I had only been out of the bathtub about 10 minutes when this picture was made. After that birthday party, this dress was never the same. I never saw that little purse again.I first became aware of the Awfuls on the occasion of Jamey Awful’s fifth birthday. I was probably about four and totally ignorant of what birthday parties entailed. I only knew that Mother ruined a perfectly good day by calling me away from my sand pile to take a bath in the middle of the day, an unheard of event. I was disturbed especially since she insisted on washing the sand out of my hair. I’d just spent a good portion of the morning pouring sand on the top of my head, enjoying its powdery coolness showering down on my shoulders and the back of my sundress and saw no reason for her outraged reaction. “I told you not to get dirty. We have to go somewhere today.”
As far as I was concerned, sand was clean. Mud was dirty. Axle grease was dirty. Chicken poop on my shoe was dirty. Sand was white and dusted right off. It was not dirty. At any rate, Mother filled the tub with water and sprinkled in a bit of Tide Washing Powder and plunged me in. That was what passed for bubble bath at our house. I would have been content to spend the afternoon there, but she washed my hair and hurried me out, ruining another good time. Then she brushed my stick straight hair and stuffed me in a fluffy petticoat, a white fluffy dress with red and blue polka-dots, white socks, and sandals. Worse yet, I had to submit to a photo session. Mother was a novice with a camera making me pose forever, staring into the sun. She’d gone to a great deal of fuss making matching dresses for me and Phyllis for Easter and was extremely proud of the effect. Too bad the confection was wasted on me. When she’d said Easter outfit, I’d envisioned a cowboy getup.
Then she walked us over to the Awful’s house. I doubt Mother knew Mrs. Awful, since we’d never been to her house for coffee, even though they only lived a couple of houses over. I guess the poor woman was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find enough kids for a party, since I was a year younger and Phyllis was a couple of years older and neither had ever laid eyes on Jamey.
Mrs. Awful met us at the back gate. There were a dozen or so kids running round in the yard, so once Mother made Mrs. Awful’s acquaintance, she headed home, promising to be back for us in a couple of hours. Mrs. Awful ushered us in the back gate and the fun began. I was in Heaven!
Freedom at the Awful’s Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain
Mother was a cruel beast of a woman who rarely allowed us out of our own yard. I felt so deprived when free-range children passed our house in pursuit of adventure. Sometimes we were able to tempt them in with our tire swing, zip line, or huge barn, but invariably greener pastures called and we were left morosely watching them amble off to Donnie’s or Joey’s house. Sadly, we’d pine as the motley crew and their retinue of dogs disappeared down the dusty road. It wasn’t that we didn’t have wondrous opportunities on our own place;t we just hated being left behind.
Once we accepted our sad abandonment, we didn’t waste time whining to Mother that “We don’t have anything to do.” I only made that mistake once and Mother set me to hanging out diapers, dusting, and washing woodwork. In fact, she was mean enough to assign jobs to break up fights. It’s terrible growing up with a mother who turns human nature against innocent children.
At any rate, a family neighboring us raised their fortunate children with a complete lack of supervision. Those kids roamed long after dark, before daylight, dropped in for meals all over the neighborhood, drank out of from the neighbor’s faucets, rode the neighbor’s cows, and generally led a charmed life. Though their name was Offut, I misunderstood it as Awful. In her frequent dealings with these children Mother reached the conclusion Awful was an excellent name. She was particularly offended when we came home from town and found them in the house making Kool-aid. The Awful’s had little understanding of private property and had often had Kool-aid with us, so of course they felt free to help themselves, even if Mother had been careless enough not to leave it in the refrigerator. Her attitude baffled our uninvited guests. I think the syrupy floor and Jerry’s standing on the counter helping himself to a pack of Daddy’s cigarettes off the top shelf also ruffled her feathers, but she was the crabby type, after all. The loss of cigarettes were of particular concern. A carton cost two dollars and eighty cents, a significant portion of her fifteen dollar grocery budget. At any rate, she took an unreasonable stance and forbade them to enter the house again when we were gone. I don’t think they found it particularly disturbing since a couple more packs of cigarettes went missing before Daddy found a better hiding place for his stash.
One year, the Awful’s made sure their parents had the most awful Christmas ever. Like the rest of us, they couldn’t wait for Christmas. As always, they starting finding their presents about a week before Christmas. Every day one of them showed up with something new. One day, Froggy had a brand new basketball. The next day, Jamey had Continue reading
Reposting an older story to introduce part II. I loved playing with these kids. Illustrations by Kathleen Swain.
Water play at the Party
Freedom at the Awful’s
The Awfuls were awesome. Even though their name was Alston, the neighborhood mothers thought Awful was a better fit. We all envied them as they roamed the neighborhood with a freedom we only imagined. They weren’t mean; Continue reading
Awfuls chasing turey
Awfuls in Pigpen
(Continuation of story of Jamey Awful’s birthday party, without a doubt, the most fun I ever had in my life. If he gave a party today, I’d be there!)
Jamey’s birthday party was the most fun I’ve ever had. There had been no “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, no party hats, just fun, fun, fun. When my mother walked over to get me, I could tell she was not happy. She didn’t even go in for coffee like she always did at neighbor lady’s houses. Boy was I in trouble with my ruined party dress, lost shoes, and muddy self. She said I could never go to the Awfuls again.
I figured Mother would forget after a few days, but no……….No visits to Continue reading