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Dad's wisdom sure paid off for my future

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday November 28, 1998.

NEDERLAND -- I don’t suppose a ten-year-old boy ever lived who didn’t wish to direct his future differently from what his parents desired. And I was no exception.

In 1930, life for me meant the usual farm chores, shucking and shelling corn, milking cows, along with oodles of school homework to be done after dark. And on weekends I always caught a dozen pages of grammar and spelling, which I hated most.

I suppose I wanted to live life just like Leroy and Augustine did, who were the only two boys I ever knew who never went to school a day in their lives. They lived in one of the houseboats tied up in Gray’s Bayou, across Neches River from Unocal docks. If I missed a day of school, the truant officer would be down on my neck next day, but a truant officer couldn’t get to Gray’s Bayou. However, most houseboat kids I knew did attend school.

Dad and I usually went by boat to Gray’s Bayou once every month to see Leroy’s father, Old Rob, who worked often on our farm and took care of Dad’s cattle on the east side of the river.

I remember once, when Leroy was showing me how to throw a fish spear, I remarked, "Goodness, Leroy! It’s a lot harder than I thought."

"Aw, Bill," he responded, "hit ain’t so hard. You jist ain’t hardly got the hang of it yit. You can’t larn spear-fishin’ in books, you know."

My ear drums winced at his erroneous speech, but I said nothing. I knew a couple teachers that would have kept Leroy after school, washed his mouth out with lye soap, and whacked the palms of his hands with a big ruler, for using such bad grammar.

Leroy’s brother, Augustine, was only a year older than I, but already he could slice the hide off a ten-foot alligator in ten minutes and steak his tail as well. And one day they fed me gator tail steak at their houseboat, but told me it was catfish.

Leroy and Augustine were truly my idols and I could scarcely hide my admiration for them. I longed to live the same kind of life they did, which certainly would have made Huck Finn green with envy. One could see that as Augustine slid his Barlow knife blade beneath a gator’s skin, it was guided by the touch of a master, and I marveled at all the other things they could do that I couldn’t.

One day, as Dad rowed our boat back to Block’s Bayou, I asked him, "Can I have a Barlow knife like Leroy has? I really need it for farm chores."

"Not just now, William," he replied. "A Barlow knife cost $1, which is how much I pay a field hand for 12 hours work. Leroy and Augustine need a good knife to clean fish, skin muskrats and alligators, and such, but I want a better life for you than that!"

And that was the trouble with Pa - always wanting something for me that I didn’t want for myself. I vowed then and there that as soon as I was old enough, I’d get me a houseboat and live the same life that Leroy did.

Actually, the Great Depression wound down and World War II came along, and I never did acquire that houseboat, or live the life on the river that I adored. Also, as Mark Twain reputedly said - it was remarkable how much wisdom my Dad had acquired by the end of my teenage years.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author.  His website is http://block.dynip.com/wtblockjr/

Copyright 1998-2018 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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