RichMansPoodle“If I come back,” Mom said, arching her back against the cotton picksack she dragged down endless rows in the hot autumn sun, “I want to come back as a rich man’s poodle.”

Short, garbed in patched overalls, a faded chambray shirt, a homemade bonnet shading her eyes. In the adjacent cotton row, my stepdad tall and angular with the small head, big hands and big nose of his hillbilly clan. He was an illiterate man who barely recognized his own name written. Mom had had to quit school after the eighth grade. At various times, our family of five lived in a dirt-floored chicken house, an old barn, shacks in the woods with tin roofs and no insulation.

Yet, except for Mom’s occasional comment about coming back in the next life as a rich man’s poodle, they never complained about the lot they drew in life. They possessed a certain dignity and gratitude for what we had, not resentment of what we did not have, nor envy of what others might possess. If I brought in a ’possum from my trapline for dinner, or a mess of perch or a big carp from the creek, Mom would smile, pat me on the head and prepare it for dinner. Thankful, and with gratitude.

Since then, I’ve traveled all over the world, as a soldier, as a wanderer, as a professional writer/journalist. I’ve walked the slums of Panama where entire families might live in a wooden box. I watched a small boy dying from starvation in Honduras. In Africa, I lived with people whose ambition was to one day own a “real” chair. In Asia, I sat in a grass-thatched hut and shared a fish and some berries with a family that could not afford more, but yet shared what they had with a stranger.

They, too, like my people, possessed a certain dignity and gratitude.

Gratitude is no longer in style in America. Women complain because the government will not provide free birth control. Teens bellyache about deprivation when they do not have the latest electronic gadget. Men give up being men and wait impatiently for their next unemployment check. The poor, most of whom have automobiles, cell phones, cable TV, and a guaranteed income through welfare, envy the rich. Everyone feels entitled to possess everything—at someone else’s expense.

No one picks cotton anymore. Not in the USA. We’re entitled. And we’re never grateful.

The stump of my right leg where it had been amputated below the knee slipped out of its prosthesis cuff and dumped me on the ground. . . I heard my artificial leg bouncing off rock and sliding back downhill toward the enemy. This terrorist was in for some shock and awe of his own when my steel-and-carbon-fiber leg with the boot still attached landed in his lap.

From Back in The Fight by Joseph Kapacziewski and Charles W. Sasser. Available in most bookstores and on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.