Note: This is Chapter 4 in a recurring series called Telling My Story.
As mentioned in the last post, we moved frequently, always from one small town to another; generally we lighted in whatever little community was nearest the oil rig where my dad was next scheduled
to drill a well.
Kaycee, Wyoming - Frederick, Oklahoma - Fort Morgan, Colorado - Abilene, Texas - Goodland, Kansas. There were many many more. We traveled much like a band of gypsies, but we were well-heeled travelers in the early days. My dad drove a new car every year, and bought a series of ever-larger mobile homes for the family. And in those days, they really were "mobile" in that we could break camp, as it were, and be ready to move in less than twelve hours.
There would be a caravan of trucks (the single guys didn't bother to buy a trailer to live in, as they usually stayed in a motel nearest the drill site) and several trailers ranging from twenty-some feet long, to over forty feet long in the case of our own.
The drilling equipment would have been broken down and loaded onto huge semi-trailers the day before, and the drilling crews followed a day later. Often it would be only forty-eight hours between the time the crew tore down the rig, and when they reassembled it in the new site, sometimes hundreds of miles from the prior location.
Despite his drinking, which was more common than not among roughnecks, my dad was a talented driller and was in demand by more than one company. He went to South America for Shell Oil in the mid-fifties to drill in Venezuela working on some of the first off-shore drilling in that country.
My mother always said when we landed in a new town, she first looked for two things: a church and a library. Faith and fiction were what got her through those fragmented years. Looking back, I suspect it was not just the fiction she read, but the fiction she lived that helped her survive that life-style. Each place would be the "last one", dad would settle down, stop drinking, get a regular job.
But just as every book comes to an end, so each job and fantasy would end and we would move again. While we were "there" though, wherever "there" happened to be, we did our best to enjoy the area. We went to the top of Pike's Peak in Colorado, saw the Grand Canyon, visited lakes and state parks. Mom always bought a little set of salt-and-pepper shakers as souvenirs at each place.
It was now the mid-nineteen fifties, and our family had grown by one more child with the arrival of my youngest sister, eight years my junior. Dad was sorely disappointed as he had hoped for a boy. In fact, he was never shy throughout our growing-up years to let us know that he had hoped for sons with each of our arrivals. He refused to use our names most of the time, and instead called us Jake, Dimas, and Rastus. Where he got those particular (and peculiar) nicknames, I will never know, but we sure knew we were not his little darlings.
It was a different time, and male chauvinism was rampant from what I understand, so no one thought too much about this attitude on his part. An exception was my mother, who was understandably hurt by his attitude; and except for me, who thought he was a neanderthal, from the time I could read and understand the word.
Our home on wheels was spotless, and everyone we knew said you could "eat off the floors" at our place. Mom was a housekeeping fanatic; perhaps because that small eight foot by forty-two foot space was the only place in her life over which she had any control.
I was about seven or eight years old the day we went to Denver to select our third travel home. It was shiny, brand new, and had the latest kitchen (called a Crosley kitchen) wherein all the cabinets were white enamel. The appliances gleamed and Mom was thrilled.
Our living room had a red couch, a black side chair, and a red area rug. The drapes were a geometric black, white and red pattern. It was considered the height of domestic fashion in 1956 and we were proud as punch to live in it. That is I was, until I learned the hard way that local townspeople did not consider "our kind" a desirable element in their little tightly-knit communities.
The roughnecks were rowdy, two-fisted, hard drinking, rabble rousers on Friday and Saturday nights at the local bars. And on Saturday nights, even while my mother was bathing us girls and getting us ready for church the next morning, my dad would be down at the local bar with his crew partying with the best/worst of them.
One day when I was in third grade, a little girl invited me to come home to play with her after school. We walked up to her large, white home with a wrap-around front porch with chintz pillows on wicker porch furniture and she asked me to wait while she went in to check with her mother about having a friend over that day.
I stayed on the porch, looking around while I heard the front screen bang as she went through it, gaily calling out to her mother. It was warm weather and the door was open, with just the screen door closed, so I could easily hear every word being exchanged inside the house.
Without dragging you through the entire conversation, which was very brief, it amounted to this. First her mother said, "Sure" it was okay and then she asked the little girl which friend?
Upon hearing it was "Marsha who lives in the trailer court a few blocks away", I heard the mother raise her voice just slightly and say, "What? Absolutely not. Those people are oil field trash. Now send her home. And you are not to play with her again."
It did not matter that my father probably made three times more money than hers did; or that you could eat off my mother's floors, nor that our school clothes were ironed to a fare-thee-well with nary a wrinkle in them. I was not acceptable. I was an outsider who would not be allowed to play inside that big white house with the wonderful front porch. One thing about trailers, they didn't have front porches.
I never accepted another invitation to go to a schoolmate's home until I was in high school, and even then, after we were settled members of the community, I always felt trepidation, as though I might be sent home, deemed unacceptable.
And the loneliness grew. I compensated by becoming an outstanding student, winning awards, getting my picture in the newspaper, bringing home little trophies and bits of celebratory ribbons to my parents. I won spelling bees and essay contests; but I had no close friends, and fiercely told myself I didn't need any.
But, of course, I did need a friend. And at twelve years old, I met the Friend who would "stick closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24)
Next time - Finding a Friend for life.
Question: Were you ever excluded from a group that you would have liked to be part of? Or did you ever invite someone to be part of your group, even if some others disapproved?