Daddy was a pragmatist with a dim view of positive reinforcement. Throughout his life, he’d seen many of acquaintances make the expedient rather than the better choice. I don’t know whether he considered his choice of associates might have an effect on their decision-making but he did need a fix of low company from time to time, probably feeling they held a lofty view of him. He held himself apart from drinking and trashy behavior, but did appreciate hearing just enough to reinforce his self-view, also providing an opportunity for edification should these “friends in low places” need his help and guidance. They enjoyed his generosity far more than his immediate family. Taking care of one’s family is a thankless task, whereas news of “bread cast upon the waters” may be touted far and wide. Though not a minister, he frequently preached that a person trying to lift himself out of a “life of sin” is to be praised far above those never wallowed. I am sure, this was personal, since he took every opportunity to use his own early behavior and redemption as an example of all he’d overcome. For some reason, he never encouraged us to sample the delights of sin so we could ascend to sainthood as he had, just made sure we never enjoyed the opportunity to mess up.
It was heart-warming to hear of the improved behavior of Josey Johnson, who only two weeks earlier had abandoned a loving husband or wife and little children for the company of a hard-drinking friend. If Daddy could corner Josey and get in a little preaching and Josey came home, Daddy was ecstatic. Josey could count on all kinds of favors, till he or she took off again. Daddy wasn’t bad about letting us know when Josey backslid, but hastened to update us if Josie returned home for some rest and rehabilitation. It didn’t matter that Josey might have been kicked out of a den of iniquity and was roosting at home till something better came along.
Unfortunately, Daddy never understood that not all people seek the low life. Life is full of people who do the right thing, just because it is right. I still wish he’d learned that not everyone falls, given the opportunity. I know his difficult background shaped his attitude.
This photo pictures my father and several of his siblings. He is the boy in the middle holding the cap. I feel sure my grandmother seized the opportunity to have their pictures made by someone who happened by with a camera. They were sharecroppers. It is unlikely she was able to make any preparations for this photo. Times got even harder for the family when her husband died at forty-two, leaving her with five children between three and eighteen. The eldest had already married and left home. The oldest boy, at eighteen was working at whatever he could find. The fifteen-year-old boy went into the Civilian Conservation Corps as soon as he could. My father was thirteen and did farm work and odd jobs to help out till he got on as a night watchman at an oil rig at fifteen. The rig wasn’t too far from the house so he often slipped home to get something to eat and warm up, since he was too poorly clothed to keep warm.