Printer Friendly

FATHER'S SACRIFICE DEPRESSION-ERA DADS HAD LITTLE, BUT GAVE ALL FOR THEIR CHILDREN.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

There was only one snapshot ever taken of father and son together. They're standing in the dirt under a hot Oklahoma sun in front of an old shanty they lived in back in the early '30s when Bill Clarke was about 10, and his dad was sharecropping.

Willie Clarke is wearing a pair of beat-up old overalls and a battered hat pushed up on his forehead. He looks dead tired, and probably was, Bill says, because he can't ever remember seeing his father when he wasn't worn out from working in the fields 14 to 16 hours a day.

``His idea of a day's work was two days' work,'' Bill says.

Like a lot of children who grew up during the Great Depression, the boy in the faded snapshot is looking back now at his father with softer, wiser eyes.

He always loved and respected his dad for putting his family first and himself second, Bill says, but he never really knew how deep that love and respect went until now.

At 80, and nearing the end of his own life, like a lot of Depression-era kids, he's finding out.

Bill has already outlived his father by 16 years, and he knows why. It's not better health care or diet, he says. It's life.

Willie Clarke's life was hard. Bill's, by comparison, was soft. Running some diners in the San Fernando Valley for more than 50 years is leisure work compared to following the harvest sharecropping to put food in the bellies of five kids, he says.

Willie wasn't alone, Bill knows. This country made it through some perilous and scary times in the '30s on the backs of parents like Willie and Myrtle Clarke.

Parents who always put themselves second.

So on Father's Day 2002, let Willie Clarke's story serve as a homage to all the fathers from another, harder generation who are being remembered today by children more than a half-century later with softer, wiser eyes.

``Dad was born in 1890 and died in 1954,'' Bill begins. ``His education ended at the third grade, and a lifetime of hard work began.''

Willie and Myrtle married in 1907, before they had reached their 17th birthdays. They raised five children they loved without limits, and were never separated until Willie died at 64. Myrtle followed him six years later.

``Dad sharecropped the Oklahoma farms, and later tried the California fruit harvests as an itinerant worker traveling up and down the state,'' Bill says.

``We were truly the prototype 'Grapes of Wrath' Okies, going from one harvest to the next with dad driving our canvas-topped touring car, mattress on top, mom alongside, and their runny-nosed kids in the back seat.

``We sat cross-legged or lying on our piled-up belongings, and slept on the side of the road, mom cooking our meals over a small campfire.

``The stock market crash didn't mean anything to us because we never had any stock. I never saw the time we couldn't put everything we owned in a car.''

It breaks his heart today to think of the gut-wrenching worry his parents must have gone through, Bill says.

How to feed the kids. How to keep the car running to the next harvest, hoping the next job would last long enough to get the kids in school.

``They worked, endured, scrounged and scrimped,'' Bill says. ``And their kids never had a hungry day.''

World War II came, and Bill - not yet of draft age - asked his dad to sign so he could enter the Navy. He did in 1942, and was discharged in 1945.

``I didn't know until years later that this simple, loving man started worrying about the 'radio news,' and tried to enlist at the age of 52 - an old 52,'' Bill says.

``I know that he thought in his uncomplicated way that he might be with me, might be able to protect his boy.''

Willie was retired and living in Sunland when he died in 1954. He and Myrtle are buried together in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills.

In so many ways, this simple, loving, hard-working man from the ``Grapes of Wrath'' era is a symbol of so many fathers who carried this country on their backs through some perilous and scary times.

They worked, endured, scrounged and scrimped. And their kids never had a hungry day.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Bill Clarke of Llano shows old photos of his parents, Willie and Myrtle Clarke, left, and of him and his father in the family's sharecropping days in the 1930s.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

(2) Father Willie Clarke and son Bill stand together outside their Oklahoma sharecropper's home in this photo from the 1930s.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 16, 2002
Words:787
Previous Article:THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS 'TRAIL ANGELS' ARE GRATEFUL FOR HIKERS' CALM AMID FIRE.
Next Article:COUPLE PROVIDES WELCOME HAVEN.


Related Articles
DADS HAVE HAD IT: NO MORE TIES, SOCKS.
A FATHER'S PLACE CHILD CUSTODY SYSTEM NEEDS REFORM.
FIXER-UPPERS; SURPRISE MAKEOVERS GIVE DESERVING DADS STYLIN' NEW LOOKS.
BIG DADDIES; FATHERS AND OTHERS WHO LEAD, INSPIRE, DO THE DIRTY WORK AND MORE.
'FATHER' ROLE IS BEST WHEN EARNED.
FATHER'S LIVING LEGACY DAUGHTERS HONOR THEIR DAD FOR GIVING THEM BETTER LIVES.
Editor's note.
EDITORIAL HAPPY FATHER'S DAY.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters