Just Folks Getting By part 19

img_2023Jenny got a letter from Shirley.

Dear Jenny,

Please don’t tell Mama I wrote you first.  Things are so stirred up here I need to think things out.  First off, I knew I was pregnant before Mama left, but didn’t want to worry her.  Having five babies in eight years is hard.  I won’t be teaching this fall.  I am going to stay home with the kids like I should have last time. I can’t ask Mama to keep three kids while I work.  They just about run me ragged and I’m a lot younger than she is.  Now that I have made up my mind to quit teaching, I look forward to this baby.  I never have gotten to stay home long.  My babies were all were born in summer and I had to go right back to teaching in the fall.  I always felt cheated about that.

This is what’s really worrying me.  You know Martin’s brother Perry is  getting married.  They were going to wait till Christmas, but Judy’s daddy died and left them a really nice house.  It’s two stories with five bedrooms, much nicer than Perry’s house. Judy’s mother still liv s there and doesn’t want to live alone, so they are going to move the wedding up to August 1 and move in with her.  They’ve asked mother Benson to go, but she wants no part of it.  She’s always been real snide Judy’s mother, anyway.  She approached us about moving back in with us.  We only have three bedrooms.  If she moves in the house, we’ll have to pack all four of the kids in one room.  That’s not right!  With me quitting my job, we can’t afford to add on. She wanted the apartment back, but Martin told her Mama had spent three-thousand dollars to fix it up.  Mama Benson said she’d give Mama four thousand if she’d let her have it.  I don’t have the heart to say anything to Mama, but I’m just worried sick.  Do you think you and Ben could ask her to move in with you? She never caused us any problems or butted into our business.  Can you talk to Ben and call me in a few days? I am sorry  to burden you with all this worry.  I’ve cried about this till I just can’t cry any more.  I never thought I’d be in this position.  I don’t know why Mama Benson can’t just get an apartment.  Please don’t  say anything to Mama till we talk.  Marty says we will figure something out.



“Why that old bat!  What does Mrs. Benson think Mama ought to do, just live in the street?”  Jenny got on the phone to Ben.  “Ben, I need to talk to you about something real mportant..  Do you have time now?”

“Is something wrong?  Do I need to come home?” Asked Ben.

“No, I’ll come down there if you have time.  I have to pick Mama up anyway.”

In a few minutes, Ben was reading Shirley’s letter.  “That’s cold-hearted of Mrs. Benson.  I’m surprised she offered Miss Lucille her money back.  We have plenty of room.  If you want, we can close in half the back porch for a bedroom and bathroom. I’ve been thinking about closing it in for a sunroom, anyway.  She can have a door opening out of her room onto the porch.  We’ll talk to her tonight.  Go ahead and tell Shirley it won’t be a problem.  She doesn’t need to be worrying.  By the way, that was a great idea about the brownies and coffee.  They didn’t last twenty minutes.  Bert Masters came in again this morning and wanted to know if I had more.  I made a pot and hurried over and bought a piece of your Mama’s pie and some muffins.  He ate every crumb of the pie and said he was going next door to see if there was any left.  She’s pretty good with a pie.”

“I think I’ll call Shirley from your office, if it’s okay.  I don’t want Mama to overhear.  Don’t let her slip up on me.”  She ducked in his office for about ten minutes.  “Thanks, Ben, I’d better check on Mama.  She may have been trying to call me.  See you tonight.”  With that, she hurried next door.

The little shop bell dinged as she entered and Dolly hurried out from the kitchen.  “Good morning, Jenny.  I hope you didn’t come to haul my help off.  I just convinced Miis Lucy to work till noon.  She’s putting a batch of of cookies in now.  Come on back to the kitchen.”

“Mama, now I see why you didn’t call.  You are elbow deep in flour.  What’s going on?”

Lucille slid four pans of cookies in the oven.  “We’ve got twelve minutes till these have to come out.  Come on Dolly, let’s all take time for a cup of coffee and talk.”  With that, she sat.  “Jenny, I told Dolly I’d help her every morning while I’m here.  Dolly needs to sell this shop.  We went over her books.  She runs it from seven till one and turns a real good profit.  I want to buy it. Do you think you’d want to partner with me?  There’s a cute little bed/sitting room in back I could move into.  You could bring the baby to work with you.  I think I could raise fifteen hundred dollars, but Dolly has to have three thousand.  What do you think? ”

“I think it sounds like a real good idea.  I know you could make a go of it.  I have a little nest egg of my own.  I think I’d like to be in business with you.  Let’s talk to Ben tonight.”  Jenny felt a load lift from her shoulders.





Just Folks Getting By Part 12

img_1998Jenny brought the mail in just as Lucille finished the dishes.  ” Mama, you got a letter from Miss Bessie!”

“Thank you, Jesus!  I been so worried ’bout Bessie. You remember her.  We used to spend the day with her sometimes on your day out.  She had that little red-headed girl, Peggy.  She wrote me she was havin’ gall bladder surgery, and I ain’t heard from her in over a month.”  Lucille dried her hands and sat down to read her letter.

Jenny settled with the baby to hear her mother’s letter.  “I sure do remember going there.  I loved playing with Peggy.  She had that rag doll her mama made.  She always let me play with it.  How is Miss Bessie?”

“Well, let’s read this letter and see.”

Dear Lucille, I hope this letter finds you well.  I had my surgery and it’s starting to look like I might live, but if you ever have a choice between having gall bladder surgery and jumping in front of a train, pick the train.  You know I ain’t one to complain, but that surgery like to killed me.  The doctor cut me in half one day and then that big old nurse come in swishing in the next morning telling me I had to get up and walk.  I was hurting so bad I couldn’t even get a good breath and she was on me about walking.  She got me up, but I thought it would kill me, for sure.  Then before I could even get my false teeth in and comb my hair, the doctor come in wanting to know if I was passing gas! I was never so embarrassed in my life!   Now that’s just something it ain’t decent to talk to a man about.  Every day after that he come busting in wanting to know if my bowels was moving.  I never heard of such a thing!

Sally, my boy Reggie’s wife, come to stay for a couple of weeks when I went home.  She done the best she could, but I sure wished Peggy could have come.  She’s big pregnant and has a two year old and her doctor wouldn’t let her go off.  He probably wanted to keep her handy to ask her about her bowels! Ha!  Sally done real good except she didn’t put enough salt in nothing.  She does make fine pies, though.  She fixed lunch for me and Martha. You remember my sister don’t you?   Sally sure made some good chicken salad with walnuts and raisins, but I did notice she was using my fine tea towels to dry dishes.  I didn’t say nothing, but I made sure to gather them up when she went to the bathroom, putting some drying towels out.  I know she didn’t mean no harm, but my mama embroidered them towels and I want to keep them nice.    Well, I better close and get this in the mailbox.  I know you and Jenny are having a good visit.  Kiss that baby for me.  I tucked in a little keepsake christening cap I made for the baby.  She can use it later for a bride’s hanky. All my love, Bessie.

“Well, ain’t that something!”  She passed the tissue wrapped cap to Jenny.

“This is the sweetest little cap.  I will have to be sure to keep it nice for Lucy.  She’ll be proud of this one day.  I fell kind of embarrassed now, I almost laughed out loud at her about not complaining.” Jenny confessed.

“Honey, don’t you worry none about that.  Bessie’s a good friend, but she does complain, but lots of times, she’s real funny when she does it.   She also made a precious gift.  Recognizing the truth don’t hurt nothing.  I better get a little note off to her.”  Jenny took her hand as she started to get up.

“Mama, let me write a note first, then you can add yours to it.  I need to thank her for this sweet gift and the times I spent at her house.”  Jenny folded the tiny cap back in tissue.

“That would be good, Jenny.  She is a friend to us both.”


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Just Folks Getting By Part 11

farmgirlsewardcountynebraska1930s8x                                      Image from Smithsonian collection

“Did you ever get to go see Daddy in prison, Mama?” Jenny and Lucille were reminiscing over coffee.

“Only once, when your daddy was up for parole.  For him to git out early, I had to show up with my marriage license saying I would take him back. I hadn’t ever asked no time off from work before, so when I talked to Mr. Peabody, my boss, he didn’t give me no trouble.  I was surprised, but he gave me five dollars for my trip, almost a week’s pay. Anyway,  I took two days off and rode the bus down a’gittin’ there about five-thirty.  I walked to the YWCA and got a room, then got the Blue Plate Special at the Woolworth across the street for supper.  I even finished off with a piece of lemon meringue pie and cup of coffee.  It was kind of nice knowing somebody else was a’washin’ my dishes.  They was gittin’ ready to close, but I had time to buy some blue earbobs and a lipstick.  I ain’t seen your daddy in almost four years and wanted to look purty for him.  I felt almost like a bride.  I didn’t hardly sleep none that night.  I was a’waitin’ at the door when they opened at eight.  A trusty brung me to see the warden.  He told me Russ was up for parole, but they had to know he had somebody and something to go home to.  I showed him your picture and my bank book.  He was right surprised I’d managed to save money from my job. I told him about you a’livin’ in the Hope Home and me a’stayin’ in the pantry where I worked.  A year or so before that, I had bargained to make the pies and cakes Mr. Peabody had been a’sendin’ out for.  I even sold ’em to a couple of other places.  That’s how I really filled my pocketbook.  I knowed by that time your daddy had a chance a’ comin’ up for parole and wanted us to have a start.  Anyway, the warden stood up and shook my hand when we was through a’talkin’ and said I was a fine woman.  I ‘preciated that.  He told the trusty to bring your daddy to his office.  I never would a’hoped that.

When he brung him in, it was like I was a’seein’ him for the first time.  I had thought I would a’run and grabbed him, but we was bashful till the warden said we could hug.  When I was in his arms, it was like no time had passed.  We didn’t want to let go, but was embarrassed to keep hangin’ on to each other.  Back then folks was more private-like with their lovin’.  Anyway, the warden give us a minute to talk then sent Russ back.

When I left, the warden said our meeting was confidential and I’d be hearing after the parole board met.  I felt real hopeful as the trusty showed me out.

That was the best day I’d had in a long time.



Just Folks Getting By Part 10

img_1994Weekly bus pass for 1937.  Lucille would have  needed only a dime ticket since she boarded at her job.

These are some of the things you may have seen advertised Below and how much food and groceries cost in the 30’s
Shoulder of Ohio Spring lamb 17 cents per pound Ohio 1932
Sliced Baked Ham 39 cents per pound Ohio 1932
Dozen Eggs 18 Cents Ohio 1932
Coconut Macaroons 27 cents per pound Ohio 1932
Bananas 19 cents for 4 Pounds Ohio 1932
Peanut Butter 23 cents QT Ohio 1932
Bran Flakes 10 cents Maryland 1939
Jumbo Sliced Loaf of Bread 5 cents Maryland 1939
Spinach 5 cents a pound Maryland 1939
Clifton Toilet Tissue 9 cents for 2 rolls Ohio 1932
Camay Soap 6 cents bar Ohio 1932
Cod Liver Oil 44 cents pint Wisconsin 1933
Tooth paste 27 cents Wisconsin 1933
Lux Laundry Soap 22 cents Indiana 1935
Suntan Oil 25 cents Pennsylvania 1938
Talcum Powder 13 cents Maryland 1939
Noxzema Medicated Cream for Pimples 49 cents Texas 1935
Applesauce 20 cents for 3 cans New Jersey
Bacon, 38 cents per pound New Jersey
Bread, white, 8 cents per loaf New Jersey
Ham, 27 cents can New Jersey
Ketchup, 9 cents New Jersey
Lettuce, iceberg, 7 cents head New Jersey

From The People’s History


Lucille rocked the baby as Jenny crocheted.   “Mama, one time we went someplace with two big stone lions standing outside the doors of a big building.  An old man picked me up and out me on one of them.  I felt like I was the biggest thing around.  Where was that?  Oh yeah, and remember, I cut my foot in that little wading pool!””

“Well, I say.  I never would a’thought you’d remember that.  That was in front of the library of a big old college in Dallas.  One day me and Uncle Melvin was lucky enough to get off together and we took you out together for the day.  I packed a picnic and we caught the bus and spent the whole day in the park.  You couldn’t have been three yet, ’cause we hadn’t been there too long.  It was a real nice late spring day, but not hot yet. You pulled your shoes off and waded in a little pool.  You did bloody up your toe a little on a sharp rock.  Lordy, you was a’howlin’ to high heaven.  I don’t know if you’d ever seen blood before.  Soon as Uncle Melvin tore a strip of hanky off and wrapped it, you was fine.”  Lucille chuckled.

“Do you remember, Uncle Melvin bought a kite from a man peddling them in the park?  It must have been a perfect day.  He had that kite all the way out to the end of the string.  I wanted him to get it back down.  I thought God and Jesus were going to get it!”  Jenny and her mother both laughed.

“I laughed till I nearly wet my pants.  You was a’runnin’ and yelling, ‘Don’t let God and Jesus git it!  Don’t let God and Jesus git it!’  Folks in that park must a’thought I was raisin’ a little heathen, for sure.  Whoever heard of a kid tangling with God and Jesus over a kite?  I’m so glad you reminded me of that.  I felt so bad about leavin’ you, but we had us some good times. didn’t we Honey?”

Jenny broke in, “Mama, I know you hated to leave me, just like I would hate to leave Lucy, but I didn’t miss what I didn’t know.  I looked forward to all those days out.  We went to the museum and the library and all the parks around town.  I really did love going to play at that little red-headed Peggy’s house.  She had a kitten and there were chickens in a pen behind the house.  Best of all was when we went to the movie.  You took me to all the Shirley Temple Movies.  The other girls at the Hope Home just love hearing about the movies.  Sometimes we had picnics and a couple of times we ate at the counter at Woolworth.  That must have been hard to afford that on your wages.”  Jenny looked deep in thought.

“I had three dollars a week after I paid your board.  I made sure I always saved at least dollar a week. I figured that would give us a start when your daddy got out. I manage to save nearly three-hundred dollars. Bus fare was a dame, exchanges a nickel.  Picnic food didn’t cost me nothing.  I couldn’t buy you clothes or toys, so I figured I’d spend a little money on you on our days.  It really didn’t cost me much to live.  I just needed a few stamps, a couple of dresses, a pair of shoes and a few toiletries from time to time.  That job was purty good to me.”






Just Folks Getting By Part 9

Kathleen Holdaway in flowered dress0002

“My mother, Kathleen Holdaway circa 1946.  She would have been about the age of Jenny in this story.

Look here, Jenny.”  Lucille settled in a kitchen chair and pulled a letter out of her apron pocket.  “You know I never go nowhere without my Mama’s Bible.  I forgot I had the first letter I wrote your daddy at Huntsville.  He wrote me back on the back side. Do you want to hear it?”

“Oh yes, Mama, if It’s not too personal.”  Jenny examined the worn envelope. “It’s good you wrote small so he could scratch your name out and use the same envelope to write back. You wrote this in pencil.  I’d have thought you’d have written in pen.  This writing is so faded.”

“Honey, I didn’t have no pen.  We was poor.  I was at Aunt Lu’s and she gave me a dozen eggs.  I took ’em to the store and traded for two sheets of paper, an envelope, and two stamps.  She knew your daddy wouldn’t have no way to git stamps.  The store owner had the post office, too.  He told me how to address the envelope so your daddy could reuse it. I had to borry his pencil.  Anyway, let me read it to you.  It’s faded and you might not make it out.”

My Dearest Russ, We have fell on some hard times.  I got word from Uncle Melvin about you and Luther gitting in trouble.  I wish you had stayed clear of trouble, but I know you was trying to take care of me and the children.  I will be waiting for you when you get out, for I love you.

That brings me to sad news.  Our boy Jimmy died three days after we got here.  We buried him down by the creek.  My heart is broke to have to tell you when you already got trouble.  I will stay here with Aunt Lucy.  Jenny is well, but misses you and Jimmy.

Please write to me on the back of this letter.  A stamp is folded inside.  I love you always and will pray for you.   I will write you again when I can get a stamp. Till we are together again.  Your loving wife Lucille

“Now look here on the back where he wrote back.” Lucille said.

Dear Wife, When I put you on the bus, I feared it was the last time I’d see Jimmy.  I wished I’d figured a way to git y’all away soon enough to save him.  I hope Jenny is well. They say I will be here five years. You are a young, pretty woman.  If you meet someone else and have a chance at a better life, I will set you free.  I broke the law and must serve my time, but you don’t need to suffer along with me.  I will always love and pray for you.

You must not worry about me.  I will not do anything to get in trouble.  I miss your cooking.  We mostly get beans.  The man in my cell don’t talk, but he don’t give me no trouble.  Nobody here talks about what they done.  I would be glad for a letter if you can get a stamp, but don’t do without to get one.  Take care of yourself and Jenny.  I hope God lets us be together again.

All my love, Russ

Lucille took her glasses off, took a hankie out of her pocket, wiped her eyes, and cleaned her glasses.  She refolded the letter and returned it its envelope.  “Don’t  let me forget to put this back in my Bible.”  She looked up to see Jenny with tears running down her cheeks.

“That’s so sad, Mama.  Your heart must have been breaking when you had to write Daddy that Jimmy was dead.”

“That was one of the saddest things I ever done.  I was still numb from losing Jimmy.  That was the worst.  Next to that was walkin’ off and leavin’ you a’cryin’ at the Hope Home.  You were’t even three and ain’t never been away from me even one night.  You done lost Jimmy, your daddy, and now I was a’walkin’ off.  I never felt so low.”

It was three months before I got to write to your daddy again.  I found a dime in the dust of the road when I was a’walkin’ to the store to get some lye for Aunt Lucy.  That was the first money I’d had since before Jimmy died. I bought you a lollipop, two three-cent stamps, two sheets of paper.  The store-owner gave me an envelope with a coffee stain and loaned me his pencil.  I wrote your daddy I’d be a’waitin’ when he got out.







Just Folks Getting By Part 8


Shot of a sweater I am crocheting my granddaughter.

“Now that’s some purty crochet.  You’re getting real smooth with them stitches.  Does it feel like your hands is gittin’ the idea?”  Lucille and Jenny were at the kitchen table with Lucy resting in a basket at their feet.  “Just look how sweet she looks with this pink.”  Lucille held a skein of pink baby yarn next to her little granddaughter’s face.  “Don’t tell Shirley, but I was always hopin’ for a girl ever’ time she got that away.  I wonder if it was because I just never got enough of you when I had to put you in the Hope Home. The thing was, I never even cried.  I just had to toughen up to get by.  I was afraid if I started, I’d fall apart.  I had to work and get the three dollars a week to the home or I might lose you.  That’s all I kept thinkin’ when the work got hard and the hours got long.”

“I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been, especially with Daddy in jail.  How did you find out what happened to him?  Weren’t you at Aunt Lucy’s?” Jenny was trying to piece her family’s past together along with learning to crochet.

“Let me show you how to do a double crochet so you can practice while I tell the story.  It’s a long one.  Okay, watch this.” Lucille demonstrated slowly, then picked up speed.  “Keep the tension on and git a rhythm.  There, now you are doing good.  Do a few till it gits easy, then I’ll show you how to turn for the next row.”  Jennie concentrated on her crochet while her mother picked up her own crochet and started her tale.

“You remember your daddy had sent us to Aunt Lucy’s on the bus to git us out of the dust when Jimmy was sick.  Well, Jimmy never did git another good breath.  He coughed up muddy stuff and kept getting worse.  We propped him up to sleep and built him a tent so he could breathe steam from a tea kettle with a few drops of kerosene in it.  We even give him three drops of kerosene in a spoon of sugar to ease the coughin’ and it worked some, but he still died about four days after we got there.  I didn’t have no way to git in touch with your daddy in time, so we had to go ahead and bury him on Aunt Lucille’s place.  We put him right near the creek, where you could hear the water running all the time.  The sound of that running water give me some comfort, at least knowing he wouldn’t be breathing dust no more.  Anyway, I wrote your daddy.  A few days later, I got a letter from Uncle Melvin lettin’ me know your daddy and his boy, Luther, had got caught runnin’  moonshine.  I was never so shocked in my life.  I thought Russ was drivin’ a truck. Uncle Melvin said they both got five years at Huntsville.  That just about kilt me, comin’ right on top of losin’ Jimmy.  He’d sent my letter back and gave me an address where I could write Russ in jail.  He’d been a’hopin’ I’d write ’cause he didn’t have no idear how to reach me.  It like to broke my heart to write your daddy in jail.

I didn’t know what to do.  I went straight to bed a’cryin’ my eyes out.  You followed me to bed, just a’pattin’ my face with your little hands.  I never got up that day.  Your Aunt Lucille left me alone, but the next mornin’ she come in and told me to git up and cook you some eggs.  You was hungry.  Then I had to help her get a wash out.  She was takin’ in washin’ then to make the rent.  I told her I didn’t feel like it, to leave me alone.  She said, “Gal, git your behind outta that bed before I take a broom to you.  You got a baby to raise.  It ain’t her fault her brother died and her daddy’s in jail.  I didn’t take you to raise!”

Lucille laughed,”I believe she’d a done it, too.”  I mean to tell you I jumped outta that bed and got to cookin’.  Soon as I got done with the dishes, she set me to drawin’ water for the wash.  I had to fill two of them big ol’ iron wash pots.  We shaved in homemade lye soap and scrubbed dirty spots on a rub board before puttin’ clothes to boil a while.  Then we dipped ’em out with a stick and put ’em in the rinse water.  We done the whites first, then good clothes, and finally towels and work clothes.  You had to go from cleanest to dirtiest or you’d mess up your whites.  When the wash water got too dirty, we’d put soap in the rinse water and finish the wash with it.  ‘Course I had to fetch clean rinse water.  I hated wringin’ them clothes.  They was so heavy.  The sheets, towels, diapers went straight on the line.  The dresses, aprons, shirts, and overalls had to be starched before dryin’.  Aunt Lucille stirred some corn starch in cold water, mixed it real smooth, and stirred it in the boilin’ rinse water.  When it was smooth, she dunked the clothes and poked ’em around with her stick till they was soaked up good.  We fished them steamin’ clothes out an’ wrung ’em out when they cooled enough.  We had four long lines of clothes flappin’ in the breeze by the time we was finally done.  The diapers and sheets was usually ready to take in by the time we got the last of the wash on the line.

By the time we got through washin’ and foldin’ I was whipped.  We ate cornbread crumbled in  buttermilk and sliced tomatoes for supper.  I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open to eat, I was so tired.  The next mornin’ Aunt Lucille had me up at six to start the ironin’ while she picked beans.  That afternoon, we canned  beans.   She had two big pressure cookers so we put up twenty-eight quarts of green beans that afternoon.  If Aunt Lucille came in and caught me wipin’ tears, she’d set me to another task.  Every night, I was so tired, I just drug myself off to bed.  I still grieved, but it was kind of like I put my grief in a drawer and just took it out when I was free to be alone.  Aunt Lu knew what she was doing.  She’d  lost three children in one week.  She still had four to raise that needed more than a broken piece of a mama.

Just Folks Getting By Part 5


“I was never so proud of anything as that bus ticket.  I wrote back that afternoon I’d be on the four o’clock bus the next day.  I rushed around and got our clothes washed and ironed.  It didn’t take long to pack your four little dresses, nightgown, flour sack panties, slips and socks in a cardboard box tied up with string.  By that time I was down to two dresses, a slip, and three pair of flour sack panties.  I made room for Mama’s Bible recording our marriage, you two kids’ birthdate and Jimmy’s death. I’d got so skinny, I didn’t get another brassiere when mine wore out.  Aunt Lucy wasn’t able to go to the bus station.  She was down in her back.  I cried when I kissed her, not knowin’ if I’d ever see her again.  We set out walkin’ three miles to the bus station before it was good light, wearing cotton dresses and our only sweaters.  You was draggin’ a little rag doll Aunt Lucy had made you out of a flour sack and a wore-out apron.  Nobody wasted nothin’, then.  Our little bit of stuff got mighty heavy before we made it half a mile down that dusty road.  I had to stop and let you sit on the box and rest a time or two.  I couldn’t carry you, the box, and the sack lunch Aunt Lucy had packed. Lucky for us, Amos Jones came by in his old pick up and gave us ride.  He stopped off at the café and we had coffee, since we’d got there early.  He bought you a glass of milk and gave you the fried egg sandwich he’d brung for his lunch.  I sure was proud.  You’d been too sleepy to eat good when we left Aunt Lucy’s and I wanted to make our lunch last.  When he left, he made me take a dollar.  He growed up with your daddy and wanted to do something for his old friend.  I figured it was his last dollar.  It was for sure my only dollar and I was proud to git it.  I sure hope it didn’t hurt him too bad to give it, but he wouldn’t let me refuse.  It’s funny how folks with the least to give is the most likely to help. 

Amos and his wife had four kids.  Aunt Lucy wrote me ‘bout a year later his wife died in childbirth leavin’ him with all the kids and a sick baby.  About two months later he married a widow-woman who had a baby ‘bout the same age.  A tractor had rolled over on her husband just before her baby was born.  She married him moved right in to take care of his kids and nurse the baby.  She knew folks would talk bad about them marryin’ so soon, but they both had to have some help.  I sure wouldn’t have thought bad about them.  They was just doin’ what they had to to take care of their young’uns.”

Jenny didn’t know anything about that kind of desperation.  “Didn’t she have any family or friends she could have stayed with till she could have gotten a job?  I can’t imagine marrying that quick if something happened to Ben.  You’d need some time to mourn.  They couldn’t have loved each other.”

“Honey, I’m glad you don’t remember nothin’ about a life that hard.  If that woman had folks, they might’a been starvin’ too.  Most men didn’t have jobs, ‘cept farmin’.  A woman had to be powerful lucky to come up with a job.  If a feller had a job to give, it went to a man with a family.  Until your Uncle Marsh found me that dishwashin’ job where he worked, I did any work I could git.  I sat with the sick, nursed new mama’s, helped with crops and canning.  I almost never got a nickel.  I was workin’ for food and a place for me and you to sleep, and lots of time, havin’ to dodge the menfolks.  If I went to milk, I took you with me so you got some milk right off. If I worked in the kitchen, I tried to slip you a little somethin’.  I never threw a biscuit out, even if it was left on somebody’s plate.  That might be all the supper you was gittin’.   I was always scared you was gonna starve.  They was whole families walkin’ down the road with nothin’ but the clothes on their backs.  I was always skeert that was gonna be you and me.  Lots of folks starved.  It was rough!  To this day, I won’t leave a penny laying in the road.  That could end up the last penny I’d git.”

Jenny hugged her little one.  “It must have been awful worryin’ about your baby being hungry.  I’d move heaven and earth to take care of Lucy.  I worry if I don’t eat right so she can get plenty.  I know if something happened to me, Ben would do the best he could, but he’d have to learn everything.  If something ever happened to me, would you come take care of Lucy?”

“Why sure I would, honey, but don’t borrow trouble.  You’ll spoil your milk.  Let’s talk about something happy.  I never saw anybody so proud as you after your daddy got home and Shirley was born.  You thought you was her mama.  One morning she squalled out while I was at the clothesline.   Before I could git in there, you’d got up in the crib with her and took your dress off.  You had her cuddled up to your little flat chest tryin’ to nurse her.  She couldn’t find nothin’ and she was mad as hops.  You was such a little mama.”

“Ooh, don’t tell Ben that one.  He’d carry me high.  I’d never hear the last of it.  How is Shirley?  Have you heard from her since you got here?”

“No, she’s got her hands full with them three little ones, an’ Martin workin’ nights, trying to sleep days.  I never could’a kept y’all quiet.  That’s why I started keepin’ ‘em at my place instead of goin’ over there when she’s teachin’.  Joey starts school next fall, though, so that’ll just leave Betsy and Marty with me durin’ the day.  Them two is a handful.  She’s kind a’talkin’ ‘bout havin’ another one, but I hope she’ll take a little time with it, till them girls is a little bigger. I’m glad you had this one in May so I can stay the whole summer with you.  What are you gonna do when you go back to work?  I wish I lived close enough so I could keep her.”

“Well, I haven’t told Ben, but I’m thinking about staying home with her.  As long as it took her to come along, I don’t know if I’ll be able to have another one. He’s doing really well down at the hardware store. By the time I got somebody in to keep her, I wouldn’t come out much ahead workin’.  You know how that is, don’t you.”  She reached over and squeezed her mother’s wrinkled hand.






Just Folks Getting By Part 3

“Jenny, leave them dishes for me and I’ll sit with you while you rock the baby.  This little feller is so sweet.  I know you cain’t remember Jimmy, but Lucy’s eyelashes are just like his, so long and curly.  Seemed like they was wasted on a boy.  This one is shore to break some hearts with them purty eyes and pink cheeks.”  Lucille admired the baby in Jenny’s arms.

“Mama, seems like I do remember you pulling me and Jimmy in a little brown wagon down that long driveway to the row of mailboxes.  Somebody sent me you a letter with a lollipop for me and Jimmy in it.  Do you remember that?  How old was I?” 

“Lordy, child.  That was from your Aunt Lucy.  She was so good to us.  I never thought you’d remember that.  You couldn’t have been much more than two, ‘cause she died a good while before you turned three.  That was a good day.  You young’ns didn’t never git much candy.  You was both so tickled.   I never got to see Aunt Lu but a time or two after me and your daddy married.  We moved up to his uncle’s farm in the Panhandle soon after we married.  We didn’t have no car so we didn’t go nowhere we couldn’t go in a wagon, walk, or catch a ride. 

Do you remember the time your Aunt Betty come to stay awhile?  Well, she was Holiness. You know that church where the women don’t wear no makeup and don’t cut their hair.  They was a tent revival and nothin’ would do but we all had to go.  I didn’t care nothin’ about it since I was Methodist, but your Daddy had been raised up Holiness, so when Betty asked him to take her we all had to go along. I always made you sit still in church so you just loved it when they got to shoutin’ an’ raisin’ their hands.  Then Betty got the spirit and was a’speakin’ in tongues.  I believe you thought it was a game cause you got to jabberin’ just like her.  I didn’ have a whole lot of idea what to do so I just kept quiet while you was a’worshiping with her.  You played “church” for days.  I think Betty was real proud of you.”  She smiled at the memory.

“I remember that.  I loved Aunt Betty.”  Jenny broke in.  “I wish I could see her now.”

“Yeah, your Aunt Betty always took a lot of time with you.”



Just Folks Getting By Part 2

Good baby0002Photo of my great-grandmother, Sarah Jones Perkin’s, still born baby circa 1900

For some reason, Lucille had always loved washing dishes.  After breakfast, she stacked the dishes in the dishpan, added the soap, ran scalding water over them, and brought a glass of milk and a cup of coffee to Jenny where she was nursing the baby on her shady front porch.  Jenny had been married seven years and had almost given up on a baby when Lucy surprised her.

“Thanks for the milk, Mama.  Did you have trouble getting pregnant like I did?” she asked.

“Lord, no!  I had Jimmy only ten months after I married, and me only fifteen.” she laughed.”  After that, I think I miscarried twice before I got that way with you.  Back then, we didn’t run to the doctor for every little thing, so I never was sure if I lost babies or not.  I couldn’t have been too far along, if I was.  We was about to starve, so my curse wasn’t real regular.  You didn’t come along till five years after Jimmy,” Lucille reminded her.

“I never knew you were that young when you got married.  Why, you couldn’t have even finished school.  What was your daddy thinking letting you marry that young?” Jenny was feeling protective of her own sweet baby.

“Honey, my daddy was was the reason I needed to git married.  He was a mean drunk.  My mama died when me and my twin sister Velma was about ten.  Seemed like he never got tired of beatin’ on her.  He’d come in drunk long after we was asleep in bed like a ragin’ bull.  We’d learnt to hide and Mama took the whuppin’.  I really think a beatin’ is what finally kilt her.  He come in and whipped her and kicked her around real bad one Thursday night.  She crept around three or four days till she died with the most awful black blood comin’ from her bowels.  Nobody never said nothin’ to him.  It was a man’s business if he felt like beatin’ his wife.

Daddy started in on me and Velma after Mama died.  We made sure not to get caught off alone with him or he’d a’done us some real dirt.  I met your Daddy when I was fourteen, but I let him think I was a lot older.  Me and Melba was stayin’ with Aunt Lucy by now.  That’s Mama’s sister I was named for.  She was so good to us.  I slipped out one night and went to the pictures with Russ.  I feel bad now about doing Aunt Lucy that way, now, but you know how boy-crazy young girls is.  I sat with him a few times at church, and he got to coming to see me at Aunt Lucy’s.  We wanted to gut married, but Aunt Lucy said I’d have to git Daddy to sign for me.  I wasn’t about to go to Daddy for nothin’.  The next Friday morning I skipped school and run off with Russ to Oklahoma.  His sister was an old friend of my mama’s.  She knowed how bad Daddy done Mama and knew I needed to get away, so she went with us and signed like she was my mama.  I always ‘preciated her doin’ that.  I left Velma a note tellin’ her I’d run off to got married so they wouldn’t think somethin’ awful had happened.  Lordy, I never meant to gab so long.  I got to git back to them dishes.”  She heaved herself to her feet and headed back to the kitchen.

Jenny caught her by the hand. “Mama, I’m real proud you came to stay awhile.”

“Me, too, Honey.  Me, too.”