Hard Time Marrying Part 3

farm-wagonBy the time Joe pulled his mules to the door to unload his wagon, it was sleeting.  His life had never looked more hopeless as he brushed the icy hay from the tattered quilt covering the children’s burning faces.  Though it was unchristian, he’d half-hoped to find them already dead from the fever, solving the problem of their care.

He struggled to get them into the cold cabin where he heard the scurrying of a rat.  “Damn it all.  I got to bring the barn cat in.”

Laying them gently on his bed and covering them, he was able to rouse each enough to get a bit of water down.  Setting the cup to the side, he moved on to the fireplace to uncover the banked ashes, put a stick or two next to the backlog, rekindling the fire.  At least they wouldn’t die of thirst of cold.  It angered him to feel pity for them. That’s all he could do for them for the moment.

He hurried in with the provisions, the pathetic mercy the town had shown, leaving to get his horses tended, milk the cow and tend the stock.  Finishing his tasks, he miserably returned to the burden of the sick children fate had forced upon him.  Upon entering the cabin, the sight meeting his eyes nearly undid him.  A filthy, battered woman dressed in rags studied the little girl.  God in Heaven!  Would this nightmare never end? Had he buried the woman alive and now she’d scratched out of her grave?

Mutely, the woman clutched the child to her bosom protectively as though she thought he might put the two of them back in the grave.

“Oh my God.  I thought you were dead!”  This did nothing to set her at her ease.  Shamed, he turned his back mumbling.  “Poor wretch.  What she must be thinking?” Shame at having buried her, then trying to get rid of her sick children shamed him, bringing him lower than he’d ever been before.  I don’t know why I didn’t leave it alone when it was good enough.  He fled from the cabin and made his way to the barn, tossed some hay on a saddle blanket settled in to try to get some sleep.  Jack, his dog, and the barn cats settled in next to him, glad of the unexpected company.  He lay awake a long time, thinking of the girl who’d made him want a wife in the first place.

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The More Things Change

 

family6Grandma slipped silently out the back door.  The last I remembered, I’d been asleep on the train.  Not wanting to be left alone, I rolled to my belly and hung off the edge of her high bed, my pudgy feet peddling till I thudded solidly to the unfinished wood floor.  Following her out into the dewy grass of the early daylight, I saw her lurching one-sidedly under the burden of a heavy bucket of corn in one hand, a shovel in the other, totally unaware of being tailed.  As I padded silently behind, sandburs pierced my baby feet.  Dropping to my round bottom, I screamed at the insult.  The grass at home was soft and welcoming.  Startled by my banshee cries, Grandma turned.  “Oh my Lord.  I thought I shut the door behind me.  You could have gotten in the road!”

Dropping the bucket of corn, she rushed over to comfort me, seating me on the shovel blade to pick sandburs out of my feet.  By the time she’d finished, I pointed out a huge yellow road grader a few yards away on the side of the dirt road.  “You want to see that?  Okay.  We’ll Go over.  It’ll be a while before the workers get here.”  I stood on the shovel blade and bent to hold the handle as she pulled me over to have a closer look, lifting me as high as she could to get a closer look at the gigantic tires.   I am still fascinated by heavy machinery. 

After I had my fill of the road grader, we went back for her bucket of corn to feed her chickens.  I liked the chickens just fine, though they weren’t nearly as interesting as the road machine.  We had chickens at home.  The barn next to the chicken yard was a different matter.  Since the grass was worn away between the two, I toddled over to have a look.  A chain with a padlock ran through two holes in the big double doors, denying me entry.  I peeked through into the shade of the barn to see a child-sized table and chairs, rocking horse, tricycle, and a red wagon.  Grandma’s little black and white dog dropped to his belly and wiggled into the barn through deep, sandy hole worn under the doors.  I dropped to my belly tunneling right behind him.  Had Grandma moved just a little slower, I’d have earned my prize.  Instead, she pulled me by my bare feet back into the barn yard. 

I howled in protest as she explained those things belonged to the child of the landlord and were off limits to me.  I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around that, having no idea what a landlord was, but I knew what toys were, and meant to have them.

Back in the house, after that major disappointment, Grandma cooked breakfast, and I met my first true love, bacon.  I have not tasted anything that wonderful before or after.

That is my first conscious memory, though I must have been familiar with Grandma.  Mother dated it to around the time I was eighteen months old.  I am older now than Grandma was then, and  like her, carry a shovel as I putter in the yard, an excellent implement to have on hand for a little impromptu digging or snake-killing.  Some things never change.

sun hat

 

God is Great, God is Good, Pass the Beans

Our firstOur first photograph together.  Bud is little guy in back row on far right.  I am the diapered baby just in front of him.

Bud and I share a unique relationship stretching back to a time before I remember.  Our families were neighbors and friends long before I was born.   The two Bethea Brothers, Odell and Lou, worked in the shipyards in California during World War II with Willard Johnson.  When the three traveled home together after the war, the Bethea Brothers stopped off in Kansas and married Mary and Mildred Johnson, Willard’s two sisters.  Before long, the Bethea Boys went to work on the pipeline and moved their families to Northwest Louisiana, where my parents had settled.  The couples spent a great deal of time together, becoming friends for life.  The children of all three families grew up together.
When I was born, Odell, Bud’s father was working out of town, so Mary, his mom brought Bud and Betty, his sister, to help for a few days till Mother was back on her feet.  Mary often said afterward, she should have pinched my head off when she had the chance.  It probably would have saved him a lot of trouble.
Our families continued to be friends as we grew up.   When I was about three years old, I asked permission to “say the blessing” one evening when we were sharing dinner.  Both families reminded me for years that I bowed my head piously and quoted, “God is great, God is good.  Pass the beans.”
Before he started school, Bud’s parents bought a little place with a country store and a tidy little house they could rent till the owner moved it in a couple of years.  Mary ran the store to help with the expense of house-building.  The understanding was, they’d get plenty of notice.  Odell  began construction on his outbuilding so he’d have a place to work and keep his tools dry while building.  In less than six months, they got the news they’d have to vacate the in days.  Odell hurriedly got the building in the dry and ran power and cold water to it.  Lightbulbs hung down on wires for lights.  He set up Mary’s gas stove in the center and in they moved with their three small children.  An outdoor toilet was hastily erected behind the barn, a galvanized tub serving as a bathtub.  They ran lines across the rafters to hang quilts and divide the open barn into rooms.  Space heaters heated the cavernous space. Footfalls echoed on the bare concrete floors.
Bud loved living in the barn, likening it to a perpetual campout.   I was wildly jealous.  They often moved the quilt partitions to set the rooms up in different configurations.  The only thing never moved was the kitchen stove and heaters, since they were hooked to gas lines.  I was fascinated to look up and see the rafters and stars winking through the tin roof, my pleasure enhanced by the story of Odell bagging a large barn rat running across the rafters.  He’d gotten rid of the rat and the resulting hole was easily dealt with.  I hoped in vain for a rerun but was disappointed when the rats kept to safer quarters.  Life in that barn looked perfect to me.
One night, my dad and Bud’s Uncle Lou worked the late shift.  My mother and his Aunt Mildred decided they’d spend the evening with Bud’s mom.  His Aunt Mid had a new driver’s license she needed to try out.  It must have been a weekend night since we got to stay way past our usual bedtime.  Our departure was delayed by a light rain.  Mary dealt with the drips by putting a pot under the leaky roof, an entertaining solution to me.  Rain on the tin roof was rhythmic and lovely till the weather escalated and the constant lightning, reverberating thunder, and pounding of the rain on the tin roof became overwhelming. The wind whistled around the eaves, giving the impression that the storm was coming for us.  Though Mother reassured me there was nothing to be worried about, I wasn’t convinced.
Betty, Bud’s older sister used her time wisely by pulling out the family Bible and showing us the picture of the Prophet Elijah ascending into Heaven in a chariot of fire.  Then she threw in a few stories about Hellfire and Brimstone she’d gleaned from a revival meeting.  It seemed a perfect personification of the storm.  I was petrified.  Finally, the tortuous storm abated and the stars came out.  Aunt Mildred, a timid driver, waited till she thought the roads were dry enough she wouldn’t slide into a ditch.
The women piled six wide-eyed kids in the car.  Though I was afraid to close my eyes, fatigue got the best of me.  I was probably asleep before the car left the drive.  The next thing I knew, I was awakened by a crash, screaming, and blinding light.  We were spinning around in a whirlwind.  Instantly, I realized we were ascending to Heaven in a chariot of fire, but then remembered the Hellfire and Brimstone which I was pretty sure that would involve bright lights, too!
The screaming kids were slung off the seats and scared mamas rattled around in the spinning car till it came to rest in a ditch.  Kids were pulled out and a head-count confirmed we’d all survived.  Mother noticed blood dripping from her forehead and felt for damage, finding a bloody skin flap hanging over her right eye.  Realizing her eye was gone, she held a baby diaper to her forehead to staunch the flow and hide her injuries from us.  I remember seeing blood dripping on her yellow circle skirt and the diaper pressed to her head.  She was clutching my little brother Billy and had Phyllis and me by the hand.  For once, I was happy to do as she said.
The supernatural force we encountered that night was not from Heaven or Hell, just the son of a prominent business owner driving home drunk.  He’d hit us head on, despite the fact that Aunt Mid (Mildred) had swerved to miss him. We spun wildly, landing in the ditch. One of the neighbors heard the crash and came to our assistance.  Like all new drivers, Aunt Mid’s worst nightmare was having a wreck.  To make matters worse, she was hysterical when she realized she’d come off without her Driver’s License.  Her helpful neighbor flew to her house to get it since we were less than a mile from her home.  All was well with her license long before the officer got there, though frankly, in small towns, little things like drunk driving and lost licenses can be swept under the carpet.
While Aunt Mid got her problems squared away, someone took Mother to the hospital where she was relieved to learn her eye was undamaged.  Her blindness was caused by a skin flap from a cut hanging over her eye.  Fortunately, a few stitches restored her vision.  For a long time, she worried that her looks would be ruined, but the cut healed beautifully.  She did have to fill her eyebrow in with a pencil for a few months.  She’d always been proud of her eyebrows.  Incidentally, the blood stain did not come out of her pretty, yellow, circle skirt.
All’s well that ends well.  The drunk driver’s daddy gave Mother two thousand dollars in damages.  Aunt Mid’s car was repaired and she didn’t get a ticket.  Mother got a used automatic washing machine for eighty dollars.  We took a trip to see one of Daddy’s old Navy buddies with three hundred dollars of Mother’s settlement.  The washer stayed on the blink most of the time, aggravating Mother incessantly.  Daddy talked Mother out of the rest to buy a used sawmill.  He made money sawing cross ties for the railroad for a few months before the demand failed, then moved the saw home to sit behind the barn.  Many years later, a burning brush pile got away from him and burned it up.

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Our House

imageFive kids

In response to The Daily Post writing prompt “Our House”

Our house, was a very, very, fine house, I thought. The center of my world….a small, white frame house surrounded by a picket fence sitting under a huge shade tree.  For many years it was a three-room house till Daddy added two bedrooms and a screened-in back porch to accommodate his growing family.  I played in the deep, soft sand with my brother and sister on hot summer days. Honey-colored pine floors warmed the rooms, walls covered in cedar paneling.  Yellow and green tiles in an alternating pattern covered the kitchen floor.  The stove, with a pan of left-over biscuits for snacks, its door propped up with a stick, stood at one end of the kitchen, the refrigerator at the other, while cabinets ran along the outside wall.  We all crowded around a red dinette set with a high chair pulled alongside.  Mother’s wringer washer and the big deep freeze were housed on the screened-in back porch that had been pressed into service as a makeshift utility room.  She suffered terribly doing her wash in the cold till the screens were covered with heavy plastic coated hardware wire and a space heater was installed.  Clothes hung on lines strung across that room on rainy days.  Our house was noisy with the shrieks of children at play, my mother’s laughter, and the joy of rowdy children.  It was unusually scattered and looked like a tornado had ripped through not ten minutes after Mother finished cleaning.

The house was cold in winter, hot in summer, though the big attic fan lulled us to sleep on hot summer nights.  On sunny days, leafy shadows danced on my bedroom walls and floor.  Sometimes on hot days, I napped stretched out on the cool pine floors. Other times, I slept on a pallet of quilts with my cousin when company stayed nights.

Mother got up before we did to light the space-heaters that inadequately heated the house.  We’d back up to the heaters and roast our behinds while our fronts chilled till the house finally warmed up.

A wonderful two-story barn filled with hay stood in the barnyard behind the house.  On rainy days, we raced out to play in the barn, never to be held captive indoors.  It was heaven to play in the stalls and climb in the loft to build forts in the hay.  On fine days, we were free to roam the pastures and woods.  We climbed trees and dropped off on the backs of cows dozing in the shade, for short but exciting rides.  Sometimes we were lucky enough to lure a horse close enough to a fence to get on his back and get a bareback ride till he tired of us.  My brother still has a grudge in at me for jumping off as the horse headed into a stall, leaving him to be scraped off by the low roof.  It was a perfect way to grow up.

It pains me that today that house is about to fall down.

Lovely Old Barn

Old barn

Though my father saw a barn a’building, I saw a cathedral of rough-hewn lumber rising in the lot behind our house. Mr. Bradley, a crotchedy old grandpa in khakis, showed up about daybreak every morning for coffee, then shuffled on to his barn building. He and a helper worked all day till Daddy and a couple of his buddies took over and worked on as Continue reading

I Smell a Rat

imageConnie and Marilyn and two of their friends had been talking about sleeping in the barn for quite a while. They’d built themselves a lovely hideaway over the feed room where they spent many hours together.  On one of the coldest nights of the year, they convinced themselves the time had come.  Mother and Daddy weren’t concerned about Continue reading