On our wordpress blog – Delta My Home, we feature stories of people who grew up in rural communities. Linda’s story is heart wrenching and inspiring, proving that it is not where one comes from, but rather what someone makes of the life they have been given.
And Life is Good by Linda Loftis Pippin
I live in a big house now. I have enough money to buy nice clothes and whatever else I may need. It was not always like that.
I was born in Biscoe, Arkansas, the third child of Levi & Hazel Loftis. Levi was about 20 years older than Mom. I remember tales of how her legs swelled up really big, and she nearly died at the end of her pregnancy with me. They had to have her stay in bed with her legs elevated. I guess I was born at home with a mid-wife. And I guess some nice neighbor was looking after the 1 & 2-year old babies running around that trailer while Mom was bedfast.
After I was born, Mom had 4 more children, one right after the other. When we were still small, Dad moved us to Lonoke. One night I was playing in the floor, put a blanket over my head, and my little brother, Danny, hit me on the head with a hammer. He was too small for that to really hurt much, but I let out a yelp……and Dad punished him by hanging him on a nail protruding from the wall in the bedroom. He wore coveralls, and Dad just hooked him on the nail by his cover all straps, turned the light out, and left him in there. Even at 3 or 4 years old, I felt so bad for him. He was terrified, because it was nighttime and dark in there. I can’t erase that memory.
The next memory in that same house was that my oldest brother, Roger ran away. He could have been no more than 5. Roger ran away a lot over the years. That was just the beginning. I remember cops all over the place shining flashlights looking for him in the darkness. They finally found him up in a tree not far from the house. When they brought him home, and left, Dad tied him to the bedpost with extension cords. After whipping him, I guess he slept there all night. I cannot remember. But it made me so sad for him.
Dad went to town a lot, looking for women, I think now. One night he got in his car, and the boys were pushing it (although I can’t see how little boys could help much now), so I thought I would help them. I grabbed onto the bumper and pushed. The car started, and he went off down the gravel road. Only I did not let go. When the car took off I panicked, and held on for dear life. He was dragging me behind the car. I heard a shrill whistle from a neighbor, who was sitting on his porch, and the car stopped, and I let go. He ran out and grabbed me, and they took me to the hospital, where I got all bandaged up. Dad never took me back to the doctor, and I remember him making me hold onto those same old bedpost while he ripped those bandages off my legs….and screaming because it hurt so badly. I still have scars.
We moved to England, Arkansas shortly thereafter I think. I remember that all our stuff (not much) was loaded onto the back of a truck, and the mattresses were on top. And on top of the mattresses were us kids. Small miracle we did not tumble off and die.
I think the three youngest kids were born after we moved to England. Dad beat Mom all the time, and I can remember him hitting her with a baby in her arms, and she drops the baby, and I pick it up so it will quit crying. Mom took the beatings in silence. Matter of fact, I can’t ever remember her talking to us, or telling us she loved us, or hugging us. She was just a quiet person all the time. Even in later years Mom never initiated a conversation, we had to drag words out of her mouth.
We rented that house. And one day Roger found the rent money hidden in a bottom drawer of a chest of drawers. And he went to town and bought toys, and some little yellow rubber ducks. Dad came home, and knew Roger must have taken the money, so he beat him with a belt until his back was black and blue and ripped open and bleeding. I can still hear his pleading, “Daddy, please don’t hit me anymore, I won’t do it again, I promise, please, Daddy, please.” The beating seemed to last an eternity, and I can never erase that memory.
Dad kept looking for other women, and I guess he found one, because he loaded the 5 oldest of us in his old car, and took off down the road, leaving Mom standing on the front porch holding one baby, and one clinging to her dress hem. I was looking out the car window, and felt very sad. We drove to some other house over by the railroad tracks, and when the car stopped, I got out and started running back home, but he caught me and made me stay there. He got an older couple named Jake & Estell to watch after us until our “new momma” arrived. They said she was coming soon. I picked up a broom and danced around the room singing “We’re gonna get a new momma…..we’re gonna get a new momma”……And she soon came. I think her name was Emily. She had daughters, one about my age. I’m not sure if she and Dad ever got married because I do not remember her staying long, and once I found her “falsies”, and she made me swear not to tell Dad she wore falsies.
We had little black friends at that house, and they loved to touch our hair. Told us it felt like silk. I felt their hair too. It was stiff and wiry. They braided our hair a lot.
We always ran outside when we heard the train coming, and stood in a row waving at the engineer and the men who rode in the caboose. They started buying candy, and then every day when we waved at them they threw candy out the train window….into the weeds at out feet, and we dove into those weeds and hunted all the candy. It was a happy memory. We looked forward every day to hearing that train whistle. Once one of those, “walking stick” bugs got on my dress. It scared me to death. But we peeled him off and stared at him for a long time because that was a really weird bug.
We soon moved from that house to another house by the railroad tracks again, just another house closer into town. It was a 3 room shack. Two beds in one room, one for the 3 boys, and one for the 2 girls. There was a bed in the middle room for Dad, and a wood stove and a couch. And the 3rd room was the kitchen furnished with a table, a bench, a coal oil stove, and a small table with two water buckets and a dish pan on it. We had no running water, so we carried water in gallon buckets from the neighbor down the street. And we had an outdoor toilet some distance from the house. They always put those things far from the house because of the smell. Dad painted that house pink. And we lived in an ugly pink house.
We had started school by then, but did not have proper clothes or shoes to wear, so the boys played hookey a lot. I know this generation hasn’t a clue what that means, so it means they just did not go to school. I never missed. I loved school. I didn’t care about what I had on, I just wanted to read all the books, and be smart. And school was an escape from home. It was clean, and there were nice people. Some kid’s parents bought me milk, so I got to drink milk at school. As I got older I won all the spelling bees, and all the math bees. I liked that. It made me feel special.
We had no supervision at home, so we were left to come and go as we pleased all day while Dad worked as a mechanic at John Deere. If anyone in town had fruit trees, or pecan trees, we raided them for food. We picked blackberries in the summer and sold them for 25 cents a gallon. We lived in a black neighborhood, and some of the neighbors had TV. We did not have TV, so we watched TV with them, sitting on the wooden floor with the little black children, contented. Sometimes the black people fed us like we were their own. My best friend was the little black girl right across the railroad tracks, but Dad found out we were playing together, and he forbade me to play with her again. I did not understand and I asked why, and he said, “because white folks don’t mingle with negroes.” But I did not know color. And the “negroes” were kind to us, so I was very confused, but I did not play with my little friend anymore because I was terrified he would beat me if I did. I wondered if her Mom told her not to play with me. Sometimes I would see her outside, and I would wave. I missed her.
Dad took us to the City Dump a lot. He looked for copper wire to sell and we wandered all over the dump looking for discarded toys. There were a lot of trees around the dump, and some of them had big hanging vines on them. We would swing on those vines and holler like Tarzan. That was fun. I prayed once that God would please let me find a “baby doll” because I wanted a doll. And we went to the dump, and I found a little naked baby doll. She had the words “So Wee” on her, so I named her “So Wee.” I cut holes in socks for her clothes.
Once my sister went to the little neighborhood store right down the street. She had found a dime, and wanted to buy candy. She stood in front of the glass case and pointed to a mound of chocolate drops, and said “I want a dime’s worth of nigger toes.” The black lady who owned the store stared at her and said “say what, child?……show me what it is you want.” June dutifully pointed to the big pile of chocolate drops. “Those are chocolate drops, child, don’t ever call them nigger toes again, my…my…..tsk, tsk”, and she shook her head and filled a paper bag with the candy. They knew we were ignorant white trash, and they were tolerant of our stupidity.
My sister, June, always celebrated her birthday on June 1. Dad told her she was born on June 1st, and that’s why her name was June. We called her Junie Bug. One day I found her birth certificate in some old papers, and her birthday was September 28th. I showed her the birth certificate, and she got so mad at me. She said she did not care what that piece of paper said, her birthday was June 1, and she was not gonna change that. I think she is still mad at me for that.
Dad got married again while we lived here, once to a lady named Nancy, who was so mean. He beat her a lot too, but I think she fought back. She finally left.
Then he married Emmy, who had two mean sons. And he beat her a lot too. He was at that time giving us a quarter each week for an “allowance”. She took our quarters and gave them to her sons. I did not like her. She hated my two cats, and she made me carry them off. I took them out to an old hollow tree close to the house, and went there every day to feed them and check on them. They were named Flipsy and Topsy. Flipsy was crippled because when she was little, someone slammed a door on her, and broke her back. She ran on her two front feet, but dragged her back feet, so she could not move fast. But she was a happy cat, and did not feel any pain in her paralyzed back. One day I went to check on them, and Flipsy was gone. I asked the little black boy who lived close if he knew where my cat was, and he said the dogs killed her. He showed me her body floating in the sewer ditch close by. I took Topsy home then, and I was sad. Emmy finally had enough and left too. I was glad.
Dad was still seeking women. He had joined a Lonely Hearts Club to find a new mate. They sent all the members catalogues or something of that nature with pictures & short narratives of all the mate seekers. Men seeking women. Women seeking men. We used to get that and look at all the “mommas” and read the narratives, and wonder which one would be the best one for us. Once a nice lady from Texas drove down to meet Dad. She had a nice car, and she was pretty, and clean, and smelled nice. She stayed all day, but left the same day. She hugged us all, and cried. You could see that she wanted to stay and take care of us, but could not. Her name was Jessie. We liked her.
As we got older, Dad got crazier, or maybe you just don’t realize stuff when you are young. He read the Bible all the time, and made us listen. He said the world was coming to an end, and it would be by fire, a big fire. And we needed to prepare. So he took an old chiffrobe and got a padlock for the door. He stared buying up canned food and locking it up in that chiffrobe. We didn’t have any food in the kitchen, but the chiffrobe was full of canned goods. And we were always hungry. So the boys (Roger & Buddy) started making skeleton keys from nails. I watched them hammer away at the nails until they were just right to open that padlock on the chiffrobe door. Then they opened the lock and took food, and ate. Dad knew food was missing, I think he counted those cans every day. So he beat the boys for “stealing food.” Somethimes with his belt, and sometimes he made them go out to the willow tree out back and cut their own switch. And they are shuffling to that tree, crying and sniffing, knowing what is coming. And he whipped them unmercifully. So they kept running away from home to avoid the beatings and eventually making their way back.
We scavenged for food in the alley ways behind the grocery stores. When they threw out the stuff that had reached its expiration date, or gotten old, we found it. Once we found some Cheerios and took them home to eat. They had lots of bugs in them.
Buddy would go into town and help the candy delivery men unload their candy onto the store shelves. They gave him a big old Babe Ruth for helping them. And he came home and shared it with me.
We had chinches (bedbugs) in our beds. Dad sprayed a lot with DDT, but you can’t kill those bugs. So they bite you all night while you try to sleep. The house was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A lot of the windows were broken out, and covered with corrugated tin. We covered our thin blankets with piles of dirty clothes in the winter so we could sleep warm.
The boys started sniffing gas, except for Roger. They would siphon the gas from the gas tank of the car into tin cans, and sit out behind the shed sniffing it for a long time. It made them a little high. And I’m sure made them forget their hunger pains and the beatings. We ate rabbit grass (at least that’s what I called it) and sometimes clover, and maypops, I’m not really sure that’s what those were, but they tasted good when you were hungry. Always when walking to school I would daydream that I would see a rabbit hole on the side of the road, and I would go into that hole like Alice in Wonderland, and down under there was a huge, long table spread with the most delicious food imaginable. And I ate until I could eat no more.
I listened to country music on the old radio in the middle room. The songs told a story, and I loved to try to figure out what story each song told. I remember Johnny Cash singing “A Ring of Fire”… and it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. I asked my sister, June, to listen to the song and tell me what he was singing about. She said, “It was about someone dying and going to hell.”
The boys were always catching “critters” and bringing them home for “pets”… snakes, lizards, turtles, coons, possums, pigeons… they put them in an old iron kettle in the backyard so they would not escape. I felt sorry for them, and always sneaked out and let them go. The boys did not like that, but I did it anyway. So the cycle continued….they kept bringing them home, I kept letting them go. Once Danny caught a possum. I went out to let it go, but it was gone. When I asked him where the possum was, he said he sold it to the lady across the tracks for a quarter. And she was gonna cook it up and eat it. I was mad at him…and sad for that possum.
One time Roger went hunting with the boy across the tracks, Donald Stewart, and Roger accidentally shot Donald in the arm. They came running home, all scared, and it terrified me. Roger told me not to tell Dad, or he would get a beating. Donald never went to the doctor, and he started blackmailing Roger and making Roger pay him money or he would tell Dad. Roger always found ways to make money, selling coke bottles, selling copper wire, whatever. He finally had to tell Dad because he needed that money. I think Dad actually took that pretty well, but I cannot remember.
Sometimes the teachers in England read us books in class. A chapter or two each day, and that was wonderful.
My favorite book was “The Boxcar Children”, a story about some kids who had no parents, and they found an old boxcar and made it into their home. I daydreamed about that too. That would be better than the home we had. Mrs. Hale read us a book about “Nancy & Plum”, and that was a wonderful book too. It reminded me of myself and June.
Dad continued to beat the boys a lot, and eventually all three boys had run away at the same time. They stayed a long time, and every night I wondered about them. They did not come home this time……the cops picked them up and took them away. Then they came and got me and my sister and took us away too. We all were taken to a “temporary” foster home in Lonoke until they could have a trial and permanently remove us from our home.
The lady at the foster home took in special needs kids. She had a baby with a “hole in her heart”, a young boy with polio, and a young girl who could not talk. I thought by some miracle I could teach her to talk, and I tried and tried. The foster Mom had a grown son who was married and lived across the street. He was a policeman. They never locked their doors, and one day Danny went over there and got himself a sandwich from their refrigerator because he was hungry. So they hauled him away……I can still see him standing in the back of that pick-up truck looking so little, and sad and bewildered. I think they took him to his permanent foster home in Carlisle. I will always believe that messed him up, hauling him away like that for eating a sandwich.
We soon had the trial, and Dad walked over to me and said “Hidy Linda” and he was crying, and that made me sad. And I cried all day, throughout the entire trial so I can’t remember much of what happened. We were sent to our permanent foster homes, but Roger went back home with Dad because I think he felt sorry for him. Danny stayed in Carlisle, and Buddy went to a home in Benton. June and I ended up in a Foster Home in Pine Bluff. It was a young couple with two kids of their own, and one other foster kid. Their names were Bill and Myra, and they were pretty strict. He was quiet and nice, she was a hard-nosed meanie. She wanted to spank your bare bottom if you disobeyed her or made her angry. And that was not gonna happen with me or with June. We pretty much made it clear that we would not pull down our pants for a spanking. So they sent us away.
We ended up in another Foster Home in Hot Springs. This was a minister and his wife. He was quiet and submissive, and she was a mean, wicked person. They had two other foster daughters. I think they took in foster kids just to impress their congregation. They talked bad about us when we went to bed, and ate ice cream, which they would not allow us to have. We could hear them talking about us while we tried to go to sleep. They would not let us write letters to our brothers or receive mail. They made us stay outside all day long so we would not mess up the house. We had to be perfect and clean all the time. So we begged the Social Worker to please move us. That Foster Mom was like an angel when the Social Worker came, it was like Jekyll and Hyde.
The Social Worker was a nice lady. Her name was Kathryn Butchee. I don’t know how she did that job. She could not find another home to take both of us, so June was sent to a home in Conway, and I was sent to another home in Pine Bluff. This was an older couple named Doc & Winnie. Another submissive, nice man married to a domineering, cranky woman; must be lots of them out there. They had a son late in life, and from all accounts he was slow minded. Doc got him a job working on the highways when he was 18. That’s what Doc did for a living. Winnie was a LPN. At any rate, one day they were working on the highway, and Doc backed over his son with a road grader. I don’t think Winnie ever forgave him. So they were lonely, and asked for a foster kid to fill the void. At first they got a boy, but Winnie sent him away because he reminded her too much of her son. So they asked for a girl, and they got me. I was 14, almost 15.
I entered a middle school, Dial Junior High, and I hated that school. It was full of what us poor kids called “rich kids”….. mean, arrogant and running around with a “I’m better than you” attitudes. Winnie would not pay the $1.25 per week that it would cost for me to have lunch at school, so I had to work in the cafeteria to get free lunches. that made all those snotty kids really look down on me. One other girl worked in the cafeteria with me, and we became best friends.
It was close to Christmas by then, and Doc and I put up a tree and decorated it. But Winnie made us take it down because it made her sad because her son was dead. That’s what he told me. I was sad to take it down because we never got to have a tree growing up.
Our Dad had told us Christmas was devil worship, and we did not have Christmas Trees or presents like other kids. Mom’s sister, Aunt Opal, always brought us presents and food at Christmas when we were kids. Wonderful food, nice presents. She was a bright spot in our lives. That’s where Mom went on that sad day when Dad drove off and left her standing on her porch with two little kids. Aunt Opal only took Mom, and the two little ones went into foster care. Mom met another man, I think through that same Lonely Hearts Club and eventually married him. Then she got her two young children from foster care. She and Bob had two daughters. I think Bob was nice to Mom…much nicer than Dad was, but I don’t know. I got on a bus and visited them once, and he said all Moms’ kids could come live with them. I thought that would be nice because I would be with my Mom again. So I left the foster home and went to live with Mom & Bob and the other 4 kids. He bought me my first car, an old Cadillac. But I wrecked it.
I soon realized that Bob could not afford to feed and clothe such a large family, and my foster parents had called and told me they “needed” me. So I went back to that foster home, and stayed; no more moves for me.
I graduated from High School as Valedictorian. I got a scholarship from some foundation that helped Foster kids, and went on to college and graduated something cum laude. My Aunt Opal made me clothes to wear because Winnie and Doc would not ever spend any money on me that was not provided by Social Services. My Aunt is 88 years old now, and still bitter about all those nights and days she worried about us kids being hungry and cold.
I wanted to be an Airline Stewardess and fly all over the world, but I was in a wreck with my boyfriend, and my hand was pretty much buggered up. I applied, and interviewed, but they told me that I could never work as a stewardess because of the ugly hand. So I got a job in insurance, and had plastic surgery on the hand as soon as I got my first paycheck. I lived with a nice lady in Little Rock and paid monthly rent. I loved her dearly. I am still in insurance today. It has been a rewarding career.
My Dad got hit by a car and killed in 1973 I think. He was living in Little Rock with one of his daughters by his first wife. We all went to his funeral. My Mom died in 2012, in a nursing home close to my house. I can only think now what sad lives they had.
I met my husband and got married in 1974. He was a Captain in the Army National Guard, and we spent a lot of years attending Military Parties and functions. He retired in 1993 as a General. We are still together. In 1983 we had a daughter, who is beautiful and perfect, and the light of our lives and life is good.