Old Man Hillen

“Are you gonna pay for that gum?”

Phyllis and I turned to see Billy’s cheek bulging. His eyes got big and a stream of purple drool ran out of the corner of his mouth. The three of us stood horrified before Old Man Hillen, the proprietor of the Variety Store. It was obvious the sour old geezer took no prisoners where pilfering children were concerned.

“Spit it out.” Phyllis demanded, her face as hard as the old man’s. She hurriedly paid for our purchases as Billy and I beat her out the door. We knew there would be Hell to pay. Phyllis aligned herself with our parents and could be depended upon to report any infraction. This one was huge.

The situation was made more ominous since our business in the first place was the purchase of Mother’s birthday gift. The three of us had walked to the Variety Store after school. Mother was to pick us up. The wait seemed endless, knowing the catastrophe that was brewing.

“Billy Ray stole a piece of gum!” she exploded before she even got the car door shut. “Mr. Hillen made me pay for it!”

Mother was appalled. “Oh no. I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. I’m gonna have to tell your daddy about this.” A pall hung over us, dreading what was to come.

Justice was swift and sure. Daddy was enraged as he railed at Billy, before strapping him with his belt, then pausing before giving him a few more. Worse yet was the pronouncement that they’d be going back tomorrow for Billy to apologize and make it right. It was a terrible night at our house. No one escaped Daddy’s black mood.

Daddy was waiting for Billy when the bus ran, always dependable when punishment was due. He led the small boy into the Variety Store and announced to Mr. Hillen, “My son has something to say to you.”

Humiliated, Billy managed to stammer an apology.

Rather than accepting Billy’s apology, the hateful old man launched into a tirade against thieving kids and the way sorry parents were raising them. Daddy was infuriated and told him they’d made it right and he wasn’t listening to anymore of his mouth. They left. We never went back in that store.

Just Desserts

Since I’ve been writing a lot about pies, I thought I’d repost this story about a dirty trick I pulled on my brother.  He is still pouting.Bean Pie0001Billy was a good eater. He was over six feet tall by the time he was twelve, worked hard every day and was always hungry. Since Daddy had known real hunger growing up during the depression, he encouraged him to “eat well.” Billy liked to drink his milk from a quart jar to cut down on troublesome refills, and he would hurt a kid over a piece of leftover fried chicken.  When Mother was serving chicken, he’d take a piece or two, eat a couple of bites, put it on his plate, and go for seconds. This made sure he got plenty before it ran out.  By the time he was in high school, if there were leftovers, Mother took to freezing them, hoping to have some for the next meal.  He caught on to that and soon she’d hear the creaking of the freezer door in the dark.

Knowing he was always ravenous when he came in after a late basketball game, Mother once left him a plate of steak and potatoes and a bowl of banana pudding on the counter.  Mistaking the pudding for gravy, he spread it generously over his steak and potatoes.  He said it was awful, but scraped it off and ate it anyway.

Nothing delighted me more than to get the best of him.  Counting on his gluttony, I laid a trap.  I fried up a batch of fresh peach pies, golden and flaky, and left them on a plate on the table.  The topmost pie was the biggest, flakiest, and most tempting of all.  I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist it.  It was filled with salty beans.

Phyllis and I stepped behind the door when we saw him coming.  Lured by the tantalizing aroma of fresh peach pie, he fell into my trap, tearing into that horrible pie.  You can imagine the rest…

Styling on Shoes

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I am thankful I’ve achieved one of my life goals!  I got Keds!  All the snooty kids wore Keds when I was in school.  Since there were five of us to shoe, Mother showed no interest in putting us on our path to snootiness.  When the guy at the shoe repair shop gave her notice that shoes were beyond repair, she’d bring home a new pair, sized by the pencilled imprint of the lucky kid’s foot.  She always went prepared,  just in case.  We were a one-car family and there was no possibility of a special trip just for shoes.  We were whatever she brought home.  There was no chance we could claim ugly shoes didn’t fit.  She knew what she was doing.

Sometimes,  one of us tripped Mother up by having a major shoe malfunction resultingin shoe acquisition that couldn’t be put off till Thursday, Daddy’s payday and her scheduled trip to town,  in that miserable situation.  On more the one occasion, she made a panicky trip to the dry goods store in Cottage Valley and bought the only shoes available.  We hated these crummy sneakers, or “Tennies” as we called them, the ugly, red-headed stepchildren of Keds.

Girls got a style somewhat reminscent of Keds, usually white, wide in the arch, just right for duck feet. Bill got hightop, black basketball shoes with a white basketball on the ankle.  Naturally, we had to wear theses lovelies till they fell apart.  Mine were always dirty by the time I got to school, even if I were lucky enough they’d just been washed, and frankly, they weren’t washed that often.

My brother Billy got off the bus in one shoe after school one afternoon.  Mother exploded. “Boy, where’s your shoe?”

He wasted some time trying to explain and she wasted more trying to make sense of the story.  Finally, she got down to business and hauled him back to school to retrieve it from deep in a mass of brush on the wrong side of a hurricane fence.  Undoubtedly, he’d pushed it deeper in his rescue attempts.  Eventually, they showed up at home victorious except for scratches on her forearms and a tick or two.

 

 

I Want A Bite

imageBilly was about two and a half years old, Daddy and Mother stopped by the A &W Rootbeer Drive-In for a treat after supper one night, way back when the brought those frosty mugs out to the car, no to-go orders. You had to finish your Rootbeer before leaving. We’d already had dinner, so we knew we were getting Rootbeer. A fellow who pulled up next to us ordered a hotdog. In the heat of the July evening, everyone had their car windows down. Billy was always ready to eat! Naturally, when he saw the guy’s hotdog, he wanted one, too. Mother reminded him he’d already eaten and he’d only be getting rootbeer. As the young man raised his hotdog to chomp down, Billy called out, “I wanna bite!”

imageSurprised, the fellow looked over to see a small boy on his mother’s lap, leaning out a car window, begging for a bit. Quickly, he tried to resume his meal. Again, “I wanna bite!” It’s really hard to shut a hotdog hungry little kid up, though Mother tried. I know we would have left if we hadn’t still had Rootbeer to finish and mugs for pickup. After trying a couple more times to eat despite Billy’s plaintive begging, he cranked his car and left.

Rubbernecking Duckie

Rubberneck 1Rubberneck 2Original art by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

We endured periodic visits from Mother’s bizarre  relatives, Cookie and Uncle Riley. Whether or not they were actually deranged was debatable, they definitely teetered somewhere between eccentric and maddening. Most people who had to interact with them on a regular basis held out for just plain crazy. Both held Master’s Degrees, Cookie’s in Education and Uncle Riley’s in Mathematics. Cookie was head of a large public school system in Texas. Uncle Riley worked for the government as a mathematician in the 1950’s. I won’t press that any further, except to say that somehow, they miraculously collided and produced Cousin Barbie, The Wonder Baby. On their way to an Easter visit in 1957, Cookie and Uncle Riley made a few stops.

 

I digress, but needed to set the scene for their visit. Because my mother had married a blue-collar worker, a man they considered “beneath her” and had three children, Cookie and Uncle Riley held the impression that my parents ran an orphanage and would be grateful for any gift of apparel, no matter how useless they might drag in. This particular trip, they came bearing refuse from a fire sale: ten pairs of boys black high top basketball shoes in a wide range of sizes, six identical but slightly singed, size eight, red and green sateen dresses trimmed with black velvet collars and waist bands, six dozen pairs of size two cotton satin-striped Toddler Training Pants, and three six-packs of men’s silk dress socks in a nude tone, a color I’d never seen anyone wear. In addition to these useless prizes, they’d stopped by a fruit stand and gotten a great deal on a box of fifty pounds of bruised bananas and an Easter duck for Barbie. By the time they’d reached our house many hours later, four-year-old Barbie, Easter Duck, and Bosco Dog had romped in the back seat and pretty much-made soup of the bananas. Fruit flies circled the old black 1943 Ford merrily as it rocked to a stop. Uncle Riley, the mathematician, anticipating breakdowns didn’t believe in wasting money on new car parts. He always carried a collection of parts extracted from a junker in his back yard to keep his old clunker running. He also split the back of his old jeans and laced them up with shoe strings when they got too tight, but that’s s story for another day.

 

I know Mother must have dreaded their visit, with its never-ending pandemonium, especially since for some reason, the only thing they shared with Daddy was a healthy contempt and barely concealed animosity for each other. The five of us kids were always delighted to see them, in spite of their bizarre offerings. One pair of the smoky-smelling shoes did fit my brother, but shredded in a few steps, due to its proximity to the fire. The dresses were put back for “Sunday Best,” Thank God, never to be seen again, since neither of us girls was a size eight, nor was partial to singed, scratchy dresses. Fortunately, for my parents, at the moment, they had no size two toddlers for the training pants, though they did manage to come up with a couple just a few years later. Easter Duck, however, deeply interested four-year-old Billy.

 

Sensing misfortune in his future, Mother tried to run interference for Easter Duck, fearing for his health. For some reason she was distracted by the madness of intervening between Daddy and her whacked-out relatives, getting dinner ready for the whole crowd, dealing with out-of-control kids, and finding places to bed everyone down for the night. Not surprisingly, her concerns for Easter Duck were pushed to the bottom of the list. Never having been deprived of anything she wanted, ever, Barbie had no intention of being parted with Easter Duck. Billy needed a better look, and having had plenty of experience dealing with mean kids, patiently waited for his chance. Forgetting Easter Duck, Mother and Cookie went back to their visit, leaving the two four-year-olds to play. As you might expect, before long, they heard the screaming. Barbie held poor Easter Duck by his head; Billy had him by the feet. Between them, they had stretched the poor duck’s neck way past anything God ever intended, even for a swan. Neither exhibited the Wisdom of Solomon and was determined to maintain possession, at all costs. Poor Easter Duck paid the price! Though he was rescued, sadly his neck was not elastic and did not “snap back.” He didn’t get to spend the Easter holidays with his new friends, Barbie and Billy.

 

 

Christmas Nightmare with Evil Larry

christmas-santa-boy-define-goodMy brother just called to remind me of his troubles with our cousin Larry, the bane of his existence. Larry was probably the only reason I had to be glad I wasn’t a boy when I was a kid. Thanks for that, Larry. Larry was fifteen months younger than me, falling right between me and Bill in age. Back then, our families had lots of overnight visits. Poor Bill was stuck sleeping with our cousins Larry and Tory, both power bedwetters. Though it was remarkable that Bill hadn’t wet the bed since he was a baby, when Larry and Tory visited, they both arose in the morning accusing him of drenching them. He still recounts the horrible sensation of sleeping between them, feeling that initial warm, then slightly stinging feeling that quickly cooled to the shock of awakening in a puddle. It must have been awful for kids who wet the bed to have to sleep over in the days before protective pants. Thank goodness for the advances that saves kids’ precious dignity and pride today.

However, Bill’s major complaints weren’t about the innocent concern of Larry’s bedwetting. He was a malicious kid, who reminded me of nothing more than a rat. First of all, no one wanted him around. Secondly, his personality revolved around his urinary habits. Not only did he wet the bed, he ran around with his pants unzipped so he could sneak up and pee on other kids. The fastest kid around, he normally escaped before we could catch and mutilate him. He didn’t seem to need friends, his social needs seemingly satisfied by his constant meanness. We used to joke that he would wind up on the Pea-Farm, the local penitententiary, which he certainly did.

One Christmas, Bill managed to slip into Mother’s walk-in closet and discover his major Christmas gift, a magnificient electronically controlled car. It was huge, probably more than two feet long. He’d turned on the light and was quietly playing with it in the closet when Mother sought him out and caught him in the act. She played out her big guilt act, “I hope you enjoyed yourself, because you’ve just ruined my Christmas. I am taking that car back tomorrow!”

Of course, Bill was just sick with guilt and loss, like he was supposed to be. On Christmas day, he was overjoyed to find the wonderful toy sitting under the tree, after all. Since Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, the kids couldn’t miss church that day of all days. He didn’t get to play with it then, just admired it and put it away till after church. Mother stayed home to get Christmas dinner going. Daddy stayed to make sure she did it right. The invading hoard of relatives descended before we got back. Though we had carefully locked all our loot away, the evil Larry had gotten a hair pin and picked the lock on Bill’s door. He found his precious car apparently just as he’d left it, except, when he tried to run it, nothing happened. When he turned it over, all the wires had been snatched loose from their connections. The only time he’d gotten to play with it were those few guilt ridden minutes in the closet.

More about the evil Larry later. There’s far too much to end it here.

I Wanna Bite!

imageWhen my Brother Billy was about two and a half years old, Daddy and Mother stopped by the A &W Rootbeer Drive-In for a treat after supper one night, way back when the brought those frosty mugs out to the car, no to-go orders.   You had to finish your Rootbeer before leaving.  We’d already had dinner, so we knew we were getting Rootbeer.  A fellow who pulled up next to us ordered a hotdog.  In the heat of the July evening, everyone had their car windows down.  Billy was always ready to eat!  Naturally, when he saw the guy’s hotdog, he wanted one, too. Mother reminded him he’d already eaten and he’d only be getting rootbeer.  As the young man raised his hotdog to chomp down, Billy called out, “I wanna bite!”

Surprised, the fellow looked over to see a small boy on his mother’s lap, leaning out a car window, begging for a bit.  Quickly, he tried to resume his meal.  Again, “I wanna bite!”  It’s really hard to shut a hotdog hungry little kid up, though Mother tried.  I know we would have left if we hadn’t still had Rootbeer to finish and mugs for pickup.  After trying a couple more times to eat despite Billy’s plaintive begging, he cranked his car and left.

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Big Mouth

When my brother Billy was a kid, my parents dreaded hearing whatever might come out of  his mouth.  Daddy took him to the store with him one day.  As Billy stood on the top step, Daddy and his friend Mr. Shorty stood on the ground talking.  Billy happily reached over, patted Mr. Shorty affectionately on his bald head, and said, “Well hello, little, short fat man.”

Not long afterward, Mother looked out the kitchen window to see Daddy’s friend with one leg, Mr. Charley headed to the front door.  She rushed to the living room, trying to get there before Billy, could ask what happened to his other leg.  She was too late.  As she walked into the room, Biily turned from Mr. Charley at the door to tell her, “Mama, a skeeter bit his leg off!”

My cousin kept hitting Billy.  Mother told Billy to “hit hit back.”  The next time that kid showed up, Billy kept asking Mother, “Can I hit him now, Mama?  Can I hit him now?”

Hongry Little Billy

imageMother and Little Billy walked over to have coffee with Miss Alice many mornings after she got us on the school bus.  Of course he would have had breakfast before leaving the house with her.  One morning they got to Miss Alice’s before she’d had time to clear breakfast away.  A couple of strips of bacon and a few biscuits rested on a plate on the Continue reading