Not the Boss of Me

In her never-ending mission to make Daddy’s life miserable, Mother raised objections when Daddy wanted to move one of his sisters, her dead-beat husband, and her horrible twins onto their place.  His plan was to buy them a mobile home, set it up, install utilities, under his name, of course, since their only income was Bubba’s disability check.  The good news was, the happy couple could now theoretically afford rent since they’d married and Bubba was getting extra income by acquiring her minor children.  The bad news was, Hubby was running from the law because he hadn’t paid child support for his own children in years.  They needed to get out of town fast since his ex-wife had finally located him.  The warrant for his arrest lay heavy on his mind.

Daddy was THE BOSS!  He would move anybody on his place he wanted to and if Mother didn’t like it, she could leave.  In fact, it was God’s Will that a man help his sister out.  Daddy went to work in a self-righteous swagger.  Righteousness became him.  Well, she would leave, by golly, but there was a small complication.  When Mother got ready to go, she found he’d taken all the vehicle keys with him.  She was waiting up for him when he got in after eleven that night for round two.

Quite satisfied with himself, he hid the keys and went to bed to sleep like the dead.  Rather than wrapping him in the sheet and beating the coon-dog poo out of him like she should have, she decided to give him the scare of a lifetime.  It was one of Louisiana’s rare icy nights.

Enraged, Mother grabbed an afghan off the sofa and made her way out to sleep in the camper, sure he’d be terrified when he found awoke and found her gone.  She tried to settle in the camper for the night, but it was beyond freezing.  With only the afghan, she might as well have been out in the icy night.  Naturally, she had no idea how to turn on the propane heater.  She dug through and found a couple of sheets and blankets in the camper, but they weren’t much help.  Finally, her rage cooled enough she decided she’d seek comfort back in the house and deal with Daddy in the morning.

Unfortunately, she had to deal with him a lot sooner than that.  She had inadvertently locked herself out of the house and had to beat on the doors and windows till she finally woke him up to let her in.  By that time, she was so cold she had to snuggle up to his back to warm up. It’s good he was a forgiving man.

Awaiting the Storm

As I sit on my patio, I await the approaching storm.  Everything I can control is in readiness with food cooked, water at hand, coffee in the thermos, flashlights with fresh batteries within reach, and phones charged.  I’ve talked to my family.  The children live hours south where the storm has already passed.  I thank God for that.

As I wait for the storm on the patio, I enjoy the unseasonable seventy-nine degrees, even knowing what it means.  Rain is is not yet blowing sideways, but it soon will be.  I recognized an ominous cracking sound, reminding me of branches that will be coming down.  Mother is with me .She always shelters with us during storms.  Somethings never change.  Even though Mother is ninety-two and frail, I am completely comforted that she is here to protect me.

The lights are flickering.  A large branch Just crashed to the ground.  I was about to Rush out to get a picture when I caught myself.  Maybe I’ll get photos after the storm.

Dining With Mr. Floyd

Daddy had always wanted a place in the country, but was overwhelmed at the magnitude of work facing him on that totally undeveloped acreage.  It had been homesteaded and farmed shortly after the Civil War, but hadn’t been under production for many years, long enough that most of it was covered in mature timber.  A tangle of locust trees was matted  over the old homeplace beneath three huge oaks.  Though we worked hard at clearing  and burning the growth, locust thorns worked up through the ground and pierced our feet for years to come, even through our shoes.

There was more work than one man could do, so Daddy hired Mr. Floyd to help harvest the timber and clear the land for pasture..  All that timber would finance the payments on the place and make improvements.  Mr. Floyd lived on the fringes of society getting by on odd jobs.  Mr. Floyd was unkempt, rarely bathed, and kept to himself, but had a reputation as a hard worker, He lived in a shack in the woods with his brother, who didn’t manage quite so well.  Daddy couldn’t afford to pay Mr. Floyd much, so they worked out a deal on a small wage, meals, and lodging in our fine school bus camper. When Mother got a whiff of Mr. Floyd, she told Daddy the camper was dead to her after that.

So, Daddy set the camper up on the far edge of his place.  Mr. Floyd moved in with instructions  to leave propane off since there might be a leak.  There shouldn’t be a problem anyway, since he’d be taking his meals with us.  Mother put some old bedding in the camper and Mr. Floyd moved in.  The next morning, he showed up for breakfast before daylight.  He didn’t was his hands, just dove in to the biscuits, grits, and eggs.  His manners served as lessons, thereafter.  “You’re eating like Mr. Floyd.”  He didn’t hog the conversation.  He was too busy with biscuits.

The men went to work right after breakfast.  It was early summer, but hot as blazes.  When they came in for lunch, Daddy pointed out the bathroom so Mr. Floyd could wash up.  He wasn’t worried about that.  He took the the chair Mother had offered him for breakfast nearest the window.  Daddy always sat at the opposite end of the table that got the best breeze from the attic fan.  He sat downwind of Mr. Floyd just long enough to get a whiff of seasoned body odor marinated with the piquant aroma of fresh morning sweat the fan pulled over our guest before jumping up.  “Here Floyd.  Sit here.  It’s the coolest spot.”

Mr. Floyd also taught Mother to cut the cornbread before putting it on the table when he reached for the plate and broke off a big piece before passing it. Phyllis and I both declined cornbread and passed it right along.  I didn’t keep up with who else was feeling picky, but there was a lot left after lunch.  None of us kids ever learned to enjoy Mr. Floyd’s company, but he was a necessary evil.

One night, over in the winter, long after work was finished, we heard what sounded like a sonic boom, which was surprising to hear at night.  A few minutes later, Mr. Floyd knocked on the door.  The boom had come from the camper.  Mr. Floyd had run low on wood for the heater and opted to use the propane stove, instead, the very same stove Daddy had warned him not to use because he suspected a leak.  Mr. Floyd had lit up a cigarette before bed and came near burning himself up.  It’s bad he got some burns, but good he didn’t gas himself. He was done with the camper after that, so that’s when Daddy let him work out a deal for a 1953 Chevy Sedan Daddy could spare.

The camper was deemed unfit, not only because Mr. Floyd blew it up, but because his strong smell lingered.  You can’t get rid of a fifty dollar just because of that.  A farm can always use storage.  Daddy pulled the camper up behind the house to use for feed storage and a place for the dogs to sleep. Mother was furious to have it so near her new house.  From that time on, whenever Daddy had no particular place to store something, it went in the camper.  It wasn’t long before the dogs were crowded out of the nice smelly bunks.  Whenever they could, the chickens slipped in and helped themselves to the chicken feed and tried to set up housekeeping.  Rats also liked chicken feed.  Black snakes love eggs, so between the smell, spooked chickens, rats, and snakes it was fairly unappealing.

Fifty Dollars Worth of Camper

th3EKZ50VW bus 2See this great old school bus.  It is so much nicer than the one Daddy acquired for the unbelievable sum of fifty dollars. He purchased it from his brother-in-law, who’d gotten stuck with it as payment body work.  Daddy was ahead of his time In acquiring this Tiny House.  Mother was furious.  Fifty dollars would have bought more than two week’s supply of groceries.  Though he gave Mother no end of grief about her extravagant spending at the grocery store, he wasn’t short-sighted and saw the great potential in this bus-camper.  It would be a wonderful shelter when he and his buddies went deer hunting, and oh yes, the family could use it for camping, too!  Now our camper wasn’t nearly so nice as the one pictured above.  It had been partially hand-painted bright silver and lacked a motor. The good news was, we could finish it up any color we liked and motors take up a lot of unnecessary space better used for storage.  In that special storage area, items were stored in boxes on one deep shelf or in  boxes on the floor beneath the shelf.  While the rest of us were out fishing, swimming, or just running wild in general, Mother drug boxes out and dug through them for dishes, pots and pans, and food, all this with two babies in diapers.  She complained about her back constantly.  What a whiner!

.nice inside

See how comfortable and well-appointed the camper pictured above is.  Ours was nothing like this.  There was no refrigerator, lighting, water, bathroom, hard-wood floors, or Benjamin Franklin wood burning stove.  There was, however, an ancient gas range Daddy hooked to a propane bottle.  It had two functioning burners and a defunct oven.  That was okay, since Mother insisted it had a propane leak and she was scared to use it longer than it took to heat a can of beans or cook eggs.  She cooked with all the windows open and made Daddy cut the fuel off every time she got through.  In fact, it did have a propane leak in the line, but that’s a story for another day.

Two full-size bunk beds filled the rear of the camper.  Two sets of old army bunks were stacked along either side.  Of course, we fought over the top bunks.  The lower bunks served as seating.  A lantern and flash lights served when light was needed.

It was perfect.  I remember one wonderful camping trip when Daddy pulled it to a creek bank.  We swam, fished, swatted mosquitoes, cooked outdoors, only going in to sleep, so exhausted we hardly moved till morning.  Mother got up several times every night to spray to camper with bug killer and spray the covers and any exposed skin with mosquito repellent.  We scratched bug bites and poison ivy for days after we got home.

That was our only family camping trip.  Daddy used it a time or two for hunting, then gave it up as too much trouble.  It had a couple of other incarnations as a home for a farm laborer who confirmed the stove fuel line leak before it descended so far down the social scale it ended life as a junk shed on Daddy’s farm.

To me, that camper was worth every cent!

Poor Hungry Kool-Aid Kids


Mary was the child-bride (victim) of an old-goat in his seventies.  God only knows what kind of situation he’d rescued her from, since she clearly adored him.  When I first met them on a ramble with Daddy when I was about ten years old, they lived with their two babies on a creek bank an old school bus that had been converted into a trailer for hunters.  Two full bunks ran across one end.  Twin army cots were stacked along both sides.  A stove, powered by propane sat near the front door.  The family’s few belongings were stored in boxes under the beds.  Though I was only a kid, I could see that Mary was just a teenager.  Mother later told me she was only eighteen.  She was hugely pregnant.  I was enchanted with their trailer, thinking how nice it would be if our family lived such an adventure.

Not long afterward, the neighborhood learned of the family’s dilemma, helping them into a small rental house not far from us.  My youngest sister Marilyn was an infant at the time with rampant milk allergies.  In consultation with her doctors, Mother had tried many formulas.  Finally, in desperation, she and the doctor settled on a frequent feeding regimen, supplemented by feeding her warm Jell-O in her bottle, so she would still have the experience of sucking.  Finally, she thrived.  Young Mary, struggling with two babies under two and newborn twins and a husband averse to working, was struggling find milk for her babies.  All four of her children cried all the time.  The neighbors brought food in, but the newborns just looked pitiful.  She was visiting one morning and told Mother she had put her babies on Kool-Aid, like Mother had, thinking it would help, but it looked like the babies were starving.  Mother was shocked and explained that she was giving her baby Jell-O, not Kool-Aid, and supplementing with frequent feedings.

The church provided many cases of canned milk, as well as other food.  All the children did much better.  Social Services was notified. Mary got some help, though she did have four more children over the years before we lost touch with them.

We did eventually end up with that classy camper, but that’s a story for another day.

Dog Discipline

What could these two pictures possibly have in common?  Buzzy is adorable, but he does have a little flaw.   He feels compelled to scratch soft fabrics.  My new bathroom rug is quickly balding.  I have to groom it every time he gets in there.  He gives carefull attention to several other rugs, but this one must be substandard.  I do tell him,”No!”  He is pretty forgiving, just gives me a hurt look and walks away.  I’ve thought of flapping him with a hand towel, but that seems a little extreme for a ten-year-old gentleman who’s never endured a flap.  I guess I need to buy a better rug or keep the door closed.

World’s Worst Grandma

I had the pleasure of taking a two-year-old grocery shopping one cold, dreary day.  The only bright spot was the lone automobile/shopping cart we found on the parking lot.  I wiped it dry and loaded her up.  As we progressed through the store, she found many strange and wonderful things thoughtfully displayed within her reach.  Sadly, I had to deny her hearts-delight: steak knives, fireplace matches, cat toys, and a twenty-seven dollar toy trumpet.It was a disaster when we stumbled into the toy aisle.  She scooped several toys into the cart.  To avoid tears,  I shamelessly deposited the culled items in an empty grocery cart as I steered her toward something that met three important criteria.  It would hold her interest till we got through the check-out line.  It wouldn’t get me in trouble with her parents.  Last of all, it wouldn’t bankrupt me.

Finally, we were done.  Over her protests, I got her zipped in her hooded jacket and wheeled her toward the parking lot, clasping her toy.  I would have enjoyed waiting for icy rain to stop, but I wanted to get her out of the store.  I struggled to steer the cumbersome buggy across the bumpy parking lot.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I opened the car door and buckled her in the car seat.  She was happily unwrapping her lollipop as a woman with a small boy parked next to us. Remembering how anxious my little one was to find the fancy cart, I asked the  woman.  “Ma’am, do you want this car buggy for your little boy?”

I might as well have stabbed my little guy in the heart.  She wailed tragically as the boy’s mother loaded him in “her” buggy.  I’ve had better days.



Miracle Healer

Daddy had a knee that troubled him from the time he’d left the Navy. It swelled and pained him in bad weather, likely osteoarthritis. He felt human bodies were like automobiles, if something wasn’t running just right, you fixed it. Unfortunately, as a few of us have noticed, wear and tear is normal with some things best left alone. Daddy visited numerous doctors, thinking knee surgery would fix him as good as new. He was disappointed when every one suggested conservative treatment, not surgery. Finally, he found a doctor at the Veterans Hospital who agreed to fix the knee, though he assured Daddy it wasn’t likely to make him better.

He lay in the hospital more than two months, casted from ankle to thigh. Getting up on crutches and ambulating was a nightmare. He was not a stoic man. This surgery business was not turning out to be a simple tune up like he’d envisioned.   Upon discharge, he was still casted and hobbling on crutches from bed to chair, not a good outcome.  He was still in a lot of pain, disappointed, depressed, and miserable. When Daddy was in pain, everybody was in pain. He spent his days stretched out in a recliner in the middle of the living room, watching TV, loud! From that point, he could supervise all goings on. He critiqued every move the family made. We were all most imperfect. He listened in on all phone conversations, insisting on knowing who it was. What did they want? It was not a good time to be a Swain.

Eventually, he got his cast off. The staff attempted to help him bend his leg. It was excruciating, of course. He was instructed to exercise every day and increase the movement daily, the extent of his therapy. He didn’t deal with the pain well, so he was left with a stiff leg.

All their vehicles had standard transmissions. Daddy couldn’t work the clutch, so he couldn’t drive. He was so critical, no one would drive him if they could get out of it. It was common for farm kids to drive early then, long before they got a license. Connie and Marilyn were eager to drive, so eventually, they were driving him about the countryside. If they went to town, Mother was stuck driving him, much to her disgust. Mother was barely five feet and Daddy six foot three inches. He slid the seat as far back as possible and stretched out on the front seat. When Mother tried to slide the seat forward, it jammed. When she put some muscle behind it and gave another try, the stuck seat broke loose and flew forward, bending his knee and simultaneously banging it into the dash. He screamed, shoved the seat back, and jumped nimbly from the car. When he finished his dance of agony, he found his stiff knee healed, though I don’t believe he ever thanked Mother