Uncle Albutt Part 8

Over the years, Aunt Jewel made frequent mention of Eunice and Doxy. On Sunday, April 14th, Uncle Albert and Aunt Jewel surprised us by showing up for Sunday dinner with Eunice, Doxy, and Baby Dewie in tow. Before the days of telephones, it wasn’t unusual for relatives to arrive unannounced. It was a bit of a surprise to have them bring Eunice and Doxy, people we were only vaguely acquainted with. Like the gracious host and niece-in-law she was, Mother put a couple more potatoes in the pot, opened another can of beans, watered down the gravy, and slid another pan of biscuits in the oven. Even though Mother was creative cutting up the chicken, it didn’t go too far. The big pieces didn’t make it past the company, while the kids dined on the neck, back, ribs, and wings. This was in the days before we knew chicken wings were a delicacy, so we weren’t that happy. We had been forewarned not to complain. In all fairness, Mother did reserve the coveted fried scrambles and put them on our plates to spare us the pain of seeing Uncle Albert gobble them all up.
Mother’s dishpan was at the ready as she cleaned up while she cooked. Aunt Jewel chain-smoked at the kitchen table and watched as Mother cooked. Eunice nursed her snotty-nosed baby. After a wet sneeze, the baby blew out an impressive snot bubble. Eunice grabbed Mother’s dishrag from the dishpan and wiped the baby’s nose, then matter-of-factly, tossed it back into the dishpan. This, on top of the smoking and breast-feeding was too much for Mother. She got Eunice a hanky and suggested the women move to the living room where it was more comfortable. The decibel of banging pots and pans increased as she put Phyllis and me to washing dishes and setting the table.
Fortunately for Mother, while she was struggling to stretch the noon meal, she had no idea Daddy had recently boasted that she’d just completed their return, bagging them a nice refund. Uncle Albert was impressed. Eunice and Doxy needed a nice refund. Uncle Albert assured Eunice and Doxy Mother would be glad to prepare their tax return, hence the reason for the impromptu visit, information he shared as he ground out his cigarette in his dinner plate. Though Mother made no overt objection, I didn’t miss her sigh and pursed lips. Daddy did have the grace to look a little worried. After clearing the table and putting us to doing the mountain of dishes. Aware of her mood, we knew better than to fight over our task. Mother told Eunice, they’d better get started. Naturally, Eunice wanted Mother to do the long form and calculate interest on their many debts. This was long before calculators.
As Mother labored over the form and calculations, Aunt Jewel perfumed the air with her cigarettes at the other end of the table, turning the air blue. The skinny baby squalled and snorted as Mother picked information from Eunice. Even though Eunice had never done a tax return, she argued with Mother over how it should be done, arguing that rent, groceries, and gasoline were exemptions. She felt little concern over receipts. “I got that at home somewhere. That doctor bill was about twenty-five dollars. I don’t need no receipt.” Just as Mother thought she had finished, Moxy strolled through and wanted to claim an exemption for the baby, even though it was born months after the cut-off date. He wouldn’t be convinced, so Mother hastily added the baby, knowing it wouldn’t fly. She did however, refuse to sign the form as preparer, having a healthy fear of being jailed by the IRS.
The little family eventually left, exhausted by the taxation process. I never heard if they ended up in jail. Fortunately, Uncle Albert never brought Mother any more tax preparation business. Daddy never got his hanky back.

Molly and Andrew Part 17

Molly was stunned to see Andrew standing before her.  She’d long ago given him up. He was emancipated and scarred, little resembling the healthy man she’d last seen.  He dropped to the ground at her feet, wrapping his arms around her legs. “Molly, Molly, I thought I’d never see you again.”

Overwhelmed at his unexpected return after so long, she was bewildered and confused.  As he wept and buried his head in her skirts, she dropped to her knees and held him.  The little girls clung to their mother as she called to Jamie,  “Go get Pap and Gran!  Run! Run!”

Jamie whirled and ran, shrieking, “Pap!  Gran!  Ma wants you!  Hurry!”

Molly felt no connection to the poor wretch she was trying to comfort. Her crying girls added to the confusion by pulling at her.  Amid all this, she heard the weak cries of an infant coming from his pack.

“”Feed him, please.  He’s had nothing since yesterday morning.”  With this, Andrew struggled to work a pack off his back.  He lay it on the ground, tenderly unwrapping it to reveal a starving baby boy, bound in a malodorous blanket.  The child could have been no more than a few weeks old.  “Help please,” he beseeched her.  “He may yet die.”

“God in Heaven!  Poor baby!  Hurry girls.  We have to feed him!”  Forgetting Andrew, she scooped up the wailing baby and ran for the house, pulling Hannah by the hand. Aggie kept up the best she could.  She couldn’t see Will, Aggie, and Jamie reaching Andrew behind her.  With the baby in one arm, she heated milk in a pan over the fire.  As it warmed, she hastily washed the baby, wrapping it snugly in a towel.  Dipping a clean cloth in warm milk over and over, the baby sucked. Meanwhile, Will and Addie supported Andrew between them, seated him at the table, and got him food and drink.  Afterward, Will helped him bathe and get into James’ nightshirt then into bed in spare room.

In the meantime, Molly and Addie bathed and dressed the baby, settling it in the cradle.  Once it was full, warm, and dry, the baby gave them no trouble.

As the excitement settled and the children played at their feet, Molly, Will, and Addie tried to piece the story together.  Apparently, Andrew and a few others had been enslaved by the Powhatan tribe, since his capture.  They had been able to escape after a recent trader brought measles, decimating the village, leaving no one to pursue them.  They’d been traveling several days and he the baby were the only survivors.

Molly had no idea what to make of Andrew’s return with the baby.  She’d married Andrew in England and then, thinking him dead, married James in Jamestown.,  She had no idea where this left her, but today there was business to tend.  At Addie’s suggestion, she sent Will to pay to fine and bargain for the indenture of a sixteen-year-year old girl who was sitting in jail for the crime of having had a bastard child.  It had been stillborn yesterday, so she should still be able to nurse this baby.

She would just deal with what had to be done today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  For now, everyone under her roof was fed and safe.

Hard Time Marrying Part 19

img_1599Upon Emma’s reference to pregnancy, Anya was so shocked she knocked her coffee over.  It ran off the table onto little Sally’s blonde curls.  Sally howled and both women jumped to see to her.  She wailed, but fortunately her face wasn’t even pink.  The next few minutes were full of mopping her up and changing her clothes.  By the time they’d finished, Rufus had stepped to the door and called Emma to go.  Anya composed herself enough to make her goodbyes, promising to ride over with Joe in a few days.

Sick with dread, Anya settled to rock Sally to sleep and consider Emma’s observation.        She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had the curse.  She hadn’t had to wash rags since she’d been here and didn’t know how long before that.  The abuse she’d endured before escaping and her confusion from her injuries had left her disoriented. The time had all run together.  It was true she’d put on a little weight, but pregnancy had never crossed her mind.  Her hand flew to her belly when she felt an undeniable swelling and her full breasts pushed against the bodice of the dress she’d taken from the store of things in the bundle Joe’s wife had brought with her.

Would this nightmare never end?  Just when it looked as though life might work out, this horror raised its head.  And all this after she’d insisted she wasn’t a whore!  Joe had already been saddled with two children from his dead wife and had tried to pass them off to the townspeople, only to be turned away.  She’d thought she’d never want to be a wife till this terrible turn and now realized a life with Joe and the children would have been precious.  Silent tears ran down her cheeks onto Sweet Sally’s sleepy head.

Joe and came in from outdoors to the tender sight of Anya rocking the baby in the light streaming through the window.  Little Joe ran to her for a hug.  Joe’s heart swelled with love for his family.  Life was turning around for him after all his years alone.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 18

Apology  Got my stories out of sequence.  To catch up, please go back and read 17 a just posted.  Then move on to 17 b before you read this.  img_1597Anna flung the door open thinking Joe was coming in with milk and eggs.  A tall, thin woman in homespun holding a basket laughed at her surprise.  “I’m Emma, Rufus’s wife.  I was so proud to hear Joe had a new wife I didn’t wait for no invite.  When Rufus said he was coming over to see if Joe I clumb right up in the wagon.  I brung you some eggs, butter, and molasses for a welcome.  It’s gonna be good to have a woman close by to neighbor with. You got any coffee left?”

Though Anya would have hoped to avoid company, she warmed to Emma’s warmth and pulled out a chair from the table for her.  “Set yourself down.  I think the coffee’s still hot.”  She poured them both a cup and put a couple of biscuits on a plate to go with the butter and molasses.

Emma spread butter on a biscuit, ate it thoughtfully, and smiled.  “You make a mighty fine biscuit.  You gonna be a good wife to Joe.  They ain’t nothin’ like good cookin’ to keep a man happy.  I’m glad of it.  I always been partial to Joe.  He’s been alone too long.”

Sally toddled up to Anya’s knee, demanding her attention.  Anya gave her a sip of milk from a cup while she gathered her thoughts, not wanting to betray herself.  “Biscuits do please a man.  I’m proud you like mine.”

“Your baby looks just like you with that white hair and blue eyes.  Maybe Joe will lucky and the one comin’ will look like him.

Hard Time Marrying Part 16

Anya lay awake a long time thinking after Joe went to the barn and the kids slept, the baby snuggled up warm and sweet in the curve of her body.   In his rope bed near the fire, the boy cried out for his mama in his sleep and whimpered without waking.   Anya went to him, smoothed his hair and rubbed his back till he went back to sleep.  His warm little hand sought hers and she felt stirrings of pity for him, even though she tried not to.  She’d already lost the battle of staying detached from the little girl, and was beginning to wonder if she could take the poor motherless thing when she left though she saw the folly in that.  She had no friends, nowhere to go and no way to care for the child. Not only that, she might have killed the peddler.  The law was hard on a woman.  They might be looking to hang her right now. She needed to get far enough away to disappear in a sizable town. The baby would just hold her back. A woman alone would have a hard enough time providing for herself, even if she had nothing to hide. She had to get as far away as possible and seek work as a housekeeper or cook, since that was all she knew.  Having barely been to school, she couldn’t be a schoolmarm.  She’d had enough of men to know she’d never marry.  She needed to get to town where folks had enough money and house to need help. Her prospects were poor, but maybe when she got to Meadow Creek Church she’d meet up with somebody who could help get her on the road to something else.  It would break her heart, but there’s no way she could take the tiny girl.

Out in the barn, Joe was thinking his own gloomy thoughts.  He didn’t want Anya to go.  He started to hope she might stay and they could be a family.  Even though Anya hadn’t warmed to him, he’d gotten a little taste of family watching her doing for the baby and doing about the house.  It had been such a pleasure to come in last night and find supper laid out.  No one had done that for him since Ma died.  When Anya left, he and the boy manage, but who would do for the baby?  She was far too young to go around with him while he worked.

 

Rock and Roll, Mama!

When I was a kid, nothing would have shocked me more than the thought of hurting my mother. Despite this, when I was about ten, my brother and I came upon my mother rocking the baby, one of her few opportunities to take a break out of her impossible day. She had very little lap for the baby, since she was hugely pregnant with another baby. Most often, she drifted off for a little nap herself. We thought it would be fun to surprise her by pulling on the back of the rocker, tipping her back. She must have been shocked or extremely good-natured, because she laughed out loud. Foolishly inferring we’d pleased her, we rocked her even further back, with her continued shouts of, “Stop! Stop! You’re going to drop me!” Because she seemed to be having so much fun, we kept it up till the chair tipped backwards, leaving her stranded, lying with the rocker back on the floor, swollen feet high in the air, under the weight of two babies, one on top of her belly, the other inside nearly ready to pop out.
We were horrified, thinking we’d killed her. The baby was howling at being upside down on her incapacitated Mama. Of course, Mother could do nothing to help herself, except shout, “Help, get me up! Get me up!” I thought we’d killed her, and probably the squalling baby, as well as the one on the way. The two of us struggled to get the chair up, learning a valuable lesson in physics at the same time. It’s a lot easier to tip a pregnant woman over than to get to her upright. I do believe the only thing that saved us was her bizarre startle response, since the whole situation struck Mother as funny. Since then, I’ve never tempted to tip another pregnant woman over.
woman in rocker

You Poor Baby Part 2

vintage baby

Upon finding her washing machine packed to the rim with freshly laundered diapers mixed with freshly-laundered gobs of poop, Mother roused Carol from where she snored on the sofa, oblivious to her miserable, bawling baby. “Carol, come here. Let me show you how to use this washer! You can’t just throw filthy diapers in it without rinsing this stuff out.” Mother got a tub, made Carol scoop the poopy diapers out and clean the washer, then sent Carol out to rinse the dirty diapers under the faucet before bringing them back to the washer. “Be sure you dump that dirty water from the tub behind the chicken house, not in the back yard. You may as well get the rest of this mess soaking.” She pointed to the pile of poopy diapers that had not yet had a ride in her abused washer. Carol looked furiously at Phyllis and me as she stormed off to do this demeaning task, clearly much better delegated to underlings like us.

We did have to tend her poor, miserable baby while she slaved over the diaper rinsing, but that was better than rinsing out poopy diapers ranging from rock-hard lumps to runny diarrhea, depending on the vintage. The stench was horrendous, as evidenced by Carol’s retching. I have no doubt Carol was sick when she came back in. She took to her bed(our sofa) to recover. Clearly accustomed to help with her baby, she was reluctant to leave her repose to wash bottles and prepare formula, preferring to call out for one of of kids to “bring me a bottle!” when he cried. The first time, Mother let the hungry little guy have a bottle, despite the fact it was an expensive, hypoallergenic formula prescribed for her own tiny baby. She quickly pointed the case of milk she’d bought for Carol’s baby, the kind Carol requested. “Oh this will be fine,” Carol said. “He likes it!”

“Carol, you need to fix your own bottles! I bought you what you asked for. This stuff is forty cents a can!” Mother explained.

Carol was clearly offended. She dawdled a bit after he finished his bottle, put him down, and shut herself in the bathroom for a good crying session. Eventually, she came out and made a collect call to her mother, insisting she come, NOW! Mama couldn’t come, NOW! More crying on the phone. We were stuck together till the weekend. Carol had no problems leaving his bottles lying about to sour after baby was satisfied. Should he cry out when a sour bottle sat handy, she had no qualms about trying to get him to take it.

The next three days lasted an eternity. At my parent’s insistence, Carol did end up giving her baby good care while they waited for Mama, but she turned him over to Mama as soon as she arrived. His bottom had healed, he’d plumped up, and even played a bit with good care. Poor little guy didn’t get much of a pass. He was soon back home to be joined by a brother and sister in rapid succession.

Alas, Carol’s marriage fell apart, but before long she found another man and launched into her addiction to having babies she had no interest or ability to care for, eventually delivering eleven sad children. At a family reunion once, I heard someone ask how long she was going to keep having babies. She replied, “As long as God wants me to.” It was heartbreaking to see her children suffer from her neglect and ignorance.

Miss Laura Mae’s House Part 9

gossip 1Once again, I was sitting on the back step of Miss Laura Mae’s house with a biscuit. Miss Laura Mae was all flustered. I heard the phrase, “female trouble” and my ears perked up. Anything about “female trouble” got kids shooed outdoors. “Complications” rated even greater secrecy.

I’d just heard both. I hummed a tuneless something just so they’d be fooled into thinking I wasn’t listening. Occasionally, I said something to Miss Laura Mae’s old hound.

“Bessie, Floyd’s oldest sister was wild as they come when she was comin’ up. She slipped off an’ married when she was fifteen, and just stayed long enough to have them two young’uns. She like to drove her mama crazy. You couldn’t believe a word she said. She’d climb up on top of the house to tell a lie when it would’a been easier to stand on the ground and tell the truth. It seemed like she settled down an’ was gonna do good when she married Ben. He was a good feller an’ treated her kids good. He had that nice house his mama left him, worked steady and put his pay in the bank. I never heard him fuss with her. She was even Sunday School Superintendent down at the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church fer a while.

One year right before Christmas, she went to work in her sister’s café, waiting tables to git a little Christmas money. Ben didn’t want her to, said he could git whatever they needed, but she was bound an’ determined to do it. Wasn’t long before she was runnin’ around. She dumped them kids on her mama and run off with a feller named Jett. ‘Course, that didn’ last till the water got hot.

Next thing we knew, Bessie was in the hospital, her kidneys ‘bout shut down an’ she like to had a stroke. She pulled through but wasn’t able to do anything for a long time. Her sister Marthy took her in an’ took care of her an’ them kids for a good while. When she finally got back on her feet, she went back to Ben. The crazy thing was, she told ever’ body she’d been the one takin’ care of Marthy, ‘cause Marthy had been runnin’ around an’ got thataway while her husband Joe was off in the service. She claimed Marthy had took a bunch of quinine an’ got rid of the baby but it like to kilt ‘er. The whole thing was crazy. Ever’body knew what Bessie had been up to and knew about her being so sick in the hospital. I don’t know why she tol’ that crazy story layin’ it off on Marthy after she’d been so good to her. They just wasn’t no need. That was just how she is.

From my perch on the back step, I listened in, making no sense of the story, but knew it was good. I made up my mind to remember when I got a little older and smarter, I could figure out what it was all about.

https://nutsrok.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/miss-laura-maes-house-part-10/