How lucky we are. How incredibly lucky we are to have been born when we were born and where we were born.
Every now and again, I cruise the Web looking for my grandparents and great-grandparents, whom I never saw and about whom I know only some tantalizing hand-me-down legends. Because the pool of public records online grows deeper with each passing day, occasionally I come across something new.
Last night, what should I find but the 1900 census records listing my father’s parents, living way to hell and gone out in some godforsaken patch of east-central Texas. My father was not yet a proverbial twinkle, but both of his brothers had come into being in the early 1890s.
His mother was born in Arkansas. Her father came from Ohio, her mother from Indiana. His father said he was born in Illinois and that his father came from Tennessee.
With a banjo on his knee, no doubt.
By the time my father came on the scene, they were living near or in Fort Worth. He lied about his age as soon as he could get away with it and ran off to join the Navy. He used to say the best thing about being from Texas was being from Texas: as far from it as you could get. I found Google satellite and street-level photos of the wide spot in the road where his parents and brothers must have lived in 1900. Gives technicolor meaning to my father’s words.
Ever have the privilege of visiting east-central Texas in a blue norther? God help us, it’s as cold as you’ll ever get, this side of Antarctica. That’s when you’re inside a house. The icy wind seeps in through every microscopic crack it can find. Imagine living through a Plains winter in a tent, a dugout, a mud hut, or a log cabin! Imagine working through a Texas or an Arkansas summer without air conditioning. Imagine what Illinois and Ohio would have been like before there were cities, before towns, before even a lean-to on the grassland.
Sometimes I think about those folks and I wonder: what on earth were they coming from that this looked good? It’s hard to conceive of the desperation, the poverty that would spur a man or a woman to take off across the Great Plains on a horse or a wagon. Think of that. It’s the equivalent of climbing on a camel and riding into the Sahara Desert. Imagine how hard they must have worked, how hungry they must have been, how tired they must have been, how sick they must have gotten. Imagine giving birth—facing down death to do it—in the middle of nowhere. Really, literally, nowhere.
What drove those people?
We are so lucky to have a roof over our heads and four walls (sometimes more!) around us. Miraculously lucky to be able to turn on a heater when the cold wind wails in from the north, to flick a switch to pump in cool air when the sun starts to bake, to make our livings as wage slaves rather than having to dig our lives out of the rocky soil or chase cattle across the desertifying plains. Lord, what lives they led.
And what lives we lead!
Image: The Llano Estacado, Texas. Twenty-First Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey. Wikipedia, Llano Estacado.