Poor Childhood, Rich Life

Pierre Fontenot Thursday, December 9, 2021 Comments Off on Poor Childhood, Rich Life
Poor Childhood, Rich Life

If all you knew about Yvonne was this one picture, you might think she had a soft, easy life, maybe even born with a silver spoon.  Not so, not so.

She’s the second youngest child of eleven.  She has a sister 22 years older.  Has a nephew who is only 14 days younger.  

Her father chased a living doing whatever labor he could find, while he was healthy.  When Yvonne was only six, he died, from tuberculosis.    

The WWII War Years

Her mother, Aby, was illiterate.  She lived in Oberlin, a community with few options for a widow with small children to make a living.   Her widowed mother received $65 a month in welfare assistance. 

“Momma milked cows.  We had an outhouse.  We kids took our baths in a #3 galvanized tub.  Momma cleaned houses.  She took in people’s laundry.  Momma made her own soap, used a rub board, hung it on a clothes line.  She’d iron clothes (sad irons, heated on stove) for a nickel apiece.”

Yvonne Fuselier. If this looks like a lady who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, think again.

Decades later, Yvonne flinches at the memory, of the welfare lady, who came to the house, and made things worse.  Her mother had done some ironing, had a broomstick wedged horizontal over a doorway, with shirts hanging from it, a sheet up, to hide it.  The welfare lady lifted the sheet, shook her head, wrote it down, and down went the little government help.

Her mother got a little job in a restaurant.  She’d wake up at four in the morning and walk to work, in whatever weather.

Toothbrush For Christmas

She got her first toothbrush at age six.  It was a Christmas gift.  

“We slept on moss mattresses.  Every summer we’d take them apart, pull out the moss and fluff it, air it out.  Wash the ticking.  Then put it all back together.”

A lot of her childhood clothing was made from cotton feed sacks.  “We’d trade feed sacks with people, to get two of a kind, enough fabric to make a dress.”

Silton, her future husband, moved from Mamou to Oberlin, in the eighth grade.  There was a little spark.

Things got better.  In high school, “Momma was able to buy me a dress when I was on homecoming court.”

The big weekend fun was catching a ride in the bed of a covered truck and being driven to the Avalon Club in Basile on Saturday night.  

“Mass on Sunday, no matter what.”

They married her senior year.  They had four children, in six years.

Her husband’s father was a farmer.  They’d butcher a steer, so there was meat to eat.  They had chickens, so they had eggs and drumsticks.

Her husband hustled up work.  In the early days he worked at a rice mill.  Yvonne remembers them netting $1.25 after paying bills.

Their first TV had a 12” screen.  “If you ran it too long, it got hot.  So we’d put a fan behind it.” 

Monday Before Thanksgiving

The hard times of her childhood drew Yvonne closer to her faith.  “Without God in my life, I could never have endured what I have faced in my life.” 

 Time passed.  The kids get married.  Here come the grandkids.

Small town, kids were out of school for Thanksgiving holiday, grandson Justin, age 14, is going to a friend’s house.  His mother, Carol, her last words to him were, “Okay, you know the rules.  Check in every half hour.”

Grown men look back on things they did, in youth and wonder how they made it, in the boys-being-boys stage of life.  Justin and three other boys end up in a vehicle.  On a two-lane state highway, out by the river, they met a dually, pulling a load of livestock feed.

Yvonne.  “It was the Monday before Thanksgiving.  I had skipped mass.” She sees it now as God’s hint, that she needed to be home, to get that phone call.  

Carol calls, “Momma, I hear a lot of sirens.  I’ve got a bad feeling.’”

Yvonne is with her daughter, in that blessed, wretched state, when all you have is worry, but you still have hope.

And then through the door comes Yvonne’s husband, his own heart breaking, as he has to tell his daughter and his wife, that the sirens were for them, and three other families.

Carol, “Even though her own heart is broken, Momma held me up, was right there with me, through it all.  Thank God my momma taught me to pray.  Not once did I turn to drugs or drinking.  She’d stay on me, ‘You’ve got two other children that need you…’” 

Faith – Family – Everything Else 

More deaths ambush the family over time, two son-in-laws.  All her children know, that in times of trouble, Yvonne’s arms are the ones you want draped across your sagging shoulders.

Her husband goes for a physical.  The phone rings first thing Monday morning.  “Can you get your husband here as soon as possible?”  He was stage 4.  Tells her, “I built this house.  I’m going to die in this house.”  He lasted six weeks.

She’s had her share of hard stretches, but life hasn’t made her hard hearted.  

“I had a poor childhood, but God gave me a rich life and I am very grateful.”

Her priorities are now, what they’ve always been, faith first, family second, everything else seems to follow.

Had it been true, that she’d been raised in a silver spoon household, and traveled a paved life road, we wouldn’t feel like we know her any better.  But because her life required work, she’s one of us, because she’s been wounded, she’s one of us, and because she had to survive her own healing, she’s one of us.  

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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to those King David words, “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”  Sometimes we don’t realize it about ourselves, but we see it in others. Uncle P can be reached at eightyoneantiques@gmail.com.

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