Lucille was teaching Jenny to crochet. “I should a’taught you this long ago. Ever’ woman needs to do some fancy work for her baby. You might not know, but you already know how to chain. Look here”. With their heads together, Jenny watched her mother crochet twenty chain stitches. “Now do this”
“Oh yeah, I’ve done that playing string tricks, not even knowing I was crocheting.” Jenny was obviously encouraged. She chained twenty loopy and irregular stitches.
“Okay,” remarked Lucille. You got the idea. Now pull them out and do ’em over, putting just enough tension to chain smoothly. All the stitches need to be the same for your work to look neat. You’re gonna build on that chain. You gotta walk before you can run. Once you get your rhythm down, you’ll be skittering right along. Oh, now you’re gittin’ it. That’s a right purty chain. Now, let’s double back and I’ll show you a single stitch. Watch my hook.” She demonstrated the single stitch. “Start slow, steady tension, and keep it smooth. There you’re doing good. Do a single stitch in each chain. That’s good. Take your time, now.”
Jenny frowned and huddled over her work, crocheting laboriously. “Whew, this is working me hard. I don’t think I’ll ever live long enough to make a blanket.”
“Oh, you will. Okay, here’s how you turn at the end to start your third row. It’s always easier to handle after the third row. I guess you have enough to hang onto.”
“I’ll be glad when this row is done. I don’t know if I’m going to like this.” Jenny complained.
“We’ll quit for today, but we’ll come back tomorrow. It makes more sense once you let it digest.” Lucille gathered her supplies into a basket.
“Mama, I always meant to ask you. How come I couldn’t stay with you at the cafe where you worked? Couldn’t you get us a little place?”
“Honey, I didn’t have nobody to keep you. I had to work three split shifts six days a week. The breakfast shift was supposed to be six to nine, lunch eleven to two, and supper five to eight, but I had to work till all them dishes was done. I got a dollar a day, six dollars a week, unless I broke a dish and had to pay for it. The only thing that saved me was I got a meal with ever shift. Uncle Marsh had done set it up with the Orphan’s Hope Home for you to stay there when he got me on as a dishwasher. That’s the only way they’d give me the job. They’d had women try to move in that little closet with there younguns before. That cafe wasn’t no place for a little one, anyhow. It could git purty rough at night. I always kept the back door and the door between the kitchen and cafe locked.
Anyway, it cost three dollars a week to keep you in the home with their promise not to let you be adopted out. The kids all looked healthy and clean. You all wore brown sack dresses and brown stockings and oxfords and had your hair in braids, but you seemed happy and well-cared for. Them women seemed kind. I was so relieved when you didn’t cry the third Monday evening when I took you back for supper. You just took Ma’am’s hand and waved by. You never was never dirty nor had head lice. A few times you was sick and they had the doctor i. That’s more than I ever managed. I’d never been able to have the doctor for neither of you young’uns. Maybe Jimmy would’ve lived if I could’ve had the doctor out. They taken good care of you.” Lucille seemed sad at this recitation.
“Mama! That’s fifty-four hours a week for only six dollars a week. She that’s only eleven cents an hour! Nobody can live on that! That’s terrible!” Jenny was irate at her mother’s treatment.
“Jenny, that was fifty-four hours only if I could get through on time! I had to finish all the dishes before I knocked off. Lots of times it took me longer and sometimes I had to pay for a dish.”
“How much would a place have been?”
They was a boarding house close enough to walk. I checked and a room would’ve been three dollars a week. I tried to talk her down but she was a widow with three kids. Her and the little girl was a’sleepin in the kitchen and her boys was in the parlor. She was a’rentin’ out the two bedrooms for three dollars apiece, exactly what she owed the bank ever’ week. One of the boys had a paper route. She was a’takin’ in washin’ an’ baking for restaurants to feed her young’uns. She was a’workin’ as hard as I was. We got friendly and I went down for coffee sometimes between shifts. She was a real nice lady. After I moved off, she wrote me she married one of her boarders. Things got some easier for her after that.”
“I remember her. Didn’t she live in that big yellow house? I played with her little red-haired girl Peggy sometimes. We crawled under the porch and made mud pies.” Jenny reminisced.
“Poor as she was, she gave me a book of stamps for my birthday. She knew I wanted to write your daddy and Aunt Lucy and didn’t have no money for stamps. I wrote one letter to your Aunt Lu and wrote your daddy and sent him the rest of the book. He didn’t have no way to got paper nor stamps. I always left the back of my letters blank so he could write back to me on them. He’d scratch out my name and use the same envelope to write back. I’ll have to show you them letters sometime. I got ever one of them.”
“I’d love to see them, Mama. I never had enough of my daddy.”
“You’re a good girl, Jenny.”