some of the glass that was not totally destroyed. I was ashamed, remorseful, and embarrassed, and I tried not to face her for several days. She knew I was sorry. Even today, I hurt from that asinine act.
My grandma could get riled up if circumstances warranted it. For example, I especially remember my grandma as she prepared food for the family. She always ran everyone out of the kitchen until dinner was ready. I remember watching her use lard to grease the large cast-iron skillets. She would prepare three skillets of cornbread to feed the large family and sometimes the people who worked on the farm.
Once she had placed the cornbread in the wood-fired oven, she would slightly open the oven door to check on the baking progress. Once the three skillets of cornbread were baked, she took them out of the oven and placed them on the kitchen table. The aroma of the cornbread often drew me to the kitchen to try to sneak a small piece of the warm bread. However, she did not allow anyone, even me, to get a piece of anything until the meal was complete.
All the food was placed into large bowls and onto platters and then placed on the table. Once everything was ready, my grandma put out the word that it was time to eat. The variety of food was not abundant, but we had plenty of good-tasting food. In those days, adults ate first and children last. It was difficult to glance into the kitchen and see the adults eating and talking with no concern that the children were hungry and hoping that the adults would soon finish eating. Even as a child, it did not seem right to me for adults to eat before the hungry children. I was told that the farm workers ate first so they could get back to work.
Excerpted from FIRST by Lester Nuby Jr. Copyright © 2012 by Lester Nuby Jr.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD....................1
2. THE EARLY YEARS....................5
3. MY GRANDMA MILLICAN....................8
4. WILHITE STATION AND THE MECHAW HOUSE....................11
5. WORLD WAR II....................13
6. INTO OUR OWN WORLD....................20
7. SAYING GOOD-BYE....................25
8. ANOTHER CHANGE....................28
9. THE WAR IS OVER!....................30
10. VETERANS ARE HEROES....................32
11. GRAMMAR SCHOOL DAYS....................34
12. THE NUBY VISIT....................39
13. BASEBALL AND DREAMS....................43
14. GUITARS AND MUSIC....................45
15. HIGH SCHOOL....................49
16. UNCLE VIRGIL....................52
17. WORKING DURING SCHOOL....................56
18. DATING AND HAVING FUN....................58
19. FIRST FULL-TIME JOB....................61
20. DATING AND MARIAGE....................66
21. LIFE ABOUT TO CHANGE UNITED STATES ARMY....................75
22. OPERATION BIG LIFT TO GERMANY....................90
23. ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY....................94
24. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE....................97
25. DEPARTING THE U S ARMY....................100
26. RETURNING TO ASSOCIATED GROCERS & CONFLICT....................103
27. LEAVING ASSOCIATED GROCERS JOINING PASQUALE FOOD COMPANY....................120
28. PASQUALE SOLD TO JOHN LABATT....................142
29. PERRY COUNTY FOODS....................151
30. THE A & M PARTNERS....................159
31. MY FORMULA FOR SUCCESS....................175
33. ONE DREAM MY SON FULFILLED....................195
34. THINGS I LOVED CHEROKEE ROAD HOUSE....................197
35. THE TURNING OF MY HEART A NEW LIFE....................210
36. LOOKING BACK WHAT I BELIEVE....................220
37. MY BIOLOGICAL FATHER MURDER MYSTERY....................225
38. "YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS YOUNG"....................230