My Discovery of Love
I was an average, yet kind of shy, six year old girl. I lived on the back roads of a small country town in Louisiana called Searcy, which wasn’t but a few miles outside the town of Jena. I was the eldest of three children at that time, but when I was eight, mama had number four.
We didn’t have much money back in those days but I don’t recall ever going without the things we needed the most. There were times when things did get tough. It was all Daddy could do to keep our lights and water on and still put food on the table. Not to mention, feed all the stray animals that my mama had adopted.
I remember one time we literally had twenty dogs. There is no telling how many cats were running around there. All I know is there was absolutely no shortage of animals at our house.
Mama was kind of like Ellie Mae from the Beverly Hillbillies when it came to animals. In fact, that is what many of her close friends and family called her, Ellie Mae. She’d pick up strays that people would drop off at the dumpsters, at first. Then as people found out that she would care for them, they would just bypass the dumpsters and drop them off on our road. Of course, she would take them in and nurse them back to good health and we would try to find them a good home. That didn’t always happen very quickly though. And that’s why we had so many to take care of.
Mama had two favorites that were actually ours to keep. They were black labs. One we called Beauty and the other we named Whitey. The only way to tell them apart was to look at their chest. Whitey had a white strip on her chest.
Beauty and Whitey were very loyal labs, which most all labs are by nature. Mama spent a lot of time with them. They would sit out by the clothesline while she hung clothes and she would talk to them as if they understood every word out of her mouth. They would gather by her when she sat on the front steps peeling potatoes, or shucking corn and she would talk to them. She would go out to feed the other animals, they would follow her every footstep, and she would talk to them. Once, she was raking and all of a sudden, they started making a big fuss; barking, yelping, pawing at the dirt between mama and the pile of leaves she had been working so hard on. It was a rattlesnake. And Beauty took the strike that would have otherwise gotten Mama. Those dogs were Mama’s best friends. They would have died to spare her life. And, you know, I think Mama would have done the same for them. She thought of them as her kids and there was no way anyone would harm her babies. She wouldn’t have it.
For as way back as I can remember, animals meant so much to my mama. And I grew to inherit that passion. I wouldn’t say that it was or will ever become as much of a passion as it was for my mama but I sure have a soft spot for them. Maybe it’s simply because it reminds me of her.
As I said earlier, I was just six years old. We were going through some hard times. Dad, I believe, had been working in the logging woods some. However, if it rained, there was not any work to do. Therefore, there came a time when they were just scraping by to be able to feed us kids.
It was on my seventh birthday that I got a little dose of how hard it had really been on mama and daddy. If it had not been for that, I probably would not have even known that things were hard because they never made a fuss about it. But this was my birthday and I didn’t get a cake or any presents. I did get a lot of attention and the happy birthday sweetness but in my mind I just kept thinking, “Poor me. I didn’t get any presents. I didn’t even get a cake!” As a six year old, well now seven, I did not understand. I moped around and pouted all that day. I didn’t complain or anything because I didn’t want to hurt, mama’s feelings but she could tell. At bedtime, I laid in my bed and cried.
Dad was gone night hunting. Yes, it was illegal, but he had to do what he had to do, in order to feed his kids. Times were just that tough. While he was out in the woods, he shot a hog. But little did he know the hog he shot was a sow, a mama hog. As sad as that sounds, it was actually an opportunity in a way. He collected the little piglets and gave all but one away.
It was very late in the night but I was still awake in my bed crying when I heard my Dad pull up. I could here my mama and him talking but I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. Then to my surprise, I heard Dad’s footsteps in my room. “Nomie, Nomie….” he whispered in a sneaky little voice. Which by the way, my name is Naomi but I don’t think my family has ever used the correct pronunciation; Na-o-mi. Anyways, so I hear dad trying to wake me up, because he didn’t know that I was already awake. Mama is standing over at the door and she cuts the light on as Dad gets near my side of the bed. IT WAS A PIGLET! He had brought me home one of the piglets and it was all mine. It was my very own pig, for my birthday! I was so excited.
I don’t think I went to sleep that night. I don’t think that I could have been any happier either. Moreover, I know there is not a gift in the world that could have been half as great as the gift I received that night. It was not the fact that they gave me a pig. It was that mama and daddy’s heart had ached, just as mine did, when they didn’t have anything to offer me that day. Again, it really was not the pig offered to me that day I found to be so great. It was the compassion. It was that they had other things going on, that were so much more important. They had bills that had to be paid, vehicles that needed fixing, children that had to be fed, leaks in different areas of the house to mend, mama needed to go to the doctor, daddy needed a better job, and I’m sure I could name off lots of other, very important things that were necessary. For me, as a seven-year-old child, this was my first time to actually, realize just how special a parent’s love was. Even with so many worries in the world, my wants still mattered.
I had grown before I mustered up the guts to tell mama and daddy that I had been crying before they walked in the room. For all those years, I was ashamed of myself even though I was only seven because there was always one thing that my family never had a shortage of and that was love. Nothing on God’s green earth is greater than love. Everyone wants it, everyone needs it, and I have never been without it.
To be continued........