" Foxholes Ratholes and Tea Parties "
When my brother and I were little we had all we needed and most of what we wanted. The thing is that I cannot remember a time when we actually wanted things. "Things" were given for special occasions like birthday and Christmas. We never expected toys at another time. But we were not deprived. Much to the contrary. I always had a pair of roller skates that fit and a fairly decent jump rope. There were jacks and a ball and usually one that was a real golf ball unlike the little red rubber ones you can find today. Chalk for playing hopscotch was made from broken shards of colored bottles and sometimes even broken rocks.
We were a whole generation of game playing. Not board games or electronic (what is that?) games but the interactive ones you played with lots of kids such as "Red Rover", "Mother, May I?", "Hide and Seek", and "Simon Says". Before TV, rainy days were the time to play card games and hide and seek in the house. Also known as at early age thanks to Momaw was how to sew my own doll clothes. There were always material scraps, needles, thread and the seemingly bottomless can of buttons. I became the great designer of doll clothing, and many hours were spent cutting from magazines of beautiful women to create clothing for. Afterwards they became boxes of paper dolls, coveted but rarely played with.
Not everything has changed though. We had the homeless then as of today. People who lived very much the same as they do today with the exception that the social programs we now know did not then exist. Those less fortunate possessed the ingenuity to survive on their own. Handouts were scarce. Oh, we were generous and giving but government played a very small role if any in the way of aid or rehabilitation.
We had a nice enough home but in the more modest section of town and were blessed so I felt to live but a couple of blocks from the Arkansas River where living nearby on the riverbanks was an entire little community made up of the most unusual design. This was the homeless population and were referred to as the "foxholers". Living in what was referred to as the "Foxhole". Well I was so completely infatuated with this whole concept of living in shanties constructed from cardboard boxes of all sizes. Taped and bound by twine with doors cut out forming rooms. Quite ingenious but meager cannot begin to describe the furnishings.
Another little charming landmark of interest down the way was a huge, gaping landfill known simply as the dump. This hole was inhabited by the biggest rats I've ever seen, thus named by those on our street, "the rat hole". Today a tiny mouse can literally bring me to a state of panic but as a child climbing through the muck and mire with rats the size of house cats seemed second nature.
The foxholers spent endless time poking through the rat hole in search of stuff to be used as furnishings and decor for their homes. Possibilities were endless. Broken dishes became just smaller versions of plates and saucers. Discarded linens, clothing and so forth became curtains, rugs, bedspreads and towels. They bathed in the river and ate what they could scrounge from grocery store dumpsters, handouts or from doing odd jobs for neighbors who paid by way of a hot meal or sandwich.
Well you just have to understand the naivety that existed back then. I truly choose to believe that my family was not uppity or snobbish by wanting nothing to do with these poor folks but rather did not understand them or how people could live as they did. Ignorance and fear are often mistaken for arrogance. My family worked for what they wanted and needed and simply knew no other way. They gave when asked but chose to turn a blind eye and deaf ear rather than think of solutions. It was probably too uncomfortable to do so. An unspoken rule was that my brother and I were to have nothing to do with them and not because we were made to feel superior in any way but because they were "different" and one never knew what they would do to you or what they were capable of.
However I was always a rebellious girl and one to push the limit. I couldn't stay away from the foxhole. I found both mystery and delight and "different" was what I craved. I made real friends there and kept them a secret because I couldn't talk of them at home. Deceit was learned early. They had names and I knew them. I was their welcomed and much enamored guest.
In particular I remember Berniece as being the most exotic and beautiful woman. Probably twenty something. She had a regular job in town at the five and dime, and I was enchanted at her style as she walked to the bus stop. Most thought her trashy but not I. In Berniece I saw nothing but pure class, head up and shoulders back and a walk akin to a saunter. That her bra showed through her skimpy blouses seemed to elude her. She oozed pride and I admired her for it.
I owe a lot to the foxholers. From them I learned homemaking skills. And it's funny how the lessons to be learned from those we consider to be the least of us are sometimes the lessons we never forget. I also learned how to make do and be thankful for what you have. Delightful days were spent in a wee corner of our backyard with dolls and cast-offs gleaned from the rat hole. Very carefully and lovingly as only a child can know were the tiny chipped remnants from discarded china. Washed, dried, and then used and treasured for special tea parties.
I never knew what happened to the foxholers. Did they just up and move off to prosperity or did I grow up and cease to be amazed by them..was it indifference on my part or was I the one to move on. When I think of them today my heart smiles. They taught me compassion and acceptance and they never even knew.