The backyard campout was all Billy and his friends could talk about. My cousin Sue and I furiously watched them build a tent out of old quilts stretched over the clothesline, furious we couldn’t camp out with them. No girls allowed! Continue reading
The events surrounding Aunt Ellie’s death were a real treat for me since the two of us hadn’t invested much affection in each other. The wake was unforgettable with all its glorious food: fried chicken, peach cobbler, deviled eggs, bread ‘n butter pickles, dainties not seen outside “dinner on the grounds.” Sprinkled with carbolic acid, Aunt Ellie lay in a Continue reading
I knew Champ, our horse loved me, since he trotted up to the fence every time he saw me. I carefully held my hand flat and let him snuffle up goodies with his velvety muzzle. My big sister said it he’d love anyone who slipped him apples, sugar and carrots, but she was just being mean. I didn’t tell my friends and cousins the trick, so they were scared he’d bite them. Before long, I found he could help himself to treats.
My grandmother had written that she was coming for Easter and bringing Easter outfits with hats and shoes. I didn’t hear much except the part about outfits with hats and shoes. I was thrilled! I had been dying for a cowboy outfit with red boots, red hat, and shiny pistols in a holster but Mother said I needed other things worse. Good old Grandma knew what really mattered! I was up before daylight waiting for her. Breakfast and lunch dragged by…..…..nothing. I was getting more and more upset. Maybe Grandma wasn’t coming. Maybe she got lost. Just before dark an old black car crept up. We all flew out to the car, trying to get to her first. “What did you bring me? What did you bring me?” Mother tried to shush us, but nobody listened. Grandma was slow getting out of the car and slower getting in the house. No wonder it took her so long to get here. We got busy and helped with her bags and a big brown box from the back seat. There was plenty of room in there for a cowboy suit and lots of other good stuff.
Even though we were dying, Mother made us wait till Grandma went to the bathroom, got a cup of coffee, and caught her breath. She was slow at that, too. Finally, Grandma got the scissors and started cutting the strings on the box. She was so old her fingers shook. It took forever. I could have ripped into that box in a second, but would Mother let me? Noooooo!
Just before I died of old age, Grandma started pulling things out of the box. I knew she always saved the best for last. I got a gumball machine full of gumballs. That was great!! Next she pulled out a baby doll and handed it to me. Grandma couldn’t seem to remember I hated dolls, but I tried to be nice about it. All baby dolls were good for was burying when we played funeral. I tried to be patient till she got to the cowboy outfit. Finally, she hit bottom. She made me and my sister close our eyes and hold out our hands for our outfits.
I peeked just a little and was furious!! This was a horrible joke! We were both holding fancy Easter dresses, big ridiculous straw hats with flowers, and shiny white shoes. I hated them! Where were my cowboy boots and guns? My mother gave me a dirty look before I could tell Grandma what I really thought. I hated dresses, but Mother made us put on our Easter getups and pose next to the fence for a picture. It was hot. The clothes were scratchy. We looked stupid. My prissy big sister kept dancing around like a ballerina while the mean kids from next door laughed at us across the fence. I’d be dealing with them later. Boy was I disgusted.
Mother was as slow as Grandma. While I stood there like a dope waiting for her to take that darn picture, Champ came up behind me expecting a treat. We both got a big surprise. I felt a big scrunchy chomp on my head. The strap on my hat stretched tight, snapped, and that horrible hat with the flowers was gone. I flipped around, and Champ was eating my Easter hat. He still had straw and flowers sticking out of his mouth, but I could see he didn’t think too much of it either. He was the best horse ever. I never had to wear that hat again. He did love me!
Goats are always in love. They are also great fence breakers. This is a bad combination. I don’t know why Daddy kept goats. In theory, they’d eat brush and he’d have one to barbecue on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day. The fact is, goats are not stupid. They are born knowing flowers, grass, garden vegetables, and almost anything Continue reading
My pathetic explanation, “I wasn’t trying to be smart alek, I really just didn’t care if I wore out the seat of my pants,” was no help. There was no escaping. Mama wasn’t cruel, just intended for her children to obey. Selection of a switch was a weighty matter. Mama required a switch large enough to make a nice snap and sting when it struck the legs, but small enough not to cut the skin. I wanted to choose a switch just barely large enough to meet her standards. If I misjudged and Mama had to fetch her own, it would not be good. Dawdling would not help, so I chose the best of the worst for my switching. Mama let me cry a minute before hushing me. “Now you stop that! Dry up right now! Change out of those filthy overalls and go play.” With my child’s logic, I blamed Mama entirely for all my troubles, never thinking to be mad at John for tattling. I moped around enjoying my misery, maybe five minutes, till Mama noticed and threatened to put me to work if I didn’t go play, ”Right now!” Not being an idiot, I, straightened up long enough to get out of her sight, resuming my pouting hidden in a chimney corner. Creating some wonderful memories of my times with Johnny out of whole cloth, added to Mama’s endless cruelty, I wept luxuriously, but quietly, making sure Mama didn’t hear. That worked so well, I tried to dream up some long, lost times with the dear Aunt Ellie I had so recently mourned. In view of our anemic thin relationship, even my fertile imagination dried up pretty soon leaving me to resort to an ever present resource, self-pity. Now I was set. Mama was mean. She wouldn’t even let me cry after she whooped me! The more I thought about it, the madder I got. When Mama was mean enough to switch me, she’d let me cry just a minute and then say, “Now, that’s enough. Just dry it up.” She meant it, too. If I’d kept on whining, she’d have warmed my bottom up again. I tried to keep up my crying, but had lost my momentum and, frankly, crying was getting boring.
My temper up at the injustice now, I picked up a stick lying in the sand under an oak and whacked the tree several times. It felt good!! I whirled around to build up power and hit the tree again so hard it rattled my teeth. What I’d really like to do, just once, is give Mama a good whooping and let her see how it feels.
Possessed by fury, I drew a huge figure in the deep sand of the front yard, not fifty feet from the front porch. It never occurred to me that Mama was a perceptive woman, not easily amused by the antics of children, nor that things wouldn’t go well for me had she strolled by just then and found me beating a large stick woman drawn in the dirt. Enraged, I started at the top, beating Mama’s effigy, striping methodically down one side, even creating a carefully measured pattern on the bottom of the feet, before progressing up the other side, changing switches as I wore them out, taking care to replace them with big, strong switches, knowing how Mama favored them. Enjoying the combination of the rhythmic sound and the wave-like motion of the sand as I smacked, I immersed myself in the sensual experience, noting the fresh, dry scent as the sand mixed with the acrid scent of the broken switches. My mood changed from black to pure joyous enthusiasm as I was caught up in the experience. Seldom have I known such satisfaction. Standing back to admire my work in progress, I was suddenly horrified to see how obvious I had been. Mama could not have failed to understand, had she seen. I hurriedly grabbed a brushy top from a pine branch lying on the ground to brush away the evidence of my guilt, so I might live to sin another day. The deep experiences of my first real grief of Johnny’s loss, rage at Mama’s injustice, joy, and relief, one on the heels of the other made for a day of catharsis. Though it was years before I heard the word, its meaning was clear in my heart.
Cousin Katie got married! What the heck! Old people don’t married. An old man and his old, old grouchy mama came to visit. I was only four in 1932 and got this news, like most of life’s important information, from my favorite eavesdropping post under the table. I pretended to play with my paper dolls as Mama and Katie drank coffee and learned Katie Continue reading
I loved stories about my Grandma Lizzie and the brothers who flanked her on either side, Clarence and Ed. They grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the late 1890s to early 1900s. Grandma often complained that “Mama didn’t care what we did as long as she didn’t have to put up with us.” However, in this one tale, told in Lizzie’s words, she appeared to have cared very much. Continue reading
I met the one I’d always love sixty-four years ago today, the day of my birth. Our families were friends and his mother was there to help out when I was born. Two and a half years old and more experienced, he wisely waited for me to grow up a little before showing interest in me. I was pre-occupied with what I’d experienced earlier in the day and had no Continue reading