Local News Archive
Print Issue: December 9, 1971
Christ Lives In Northern Georgia
By Marie Mulvenna
Laura isn't her real name, but everything else about her is very real. And very tragic. She's only nine but she's enmeshed in the "hellish circle of poverty" and her young face mirrors the anguish of want and desperate need. She's never known anything but hunger, filth, cold and sickness. Laura, her four brothers, and their parents -- all together in a tar paper coop that's called home.
"Home" -- a rock-strewn dirt path in Hinton, Georgia running past a makeshift pig pen, a few sickly chickens scratching in the dirt and a tiny bleak shack covered with paper, rotten wood, and patches of cloth to hold it together and keep it warm. A tub of cold muddy water stands at the door -- her mother's laundry water. A few faded artificial flowers are tied clumsily to a dead corn stalk - an ironic touch of light and beauty in a setting that is filled with ugliness and darkness.
It's dark inside the little coop and the odor of seven people living in the meager structure greets you at the door. There is no bathroom, no heat -- save the skimpy warmth that comes from an old wood-burning stove. Two worn mattresses lie on the dirt floor providing sleeping space for Laura's family. Tattered rags, any they can get, cover their thin bodies each night. Old clothes they are fortunate enough to receive are their wardrobe -- all sizes, all colors, all conditions.
They do eat -- sometimes -- but not often enough to keep them from sickness which lurks at the door like an ever-present vulture. They've stopped hoping for better days though -- long ago. And their faces -- all of them -- are deeply etched with the suffering of poverty.
Laura doesn't speak much -- she hasn't much to speak about. But her pale blue eyes tell a poignant story of life that is close to death itself. And yet life, of some sort, goes on day after desolate day for Laura and thousands like her. She lives in northern Georgia, less than 100 miles from the heart of Atlanta. Only a few miles from some well-known lake resorts, vacation homes and weekend retreats.
Traveling the winding woodlands roads, filled with the beauties of nature, one might never know about Laura, or almost 90,000 other people like her who share her living hell. Yet, to those who do know, who have seen a Laura in hundreds of makeshift shacks on small dirt roads, there are stories and histories that would defy fiction itself.
There's the four-year-old who never knew food was anything but cold cornbread until the day a social worker brought her to a center and other little ones were eating chicken and beans. The baby whose fingers were chewed to the first joint by hungry rats. The 25-year-old woman whose husband is paralyzed, their three children close to starvation. The woman swollen with a tumor that kills her just a little each day. The man of 40, aged beyond his years, who cannot find a job of any kind, but keeps looking, almost numb to his plight. The mother of twelve who pleads for scraps to feed her young.
Laura is not alone. At least 40% of her fellow men in northern Georgia are below the federal poverty level -- "A modest estimate," a poverty official says sadly, relating unbelievable accounts of suffering, hunger and desperation.
Christ lives in northern Georgia -- in the sunken eyes, the frail bodies, the crushed spirits, the hovels called homes. He lives in, and with, these poor -- His beloved. These children of God, our brothers in Christ, are in our very midst just as He is. They suffer a purgatory on earth each day they live and without help their suffering grows like a cancer from within.
Pope Paul VI recently issued a touching yet forceful plea to "break the hellish circle of poverty." It can be broken, it must be broken, it will surely be broken. It will be done by every man who breathes the word Christian, by every man who is truly a living witness to His name.
"Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me."
Help is coming Laura.