Our Awful Friends Part 5

Little Becky soon grew into her heritage and joined her roving brothers. Of course, being smaller, she tired sooner and was apt to be left somewhere along the way.  Mrs. Awful didn’t need to worry.  Without fail, some mother was sure to dispatch Becky home if she lingered too long.  One unfortunate day, we suffered a sewer malfunction at our house.  Daddy was hard at work digging out the sewer line when he noted Becky behind him, making mud pies in the mess he’d left.  He wasn’t particularly enjoying his work that day and howled for Mother to get Becky out of there.  Mother sprayed Becky with the water hose and walked her home herself, figuring that was the best way to contain the mess and cut down on her own laundry.  She handed her off to Mrs. Awful, who commenced yelling for the boys who were supposed to be watching Becky.  Mother didn’t linger for coffee.

A couple of days later, Mother looked out to see Little Becky sitting in our sand pile, still wearing the same unlaundered clothes she’d been wearing on her last visit.  Again, Mother delivered her home.  After that, whenever Becky lingered too long in our yard, Mother would have Phyllis return her, fearing the unsupervised child would wander into the pasture and be kicked by a horse or fall in the pond. For some reason, she was grudging about taking on the care of another toddler since she had plenty of her own.

I know Mother chose Phyllis to return Becky because she could resist the lure of the Awful’s since Billy and I had made it clear we yearned to join their traveling circus.  We were always denied permission to “go see the Awfuls” or ramble with them. One fine day, I caught Mother napping on the sofa and whispered a request.  “Can I go play with Jamey?”

She snored, “Uhhhhhh” at me and I knew I’d hit pay dirt.  Their house was a wonderland.  A sycamore grew adjacent to the front porch.  We skittered up the tree and climbed in through a mangled attic window.  From there, we crawled through the dusty attic and dropped through the attic access into their grandma’s closet.  Until we dropped in on Grandma, I had no idea she existed.  Deep in a nap, she awoke screaming, to the kid’s delight.  We fled, leaving the house through a hole in the living room floor.  Of course, Mama Awful was unhappy to have her soaps interrupted by a bunch of wild kids.  We had traversed the entire house without using a door.  We made two or three such passes before Phyllis appeared at the door to fetch me home.  She took great pleasure in telling me how much trouble I was in for going to the Awfuls without permission.  Naturally, when I got home, I was able to make Mother remember my request to go. I escaped that time, but she made it clear she had to be awake before giving permission for anything else.  I was also pre-threatened not to awaken her unless a kid was bleeding or something was on fire.  She had a bad attitude.  In the future, when she took her rare naps, all requests had to go through Phyllis, meaning they were met by a resounding “NO!”  It was a rotten deal.

 

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Miz Dalrymple and the Hog

pig in slopThe neighbors gathered after the first frost to slaughter the Jackson’s hogs. Terrified by the commotion and scent of blood, one of the pigs managed to escape and hide up under under the neighbor’s outhouse, a good ways off, where Miz Dalrymple was
enjoying a little time to herself, thinking all the menfolk was off killing hogs. Just as she got relaxed, she heard A deep voice, “I’ll git behind here ‘n poke ‘er with a stick. You hit ‘er in th’ head with th’ ax when she comes a’runnin’ out!”

Thinking madmen had ‘er for shore, pore Miz Dalrymple come a’flyin’ out with her drawers around her ankles. It was amazing how fast an ol’ lady could run like that. It took her two days to walk back!

He Axed for It

Man splitting log in half for fire wood with ax

Man splitting log in half for fire wood with ax

It’s hard to imagine why, but all Billy asked for that Christmas was an ax. Maybe he was remembering the year before with Evil Larry. That’s not a typical item for an eleven-year-old to ask for, but he stuck to his guns. The ax was his only request. Christmas morning he got up to find the tree mounded up with presents, but no ax shaped gifts, though it’s hard to imagine how one might expect to see an ax wrapped. After a few tension filled minutes of searching, he spotted the old broken ax that had been lying out on the wood pile the night before. Whoever was playing Santa tricks hadn’t even bothered to buff the rust off the head or knock the dried cow manure off the cracked handle. It lay carelessly against the brick hearth where it had been tossed at the last minute. Bill was sick. He looked at Daddy’s stern face, “You didn’t really think you’d get something dangerous as an ax, did you?” His Christmas was ruined. Daddy let him suffer a minute of devastation before pulling the age old trick. “Well, if you look behind the tree, you might find…………” Of course, it was the ax of his dreams, complete with a bright red bow, probably the only ax delivered that Christmas morning. He was delighted! He had to hang around long enough to open the rest of his gifts, including the obligatory item he needed, new shoes for school. He endured a safety lecture before bursting outdoors to try his ax.

He had a glorious time for several days, chopping everything in sight. After he seemed like he might have the essentials down, Daddy put a pretty sharp edge on it, thinking he understood the danger now. Big mistake. He just had time to build up a little confidence. He took a whack a log. It rolled. He whacked again. It rolled again. He steadied it with his foot this time. Hitting his foot with a glancing blow, he was horrified to see a cut on the side of his show. Knowing there was no way to hide the damage to his shoe, he headed for the house, ready to face the music, ax still in hand. He came into the living room. “Mother, I cut my new shoe.”

She blanched. “Did you cut your foot? Take off your shoe and let me see!”

“No ma’am! I just cut my shoe, but you can take it to the shoe shop and get it sewn up.”

“Don’t worry about that. . Just take off the shoe and let me see about your foot!” He should have left it on. When the shoe came off, it looked like the side of his foot came with it.  Blood gushed all over the floor. “Oh, My Lord! Somebody get me some towels! We gotta get to the doctor!” My aunt and her boys were there. The women scooped him up, Mother holding pressure, and my aunt driving. In the brief time they were gone, her four-year-old twins were skating around in the huge puddle of blood like they were the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Thank God, Daddy met them just down the road and he and Mother took Billy on to the doctor to be stitched up. This freed Aunt Esther up to come back and clean up her little hellions and their blood bath. Amazingly, he’d sliced neatly through the ball of his foot, missing bones and tendons. Though he had dozens of stitches, inside and out, it healed beautifully, with no problems.

Later that evening, he lay on the couch, foot elevated on a pillow. He’d had pain medication and finally felt well enought to eat. Mother felt awful for him, so had made oyster stew, his favorite. She brought it to him on a tray table, so he could eat without moving. That would have been wonderful, had she not maneuvered just perfectly and whacked him directly on his bandanged foot, rewaking his screaming pain.

Our budget being what it was, that shoe did go to the shoe shop to be mended. Bill was restricted to crutches, so Mother borrowed a set from a friend. The fly in the ointment, was that one of them lacked a safety tip. Mother really meant to get a replacement, but time got away from her. It probably wouldn’t have mattered except for the ice storm the night before he started back to school. He hobbled out toward the bus, managing pretty well till he hit a patch of ice with that slick crutch tip. He went flying head over rear, landing in icy mud, skidding the rest of the way to the bus. For what it was worth, he got an extra day of vacation.

Recently, I asked Bill why in the world he’d wanted that ax. We had just moved onto a farm of one-hundred twenty acres, all uncleared.  Daddy set to clearing the land, he cut the trees and it fell to me and Billy to pile the brush.  Naturally, Daddy didn’t let us near the power saw.  Billy wanted the ax so he could clear the smaller stuff and avoid some of the brush piling.

Unmentionable

True 2
True confessions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything regarding sex was dark and unmentionable in mixed company. Children were not to embarrass adults by noticing any veiled reference made in their presence, never asking why any adult was in the hospital, and vacating the room if the words complications, hormones, or nature came up in conversation. Above all, women should never refer to their “period.” Should a woman have to mention a pregnancy, she should discreetly refer to it as “expecting.” It was best if obviously pregnant women stayed home to avoid embarrassing the unsuspecting public.

My repertoire of misinformation was epic by this time. In a moment of proper parenting, my parents said I could ask them anything. Fat chance!! I counted on my friends when I needed a good source of information. One day at school, I heard a girl could get pregnant from sleeping with another girl. I had just spent last Saturday night with my cousin Sue. Was I pregnant? How could my mother have let me spend the night knowing what might happen? This time I was concerned enough to ask Mother. “No, a girl can’t get pregnant from spending the night with another girl. Where had I heard such a thing?” She answered my question, but I could tell she didn’t look forward to any more questions. She didn’t get any.

Everything promised to change when I discovered, “True Confessions Magazine,” a literary gem whose lurid cover hinted a treasure trove of forbidden knowledge. Of course, “True Confessions” was “filth.” Mother would have sooner jumped off the top of the house than allow it to foul her home. Happily, some of my aunts were more generous and left copies lying around giving me the opportunity to read fragments of a few precious paragraphs from time to time before Mother realized what I was up to. I never got to read an entire story, so didn’t know I would have gotten no more than a “good girl gone bad” story or a “bad girl got what she deserved story.” They only alluded to whatever sin was committed. I would have gotten more information from my Sunday School lesson. I was thrilled to hear Mother accept old copies from my aunts only to have my hopes dashed as she righteously rushed home and burned them to get them out of circulation.

Margaret finally let me in the real truth about sex. I was appalled. “Nobody would do that!” Especially not my prissy mother and my stern father. She showed me a book she found under her mother’s mattress to prove it! I was disgusted to think I had started that way. My parents had five kids!!! That proved they had DONE IT at least FIVE TIMES!!!! Maybe even six if they’d had a failure. I decided then and there not to ever get married. I couldn’t imagine how a pregnant woman could show her face in public, much less in church. It ruined “True Confessions” for me. Worse yet was the delivery of the baby. That was the worst of all. Obviously, God was a man to design a plan like that!

Daddy’s family was hormone-ridden and prone to serial marriage. His four sisters and two brothers achieved an incredible twenty-five marriages between them. Two sisters were constantly vying for the championship. One managed nine marriages, but only got credit for seven husbands since she married two of the men twice. The runner-up had a grand total of seven with no reruns. They even married the Blair twins, complicating matters even more. One of Daddy’s brothers was married three times and had three families. His other brother was hampered by a wife who refused to divorce him, so he had to settle for philandering. Daddy completely ignored their habit of marrying. In the interest of survival, so did we. My younger sisters were careful not to get caught when they composed a jump rope jingle, listing all the husband’s names: Essie Mae Lee, Jones, Peterson, White, Key, Blair, McCoy, Blair, Cole and Sneed. They weren’t that coordinated, and usually stumbled somewhere around the second Blair.

While Daddy was able to ignore his family’s interesting behavior, he missed no opportunity to point out our behavioral flaws. “Fix your clothes!” When I was three, this meant put my panties were showing, a terrible lapse in manners. As I got older, it implied either indecency or the horrifying suggestion that I might have soiled the back of my dress, the worst social gaffe imaginable. Had I been fleeing an axe-murderer and he uttered, “Fix your clothes!” checking myself out in the nearest bathroom would have taken priority over escape.

My parents had very strict standards of appropriate courtship behavior. Some were objective: No dating till sixteen. No expensive or personal gifts. No gifts of clothing. Tasteful gifts included inexpensive perfume, flowers, and books. Some were just common sense: These are the ones that gave me trouble, meaning I was in big trouble for even asking: Don’t even ask to go on a picnic for two or swimming. (Raging hormones) Don’t ever accept a ride from a boy without parent’s permission, even if you’ve been in class together since first grade. (Raging hormones) No phone calls after 8:30 pm. (Disrespectful to parents) Don’t ever go anywhere other than place in original permission.(Being picked up by tornado on way home from church might be excused.)

My mother practiced an excellent form of birth control, for us, not herself. She only bought cheap cotton panties because “nobody is supposed to see your underwear anyway.” I don’t know how I would have behaved otherwise, but I wasn’t about to get frisky in those horrible britches. Sometimes Mother was lucky enough to find some so cheap they didn’t have elastic in the legs, just the waist. The fit wasn’t too bad in the morning, but by midmorning, these adventurous undies always managed to crawl up my rear. I had no idea I was ahead of my time in my “thongs” and despised them. By then end of the day, they had achieved amazing altitude and my legs felt two inches longer than when I left that morning.

Connie and Marilyn had it worse than we did, because after Grandma had a stroke, she was no longer able to do the beautiful dressmaking she was known for. She made it her mission in life to make sure they never ran out of homemade cotton panties. She used whatever fabric was at hand, cotton prints or plaids, not soft knits. Her creations had wide front and back as well as side seams and very narrow crotches, but alas, no elastic in the legs. These were not roomy bloomers made of soft cotton flour sacks she made my mother in her youth. These were torture devices. Grandma didn’t see us for months at a time, so she underestimated their waist sizes, making the patched up drawers even worse. The tight elastic waist and scratchy seams ensured even more misery. I was not jealous!

Stealing Furniture

img_1592Bud’s co-worker’s in-laws were spending the summer on a job in Alaska.  They’d arranged for Steve their son-in-law to sell their piano for them in their absence.  Steve recruited Bud and several others to help him load it.  My young son, John, tagged along.  When the troop got to his inlaws, Steve realized he’d forgotten his key, necessitating a climb through the window.

John watched open-mouthed as Steve wiggled through the kitchen window and opened the front door for the rest of the crew.  They made quick work of loading the piano into the truck.  Apparently, Bud hadn’t gotten around to explaining the plan to John.  As they struggled, John tugged on Bud’s coattail.  “Dad, where are the folks who own the house?”

“They are working in Alaska, son.”

“Well, why are we stealing their furniture?”

Aunt Ader’s Place Part 7

Aunt Julie looked like a wild woman, but I adored her.  She cackled like a hen when she laughed with her crinkly black hair standing up like a nest of stinging worms.  I saw her comb it once or twice, but it didn’t make a bit of difference.  Fortunately, she was easy going and didn’t seem bothered by it.  She was a skinny, little woman with a big stomach and pipe-stem legs.  The legs of her pants bloused out and never touched her.  Had I not known her since I was born, I’d have thought she was a witch.  She had a filthy mouth, peppering her language with forbidden words.  I learned early on Mother would warm my britches should I repeat anything coming out of Aunt Julie’s mouth.

One of Aunt Julie’s phrases always hooked me.  She often prefaced statements with, “as the old saying goes.”  I loved old sayings, so I was all ears waiting for what came next.  Sadly more often than not, she finished with something perfectly mundane like, “I  have to make a pan of biscuits.”  I never failed to be disappointed, feeling she had not followed through on her promise.  “Fortunately, from time to time, she finished up with a thrilling phrase like, “If I don’t get to the bathroom soon I’m gonna s___ my drawers.”  Her use of forbidden language always brightened days moderated by Mother’s prudish language.  We weren’t even allowed to say pee pee or doo doo.  It’s rough being a gee gee-er in a world of kids who doo doo or donkey.  I don’t think Mother cared how she marked us.  More on Aunt Julie later.

Good Old Champ

img_1562

Art by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

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 out of my pocket or off my shoulder.

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!

Footloose and Fancy-Free Part 1

imageCousin Bobo was footloose and  fancy-free, unperturbed by the economic responsibilities of four children in three years. He doted on his child-bride, Inez, living quite happily with her and their family in an old unpainted, farm house on her mama’s place. Despite his aversion to a regular work schedule, he and Inez managed fine. There was no power to the house, so no bills, the wood stove and fireplace sufficing for heat and cooking. The house was abandoned when they moved in, so he tacked wire over the open windows to keep varmints out, shuttering the windows for bad weather. Mama was real proud he did the right thing and married Inez, so she wasn’t about to stir up trouble, especially after the young’uns started coming. Bobo plowed and planted Mama’s garden, later helping get the peas picked and corn cut. Except for the few days he spent plowing, and cutting firewood, he fished and hunted every day. He happily peddled watermelons and turnip greens out of his old ’49 Ford Truck. They never ran short of game or fish. Sometimes he’d help a neighbor butcher a beef or hog, bringing in extra meat. He wasn’t averse to helping family with a little painting or carpentry work from time to time, as long as it was understood that his labor included a few days’s hospitality for his brood.  He kept Mama’s freezer full. That along with Mama’s chickens and eggs, the cow’s milk and butter kept them going just fine. Getting clothes for the kids wasn’t a challenge. Inez was the youngest of six spectacularly fertile sisters. Their cousin’s hand-me-downs were plentiful. All those little blonde tykes lined up in overalls year round was awe-inspiring. Most of the time, they wore shirts under their overalls in winter. Plenty of old tennis shoes lay casually around, should any of the kids decide they needed footwear. Some even had mates. Size wasn’t an issue. Should a shoe be too big, it worked fine to slide-style and let it flop. The kids weren’t partial to shoes anyway, unless they were picking around in a trash dump with old cans or broken glass. Strings were scarce, but I never noticed anybody complaining.

I loved it when Bobo, Inez, and the kids showed up. Mother wasn’t always so enthusiastic, figuring they had run out of groceries and needed a place to roost for a few days. They did seem more likely to show up in bad weather when a warm house was a comfort. Sometimes they’d stay a few days with this relative, a few with that one, moving one before the tension got too thick. Mother complained about relatives giving them gas money to help them down the road to their next hosts. I know I saw her slip Inez a little of her grocery money once, after Daddy went to work. They moved on. We ate gravy and biscuits till Daddy got paid the next Thursday.

to be continued

Home is Where the Heart Is

image                                      Uncle Russ’s camper wasn’t this nice!

Bud’s Uncle Russ was ahead of his time, since he came up with the first camper/Tiny House anyone had seen in our part of the country.  Back in the late1950’s and 1960’s, the family occasionally awoke to find his old Ford truck with its homemade camper parked in their yard.  Enclosed within its two by four frame and galvanized sheet metal covering were a bunk and a bit of storage for his camp stove, personal belongings, and other gear, though his hygiene products didn’t take up a lot of room.

Uncle Russ was not encumbered with a regular job.  He travelled till he ran out of money, then stopped off and found a little job like mowing, helping with a harvest, or pumping gas to get enough ahead to make be on down the road a bit.  He never went naked or hungry, and always had a roof over his head.

When the Bethea boys, Dell and Louis were growing up on a farm in Warren, Arkansas, their Uncle Russell would show up from time to time.  He’d hang around and work with his brother Joseph till they got crosswise and he’d get mad and leave or Joseph would run him off.  Apparently, his grooming was lacking even then, since the boys, “I don’t know how you boys can stand to wash your face and comb your hair before every meal.  I don’t comb my hair but about every six months and it nearly kills me then.”

Early one Saturday morning, Miss Mary noticed his truck in the drive and called out to let Dell, Bud’s Dad know his uncle had come to call.  Uncle Russ knocked when he saw them up and about.  Miss Mary let him in and went to put the kettle on for coffee. Without a doubt, Uncle Russ had just acquired some instant coffee he was curious about, since he asked Miss Mary if she minded if he made his own.  “Not at all.  The water will be hot in just a minute.”

He stirred in four or five heaping teaspoons of granules.  Knowing he had concocted a powerful potion, she and Dell watched with interest as he tried to choke it down.  He made two or three attempts before remarking, “I made that a little stout.  I’m gonna had to pour it and have a little of yours.”

When Bud was about seventeen.  Uncle Russ made a trip down, asking Bud to sign a signature card to be put on a joint checking account, though Bud assured him he wouldn’t have anything to deposit.  “That’s okay.  You just sign this here card and feel free to write a check anytime you need to.”

Bud signed the card and never gave it another thought, knowing how odd Uncle Russ was.  Several months later, he got a letter from Uncle Russ, telling him how disappointed in him he was.  In fact, he was going to take him out of his will. Bud never saw Uncle Russ again.   Uncle Russ retired, an interesting move for a man who never worked more than a day or two at a time.  He sold his old truck and its fixtures, somehow acquired an old mobile home, and moved it to the family farm.  He died a few months later.  Bud never heard who beat him out of his inheritance.