Icy Showers and Rotten Sausage

Cousin Kat was tight. We always took plenty of food when we went to visit, knowing how “conservative” she was. She thought three rolls, three scrambled eggs, a little jam and a dab of butter was plenty for any number of guests there might be for breakfast. “I just don’t think there’s any point in folks being hoggish,” was her favorite phrase as she set out a meal. She was a devout believer and had probably heard that story about Jesus feeding the multitudes on five loves and three fishes one too many times.

A few days before our last visit, someone had given Cousin Kat some fresh homemade sausage. She’d eaten a bit and saved some for us. That sounded fine till I opened her tiny 1940 model refrigerator to get some water. The rank smell of bad meat nearly knocked me down. “Ooh, Cousin Kat, I think something’s gone bad in here!”

“Oh, it’s not bad. It’s just that sausage Barney gave me. It’s real spicy!” She answered, totally unconcerned. “I’m gonna cook it up for supper.”

I made up my mind then and there to eat popcorn. I’ve never smelled a spice that mimicked the smell of rotting meat so closely. Mother and Phyllis both found other options. Count Kat cooked that sausage and ate up all by herself, since she was determined not to let it go to waste. It stunk the whole house up with its nauseating odor as it cooked. We all told her it smelled like it might have “gone to the bad.” She disagreed.

We planned a road trip for the four of us to go into Amish Country and packed a nice picnic …no sausage. Phyllis and Cousin Kat decided to take their showers the evening before so The four of us wouldn’t be competing in the morning. Cousin Kat told her how she could run a bit of water in the tub, sit on the edge, wash her face, ears, neck, then her body before washing the best parts and her feet. That way, she could get by with just a little of that expensive hot water. Well, I do believe I heard the shower running while Phyllis was in there, despite her lesson. Cousin Kat perked up her ears, too. When Phyllis came out, Cousin Kat said, “I hope you stopped up the tub and saved your water for me. Just one person don’t mess up bath water none.” Shamefaced, Phyllis had to admit she run it all down the drain. Cousin Kat gave her a look.

We went on to bed. I snore and talk in my sleep, so no one would bunk in with me. I am always early to bed, so I took the small bedroom. Cousin Kat gave Mother an inflatable mattress her son had left there to put on the living floor. Unfortunately, he had taken the pump home with him, so they sent a great deal of time trying to inflate it with a small hand-held hairdryer, the wrong tool for the job. Eventually, it approximated a mattress, though it flattened out the minute Mother reclined on it. They hadn’t bothered to pad the floor with quilts, so Mother was freezing the minute she lay down that frosty October evening. She got up, dragged her covers tote old-fashioned bi-fold sofa and tried to warmup. It was hard, lumpy, and had a couple of exposed springs but it was better than the icy floor.

Meanwhile, things weren’t going much better for Phyllis in the large, unheated upstairs bedroom. She’d chosen it because she liked to sleep in the cold. She’d dawdled and was the last to get to bed. I was quickly asleep though I kept up a listen for retching during the night, expecting Cousin Kat to come down with food poisoning, but the next thing I knew, Phyllis was climbing in the small creepy bed with me. “I thought you were too good to sleep with me.” I reminded her.

“I am, but when I got upstairs and switched on that dim overhead light, and everything looked fine, but when I turned back the quilts, rice scattered all over the place. I couldn’t imagine why rice would be on the bed, like that. I turned on that little flashlight Cousin Kat gave me and saw the bed and floor covered in mouse pellets. Mice were scattering everywhere. I can’t sleep up there with all those mice. She was mad! I was laughing so hard the springs were creeping. We sounded like honeymooners.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t sleep well, I talk in my sleep. In truth, it’s much worse than that. I curse and hurl epithets, language I’d never use during waking hours. Once I drifted off, Phyllis and I rolled up in that ancient mattress like a couple of hotdogs in a bun. She swears I shoved her and screamed at her to “get the f…. Out of here. I don’t remember a thing about it!

In a huff, she got up in search of a place to sleep. Seeing that Mother had abandoned the perfectly good air mattress, she gave it a try. Of course, it put her right on the floor. Not to be defeated, she folded it in half and stretched out. That was a little better. Just as she drifted off, it gave up the ghost and blew out. Hearing all the racket, Mother and I got up to help. I invited her to share my bed, but she was mad and wouldn’t have any part of it. Mother offered to share the bi-fold sofa, but there was no way that would work. She ended up spendinding the rest of the night wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in a not-so-easy chair.

We got up early to Have breakfast and get ready for our trip. At the kitchen table, We chatted over breakfast and sipped coffee. Mother and Phyllis lied about the extent of their miserable night. Phyllis had to come up with an excuse about abandoning the mousy attic. Cousin Kat polished off the last piece of the rancid sausage with her breakfast.

I got the first shower, keeping it short, since I remembered Cousin Kat’s lesson. It was pleasantly hot, but Mother said Cousin Kat ducked down to the basement to “get something” while I showered. Mother was next in line. When she got in, the water was nice and hot while she soaped up, but in just a minute, an icy blast hit her. Obviously, Cousin Kat’s basement errand was to cut off the water heater. The water came from a spring, so Mother’s hot shower was over. She had to wipe the soap off with a wet washcloth dipped in icy water.

She was furious when she shivered out of her shower, accusing me of using all the hot water.
“Mother, I wasn’t in there but a couple of minutes. I didn’t use that much!”

All the while, Cousin Kat sat humming contentedly, finally offering, “Oh well, that water heater’s old. I guess it just gave out.” Only the day before she’d told us that her son had just put in a new one, over her objections. “I can heat what water I need on the stove and save the heating bill.” She made no mention of turning off the water heater.

Finally, the cold, sleepy bunch was ready to start the trip.

To be continued

Pinch a Penny till it Screams

Cousin Kat was tight as Dick’s hatband, or conservative as she called it.  We learned early on stop by a grocery store before going to spend a few days at her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our first visit, she knew we’d be arriving about dinner time.  She insisted we wait and eat supper with her.  We were surprised to find she’d cooked a about a cereal bowl of full of beans, sliced a tomato or two and an onion, and cooked four chicken wings for herself and our family of four.  “I don’t eat much,” she explained.  “I don’t want to make a pig of myself.”  My fifteen-year-old son could have eaten everything on the table.  Then she stirred eight teaspoons of sugar into her iced tea.  About a half-inch of sugar settled in the bottom of the glass after she stirred.  Apparently, the rules did not include sugar.

We went out for breakfast the next morning over Cousin Kat’s objections.  The kids were starving.  It was buffet style, so Cousin Kat ate like a lumberjack, loading about six biscuits on her plate.  She wrapped the leftover biscuits in her napkin, tucking them in her purse, topping it off with packets of jam, honey, sugar, and butter from the table to take home.  “They put these out here for us!”

Afterwards, we drove twenty-five miles into Independence, the nearest town, to the grocery store.  Aunt Kat went straight for the reduced for quick sale bin where she loaded up a bag of battered fruit, several dented cans, some aged produce, and a taped up bag of flour.  Then she cornered the unfortunate manager, a guy she’d taught in Sunday School thirty years ago.  He paled when he saw her, obviously battle-scarred.  “Marty, how much do you want for this rotten fruit and bent cans?  Something has leaked on this flour.” 

“How ‘bout a dollar for the whole lot, Miss Kat?” he asked tentatively.

“Now, Marty.  I don’t think you ought to charge me that much for this flour and this rotten fruit buzzin’ with fruit flies. I ain’t sure I’m gonna be able to use ‘em.  These peaches and bananas look pretty bad and ain’t nobody else gonna buy this flour.  You’re gonna have to mark ’em down some more,” she countered.

He looked desperate.  “How much are they worth to you?”

“How ‘bout a quarter?” Marty looked hopeful.

“Well, I’ll give you twenty cents, but I’m coming back to see you if that flour’s bad,” she promised.

“Tell you what.  Don’t worry about paying.  I don’t want to see you disappointed.”  I’ll bet he didn’t.

“Okay, but I’d be willin’ to give you twenty cents.”

“That’s alright, Miss Kat.  Wouldn’t want to beat a good customer in a deal,” he finished gallantly.

I roasted a chicken, and cooked green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy for supper that night.  We’d bought plenty of groceries, so getting enough wasn’t a problem.  Cousin Kat pulled the biscuits from her purse and made a small fruit salad from her finds of the day.  She ate heartily, since all those groceries were going to waste anyway.  She canned the rest of the fruit with the honey and sugar from the restaurant.

Cousin Kathleen and the Groundhog

imageThis is the time of year we’d visit Cousin Kathleen, a tiny, self-sufficient, little mountain woman.  The first time Bud and I went to visit at her little house clinging to the side of a mountain in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Moutains we were lingering over coffee at the breakfast table overlooking her garden when she spotted a fat groundhog eating her tomatoes.  Without a word, she jumped up, grabbed a 357 pistol off the top of her refrigerator and flew out the back door firing a shot.  The ground hog escaped, but she blew the tomato plant away!  She was quite disappointed, since she’d been planning to eat him.  Later that morning, we caught a couple of trout in Little Wilson Creek, Just down from her house.  Bud usually practiced catch and release, but she was outraged at the thought.  Rushing us home, by ten- thirty she had cooked and trout eaten them all herself, horrified to think they might have been wasting their afternoon back in the creek.

That afternoon, we had to go see the cemetery.  Cousin Kathleen proudly confided she “ran” the cemetery.  Not sure what that meant, I had to ask.

“I am in charge of the man who mows.  I keep up with the money.  I decide where folks get plots.  I am the one to call in case of emergencies.”

I wanted to ask what kind of emergencies cemeteries might have, except for the rapture, of course, but kept my mouth shut.

One morning, Cousin Kathleen took us out to see the countryside.  Deep in the hills, she had Bud whip into a drive.  “I used to work with the woman who lives here.  Come on.  I want you to meet her.”  Uncomfortable at dropping in on unknown mountaineers, we dragged a little getting out.  A man in overalls sat on the porch.

“Where’s Molly?  I sed to work with her.”  Cousin Kathleen greeted him.

“Molly’s gone.”

Clearly anxious to see her friend, Cousin Kathleen demanded, “Gone where?  When will she be back?”

“She’s dead.  She ain’t gonna be back.”

“Oh well, see you later, then.”  She scurried back to the car with us right her.  “Well, I sure never heard she was dead!”  I kind of thought she hadn’t by that time.

We went fishing that afternnoon.  For dinner that night, we had fresh-caught trout, green beans and potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers fresh from the garden.  For dessert, we had fresh rhubarb cobbler.  What a wonderful dinner and day of memories!

 

 

 

 

 

Cousin Kat and the Axe-Murderer

axeIt’s not what you think. They were good friends. The Axe-Murderer had played the piano at Little Pearson Methodist Church for years. She never missed a service, but let me start at the beginning, the part where Cousin Kat took us to visit her. Continue reading

Kissing Cousins

imageBud and I were discussing family relationships with my little old Cousin Kat from a small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  She was born a Perkins, married a Perkins, and explained there was another group of Perkins living in the same small area, explaining they were all unrelated.

“Weren’t you and your husband and the other Perkins family at least distantly related?”

“Oh no.  We are all descended from different brothers.”

“Oh.”

Cousin Kat and the Axe-Murderer

It’s not what you think. They were good friends. The Axe-Murderer had played the piano at Little Pearson Methodist Church for years. She never missed a service, but let me start at the beginning, the part where Cousin Kat took us to visit her. Continue reading