Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fish or Fishing Pole and Bait

I would like to tell you about a place I love. It is the place where my parents moved me to when I was 9 months old and I lived there until I was a wife and mother and part of my heart still remains in that rich, black dirt. My parents and brother are buried there, we have land there and I like to visit when I can. This place of my beginnings, raising and where I will be buried is Wilcox County Alabama and my hometown is Camden and my community is Canton Bend.

This place has riches beyond counting. It is located in south, central Alabama and is in the black belt area for the dirt is rich and black. It will grow most anything you plant and if you tend it, it will give back bountifully. In the warm, humid climate there was hundreds of acres of cotton, corn, soybeans, and peanuts. Most families had large gardens which grew most any vegetable you wanted. There were wild plum trees, dewberry vines, and blackberry vines with fruit for the picking. Many families had orchards of peaches, pears, apples and figs and arbors for grapes and scuppernons. Food was bountiful and farmers worked long hours to till the soil and provide for their families.

The Alabama River flows through it and on it is a hydro-electric dam which makes this river into beautiful lakes. There is the Pine Barren Creek which would be called a river in other states because of it's size. Along with these, there are many smaller creeks, streams, ponds and lakes. This provided fish and more fish for those who would take the time to go and sit awhile and cast a baited line or two into the water and wait for the fish to bite. There was fish to be caught and our mamas knew how to fry it up with hush puppies, and serve it with grits and slaw. In the summer we would have sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and corn on the cob to eat with that good fried fish. Fishing was not only a way of life for some, but fun for all.

Swimming in these waters was also big time fun. We would take picnics and go to the river and swim and eat. A big watermelon cooled in the water and eaten after a swim was wonderful. The river, lakes and ponds were places of summer fun and family outings.

Thousands of acres of this lovely place are covered with trees. There are pine, cedar and other evergreens and hardwoods you wouldn't believe. With these forests come some of the best hunting in the world. There is white-tail deer, turkeys, quail, squirrel, possums, coons and other critters. Most every man, boy and many women and girls had a gun and knew how to hunt these animals to put meat on the table. We ate rabbit and squirrel right regularly at our house. Mama would fry it, put in the pressure cooker with gravy and serve it with grits and biscuits and talk about good, it was gooood. Anyone who wanted to could hunt somewhere in that county and provide food for their families.

I could go on all night about my home place but this is just a sample of the riches this place has for the people who live there. It is not flowing with milk and honey but rivers and streams flow through some of the richest dirt in the world and it is shaded by forests of trees. This should be a place of plenty and satisfied people.

Sadly, this is not the truth. When I was growing up, yes it was mostly a place of plenty for all. We worked hard, raised our food, had jobs for most everybody, doctors who took care of everyone regardless of race or wealth. The churches were full on Sunday and and we took care of the needy through the church. Family was important and education was a priority.

The farmers were the ones I remember most for our daddy worked with them. There were big plantations, middle-sized farms and small farms. There were acres of pastures with cows and horses. Most were not wealthy but had enough and some to spare and share with others who were in need.

Now, this blessed place has the lowest per capita income of any county in Alabama and lower than most places in the United States. What happened? The land is still rich, the streams are still stocked with fish and hunting is still allowed. Where did it all go wrong. I don't know, but I have a theory.

You see a large percentage of the people in this rich county are on all the services of welfare and other government programs. Our daddy, several years ago, visited one of his farmers who worked hard and always had bountiful crops. He owned his land and had a nice house. Daddy sat with him on the porch and asked about his farming and cows. "I don't have any farming, Mr. Polk, " he replied, "just a patch of a garden out back with a few greens." Daddy was surprised for this man had always worked hard and had a good farm. When he asked him why, he told him he had several daughters and each had several children and they all lived with him. When asked how he fed them he told daddy about all the Welfare checks, the Aid to Dependent Children checks, food stamps, WIC and free medical care they received. I don't have to work any more, he said.

Our daddy was shocked and sad. There this man lived in the midst of riches and all he had to do was work to reap the harvest but he had rather sit and let and the government take care of him. This is only one instance of many, many more in this garden spot. It is now in the 4th or 5th generation of welfare families and recipients of other government subsidies and handouts.

What has all this accomplished? It is now the poorest county in Alabama, the towns are almost broke and many are run down and sad looking. Industries have come and most have gone. The main industry, the paper mill, has shut down a large part of their operations. They are in danger of losing their one hospital which is minimum at best. All of this want in the midst of God's rich blessings.

There is much less farming but the rich dirt is still there. There is more timber than ever, but the mills are not running at capacity. There are beautiful and well-staffed schools, but the young people leave to have jobs. But the government checks keep rolling in and many ask for more.

Work, why? So, I ask the question, "Should we continue to give the fish, or give a fishing pole, some bait and give fishing lessons." My daddy said, I believe him, that when you give a man everything and require nothing in return, you take away his pride in work. This is what has happened to lots of people in a place I hold dear.

What is the solution? I don't know but I think helping people to understand that hard work is necessary for happiness and success could be start. Jesus told us to observe the ant and how hard it worked. He also told us that work is honorable and we should do it as stewards of this world He created for us. He gave it to us to tend and take care of.

I haven't answered any questions or solved any problems but at least I have expressed my opinion for what it's worth. I have been mulling over how the government today seems to want to take over health and our lives and it just set me to thinking and this is what rolled out. We live in a land of plenty and God has blessed us beyond measure but not for the government to take care of us but for us to work hard, earn our keep and share with those who need, not those who are lazy and just want to be taken care of.

Nuff said,

The Georgia Peach (transplanted from Alabama)
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