Feeding a Hunger

Colette Decker - Laurel, Montana
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, April 15, 2011
Colette Decker

Hunger isn’t always about a lack of food. As Colette Decker learned growing up, it can also be a longing for a better life. A small business owner in Montana, Decker believes we can reach our dreams by embracing our hungers with creativity and passion.

Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family, hope, setbacks
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I believe hunger can be a good thing.

I grew up one of ten children in Wyoming, where my parents farmed a homestead after my dad’s service in World War II. He was called again to combat during the Korean War, and when he returned home, he couldn’t drink enough to numb his terrible memories. He struggled to provide for his growing family.

Until I learned to read, though, I didn’t realize that all children did not live as I did.

On our occasional trips to town, I checked out boxfuls of library books, all of which I read at least twice before returning them. When I opened a book, I could venture into unknown places—idyllic villages where children weren’t hungry and were in need of little. Often I dreamed that I lived in a quaint cottage with a white picket fence and that my life mirrored my favorite characters, the Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew.

When I wasn’t daydreaming, my reality was the life I shared with my brothers and sisters. At night I hid under the covers attempting to silence the sounds of life in an alcoholic home. Classmates asked why we didn’t have electricity or a telephone. I suppose my explanations were nothing more than lies, but the stories I told improved with every book I read.

Starting at a very young age, my siblings and I got jobs to earn money—sometimes so we could wear new, rather than hand-me-down, clothes, but more often to put food on the family table. While other children were busy with dance and piano lessons, we mowed lawns, hoed beets, delivered newspapers, stacked hay, babysat, and cleaned other people’s stuff—their houses and barns, their crystal and silver.

Mom grew vegetables, tended chickens, and baked bread, so we seldom went hungry, even when supper was nothing more than a pot of beans. But my real hunger wasn’t for food—it was a hunger for a better life. It was a hunger for knowledge about the world beyond our simple existence. It was a hunger to prove Dad wrong when he told us we would never amount to anything.

Hunger propelled my brothers and sisters to achieve much more than our parents expected of us. We devoured the offerings of the public schools because we realized that education would be our steppingstone into a brighter future.

Now I bask in the accomplishments of my siblings: an art professor who touches lives through teaching and gallery displays; a veterinarian whose passions are holistic care for animals and oil painting; a world renowned custom knife maker; plus a pharmacist; and business owners, all with artistic talents.

And me, I’m the keeper of the family stories. My daughter and I started a restaurant this past year. She creates the culinary masterpieces we serve, and I curate the displays of family art and stories we share in the café.

I’ll never know if we would have so many accumulated successes if we had not known hunger as children. Or if we would be blessed with so much artistic talent if our lives had been busy with after-school lessons and store-bought toys.

But this I do know: I believe hunger can be a good thing when it fuels a driving passion to improve on the hand one has been dealt.

Colette Decker wears many hats: She and her husband work together in the company they co-own, and she helps her daughter, Elizabeth, at the deli and bakery they run together. Decker is active in her community and loves traveling, especially to visit her son who is in the service. She spends any extra time in the great outdoors of Montana and with her granddaughters.