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In this story from September 1962, the beloved actress shares how her father's courage and strength taught her to rely on God.
Not long ago my younger son Timothy–he’s 12 now–came in to me with his homework assignment. Timmie had to read and try to understand all the stories on the front page of our newspaper.
“Oh dear!” I gasped out loud.
“What’s the matter, Mom?” Timmie asked, surprised, and I hastened to cover up the momentary despair I felt. There, splashed baldly across the page, were frightening headlines about many of the things that are wrong with our world today.
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There were reports about a hydrogen bomb explosion, about a murder, a car crash, a divorce. Oh Timmie, I thought to myself, must you learn about all of these things? What a world to bring you up in!
Timmie had provided that moment of pause that must come often to parents who try to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens and yet, who want to give their atom-age children a sense of security.
It is easy to believe that our children don’t think much beyond baseball or when-they’ll-be-allowed-to-wear-lipstick or what’s-for-dessert? Actually, however, children are but small adults; they, too, worry about the terrors of atomic war; they, too, can see the dark shadows with which our days are edged.
Again and again my husband Tony Owen and I have discussed this problem. We have not wanted to keep the realities of the world from our two boys and two girls, but for a long time we have had a sense of failure about finding the formula for what we call the courage to face today.
Then, recently, Penny Jane, our older daughter, now 15, asked a question that eventually gave us our answers.
We were talking about the world today, when Penny Jane said, “Mom, what did you have to worry about in your day?”
Children have a way of making you feel not old, but ancient, as though your youth and usefulness were centuries behind. I had to laugh at her question. “Well,” I said, and then my mind began to go back and all of a sudden it did begin to seem like a long time since my girlhood.
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Sitting there in the comfort of our lovely Beverly Hills home I began to talk about how I, too, was one of four children and how we lived on a farm near Denison, Iowa.
My family on both sides had pioneered in that state before I was born. As children all of us had chores to perform. I could and did milk the cows and drive the tractor, bring in water from the pump and coal and wood for the stove; to this day I can bake my own bread.
The most obvious difference between my childhood and our children’s is not that I lived on a farm, but that back in Iowa during the terrible pressure of the Depression years we were quite poor.
I doubt that any people in America suffered more than some of the Midwestern farmers of the early '30s. These people, our friends and neighbors, were struck with a series of Job-like afflictions.
Times were bad everywhere, of course, and there was little money, but on top of this came the drought that withered crops and parched the earth only to be followed by the wind that swept the dry topsoil into great, dark choking dust storms. Family after family loaded their belongings into rickety automobiles and left...
Poverty, need, these are awful things to have happen to you, but worse, I think, to watch in others. I remember the sounds of our animals crying for food and water.
I remember how a little girl from a nearby farm came to say that she would not be playing with me any more because her family was going away. She didn’t know where they were going; they were simply leaving, giving up.