Mother always had a special capacity for bungling. Sometimes she just talks to hear her head rattle. That can be as dangerous as leaving a loaded gun lying around. When Mother was a teenager, the flu came to town. The Pyles family next door all got the flu, except for Mr. Pyles. He was struggling to care for his wife and six children. The neighbors were trying to help out by sending supper every night, since no one wanted to go in a house with the flu. Grandma sent Mother with a pot of beef stew and a pan of cornbread. Mother knocked on the door. When Mr. Pyles finally came to the door, he looked beat, wearing rumpled clothes, no shoes, and his hair uncombed. Feeling awkward, Mother started chattering, “Well hello, Mr. Flu. I hear your whole family is in the bed with the piles.”(Hemorrhoids)
Daddy and Billy planned to go to the football game. His friend Charles came by to visit just about the time Daddy needed to get ready. They stood by the open kitchen window talking close enough so Mother could hear every word. Charles dawdled and talked. Mother got Billy ready and called out “Billy’s ready!” thinking Charles would take the hint and leave. Charles kept on talking. Rather than tell Charles he had plans, Daddy stood and talked a while longer. Mother knew Billy would be disappointed, so she reminded Daddy, “It’s getting late. You need to get ready.” In just a minute, Daddy came striding through. Thinking Charles had left, she said “Did he finally take the hint? I thought he’d never leave.” Daddy shushed her. Mother looked up to see Charles still standing just outside the kitchen window, about six feet away. Daddy went back out with whatever he came in for.
Charles took it and said, “I’d better be going. You might have something to do.” He grinned and waved at Mother.
It’s not that hard to leave a kid behind in a big family. Mother initiated a head count policy after the first time she left one, but it still happened again. We went by to pick up Aunt Essie and her seven kids on the way to picnic at Aunt Ella Bea’s. While we waited for Aunt Essie to get her picnic lunch and kids together, Mother laid Connie down for a nap in the twin’s crib. Eventually, everything was ready and we all piled in the car, eleven kids under twelve, two mothers, picnic lunches and all the other paraphernalia big families require for a day out. The car was packed tight as we coasted off. Mother, Aunt Essie’s tiny twins, and Phyllis holding Marilyn, a newborn took up the front seat. The other six of us were cozied up in the back seat, already fighting and trying to hang out the windows before we pulled out of the driveway. About ten miles down the road, Mother got the uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong. She did a cursory head count and came up short. Aunt Essie had satisfied herself that all hers were accounted for, but came up a little short on Mother’s count. Hoping she was wrong, Mother reluctantly pulled over and did a quick tally.
Phyllis was in the front seat with the little baby. Billy and I were in the back seat defending ourselves from Allen and Waynie, but Connie was nowhere to be found. “Linda, where is Connie? I told you to get her out of the baby bed!”
This was news to me. “I didn’t hear you,” didn’t do much to get me out of the dog house. Even though she normally drove about twenty five miles an hour, in her panic Mother drove at least sixty back to Aunt Essie’s, convinced the house was on fire, or that kidnappers had been waiting for just this chance to break into Aunt Essie’s house and steal a kid. I doubted this, considering how mean Aunt Essie’s kids were, but wisely decided to keep my opinions to myself. When we went screeching into Aunt Essie’s drive, thankfully, there was no smoke billowing from the windows or evidence of kidnapper visitation. Things worked out well for everyone but me. Mother could bear a grudge about things like forgotten babies.
Daddy and Uncle July were working on a car late one evening. All the kids had to bed long ago. Mother could see the men working under the light in the garage. It was getting late. She really wanted to go ahead and have her bath so she could go to bed. Daddy could sleep later the next day, but she had to be up at five-thirty to get the kids on the bus. She checked and they would be another hour or so, so she gathered her things and scurried into the bathroom. “Darn! The bulb was shot and she didn’t have another one.” Reasoning the men would be outdoors a while longer, she left the kitchen light on and the bathroom door cracked just enough for her to see. She slid into the hot water and breathed a sigh of relief. She was alone for the first time that day. Her relaxation was short lived. Uncle July came bursting into the bathroom, flipped the light, went about his business when he found the bulb shot, and started to wash his hands. Mother huddled in the darkness, hoping he couldn’t see her in the bath tub. All was well for a minute till she had to breathe. Quiet as she was, Uncle July heard her.
“Kathleen! Is that you Kathleen?” She started not to answer, but thought that might be worse.
“Uhhh…….yeah.” she had to admit it was.
Uncle July dried his hands and went on like this happened every day. “Well, how are y’all doing?”
“Just fine.” She squeaked, and he went on his way.