Friday, August 01, 2008

Eat A-Plenty

A Floating Line Gang -- taken in 1928.
From Left to Right -- Mr. Glazier, Pete Donaldson, Charlie Giles, J.R. Hill, (we think) Tom Worley, R.D. Potter, R.A. DeLay and Bill Leggett. My Grandfather worked for the Bell Telephone System for 45 years; I have his 45 year pin. He retired in 1968 or there about and died shortly after. My Grandmother worked as an operator for about 10 years; my other grandmother worked during the war. My mom worked for Southern Bell for 35 years and I did 2 summers as an intern. The LH's Grandfather was also a Bell man -- he worked for 45 years and retired in 1971 a vice president. Deep and strong ties to the Bell System.

My mother was born just before the depression -- and she and her sister were shaped and formed by that decade. My grandfather had a good job as a lineman for Southern Bell and he was making a decent living. They scraped by -- until my g'grandfather died and all my grandmother's siblings moved in with them. My mother tells me of a 3 bedroom house with 1 bathroom housing more than 15 people. My grandparents had their own room; Vassie (a homeless person who my grandmother adopted) slept in the dining room; the girls and my g'grandmother shared the two other bedrooms; the boys slept in the living room.

By 1936, my grandfather's workweek was reduced to 4 days; then 3 days. The company wanted to lay men off; instead they went into a sort of job sharing situation so that all worked -- but there was less work and less money for each man. The Telephone Pioneers made sure that there was food on everyone's table, but it was most of the time less than plenteous. With 15 people under his roof, my grandfather had a hard time making ends meet. My mother told me that she never had a birthday party until she was an adult -- there just wasn't enough for luxuries.

At one point, my grandfather chased a job to Florida -- a lineman's job. He worked the job for months, sending money back home. Eventually my grandmother and my mother and her sister joined my grandfather in Florida in an old Ford. There almost wasn't enough to go around -- they ended up digging up periwinkles to boil into stew. Eventually the job ran out and they scraped up enough money to come home to that overcrowded house.

The boys found jobs where they could; my grandaunts as well. They raised chickens and grew vegetables for the table and my grandmother used to brag that no one ever left her table hungry. My mother never knew that they were 'poor' -- there always seemed to be enough to go around and always seemed to be someone else worse off.

In fact, one of my grandfather's brothers never found good employment during the depression. He worked one CCC job and then another, moving around peripatetically, never being able to settle down. They would occasionally show up at my grandparent's house in their Model T truck, which he had tricked out as a camper. They would usually be dirty, sometimes sick and always hungry. My grandmother would bathe the babies, get clean clothing for the kids and give every one her favorite remedy -- Cod Liver Oil. She would mix it with Grape Nehi Soda -- disgusting. I can't drink Grape Nehi without remembering that awful taste of Cod Liver Oil.

When they were all cleaned up and dosed up, she would make room at the table and my uncle would invariably say, "Eat a-plenty, y'all." Meaning, of course, you never know when you might eat again.

Jesus in this miracle is telling us exactly that. Eat a-plenty -- because no matter how hard times are and no matter how slim the pickings seem to be -- with God's grace and providence, there is plenty. Even when the pickings seem really really slim.

I will never taste Grape Nehi without remembering the Cod Liver Oil -- but as I have grown older, that taste no longer seems awful, but awesome -- a showing of my grandmother's love. As we gather together to break bread and drink of the fruit of the vine, let us remember that out of slim pickings God can provide and we all do indeed need to eat a-plenty.

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