Soft Place to Fall

Bill and Dana lived across from us for years, their kids Betsy and Greg in and out of the house all the time.  We visited in the yard but never socialized beyond that.  We were very fond of the children. Betsy was my daughter’s age, Greg about three years younger.  Greg tagged along with Betsey , or hung around with Bud and me on own his own for meals and whatever else that was going on.

We both had a soft spot for the children since their parents were uninvolved at best and unkind at the worst.  I know now I should have reported them. Though both parents drank heavily, Dana was a card-carrying, mean alcoholic and Bill, a defeated alcoholic.  Dana, who worked as a psyche nurse, didn’t seem to like any of her family.  Bill seemed fond of the children but couldn’t protect them.  One afternoon, Greg came bursting in our back door.  “Help.  Dad’s gonna whip me!”  He hid in a bathroom.

His dad pounded on the back door and tried to push in past Bud with a belt doubled up in his fist, none too steady on his feet.  Had he thought ahead, he’d have realized that was a bad idea.  Bud had four inches of reach and forty pounds on him, but Bud stayed calm.

“I’m coming in for Greg.  Dana said I gotta whip him.  Him and the Bailey kid got in the beer.  His mama told him what was gonna happen if he got in the beer.”  Bill looked shamefaced, his heart not in his errand.

“Now hold on.  I can’t let you go in my house and beat a kid.  There are better ways to handle this.” Bud told him.  “Go back home and sober up.  Looks like y’all have both had plenty of beer.”

“Alright, I won’t come bustin’ in over you, but I’m gonna beat his ass when he gets home.” Bill offered.

“I’d think real hard about that.”  Bud told him.  “If you do that, you’ll have to deal with me.  Go on home.  Your boy can stay here till you’re sober and we’ll talk about it.”  Bill left, seeming somewhat relieved at not having to deal with anything he’d stirred up.

Bud called Greg out.  “Boy, you know you’re not old enough to drink.  I wouldn’t let you drink either.  You can stay here till I talk to your Dad and it’s safe to go home.”

The next day Bill came over and talked to the three of of, Greg, Bud, and me.  “Dana said  he can come home, but he’s going to Pine Hill.  (Adolescent Psychiatric Facility)  Get your stuff, boy.”

Bud asked Greg.  “Is that what you want to do?”

“No sir.  Can I stay here a few more days?” Greg asked.

“That’s between you and your dad.  What do you think, Bill?”

“I gotta talk to Dana.  She’s still pretty worked up.”  Bill answered.

Greg stayed, not causing a minute of trouble.  We weren’t foolish enough to think the problem was solved.  We just wanted him safe.  Four days later, Dana came to see Greg.  “Do you want to come home.  We miss you. You’ve been punished enough.”

“Am I still in trouble?  Dad ain’t gonna whip me is he?  I don’t  want to go to the hospital.” Greg looked worried.

“No. I promise.  Dad ain’t going to whip you and we aren’t to put you in the hospital.  Just stay out of the beer.” She told him.

He went home to an apparently peaceful house, for the moment.

Over the next couple of years the family dynamics changed, not by choice.  Dana got cancer and didn’t live long.   She was heavily medicated and continued to drink, so her involvement was less each day.  When she got too sick to work, they had to find a cheaper place to live. The children grew up and we lost touch, except for a time or two.  The last I heard, Greg was doing well enough to move out on his own.  Betsey was in and out of a couple of relationships, but eventually settled down, married,  and had a couple of kids.  The last I heard, she was going to nursing school.

I hope for the best for this family.






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.”


It’s My Party

Uncle Jerry drank a little. In fact, Uncle Jerry never drew a sober breath from the time he cashed his paycheck at the liquor store on Friday after work until he got back to the shop on Mondays with a killer hangover. One time he told Bud, “I get paid today and I gotta get drunk. I had the flu all week and feel so bad I cain’t hardly drag. I shore dread it.”
Bud, who’d never been initiated into drinking at the time asked, “Uncle Jerry, if you feel so bad, why do you HAVE to get drunk? Can’t you take a weekend off?”
“Oh no!” Uncle Jerry told him. “I always stay drunk on the weekends.”
He must have been concerned about his reputation. He was Aunt Myrtle’s second husband. At the time I knew them, they’d been married over forty years. If Aunt Myrtle stuck by Uncle Jerry, I can’t imagine what her first husband must have put her through.
Mother went over to visit Aunt Myrtle one Thursday morning, not realizing Uncle Jerry was on vacation. They went out to the garden first to admire Aunt Myrtle’s tomatoes and the green beans that were starting to put out, picking a few for Mother. When they made their way into the kitchen, they encountered Uncle Jerry down on his hands and knees in front of the icebox (not refrigerator). He’d pulled the drawer out and was eating onions and turnips raw with the garden dirt still clinging to them. Considering it was Uncle Jerry, neither one said anything.
He looked up at them and remarked. “This is my icebox and I’ll eat anything I G__ D____ please.” They got their coffee and took it out to drink in the shade.
“Don’t let Jerry worry you none. I forgot to tell you Jerry was on vacation when I told you to come over to get tomatoes,” noted Aunt Myrtle.
“Oh, that’s okay. It is his icebox after all,” Mother replied.