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Spires: The America we grew up in

Spires: The America we grew up in

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Whenever there is a gathering of old friends or family it seems the conversation soon turns to the thoughts of how we grew up.

In my case it was the '50s and '60s; however, I remember well sitting with the grown folks when I was a child and listening to them talk about their childhoods. I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there with similar memories.

My father was raised on a small farm in Lowndes County, Georgia, before they moved to Gadsden County, Florida, when he was about 11 years old, in 1917.

My grandfather, a sharecropper and a widow at the time with six children, one a newborn (my grandmother died in childbirth), made the move with a mule and wagon.

All of my uncles came back from World War II and settled in Miami; my father and his two sisters stayed in Gadsden County. So, when they would sit around at family gatherings and talk about their growing up years it would be so interesting to me.

Growing up had been hard times for them, they had to scratch a living out of the earth. They all grew up knowing what it was like to "get by" on what they had.

The one advantage they had was a hard-working father. He made sure there was food on the table to eat.

I think about that often, especially about the amount of stress he must have been under to take care of six children and make sure they were all feed.

His parents had done the same and theirs before them as well. It is what Americans did back in those days. They put their back to the plow and worked. He would marry again and raise four more children before he passed away in 1951.

It had to have been hard and although when they would talk fondly of their childhoods, none of them ever farmed as a career, including may father. They wanted an easier life for their families and, for the most part, accomplished that goal, including my two aunts.

My mother’s siblings would have the same conversations when they would get together, as well. Her story was different. Her father moved often, running turpentine stills across the South. He was from North Carolina and met my grandmother when she was only 15; he was 35 at the time. It was a common occurrence that a man would be settled in a profession before getting married in those days. This about 1904, by the way.

They would have the first child in 1906 and my mother the youngest in 1920. Each of their children were born in different locations as the family was constantly on the move with his business. My mother was actually born in Bonifay, Florida.

My mother had many fond memories of growing up and I remember her talking about her exploits as a young girl. Being the baby, she was spoiled, for the most part, so she saw her childhood differently than her siblings. When she and my father married, she could not even boil water.

In addition to turpentine, my grandfather bought and sold land. He would lose all of his money when his two partners beat him in a deal he had actually brokered. The land deal was what you know now as Thomas Drive in Panama City.

Both of these families survived the Great Depression, primarily because they were what we like to call "salt of the earth" kind of people. The kind of folks who grit their teeth and figure a way to survive.

I’m afraid we are again facing some tough times ahead and, if so, we are going to have to reach back and see if we can garner some of that fortitude for ourselves.

Byron Spires is a retired newspaper editor. He has written dozens of short stories and serials in the Havana Herald. He recently published “The Curious Life of Marci Bell: Part I,” in a series of three books. You can contact him at

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